The European intrusion, beginning in the middle of the sixteenth century, provoked drastic change among the Mississippi tribes and ultimately destroyed the aboriginal life style. Hernando de Soto reached the upper waters of the Tombigbee River entering the country of the Chicaza (Chickasaws) in 1540.
Next came the French from Canada. In 1673 the Joliet-Marquette party made contact with several Mississippi tribes in their forages down the River seeking the mouth. Then came La Salle to connect the Gulf with the Northwest and to prevent the English at Charleston from establishing settlements. In 1698, two English traders arrived in eastern Mississippi and took back Indian captives sold as slaves in Carolina. In 1699, d'Iberville sailed into the Gulf to find the mouth of the Mississippi River and to establish settlements. The Europeans demand for pelts led to the extermination of fur-bearing animals resulting in many of the Gulf tribes moving West for new lands. Those who remained were exterminated by measles, small pox, and other diseases introduced by the intruders.
The Chickasaws raided other Indian tribes capturing Indians to be traded to the English for slave labor on the Eastern seaboard plantations. The French attempt to befriend the Chickasaws resulted in the French and Indian War which ended in 1763.
The Natchez Indians were eliminated by 1731 as a result of many intuding French colonists from Canada and by those who abandoned forts on the Gulf of Mexico. The Natchez Indians attacked the French fortifications killing 250 Frenchmen and capturing 300 women and children. Then, French troops recaptured the prisoners and obliterated the Natchez.
The First French-Chickasaw war began in 1720 because of the refusal of the Indians to banish the English traders from their villages. The Chickasaw waged a series of attacks on Choctaws and French trading and shipping activities. This resulted in an interruption of French commerce so the French initiated a temporary peace.
The Second French-Chickasaw war took place in 1732 with renewed French demands to expel the English traders. This again resulted in halting normal commerce. In 1736, Governor Bienville waged an all out offense which failed and resulted in the loss of many French soldiers, including friendly Choctaws and French traders.
A third offensive of 3000 French regular army was initiated in 1739 which also failed.
The long struggle between the French and English colonials ended the Seven Year's War with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, giving way to the English to take possession of the lands East of the Mississippi and Canada. The French had previously ceded the Louisiana Territory to Spain.
The new British Colony of West Florida in command by Governor George Johnstone. Because of the wars, diseases and induced slavery, the Indian population had suffered greatly. When the French withdrew their troops, many traders and trappers also withdrew to the Louisiana Territory, resulting in many Indians crossing the River.
Another change in the Indian Choctaw and Chickasaw nations was the proliferation of mixed blooded Indians, the Chickasaw with English bloodlines and the Choctaw with French. The growing mixed-blood community in both Indian nations had far-reaching effects on tribal economic, social, and political life. The mixed-blood groups became an aristocracy and were more assertive. The French legacy among the Choctaws is confirmed by the LeFlore line which produced such notables as Greenwood LeFlore. One of the leading Chickasaw mixed-blood families was established by James Logan Colbert, a Scotsman, who in 1729 began a forty-year residence in the Chickasaw nation. Colbert married three Chickasaw women who bore him many children. His sons were principal spokesmen for well over a century. Slowly the religious, social, and political structure of the tribes were influenced by the mixed-blooded Indians resulting in the full-blooded natives resorting to drink or moving on to other lands. With the new tribal affairs being effected by distress and discontent as they were transformed into a new order.
The new Indian society was also affected by the role play of the Negro slaves who were also brought to perform slave labor for the mixed blood Indians and also for other Indians who looked upon the practice both as satisfying the chores that Indians felt below their dignity such as Agricultural chores and also gave them a sense of status. African slaves were introduced by traders during the 1750s. Slavery fed the aristocratic pretensions of the owners in their drive to emulate white planter neighbors. The slaves built bridges and roads which enhanced the value of the Indian properties which allowed them to negotiate better terms with the Federal government during the Removal Act. Slaves who were formerly owned by English-speaking planters learned the Indian language, thereby serving as a communication bridge.
During the period of British suzerainty over the Mississippi tribes, British traders used Choctaws and Chickasaws to extend their commercial enterprise into Spanish Louisiana, off limits to other Europeans. Indian traders served as middle men in carrying British goods to the tribes on the Arkansas and Red rivers. Thus, British mercantile depots in the Choctaw and Chickasaw towns of Mississippi were important exporting centers for trade to the West.
Following the British takeover of West Florida there occurred a rush of immigrants from the British Isles, West Indies, and the American seaboard colonies. The British armed the Indians to prevent secessionist Americans from invading the area.
By the Treaty of Paris 1783, Great Britain ceded the territory east of the Mississippi and north of thirty-one degrees to the US. Spain took control of the region south of thirty-one degrees which was the old British West Florida. The Spanish lured the Indians to a meeting in Natchez, Mobile and New Orleans loading them with gifts urging them to join the Creeks in turning the American advance westward.
The Spanish attempted to disrupt the Indian relations with the Americans by inciting the Creeks in 1793 and again in 1795 to invade the Mississippi Indians. But the Creeks were repelled forcing the Spanish to relinquish their hold on south Mississippi.
From 1795 to 1837, the Choctaws and Chickasaws were becoming less populated while adapting to civilized ways of agriculture and cattle and sheep herding. The missionaries introduced religious training and education. The Indian lands were slowly taken away until the Indian Removal Act where all the lands were turned over to the American Government and they were forced to migrate to the Indian Territory in the West. Some remained to receive personal land allotments and remained subject to Mississippi law.
The Mississippi Indians remained loyal to the Americans during the War of 1812.
The above are excerpts from “A History of Mississippi”
by Arrell M. Gibson, edited by Richard Aubrey McLemore
The early Spanish and French explorers encountered various tribes along the Gulf coast such as the Bylocchy, Moctoby, Ouma and the Pascoboula (as listed in Iberville's Journals). Near the mouth of the Mississippi River they encountered the Tangipahoa, Mougoulas-chas, and the Bayagoulas; and further upriver they smoked the peace pipe and celebrated the dance of the Calumet with the Nipissas and the Quinipissas. The Indians called the great Mississippi river the Malbanchya. The early Spanish called it the Rio de Palisades or Rio de Espiritu Santo. The early French called it the St. Louis River, or the Indian name of Missicipy or Myssysypy as recorded in Iberville's Journals.
One of Iberville's entourage, Andre Penicaut, recorded that "during the spring of 1700, Iberville reported contacts only with small groups (of Indians), a male hunting party in one instance; and small extended families, one of which was traveling with stored maize and beans." Indian villages lay deep in the interior far above the limits of tidewater. Native villages were located well inland and coastal sites were typically dispersed with small, seasonal encampments.
Choctaws, the descendants of Chief Chakta and his followers, were by far the strongest Indian tribe in Mississippi. They lived in the Central and Southwest regions and covered the southern half of Mississippi. Because the tribe was too large to be ruled by one man, the Choctaws divided their people into three groups each ruled by a chief known as a Mingo. Chief Tacala Yarbo ruled the Hancock tribal group from the Devil Swamp's lower central part of the county.
"The Choctaw dispersed in small, presumably family-based, groups in the Spring after the crops were planted. They subsisted on fruit and aquatic foods until the early summer when they returned to the home community for the annual Green Corn Ceremony. Following this, they dispersed again until harvest time. After the crops were harvested in the fall, the men were away on the Fall hunt and the remaining villagers gathered nuts and other resources for winter and early spring consumption.", as described by R. Barry Lewis in his Fires on the Bayous.
The Indians remained shy of the white man following their encounter with the Spaniard, DeSoto. During DeSoto's 1540s trek along the coast from Florida to the Mississippi River he had killed all Indians he came in contact with. However the French finally made friends with the Indians and by 1730, the Choctaws and the French accepted each other as equals. Intermarriages even produced some Choctaw-Creole leadership as characterized by the famous Chief Greenwood LeFlore.
Through the years, Yellow Fever epidemics, warfare and colonial encroachment, greatly affected the Indian population. When the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was enacted, the tribes east of the Mississippi River were forced to exchange their home lands for new lands in the West. The Choctaws and Chickasaws of Mississippi were included, as well as the Creeks from Florida. This enforced migration was later called the Trail of Tears.
One of the early signs of Indian habitation is denoted by the findings of Indian mounds. These can be found throughout the Gulf coast region of southern Mississippi, but many have been destroyed. Presence of these in the Pass Christian area were primarily in the form of Shell mounds. One large mound existed on the shore near present day Market Street as shown on an English Map of 1768. Another existed at Bayou Portage near Industrial Park water-way which early on was a natural bayou. Yet, another was known as Shelly Plantation on the shore north of the Bay of St. Louis near DeLisle.
From several documents read, these shells were used as cover on Front Street making Pass Christian the first Gulf coast community to have shell roads.
Some old timers can recall Indians who would paddle across from Shieldsborough (Bay St. Louis) to market their goods atop a high bluff that once existed on the shores at the southwest tip of Henderson Point. Most of the Indian tribes settled north of Bayou Portage or in Hancock County areas.
An Indian Story related by John H. Lang
Nicholas Butchert bought a lot adjoining what is now the Exchange Building (former Rafferty Building at 115 E. Scenic Drive) and employed Narceise, a mixed breed Indian Negro to plow the ground in order to grow vegetables. One day, while plowing, Narceise struck an old earthen pot containing quite a sum of gold and silver coins. He took the pot in his arms and immediately proceeded to Butchert’s place of business and turned the contents over to Butchert, who immediately counted the coins and equally divided the number with Narceise. However, he kept the gold and gave the silver coins to Narceise.
Like all Indians, Narceise was fond of his liquor and proceeded to have a general good time. He would have a dance at his house every night for quite a spell, and would shout, “Dance, my children, dance, papa got plenty money.”
The silver coins soon disappeared and then he began producing gold coins instead, so apparently Narceise had made his own division before going to Butchert. Therefore, no one ever knew how much money was actually found in the old earthen jar.