146 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI Fires caused by frequent lightning strikes and the Native American practice of burning the underbrush shaped the environment by allowing the longleaf to become the dominant pine in the region by the time Europeans arrived. Lawrence Early in Looking for Longleaf attributes the tree’s resistance to fire to four key characteristics: “…thick bark, large seed size, inconsistent seeding, and slow growth during the tree’s early years….” While longleaf was not the fastest-growing pine, it had a unique ability to survive the fires that frequently occurred in the Piney Woods. These fires ravaged other varieties of trees and shrubs with which the longleaf competed for nutrients, proving a great advantage to the longleaf. Descriptions of longleaf forests by visitors to the region entail a canopy of trees with very little underbrush. The wire grass, or Aristida, was often found in conjunction with the longleaf pine; travelers commented on the open, park-like expanses that went on for miles and miles as they journeyed through the longleaf pine forests. Wildlife was also abundant—deer, squirrels, and turkeys in particular—and served as important food sources for the inhabitants of the Piney Woods. Two once common inhabitants of the longleaf pine ecosystem, the gopher tortoise and the red-cockaded woodpecker, are less abundant today because of the decimation of the longleaf forest by logging during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The modern pine forest that replaced the longleaf ecosystem is a mixture of faster-growing pine species and southern hardwoods. While efforts are being made to reestablish the longleaf pine, many of the pines that exist today are fast-growing varieties managed for the forest products industry. The pine forests still represent a significant economic resource in the region today. The copious waterways of the Piney Woods shaped human settlement patterns. The land along the rivers was more fertile than the high, sandy ridges. The creeks, rivers, and streams in the region run roughly north to south, flowing eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The majority of the Piney Woods is drained by two major river systems, the Pascagoula and the Pearl. The Pascagoula is the largest river system in the United States with no dam to inhibit its flow. Tributaries of the Pascagoula include the Chickasawhay River, Escatawpa River, Leaf River, Bouie River, Okatoma Creek, Chunky River, Tallahala Creek, and Black Creek. These tributaries wind through Covington, Lamar, Forrest, Jones, Perry, Wayne, and Greene counties. Unlike its eastern neighbor, the Pearl River basin has fewer feeder streams and today is affected by a series of dams along its upper reaches. The Bogue Chitto River, Strong River, and Yockanookany River all merge into the Pearl, with only the Bogue Chitto being located in Piney Woods proper. The Pearl is the primary watershed in Marion, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Walthall, and Lincoln counties. Western Lincoln County is the origin of the Amite River, which runs southward into Louisiana and into Lake Maurepas. Pike County is dissected by the Tangipahoa River, which flows southward into Louisiana and empties into Lake Pontchartrain. The Choctaw tribe inhabited almost all of the thirteen- county area that makes up the Piney Woods prior to the arrival of the French on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1699. The French and Spanish governments who controlled the region between 1699 and 1798 showed little interest in Mississippi’s Piney Woods. In 1795, the United States and Spain agreed in Pinckney’s Treaty, also known as the Treaty of San Lorenzo, the southern boundary of the United States between the Mississippi River and the Chattahoochee River would be the 31st parallel. The United States subsequently sent Andrew Ellicott to survey the boundary in 1798, a process that took four years but would eventually establish the 31st parallel as the official international boundary. The 31st parallel is important because today it serves as the state boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana from the Mississippi River to the Pearl River, and is the point from which all land claims in southern Mississippi are measured. The 31st parallel is also the southernmost boundary of much of Lamar and Greene counties. The importance of the St. Stephens Baseline—not be confused with the St. Stephens Meridian which runs north to south from St. Stephens to Mobile—is illustrated in the First Choctaw Cession, or the Treaty of Mount Dexter. The In 1820, 75,448 people called Mississippi home. Of that number, 21,505, or 28.5 percent, lived in the Piney Woods. The settlers who migrated to the Piney Woods in the antebellum period often journeyed west from similar southern climates. Descriptions of longleaf forests by visitors to the region entail a canopy of trees with very little underbrush. The wire grass, or Aristida, was often found in conjunction with the longleaf pine; travelers commented on the open, park-like expanses that went on for miles and miles as they journeyed through the longleaf pine forests.