Attakapas County, LouisianaEdit This Page

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The Attakapas Region covered what is now all or a part of Iberia, Lafayette, St. Martin, St. Mary, and Vermilion Parishes.

Atakapa oral history says that they originated from the sea. An ancestral prophet laid out the rules of conduct.[7] The first European contact to the Atakapa may have been with survivors of the Spanish Pánfilo de Narváez expedition in 1528. Two barges were blown ashore. One met the Karankawa, while the other, probably landed on Galveston Island met a group calling themselves the Han, who may have been the Akokisa.[1]

In 1703, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, the French governor of Louisiana, sent three men to explore the coast west of the Mississippi River. The seventh nation they encountered were the Atakapa, who captured and cannibalized one member of their party.[1] In 1714 this tribe was one of 14 who came to Jean-Michel de Lepinay, who was acting French Governor of Louisiana between 1717 and 1718,[8] while he was fortifying Dauphin Island, Alabama.[9]

The Choctaw told the French settlers about the "People of the West," who represented numerous subdivisions or tribes. The French referred to them as le sauvage. The name Atakapa is a Choctaw name meaning "people eater" (hattak 'person', apa 'to eat'),[7] a reference to the practice of ritual cannibalism which Gulf coast peoples practiced on their enemies.

A French explorer, Francois Simars de Bellisle, lived among the Atakapa from 1719 to 1721.[1] He described Atakapa cannibalistic feasts which he observed firsthand.[10] The practice of cannibalism may have been religious in nature.

French historian Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz, who spent 16 years in Louisiana, from 1718 to 1734, wrote:[11]

Along the west coast, not far from the sea, inhabit the nation called Atacapas [sic], that is, Man-Eaters, being so called by the other nations on account of their detestable custom of eating their enemies, or such as they believe to be their enemies. In the vast country there are no other cannibals to be met with besides the Atacapas; and since the French have gone among them, they have raised in them so great an horror of that abominable practice of devouring creatures of their own species, that they have promised to leave it off: and, accordingly, for a long time past we have heard of no such barbarity among them.
—Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz
Louis LeClerc Milfort, a Frenchman who spent 20 years living with and traveling among the Muscogee Creek, came upon the Atakapa during his travels. He wrote:[12]

The forest we were then in was thick enough so that none of my men could be seen. I formed them into three detachments, and arranged them in such a way as to surround these savages, and to leave them no way of retreat except by the pond. I then made them all move forward, and I sent ahead a subordinate chief to ascertain what nation these savages belonged to, and what would be their intentions toward us. We were soon assured that they were Atakapas, who, as soon as they saw us, far from seeking to defend themselves, made us signs of peace and friendship. There were one hundred and eighty [180] of them of both sexes, busy, as we suspected, smoke-drying meat. As soon as my three detachments had emerged from the forest, I saw one of these savages coming straight toward me: at first sight, I recognized that he did not belong to the Atakapas nation; he addressed me politely and in an easy manner, unusual among these savages. He offered food and drink for my warriors which I accepted, while expressing to him my gratitude. Meat was served to my entire detachment; and during the time of about six hours that I remained with this man, I learned that he was a European; that he had been a Jesuit; and that having gone into Mexico, these people had chosen him as their chief. He spoke French rather well. He told me that his name was Joseph; but I did not learn from what part of Europe he came.
He informed me that the name Atakapas, which means eaters of men, had been given to this nation by the Spaniards because every time they caught one of them, they would roast him alive, but that they did not eat them; that they acted in this way toward this nation to avenge their ancestors for the torture that they made them endure when they had come to take possession of Mexico; that if some Englishmen or Frenchmen happened to be lost in this bay region, the Atakapas welcomed them with kindness, would give them hospitality; and if they did not wish to remain with them they had them taken to the Akancas, from where they could easily go to New Orleans.


Detail from a drawing by deBatz, 1735He told me: "You see here about one-half of the Atakapas Nation; the other half is farther on. We are in the habit of dividing ourselves into two or three groups in order to follow the buffalo, which in the spring go back into the west, and in autumn come down into these parts; there are herds of these buffalo, which go sometimes as far as the Missouri; we kill them with arrows; our young hunters are very skilful at this hunting. You understand, moreover, that these animals are in very great numbers, and as tame as if they were raised on a farm; consequently, we are very careful never to frighten them. When they stay on a prairie or in a forest, we camp near them in order to accustom them to seeing us, and we follow all their wanderings so that they cannot get away from us. We use their meat for food and their skins for clothing. I have been living with these people for about eleven years; I am happy and satisfied here, and have not the least desire to return to Europe. I have six children whom I love a great deal, and with whom I want to end my days.
When my warriors were rested and refreshed, I took leave of Joseph and of the Atakapas, while assuring them of my desire to be able to make some returns for their friendly welcome, and I resumed my Journey.

—Louis LeClerc Milfort
In 1760, the French Gabriel Fuselier de la Claire, coming to the Attakapas Territory, bought all the land between Vermilion River and Bayou Teche from the Eastern Atakapa Chief Kinemo. It was shortly after that a rival Indian tribe, the Appalousa (Opelousas), coming from the area between the Atchalafaya and Sabine Rivers, exterminated the Eastern Atakapa. They had occupied the area between Atchalafaya River and Bayou Nezpique (Attakapas Territory).

William Byrd Powell (1799–1867), a medical doctor and physiologist, regarded the Atakapas as cannibals. He noted that they traditionally flattened their skulls frontally and not occipitally, a practice opposite to that of neighboring tribes, such as the Natchez Nation.[13]

The Atakapa traded with the Chitimacha tribe in historical times.[14] In the early 18th century, some Atakapa married into the Houma tribe of Louisiana.[15] Members of the Tunica-Biloxi tribe joined the Atakapa tribe in the late 18th century.[16]

It is believed that most Western Atakapa tribes or subdivisions were decimated in the 1850s mainly from disease and poverty. Armojean Reon, of Lake Charles, Louisiana, who lived at the turn of the century was a fluent Atakapa speaker.[18] However, many descendants still exist and fight for a recognition of their identity. Numerous descendants today share a mixed lineage of African-American and Atakapas-Ishak Indian, making it difficult to get federal recognition.[19]

Many names of present day towns can be traced back to the Ishaks. The town of Mermentau is a corrupted form of the local chief Nementou. The word Plaquemine of Bayou Plaquemine Brûlée means "persimmon" in the Indian language. Bayou Nezpiqué was named for an Indian with a tattooed nose. Bayou Queue de Tortue was believed to have been named for Chief Celestine La Tortue of the Atakapas nation.[20] The name "Calcasieu" comes from the Atakapa language katkosh, for "Eagle", and yok, "to cry".

On October 28, 2006, the Atakapa-Ishak Nation met for the first time in over 100 years as "One nation." There were 450 people who represented Louisiana and Texas. The mistress of ceremony and newly appointed Director of Publications and Communications, Rachel Mouton started out by introducing Billy LaChapelle who opened the afternoon with an Atakapa prayer in English and in the Atakapa language.[21]

A descendant of Nezat Alexandre or "Alexandre of Attakapas" (1781–1824), Jack Claude Nezat recently published the book of Atakapa genealogy, The Nezat and Allied Families 1630-2007. [22]

Source: Atakapa Native Americans


 

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