The Biloxi Indians

Inspection of the various names which have been applied to this tribe suggests that they are all derivatives from Taneks, the name by which the Biloxi call themselves. The interchangeability of the letters l, n, and r in different dialects is a well-known linguistic fact, while the substitution of a labial for a dental or a compound labial-dental is of frequent occurrence in the Siouan languages. As examples, Dorsey mentions mda or bla and mdu or blu, pronominal particles in Dakota, which become hata or hate in Oto, and to or to in Whinebago. Mde or bde, the Dakota word for lake, is a good example of a compound sound which to an alien people might appear a simple labial or dental. The name B’luksi or Biloxi, signifying “trifling or worthless” in the language of the Choctaw, may have been given them by that tribe on account of its resemblance to the proper name, in accordance with a common habit among Indian tribes of substituting for a tribal name of unknown meaning some translatable name of similar sound from their own language, especially when, as in this case, the latter term has a derogatory or sarcastic import. The people themselves, like a hundred other tribes, cannot explain the meaning of their name. Dorsey thinks the word is connected with the Siouan root changa or hanga, signifying “first,” “foremost,” “original,” ” ancestral,” an idea embodied in many tribal names, the assumption of antiquity being always flattering to national pride. Thus the Winnebago call themselves Ho-changa-ra, “the people speaking the original language.” In Biloxi we find tanek-ya signifying “the first time” (Gatschet), and Taneks haya, or Biloxi people, would thus mean “the first people.” Dorsey suggests that the old French form of 1699, Anani, may be from anyadi, or haryadi, another word for “people” in their own language.

The Biloxi were first noted by Iberville, who found them in 1699 living about Biloxi bay on the coast of Mississippi, in connection with two other small tribes, the Paskagula and Moctobi, the three together numbering only about twenty cabins 1 . It is evident that they were even then but remnants of former larger tribes, which, having been reduced by war, pestilence, or other calamities, had been compelled to consolidate and take refuge with the powerful Choctaw, who claimed all the surrounding country. At a later period the Biloxi removed northwestward to Pearl river 2 , and thence crossed the Mississippi into Louisiana, probably about 1763, settling on Red river and Avoyelles lake near the present Marksville 3 ; they were mentioned in a list of southern tribes in 1764 4 . In 1784 they and the Paskagula, who still lived near them, were estimated together at thirty warriors, or probably about a hundred souls 5 . In 1806 they had two villages, one at Avoyelles on Red river and the other on the lake, and wandered up and down the bayous on the southern side of the stream 6 . In 1829 they were reported to number 65, living with Caddo, Paskagula, and other small tribes about Red river and the frontier of Texas 7 . About the same time Mexican authorities report them as numbering twenty families, on the eastern bank of the Neches in Texas. After this no more was heard of them until recently.

From the fact that the Biloxi were known in history only as a tribe subordinate to the Choctaw, it was very naturally supposed that they were of the same linguistic connection, more especially as most of the region of the Gulf States was held by tribes of Muskhogean stock. Sibley; in 1805, stated that they spoke the general trade language known as Mobilian – a corrupt Choctaw – but had a distinct language of their own, without, however, giving any hint as to what that language might be 3 . It remained for Gatschet to prove that the Biloxi are the remnant of an isolated Siouan tribe. In 1886, while pursuing some linguistic researches in the southwest, in the interest of the Bureau of Ethnology, Mr Gatschet came across a small baud of Biloxi still living near Lainourie Bridge on Bayou Boeuf, in Rapides parish, Louisiana, sixteen miles south of Alexandria. They numbered only 25 all told, including several mixed bloods, and hardly half a dozen were able to speak the language fluently; but from these he obtained a vocabulary which established their Siouan affinity beyond a doubt. Although on the verge of extinction, poor, miserable, and debilitated from their malarial surroundings, they yet retained all the old pride of race, insisting on being called Taneks, and refusing to be known as Biloxi.

Following up this discovery, Dorsey, the specialist in the Siouan tribes, visited the Biloxi of Louisiana in 1892 and again in 1893, and has succeeded in collecting from this small remnant a valuable body of linguistic and myth material. A synopsis of the results obtained appears in his paper on the Biloxi, published in 1893 in the proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He states that in 1892 the only survivors of the tribe remaining in Louisiana were about a dozen individuals’ living near Lecompte, in Rapides parish. One of his informants said, however, that toward the close of the civil war, or about 1865; a large party of Biloxi and Paskagula removed to a place in Texas which he called “Comishy.” This is, doubtless, Kiamishi River, a northern tributary of Red river, in the Choctaw nation, and an old settlement nucleus for Choctaw, Caddo, and other emigrant tribes from Louisiana. From personal inquiry among the Caddo, Creek, and Choctaw, I am led to believe that these Biloxi are now with the mixed band of Alabama, Coasati, and Muskogee living near Livingston, in Polk county, Texas, and in a smaller settlement nearer Houston. There are none now in the Choctaw nation or among the Caddo in Oklahoma, but one or two individuals are said to be living near Okmulgee, in the Creek nation. All three of these tribes are perfectly familiar with the name.

Their former neighbors, the Choctaw, say that the Biloxi were originally cannibals. The statement must be taken with some allowance, however, as the charge of cannibalism was the one most frequently made by Indians against those of an alien or hostile tribe. From information obtained by Mr. Dorsey it appears that the Biloxi formerly dressed in the general style of other eastern tribes, and that tattooing was sometimes practiced among them. They made wooden bowls, horn and bone implements, baskets, and pottery. They still remember the names of three genies, the deer, grizzly bear (1), and alligator, and probably had others in former times. Descent, as usual, was in the female line, and there was a most elaborate kinship system (Dorsey, Biloxi). Their mythology, as noted by Dorsey, has evidently been much affected by contact with the whites. They venerate the thunder (personage) and will talk about it only in clear weather. They will not kill or eat the snipe, because it is the sister of the thunder. They also respect the humming bird, because, as they say, it always speaks’ the truth. They believe that the slain deer is resurrected three times, but that if killed the fourth time the spirit leaves the body forever. The same belief is’ held by the Cherokee. Their dwellings were of two kinds, the low wigwam of the eastern tribes and the high pointed tipi of the more nomadic western Indians (Dorsey, Biloxi).

Our latest information concerning the Biloxi of Louisiana is contained in a letter received by Mr. Dorsey in February of this year (1894), in which it is stated that the handful of survivors were then preparing to remove farther westward, presumably to the Choctaw nation, where all stragglers from the Louisiana tribes find a welcome.

Synonymy for Biloxi

Ananis (for Anaxis?).- Document of 1699 in French, Louisiana, 1875, p. 99.
Annocchy.- Document of 1699 in Margry, Découvertes, vol. iv, 1880, p. 172.
Baluxa.- Brown, Western Gazetteer, 1817, p. 133.
Beloxi.- Porter (1829) in Schoolcraft, Indian Tribes, 1853, vol. iii, p. 596.
Beluxis.- Document of 1764 in New York Doc. Col. Hist., 1856, vol. vii, p. 641.
Bilexes.- Berquin-Duvallon, Travels in Louisiana, 1806; p. 97.
Billoxis.- Butel-Dumont, Louisiana, 1753, vol. i, p. 134.
Bilocchy.- De Hale map, 1700.
Biloccis. – Robin, Voyage a in Louisiane, 1807, vol. ii, p. 54.
Biloui.- Berquin-Duvallon, Travels in Louisiana, 1806, p. 91, note (misprint).
Biloxis. – Penicaut (1699) in French, Louisiana, a. s., 1869, p. 38.
Mug. – Michler in Report of Secretary of War, 1850, p. 32.
B’luksi. – Mooney, MS., 1886 (“Trifling, worthless;” Choctaw name).
Binukhsh. – Gatschet, Caddo and Yatassi MS., 1883 (Caddo name).
Bolixies. – Schoolcraft, Indian Tribes, 1854, vol. iv, p. 561.
Boluxas. – Sibley (1805) in Lewis and Clark, Discovery, 1806, p. 94,
Paluxsies. – Parker, Texas, 1856, p. 221.
Poluksalgi.- Gatschet, Creek MS. (Creek name, plural form).
Poutoucsis (for Pouloucsis?).- Berquin-Duvallon, Travels in Louisiana, 1806, p. 94.
Taneks or Tanks. – Gatschet, Biloxi MS., 1886. (Name used by themselves; Taneks haya, the Biloxi people.)

History, Siouan,

Mooney, James. Siouan Tribes of the East. Bulletin 22. Washington: Bureau of Ethnology. 1894.

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  1. Margry, Pierre. Découvertes et établissements des Français dans l’ouest et dans le sud de l’Amérique septentrionale (1614-1754). Mémoires et documents originaux; D’Iberville (1699), vol. iv, 1880, p. 195. Recueillis et publiés par Pierre Margry. 6 vols. Paris, 1875-’86.[]
  2. Jefferys, Thomas. Natural and civil history of the French dominions in North and South America; part 1, p. 153. Two parts in one volume. London, 1761.[]
  3. American State Papers. Documents, legislative and executive, of the Congress of the United States, etc. (1789 to 1815). Sibley, Indian affairs, vol. i, p. 724, Washington, 1832. Folio. (This volume is sometimes marked on title-page, volume iv).[][]
  4. New York. Documents relative to the colonial history of the state of New York. Procured in Holland, England, and France, by John Romeyn Brodhead, etc. Edited by E. B. O’Callaghan, document of 1764, vol. vii, p. 641. Albany, 1856-’77. 12 vols.[]
  5. Imlay, Gilbert. A topographical description of the western territory of North America, etc.; Hutchins, 1784, p. 420. London, 1797.[]
  6. Berquin-Duvallon. Travels in Louisiana and the Floridas, 1802, from the French, with notes [by J. Davis], p. 41. New York, 1806.[]
  7. Schoolcraft, H. R. Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States, etc., Porter (1829) vol. iii, p. 596. Philadelphia, 1851-7. 6 volumes.[]

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