(4th in a Series)  

Early settlers along the Black River in Concordia and Catahoula parishes were amazed to see the number of Indian mounds in the vicinity.  

They saw them once they unloaded their flatboats and headed inland. They had traveled the Red River, either from Rapides Post (Alexandria) or Avoyelles Post (Marksville) from the southwest, or from the Mississippi River to the east. From either direction, all were looking for the mouth of the Black River at Acme in Concordia Parish.  

Black River planter Dr. Andrew Robert Kilpatrick wrote in the 1850s that “there are human bones in all of these mounds, but they soon crumble to pieces when exhumed and exposed to the air. Pieces of pottery, flint arrow-heads, and stone hatchets, are found in and around all these mounds.”  

There were mounds at Larto, Jonesville and Trinity in Catahoula Parish and along Brushy Bayou, Black River, Horseshoe Lake and elsewhere in Concordia Parish. Equally fascinating were the bones found inside. While the settlers were curious about their construction, they had little respect for the dead.  

“These mounds furnish good sites for gardens and orchards, as they are above high-water,” Kilpatrick wrote in an article forDeBow’s Review. One man excavated the mound in his yard and “made a cistern under it, and a milk-house, which is very neat and convenient.”  

On the road to Horseshoe Lake, which passed over a mound, Kilpatrick found that by “cutting down the disc or side of the pile, many bones were moved and exposed. I examined them. The bones were large: I think, larger than the generality of human bones of the white race. The teeth were very sound and white, presenting no sign or decay.”  

But Kilpatrick had no way to document what he saw because “they soon crumbled after being exposed to air.”  

Near Trinity, located across Little River from Jonesville, a resident in the 1840s excavated a mound on his property.  

“Amongst the relics,” Kilpatrick wrote, “is a small stone, cut in the shape of a canoe or crescent, being hollowed out, and having a small hole through the middle of its bottom. It is only about 6 inches long and 2 ½ inches broad.”  

 

‘WHAT’S AN INDIAN?’  

 

Almost a hundred years after Kilpatrick wrote about this finding, Hiram “Pete” Gregory’s grandmother in the mid-19th century was chopping cotton on their Black River farm when she discovered an arrowhead.  

A native of Concordia Parish, Gregory is an anthropologist and has taught for decades at Northwestern State University. When he was four years old his grandmother walked out of that cotton field and handed him her find.  

Gregory looked it over.  

“Indians made them,” his grandmother said.  

“What’s an Indian?” Gregory asked.  

Nearby, his grandfather was building a boat.  

“Go out there and ask him,” Gregory’s grandmother said. “He’s one.”  

Gregory walked over: “Granddaddy, what’s an Indian?”  

His grandfather looked up and said, “Well, that’s what we are. That’s all you need to know.”  

“So that was my first interview with an Indian,” Gregory said.  

His comments and writings are found in a series of articles published byFolklife in Louisiana. All are available online.  

 

THE FIRST ARROWHEAD  

 

That arrowhead fascinated Gregory and led to his lifelong interest in Native Americans. As he grew up, he collected more. He visited the DePrato mound site in Ferriday and other mounds in Concordia Parish where eventually he met Mr. and Mrs. U.B. Evans of Haphazard Plantation. They suggested that Gregory go to Catahoula Lake and Larto Lake for further research.  

Gregory says that Mrs. Evans was one of the people who discovered an Indian artifact known as “Limber Man.”  

“Supposedly made of stone,” Gregory noted, “the artifact had movable arms and legs. Mrs. Evans had the only part the finders had kept: a beautifully polished and drilled leg-shaped object.”  

Other discoveries have been made through the years.  

According to Gregory, “There was the skeleton of the Indian found at Larto Lake who had a four-foot-long femur. Then there were mandibles that fit around a grown contemporary man's mandible. The myth of the ‘race of giants’ thought to have constructed mounds in North America did not get into the Delta, where folks knew they were built by Indians. Not everyone knew why Indians had built them and most people thought they contained graves or were used as bases for signal fires.  

There were the ghosts, too. Oliver Wiley and the late Louis Wiley of Larto could tell about gates that rattled when there was no wind—the post had penetrated a burial, and when the bone was reburied the rattling stopped. There also was the ‘person’ that could be seen on the mound by their house on moonlit nights until they recovered a burial that had washed out behind their porch. Of Indian descent themselves, the Wileys, a Larto Lake family, held and continue to hold the old Choctaw belief that the soul stays with the bones.”  

 

‘AN INDIAN PLACE’  

 

In an article entitled, “The Delta is an Indian Place” forFolklife in Louisiana, Gregory sheds more light on the Native Americans, including these excerpts:  

“The Natchez and Tensas, two related tribes in the southeastern corner of the Delta parishes, disappeared from the area but left place names: Tensas (as in the parish and stream names), Little Tensas (a stream in Tensas Parish), the Tensas Trading Post (the name of a store in Concordia Parish in Clayton, Louisiana), and of course, Natchez, Mississippi. Other than place names, the most lasting impact on the region by the Natchez is the widely told tale that the Natchez buried a golden treasure in the Delta.  

“There are several variations, but the story has been collected in Concordia, Catahoula, Tensas and Rapides Parish (Gregory field notes 1960-1980). Usually, the treasure was buried in a prehistoric mound, and it invariably was gold stolen by the Natchez when they destroyed the 18th-century French settlement of Fort Rosalie (modern Natchez, Mississippi). One version has it as a ‘golden Christ,’ another has it as a ‘golden coach,’ but all agree it was gold. The numerous holes seen in the mounds left by generations of treasure hunters can but attest to the strength of the tradition.”  

When an archaeologist dug into mounds in Jonesville during the early 20th century, he discovered an Indian burial site near Little River. One morning, he returned to the site and discovered it had been pilfered by a person or persons who suspected the Natchez Treasure might have been buried there.  

It wasn’t.  

 

TUNICA, BILOXI, CHOCTAW  

 

“Contemporary Indians,” wrote Gregory, “especially the Tunica, Biloxi, and Choctaw who held the Delta in the late 18th into the 19th century, now live in areas marginal to it. The Choctaw, once widely met with in the region, are now found only in LaSalle Parish … They once had villages on Bushley Bayou in Catahoula Parish and on Catahoula Prairie near Enterprise. When the Swiss linguist Albert Gatschet visited them in the 1880s, he noted that some of them had lived on Turkey Creek in Franklin Parish.  

“The early 19th century explorers, Dunbar and Hunter, met Choctaw near present-day Hebert on the Ouachita, and the French traveler Robin noted numbers of Choctaw hunters and their families at Ft. Miro (present-day Monroe).”  

Robin also saw Choctaw on the Black River, some traveling in canoes to Rapides Post to trade, and came across an encampment of Choctaw women and children. The men were in the woods hunting.  

“Choctaw hunters and their families prowled the Ouachita in the Spanish Period (1763-1800) and left villages west of Monroe,” Gregory notes. “Socially isolated from both whites and blacks” until recent years “the Jena Band remains one of the strongest enclaves of Indian culture in the state.  

“The Jena Choctaw had a community on the Bushley {at Harrisonburg}, a large bayou that drains an area between Catahoula Lake and the Ouachita River. Bashli in their language means a ‘cut,’ in this case a short cut. Bushley is but one of a multitude of Choctaw place names scattered about the Delta. Some mark the presence of the Choctaw in the past, while others seem to have been brought by planters from the Mississippi Delta counties.”  

Gregory wrote that today “the Jena Band of Choctaw and Tunica-Biloxi are the only tribes left in the Delta, but the mixed-blood populations persist and protect the cultural landscape. Archaeologists are most times turned away by the mixed-bloods who still keep the Indian places safe. Archaeological investigations near Liddieville in Franklin Parish were met with the old-time Indian complaint: ‘No, I didn't go look. You know I don't approve of that, them digging up those people. You know they're part of my people. We're all part-Indian here.’ The old connections seem more persistent than one would believe.”  

 

INDIAN NAMES  

 

Gregory says that in “the western fringe of the Delta area in the Catahoula Basin, the Bouef River area, along Black River, and up the Ouachita River, one meets people with strong Indian heritage. Many of these families trace back to Indian ancestors and point out that they retain a number of Indian characteristics. Moreover, they point out that they have kept back a number of ‘Indian ways’ as well.  

 He adds that “the Delta parishes are spotted with Muskoghean words. Some, like Panola or Penola (Choctaw for cotton), are plantation names. Okelusa (Choctaw for black water) is a post office in Ouachita Parish; Bayou Louis in Catahoula Parish is derived from the Choctaw word,lusa for black or dark. Catahoula, a controversial word attributed to the Choctaw word for "white water" or ‘beloved water,’ may actually be a Tunica word derived fromHokatalu, the word for breadstuff.”  

 

BITTER STORIES  

 

Native Americans have many times been mistreated and that was true in this region of the world as well.  

Prejudice take many forms.  

In the mid-1960s a portrait of Jefferson Davis hung on the wall of the lobby of the old Jefferson Davis Memorial Hospital in Natchez. Because the hospital had integrated due to newly passed civil rights laws, Klansmen did not want the former President of the Confederacy to be in the same room with African Americans. So, they stole the portrait.  

“As late as the 1960s,” Gregory wrote, “people at Larto Lake and Big Island told bitter stories of having their people rejected at the Natchez, Mississippi, hospital because they were ‘Indian-looking.’ Others noted that their Indian looks kept their traditional heritage alive for them.  

“Some are French-Indian families derived from the interaction of early French traders and settlers with the Choctaw, Biloxi and Pascagoula Indians settled near the Rapides Post (modern Alexandria). Surnames are French—Deville, Sanson, Belgard, Chevalier, LaPrairie, Charrier, Pecanty, and others.”  

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