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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Filed under Louisiana History, NEW ORLEANS TRI-CENTENNIAL 1718 TO 2018

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