Humans have lived in and around the Delta for many centuries, dating back to at least 1500 BC. A most spectacular evidence of prehistoric human existence is found deep within the Delta at a site known as the Bottle Creek Indian Mounds. Archaeologists believe that leaders of a Mississippian Period Indian culture lived atop these mounds during their cultural dominance around 700 years ago.
Around the time of Columbus, these prehistoric societies had largely faded, replaced by new tribes such as the Alabamous, Mobilians, and Taensa, from whom key place names (Alabama, Mobile, and Tensaw) were derived as the Delta became an avenue of exploration for wanderers to the new world.
In 1559 explorer Tristan de Luna waded ashore in Mobile Bay to attempt one of the first European settlements in the New World. Like other Spanish adventurers – Pantilo de Narva’ez, Alvarez de Pineda, and Hernando de Soto – de Luna found this part of coastal America to be especially appealing. The Spanish called the Mobile River “Rio del Espirita Santo,” River of the Holy Spirit. One explanation for this name is based on the great natural richness encountered during expeditions up the river into the Mobile- Tensaw River Delta. Where Spanish efforts fizzled, the French settled successfully in the Delta area; thus the prevalence of French place names around Mobile, as well as the city’s Mardi-Gras kinship with New Orleans.
In 1778, William Bartram, a naturalist, artist, and botanist, was on a biological expedition that had taken him from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Florida and west to the French settlement of Mobile. It was August when Bartram began his exploration of the Delta and the Mobile, Tensaw, Alabama, and Tombigbee Rivers. Near the mouth of Majors Creek in present day Baldwin County, Bartram wrote in his journal:
“Next morning I arose early, continuing my voyage, passed by, on each hand, high forest and rich swamps and frequent ruins of ancient French plantations: the canes and cypress trees of an astonishing magnitude, as were the trees of other tribes, indicating an excellent soil. Came too at noon, and advancing forward from the river and penetrating the awful shades, passed between the stately columns of the Magnolia grandiflora, and came to the ascents supporting the high forest and expansive plain above —- What a sylvan scene is here!”
William Bartram was a keen observer and experienced botanist who had traveled extensively in the Southeast in the late 1700’s. For Bartram to be impressed with the grandeur of this area, and making the statement that it is a sylvan scene, meaning abounding in woods and trees, makes one realize the Delta was a special place then just as it is today.