Indians of Lower Louisiana

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By Maureen Downey

Approximately 12,000 years ago, when the climate was much cooler and drier, people first wandered into what is now the Southeastern Region of the United States hunting animals, many of which are now extinct. As the Ice Age drew to a close and the climate slowly became warmer and wetter, the gradually increasing numbers of people adapted themselves to the newly emerging woodlands, developing new ideas and new technologies to deal with their changing world.

Around 1730 8. C. a great culture, named for the famous Poverty Point site in Northeastern Louisiana, flourished. It was probably people from this culture that first entered into what is now St. Charles Parish. The remains of a village from this culture are located about halfway between LaPlace and Manchac. The first residents of the Parish were most likely the people of the Tchefuncte Culture (ca. 600 B.C.-A.D. 200). They built temporary circular shelters covered with palmetto or grass and consumed large numbers of brackish water clams and oysters that resulted in huge mounds of shell. They are generally considered to be the people who introduced pottery into Louisiana. Around A.D.400-100 people began building the multistage, pyramidal, flat-topped mounds, commonly called “temple mounds.” The people of this culture, called Troyville-Coles Creek, were the first of Louisiana’s inhabitants to use the bow and arrow. Corn was added to the garden crops during this period. About AD. 1000, along the Mississippi River Valley from Northeastern Louisiana to the Gulf Coast, a local manifestation of a new culture arose. Called Plaquemine-Mississippian, the people built larger ceremonial centers with two or more flat-topped, pyramidal mounds and were increasingly dependent upon agriculture.

Centuries passed and the Europeans entered Lower Louisiana. In 1542 Luis de Moscoso and the remaining men of Hernando de Soto’s expedition traveled down the Mississippi, passing through St. Charles Parish on their way to Mexico. In 1682 Rene Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, along with his lieutenant, Henri de Tonti, camped in the vicinity of a Quinapisa village near present-day Hahnville, earning the distinction of being the first known Europeans to set foot upon the soil of the Parish. On the East Bank about five miles below the Quinapisa village, La Salle noted several destroyed villages that he was informed belonged to the Tangipahoa. After claiming the entire Mississippi Valley for the King of France, La Salle returned upriver and presented the Quinapisa chief with a blue serge coat in honor of the occasion. La Salle left for France, and later, Tonti, on his journey back upriver, gave the chief a double glass bottle and left a letter to be given to La Salle when he returned. However, La Salle was murdered by his men and never received the letter. By 1699, when Pierre Le Mayne, Sieur d’lberville and Jean Baptist Le Mayne, Sieur d’Bienville ascended the river, the Quinapisa had joined the Mugulasha, and later, they both had formed one village with the Bayogoula. Iberville discovered the chief of the Mugulasha had the blue serge coat and was probably the same chief of the Quinapisa that La Salle met. The glass bottle was discovered in the Bayogoula temple. Later Bienville was given the letter from Tonti to La Salle.

All the native peoples of Louisiana were on the move in historic times, fleeing more powerful oppressors and seeking refuge on the lower Mississippi River close to French settlements. In 1739 it was reported that the Washa, along with the Chawasha, had fallen in with the Acolapissa, Bayogoula, Houma, and two other nations (likely the Mugulasha and Quinapisa) and were living on the West Bank of the Mississippi at the Cote des Allemands (The German Coast). The Choctaw began moving into Louisiana not long after the settlement of New Orleans. Although most settled on the northern shores of Lake Pontchartrain, there is record of a Choctaw village located between Boutte and Paradis that is said to have existed well past the other tribes in this area.

Unfortunately, comparatively little is really known about the tribes of lower Louisiana. Even their identities remain relatively uncertain. During historic times they rapidly lost numbers, merged with other tribes, and most finally disappeared from the record.