American Indian Owned and Operated

 

History of the Chitimacha Tribe

At the time of initial contact, the Chitimacha tribe lived along the banks of Grand Lake, Bayou Lafourche and Bayou Teche.[i] 

In 1699, Iberville made an alliance with the Chitimacha. Peace was broken in 1702 when St. Denis attacked the tribe and carried away 20 women and children as slaves. Bienville, who had replaced Iberville in command of the French, ordered the captives returned to their people; but, as Bernard de la Harpe noted in a contemporary journal (Historical Journal), 'his orders were poorly carried out.' [ii] 

July 25, 1702: M. Becancourt, naval commander of the colony, arrived from Vera Cruz on a freighter loaded with flour and meat. On August 10, M. de Bienville learned that M. de Saint-Denis, with a few Canadians and Indians, had attacked an allied nation (the Chitimacha: allied with the French) to secure slaves. M. de Bienville ordered the slaves returned, but his orders were poorly carried out.[iii] 

In August 1706, the Taensa Indians massacred a large number of the Chitimacha. Seeking revenge, a Chitimacha war party failed to find Taensas and took out its wrath by murdering Father Jean Francois Buisson de Saint-Cosme and three other Frenchman, who they found descending the Mississippi from Natchez. In retaliation, Bienville induced all of the Indian tribes in the area to join the French in waging war against the Chitimacha.[iv] 

In 1707 a French and Indian force, led by St. Denis, destroyed a Chitimacha village of 40 inhabitants and captured a warrior who admitted to killing the priest. Bienville sentenced the murderer to be tomahawked in the square of Fort Louis. [v] 

The Chitimacha War continued for 12 years. The French and their Indian allies pursued the Chitimacha into the bayous and swamps, and captured many for slaves. In turn, Chitimacha preyed upon voyagers along the Mississippi, to the extent that Bienville found it expedient to make peace with them when New Orleans was founded.[vi] 

Swanton states, “The peace was concluded late in 1718 … When we first get a clear view of the whole Chitimacha territory we find them divided into two sections, one living on the Mississippi or the upper part of Bayou Lafourche, the other on Bayou Teche and Grand Lake. It is possible, of course, that this second division was the result of a reflux from the Mississippi in later times, but the Chitimacha themselves maintain that they have live there always … In 1784 we learn that there was a village of about 27 warriors on the Lafourche and two others on the Teche. One of the latter was under Fire Chief, … and was 10 leagues from the sea, while the other, under Red Shoes, was a league and a half higher up … The La Fourche band is probably the same that settled later at Plaquemine and of which one girl is said {1907} to be the sole survivor. The remnants of the Teche band are located at Charenton, where they are still to be found.[vii] 

In 1719, some tribal members moved to the Mississippi near New Orleans for trade and protection. As the white people gradually encroached upon their lands, others retreated into the bayou country.[viii] 

This tribe was officially recognized by the French and Spanish governors of Louisiana and its territorial integrity guaranteed. An act of June 19, 1767, signed by Gov. W. Aubry, recognizes the Chitimacha nation and orders the commandant at Manchae to treat their chief with respect. Another act, under signature of Gov. Galvez, at New Orleans, September 14, 1777, commands the commandant and other subjects of the Spanish Government to respect the rights of these Indians in the lands they occupy and to protect them in the possession thereof … [ix] 

 

Population

Mooney (1928) estimated that in 1650 the Chitimacha numbered 3,000 souls. The present writer (Swanton) allowed 750 warriors to the tribe in1698, based on Beaurain’s estimate of 700-800 in 1699, which would mean about 2625 souls. In 1758 the Mississippi band counted only about 80 warriors and in 1784, Hutchins gives 27. The size of the western band is nowhere indicated separated but the census of 1910 gives 69 for the entire tribe, 19 of whom were then at school in Pennsylvania. In 1930, 51 were returned.[x] 

 

Works Cited

[i] Heard, Norman J.  Handbook of the American Frontier. NJ: Scarecrow, 1987. Vol. 1. P. 98.
[ii]
Heard, 1987, 98.
[iii]
de la Harpe, Jean-Baptiste Bernard. The Historical Journal of the Establishment of the French in Louisiana. Trans. Joan Cain and Virginia Koenig.  Lafayette, LA: USL, 1971. P. 60.
[iv]
Heard, 1987, 98.
[v]
Heard, 1987, 98.
[vi]
Heard, 1987, 98.
[vii]
Swanton, John R. Indian Tribes of the Lower Mississippi Valley & Adjacent Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Government Printing Office: Washington, 1911. pp. 342-345.
[viii]
Heard, 1987, 98.
[ix]
Swanton, 1911, pp. 342-345.
[x]
Swanton, John R. “Indian Tribes of North America.” Bureau of American Ethnology. Bull. 145, p.203.