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Koasati Indian Tribe

Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Alabama,Louisiana,Native American,Texas | No Comments

The Koasati Indians, as shown by their language, are closely related to the Alabama. There were at one time two branches of this tribe – one close to the Alabama, near what is now Coosada station, Elmore County, Ala., the other on the Tennessee River north of Langston, Jackson County. These latter appear but a few times in history, and the name was considerably garbled by early writers. There is reason to believe, however, that it has the honor of an appearance in the De Soto chronicles, as the Coste of Ranjel,1 the Coste or Acoste of Elvas,2 the Costehe of Biedma,3 and the Acosta of Garcilasso.4 The omission of the vowel between s and t is the only difficult feature in this identification. It is evident also that it was at a somewhat different point on the river from that above indicated, since it was on an island. The form Costehe, used also by Pardo, tends to confirm our identification, since it appears to contain the Koasati and Alabama suffix -ha indicating collectivity. Ranjel gives the following account of the experience of the explorers among these “Costehe:”

On Thursday [July 1, 1540] the chief of Coste came out to receive them in peace, and he took the Christians to sleep in a village of his; and he was offended because some soldiers provisioned themselves from, or, rather, robbed him of, some barbacoas of corn against his will. The next day, Thursday,5 on the road leading toward the principal village of Coste, he stole away and gave the Spaniards the slip and armed his people. Friday, the 2d of July, the governor arrived at Coste. This village was on an island in the river, which there flows large, swift, and hard to enter. And the Christians crossed the first branch with no small venture, and the governor entered into the village careless and unarmed, with some followers unarmed. And when the soldiers, as they were used to do, began to climb upon the barbacoas, in an instant the Indians began to take up clubs and seize their bows and arrows and to go to the open square.

The governor commanded that all should be patient and endure for the evident peril in which they were, and that no one should put his hand on his arms; and he began to rate his soldiers and, dissembling, to give them some blows with a cudgel; and he cajoled the chief, and said to him that he did not wish the Christians to make him any trouble; and they would like to go out to the open part of the island to encamp. And the chief and his men went with him; and when they were at some distance from the village in an open place, the governor ordered his soldiers to lay hands on the chief and ten or twelve of the principal Indians, and to put them in chains and collars; and he threatened them, and said that he would burn them all because they had laid hands on the Christians. From this place, Coste, the governor sent two soldiers to view the province of Chisca, which was reputed very rich, toward the north, and they brought good news. There in Coste they found in the trunk of a tree as good honey and even better than could be had in Spain. In that river were found some muscles that they gathered to eat, and some pearls. And they were the first these Christians saw in fresh water, although they are to be found in many parts of this land.6

In one of the accounts of Juan Pardo’s expedition of 1567 we are told that he turned back because he learned that the Indians of Carrosa, Costehe, Chisca, and Cosa had united against him.7 This is the last mention of such a tribe by the Spaniards, and what we hear of the northern body of Koasati at a later period is little enough. We merely know that there was a Koasati village on the Tennessee River in the latter part of the seventeenth century. The “Cochali” of Coxe is probably a misprint for the name of this town. They were said to live on an island in the river just like the Costehe,8 and Sauvolle, who derived his information from a Canadian who had ascended the Tennessee in the summer of 1701 with four companions, says that “the Cassoty and the Casquinonpa are on an island, which the river forms, at the two extremities of which are situated these two nations.”9 They also gave their name to the Tennessee River. In the map reproduced in plate 3 we find “Cusatees 50 in 2 villages” laid down on a big island in the “Cusatees” or “Thegalegos River,” just below the “Tohogalegas” (Yuchi), and between the two a French fort. According to Mr. O. D. Street, Coosada was the name of a mixed settlement of Creeks and Cherokees established about 1784 on the south bank of the Tennessee “at what is now called Larkin’s Landing in Jackson County.”10 Either this was a new settlement by the people we are considering or 1784 marks the date when Cherokee came to live there. The former alternative may very well have been the true one, because the earlier settlement appears not to have been on the mainland. We do not know whether these Koasati were finally absorbed into the Cherokee or whether they emigrated.

The southern Koasati settlement seems to be mentioned first in the enumeration of 1750, where the name is spelled “Couchati,” and in the census of 1760 where it appears as “Conchatys.”11 It occurs often on maps, however, and in approximately the same place. The first allusion to the tribe in literature is probably by Adair, who speaks of “two great towns of the Koo-a-sah-te” as having joined the Creek Confederacy.12 In the list of towns made out in 1761 in order to assign them to traders “Coosawtee including Tomhetaws” is enumerated as having 125 hunters, but is not assigned to anyone on account of its proximity to the French fort.13 Shortly after this list was made out occurred the cession of Mobile to England and the movement of so many Indian tribes across the Mississippi. This occasioned the Koasati removal thus referred to by Adair:

Soon after West-Florida was ceded to Great Britain, two warlike towns of the Koo_a-sah te Indians removed from near the late dangerous Alabama French garrison to the Choktah country about twenty-five miles below Tombikbe – a strong wooden fortress, situated on the western side of a high and firm bank, overlooking a narrow deep point of the river of Mobille, and distant from that capital one hundred leagues. The discerning old war chieftain of this remnant perceived that the proud Muskohge, instead of reforming their conduct towards us, by our mild remonstrances, grew only more impudent by our lenity; therefore being afraid of sharing the justly deserved fate of the others, he wisely withdrew to this situation; as the French could not possibly supply them, in case we had exerted ourselves, either in defence to our properties or in revenge of the blood they had shed. But they were soon forced to return to their former place of abode, on account of the partiality of some of them to their former confederates; which proved lucky in its consequences, to the traders, and our southern colonies: for, when three hundred warriors of the Muskohge were on their way to the Choktah to join them in a war against us, two Kooasâhte horsemen, as allies, were allowed to pass through their ambuscade in the evening, and they gave notice of the impending danger. These Kooasâhte Indians annually sanctify the mulberries by a public oblation, before which they are not to be eaten; which, they say, is according to their ancient law.14

They were accompanied in this movement by some Alabama of Okchaiutci, and apparently by the Tamahita. In 1771 Romans passed their deserted fields on the Tombigbee, which he places 3 miles below the mouth of Sucarnochee River.15 Not many years later the lure of the west moved them again and a portion migrated into Louisiana.

Sibley would place this event about 1795,16 and this agrees well with Hawkin’s statement that they had left shortly before his time. Stiggins is still more specific. He says:

About the year seventeen hundred and ninety-three there was an old Cowassada chieftain that was called Red Shoes, who was violently opposed to their makeing war on the Chickasaws, and as it was determined on contrary to his will he resolved to quit the nation, so he and a mulatto man who resided with the Alabamas named Billy Ashe headed a party of about twenty families, part Cowasadas and the rest Alabamas, and removed to the Red River and tried a settlement about sixty miles up from its mouth, but on trial they were so annoyed and infested by a small red ant that were so very numerous in that country, that they found it hardly possible to put any thing beyond their reach or destruction, so after living there a few years they removed finally from thence to the province of Texas, on the river Trinity, a few miles from the mouth of said river, where they now live.17

Hawkins thus describes the town occupied by those of the tribe who remained in their old territory as it existed in 1799:

Coo-sau-dee is a compact little town situated three miles below the confluence of Coosau and Tallapoosa, on the right bank of Alabama; they have fields on both sides of the river; but their chief dependence is a high, rich island, at the mouth of Coosau. They have some fences, good against cattle only, and some families have small patches fenced, near the town, for potatoes.

These Indians are not Creeks, although they conform to their ceremonies; the men work with the women and make great plenty of corn; all labor is done by the joint labor of all, called public work, except gathering in the crop. During the season for labor, none are exempted from their share of it, or suffered to go out hunting.

There is a rich flat of land nearly five miles in width, opposite the town, on the left side of the river, on which are numbers of conic mounds of earth. Back of the town it is pine barren, and continues so westward for sixty to one hundred miles.

The Coo-sau-dee generally go to market18 by water, and some of them are good oarsmen. A part of this town moved lately beyond the Mississippi, and have settled there. The description sent back by them that the country is rich and healthy, and abounds in game, is likely to draw others after them. But as they have all tasted the sweets of civil life, in having a convenient market for their products, it is likely they will soon return to their old settlements, which are in a very desirable country well suited to the raising of cattle, hogs and horses; they have a few hogs, and seventy or eighty cattle, and some horses. It is not more than three years since they had not a hog among them. Robert Walton,19 who was then the trader of the town, gave the women some pigs, and this is the origin of their stock.20

In 1832 eighty-two Koasati were enumerated in the old nation.21 After their emigration west of the Mississippi they formed two towns – Koasati No. 1 and Koasati No. 2. But few now remain there who can speak the language. Some of these still remember that a part went to Texas.

Stiggins’s account above given of the Koasati migration to Louisiana and Texas seems to be considerably abbreviated. There were probably several distinct movements, or at least the tribe split into several distinct bands from time to time. It is very likely that, as in the case of so many other tribes, the Koasati first settled on Red River, but that part of them soon left it. Sibley’s account of their movements in Louisiana is more detailed than that of Stiggins. He says:

Conchattas are almost the same people as the Allibamis, but came over only ten years ago; first lived on Bayau Chico, in Appelousa district, but, four years ago, moved to the river Sabine, settled themselves on the east bank, where they now live, in nearly a south direction from Natchitoch, and distant about eighty miles. They call their number of men one hundred and sixty, but say, if they were altogether, they would amount to two hundred. Several families of them live in detached settlements. They are good hunters, and game is plenty about where they are. A few days ago, a small party of them were here,22 consisting of fifteen persons, men, women, and children, who were on their return from a bear hunt up Sabine. They told me they had killed one hundred and eighteen; but this year an uncommon number of bears have come down. One man alone, on Sabine, during the Summer and Fall, hunting, killed four hundred deer, sold his skins at forty dollars a hundred. The bears, this year, are not so fat as common; they usually yield from eight to twelve gallons of oil, each of which never sells for less than a dollar a gallon, and the skin a dollar more; no great quantity of the meat is saved; what the hunters don’t use when out, they generally give to their dogs. The Conchattas are friendly with all other Indians, and speak well of their neighbors the Carankouas, who, they say, live about eighty miles south of them, on the bay, which I believe, is the nearest point to the sea from Natchitoches. A few families of Chactaws have lately settled near them from Bayau Beauf. The Conchattas speak Creek, which is their native language, and Chactaw, and several of them English, and one or two of them can read it a little.23

They may have been on Red River previous to their settlement on Bayou Chicot. Schermerhom24 states that in 1812 the Koasati on the Sabine numbered 600, but most of these must have left before 1822, because Morse in his report of that year estimates 50 Koasati on the Neches River in Texas and 240 on the Trinity, while 350 are set down as living on the Red River in Louisiana.25 These last are elsewhere referred to as a band which had obtained permission from the to locate near them. Whether they were part of the original settlers from lower down the river or had moved over from the Sabine is not apparent. By 1850 most of these had gone to Texas, where Bollaert estimated that the number of their warriors then on the lower Trinity was 500 in two villages called Colête and Batìsta.”26 All of the Koasati did not leave Louisiana at that time, however, a considerable body continuing to occupy the wooded country in Calcasieu and St. Landry Parishes. Later the two Texas villages were reduced to one, which in turn broke up, probably on account of a pestilence, part uniting with the Alabama in Polk County, but the greater part returning to Louisiana to join their kindred there. At the present time about 10 are still living with the Alabama. Those in Louisiana are more numerous, counting between 80 and 90, and here is the only spot where the tribe still maintains itself as a distinct people. Their village is in the pine woods about 7 miles northeast of Kinder, Allen Parish, La., and 21 miles north of a flag station called Lauderdale on the Frisco Railroad. Elsewhere very few of this tribe are now to be found who speak pure Koasati uncorrupted by either Creek or Alabama.

A band of Koasati probably joined the Seminole, since we find a place marked “Coosada Old Town” on the middle course of Choctawhatchee River in Vignoles’s map of Florida, dated 1823.

Associated with the Koasati we find an Upper Creek town called Wetumpka, which means in Muskogee “tumbling or falling water.” It must not be confounded with a Lower Creek settlement of the same name, an outvillage of Coweta Tallahassee. It is also claimed that Wiwohka (q. v.) was originally so called. The Wetumpka with which we have to deal was on the east bank of Coosa River, in Elmore County, Alabama, near the falls. At one time there were two towns here, known as Big Wetumpka and Little Wetumpka respectively, the former on the site of the modern town of Wetumpka, the latter above the falls in Coosa River.27 Possibly this tribe may be identical with the Tononpa or Thomapa, which appears on French maps at the western end of the falls. (See map of De l’lsle, 1732, and DeCrenay, 1733.)28 It is probably represented by the “Welonkees” of the enumeration of 1761, classed with a town which appears to have been the principal town of the Alabama.29 It is noted by Bartram as one of those speaking the “Stinkard” language – i. e., some-thing other than Muskogee.30 He places it beside that of the Koasati, and it would seem likely that this indicates the true position of its people, for when the Koasati moved to Tombigbee River Wetumpka accompanied them. On January 16, 1772, Romans passed “the remains of the old Weetumpkee settlement,” 7 miles above a point which Hamilton identifies as Carneys Bluff,31 on the Tombigbee River. The removal was probably recent, because on April 4 of the same year Taitt visited their town “about one mile E.S.E. from this [Koasati], up theTallapuse River,” and found them engaged in building a new hot house.32 Presumably this was the first to be erected after their return from the Tombigbee.

Swan’s reference, 1792, is the last we hear of the tribe.33 They probably united with the Koasati or the Alabama.

Footnotes

  1. Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, II, p. 109. 

  2. Ibid., I, p. 78. 

  3. Ibid., II, p. 15. 

  4. Garcilasso in Shipp, De Soto and Fla., p. 373. 

  5. Probably Friday. 

  6. Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, II, pp. 109-111. 

  7. Ruidiaz, La Florida, II, pp. 271-272. 

  8. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1850, p. 230. 

  9. MS. In Lib. La. Hist. Soc., Louisiane. Correspondence Générale, pp. 403-404. Mr. W. E. Myer, the well-known student of Tennessee archeology, thinks that this was Long Island. 

  10. Pub. Ala. Hist. Soc., I, p. 417. 

  11. MS., Ayer Lib.; Miss. Prov. Arch, i, p. 94. 

  12. Adair, Uist. Am. Inds., p. 257. 

  13. Fla. Col. Docs., viu, p. 524. 

  14. Adair, Hist. Am. Inds., p. 267. 

  15. Romans, Nat. Hist. of E. & W. Fla., pp. 326-327. 

  16. See p. 205. 

  17. Stiggins, MS. 

  18. The Lib. of Cong. MS. has “to Mobile” inserted here. 

  19. He was trader there in 1797 when Hawkins describes him as “an active man, more attentive to his character now than heretofore.” (Ga. Hist. Soc. Colls., IX, p. 169.) He also gives the names of two other traders, ” Francis Tusant, an idle Frenchman in debt to Mr. Panton and to the factory,” and “John McLeod of bad character.” 

  20. Ga. Hist. Soc. Colls., III, pp. 35-36. 

  21. Senate Doc. 512, 23d Cong., 1st sess., IV, p. 267. 

  22. He is writing from the post of Natchitoches. 

  23. Sibley in Annals of Congress, 9th Cong., 2d sess., 1085-86 (1806-7). 

  24. Mass. Hist. Soc. Colls., 2d ser., II, p. 26, 1814. 

  25. Morse, Rept. to Sec. of War, p. 373. 

  26. Bollaert, in Jour. Ethn. Soc. London, II, p. 282. 

  27. Swan in Schoolcraft, Ind. Tribes, V, p. 262. 

  28. Plate 5; also Hamilton, Col. Mobile, p. 190. 

  29. Ga. Col. Docs., VIII, p. 524. 

  30. Bartram, Travels, p. 461. 

  31. Hamilton, Col. Mobile, p. 284, 1910. 

  32. Mereness, Trav. Am. Col., pp. 536-537. 

  33. Schoolchraft, Ind. Tribes, V, p. 262. 


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