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Tonica Indian Tribe

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Migratory dispositions seem to have inhered to the Tonica or Tunica tribe in a higher degree than to their southern neighbors, for in the short lapse of two centuries we see them stationed at more than three places.

In a letter addressed by Commander Lemoyne d’Iberville to the Minister of the French Navy, dated from Bayogoulas, February 26th, 1700, he states that an English fur-trader and Indian slave-jobber had just visited the Tonica, who are on a river emptying into the Mississippi, twenty leagues above the Taensa Indians, at some distance from the Chicasa, and 170 leagues from the Gulf of Mexico. When d’Iberville ascended the Yazoo River in the same year, he found a village of this tribe on its right (or western) bank, four days travel from the Natchez landing. Seven villages were seen upon this river, which is navigable for sixty leagues. The Tonica village, the lowest of them, was two days travel from Thysia, the uppermost (Margry IV, 180. 362. 398; V, 401). La Harpe mentions the establishment of a mission house among the Tonica on Yazoo River.1

In 1706, when expecting to become involved in a conflict with the Chicasa and Alibamu Indians, the Tonica tribe, or a part of it, fled southward to the towns of the Huma, and massacred a number of these near the site where New Orleans was built afterwards (French, Hist. Coll. of La., Ill, 35). The “Tunica Old Fields” lay in Tunica County, Mississippi State, opposite Helena, Arkansas. Cf. Cha’hta.

They subsequently lived at the Tonica Bluffs, on the east shore of the Mississippi River, two leagues below the influx of the Red River. T. Jefferys, who in 1761 gave a description of their village and chief’s house, states that they had settled on a hill near the “River of the Tunicas,” which comes from the Lake of the Tunicas, and that in close vicinity two other villages were existing (Hist, of French Dominions, I, 145-146)2 Th. Hutchins, Louisiana and West Florida, Phila., 1784, p. 44, locates them a few miles below that spot, opposite Pointe Coupee and ten miles below the Pascagoulas, on Mississippi River. So does also Baudry de Lozières in 1802, who speaks of a population of one hundred and twenty men.

In 1817, a portion of the tribe, if not the whole, had gone up the Red River and settled at Avoyelles, ninety miles above its confluence with the Mississippi. A group of these Indians is now in Calcasieu County, Louisiana, in the neighborhood of Lake Charles City.

A separate chapter has been devoted to this tribe, because there is a strong probability that their language differed entirely from the rest of the Southern tongues. Le Page du Pratz, l.1., in confirming this statement, testifies to the existence of the sound R in their language, which occurs neither in Naktche nor in the Maskoki dialects or Shetimasha (II, 220-221). “We possess no vocabulary of it, and even the tribal name belongs to Chicasa: túnnig post, pillar, support, probably post of territorial demarcation of their lands on the Yazoo river. The only direct intimation which I possess on that tongue is a correspondence of Alphonse L. Pinart, who saw some Tonica individuals, and inferred from their terms that they might belong to the great Pani stock of the Western plains.

Footnotes

  1. French, Hist. Coll. Ill, 16; cf. Margry V, 525. The names of these villages to be given under Chicasa, q. v. 

  2. This was probably the place where Le Page du Pratz saw them (about 1720 or 1725): “vis-a-vis de la Riviere Rouge,” II, 220-221. 


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