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The River Sings a Legend

Boaters or folks strolling along the banks of the Pascagoula River on late summer evenings sometimes hear melodious humming. They hear the river singing. They hear the Singing River.

The mighty Pascagoula starts in George County at Merrill and flows through Jackson County into the Mississippi Sound between Pascagoula and Gautier amongst picturesque grassy banks and gigantic oaks covered in moss. Folklore associated with the river has served as the basis for naming countless businesses in southeast Mississippi from Singing River Animal Clinic to Singing River Federal Credit Union.

The mysterious melody was first recorded in 1699 by French explorer Pierre LeMoyne d’Iberville. Various legends about the river have been spun for more than 300 years. Some say the sound is simply the buzzing of bees. Others attribute it to a certain species of fish. Yet, the explanation most often heard is a romantic tale. It is the legend of the end of the Pascagoula Indians, a tribe known as the Bread People.

Folklore attributes their disappearance to a love affair between two people of different tribes. A Biloxi Indian princess, Anola, loved Altama who was the chieftain of the Pascagoula tribe. Their desire to live together brought about the demise of the Bread People. The Pascagoula and Biloxi Indians were associated, but the Pascagoulas were peaceful and the Biloxi Indians were fighters.

Anola was set to marry a chieftain of her people named Otanga. However, while visiting the Pascagoula tribe, she met Altama and fell in love with him. She broke her betrothal to Otanga and left the Biloxi clan to live with the Pascagoula people and to be with her true love. Her choice angered Otanga, and he led his people to war against the Pascagoulas. Altama offered to surrender himself to rescue his tribe, but his fellow tribesmen were honorable men who chose either to save their chieftain or to perish along with him.

The battle between the Biloxi and the Pascagoula peoples raged onward and the outcome looked hopeless to Altama and his tribe. They feared the Pascagoula chieftain would face slavery or death. Altama announced to his people that he could not surrender now that the war had begun. He walked into the river forming his own death march. Women and children led the procession which followed. Each member of the tribe patterned their leader’s footsteps into the river chanting a solemn requiem until the waters drowned the last voice. Some say the drowning took place on the river below U.S. 90. Others contend it was at the mouth of Indian Creek where it flows into the Pascagoula.

The sounds of the Pascagoula River are believed to be the echoes of that serenade. These sounds represent the ending of the Pascagoula tribe. These sounds represent the beginning of the story, or at least one story, behind the river that sings, the Singing River.

Report

Written by Nancy Jo Maples

Nancy Jo Maples is an award-winning journalist who has written about Mississippi people and places for more than 30 years. A former daily staff news reporter for the Mississippi Press, she currently writes for various media and teaches communication at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Reach her at [email protected]

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