|Tunica Indians and Acadians had much in common; Portage of the Cross|
ACADIANS IN CONCORDIA: 1768-1769
(Seventh in a Series)
The Tunica Indians and the Acadians had much in common in 1768. Their worlds were turned upside down by the Treaty of Paris in 1763 and each in previous years had been pressured by European powers and politics to relocate and each had suffered greatly from illness and disease.
At the Spanish fort in Concordia three miles below present day Vidalia in 1768, Marthe Clautre, a 20-year-old Acadian woman, died. She was buried on the fort grounds on April 30.
The Spanish commander, Lt. Pedro Piernas, in a report to Louisiana Gov. Antonio Ulloa, said the "rest of the Acadians and the garrison are quiet, healthy, and united."
But that period of health and tranquillity wouldn't last. The Acadian families at the fort, previously exiled by the British from Canada and the American colonies, would die in the days ahead at an alarming rate. By the time these settlers left Concordia in 1769, half of the 149 men, women and children who settled there were dead.
On June 11, Piernas wrote the governor that Clara Braud, 62 years old and "already sick before she left her country," passed away. She was buried at the fort on June 7.
Around the same time, Marguerite Guidry, wife of Pierre Guidry, was "afflicted with open sores" and the physician at the fort was unable to cure her. On July 5, Piernas said "the Acadians now settled here have contracted a fever, but it is not the worst kind."
Expressing a belief common in those days, Piernas said the "clearing of new land causes it (fevers), but, since they are given remedies and all types of assistance, I expect the sick to recover." Because the Acadians were clearing land and cutting timber from a cypress swamp, they were exposed to all kinds of varmints and insects, including the mosquito.
Historian Dr. Carl Brasseaux of Lafayette, who has written extensively about the Acadians, thinks many of the settlers suffered from malaria, an illness transmitted by mosquitoes. Brasseaux edited a book about the Acadians exiles entitled: "Quest for the Promised Land: Official Correspondence Relating to the First Acadian Migration of Louisiana, 1764-1769," published by The Center of Louisiana Studies in Lafayette.
On July 20, Piernas wrote Ulloa that the Acadians and soldiers who had been ill were recovering from their fevers. Brasseaux said the "fevers that plagued many immigrants, particularly in the late summer and early fall, have never been properly identified. Quite prevalent during the eighteenth century in Southern colonies, these mysterious maladies were called the 'seasoning'..."
NEW COMMANDER AT CONCORDIA
For decades these fevers would be particularly hard on new arrivals in the lower Mississippi Valley. While established settlers seemed to build an immunity to the summer fevers, newcomers were commonly stricken.
In early August, 1768, the commander of the Spanish post at Cabannoce´ located along the Mississippi in present day St. James Parish, reported that three women died as a result of childbirth or pregnancy, a time when women and children commonly lost their lives. Child birth was pure agony for the mother and exceptionally dangerous for both mother and child.
On August 7, Piernas reported another "death, from an old illness, of an Acadian widow, on the third of the month. The rest of the Acadians have fever, but it is not as bad or as tenacious as last year." In 1767, the military and civilian crew building the fort had been stricken with fevers.
In September, Piernas, a 39-year-old Spaniard, headed up river to assume a new command and was replaced at Concordia by the second in command -- 30-year-old Jean Delavilleboeuvre, a native of France who would be promoted to lieutenant in 1769. Both Piernas and Delavilleboeure later fought for the Spanish, allies with the Americans, during the revolution. When Spain took Natchez from the British during the war, both Piernas and Delavilleboeuvre played active roles in Natchez during the early days of Spanish rule.
Historian Brasseuax wrote that Delavilleboeuvre was discharged from French military service in 1763 and appointed to Louisiana's Spanish garrison in 1767. "In 1787," Brasseaux said, "he helped gather 2,000 representatives of the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes for a treaty ceremony at New Orleans."
At the Concordia fort, known as San Luis de Natchez, Delavilleboeuve, said Brasseaux, "was charged with responsibility for Indian diplomacy (and) worked hard, during the post's early days, to strengthen the fort's defensive posture by attempting to lure friendly Native American tribes to the post."
Brasseaux said representatives of the Tensas tribe, which had moved from Alabama to Louisiana, "notified Delavilleboeuvre of their willingness to relocate" to Concordia and "could provide the garrison with fresh meat, a commodity then sorely lacking in the diet of the post's workmen and soldiers."
Ulloa, the governor, nixed the plan when he determined to use Acadians, instead, to settle and serve in militias near Spanish forts on the Mississippi River opposite British forts.
TUNICAS & PORTAGE OF THE CROSS
One tribe mentioned by name that regularly visited the Concordia fort was the Tunica, who between 1763 and 1784 lived near Pointe Coupee on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River. In prior years, the Tunica lived north of present day Vicksburg along the Yazoo River. In 1702, an estimated 2,000 Tunicas, about 300 families, were living there.
But in 1706, because of slave raids by the Chickasaw, the Tunica migrated to a place known as Portage of the Cross, a strategic location on the Mississippi on grounds now occupied by the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
Historian Jim Barnett of Natchez, who has written extensively about the Natchez Indians and other Native Americans and is presently writing a new book, said the Tunica's numbers were reduced to 460 by 1719 due to "contact with the Europeans," which resulted in disease outbreaks such as small pox.
The Tunica had established during this period a relationship with a French missionary named Father Davion, who came to live with the Tunicas on the Yazoo in 1699 and made the move with them to the Portage of the Cross on the Mississippi. Davion established a mission at the heights of present day Fort Adams in Wilkinson County, Miss. For years this place was known as La Roche a Davion.
The Tunica became French allies and hated the British, who had been depending on the Chickasaw for Indian slaves along the Yazoo. When the Tunica left their village on the Yazoo behind and moved south, says Barnett, "they appeared to have driven the Houmas out of the settlement known as Portage of the Cross. When they migrated down river they really put themselves in danger because they were leaving behind their corn fields and granaries. They felt they didn't have the option to find an unsettled place and blaze a new trail. It made more sense to them to take the existing village and fields of the Houmas."
The Portage of the Cross was located on the east side of the Mississippi River near the mouth of the Red River. There, the Tunicas "came into their own as traders," said Barnett.
William Dunbar of Natchez, who led the U.S. exploration of the Ouachita River in 1804-05 following the Louisiana Purchase, said the mouth of the Red was 15 miles below Fort Adams, was 550 yards wide and "three miles above the exit of the Chafalya (Atchafalaya)" River. The Red, of course, no longer empties into the Mississippi.
The Tunica traded with the French and the Spanish farther west during the early to mid-1700s. "They quickly fell into supporting roles for the French and Spanish and could make a living supplying food and other goods," said Barnett, "The Tunica, like other tribes, survived by becoming a support industry to the Europeans."
The Tunica settlement was at a wide bend of the Mississippi, which was also known at that time as the Great Bend as well as the Portage of the Cross. Upon reaching this location while traveling down river, says Barnett, "You would turn right to the west and then another bend would take you south and yet another would take you east again to a point only six miles below where you first turned and began traveling this loop."
Notes Barnett: "At the western end of this big loop you would go by the mouth of the Red River." There was six miles distance on a straight line from where the meander began and ended, but 30 river miles from the northern point of the meander to the southern point.
"If you were paddling down river in a canoe, it was very convenient to make portage there," Barnett said. "A portage typically means that you get out and carry your canoe by land, in this case six miles instead of 30 miles by river."
Yet, unless it was excessively dry, river travelers could remain in their vessels and take the six-mile short cut through a slough.
When you arrived at the Portage of the Cross, you were at the door step of the Tunicas. So strategic was the location, said Barnett, the French built a way station there in 1716 at the same time they were constructing Fort Rosalie at Natchez.
In 1763, when the Treaty of Paris was signed, the French lost all their holdings in North America although they continued to operate in Louisiana for a few more years until the Spanish took possession of the colony. At that time, the Tunica, who like other tribes that hated the British, left the Portage of the Cross, which was British land on the east side of the river, and crossed the Mississippi, settling in the Pointe Coupee area on the west side, where the Spanish established a fort. Just a short journey up river or by land was the Spanish fort in Concordia.
Now that the French had lost Louisiana, the Tunica aligned with the Spanish and their commanders, such as 30-year-old Jean Delavilleboeuvre at Concordia. "Three Tonica (Tunica) Indians having arrived at my doorstep," he wrote the governor in September 1768, "I asked them for news about the boat" with provisions expected from New Orleans. "They told me they were at the Pointe Coupee Post seven days ago and that they heard absolutely nothing about it."
ACADIANS ILL AND DYING
In the meantime, Delavilleboeuvre updated Gov. Ulloa about the health of the garrison, of which only "a few members" were ill. "Only the Acadians occasionally lose person to bloody flux," the name then used for dysentery, which historian Brasseaux says was "one of the most common infectious diseases of the colonial period." The Concordia commander said a "seven-or-eight year-old child died of this disease."
On September 18, 1768, Delavillebeuvre received permission from Ulloa to send the "dangerously ill" Acadians to Pointe Coupee for treatment by the post surgeon there. He notified the commander that Marie Braun, "who is suffering from the grey flux," was transferred there. Brasseaux said grey flux was probably diarrhea.
The Concordia surgeon, said Delavillebeuvre, was out of ipecac, a medication made from a Brazilian root used to induce vomiting. In those days, physicians believed that diseases had to be purged from the body, and a dose of syrup of ipecac would do the trick.
At Pointe Coupee, the building used at times for a hospital was now occupied by the storehouse keeper and "two-thirds filled with rotten corn...full of lice, and the odor is putrid." A spot was cleared for the ill woman, but she would be moved to another location, said the commander, "if the sick woman cannot endure it." Marie Braud died on October 4.
Pointe Coupee couldn't even spare ipecac for the Concordia fort, said the commander, because "we only have two ounces." This is a prime example of the economic status of Spain's operations in the Louisiana colony, plus no one expected the Acadians at Concordia to suffer so excessively from illness.
In mid-October, three of the soldiers were ill, but two Acadians -- a 20-year-old man and a six-year-old girl -- "died of the flux." When a boat of Englishmen docked at the Concordia fort, said Delavillebeuvre, he learned that "many of their people are ill with the flux." Plus, there was a flour shortage.
Things were so dire, the commander said work at the fort and at the Acadian settlements had almost come to a halt. Almost every Acadian was now ill, two children died as well as Jean-Baptiste Dupuis, the victim of dropsy. Brasseaux said some of the ill also suffered from scurvy, an illness brought on by a poor diet.
A few days later, Delavillebeuvre said eight soldiers had contracted fever and colds, delaying ongoing fort construction, while the "Acadians continue to die of the usual cause..." He told Ulloa that the surgeon at the fort "has asked me to notify you that his patients have had no wine throughout his tenure at this post" and "all of his patients are dying of the flux..."
The dying continued. By the time the Acadians departed the Concordia fort in 1769, one out of two of the original settlers was dead. But the Acadians as a people would survive and thrive in southern Louisiana and are known today as the Cajuns.
The Tunicas, however, weren't so fortunate. Almost four decades later, in 1805, President Thomas Jefferson presented to Congress John Sibley's report on his exploration of the Red River.
Sibley wrote of the Tunicas: "These people lived formerly on the Bayou Tunica, above Pointe Coupee, on the Mississippi, east side; live now at Avoyall (Marksville, Avoyelles Parish); do not at present exceed 25 men. Their language is peculiar to themselves, but speak Mobilian; are employed, occasionally, by the inhabitants as boatmen; etc; in amity with all other people, and gradually diminishing in numbers."