This story was republished with permission of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.
Few Mississippi residents realize just how many Native American tribes blanketed the state at one time. The Choctaw in central and southern Mississippi and the Chickasaw in North Mississippi were the state’s dominant, best-known tribes, but they were hardly the only ones. There were 21 known tribes through the late 1600s and 1700s. Here are edited snapshots of what is known of those tribes, taken from a compilation by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
A small marginal tribe living on the Lower Pearl River in 1699. They numbered about 300 and occupied up to seven villages. By the 1700s they had moved to Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana and ultimately were absorbed by the Bayogoula and the Houma. The tribe completely tattooed their bodies. They practiced their religion in a round temple.
Lived around the Gulf Coast and Biloxi Bay in 1969, but later moved to Mobile Bay then to the Pascagoula River around 1730. Later, they were found in Louisiana and Texas. Their population ranged from a high of perhaps 1,000 to 105 in 1805. Houses resembled low tents. They dressed in breechcloths, leggings, moccasins, garters, feather headdresses, bone necklaces, nose and ear rings, and limited tattooing. They made pottery, wooden bowls and baskets. Probably eventually absorbed by the Houma.
The Capinans, probably the same as the Moctobi, were a small tribe found by Inberville in 1699 on the Pascagoula River near the Gulf Coast. Vilalges consisted of about 20 cabins, or perhaps 100 families. Mentioned by Bienville in 1725 as living in a village about 12 leagues up the Pascagoula River. Little more is known about them.
A small tribe that lived near the Upper Yazoo River around the lower Tallahatchie and Yalobusha Rivers between Chickasaw and Choctaw territories. They may have splintered off of the Chickasaw and Choctaw when they originally moved to Mississippi. They allied with the French against the Chickasaw later on. Population estimates range from 750 in 1650 to 50 huts on the Yazoo River in 1761. Thought to have united with the Chickasaw or Choctaw.
A large, advanced tribe of fierce warriors occupying North Mississippi. They claimed territory as far north as the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, as far east as the Savannah River in Georgia and west to the Mississippi in the Memphis area. They had several battles with the Choctaw and two notable battles near modern day Tupelo in which they defeated the combined forces of French soldiers and Choctaw warriors. The two victories boosted England’s stock and limited French influence in the area. The Chickasaw were never defeated in war and even today refer to themselves as “unconquered and unconquerable.” Under intense pressure from the U.S. government, they reluctantly signed a treaty to give up their Mississippi lands and move to Indian Territory in Oklahoma between 1837 and 1847. Over the last 30 years, they have prospered in business, putting together a string of casinos, defense contracts, consulting companies and other concerns. The tribe plans to build a heritage center on the Natchez Trace in Tupelo to showcase its culture and history and build closer ties to its homeland. The tribe’s population estimates in Mississippi range from 8,000 in 1650 to 1,900 in 1715, with increases thereafter. Today, the tribe, still based in Oklahoma, has more than 60,000 members.
The Choctaw were one of the largest tribes in the Southeast, up to 21,500 in 1764. Encountered DeSoto in 1540. In the 18th century, they fought against the English, Chickasaw and Creeks in favor of their French allies. Their core territory was east central Mississippi but they at times ranged further south and east as far as Georgia. Many migrated to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. But a remnant remained in Mississippi. Eventually, the remnant was reconstituted as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. They raised crops, played chunkey and stickball, practiced some early head flattening and preserved the bones of the dead after cleaning them of all flesh. Sketches by De Batz in 1732-1735 show warriors in breechcloths, long hair, feather headdresses, painted or tattooed faces, earrings, a knife and powderhorn, and carrying poles with what appear to be scalps hanging from them.
A small, little-known tribe. About 40 were reported in 1722 living around what is now Tchula in Holmes County. They may have been a band of the Ibitoupa that broke away, then rejoined them shortly after 1722.
The French named them Grigra based on their frequent use of the term “grigra.” Reported only in 1720-1725 as a band of 60 warriors. They were living in a village of the Natchez. They actively opposed the French and apparently merged with the surviving Natchez after the French nearly wiped them out.
Possibly part of the Chakchiuma, they were located in 1682 between the mouths of the Homochitto and Buffalo Rivers in southwest Mississippi. There were about 1,000 of them in 1650. They were reduced to about 350 in 1700 when Iberville last visited them. They relied on corn and squash and pumpkins and rarely hunted. They raised but did not kill or eat chickens, probably introduced by the French. They plaited their hair, tattooed their faces and blackened their teeth. The Tunica settled among them in 1706 but later massacred many, after which the remnants moved to Louisana. In 1739 they reportedly were merging with the Bayagoula and Acolapissa, with about 300 adults total.
A small, little known tribe on the Yazoo River in the early 18th century between Abiaca and Chicopa creeks. Before 1722 they moved above the mouth of the Yalobusha where Tippo Bayou supposedly preserves their name. They may have been eventually absorbed by the Chickasaw. In 1722, they lived in 6 cabins, with only about 40 members.
Possibly first encountered by DeSoto in 1541 near the center area of Arkansas. Marquette referred to them as Akaroa who lived west of the Quapaw. In 1682 LaSalle reported a group on the Yazoo and another group on the Mississippi River south of the Natchez. With the Yazoo, they massacred the French at Fort St. Pierre in 1729 but were then attacked by the Chakchiuma and Choctaw, then allied with the French. In 1731 they joined the Natchez in attacking the Tunica, then seemed to disappear. They may have been absorbed by the Chickasaw. Another source suggests they lived with the Yazoo in 1742, allied with the Chickasaw, but later merged with Choctaw and disappeared. Iberville estimated their population in 1702 as part of the 300 families of the Tunica, Yazoo and Ofo. They were down to 40 cabins and 40 warriors by 1730. LaSalle said their cabins were made mostly of cane, windowless, dome-shaped and about 15 feet tall. They were said to be cruel and treacherous and known to have murdered some Frenchmen who had hired them for a trip. Their customs were said to be similar to the Natchez and Taensa.
They were one of the best-known tribes in Mississippi due to French settlement in their territory in the southwestern part of the state. Considered relatively peaceful farmers with an extreme form of social class distinction, including nobility and commoners, as well as sun worship and child sacrifice. Their chief, the Great Sun, had absolute power over his land and subjects. They built temple mounds, were skilled pottery and mulberry bark cloth makers, and practiced head flattening. Around 1682 they had a population of around 6,000. The French crippled the tribe with a withering attack in 1729 and most survivors took refuge with the Chickasaw and some with the Cherokee later. They eventually lost their identity and distinct language through absorption into other tribes.
The Ofo or Ofogoula were a small tribe on the Yazoo River 12 miles above its mouth. Iberville saw them in 1699, and a French priest in 1702 estimated their population at 10 to 12 cabins. In the Natchez war with the French, they declined to fight the French and went to live with the Tunica. They had a village in Louisiana in 1784 after which they declined into obscurity. The last survivor died about 1915. The Ofo may have been the same people as the Mosopelia, a marginal tribe in southern Ohio before 1673 before migrating southward.
A marginal tribe visited by Bienville in 1699 and Ibervillein 1700. They lived about 15 to 20 miles up the Pascagoula River before moving to the Gulf Coast. In 1764 they left the coast with the Biloxi and in 1784 were living about 10 miles above the Tunica on the east side of the Mississippi. By 1791 they had moved to Louisiana and may have been absorbed eventually by the Biloxi and the Choctaw.
Reported by Bienville in 1725 on the Pearl River not far from the Biloxi, who together had about 40 warriors. A marginal tribe eventually absorbed by the Choctaw.
A large marginal tribe that probably moved south from Ohio through Arkansas. Noted in 1673 by Marquette and on the east side of the Mississippi near the mouth of the Arkansas River, and again by LaSalle in 1682. They made pottery, painted animal skins, built mounds, raised crops and lived in large domed houses.
Small, little known marginal tribe. The name Sawokli means “raccoon people.” A 1697 French map placed them on the Yazoo River as the Sabougla. A later map called them the Samboukia.
Small, little-known tribe above the Chakchiuma on the Yazoo River. They probably joined the Chakchiuma. Their village in 1730 contained 25 cabins.
A small, little-known tribe on the Yazoo, about 25 miles from the Mississippi. Supposedly vanquished by the Chickasaw, many moved to the Natchez area around 1682 and became part of that tribe, though with their own village. Included with 3 other tribes, the population of the Tiou were estimated to be from 1,000 to 1,200 in 1650.
Said to have occupied northwestern Mississippi but by 1682 were concentrated near the mouth of the Yazoo River. In 1706, they moved to the village of the Houma opposite the Red River and later rose up and killed or ran off the Houma. They were French allies during the Natchez wars and between 1784 and 1803 moved into Louisiana along the Red River where some remain today. Others went to Oklahoma. Their population combined with the Yazoo, Koroa and Ofo is estimated to have been between 2,000 and 2,450 in 1650, dropping to only 50 or 60 by 1803. A 1732 sketch of a Tunica chief by De Batz looks very similar to a sketches he did of a Choctaw warrior with his painted or tattooed face, breechcloth, knife, powderhorn and staff with hanging scalps. Men performed agricultural duties, cut wood, hunted and dressed the hides. Women made pottery and mulberry cloth and performed household duties.
A small tribe on their namesake, the Yazoo River. Attacked and destroyed a French fort on the Lower Yazoo in 1729. Subsequently defeated and probably eventually absorbed by the Chickasaw and Choctaw. Charlevoix reported that they, the Tiou and the Koroa were decimated by the Quapaw, allies of the French. They were estimated to have 100 cabins in 1725-1730.
The Meek School faculty and students published “Unconquered and Unconquerable” online on August 19, 2016, to tell stories of the people and culture of the Chickasaw. The publication is the result of Bill Rose’s depth reporting class taught in the spring. Emily Bowen-Moore, Instructor of Media Design, designed the magazine.
“The reason we did this was because we discovered that many of them had no clue about the rich Indian history of Mississippi,” said Rose. “It was an eye-opening experience for the students. They found out a lot of stuff that Mississippians will be surprised about.”
Print copies are available October 2016.
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