Naktche Indian Tribe

Editors Note: The Naktche, or Náktche tribe of people is otherwise known as the Natchez tribe.

Of the Lower Mississippi tribes the most powerful and populous was that of the Naktche, settled at the beginning of the eighteenth century in nine villages on and about St. Catherine creek (Lúkfi-ákula in Cha’hta: “clay-digging place” to daub houses with), in a beautiful and fertile country. This stream wends its way first south, then west, in a semi-circular course, around the present city of Natchez, Mississippi, and runs at an average distance of three to four miles from it. Other Naktche villages existed in its vicinity.

Naktche is the correct form of the tribal name, though this people appears to have called itself by some other appellation. Natchez is the old-fashioned plural adopted from French orthography; we might just as well write Iroquoiz, Islinoiz or Adayez, instead of the terminal -s now designating the plural in French. The Cheroki Indians call a Nache, Natche or Náktche person A’noχtse, A’nnoχtse, the people or tribe Aninoχtse, shortened into Aní’htse, which proves that a guttural has been elided from the present form of the name. Isalakti, from whom Albert Gallatin obtained a vocabulary of the language, called himself a Nahktse, not a Natche chief.

The name is of Shetimasha origin, I have reasons to assume. Náksh in that language means one that is in a hurry, one running, náksh así, 1 abbrev. náksh warrior; and the earliest French explorers may have heard that name from the Shetimasha Indians settled on the Mississippi, where Bayou Lafourche, also called the river of the Shetimasha, branches off from it. Should the name belong to the Chicasa trade language, we might think of the Cha’hta adverb: naksika aside, away from, referring to the site of the Naktche villages at some distance from the great “water-road,” the Mississippi river.

The Naktche tribe owes its celebrity and almost romantic fame to several causes: their towns were populous, the government more centralized than that of the surrounding native populations; the French settled in their vicinity, and hence their authors have left to posterity more information concerning their confederacy than concerning other tribes; their stubborn resistance to French encroachments gave them a high reputation for bravery; their religious customs, centering in a highly developed sun-worship, made of them an object of curious interest and far-going ethnologic speculation for the white colonists, whose views on the Naktche we must receive with the utmost caution.

L. d’Iberville reports, that at the time of his visit (March 1699) the villages of the Naktche made up one town only, and formed a complex of contiguous villages called Théloël or Théoël 2 (Margry IV, 179).

The annalist Pénicaut, who visited these parts in 1704, states that the nine villages were situated in a delightful country, swarming with buffaloes, drained by rivulets and partly wooded. The village or residence of the head chief, the Sun, lay one league from the Mississippi river, and three other villages were on a brook, at a distance of half a league from each other. He alludes to their human sacrifices, the frequency of infanticide, and gives descriptions of their temple, perpetual fire, their “marche des cadavres” and articles of dress. The house of the Sun was large enough to contain four thousand persons; he had female servants called oulchil tichon, and thirty male attendants (“laquais”) or loües, the Allouez of other chroniclers. Mother-right prevailed among them (Margry V, 444-456).

The Taensa guide, who accompanied d Iberville to the Naktche tribe in 1699, furnished him a list of the nine villages, their names being given in the Chicasa trade language. I presume that they are given in the topographical order as they followed each other on St. Catharine creek, from its mouth upward, since the “Naches” village or residence of the Sun was distant one league only from the Mississippi River. We are not acquainted with the names given to these villages in the Naktche language. The etymologies of the Cha’hta language were obtained from Allen Wright; the suffixed word -ougoula is the Cha’hta ókla people, tribe.

  1. Nachés;
  2. Pochougoula; “pond-lily people” from Cha’hta pántchi pond lily.
  3. Ousagoucoulas; “hickory people,” from Cha’hta û’ssak, óssak hickory.
  4. Cogoucoulas; “swan people” from ókok swan.
  5. Yatanocas;
  6. Ymacachas; almost homonymous with the Arkansas village Imahao, mentioned above.
  7. Thoucoue; probably identical with Théloël (cf. above) and the Thioux of later authors.
  8. Tougoulas; ” wood or forest people” from iti wood.
  9. Achougoulas; “pipe people” from ashunga pipe, literally, “the thing they smoke from;” cf. shungali I smoke from.

Although these names are considerably frenchified in their orthography, the meaning of some admits of no doubt. When I visited Natchez city in January 1882, I was informed that the White Apple village, called Apilua (Vpelois) and mentioned by Le Page du Pratz, is supposed to have existed twelve to fifteen miles southeast of the city. The White Earth village and the village of the Meal were other settlements of theirs. Owing to incessant rains, I could not explore the sites to their full extent, but found a flat mound south of St. Catharine’s Creek, with a diameter of thirty-two feet and perfectly circular, which lay at the same distance from the Mississippi as given above for the residence of the Sun. Col. J. F. H. Claiborne’s History of Mississippi, vol. I, 40-47, gives valuable extracts from French archives, pointing to the real sites of the Naktche habitations. The colossal mound of Seltzertown stands but a short distance from the creek alluded to, and is fourteen miles from Natchez city to the northeast.

The settlement of the French on the heights of Natchez, the growing animosity of the natives against the intruders, the three successive wars, the massacre of the colonists in November 1729, and the final dispersion of the tribe in February 1730, are well-known historic facts and need not be repeated in this volume. The disorganized warriors retreated with their families to different parts of the country. One party fled across Mississippi river to some locality near Trinity City, La., where they entrenched themselves, but were at tacked, defeated and partly captured by a body of French troops two years later. Another party reached the Chicasa country and was granted a home and protection by that tribe; but the revengeful French colonists declared war upon the hospitable Chicasa for sheltering their mortal enemies, and invaded their lands by way of the Yazoo River in 1736, but were compelled to retreat after suffering considerable loss. Fort Tombigbee, constructed in 1735, served as a second base for the French operations. Further French-Chicasa wars occurred in 1739-40 and in 1748. 3

Later on, we find their remnants among the Creeks, who had provided them with seats on Upper Coosa River, and incorporated them into their confederacy. They built a village called Naktche, and a part of them went to reside in the neighboring Abikúdshi town. Naktche town lay, in B. Hawkins time (1799), on a creek of the same name, joining Coosa River sixty miles above its confluence with Tallapoosa River, and harbored from fifty to one hundred warriors (Hawkins, p. 42). A number of Naktche families, speaking their paternal language, now live in the hilly parts of the Cheroki Nation, Indian Territory.

A body of Indians, called by French and English writers Thioux and Grigras, remained in the vicinity of the Natchez colony after the departure of the Naktche Indians, who had been the ruling tribe of the confederacy. It is doubtful whether these two divisions were of foreign or of Naktche origin, though the latter seems improbable. The Grigras were called so on account of a peculiarity in their pronunciation; it probably referred to what the French call grasseyer, and the Canadian French parler gras. 4 Eleven Shawano were once brought to the villages as captives, and were known there as “Stinkards,” “Puants,” terms which served to interpret the Naktche term métsmetskop miserable, bad, wretched, inferior.

The scanty vocabularies which we possess of the Naktche language contain a sprinkling of foreign terms adopted from the Chicasa or Mobilian. Two languages at least were spoken before 1730 in the Naktche villages; the Naktche by the ruling class or tribe; the other, the Chicasa or trade language by the “low people;” and hence the mixture referred to. Du Pratz gives specimens of both. Naktche is a vocalic language, rich in verbal forms, and, to judge from a few specimens, polysynthetic to a considerable degree in its affixes.Citations:

  1. Literally, “a hurrying man.” In the sign language of the Mississippi plains, the sign to fighting or battle is the same as for riding a horse.[]
  2. The handwriting of this name is indistinct, but in the sequel, wherever this name is mentioned, Margry prints it Théloël. There can scarcely be any doubt of its identity with Thoucoue, the seventh village in the list.[]
  3. Cf. Adair, History, p. 354 sqq. On Fort Tombigbee, ibid., pp. 285, 291[]
  4. It is stated that the Thioux were a small body of Indians, reduced in numbers by the Chicasa, and then incorporated by the Naktche; their language possessed the sound R. If this latter statement is true, their language was neither of the Naktche nor of the Maskoki or Dakota family. In conversation the Grigras often used this word grigra, which also implies the use of the articulation R. Cf. Le Page du Pratz, IV, chap, ii, sect, i; Jefferys, French Dom. in America, p. 162, and what is said of the Shawano under Yuchi, p.[]

Gatschet, Albert S. A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians. Pub. D.G. Brinton, Philadelphia, 1884.

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