Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

Kent Mathewson


This study examines the contrasting themes of land degradation and environmental stewardship of farming enterprises in the regional context of the Upper Pearl River Basin of Mississippi. Both the previous imagery and analysis of Southern Cotton Belt agriculture emphasize the profligate nature of farming practices. The contribution this study makes is to amend both the stock images and macro-analyses of Southern cotton culture. Analysis at the sub-regional level demonstrates that many farmers actually practiced sound land management techniques. Reconstructing the experiences of farmers in the Upper Pearl River Basin provides examples of ways in which regional distinctions amend widely conceived historical views of the monolithic nature of Southern agriculture. The Upper Pearl River Basin of Mississippi provides the setting for an environmental historical geography of settlement, agriculture, and landscape modification. The Upper Basin is located in east central Mississippi, encompassing 12 counties in four sub-regions and the Pearl River itself. The Pearl River assumes an important role as an important means of transportation and as an environmental indicator. The time period spans from the protohistoric period (early 1700's) through 1940. In the protohistoric period, the Upper Basin was the core of the Choctaw nation. After the conclusion of major native land cessions, a wave of Anglo settlers arrived before the Civil War, and the Upper Basin became a busy part of the Southern Cotton Kingdom. Cotton farmers rapidly transformed the landscape into one based on production of a staple crop. The Civil War caused considerable disruption to the cotton economy of the region. Soil conservation measures were alternately adopted or neglected in the struggle to maintain high cotton output. Cotton culture endured a setback at the turn-of-the- century with the appearance of the boll weevil. This adversity encouraged a new round of environmental adaptation, and cotton output recovered. This study demonstrates the need for comparative work in other Southern regions, to provide a regionally textured alternative to the prevailing tide of depictions stressing the benighted environmental consequences of land and life in the South.