To close the list of the linguistic families encircling the Maskoki stock, we mention the Atákapa, a language which has been studied but very imperfectly. This tribe once existed upon the upper Bayou Tèche northwest and west of the Shetimasha, north and northwest of the Opelousa Indians, and from the Tèche extended beyond Vermilion river, perhaps down to the sea coast. The Atákapa of old were a well-made race of excellent hunters, but had, as their name indicates, the reputation of being anthropophagites (Cha’hta: hátak, haitak person, ápa to eat). At first, they suffered no intrusion of the colonists into their territory and cut off expeditions attempting to penetrate into their seats. During the nineteenth century they retreated toward the Sabine River. The name by which they call themselves is unknown; perhaps it is Skunnemoke, which was the name of one of their villages on Vermilion River, six leagues west of New Iberia. 1
The scanty vocabulary of their language, taken in 1802, shows clusters of consonants, especially at the end of words, but with its queer, half-Spanish orthography does not appear to form a reliable basis for linguistic conclusions. A few words agree with Tónkawē, the language of a small Texan tribe; and according to tradition, the Karánkawas, once the giant people of Matagorda Bay, on the Texan Coast, spoke a dialect of Atákapa. These three tribes were, like all other Texan tribes, reputed to be anthropophagists. In extenuation of this charge, Milfort asserts that they “do not eat men, but roast them only, on account of the cruelties first enacted against their ancestors by the Spaniards”. This remark refers to a tribe, also called Atákapa, which he met at a distance of five days travel west of St. Bernard bay. 2
We have but few notices of expeditions sent by French colonists to explore the unknown interior of what forms now the State of Louisiana. One of these, consisting of three Frenchmen, was in 1703 directed to explore the tribes about the river de la Madeleine, now Bayou Tèche. The two men who returned reported to have met seven “nations” there; the man they lost was eaten by the natives, and this misfortune prompted them to a speedy departure. The location seems to point to the territory of the Atákapa. 3
- Pénicaut, in Margry V, 440.
- Pénicaut, in Margry V, 90.
- Cf. Th. Hutchins (Phila., 1784).