of Louisiana are the most widely dispered group, the East
Baton Rouge Parish community representing principally mixed-blood
Choctaw descendants now living in an urban setting. The other
relict Choctaw groups represent eighteenth-century bands that
moved into the present state under Spanish dominion.
The largest contemporary Choctaw
populations are decsended from eighteenth-century Choctaw
settlements in Rapides Parish and on the Ouachita River. These
groups now compose the Jena Band of Choctaw and another, unrelated
group, the Clifton community, In 1903 some of the Louisiana
Choctaw joined members of their tribe living in Oklahoma.
Although most Louisiana Choctaw
have been conservative, only the Jena Band has retained the
language and traditional Choctaw crafts. Their old religion
continued intact unitl the 1940s.
they make good use of a
tribal center funded by a grant from the Department of Housing
and Urban Development and a tribal recreation facility. The
Clifton community operates a recreation area for its youth
and, depending on the availability of grant funds, a tribal
center or office. Both groups feature tribal organizations
with elected officials.
Today, many Indians
work in industrial areas, on offshore oil rigs, on crew boats,
as farmers, and as loggers. A few are college graduates, and
though they share in Louisiana's lamentably high dropout rate,
more and more are finishing high school. Still, incomes remain
low, and the tribes suffer from years of exclusion from schools
or , as in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, from a poorly
developed tripartite school system.
The Choctaw displaced
some native tribes, such as the Adai west of Natchitoches,
and moved into the empty lands along the Ouachita River, on
Catahoula Prairie, along Bayou Nezpique, and south of Bayou
Boeuf near Indian Creek at Woodworth and Glenmora. By 1807,
they were known to be scattered across present-day north Louisiana
from the Ouachita River to the Sabine.
The Lipan Apache,
or Connechi, who had been introduced by the French and Spanish
as slaves, became well established near Natchitoches among
the Hispanic and Choctaw families at Spanish Lake, along the
Sabine River, and among the free people of color near Cane
A large new Indian population
had begun to develop in south-western Louisiana in the mid-nineteenth
century. Apparently, immigrants from the Carolinas and Georgia
sought areas where there were Indian or mixed Indian and black-and-white
Today, these early Carolinians and Georgians would
nearly all be from families bearing surnames and associated
with the nontribal groups in those states with the strongest
Indian identities, such as the lumbee, Haliwa, and Westoes.
These were the people who came to be identified as "Red
Bones." That pejorative evidently came from the West
Indies, where Red Ibo was a label for any mixture of races.
According to Joey Dillard, a recognized authority on black
English, the West Indian term, pronounced "Reddy Bone,"
may well have been pronounced "Red Bone" in Louisiana
and the Carolinas.
Both Indians and Red Bones long
have been marginal to the plantation areas of Louisiana. The
Indian settlements were in the swamps, pine woods, and marshes,
and their closest non-Indian neighbors most often were white
yeoman farmers, Acadians, and Scotch-Irish, who owned no slaves.
If Indians lived near a plantation, the owner became their
patron, offering them credit and protection from exploitation,
at least by others. In exchange, they were required to hunt,
entertain guests with ball games and dances, make baskets,
tan hides, and perform other services that might, on occasion,
include the recovery of runaway slaves.
The Choctaw became the most widespread
Indian population in Louisiana. Small groups of them were
to be found in the Florida parishes, on lower Bayou Lafourche,
from the Chicot settlement to the banks of the upper Calcaieu
River in central Louisiana, in the Bayou Boeuf drainage, and
scattered across the hills of northern Lousiana from the Ouachita
River to the Sabine. They had villages on Bayou Nezpique and
the German Coast along the Mississippi. Gradually, they filled
the Florida parishes.
During the half-century from
1780 to 1830, the Choctaw prospered and grew, even at the
expense of other tribes like the Adai and Biloxi, until Choctaw
became nearly synonymous with Indian in much of Louisiana.
Their influence had been almost universal among the southeastern
tribes for years by the time the Treaty of Choctaw Removal,
in effect from 1828 to 1835, had been signed with the federal
The Choctaw had become so entrenched
that those offered a chance to leave refused to go, and some
of the eminent Louisiana chiefs, like Tuscahoma, who had signed
the early Hopewell Treaty in Mississippi, declined to move
their constituents to the newly designated Indian Territory
in present-day Oklahoma. Dominique Rouquette, a friend of
the Louisiana Choctaw, has left a lively description of the
situations in 1850.
The Choctaw obstinately refuse
to abandon the different parishes of Louisiana, whre they
are grouped in small family tribes, and live in rough huts
in the vicinity of plantations, and hunt for the planters,
who trade for the games they kill all they need: powder, lead,
corn, woolen covers, etc. Their huts are generally [surrounded]
by a fence. In this enclosure their families plant corn, pumpkins
and potatoes, and raise chickens.
The women use a kind of
cane, which they knew how to dye different colors, to make
baskets: lottes [baskets carried on the back], vans [winnowing
baskets] and sieves, from which they derived a good profit.
They also sold medicinal plants which they gathered from the
forests: Virginia snake-root, sage, plantain, tarragon, wild
fruit, pommetes [medlars] blue bottle, persimmons, and scuppernongs;
also roots of sequiena, sarsaparilla and sassafras. They also
do a little traing in ground turtles, which they find on the
prairies. They dispose of these wares at the plantations,
in country towns, and at New Orleans.
This description fits closely
the people from the florida parishes, Indian Creek, and Natchitoches,
and even matches the oral traditions of aged contemporary
Louisiana Choctaw. It could characterize other immigrants
as well. There is some evidence that it describes most of
the Louisiana Indians in the first half of the nineteenth
Rosa Jackson Pierite, a Choctaw-Biloxi
from Indian Creek, has described how, in the 1920's, her mother
and sisters put their baskets in a sheet, bundled it over
a pole, and walked twelve miles from their homes near Indian
Creek to Alexandria: "We spread them on street corners
and sold them to passers-by." Rouquette has described
a similar scene from nineteenth-century New Orleans.
Nothing is more interesting to
the tourists than to see them [the Choctaw] wandering along
the streets of La Reine du Sud (the Queen of the South), La
Cite du Croissant (Crescent City) with their pauvres pacotilles
(small, cheap wares), in their picturesque costumes, half
savages and half civilized, followed by a number of children
of all ages, half naked, and carrying on their backs a papoose
snugly wrapped in the blanket, with which they envelope themselves,
like a squirrel in moss.
Sometimes they squat in a circle,
at the big market place, on the banks of the old river, patiently
waiting with downcast eyes, for the chalandes [customers]
who buy what they offer, more for the sake of charity than
The nineteenth-century Indian
population, dominated by Biloxi, Chitimacha, Choctaw, and
Tunica, was relatively large and important. At some point
after the Americans assumed control, these people apparently
had been relegated to such ecological niches as swamps, marshes,
and infertile pine woods, and the whites, with their black
slaves and intensive agriculture, took over the rich alluvial
The Indians eventually became
dependant on the market economy, Lead, powder, axes, firearms,
and European-style clothing began to replace traditional technology
and costumes. Some Indians like the Choctaw, rejected the
white man's wages, identifying them. Desimated by disease
and was, and fearful of slvery and of losing land and legal
rights, the tribes slowly began to deal with the dominant
whites in ways increasingly circumspect and guarded.
Artists such as basket makers
were considered to be peddling, a low-status occupation inthe
eyes of non-Indians. Hunters were considered unreliable, almost
objects of ridicule. Social contacts with non-Indians were
largely restricted to practically momentary encounters, so
the ball games, dances, and the sacred rituals of religion
became matters of curiosity and sources of entertainment for
white planters' families and friends. Offered removal to Indian
Territory and an alternative way of life, most Indian people
rejected the chance, not once but twice.
Apparently, the Indians took
little interest in the Civil War. Most chose not to fight.
They did not wish to defend slavery, which was repugnant to
them, and they had no rights to defend, states' or other.
A second Indian removal occurred when the Choctaw nation and
others in Indian Territory became fearful that they would
lose their lands to whites. The Bureau of Indian Affairs in
1900 began to seek Indians, especially full bloods, eligible
for enrollment and tribal allotments in Oklahoma. Both government
and private agents went to Louisiana and Mississippi to recruit
emigrants, and soon to the Louisiana Indians were boarding
The majority eventually returned
to their homes in Louisiana, but some remained in Oklahoma,
most near the former Choctaw nation. Once word of the twentieth-century
removal had spread, even some of the conservative Mississippi
Choctaw fled to Louisiana communities after seeing Choctaw
in Scott and Newton counties loaded into boxcars.
By this time the Louisiana Indians
had become "invisible people." Most simply kept
to themselves and were either ignored or harassed by whites.
Until 1925, minimum contact was the preferred approach in
relations between Indians and whites. One by one, tribes have
asserted themselves. Only since 1960 have some communities
had recourse to outside aid and study.
immigrant tribes, gathered from far and wide, found homes
in Louisiana. They are still there, living in company with
descendants of people from many other parts of the world,
who have given Louisiana its amazing mosaic of cultures.
The Historic Indian Tribes of
Louisiana"From 1542 to the Present"
By: Fred B. Kniffen
Hiram F. Gregory
George A. Stokes