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Tunica Tribe: Meaning “the people,” or “those who are the people.” Also called:
- Yoron, their own name.
Tunica Connections. They were the leading tribe of the Tunica group of the Tunican stock, the latter including also the Chitimacha and Atakapa.
Tunica Location. On the lower course of Yazoo River, on the south side about 4 French leagues from its mouth. (See also Arkansas.)
Tunica History. There is evidence that tribes belonging to the Tunica group were encountered by De Soto west of the Mississippi and very probably the name of the tribe is preserved in that of the town of Tanico mentioned by Elvas (in Robertson, 1933), where people made salt, for in later years we find the Tunica engaged in the making and selling of this commodity. An early location for them on the eastern side of the Mississippi is indicated by the “Tunica Oldfields” near Friar Point, not many miles below Helena, Arkansas. The name appears on Marquette’s map (1673) but there they are wrongly placed. In 1682 La Salle and his companions learned of this tribe, then located as given above, but neither he nor his lieutenant Tonti visited them on this or any subsequent expedition, though they learned of Tunica villages in the salt-making region of northeastern Louisiana. The Yazoo town of the tribe was first seen, apparently, by three missionary priests from Canada, one of whom, Father Davion, established himself among them in 1699. In 1702 he fled from his charges, but two or three years later was induced by them to return, and he remained among them for about 15 years more. In 1706 this tribe left the Yazoo and were received into the Houma town nearly opposite the mouth of Red River, but later, according to La Harpe (1831), they rose upon their hosts and killed more than half of them, and for a long period they continued to live in the region they had thus appropriated. They Were firm friends of the French and rendered them invaluable service in all difficulties with the tribes higher up, and particularly against the Natchez, but in 1719 or 1720 Davion was so much discouraged at the Meager results of his efforts that he left them. The anger excited against them by their support of the French resulted in an attack by a large party of Natchez and their allies in 1731 in which both sides suffered severely and the head chief of the Tunica was killed. The Tunica remained in the same region until some time between 1784 at 1803, when they moved up Red River and settled close to the present Marksville, La., on the land the Avoyel Indian village which they claimed to have bought from Avoyel tribe. Before this event took place in company with the Ofo, Avoyel and some Choctaw, they attacked the pirogues of a British expedition ascending the Mississippi, killed six men, wounded seven, and compelled the rest to turn back. A few families descended from the Tunica are still settled on the site just mentioned, which forms a small reservation. Sibley (1832) says that in his time Tunica had settled among the Atakapa, and it was perhaps some of their descendants of whom Dr. Gatschet heard as living near Beaumont, Tex., about 1886. Mooney (1928) learned of some Tunica families in the southern part of the Choctaw Nation, Oklahoma, but they had lost their old language.
Tunica Population. Mooney (1828) estimated that in 1650 the total population of the Tunica, Yazoo, Koroa, and Ofo was 2,000, and this very figure, except that it does not include the Koroa, is given by the missionary De Montigny in 1699. My own figure for the same date is somewhat higher, 2,450, out of which I estimate about 1,575 were Tunics. In 1719 the the number of Tunica was conjectured to be 460 and in 1803, 50 to 60, through a second statement of about the same period gives 25 warriors. Morse (1822) reports 30 Tunica in Louisiana. The census of 1910 gives 43 Tunica in all, but among some Indians of other tribes and there were many mixed bloods. The census of 1930 gives only 1, he being the only one who could speak the old language.
Connections in which they have become noted: The Tunica were prominent in history:
- From the fact their language was the principal dialect of a stock on the lower Mississippi which received its name from them.
- For their sedentary character.
- Devotion to the French interest and their part in the Natchez wars.
- From the perpetuation of a their name in Tunica County, and Tunica Oldfields, Miss., and a post village of the name in West Feliciana Parish, La.