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Natchez Indians before the Europeans came

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Sacre-bleu! Natchez Indians Kick the French out of America and Make Sure We Speak English


Nick on top of Emerald Mound
Have you ever wondered why we speak English in the United States? After all, the original inhabitants of our country - the Native Americans - spoke hundreds of different languages that weren't related to English in the least. Why don't we speak one of those dialects? Or how about those waves of colonists from Spain and France? Why did we adopt the mother tongue of the English colonists?

Well, Nick and I recently learned that we were THIS close to becoming a French-speaking nation. If it hadn't been for the Natchez Indians of Mississippi, we might be dunking croissants into our morning coffee instead of doughnuts!

The mighty Emerald Mound
Let's take it from the beginning: Who are the Natchez? They are an ancient tribe that thrived along the Mississippi River from about AD 700 to 1729. They are best known for their mounds -- enormous piles of earth that served as part of their spiritual belief system. Nick and I got to climb their sacred Emerald Mound, which is the second largest ceremonial mound in the nation. It measures 770 feet by 435 feet at its base, covers eight acres of land and extends nearly 35 feet into the air! At one time, the mound served as the foundation for the tribe's temple. We reached its apex just as the sun was beginning to set and soaked in its energy. Archaeologists have long wondered what inspired these Indians to fill and refill their cane baskets with dirt and haul them over to the mound time and again, but as Nick and I watched the sun fade into the forest, it made perfect sense to us. They wanted to be closer to the Moon, the Sun, and the Stars. They wanted to feel the Universe.

While the Natchez Indians probably crossed paths with the De Soto Expedition in the 1540s, their first documented encounter with European colonists was with the La Salle Expedition in 1682. According to early colonists' accounts, these initial meetings were so friendly that French and English traders and soldiers started coming more and more often. Before long, they were competing with one another for the Indians' favor. At that time, England and France were the greatest powers of the Old World. Now they wanted to rule the New World. To do so, they had to fight tooth and nail to establish the most colonies for their royal crowns. And they knew this feat could not be accomplished without the help of the Indians. After all, these early colonists were city slickers who had never experienced life in the rugged wilderness before. If it hadn't been for the hospitality of the Indians, most would have starved the moment they set foot on American soil.

At first, France seemed to be winning the war for Indian favor. Many took time to learn the language and customs of the Natchez, and were surprised to find a number of similarities between their cultures. For instance, the Natchez nation's tribal ranking - which ranked people in terms of "nobles" and "commoners" - paralleled their own class system back in France. Equally intriguing was the name that both cultures used to denote their leader. The Natchez called their Chief "the Great Sun." The French, meanwhile, revered their "Sun King" - Louis the XIV. The Natchez showed the French how to hunt and farm on their land. The French, in turn, introduced them to metals and ceramics.

But this peaceful co-existence was short-lived. Misunderstandings turned deadly, such as the time a group of Natchez killed some cattle and horses that belonged to the French. A mob of French soldiers, colonial vigilantes, and Indian allies quickly amassed and raided Natchez family farms. Several Natchez were slain and a number of women abducted.

Nick mounts Emerald Mound
By 1722, the Indians' sense of hospitality toward the French had worn thin. Relations with the English, however, had never been better, and a number of Natchez secretly joined their side. But we still might have been a bon-bon eating nation if it hadn't been for the untimely death of the Natchez's "Great Sun." He was the last of the pro-French Natchez, and his successor did not possess the leadership skills necessary to keep peace within the ranks. And so, on the morning of November 28, 1729, Natchez warriors arrived at French Fort Rosalie on the pretext of preparing for a communal hunt. Instead, they attacked the colonists, killing an estimated 237, but sparing the lives of women, children and - interestingly enough - the blacks. Actually, some blacks even joined the Natchez in their rebellion. This would not be the last time that the oppressed joined hands and rose up against their oppressors.

After recovering from the shock of this rebellion, the French retaliated. On January 27, 1730, the French militia -- along with some Choctaw and Tunica forces -- invaded Natchez turf. A month of brutal fighting ensued. Many of the surviving Natchez were shackled in chains and sold into slavery. Those who managed to escape were adopted by Cherokee and Creek tribes in the Appalachian mountains and, a century later, banished to reservations in eastern Oklahoma by the U.S. government. Many of their descendants are still living in Oklahoma today, and some are believed to reside in present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Stephanie waves from the Great Sun's mound
But while the French won this battle, the Natchez Indians ultimately won the war. Their rebellion crushed France's quest to colonize the New World. Americans, therefore, had only one European superpower to contend with in the upcoming war for Independence. The Natchez Rebellion also prevented generations of Americans from eating baguettes for breakfast!


Please email me at: stephanie@ustrek.org


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Neda - Dive! Dive! Discover the secrets of the Henrietta Marie
MAD - Reparations: Payback for slavery
Nick - The rebellion is on!