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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