Taensa Indians

Taensa Tribe: Meaning unknown, but the name is evidently derived from that of one of the tribe’s constituent towns.

Taensa Connections. They were one of the three known tribes of the Natchez division of the Muskhogean stock.

Taensa Location. At the western end of Lake St. Joseph, in Tensas Parish. (See also Alabama.)

Taensa Villages

The only list of Taensa villages preserved was obtained by Iberville through the medium of the Mobilian trade language and it is uncertain how much of each name is a Mobilian translation. In four of them we recognize the Mobilian word for people, okla. These villages are:

  • Chaoucoula
  • Conchayon
  • Couthaougoula
  • Nyhougoulas
  • Ohytoucoulas
  • Taensas,
  • Talaspa

Gatschet has endeavored to interpret all but one of them:

  • Chaoucoula from issi, “deer” or ha’tcbe, “river.”
  • Conchayon from ko’nshak, “reed”;
  • Couthaougoula from uk’ha’tax, “lake”;
  • Ohytoucoulas from u’ti, “chestnut”;
  • Taënsas by reference to tan’tci, “corn”;
  • Talaspa from ta”lapi, “five” or ta’?lepa, “hundred”;

Most of these seem in the highest degree doubtful. All of the towns were situated close together in the place above indicated.

Taensa History

It is altogether probable that the Spaniards under De Soto encountered the Taensa or bands afterward affiliated with them, and the probability is strengthened by the fact that La Salle in 1682 was shown some objects of Spanish origin by the chief of the Taensa. However, La Salle and his companions are the first Europeans known to have met them. The French were treated with great kindness and no war ever took place between the two peoples. The Taensa were subsequently visited by Tonti and by Iberville. When the latter was in their town in 1700 the temple was destroyed by fire, whereupon five infants were thrown into the flames to appease the supposedly offended deity. De Montigny undertook missionary work among them for a brief period but soon went to the Natchez as presenting a larger field and his place was never filled. In 1706 the Taensa abandoned their villages on account of the threatening attitude of the Yazoo and Chickasaw and settled in the town of the Bayogoula whom they afterward destroyed or drove away in the tragic manner above described. The Taensa appear to have moved shortly to a spot in the vicinity of Edgard, St. John Baptist Parish, and later to the Manchac. In 1715 they left this latter place and moved to Mobile, where they were assigned a town site 2 leagues from the French post at a place formerly by the Tawasa.  Before 1744 they had crossed the Tensaw Rivers to which they gave their name, and made a new settlement which they retained until Mobile was surrendered to the British in 1763. Soon after that event, they moved to Red River. In April 1764, they asked permission to establish themselves on the Mississippi River at the upper end of Bayou La Four but they seem never to gone there. For more than 40 years they occupied a tract of land on the Red River adjoining that of the Apalachee. Early in the nineteenth century both tribes sold their lands and moved to Bayou Boeuf. Still later the Taensa seem to have moved further south to a small bayou at the head of Grand Lake which still bears its name, where they intermarried with the Chitimacha, Alabama, and Atakapa. Some Taensa blood is known to run in the veins of certain Chitimacha, but as a tribe they are entirely extinct.

Taensa Population. Mooney’s estimate (1928) for the Taensa and Avoyel the in 1650 is 800, and my own for 1698 slightly greater or nearly the same, although De Montigny (in Shea, 1861), writing in 1699, gives only 700. In 1700 Iberville estimated 120 cabins and 300 warriors, but in 1702 allows them 150 families. Somewhat later Le Page du Pratz (1758) says they had about 100 cabins. In 1764 this tribe, with the Apalachee and Pakana Creeks, counted about 200 all told. Sibley (1832) places the number of Taensa warriors in 1805 at 25.

Connection in which they have become noted. The Taensa were noted for:

  1. The peculiarity of their customs, which were like those of the Natchez.
  2. The tragic destruction of the temple in 1700 and the human sacrifices which followed.
  3. The perpetuation of their name in Tensas Parish, Tensas River, and Tensas Bayou, La., and the Tensaw River and Tensaw Village in Baldwin County, Ala.

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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