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Natchez Indian Tribe
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Mississippi,Native American | No Comments
The Natchez having been made the subject of a special study by the writer,1 no extended notice need be given here. Their earliest known home was on St. Catharines Creek, Mississippi, close to the present city which bears their name. After Louisiana was colonized by the French the latter established a post among them, which was in a very flourishing condition when, in the year 1729, it was suddenly cut off by a native uprising. Subsequently the French attacked these Indians, killed many, captured some, whom they sent to Santo Domingo as slaves, and forced the rest to abandon their old country and settle among the Chickasaw. When the French turned their attacks against the Chickasaw the Natchez found it necessary to move again, and some went to the Cherokee, some to the Catawba, and some to the Creeks. Those who went to the Cherokee and Creeks subsequently followed their fortunes, and the latter band was taken in by the Abihka. They seem to have conformed in most particulars to the usages of their neighbors. Taitt thus describes his visit to them on March 27, 1772:
I went this morning to black drink to the Square, where I was very kindley received by the head men of the town who told me to look on myself as being amongst my friends and not to be affraid of any thing, for their fire was the same as Charlestown fire and they never had Spilt the blood of any white Man;2 after that I had Smoked Tobacco and drinked black drink with them they desired that I might Stay in their Town all day as they were building a hot house and Should have a dance in the Evening which they wanted me to see. In the Evening I went to the Square where thirteen Chickasaws had joined the Natchies and Creeks for the dance. . . The women being dressed like Warriours with bows, hatchets, and other weapons in their hands, came into the Square and danced round the fire, the pole Cat dance, two men Singing and ratling their Callabashes all the time.3
Although having separate towns, the Natchez and Abihka are said to have intermarried to such an extent as to become completely fused. Since descent was reckoned in the female line the Natchez were still distinguished from the Abihka through their mothers, and the language was transmitted thus for many years, but it is now extinct. Among the Cherokee the Natchez preserved their identity longer, and a few Indians remain who can speak the old tongue. Among the Creeks some stories are still told regarding them. Jackson Lewis repeated a tradition to the effect that the Natchez were at one time hemmed in by the French, but all that could move, men, women, and children, escaped by wading through water. Then they went to the Chickasaw to live, but after a time they found some of their children who had gone out berrying run through with canes. This was done by the Chickasaw, who did not want the Natchez among them, so the latter moved on and came to where the Abihka lived. They asked the Abihka to take them in and the Abihka told them to “enter the gates” and confer with the chiefs, the Abihka being the “door shutters” of the confederacy. The Natchez did this and were adopted. They were allowed to settle with the Abihka, according to one story, because the Abihka were a very small people perhaps having been reduced in wars with the Cherokee. According to Adair, some Chickasaw moved with the Natchez and the two occupied a town called Ooe-asa, somewhere near the upper course of Coosa River.4
To these few notes I will add the account which Stiggins gives of this tribe which was not included in my bulletin above mentioned.
The Natches. — The men of that tribe almost all converse in the Creek tongue, with their families or not. Tho’ the women can speak it fluently yet most generally in their own common concerns and to their children they use their own native tongue. Frequently in one house they use both tongues without any detriment to their conversation or business. The tradition they relate as the cause of their removal from the seat of their nativity to their final settlement in the Taladega Valley I will relate as I heard it. That about one century ago that the tribe lived in one large body or tribe on the bank of the Mississippi where the present city of Natches now stands and extended above it, that their government was monarchical, and that all cases both civil and political were determined by the king and his suite, for he was attended by both men and women in great state. The throne was hereditary and the king was supreme head of the tribe. His person was sacred and his mandates inviolable. He lived in a retired manner in the suburbs of the town, secluded from the society of all persons but his own near relations, who officiated about his person both men and women as attendants and guards, about one-third of his connection at a time, and such as were not in attendance on his person were in the forest in search of game for his subsistance. During the hunting excursion the party was headed by one of his near relatives to direct and take care of the party. But it must be noticed that all earthly institutions tho’ made for lasting happiness for ages, are delusive and visionary. So it happened to them. For while they were living under their peaceable and happy institution of government, a government familiarized to them by time, and consonant to their habits of life, they received a visit from a detachment of French who went up the river Mississippi to explore the country and fix on an eligible spot to erect a garrison, and without a previous compact with the natives to insure their good will. They pitched on a site in the vicinity of the town. Tho’ much against the will of the Indians, they disguised their chagrin and seemingly were careless and not opposed to the encroachment of their unwelcome visitants and neighbors, who had fortified themselves in the suburb below the town.
The French, by their gallantry, pursued the destructive course said to have been in Sodom of olden time. As tho’ danger was not imbruing nor destruction awfully pending over their ill-fated heads they made free with the men and married their women. They were tolerated in their love to their women with seeming good will by the natives for they saw the advantage that would ultimately result through their blind devotion to love, for it would make them unsuspicious and unguarded against a design they had in contemplation to effect through that means. As was expected their lewd practices soon caused a relaxation of their vigilance and discipline, for they frequented the town at night in a careless manner and unguardedly admitted the women into the fortress at night and made them welcome visitants at all times. The Indians saw how remiss and negligent the French were getting in their manner of living, as was expected, and they for revenge secretly and exultingly proceeded to put their scheme into execution, which was to exterminate their gallant and unwelcome neighbors. Therefore the Indian men concerted a plan with their women as though without design for the women to make their appointments with the Frenchmen to be and stay within the fortress on such a night, which appointment was accordingly made and the garrison overreached . For when the time arrived, instead of the expected women, the fortress was entered by men in disguise and armed, who on entrance instantly fell to work and exterminated the whole garrison of men. One man escaped because his loving wife, wishing to save him, had prevailed on him to stay with her in the town that night, and after the above catastrophe she effected his escape down the river Mississippi. So he carried the news of the disaster to his comrades to his countrymen.
The Indians were very much elated with the successful event of their plan, which had even exceeded their most sanguine expectations, getting clear of their intruders so quickly and easily without the loss of any of their own blood. But their joy was of short duration. They equipt themselves with the spoils of their vanquished neighbors, in arms, clothing, provisions, and hats, which last they particularly admired, and they did not suppose there were any more to revenge their horrid deed . In their enthusiasm to take possession of their empty garrison that they so easily attained they unanimously concluded and even prompted his majesty and all his suite, and all that could get quarters to remove therein as the buildings were more commodious than those of the town. Then, after they had arranged their new habitation and gotten all snug and secure, the king sent out the usual hunting party headed by one of his nephews. But after their hunting excursion was over and they returned, behold their surprise at seeing a number of shipping moored in front of the fort and apparently the whole of their tribe in the act of embarking on board of the shipping under the guard and control of two rows of white men with hats on similar to those worn by the people that they destroyed. From the following circumstance I expect the whole of the tribe were not captured, as there is a people on the south waters of the Missouri who call themselves Natchez, who probably made their escape when those in the fortress were surrounded and captured. All that were shipped off by the French were insulated and settled in the island of Sto Domingo where their progeny now remain. Their arms offensive and defensive were bows and arrows pointed with either sharpened bone or pieces of flint. With these weapons they attacked their enemy or killed their game for subsistence. When those that had been a hunting returned and saw their tribe on the ships and saw them disappear down the river, they could not imagine what would be their destination and fate, so in their incertitude and perplexity of mind they con-cluded to leave their forlorn case with the seat of their ancestors forever, and in the scenes of a new and untried home forget the wreck of their tribe who they expected were doomed to slavery and wretchedness. Having had intercourse and friendship with the Chickasaws they moved to them first where some took up their abode, and some with the Cherokees, but the greater part headed by the royal family, made a compact of assimilation with the Au bih kas or Creek tribe and settled in the Tallidega Valley. They remained thus sequestered for about twenty-five years, when, at the instance of their chief, they all made a final exit and settled in the Valley and by their compact became a member of the Ispocoga body, which they have remained down to this period .
This remnant of the Natche tribe to this distant day are unfriendly to the French people. Their ancient manners and customs it is said were similar to those of the Au bih kas, so they had to make no change in their habits of life by their removal. These statements were handed down to the most ancient of the present day by their forefathers, who were spectators, though in their infancy, of what had happened to and in their tribe. They have a belief in a supreme being but no worship or adoration. Though they generally talk about good and bad actions in this life I never could understand that they had any idea of rewards or punishments in future, for they generally believe in another life here on a place they can not describe. They keep the Busk festival in a very devout and sacred manner. Near one of the towns in the Valley not very far from Soto’s fortification there is a cavern said to be near a quarter of a mile long and much dissected. Such Indians as have been in it say that it is peopled by fairies. They have never seen any because they have the power of making themselves imperceptible, but they have seen their tracks and know that they live on the innumerable bats and swallows that stay in there. It was entered by some men many years since, that is a half century ago. They found the bones of a human being in the first room and right by him carved in a rock, “I. W. Wright, 1723.”
In the beginning of my narrative I said as a prelude I would intersperce an occasional tradition, therefore I will relate one retained by the Natche tribe and related by them as a matter handed down through successive generations for their information. I insert it to show in its connection and inference that in olden times their patriarch knew or heard in some way of the deluge and that the primary information or knowledge he had of it had got blended with traditional fiction. It is said that speech and rational power was given to man alone and he by his knowledge and understanding is enabled to make the other creatures subservient to him, so that he rules and manages them in a way most conducive to his will and their comfort in life, but when the gift of speech is imparted to a dumb creature it is to be observed as a matter of inspiration to the beast purposed by the great spirit to be words of sacred truth from himself through said creature. As a manifest proof of the forgoing remarks it is said that there was a large assemblage of the antients on some particular occasion, in times of yore, when to their surprise they were accosted by a little dog, who, having gaped and yawned in a particular whining manner, began in articulate words to bemoan their sudden fate. He called on them individually to look between his ears first toward sunset and then in every other direction and see their fate. They looked accordingly as he said. They could see nothing, but on a second bidding they could see mountains of water rolling toward them. He bade him who could fly to the mountains for safety and escape death, so they fled. Only a few of them reached the mountains, however, most being overtaken and overwhelmed by the waving torrent of water. Among them the “old man of sorrow” was one who escaped by his flight to the mountains. He is called in their tongue Tam seal hous hous opah.6 He uttered his wailings and lamentations continually, and in tears of sorrow he mourned for all that perished, and his sorrow likewise extended to the living whom he took under his care and instructed them by good words how best to live in future in order to shun the paths of destruction. The earth was overwhelmed by the billows of water and no one survived that did not attain the summit of the mountains. From these was the earth repeopled. Who this old man of lamentation or sorrow was may be a question but as I never heard any more of him I shall leave him as I heard of him, without any conjecture relative to him, to be solved by the inquisitive, and the antient of days.7
In 1796 the trader in this town was Joseph Stiggins, as above noted; in 1797 the traders were ”James Quarls,” who had “the character of an honest man,” and “Thomas Wilson, a saddler.”8
It is not generally known that John Stuart, Indian agent under the British Government, at one time formulated a proposition to restore these Indians to their old homo near Natchez, Mississippi. His suggestion is outlined in a letter dated December 2, 1766, in the following terms:
This consideration [that the Choctaw might at any time obstruct the navigation of the Mississippi] suggested to me the advantage which might arise to His Majesty’s Service from collecting the Scatter ‘d Remains of the Natchez and giving them a Settlement in their own Country again. There may be from 150 to 200 Gun Men of them remaining, in the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw Nations; they still retain their Language and Customs, as well as the strongest Resentment for the Expulsion and in a great Measure the Destruction of their Nation by the French.9
Indian Tribes of the Lower Miss. Valley and Adj. Coast of the Gulf of Mex., Bull. 43, Bur. Amer. Ethn., pp. 45-257. ↩
A notable prevarication, except on the supposition that the speaker meant English white men. ↩
Mereness, Trav. Am. Col., pp. 531-532. ↩
Adair, Hist. Am. Inds., p. 319. ↩
Probably a son of Joseph Stiggins, trader in the Natches town in 1796.— Hawkins In Ga. Hist. Soc. Colls., IX, p. 34. ↩
Tam -dom, person; seal-sil, big; hous hous opah may be from the stem hō, duplicated, meaning to howl, or from hac, old, perhaps in the form hachactipa, ”is very old,” though I do not have this form in my material. ↩
Stiggins, MS.,pp. 7-11. ↩
Ga. Hist. Soc. Colls., IX, pp. 34, 169. ↩
English Transcriptions, Lib. Cong. ↩
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