Attacapa Tribe

Attacapa Indians.  A tribe forming the Attacapan linguistic family, a remnant of which early in the 19th century occupied as its chief habitat the Middle or Prien lake in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. It is learned from Hutchins 1 that “the village de Skunnemoke” or Tuckapas stood on Vermilion River, and that their church was on the west side of the Tage (Bayou Tèche). The Attacapa country extended formerly to the coast in south west Louisiana, and their primitive domain was outlined in the popular name of the Old Attacapa or Tuckapa country, still in use, which comprised St Landry, St Mary, Iberia, St Martin, Fayette, Vermilion, and, later, Calcasieu and Vernon parishes; in fact all the country between Ked, Sabine, and Vermilion rivers and the Gulf 2 . Charlevoix states that in 1731 some Attacapa with some Hasinai and Spaniards aided the French commander, Saint Denys, against the Natchez. Pénicaut 3 says that at the close of 1703 two of the three Frenchmen whom Bienville sent by way of the Madeline River to discover what nations dwelt in that region, returned and reported that they had been more than 100 leagues inland and had found 7 different nations, and that among the last, one of their comrades had been killed and eaten by the savages, who were anthropophagous. This nation was called Attacapa. In notes accompanying his Attacapa vocabulary Duralde says that they speak of a deluge which engulfed men, animals, and the land, when only those who dwelt on a highland escaped; he also says that according to their law a man ceases to bear his own name as soon as his wife bears a child to him, after which he is called the father of such and such a child, but that if the child dies the father again assumes his own name. Duralde also asserts that the women alone were charged with the labors of the field and of the household, and that the mounds were erected by the women under the supervision of the chiefs for the purpose of giving their lodges a higher situation than those of other chiefs. Milfort 4 , who visited St Bernard bay in 1784, believed that the tribe came originally from Mexico. He was hospitably received by a band which he found bucanning meat beside a lake, 4 days march w. of the bay; and from the chief, who was not an Attacapa, but a, Jesuit, speaking French, he learned that 180, nearly half the Attacapa tribe, were there, thus indicating that at that time the tribe numbered more than 360 persons; that they had a custom of dividing themselves into two or three bodies for the purpose of hunting buffalo, which in the spring went to the w. and in the autumn descended into these latitudes; that they killed them with bows and arrows, their youth being very skilful in this hunt; that these animals were in great numbers and as tame as domestic cattle, for we have great care not to frighten them;” that when the buffaloes were on the prairie or in the forest the Attacapa camped near them “to accustom them to seeing us.” Sibley 5 described their village as situated “about 20 m. w. of the Attakapa church, toward Quelqueshoe;” their men numbered about 50, but some Tonica and Huma who had intermarried with the Attacapa made them altogether about 80. Sibley adds: “They are peaceable and friendly to everybody; labor, occasionally for the white inhabitants; raise their own corn; have cattle and hogs. They were at or near where they now live, when that part of the country was first discovered by the French.” In 1885 Gatschet visited the section formerly inhabited by the Attacapa, and after much search discovered one man and two women at Lake Charles, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, and another woman living 10 miles to the south; he also heard of 5 other women then scattered in west Texas; these are thought to be the only survivors of the tribe.Citations:

  1. Hutchins, Geog. U. S., 1784[]
  2. Dennett, Louisiana, 1876[]
  3. Pénicaut, Margry, Dec., v, 440[]
  4. Milfort, Mem., 92, 1802[]
  5. Sibley, Hist. Sketches, 82, 1806[]


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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