The first European to set foot in Mississippi was the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto who discovered the Mississippi River in 1540. The first European settlement, however, was French constructed in 1699. Not to be embarrassed by the Spanish and French, the British took over what is now Mississippi in 1763, only to give it to the fledgling United States after the Revolutionary War. The state ranks in the low thirties in size and population, but what it doesn’t have in land and people, it makes up for in catfish. Mississippi is the leading producer of farm-raised catfish, not just in the United States, but in the world. Its geography consists of low hills, farmland, forests, swamp, and coastline. Famous Mississippians include, wow. This isn’t fair. Author William Faulkner, playwright Tennessee Williams, musicians Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howln’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and Bo Diddley, NFL greats Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, and Brett Favre, talk show host Oprah Winfrey, Muppets creator Jim Henson, civil rights activist Ruby Bridges, and, quite possibly the greatest voice on the planet, James Earl Jones (Darth Vader). Is it fair this much coolness came from one place? Oh, wait. Mississippi is also the birthplace of Lance Bass of NSYNC, and Britney Spears. That levels things a bit. Gallup polls show Mississippi to be the most religious state in the country, probably because people are trying to pray away all those monsters.
The Pascagoula River meanders eighty miles through southeastern Mississippi eventually draining into the Mississippi Sound. Once home to the Pascagoula Indians, it is now home to mermaids. The legend of the Mississippi Mermaid is also that of the Singing River, as the Pascagoula is also called. According to the website of the Smithsonian Institution, a princess of the Biloxi tribe, Anola, was in love with Altama, Chief of the Pascagoula tribe. When the Biloxi chieftain, angered by this affair, led his tribe to war against the nearby Pascagoula, the peaceful Pascagoula tribe – men, women, and children – joined hands and sang a dirge while they walked into the river and drown. Since that time, the river has been known to sing. Some say it is from the Pascagoula tribe that still swims beneath the waters.
An 1892 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune says people came from far and wide to listen to the “flutelike sounds that are rubbed off from the river, as a deft hand brushes melody from the rim of a crystal goblet.”
A Catholic missionary from de Soto’s time wrote the local Indians believed there were mermaids in the river that would appear on “the surface of the river, as if the still air had been flapped into a whirlwind by myriads of invisible wings.”
While we’re still in the river, there are more things than mermaids to worry about in Mississippi’s waters. Although sharks are saltwater animals, bull sharks that can grow up to twelve feet long use the shallows of Mississippi’s freshwater rivers as nurseries. That’s not all. The prehistoric-looking alligator gar, that have been reported to grow up to 200 pounds in some states, are babies compared to Mississippi’s enormous toothy terrors. According to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the largest alligator gar caught in Mississippi weighed 327 pounds, and stretched 8 feet, 5.25 inches.
If the alligator gar is prehistoric, the gulf sturgeon is Triassic. Literally. Sturgeon fossils date back to the Triassic Period, around 245 to 208 million years ago, and still live worldwide. Gulf sturgeons inhabit fresh water in Mississippi, and make alligator gars look small. Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said these fish grow to about 300 to 400 pounds “maximum,” there are legends of these beasts getting up to 1,000 pounds. Fortunately for swimmers, neither the sturgeon, nor alligator gar is harmful to humans. Or are they?
There’s no question with actual alligators. Alligators have killed two people in 2015 in the United States. That might not sound like much, but shark attacks have only resulted in one death in the U.S. this year. In Mississippi, alligators grow big. In 2014, hunter Scott Berry, 42, killed a record 792-pound, 13 feet and 5 inch long alligator in Mississippi waters.
Mississippi Mud Man
Whether it’s called the Skunk Ape, Swamp Ape, Booger, or Mud Man, this hulking, hairy beast is Mississippi’s Bigfoot, and there have been some good sightings, like this one from November 2013 in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
David Childers was taking pictures in an abandoned playground, trying to capture a paranormal occurrence, when something large began to crash through the trees, according to the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger. "A creature, I don't know what it was, about six feet tall. And it just bolted off through the woods," Childers told The Clarion-Ledger. "It was definitely a shaggy coat to it, like a grayish-brown color. When it made the noise that spooked me, I looked over, and it looked like it stood up and just bolted off."
He’s not alone. Not long after, a man working near the old playground discovered a large, unshod footprint about nine inches long, and six inches wide. Hair he found near the print was grayish brown, just like that of Childer’s monster. According to The Clarion-Ledger, historic evidence of a “wood ape" in the area date back to 1721.
Pascagoula River Aliens
Whether this was an alien encounter, or something out of the realm of cryptozoology, the reality is two men saw something in 1973 near Gautier, Mississippi that scared the hell out of them.
The two co-workers were fishing on the Pascagoula River one Thursday night when they saw a blue orb in the sky floating towards them. They watched it until it stopped and hovered above the water about 100 feet from them. As it crawled closer, a strange noise began to emanate from the orb, then the terror started. A hatch opened on the side, and three creatures emerged.
The monsters were five feet tall with “bullet-shaped heads” and no necks. Their mouths, ears, and noses were nothing but slits. Cones “like carrots” protruded from their heads. Their arms ended in claws. The monsters buzzed at the two, then lifted them off the ground with their claws, and floated with them into the orb.
After an examination, both men were left on the ground in shock as the orb disappeared into the sky.
Next up: Missouri.