Chapter 4: Mobilians, Chatots, Thomes and Tensas

Albert James Pickett: HISTORY OF ALABAMA.
(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)



In 1718, the French West India Company sent, from Rochelle, eight hundred colonists to Louisiana. Among them was a Frenchman of intelligence and high standing, named Le Page Du Pratz, who was appointed superintendent of the public plantations. After a residence of sixteen years in this country, he returned to France, and published an interesting work upon Louisiana. 1721: Du Pratz was often at Mobile, and about the period of found living, in that vicinity, a few small tribes of Indians, whom we will now describe.

The Chatots were a very small tribe, who composed a town of forty huts, adjoining the bay and river of Mobile. They appear to have resided at or near the present city of Mobile. The Chatots were great friends of the French settlers, and most of them embraced the Catholic religion. North from Mobile, and upon the first bluffs on the same side of the river of that name, lived the Thomez, who were not more numerous than the Chatots, and who, also had been taught to worship the true God. Opposite to them, upon the Tensa river, lived a tribe of Tensas whose settlement consisted of one hundred huts. They were a branch of the Natchez, and like them, kept a perpetual fire burning in their temple.

Further north, and near the confluence of the Tombigby and Alabama, and above there, the Mobilians still existed. It was from these people, a remnant of whom survived the invasion of De Soto, that the city, river and bay derive their names.* They, also, kept a fire in their temple, which was never suffered for a moment to expire. Indeed, they had some pre-eminence in this particular--for, formerly, the natives obtained this holy light from their temples.** These small tribes were all living in peace with each other, upon the discovery of their country by the French, and continued so. 1721: Gradually, however, they became merged in the larger nations of the Choctaws and Chickasaws. They were all, sometimes, called the Mobile Indians, by the early French settlers.

* Du Pratz's Louisiana, pp. 308-309.
** Charlevoix's "Voyage to North America," vol. 2, p. 273.

1721: The Natchez once inhabited the southwestern portion of the Mexican empire, but on account of the wars with which they were continually harassed by neighboring Indians, they began to wander northeast. Finally they settled upon the banks of the Mississippi, chiefly on the bluff where now stands the beautiful city which bears their name.* They retained, until they were broken up by the French, many of the religious rites and customs of the Mexicans. Their form of government was distinguished from that of other tribes in Alabama and Mississippi, by its ultra despotism, and by the grandeur and haughtiness of its Chiefs. The Grand Chief of the Natchez bore the name of the Sun. Every morning, as soon as that bright luminary appeared, he stood at the door his cabin, turned his face toward the east, and bowed three times, at the same time prostrating himself on the ground. A pipe, which was never used but upon this occasion was then handed him, from which he puffed smoke, first toward the Sun, and then toward the other three quarters of the world. He pretended that he derived his origin from the Sun, acknowledged no other master, and held absolute power over the lives and goods of his subjects. When he or his nearest female relation died, his body-guard was obliged to follow to the land of the spirits. The death of a Chief sometimes resulted in that of an hundred persons, who considered it a great honor to be sacrificed upon his death. Indeed few Natchez of note died without being attended to the other world by some of their relatives, friends or servants. So eager were persons to sacrifice themselves in this way, that sometimes it was ten years before their turn came, and those who obtained the favor, spun the cord with which they were to be strangled.**

* Du Pratz's Louisiana
** Charlevoix's "Voyage to North America,"
pp. 26O-261.

The cabins of the Natchez were in the shape of pavilions, low, without windows, and covered with corn-stalls, leaves and cane matting. That of the Great Chief, which stood upon an artificial mound, and fronted a large square, was handsomely rough-cast with clay, both inside and out. The temple was at the side of his cabin, facing the east, and at the extremity of the square. It was in an oblong form, forty feet in length and twenty in breadth. Within it were the bones of the deceased Chiefs, contained in boxes and baskets. Three logs of wood joined at the ends and placed in a triangle, occupied the middle part of the floor, and burned slowly away, night and day. Keepers attended and constantly removed them. * 1721: The Great Sun informed Du Pratz, who had, in 1720, taken up his abode among them, that their nation was once very formidable, extending over vast regions and governed by numerous Suns and nobility; that one of the keepers of the temple once left it on some business, and while he was absent his associate keepers fell asleep; that the fire went out, and that, in the terror and dismay into which they were thrown, they substituted profane fire, with the hope that their shameful neglect would escape unnoticed. But a dreadful calamity was the consequence of this negligence. A horrible malady raged for years, during which many of the Suns, and an infinite number of people, died. ** This fire was kept constantly burning in honor of the Sun, which they seemed to worship and adore above everything else. In the spring of 1700 Iberville, in company with a few of his colonial people, visited the Natchez. While there, one of the temples was consumed by lightning. The Priests implored the women to cast their children into the flames to appease the anger of their divinity. Before the French, by prayers and entreaties, could arrest this horrible proceeding, some of the innocent babes were already roasting in the flames.*** At this time the Natchez, reduced by war and the death of the nobility, upon whose decease the existence of many others terminated, did not exceed a population of twelve hundred.

* Charlevoix's Voyage to North America, p. 256.
** Du Pratz' Louisiana, p. 333.
*** Gayarre's History of Louisiana, vol. 1, p. 73.

Nov. 28 1729: Fort Rosalie, erected by the French in 1716, upon the bluff which sustains the city of Natchez, had a garrison of soldiers and numerous citizens. On the morning of the 28th November, 1729, the Great Sun and his warriors suddenly fell upon them, and before noon the whole male population were in the sleep of death. The women, children and slaves were reserved as prisoners of war. The consternation was great throughout the colony when this horrible massacre became known. Jan 1733: The French and Choctaws united, and drove the Natchez upon the lower Washita, just below the mouth of the Little River. here they erected mounds and embankments for defense, which covered an area of four hundred acres. In the meantime, having obtained assistance from France, the colonists marched against this stronghold, and, in January, 1733, made a successful attack. They captured the Great Sun, several of the War Chiefs and four hundred and twenty-seven of the tribe, who were sent from New Orleans to St. Domingo as slaves. The remainder of the tribe made their escape. Some of them sought asylum among the Chickasaws and Creeks, while others scattered in the far West.*

* The Natchez have been mentioned at length by a number of French authors, who were eye witnesses of their bloody rites and ceremonies. See Bossu's Travels in Louisiana, vol. 1, pp. 32-67. Dumont's Louisiana, vol. 1, pp. 118 132. Charlevoix's Voyage to North America, vol. 2, pp. 252-274. Du Pratz's Louisiana, pp. 79-95-291-316. Les Natchez par M. Le Vicompte de Chateaubriand---of this work 400 pages are taken up with the Natchez. Jesuits in America--a recent publication. Many other works in my possession allude briefly to that tribe.

to next chapter
to Contents