Natchez Indians. A well-known tribe that formerly lived on and about St. Catherine’s Creek, east and south of the present city of Natchez, Mississippi. The name, belongings to a single town, was extended to the tribe and entire group of towns, which included also peoples of alien blood who had been conquered by the Natchez or had taken refuge with them. Iberville, on his ascent of the Mississippi in 1699, names, in the Choctaw language, the following 8 towns, exclusive of Natchez proper: Achougoulas, Cogoucoula, Ousagoncoula, Pochougoula, Thoucoue, Tougoulas, Yatanocas, and Ymacachas. Of these, Tougoulas and perhaps Thoucoue are the Tioux towns. It is probably safe to infer that the 9 towns, including Natchez, represented the entire group, and that the Corn, Gray, Jenezenaque, White Apple, and White Earth villages are only other names for some of the above, with which it is now impossible to identify them. The Tioux and Grigras were two nations under the protection of the Natchez; both were of alien blood. Du Pratz alludes to a tradition that the Taensa and Chitimacha were formerly united with the Natchez, but left them, though the latter had always recognized them as brothers. The Taensa were, indeed, probably an offshoot of the Natchez, but the Chitimacha were of a distinct linguistic family.
It is difficult to form an estimate of the numerical strength of this tribe, as the figures given vary widely. It is probable that in 1682, when first visited by the French, they numbered about 6,000, and were able to put from 1,000 to 1,200 warriors in the field.
The Natchez engaged in three wars with the French, in 1716, 1722, and 1729. The last, which proved fatal to their nation, was caused by the attempt of the French governor, Chopart, to occupy the site of their principal village as a plantation, and it opened with a general massacre of the French at Fort Rosalie, established in 1716. The French, in retaliation, attacked the Natchez villages with a strong force of Choctaw allies, and in 1730 the Natchez abandoned their villages, into three bodies. A small section remained not far from their former home, and a second body fled to Sicily island, near Washita river, where they were attacked early in 1731 by the French, many of there killed, and about 450 captured and sold into slavery in Santo Domingo. The third and most numerous division was received by the Chickasaw and built a village near them in north Mississippi, called by Adair, Nanne Hamgeh; in 1735 these refugees numbered 180 warriors, or a total of about 700. In the year last named a body of Natchez refugees settled in South Carolina by permission of the colonial government, but some years later moved up to the Cherokee country, where they still kept their distinct town and language up to about the year 1800. The principal body of refugees, however, had settled on Tallahassee creek, an affluent of Coosa river.
Hawkins in 1799 estimated their gun-men at about 50. They occupied the whole of one town called Natchez and part of Abikudshi. The Natchez were therefore not exterminated by the French, as has frequently been stated, but after suffering severe losses the remainder scattered far and wide among alien tribes. A few survivors, who speak their own language, still exist in Indian Territory, living with the Cherokee, and in the councils of the Creeks until recently had one representative.
Though the accounts of the Natchez that have come down to us appear to be highly colored, it is evident that this tribe, and doubtless others on the lower Mississippi, occupied a somewhat anomalous position among the Indians. They seem to have been a strictly sedentary people, depending for their livelihood chiefly upon agriculture. They had developed considerable skill in the arts, and wove a textile fabric from the inner bark of the mulberry which they employed for clothing. They made excellent pottery and raised mounds of earth upon which to erect their dwellings and temples. They were also one of the eastern tribes that practiced head flattening. In the main the Natchez appear to have been peaceable, though like other tribes, they were involved in frequent quarrels with their neighbors. All accounts agree in attributing to them an extreme forma of sun worship and a highly developed ritual. Moreover, the position and function of chief among them differed markedly from that among other tribes, as their head chief seems to have had absolute power over the property and lives of his subjects. On his death his wives were expected to surrender their lives, and parents offered their children as sacrifices. The nation was divided into two exogamic classes, nobility and commoners or michmichgupi, the former being again divided into suns, nobles proper, and esteemed men. Children of women of these three had the rank of their mother, but children of common women fell one grade below that of their father. There were various ways, however, by which a man could raise himself from one grade to another at least as far as the middle grade of nobles. While the commoners consisted partially of subject tribes, the great majority appear to have been as pure Natchez as the nobility. In spite of great lexical divergence, there is little doubt that the Natchez language is a Muskhogean dialect.