Monthly Archives: January 2019

A PRELUDE TO LOUISIANA – PART III

Comparing and analyzing the colonial sources along with modern studies of archaeology, tribal histories, and Native Louisiana folklore, a picture emerges of nomadic groups who survived along the edges of the marsh and the various rivers and bayous that is the Gulf Coast of south Louisiana. It may be useful to compare their wanderings to the semi-nomadic lifestyle of the buffalo hunters of the same era on the North American Plains or even further afield to the mammoth hunters in the late Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of Europe. In simple terms, all of these family groups and clan/tribes followed the migrating herds. Seasonal villages were built along the group’s migratory cycle. People came and went with the seasons or with the flux in population. Different groups merged together and broke apart as climate conditions, landscapes, game populations, and human politics demanded. Unlike our neat Euro- American farmsteads, settlements, ranges, and ranches, which we claim and call our private property, the Native Louisianans lived in the best places they could find, given the moment. During the moments around 1718, one of those places was on or near the portage between the Mississippi and Bayou St. John. 

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One of Louisiana’s earliest chroniclers, le Page du Pratz, settled at a spot on Bayou St. John in 1718. In the process of building his concession, he acquired a female Indian slave to keep house and cook (and, no doubt, to perform other wifely services). He writes that his lady is of the local ”Chitimacha” tribe. He also goes on to record that the Chitimacha danced the calumet ceremony (smoked the peace pipe) with and for Bienville at the new settlement being built at New Orleans (Pratz & Fortier). Also, on Bayou St. John (near the southern line of today’s City Park), another early settler, St. Denis, is said to have settled on land that was once an “Acolapissa” village (Phares, p. 39). The overall picture of the native population is clarified by the presence of another local bayou called the Tchoupitoulas, which connected to Bayou St. John from the west. Today, Metairie Road more or less traces its route, but in colonial times, it led to the country (settlements) of the Tchoupitoulas Indians. These people lived along the Mississippi in today’s Jefferson Parish. Some sources say that the Tchoupitoulas had disappeared by the time the French arrived. However, there is evidence that they remained there well into the nineteenth century, Mr. Meloney Soniat, writing in the Louisiana Historical Quarterly in 1924, tells of childhood memories of the Tchoupitoulas on his grandfather’s plantation-which was named after the Indians. 

“The Indians of the Tchoupitoulas Village were gradually driven away by the white settlers and moved over the lake in the neighborhood of Mandeville, there joining other tribes. Every winter, however, some of them would come back and camp on a piece of ground called Terre Haute, in the rear of the Tchoupitoulas Plantation, where there was a large grove of magnolias. There the Indians would remain until Spring, when they would return to their village near Mandeville. These visits continued until the United States Government had the tribes removed to the Indian Reservation. I remember that, as a boy, I visited the Indians on several occasions at Terre Haute, and saw their huts, which were built of palmetto leaves. The reason given by the Indians for coming from over the lake, was that the winters were less rigorous on this side, but the real reason, no doubt, was that the older Indians who had inhabited the village of the Tchoupitoulas were drawn back to the neighborhood where they, in their youth, had been accustomed to hunt and fish without interference from the whites; then again their descendants also desired to visit the hunting grounds of their ancestors.” (LHQ 1924; V7, #2, p.314 ff.)

 

 

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Filed under Louisiana History, Tri-centennial, 1718, 2018, 300th, anniversary, author, writer, speaker, teacher, non-fiction, Bienville, Iberville, Bayou St. John, Natchez, Indians, Native American, Tunica, Bayougoula, Mississippi,

1698: A PRELUDE TO LOUISIANA con’t

 

We left the French sharing their “Gallic” attitude with the Natives, and so . . .

If you ask the proverbial ‘New Orleanian on the street today’ about the local Indians who were here at the founding of the city in 1718, you will undoubtedly hear that the Houma, Choctaw, Tunica, Tchoupitoulas, and/or Natchez were here when the French arrived (if you get an answer at all). Several factors played into the creation of this local Indian lore, not the least being the white man’s tendency to group all Native Americans together as one large homogeneous people. Beyond this, the fact that today, the Houma, the Tunica-Biloxi, and the Choctaw are all still viable groups living in South Louisiana makes it easy to assume that these were the groups who were here in 1718. In truth, all of these groups were present in colonial Louisiana before and after the founding of the city. But of the Indians who actually lived in the New Orleans area (listed below) none of these tribes or nations are counted. Much of the confusion arises because most of the people who did live in the area spoke dialects of the Choctaw language, known as Muskhogean. Since these languages were pervasive in the New Orleans area, many of the Indians were simply called Choctaws by the Europeans. It must be stated clearly that while the local (New Orleans area) natives spoke versions of the Choctaw language, the Choctaw Nation itself was located by all the original sources far to the north of the Ile d’Orleans. So the question becomes, who were the local New Orleans Indians in 1718? 

Chitimacha? Acolapissa? Choctaw? Houma? Tchoupitoulas? The probable answer is all of them… and a few others as well. LaSalle, in 1682, called the local natives at the southern end of the great river the Quinapissa. These were the Indians whom Iberville sought to contact to unequivocally prove that he had come up the same river which LaSalle had come down. In his journals, Iberville names the natives he encountered upon his arrival in 1699. He notes that on his first voyage during the spring of 1699, the following groups were below the joining of the Red and the Mississippi Rivers; the Pascagoula, and the Bilocchy aka Biloxi (on the coast), the Bayougoula, Mougoulascha, Quinipissa, Moctoby, Chitimacha, Chaouacha, Ouascha, Houma, and the Tangipahoa (on or near the river). (Iberville, p. 40-65) By the end of March, 1699, Bienville and Iberville had come into possession of a letter left by Henri de Tonti with the Natives in 1685. This letter, as well as a book, and some empty bottles had been given to the Natives by Tonti before he returned to Canada. In the letter he calls the Natives the Quinipissa. The LeMoyne brothers knew the same Natives as the Bayougoula/ Mougoulascha. (Iberville, p. 89) On the river, the French appear to have dealt mainly with the Bayougoula group(s) during their early explorations, Iberville notes that the Quinapissa (read Bayougoula) had deserted a village on Bayou St. John some years before their arrival. (Iberville, p. 111) This same village was associated with the “Acolapissa” by du Pratz and St. Denis (see below). Prior to discovering the Tonti letter, Iberville further clarifies the identification of these groups as he records a discussion with the Bayougoula on March 14th. Within this conversation, Iberville learned that the Bayougoula, Mougoulascha, Quinipissa, Chaouacha, Ouascha, Chitimacha, and the Tangipahoa were almost certainly kinship groups. Group names and villages were constantly in flux, joining and splitting apart probably in response to local economic conditions. The dialogue revealed that the Tangipahoa group had been destroyed by a Houma raid and therefore the Quinipissa were thus reduced from seven to six villages (Iberville, p. 61).

 

Raids such as these were common among the various Native groups and contributed to the population flux. Small tribal groups, like the Bayougoula, et. al. were prime candidates for slave raiding by more powerful neighbors, The Houma, the Natchez, and the Choctaw (proper) made many such raids that further decimated the populations, European diseases, against which the Indians were defenseless, were also part of this scenario, These factors, disease and raids, are most likely the cause of the disappearance or absorption of the Tchoupitoulas. Finally, we must consider the Chitimacha. The tribe holds (on their website) that they were the original inhabitants of New Orleans. The truth in this tradition adds strength to the above population outline. Today, the Chitimacha are located just to the west of Greater New Orleans, and very likely were part of the kinship groups who wandered the lower reaches of the Mississippi, Lake Pontchartrain, and Bayou Lafourche areas, now joining, now diffusing from their kinsfolk taking advantage of the abundant natural resources of the area (http://www.chitimacha.gov/index.htm). 

TO BE CONTINUED:

 

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1698: A PRELUDE TO LOUISIANA 

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE.

I promise I won’t repeat this for a long time (maybe a couple of months). But to just set the tone once more re: the TriCentennial. The date of the founding of New Orleans may be placed anywhere  (depending on how one defines “founding”) between 1717 and 1722. So I plan to continue this blog for a while yet. During a typical New Year’s task of reviewing and cleaning out old files (this one specifically on the http://1718neworleans.com website, I came across an old essay I had written back in 2012 which I named and later posted on the site as:

1698: A PRELUDE TO LOUISIANA 

Enjoy this look back to the beginnings of our project and I hope you pick up sense of what the “founders” were dealing with.

Forests of odd-looking trees. Marshes and prairies of waving grasses. Water everywhere… lakes, bayous, a spectacular river, and soggy swamps. Insects galore. Half-naked Indians with strange customs. Strange foods. Unpredictable, unmerciful weather. LaSalle had passed through this landscape in 1682 and claimed it all for France. None of his countrymen, though, made it back until an expedition under the LeMoyne brothers of Canada arrived in 1699. This is the prelude to what they would find as they paddled and slogged through the land that would eventually become New Orleans. It was largely due to these very elements – good and bad – that the City of New Orleans is what it is today. Understanding the original inhabitants and the basic geography of this area is key to understanding how New Orleans came into existence in the first place, and why it is still such a dynamic and economically important city today. 

The Native Americans 

By 1650, Spain, Britain, and France had divvied up North America among themselves. No thought, of course, was given to the people who actually lived here. After all, they had no guns, were often migratory, living off the bounty of the earth in cooperation with the needs and requirements of the land. Besides, there were not a whole lot of them. To the European mind, therefore, the American continents were vast, empty lands upon which to plant their civilization. It appears that the French, as opposed to the other Powers, saw the natives as a bit more than half-naked savages. They were partners in trade, teachers about the land and its bounty, and a fertile population for the spread of the One, True, Catholic faith. This attitude was rooted in the Gallic approach to colonial policy. French strategy called for the creation of a balance to the economic and military advantages that Spanish and English colonies were providing to their countries. As the Englishmen and women settled in significant numbers along the coast and began to civilize the wilderness into what would become the USA, the French created some smaller settlements in the North, then began moving westward in sizable numbers. The coureurs de bois (literally, rovers of the forests and freelancers), the voyageurs (government sanctioned travelers), and the Jesuits spread French Catholic influence among the Natives all along the rivers and lakes above the 40th Parallel (the line that slices North America in half longways, approx. at the latitude of St. Louis, MO). While the French were not exactly enlightened in their opinion of the Native Americans and still considered them to be savages, they generally treated them with respect. Since they were more interested in religious conversion, trade, and lining their pockets as opposed to settling down, the Frenchmen created a less intrusive presence than the English. These Gallic attitudes permeated the social and geographical matrix that became known as Louisiana. 

There will be a few more installments to this story.

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