One of the worst-kept secrets in the town of Natchez in Mississippi revolves around the hints, stories and unanswered questions about the alleged concentration camp at the bottom of the Devil’s Punchbowl


America has a very dark history of exploitation and atrocity, and a video by WJTV from 2014 begs that many questions find answers to the tales told by Natchez locals about a civil war-era slave concentration camp.  According to legend, many freshly emancipated and escaped slaves perished in concentration camp conditions in Natchez Mississippi. Locals refer to this notorious location as the Devil’s Punchbowl.



The Devil’s Punchbowl basin is overgrown now, but locals still brim with tales of historical horrors, and of course won’t eat the wild peaches found there, due to what they fear fertilizes them. To add more conviction to their claims, occasionally bones wash up downstream. Bones with silent horrific tales they are no longer able to tell.


During the Civil War, many escaped or newly freed slaves found themselves in the little town of Natchez

The influx swelled the population of the town beyond capacity. So legend has it that the Unionists set up what was known as a contraband camp. However, given the context of the times, dehumanization of the African American people was still rife, even among those whites who purported to support their freedom.




A New York Times article from September 6, 1863, confirms the influx of the those who had been slaves into Natchez. The unnamed correspondent described how the people of the town of Natchez were extremely wealthy. Additionally, most were Unionists, but the author described how “They admit that Slavery is gone forever.” Nevertheless, many of these plantation owners had used many African Americans as slaves for their own farms.

Allegedly, the locals of Natchez were attempting to coax these people to work for wages instead. However, the author describes how they were hard to motivate. But when one considers the horrors they likely endured, most would have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and institutionalization. Generations of living under the dehumanizing “ownership” would mean the bright light of freedom would initially be blinding.



Existence of horror camps confirmed historically

Still, the correspondent divulges the existence of the camps. These places existed in historical records. Therefore, it is highly suspicious that there is no attempt to excavate or explore the locations where the Unionists had placed these people. What secrets are the people of Natchez covering up? Why the reluctance to reveal the truth of what lies at the bottom of the Devil’s Punchbowl?



Nevertheless, some modern townspeople are keen to speak out about the tragic history of the area.  WJTV interviewed local historian Don Estes, and local paranormal expert Paula Westbrook in 2014. Estes was the former director of the cemetery that overlooks the location of the horror camp.  Westbrook’s work as a paranormal investigator involves in-depth research into the history of the local area. Each had very sad descriptions of what had taken place in the Devil’s Punchbowl.

According to Estes, authorities walled off the contraband camps in which the freed slaves were staying. Suddenly, their newfound freedom was cut short, and an even greater horror befell them. Estes described how authorities viewed the influx of these traumatized people as something to capitalize upon.


The men were put into hard labor or considered to be cannon fodder in the army

Grievously, they felt the women and children superfluous, so horrifically merely left them to die. Altogether, Estes claims three separate contraband camps then became degraded into horrific concentration camps. Thousands upon thousands of people perished, untreated, from rife diseases such as smallpox.

Westbrook concurs with Estes accounts. She elaborated by explaining further devastating atrocities. The cruel authorities did not permit anyone to remove the dead bodies of their loved ones from the camps. Callously, authorities handed them shovels and told them to “bury them where they drop.



Estes, with a sense of futility, expressed “the Devil’s Punchbowl has so many people that no one knows how they got killed or when, and they’re still down there wasted.

Author Jim Downs described in his book Sick from Freedom how the emancipation of the slaves was not as straightforward as many believe. He explains how these newly freed people, weak and traumatized by their horrific ordeals as slaves, became victims of a public health crisis. Down’s book contains many references to incidences which reflect the stories handed down about the Devil’s Punchbowl.

To further emphasize the likelihood that these stories are real, is to look into the context of times. Humankind has a penchant for dehumanizing others so to overcome pangs of conscience and exploit others for personal gainDavid Livingstone Smith in his main treatise on dehumanization Less Than Human explores this most horrific of human traits. Sadly, we can’t have any expectation, given the context of the times, that anyone was treating these freed slaves with anything nearing dignity.


Never forget

Many descendants of the victims of slavery now com to pay respects, peering sadly over the top of the Devil’s Punchbowl. They mourn, pray and demand clarity for all the horrific unanswered questions. It is as if the silence, and lack of action to find out the truth, is America’s most significant guilt admission of all.


References: Black ThenBlack Main StreetNew York Times, NPR
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