Chawasha Indians

Chawasha Tribe: Meaning unknown, though possibly “raccoon place (people).”

Chawasha Connections. A reference to this tribe and the Washa by Bienville places them in the Chitimacha division of the Tunican linguistic stock. I had erroneously concluded at an earlier period, on slender circumstantial evidence, that they were Muskhogeans.

Chawasha Location. On Bayou La Fourche and eastward to the Gulf of Mexico and across the Mississippi.

Chawasha History. After the relics of De Soto’s army had escaped to the mouth of the Mississippi River and while their brigantines were riding at anchor there, they were attacked by Indians, some of whom had “staves, having very sharp heads of fish-bone.” (See Bourne 1904, vol. 2, p. 202.) These may have belonged to the Chawasha and Washa tribes. The same two tribes are said, on doubtful authority, to have attempted to attack an English sea captain who ascended the Mississippi in 1699, but they were usually friendly to the French. In 1712 they were moved to the Mississippi by Bienville and established themselves on the west side, just below the English Turn. In 1713 (or more probably 1715) they were attacked by a party of Chickasaw, Yazoo, and Natchez, who killed the head chief and many of his family, and carried off 11 persons as prisoners. Before 1722 they had crossed to the east side of the river, half a league lower down. In 1730, in order to allay the panic in New Orleans following on the Natchez uprising of 1729 which resulted in the massacre of the Whites at Natchez, Governor Perrier allowed a band of Negro slaves to attack the Chawasha, and it is commonly reported that they were then destroyed. The French writer Dumont (1753) is probably right, however, when he states that only seven or eight adult males were killed. At any rate they are mentioned as living with the Washa at Les Allemands on the west side of the Mississippi above New Orleans in 1739, and in 1758 they appear as constituting one village with the Washa. Except for one uncertain reference, this is the last we hear of them, but they may have continued for a considerable period longer before disappearing as a distinct body.

Chawasha Population. Mooney (1928) gives an estimate of 1,400 for the Washa, Chawasha, and Opelousa together in the year 1650. My own estimate for the first two and the Okelousa, as of 1698, is 700. This is based on Beaurain’s (La Harpe’s) estimate (1831) of 200 warriors for the 3 tribes. About 1715 there are said to have been 40 Chawasha warriors; in 1739, 30 warriors of the Washa and Chawasha together; and in 1758, 10 to 12.

Connection in which they have become noted. The Chawasha attained temporary notoriety on account of the massacre perpetrated upon them in the manner above mentioned.

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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