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The End of the Natchez Indians

Samuel Stanley describes how a tribe resembling the Aztecs of Mexico flourished on the banks of the lower Mississippi until they encountered the French.

In their brief appearance on the pages of history the Natchez Indians presented a picture as colourful as it was unique. Once pre-eminent among tribes of the bayou area, both in size and cultural stature, they vanished almost overnight in conflict with French settlers. Only the writings of early observers, along with sketches by contemporary artists, preserve their legend.

Perhaps their first encounter with whites came in 1682, when the explorer La Salle visited them on his voyage up the Mississippi. If all their contacts had been as friendly, there might be Natchez living today. La Salle smoked a peace pipe, spent a night with his hosts and, after handing out gifts, went his way. Twelve years later another French explorer, Iberville, made a brief visit on equally pleasant terms, and various English traders began dealing with them without stirring up trouble.

Our first real knowledge of this semi-civilized tribe, however, dates from the year 1713. In that year two Frenchmen, brothers named La Loire, set up a trading post at the principal Natchez village, on the site of the present-day city of that name (the English, seeing themselves out-manoeuvered, withdrew). At this time an incident occurred that quickly soured relations.

A new governor of Louisiana, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, took a notion to visit the trading post that was part of his jurisdiction. On arriving from New Orleans he found himself surrounded by curious Natchez from the village. They appeared friendly and no doubt were. The chief stepped forward, offering the Governor a calumet pipe of peace, having first taken a few puffs himself.

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