Pawns of the French and English

In 1720, the same year Du Pratz bought his plantation near the Natchez, a war began between the French and the Chickasaw Indians. As is so often the case, the conflict arose over business concerns.

In 1682, La Salle had reached the mouth of the Mississippi and laid claim on behalf of the French to the river's entire drainage basin, naming it Louisiana, after Louis XIV. Thus, as far as the French were concerned, all the lower Mississippi Valley, including its Loess Hills, belonged to them, and all the Indians in the zone were expected to regard them as something like a benevolent master, or at least an older, wiser brother. The main interaction between the French and the Indians was trading. The French would trade guns, gun powder, bullets, axes, hoes, textiles, liquor and the like for pelts of fur-bearing animals, especially deer and beaver, which were much in demand in Europe.

The Indians loved these European goods and in a matter of a few years Indian society went through yet another profound change, that of abandoning its traditional, self-sufficient, and sustainable enterprises of hunting, gathering, and farming, in favor of the Europeans' market economy.

In 1720 the French were concerned that in the north of their sphere of interest the British were making inroads. In fact, the Chickasaws, living among our northern Loess Hills and farther to the east, favored trading with the English. Not only were the English more accessible because of overland trails to East-Coast English colonies, but British goods were often superior to those of French.

Also, the British paid well for Indian slaves, and the Chickasaw were good at conducting slave raids. In the loess zone the Chickasaws preyed upon the Chakchiuma just to their south. Across the Mississippi River they attacked the farming Caddo and Quapaw, and north of the Ohio River they raided the Illinois.

At any account, the Chickasaws refused to break off contact with the English, so the French decided to teach the Chickasaws a lesson. First the French sent Choctaw Indians, who lived east of the loess zone and were traditional enemies of the Chickasaws and considered themselves allies with the French, to raid Chickasaw towns.

The Chickasaws were the better fighters, however. They beat the Choctaw and retaliated against the French by attacking French shipping on the Mississippi River for nearly four years. The French went so far as to pay the Choctaw a bounty of a gun, one pound of powder and two pounds of bullets for each Chickasaw scalp they brought in. But the Chickasaw held their own and French commerce in Louisiana withered. In 1725, the French sued for peace.

The Chickasaws were not the only Indians in the loess zone having trouble with the French. The Natchez Indians had not been particularly pleased with the French for several years. In 1714 the Natchez had become so upset with some French traders that they had killed four. In 1716 the French responded by sending troops into Natchez territory, constructing Fort Rosalie on the loess-topped bluffs, and encouraging French settlers such as Du Pratz to come and develop plantations on the rich Natchez lands.

Naturally the Natchez resented this, and in 1722 tried to drive the settlers away. Troops suppressed the outbreak, but Natchez anger simmered until 1729, when Natchez warriors destroyed several military posts and settlements in their territory and massacred the garrisons, killing 250 Frenchmen and taking nearly 300 women and children hostages. The French then attack the Natchez nation, killed most, some escaped to go live in other Indian nations, and many were taken by the French as slaves. By 1731 the Natchez Indian Nation ceases to exist.

So, there were Natchez refugees living among the Chickasaws, the Chickasaws refused to turn the refugees over to the French, and this further outraged the French. This, and the fact that the Chickasaws continued trading with the English finally caused the French to declare a second war against the Chickasaws. Again Choctaws were sent against them, plus this time the French obliged Indians from their northern territories to attack the Chickasaws.

Again the Chickasaws held out, and again they struck French shipping in the Mississippi, causing such annoyance by 1734 that Louisiana's French Governor Bienville declared that "The entire destruction of this hostile nation ... becomes every day more necessary to our interest and I am going to exert all diligence to accomplish it." Those who knew Bienville knew that he was capable of genocide. In 1704, to avenge the death of three Frenchmen at the hands of their two Koroa guides, who had retaliated for mistreatment, he had engaged the Quapaws to annihilate the Koroa nation.

Over the next years, four times -- the last attempt being in 1752 -- Bienville sent against the Chickasaws hundreds of both Choctaw Indians and Indians from as far away as the Great Lakes and Canada, as well as on occasion hundreds of Black slaves, and hundreds of French troops. However, the Chickasaw always won or at least held out.

By 1763, thirteen years before the United States came into being, because of English-encouraged slave raids, the war between the Chickasaw and French, hostilities among the tribes themselves, continuing epidemics among the Indians, and the general collapse of the traditional Indian way of living, among our Loess Hills only the Chickasaws remained in relevant numbers.

The others -- the Taposa, the Chakchiuma, the Ibitoupa, the Tiou, the Tunica, the Ofo, the Yazoo, the Taensa, the Natchez, and the Houma -- by 1763, had either been exterminated, dispersed beyond the Loess Hills, or else existed in such small numbers and in such a pitiable state that they no longer existed as a people.

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