"The most prominent indian tribes in
the Louisiana Territory"
4. The Tunica
Louisiana has the third largest Native
American population in the eastern United States. Only
North Carolina and Florida have more than the 16,040 Louisiana
Indians counted in the census of 1980. The Louisiana Indian
in the real world today can be found driving a bulldozer, directing
an oil-field crew, playing a fiddle in a New Orleans restaurant,
or cutting pulpwood.
Today many Indian groups are culturally
and racially mixed; entire languages will never be heard again.
Panfilo de Narvaez, sailing westward along the Gulf coast in
1526, reached the mouth of the Mississippi River and then continued
westward at some distance from shore.
From one of the castaways, Cabeza de Vaca,
has some the earliest description of Texas coastal Indians related
to the Atakapa of southwest Louisiana. Under their own
impetus in the latter half of the seventeenth century, Europeans
in numbers began to reach what was to be Louisiana. They were
French men instead of Spaniards, with the notable exception
of Alonzo de Leon, whose expedition of 1690 crossed overland
from Mexico and reached the Caddoan Adai east of the Sabine
The chief avenue of approach for the Frenchmen was the
Mississippi River. Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette
descended the river as far as the Quapaw towns near the mouth
of the Arkansas in 1673, and five years later Rene Robert Cavelier
de La Salle completed his epic trip down the Mississippi River
to its mouth.
Energized by La Salle's journey, a host
of missionary priests descended on Louisiana, and from them
have come invaluable observations on the Indians to whom they
ministered. Literature on Louisiana's tribes varies extensively
in coverage. The greater tribes generally were accorded closer
attention than, for example, the Atakapa, whose chief distinction
lay in the very meagerness of their material culture.
Indians, the Atakapa called themselves I shak, "the people."
The name Atakapa is of Choctaw, or Mobilian, origin and means
"eater of human flesh." Atakapa lands included all
of what is today southwestern Louisiana, extending from upper
Bayou Teche to the Sabine River and from the Gulf of Mexico
northward almost to present-day Alexandria.
The Atakapa comprised four sovereign bands,
each of which had one or more villages. To early explorers,
the Louisiana Atakapa was an almost invisible people, seen rarely
in their boats along the coast in summer.
betrayed their presence by distant smokes and marsh fires. According
to tradition, the Louisiana Atakapa came from the West, where
their cultural kinsmen survived well into historic times. The
Caddo Tribes in Louisiana in 1700 included the Adai, Doustione,
Natchitoches, Ouanchita, and Yatasi.
The shifting stream channels.
The Louisiana Caddo were fundamentally a southeastern people
their languages were unlike those to the east but may have been
distantly related to other non-Muskogean languages in the Southeast.
The Caddo lived well in a fertile country. Their economy was
bolstered by active trade, hunting, and fishing, in addition
to agriculture. Even the bison was at hand and was hunted a
long the northwest Louisiana buffalo trails as late as 1700.
The Tunica were an active people, outstripping
even the Natchitoches and Koroa as traders in salt and busy
with farming, hunting, and fishing. Some have characterized
Tunican culture as comparatively plain, but it is possible that
this characterization stems from a lack of more detailed knowledge
of the people.
The Natchez speakers, in 1700, were of three
tribes: the Taensa and Avoyel in Louisiana, and the Natchez
of the Mississippi River's left bank. Occupying the margins
of the Florida parishes-that portion of the "toe"
of the Louisiana "boot' north of the Isle of Orleans-and
intermittently, the Mississippi River's banks from the Red River
southward, were seven sovereign tribes, none of which was large.
seven tribes, known as the Muskogeans, conformed to the regional
pattern. They spoke Choctaw
dialects but were not members of the Choctaw confederacy. The
primary Houma village in 1700 stood on blufflands flanking the
portage between the big meanders of the Mississippi River where
a westward loop received Red River, now the site of Angola.
Iberville spoke of 140 cabins, arranged in a circle, and estimated
the population to include some 350 potential warriors and many
The Houma may have been an offshoot of
the Chakchiuma, a Yazoo River tribe with whom the Houma shared
their tribal symbol, the red crayfish. Houma is Choctaw
or Mobilian Jargon for "red," possibly derived from
the last two syllables of the parent tribe's name, Chakchiuma.
Bayougoula is Choctaw or Mobilian Jargon for "bayou people.
What may have been the tribe's name for itself, Pischenoa, Choctaw
or Mobilian Jargon for "ours," appears once in an
The tribe's totem animal was the alligator. The four to five hundred Bayuogoula in 1700 were clustered
about a single village on the site of modern Bayou Goula. Iberville
found the settlement a quarter of a mile from the right bank
of the Mississippi River, on a little stream that provide the
domestic water supply.
Comparatively little is known about the
other Muskogean-speaking tribes of Louisiana-the Acolapissa,
Mugulasha, Okelousa, Quinapisa, and Tangipahoa. Even their identities
remain uncertain. Those in more remote places were not exposed
to the influx of French observers. All were on the move in historic
Tangipahoa is Choctaw for "corn gatherers"
or "corncob people." The people with this name
were said to have been a seventh town of the Acolapissa on Pearl
River. Yet, before 1682, at least some of them had moved to
the Mississippi River to establish a village on the left bank
two leagues below the Quinapisa town.
By 1682 the town had been
destroyed by the combined Houma and Okelousa, the survivors
fleering back to the Acolapissa on Pearl River.Okelousa is Choctaw
for "black water", a name said to have been given
to this small tribe because it occupied lands around two small
lakes in which the water was darkened by its high organic content.
The lakes are presumed to have been to
the west of and above Pointe Coupee. The group is further
characterized as "wandering people west of the Mississippi"
and elsewhere, with the Washa and Chawasha, as "wandering
people o f the seacoasts." The name Chitimacha may be the
people's own term for "those living on Grand River,"
or it may be Choctaw for "those who have pots.
" The latter allusion is difficult
to understand, since all tribes of the lower Mississippi made
and used pottery. More recently, the Chitimacha have
called themselves, in their own language, "men altogether
red."Another name, Yaknechito, meaning "big country,"
The Chitimacha were a numerous people.
An estimated population
of four thousand in 1650 has been proposed for the three tribes,
a figure none too high in view of the number of villages recorded.
Up to the twentieth century, thirteen to fifteen names of villages
could be recalled and the sites identified, and earlier there
were many more.
The term Washa is possibly Choctaw for
"hunting place," an appropriate name in view of the
abundance of game in the lowlands the Washa occupied.
Lake Washa, more commonly called Lake Salvador, in St. Charles
Parish, and another, smaller Lake Washa, in lower Terrebonne
Parish, still bear the name. The extent to which Washa material
and social culture traits paralleled those of their presumed
linguistic kin, the Chitimacha, is unknown.