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Taensa Indians. A tribe related in language and customs to the Natchez, from whom they must have separated shortly before the beginning of the historic period. There is reason to think that part of the Taensa were encountered by De Soto in 1540, but the first mention of them under their proper name is by La Salle and his companions, who visited them in 1682 on their way to the mouth of the Mississippi. They were then living on Lake St Joseph, an ox-bow cut-off of the Mississippi in the present Tensas Parish, Louisiana. Tonti stopped at their villages in 1686 and 1690, and in 1698 they were visited by Davion, La Source, and De Montigny, the last of whom settled among them as missionary the following year. In 1700 Iberville found him there, and the two returned together to the Natchez, De Montigny having decided to devote his attention to that tribe. St Cosine, who soon succeeded De Montigny among the Natchez, considered the Taensa too much reduced for a separate mission, and endeavored, without success, to draw them to the Natchez. In 1706 the fear of an attack from the Yazoo and Chickasaw induced the Taensa to abandon their settlements and take refuge with the Bayogoula, whom they soon after attacked treacherously and almost destroyed. After they had occupied several different positions along the Mississippi southward of the Manchac, Bienville invited them to settle near Mobile and assigned them lands not far from his post. They remained here many years, giving their name to Tensaw river; but in 1764, rather than pass under the English, they removed to Red river, in company with a number of the other small tribes in their neighborhood. The same year, in company with the Apalachee and Pakana, they applied to the French commandant for permission to settle on Bayou La Fourche; but, though it was granted, neither they nor the Apalachee appear to have taken advantage of it. They remained at first on Red river, but in a few years removed to Bayou Boeuf. About the time when Louisiana passed under control of the United States they sold these lands also and moved to the northern end of Grand lake, where a small bayou bears their name. As an independent tribe they have now disappeared, though some Chitimacha Indians are descended from them. The Taensa were always a comparatively small tribe. In 1698 De Montigny estimated them at 700, and two years later Iberville placed the number of their warriors at 300, while in 1702 he assigned them 150 families, a figure also given by St Cosine the year before. Du Pratz (1718-34) placed the number of their cabins after their removal to Mobile at 100, probably an overestimate. The “Little Taensas” spoken of by Iberville were evidently the Avoyelles. In 1699 a Taensa Indian gave Iberville the following list of villages belonging to his people, but most of the names are evidently in the Mobilian trade language:
The Taensa have attained a unique interest at the turn of the 20th century from an attempt of two French seminarists to introduce a product of their own ingenuity as a grammar of the Taensa language. The deception was exposed by Brinton in 1885, but for a while it gave rise to a heated controversy.
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