….. for Hancock County Historical Society, February 2008
Russell B. Guerin
A while ago, the historical society was offered several old books and documents that were being discarded from the courthouse in advance of its reconstruction after hurricane Katrina. Most had little historical value, but one stood out as a reminder that Hancock County still counted many Native Americans in its population in the latter part of the 19th century.
Though damaged from the storm’s waters and still mildewed, it was collected with thanks and studied.
It is a thin ledger type book, marked “Attendance Records – Indian School.” It covers only a few years, 1882 to 1886, but interesting information can be gleaned. At the outset, it is evident that not all Choctaws were relocated during the period of Indian removal of the 1830’s and 1840’s. Some chiefs were actually awarded land under the treaties, while other, less fortunate tribesmen chose not to leave and hid out in places like Bayou LaCroix swamp.
In the period covered by the attendance book, it is evident from the 1880 census that groupings of Choctaws resided in some locations. Under Gainesville, for example, two pages are devoted to a section titled “Indian population,” listing approximately 80 people in 18 households. Another half page listed those in Pearlington.
Unfortunately, the ledger does not identify the locations where classes were held. While records were kept for three schools, only one clearly is shown as the Indian School.
On average, the Indian school had less than 30 students, with girls outnumbering boys two to one. Both groups seemed to have excellent attendance. In some months, no absences are evident. Age range was 5 to 18. Last names are predominantly Favre, Taylor and Yarby. From the census reports, it is clear that the latter also appears as Yarber and Zorba.
For each of the five years the teacher was Maryann Zengarling. It is known that her family resided at least in part near Bayou LaCroix, and the family burials are in evidence in the cemetery of that area. There is also a marker commemorating all the Choctaws buried there.
One oddity is that the Zengarling family does not appear in the census for the period studied.
Perhaps the most remarkable observation is that each school year consisted of only three months, and those were not always the same.
Although the ledger is identified as the attendance record for the Indian school, two other schools are included, but with different names. They were the Fayard and Lott schools, which also were for three-month periods. Both of these were taught by a Mrs. C.V. Johnston.
It is not certain that the Fayard and Lott schools were for the Choctaws children. However, because of the similarity of scheduling and the fact that their attendance records are in the same ledger as the first described school, it may be assumed that they were. Names that show prominently are Fayard, Carver, Fournier, and Lott.
A photo in the Lobrano House collection shows children in a Bayou LaCroix class of 1920, almost 40 years after the above-described schools. An observer may note a few similarities, however. One is the mix of ages in the group, and another is the presence of several children who may be assumed to be at least part Choctaw.
The history of Hancock County’s Indian population is at best sketchy. Any information which would add to our knowledge of this important part of our heritage would be welcomed.