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The Natchez Indians have long since been extinct as a nation, and they live only in story and tradition, and in the name of the beautiful old city of Natchez, built in the heart of the region they once inhabited. Dim traditions hint that they were once a powerful people, boasting some sixty villages and eight hundred suns or princes. Father Charlevoix wrote of them in 1721:

"About six years ago they reckoned among them four thousand warriors. It appears that they were more numerous in the time of M. La Salle, and even when M. d'Iberville discovered the mouth of the Mississippi. At present the Natchez cannot raise two thousand fighting men. They attribute this decrease to some contagious diseases, which in these last years have made a great ravage among them."

Father le Petit declared that the Natchez were reduced to six little villages and eleven suns, at the time of the massacre of the French in 1729. The Taensas Indians, who occupied the present parish of Tensas in Louisiana, were an offshoot of the Natchez, with the same religion, manners and customers. The fertility fo teh Natchez district at once appealed to the French, and d'Iberville took pains to conclude a formal treaty of peace with the tribe in 1700; and in 1716 Bienville built Fort Rosalie and established the first French post among them. From this time on many French settled among them. The first settlers bought their lands of the Indians, but afterwards little regard was shown for INdian proprietorship. This steady encroachment of the French on their domain, combined with ill-treatment and cupidity, precipitated the fatal massacre of 1729. Writers have been fond of portraying the Natchez as the most civilized of all the southern tribes of Indians, but there is little or nothing to warrant the picture. They occupied a region highly favored by soil and climate, which may have given them a more permanent habitat than other tribes; but there was nothing in their religion, architecture, or mode of life to set them above or apart from many other Indian tribes. They were sun worshippers and believed that their hereditary chiefs were descended from the sun, a belief prevailing among many other tribes - notably the Choctaws and Hurons. if they relied more on agriculture, and less on hunting and fishing, for the means of subsistence, the fertile area occupied by them, will readily account for it. Their religion was in the highest degree primitive and brutal. Says Charlevoix:

"When this Great Chief, or the Woman Chief dies, all their Allouez or guards, are obliged to follow them into the other world; but they are not the only persons who have this honor; for so it is reckoned among them, and is greatly sought after. The death of a chief sometimes costs the lives of more than a hundred persons; and I have been assured that very few principal persons of the Natchez die, without being escorted to the country of souls by some of their relations, their friends, or their servants."

The horrible ceremonies attendant on human sacrifices have been frequently detailed by early writers. Their idea of a future life was sufficiently crude. The good enjoyed a perpetual feast of green corn, venison and melons, and the bad were condemned to a diet of alligators and spoiled fish. The chiefs of teh Natchez bore the name of Suns and the head chief was called the Great Sun. He was always succeeded by the son of the woman most nearly related to him. This woman had the title of Woman Chief, and though she did not meddle with the government, she was paid great honors. Like the great chief, she also had the power of life and death.

"The government was an absolute despotism. The supreme chief was master of their labor, their property and their lives. he never labored and when he needed provisions he issued invitations for a feast, and all the principal inhabitants were required to attend, and to bring supplies sufficient for the entertainment and for the support of the royal family, until he chose to proclaim another festival." (Claiborne, p. 24.)

The Natchez were divided into two classes, that of the nobility, and that of the common people, called 'Stinkards." While they understood one another, their dialects were different. When Charlevoix saw the great village of the Natchez, it consisted of only a few cabins, and he explained its small size by the statement that the savages, from whom the great chief had the right to take all they had, got as far from him as they could.

He has left us a vivid picture of the village and its royal dwelling and temple. There is certainly no evidence of a higher civilization portrayed. The temple is built of the same crude materials as the other cabins, only larger. Inside, he "Never saw anything more slovenly and dirty, nor more in disorder . . . . We see nothing in their outward appearance that distinguishes them from the other savages of Canada and Louisiana. They seldom make war, not placing their glory in destroying men. What distinguishes them more particularly, is the form of their government, entirely despotic; a great dependence, which extends even to a kind of slavery, in the subjects; more pride and grandeur in the chiefs, and their pacific spirit, which, however, they have not entirely preserved for some years past."

The miserable remnant of the once powerful tribe was finally defeated and utterly crushed by the French at Natchitoches, in 1732 and their identity became merged in that of the Chickasaws and other tribes, among whom the few survivors took refuge.

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Saturday, 20-Sep-2003 19:32:00 MDT


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