Atakapa Indians

Atakapa Tribe: Meaning in Choctaw and Mobilian, “man eater,” because they and some of the Indians west of them at times ate the flesh of their enemies. Skunnemoke, the name of a chief, extended to the whole people.

  • Tûk-pa’-han-yan-ya-di, Biloxi name.
  • Yuk’hiti ishak, own name.

Atakapa Connections. The Atakapa were originally placed in an independent linguistic stock, including also the Bidai, Deadose, and probably the Opelousa, but it has now been determined that they belonged to one family with the Chitimacha, their eastern neighbors, and probably the Tunican group on the Mississippi, the whole being called the Tunican stock.

Atakapa Location. Atakapa bands extended along the coast of Louisiana and Texas from Vermillion Bayou to and including Trinity Bay. (See Akokisa under Texas)

Atakapa Villages. The Atakapa about Trinity Bay and the lower course of Trinity River were called Akokisa by the Spaniards, but they differed in no respect from the Atakapa of Lake Charles. There was, however, an eastern Atakapa dialect which was distinctly different from the one current in the Lake Charles and Trinity Bay sections and was spoken by two different bands, one about Vermillion Bay and one on the Mermentou River. There were a number of small villages but their names are unknown.

Atakapa History

In 1528 Cabeza de Vaca learned of the existence of some of these Indians, calling them Han. The portion of the Atakapa living in Louisiana came to the attention of the French after the latter had established themselves on the Mississippi River, but it so happened that they had more dealings with the people of Trinity Bay, the Akokisa. This was owing in the first place to the romantic adventures of a French officer, Simars de Belle-Isle, left upon this coast in 1719. In 1721 Bernard de la Harpe and Captain Beranger accompanied by Belle-Isle visited the bay and carried some Indians off with them to New Orleans. Fortunately for us, Beranger recorded a number of words in their language which prove it to have been almost identical with the Atakapa of Lake Charles. The Indians subsequently escaped and are reported to have reached their own country. In 1779 the band of Atakapa on Vermillion Bayou furnished 60 men and the Mermentou band 120 men to Galvez for his expedition against the British forts on the Mississippi. In the latter part of the eighteenth century numerous plots of land were sold to French Creoles by the Atakapa Indians, but the last village of the easternmost band was not abandoned until early in the nineteenth century. The last village of the Atakapa who spoke the eastern dialect was on the Mermentou and Indians are said to have lived there down to 1836. The Calcasieu band held together for a longer period, so that in 1908 a few persons were living who once made their homes in the last native village on Indian Lake or Lake Prien. It was from two of these that Dr. Gatchet, in January 1885, obtained his Atakapa linguistic material. (See Gatschet and Swanton, 1932.) Although in 1907 and 1908 I found a few Indians who knew something of the old tongue, it is today practically extinct. (See also J. O. Dyer, 1917.) As early as 1747 a Spanish mission was proposed for the Akokisa Indians, and in 1756, or about that time, it was established on the left bank of Trinity River, a short distance below the present Liberty. It was named Nuestra Señora de In Luz, and near it was the presidio of San Agustin de Ahumada erected the same year. Before 1772 both of these had been abandoned. In 1805 the principal Akokisa village was on the west side of Colorado River about 200 miles southwest of Nacogdoches, but there was another between the Neches and the Sabine. The ultimate fate of the tribe is unknown.

Atakapa Population. Exclusive of the Akokisa, Mooney (1928) estimates a population of 1,500 Atakapa in 1650, which the Akokisa would perhaps swell to 2,000. In 1747 a Spanish report gives 300 Akokisa families, a figure which is probably too high. In 1779 the Bayou Vermillion and Mermentou bands had 180 warriors. Sibley (1832) states that in 1805 there were 80 warriors in the only Atakapa town remaining but that 30 of these were Houma and Tunica. The same writer adds that in 1760-70 the Akokisa numbered 80 men.

Connection in which they have become noted. The traditional fame of the Atakapa rests upon the sinister reputation it had acquired as a body of cannibals. After the French began to settle southwestern Louisiana, they distinguished as the Atakapas district a section of southern Louisiana including the parishes of St. Mary, Iberia, Vermillion, St. Martin, and Lafayette, a usage which continues in commercial reports to the present day. The capital of this district, the modern St. Martinville, was known as the Atakapas Post. In Spartanburg County, S. C., is a place called Tucapau, the name of which may have been taken from this tribe.

Atákapa, Tunica,

Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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