Formation of Choctaw County
Choctaw County was formed in 1833 from land that was ceded to the United States by the Choctaw Nation. Some say that the name of the county comes from the Indian word, “chahta,” which means separation, most likely referring to the separation of the Choctaws from the Chickasaws. In all probability, the name of the county comes from the name of the Choctaw tribe’s first leader, Chief Chocta, from whom the tribe was named.
Early Pioneers and Traders
Choctaw County’s story begins earlier than 1833. Pioneer hunters and traders began settling in the area due to friendships between the Choctaws and the French. The Choctaw Chief, Pushmataha, befriended the French and his sister married a Frenchman. Their daughter, Rebecca, married Louis Lefleur, who established a trading post on the Pearl River. In 1801, Congress established a postal route between Nashville and Natchez, the capitol of the Mississippi Territory, along what is now known as the Natchez Trace. In 1810, Louis and Rebecca moved into the heart of the Choctaw Nation and established a tavern and trading post on that postal route, and the area became known as French Camp. In 1817, Mississippi became the twentieth State of the Union. In about 1822, the Presbyterian Church established an early Mission School in French Camp for the Choctaw Indians. It is known now as French Camp Academy, a co-educational boarding school still in operation. Louis and Rebecca Lefleur had a son, Greenwood. He later changed the spelling of his last name from Lefleur to Leflore. He was elected Chief of the Western District of the Choctaw Nation in the 1820’s and helped draw up the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, signed on September 27, 1830, which settled the removal of the Choctaws to Oklahoma Indian Territory. Their departure, along with Indians of other states, came to be known as the infamous “Trail of Tears.”
The County Seat
The county seat of Choctaw County is Ackerman, although it hasn’t always been there. In fact, the county seat has changed several times in the county’s history. Choctaw County was originally 1,080 square miles and contained all of what is now Webster County and parts of Montgomery, Grenada and Calhoun Counties. The first county seat was established at Greensboro, which is now in Webster County. A brick courthouse was erected by slaves in the area, and the village flourished. The town had a bloody reputation attributed to duels, hangings, and murders. Federal troops burned much of the town during the Civil War, and not much remains of Greensboro today.
Creation of Montgomery and Sumner Counties
In 1871, Montgomery County was created, taking away a big part of Choctaw County. The county seat was moved from Greensboro to a place located within two miles of the geographical center of the county. A new courthouse was erected at La Grange in 1872. The town rapidly grew, but a similar fate to Greensboro would befall La Grange. On the night of January 12, 1874, arsonists burned down the courthouse, along with all the records of the county. Many believed the arsonists were those in the county who wanted it to be divided in order to create a Republican county out of part of it. In 1874, Sumner County (now known as Webster County) was created, taking all of the territory of Choctaw County north of the Big Black River, which left the county seat a mile and a half from the county line. The county seat was removed from La Grange, and the town was abandoned.
A new county seat was created near the new geographical center of the county, and the place was named Chester. During this year, three townships were annexed to Choctaw from Winston County, forming what is now referred to as the “Panhandle.” Chester grew rapidly even though it suffered from political activities. In 1880, the wood-frame courthouse burned and was replaced by a brick structure made of Choctaw clay.
Establishment of Ackerman and Weir
In 1885, the Illinois Central Railroad was completed and ran East to West through the southern part of the county. Also in 1885, the town of Ackerman was established. It was named after an official of the Illinois Central Railroad Company. A courthouse was erected in 1887, and the town was made the second county seat. It grew rapidly, with many of the people of Chester moving there. It soon surpassed French Camp, which had remained the largest town in the county since its creation. In 1904, the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad was built and ran North and South, intersecting the Illinois Central Railroad, which accelerated the town’s growth. Shortly, two cotton gins, a cotton compress and warehouse, and one of the largest combination sawmill and planer mills in the state were established. The town of Weir was also established during this time.
In August 1923, the two judicial districts were consolidated and the courthouse at Chester abolished. The building in Chester became a school and was used for that purpose until it burned down in 1928.