INDIAN TRIBES OF MISSISSIPPI
As a result, the focus here will be on the tribes reported during the late 1600s through late 1700s when the movements, conflicts, alliances, and cultural dissolution of most of the tribes reached their dynamic peak. Descriptions herein are condensed from those given by Frederick Webb Hodge’s Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, 1905, Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 30, and John R. Swanton’s The Indians of the Southeastern United States, 1946, Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 137, and Indian Tribes of the Lower Mississippi Valley and Adjacent Coast of the Gulf of Mexico, 1911, Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 43. The latter reference has the most detailed descriptions of most of these tribes.
Note that the boundaries of the State of Mississippi, did not exist during the period of time represented for these tribes. Associations with streams and rivers are generally given as tribal locations at various times, and some groups were only marginally close to or briefly within the “Mississippi” boundaries, referred to herein as “marginal tribes.” Also, population estimates vary greatly with time, place, and recorder, so estimates herein are quite general.
AcolapissaThe Acolapissa, a Muskhogean name meaning “those who listen and see,” was a small, marginal tribe living on the lower Pearl River in 1699. They numbered up to about 300 and occupied up to seven villages at the time. By 1702 they had moved to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and by 1722 lived on the Mississippi River 13 leagues north of New Orleans. They were gradually amalgamated around 1739 first with the Bayogoula and later the Houma, the name which survives today in Louisiana.
Pearls discovered in the river where they lived were noted by Iberville and it later became known as the Pearl River from this event, although it is unclear if the tribe had pearls to offer or not. Pénicaut observed that both men and women completely tattooed their bodies, and he describes their religion in a round temple, scaffold and secondary bundle burial style, cooking habits, food, and hunting, and fire-making techniques.
BiloxiThe Biloxi, a small Siouan speaking tribe, the name meaning “first people,” lived around the Gulf coast and Biloxi Bay in 1699, later moving to the west shore of Mobile Bay by 1702. In 1722 they were reported in the old Acolapissa village on the Pearl River, but drifted back to the Pascagoula River area by 1730. Around 1763 some moved to Louisiana, and eventually some were found in eastern Texas. They were originally associated with the Pascagoula and Moctobi in the Biloxi Bay and Pascagoula River areas, together numbering around 20 to 40 cabins, or around 100 families in 1702. Estimates range up to 1,000 in 1650, probably too high, 420 with the Moctobi in 1698 and declining to 105 in 1805.
Prior to contact, the men supposedly wore breechcloths, belt, leggings, moccasins, garters, skin robe, feather headdresses, bone necklaces, nose and ear rings, and limited tattooing. Houses resembled low tents. They made pottery, wooden bowls, horn and bone tools, and baskets. An elaborate kinship system included matrilineal descent. They were probably eventually absorbed by the Houma.
Capinans/MoctobiThe Capinans, possibly the same as the Moctobi, a small tribe known by Iberville in 1699 to be living on the Pascagoula River near the Gulf coast, were associated with the Biloxi and Pascagoula tribes and thought to be of Siouan linguistic stock. With these other two tribes, their villages consisted of only about 20 cabins, or perhaps around 100 families. Little is known of them, their origins, what their name means, or what became of them. Capinans or “Capinas” are mentioned by Bienville in 1725 as living in a village about 12 leagues up the Pascagoula River. It is suggested that they, the Biloxi, and the Ofo may have originally come from the upper Ohio Valley and been reduced in numbers by various calamities on their way south.
ChakchiumaThe Chakchiuma, a Muskhogean term meaning “red crawfish,” was a small tribe living in the area of the upper Yazoo around the lower Tallahatchie and Yalobusha Rivers, and possibly extending east as far as the Lyon’s Bluff area, between the Chickasaw and Choctaw territories. In 1699 they are said by Iberville to have been between the Taposa below and the Ibitoupa above, and the largest tribe in the area. In the 1540s they were an important group, and are said to have splintered off from the Chickasaw and Choctaw when they originally moved into Mississippi. De Soto, while amongst the Chickasaw in 1540-41, sent an expedition against them, but returned after finding their village already burning. They later were allied with the French against the Chickasaw, leading to a number of rumors of great battles, probably only incidental to the 18th century struggle between the Chickasaw and Choctaw and the English and French. This concluded in 1763 when France ceded her American territories.
Their population estimates range from 750 in 1650 to 70 cabins, with the Taposa, in 1699, to 400 families in 1702 and reduced by warfare to 80, or about 50 cabins, by 1704. There were about 150 by 1722, but by then many may have already joined the Chickasaw. Another estimate in 1761 lists 50 huts on the Yazoo River. Recent investigations suggest they were living along the bluff tops of the Yalobusha and upper Yazoo river area in the late 1600s and early 1700s, possibly in better defensive positions. They were involved in a lot of warfare in the 1700s against other tribes such as the Chickasaw, Koroa, and Yazoo as French allies. It is thought that eventually their decimated numbers united with the Chickasaw and perhaps the Choctaw.
ChickasawThe Chickasaw, a Muskhogean name meaning “to sit,” were a large, strong, warlike tribe occupying the area of northeast Mississippi around the heads of the Tombigbee and Tallahatchie rivers. They claimed territories as far north as the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers and north of that to the area between the Duck and Cumberland rivers, and east as far as the Savannah River in Georgia and west to the Mississippi in the Memphis area. They were continuously fighting with adjacent tribes as well as the French, sheltering the remnants of the Natchez after they were decimated by the French by 1731. They were never defeated as a tribe and only by treaty in 1832 did they give up their Mississippi lands and move to Indian Territory in Oklahoma between 1837 and 1847.
Population estimates range from 8,000 in 1650, 2,000 warriors in 1693, 3,000-3,500 total in 1700, 2,000 families in 1702, 1,900 total by 1715, to as much as 3,625 by 1817, with increases thereafter. An early sketch of a warrior is shown by Romans (1775) in his A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, volume 1. Their society was divided into 12 gentes arranged in two phratries, with matrilineal descent and hereditary chiefs through the female line. The legendary origin, like the Creek and Choctaw, was west of the Mississippi River.
ChoctawThe Choctaw were one of the largest tribes in the Southeast, with population estimates ranging from about 15,000 in 1650, up to 8,000 in 1702, 21,500 in 1764, 13,423 in 1780, to 15,000 by 1814. Their language is Muskhogean, very similar to that of the Chickasaw and some smaller tribes on the Yazoo, but the meaning of their name is unclear. They were initially encountered by De Soto in 1540, though not directly as a tribe. During the 18th century warfare period, they fought against the English, Chickasaw, and Creeks in favor of their French allies. Their territory is in the east central part of Mississippi on the upper reaches of the Chickasawhay, Pearl, and Big Black rivers and portions of the Tombigbee, but formerly included areas further south and east as far as Georgia. In 1675 Bishop Calderón reported 107 towns in their province. Many migrated to Indian Territory in Oklahoma after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830, while others remained to this day in Mississippi.
Unlike the warlike Chickasaw, they were primarily agriculturalists, with warfare mostly being defensive. Practices included chunkey and stickball games; scaffolds and cleaning and redeposition of the bones of the dead in bone houses or burial with decorated poles around the new graves; and artificial head flattening. Their society was divided into two phratries, each with 4 gentes, and lineage was matrilineal. Sketches by De Batz in 1732-1735 (Swanton 1946, Plate 19) show Choctaw warriors wearing 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. Also pictured are naked children at play.
Choula/ChulaThe Choula or Chula was a very small, little known tribe, possibly a band of the Ibitoupa that separated from them when they moved further up the Yazoo. They were Muskhogean speakers, their name meaning “fox.” The only report of them was in 1722 by La Harpe, who stated that there were only about 40 of them living 25-30 leagues (about 65 to 85 miles) above the lower Yazoo tribes and below the Chakchiuma on the Yazoo River in the vicinity of the modern town of Tchula in Holmes County. They were probably confederated with the Chickasaw, but since there is only the one report, they likely rejoined the Ibitoupa shortly after 1722.
GrigraThe Grigra name, given them by the French, was based on their frequent use of the term “grigra” in their speech. Their language and ethnic ties are uncertain, but they may have been Muskhogean speakers, or of Tunican stock, or may have been distinct from others in the presence of the letter “r” in their language. Reported only in 1720-1725 as a band of about 60 warriors, they were at that time already settled in a village of the Natchez, actively opposed the French, and subsequently lost their identity after the Natchez war, merging with the remnants of the Natchez. Little else is known about them.
HoumaThe Houma, a Muskhogean word meaning “red”, possibly a branch of the Chakchiuma, were located in 1682 on the east bank of the Mississippi River opposite the mouth of the Red River, or in one report 7 leagues above there, and first visited by La Salle in that year. This would place them in the general area between the mouths of the Homochitto and Buffalo rivers in southwest Mississippi. There were an estimated 1,000 of them in 1650. Iberville visited them in 1699 and described their village of 140 cabins, 350 warriors, and a total population of 600-700, in some detail, and again in 1700 when he found that half had been decimated by some disease. The village was 2½ leagues from the river up on the hills, with cultivated fields in the valleys. It was said by Father Gravier in 1700 that they relied primarily on their corn and squash or pumpkins and rarely hunted. They raised but did not kill or eat chickens, no doubt introduced by the French. They plaited their hair, tattooed their faces, and blackened their teeth There were 70-80 cabins in 1700, 60 cabins in 1718. The Tunica settled among them in 1706, but later massacred many, after which the remnants moved into Louisiana. In 1739 they reportedly were merging with the Bayogoula and Acolapissa, with some 270-300 adults total.
IbitoupaThe Ibitoupa, a small, little known Muskhogean speaking tribe, was situated on the Yazoo River in the beginning of the 18th century between Abiaca and Chicopa creeks, supposedly between the Chakchiuma to the north and the Tiou to the south. It is alleged that the Ibitoupa, Chakchiuma, and Taposa were united in one village on the upper Yazoo by 1798 and were likely eventually absorbed by the Chickasaw. Their name means people living “at the source of a stream,” although what this refers to is unclear. Before 1722 they moved 3 leagues above the Chakchiuma past the mouth of the Yalobusha where Tippo Bayou supposedly preserves their name. The Choula may have been a band of this group that remained behind when they moved. In 1722 they lived in 6 cabins, suggesting a small group of less than 40 persons, the population of the related Choula that same year.
KoroaThe Koroa, thought to have been Tunican language speakers, were possibly first encountered by De Soto in 1541 living near the center area of Arkansas and called the Coligua or Coligoa. Marquette referred to them as Akoroa who lived west of the Quapaw. In 1682 LaSalle reported two groups, one on the Yazoo and another on the Mississippi south of the Natchez, which may have actually been the Tiou. They lived along the Mississippi for a while and finally settled in 1704, after defeats by the Quapaw and Illinois, on the Yazoo near the related Yazoo tribe. With the Yazoo, they massacred the French at Fort St. Pierre in 1729, but were subsequently attacked by the Chakchiuma and Choctaw, French allies. In 1731 they assisted the Natchez in attacking the Tunica, after which they disappear from the record, possibly being absorbed by the Chickasaw, as were some Natchez remnants. Another source says they were living with the Yazoo on the Yazoo River in 1742, allied with the Chickasaw, but later merged with the Choctaw and disappeared.
Iberville estimated their population in 1702 as part of the 300 families of the Tunica, Yazoo, and Ofo, altogether about 250 by 1722, and finally about 40 cabins and 40 warriors by 1730. La Salle said their cabins were made mostly of canes, windowless, dome shaped, and about 15 feet tall. They were said to be “cruel and treacherous” and were 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, though their language differed.
NatchezThe Natchez, speakers of a Muskhogean dialect, were one the best known tribes in Mississippi due to French settlement in their territory around St. Catherine Creek in the southwestern part of the present state. They were considered relatively peaceful, sedentary agriculturalists, with an extreme form of exogamous social class distinction, nobility and commoners, with subclasses in the latter, as well as sun worship. 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.
Their estimated population around 1682, when the French first encountered them, was around 6,000, with perhaps 1,000-1,200 warriors. Iberville lists 1,500 families in 1702. Mooney estimated a total of 4,500 people in 1650, with Swanton’s about 4,000. There were three wars with the French in 1716, 1722, and 1729, the last defeating the Natchez who by 1730 had abandoned their towns and divided into three groups, some escaping into Louisiana and most settling with the Chickasaw, with some later joining the Cherokee. They were not exterminated by the French, but eventually lost their identity and distinct language through amalgamation with other tribes.
Ofo/Ofogoula/MosopeliaThe Ofo or Ofogoula, of Siouan linguistic stock, their name meaning “dog people,” were a small tribe living on the Yazoo River about 12 miles above its mouth, near the Yazoo, Koroa, and Tunica. Their name was recorded in 1699 by Iberville and visited in 1699 and 1700 by several Frenchmen. Father Gravier estimated 10-12 cabins and Du Pratz in 1729 gives 60. The combined Ofo, Yazoo, and Koroa had about 300 families in 1702 and a total population of 250 by 1722. At the outbreak of the Natchez war, they declined to fight the French and went to live with the Tunica, and had a village on the west side of the Mississippi in Louisiana in 1784, after which they continue to decline into obscurity, the last survivor dying about 1915.
The name Mosopelia came from a marginal tribe that is thought to have been in the southern Ohio area prior to 1673, then driven from there by the Iroquois and found that year by Marquette below the mouth of the Ohio River and by La Salle in 1682. La Salle, on his later return upriver, found some of them, a chief and five cabins of people, settled with the Taensa on Lake St. Joseph, Louisiana. It is thought that these may be the same people as the Ofo who settled on the Yazoo River by 1690.
PascagoulaThe Pascagoula, Muskhogean speakers whose name means “bread people,” were a marginal tribe visited by Bienville in 1699 and Iberville in 1700, living 16-20 leagues up the Pascagoula River, moving later to the Gulf coast. In 1764 they and the Biloxi left the Gulf coast area. In 1784 they were reported living on the east side of the Mississippi about 10 miles above the Tunica, and before 1791 they moved up the Red River into Louisiana and by 1795 had settled near the Biloxi. In 1699 their village had less than 20 cabins and 120 warriors, or about 100 families. In 1700 Iberville reported 20 families, but Du Pratz lists 30 cabins a few years later. Their numbers declined over the years after they moved west of the Mississippi, eventually probably being incorporated into the Biloxi and Choctaw tribes.
PensacolaThe Pensacola, a marginal tribe whose Muskhogean name means “hair people” because their men wore their hair full length, lived around the present area of Pensacola in west Florida. They were thought to have been destroyed by tribal warfare before the Spanish established settlements there in 1696, but were later reported by Bienville in 1725 to be living on the Pearl River not far from the Biloxi, who together had about 40 warriors. They were probably originally encountered along the Gulf coast by the early Spanish explorers Cabeza de Vaca and Tristan de Luna prior to 1560. First mention of them by name was in 1677, and Barroto visited them in 1686 when they were at war with the Mobile. They were eventually probably absorbed by the Choctaw. Little else is known about them.
QuapawThe Quapaw, a large marginal tribe of Siouan speakers whose name means “people living downstream” from their apparent movement into the Arkansas area from the Ohio River area, were also variously known as the Akansa, Arkansas, Capa, Pacaha, and numerous other pronunciations, and were the primary occupants of the lower Arkansas River area prior to 1673 when Marquette encountered them near the mouth of the Arkansas River. They are thought to possibly be the Pacaha or Capaha whom De Soto met when he crossed the Mississippi. At any rate, they only incidentally occupied part of Mississippi, with one of their villages reported by Marquette in 1673 on the east side of the river north of the Arkansas mouth, also noted by LaSalle in 1682. It is estimated by Mooney that their population in 1650 was around 2,500, although there never were many east of the river except in warfare parties. They were accomplished artists of pottery and painted animal skins, built mounds, were agriculturalists, and lived in long domed houses.
Sawokli/Sabougla/SamboukiaThe Sawokli, Muskhogean speakers whose name means “raccoon people,” were a small, little known, marginal tribe primarily located in the area from Florida to Alabama at various times. Their only claim to Mississippi residence is on a 1697 French map showing the “Sabougla” on the Yazoo River, with a present tributary of the Yalobusha River and a post office by that name attesting to their presence at one time. Daniel Coxe’s map shows them as the “Samboukia.” This may have been a displaced offshoot of the main tribe, but it is not known how or why they got to Mississippi or how their name changed or was corrupted.
TaposaThe Taposa, a small, little known, Muskhogean speaking tribe, was said to have been located above the Chakchiuma on the Yazoo River, although Iberville places them below in 1699, between the Chakchiuma and the Ofogoula.. Possibly a branch of the Chakchiuma or Chickasaw, they probably joined the Chakchiuma as one, as suggested by des Lozières in 1802 as the “Tapouchas” in a village with the Chakchiuma and Ibitoupa on the upper Yazoo. They are shown close to the Chakchiuma on the De Crenay map. According to du Pratz, their village in 1730 contained 25 cabins.
TiouThe Tiou, a small, little known tribe of Tunican linguistic stock, were placed on the Yazoo River below the Ibitoupa, but above the Tunica, Yazoo, and Koroa, at a place 25 leagues from the Mississippi, according to Tonti. Supposedly vanquished by the Chickasaw, many moved down to the Natchez area around 1682 and subsequently became part of the Natchez tribe from then on, with a village of their own near the Natchez. Charlevoix stated that they were destroyed by the Quapaw in 1731, an unsubstantiated statement, but were not heard of again after that. Charlevoix’s map calls the Big Black the “River of the Tioux” and Ross’s map gives their name to the Homochitto River. The population of the Tiou, included with 3 other tribes, were estimated to be from 1,000 to 1,200 in 1650.
TunicaThe Tunica, a tribe of Tunican linguistic stock whose name means “the people,” were said to have occupied northwestern Mississippi and as far west as the Ouachita in Arkansas, but by 1682 were concentrated on the Yazoo River near its mouth. They moved in 1706 to the villages of the Houma opposite the mouth of the Red River, later rising up and killing or running 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 having gone to Oklahoma. Their population combined with the Yazoo, Koroa, and Ofo is estimated to have been between 2,000 and 2,450 in 1650., 460 in 1719, and only 50-60 by 1803.
De Batz drew a sketch in 1732 of a Tunica chief, a woman, and a child (Swanton 1946, Plate 48). The chief depicted looks amazingly similar to one he did of a Choctaw warrior (Swanton 1946, Plate 19) with his painted or tattooed face, breechcloth, knife, powderhorn and staff with hanging scalps. The children in the two sketches also have identical hairdos. Men performed all agricultural duties, cut wood, hunted, and dressed the hides. Women made pottery and mulberry cloth and performed household duties.
YazooThe Yazoo, a small tribe of Tunican linguistic stock, were located on their namesake Yazoo River and were closely associated with the Koroa, with whom they attacked and destroyed the French Fort St. Peter on the lower Yazoo in 1729. They were subsequently defeated and probably eventually absorbed by the Chickasaw and Choctaw. Charlevoix says they, the Tiou, and the Koroa were decimated by the French allied Quapaw. In 1700 Gravier says they had about 30 cabins, and Du Pratz estimates about 100 in 1725-1730. La Harpe estimated a total of 250 combined Yazoo, Koroa, and Ofo people in 1722, with about 40 Yazoo and Koroa warriors in 1730.