Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Durant, Greenwood, Leflore - MS or OK?


I have known these three names (and have been able to spell them) for as long as I can remember. Since I had relatives who lived in or near both Durant and Greenwood (in Leflore County) I had been to both towns many times while growing up in Mississippi. History was not my favorite subject in school, yet I do remember reading about Greenwood Leflore, his French and Choctaw heritage, and how he later became a well-known political figure. I also remember visiting the town of French Camp, Mississippi, north of Kosciusko, Mississippi, where I had other relatives, on the Natchez Trace and seeing Greenwood Leflore's boyhood home.

But I remember nothing from Mr. O'Leary's American history class that I took in summer school in high school or in American History classes required in college that told me anything about Louis Durant, the person for whom Durant, Mississippi was named. It was only after I traveled through Durant, Oklahoma many years later that I wondered how two towns so far removed from each other had the same name. Did it have anything to do with the Choctaw removal and the fact that people from Mississippi ended up in Oklahoma? The same question came up when I discovered that Greenwood and LeFlore are each the name of both a town and a county in the State of Oklahoma. Interestingly, Greenwood is also the name of a Tulsa, Oklahoma, suburb that was the site of a very serious, but little known, racial incident that occurred almost 100 years ago. I plan to write about this incident in a later post.

Now for the story of Louis Durant. He was a French-Canadian trapper and trader, who came down the Mississippi River to the Choctaw Nation, where wildlife was plentiful in the deep, well-forested lands near the Big Black, Yazoo, and Tallahatchie Rivers. Along with Durant and Leflore, there were other Frenchmen who were well-known in the area, including Battiest, Colbert, Moncrief, Duford, and Duer. But Durant was different. He brought cattle with him, and the Choctaw had never seen cattle. The story goes that the Choctaw were intrigued by the cattle and started raising cattle after Durant settled in the area.

Durant later married a Choctaw woman and had three sons, Charles, Lewis, and Pierre, along with two daughters, Syllan and Margaret. He and his family lived in a home they built near the Big Black River, and Durant became well-respected among the Choctaw people and other settlers who lived in that area. As a result of Durant's service in the War of 1812, he became known as "Captain Durant." Eventually, a town grew up on the other side of the Big Black River from where the Durant family lived, then Yazoo County, now Holmes County, and a decision was made by the surveyors to name the town "Durant" in honor of Captain Durant. Thus, Durant, Mississippi had its beginning.

After the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed, a migration of people began that was like no other. Many, many families left the Choctaw Nation and the mid-Mississippi area for a place they had never seen. They took not only their belongings to this place that later became the Oklahoma Territory and the State of Oklahoma. They took their culture and their traditions, and they took some of the names of places that had special meaning for them in the place they had loved and called home........Mississippi.

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