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|Smokye Joe's discovery -- 1723 Broutin map of Natchez|
(13th in a Series)
Antoine-Simone Le Page du Pratz moved to Natchez in 1720, settled on a small farm and kept an outstanding record of life in the remote French settlement. He described many aspects of the life of the Natchez Indians, including their appearance:
The men "cut their hair around, leaving a crown like the Capunchins, and leave only enough long hair to make a twisted tress no larger than the little finger, and which hangs over the left ear. This crown is in the same place and almost as large as that of a monk. In the middle of this crown they leave about two dozen long hairs for the attachment of feathers.
"Although the natives all wear this crown, yet the hair is not removed or pulled from this place, but it is cut or burned with burning coals. It is not the same with the hair of the armpits and the beard, which they take great care to pull out, so that they never come back, not being able to suffer any hair to appear on their bodies, although naturally they do not have more of it than we.
"They (the women) wear nothing on their heads; their hair is at full length, except that in front, which is shorter. The hair behind is fastened in a cue by means of a netting of mulberry threads, with tassels at the ends. They take great pains to pull out the hair and leave none on the body except the hair on the head."
In this week's series on the Natchez fort, historian Jack Elliott details what a difference a map can make in understanding a period of history and he reveals the amazing map discovery Smokye Joe Frank of Natchez made a few years ago. A map can provide a snapshot of time and place as well as a photograph and the 1723 Broutin map discovered by Smokye Joe essentially brought French Natchez to life.
WANTED: ACCURATE 1720'S MAP
ELLIOTT: On the morning of November 28, 1729, Natchez Indian warriors executed a surprise attack on the dispersed French settlement at Natchez. Within an hour or so they had killed almost all of the European men along with several women and children and Africans. In the aftermath of the killing they systematically burned the fort and buildings around it, the scattered homes of the habitants, and the large outposts on the St. Catherine and Terre Blanche concessions. In so doing the material traces of the settlement were wiped out leaving only a few shards of pottery and glass and other inconspicuous traces.
The forgotten house sites of French Natchez were eventually swallowed up in the modern city of Natchez. The site of the fort, although remembered by some (it was marked by the DAR in 1918), eventually became obscured and confused as alternate locations were proposed. The real site became merely one among several competing sites.
Much of the ambiguity concerning the whereabouts of French and Indian sites was because for decades no one knew of a map that depicted Natchez in the 1720s with any degree of accuracy. A few maps were known but most showed only a small area or were grossly inaccurate in their depiction of the geography or both.
In 1962 and again in 1972 Louisiana archaeologist Robert S. "Stu" Neitzel excavated the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians under the auspices of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (this was prior to the site's being developed as a park as it now is). Part of this work entailed researching maps to ascertain if the site was indeed the Grand Village and to determine the locations of other Indian and French sites. Stu noted that the only maps of the entire area were those by the French lieutenant and writer Dumont de Montigny (previously featured in this series), who had lived at Natchez. However, these maps (and there were several variations) were little more than primitive illustrations which depicted the Natchez geography with no attention to scale and accuracy. For example, Dumont depicted Fort Rosalie on a bluff near the Mississippi. But if you didn't know better you might think that the fort was located a great distance inland. Furthermore, while one version of the map showed the fort with bastions (as was really the case), yet most versions depicted it erroneously without bastions.
Having such poor maps to work with caused problems in identifying sites. This came home to me in 1987 when I was researching the history of Fort Rosalie and attempting to tie down its site once and for all in an attempt to have the site preserved as a park. Having access to maps that Stu didn't, I soon determined that the location of the fort could unequivocally be identified -- right where most folks had believed it to be.
However, questions were soon asked. Several people who had known Stu pointed out that he had suggested that the fort had possibly been located elsewhere. Of course no one seemed to know what he based his arguments on. Furthermore, he had been dead for seven years so I couldn't ask him. Without knowing his arguments, I couldn't rebut them. I soon determined that whatever his arguments were they were largely based on inadequate maps, that is the maps of Dumont de Montigny, which as noted are potentially misleading. This illustrates that until recently the geography of 1720s Natchez was very ambiguous because of a lack of good maps.
FOUND BY SMOKYE JOE FRANK
ELLIOTT: However, this situation changed dramatically a few years ago when Natchez resident and part-time archaeologist Smokye Joe Frank discovered the most extraordinary map online. The map is in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France) and was located on the library's website. It was entitled "Carte Des Environs du Fort Rosalie aux Natchez Louisianne 1723" (Map of the Surroundings of Fort Rosalie of Natchez, Louisiana, 1723). It covered Natchez from the Mississippi River on the west to St. Catherine Creek on the east, basically the same area as Dumont de Montigny's map. This however was not a primitive painting but a sophisticated work of civil engineering and was the product of Ignace-Francois Broutin, the French engineer who has been featured before in this series.
The map is enormous. I don't know what the size of the original is. However, I have a printed copy that I'm working with that is about 5 feet by 8 feet in size! It is so large I can't possibly hold it to study it; consequently it occupies a large table located in the lab adjacent to my office. To study various portions of it I have to walk around the table to position myself close to particular spots of interest.
On it is written: "This was made in January, 1723, by me, Broutin, on site [i.e. in Natchez], and drafted [?] by Sieur Ganichon in May 1727." The map is incredibly complex, depicting every stream and hill, every house and field and road between the river and the creek. Many houses and other buildings are identified. Given the enormity of this task it must have taken a great deal of time to survey it. So when Broutin writes that he made the map in January 1727, I suspect that he completed it in that month and that the final draft was made by Ganichon in May 1727. So Broutin probably started mapping earlier than January 1727.
Broutin came to Louisiana as an engineer working in the employ of the LeBlanc-Belle Isle-Dasfeld interest which was establishing plantation concessions. One of these was located on the Yazoo River north of present day Vicksburg. However, in 1722 this group of financiers decided to relocate their Yazoo operation to Natchez where the tobacco plantation, Terre Blanche, founded by the Company of the Indies, was up for sale.
On September 24, 1722, chief engineer for the colony Le Blond de la Tour ordered Broutin to go to Natchez to map the area and to investigate the condition of the Terre Blanche concession with an eye to purchasing it for Messrs. LeBlanc and company. This Broutin did, probably arriving in early October and beginning his herculean mapping project soon after.
The result is like an aerial photograph of Natchez in late 1722-early 1723 (although not as accurate), a snap shot into one instant in its life. By one instant I emphasize that during the short interval between the founding of Fort Rosalie in 1716 and the 1729 massacre the settlement was in constant change. So a map made a couple years before Broutin's map or a couple years after would be different.
THE GREAT SUN -- STU NEITZEL
ELLIOTT: In May 1972 at the end of my freshman year at Mississippi State University I traveled across the state with my professor, the late Marc Rucker, to visit the ongoing archaeological excavations at the Grand Village of the Natchez. This was my first exposure to the city of Natchez -- which captured my imagination -- and to the Grand Village. The trip involved my first meeting the Grand Village's excavator, the late Robert S. "Stu" Neitzel, who took us out to the site. Unlike today it had a harsh, desert-like appearance having had several feet of sediments removed by earth-moving equipment. Stu showed us a cow skeleton which had just been excavated.
Thinking back I really can't say what was the most memorable, Natchez, the Grand Village, or Stu. Probably the latter. Nietzel was the stuff of legends, as I later found out. He was a big man, as "big as life," as they say. A consumate archaeologist who also loved joking, drinking, card-playing, and fishing. I wish that I had gotten to know him better. However, he lived hundreds of miles away and died not long after in 1980.
For years I thought that Stu was a Cajun and apparently others did too. He lived in Marksville Louisiana where he was the designer and one time superintendent of the Marksville State Park Museum. Full of jokes and jest, the French saying "Laissez le bon temps roulet" applied well to him. However, he was actually born in Nebraska in 1911 and only came to Louisiana in 1938 to work on WPA archaeological excavations. There he married and established his home in Marksville, and there he became part of the local color.
On two different occasions he left home temporarily to work for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, serving as curator of the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson and directing excavations at the Grand Village. When I began working for Archives in 1985 I soon heard the tales of his days at Archives, including his notoriety for keeping a bottle of bourbon in his desk at the Old Capitol, much to the chagrin of the department director.
The late Bob Bailey, also a one time employee of MS Archives, recalled that there were "a thousand and one stories and anecdotes" about Neitzel. He was "universally described in extremes: Renaissance man, brilliant, a great wit, delightfully eccentric or lazy, devil-may-care, and even crazy. What greater compliment can be paid to this man than to say no other person could pigeonhole him."
Stu became so closely identified with his work at the Grand Village that he was nicknamed "The Great Sun," which was borrowed from the Great Sun, head chief of the Natchez Indians. "The Great Sun" was the subtitle of a book of reminiscences of Stu that was published shortly after his death. One of the authors, Ian Brown, recalled doing archaeological survey work with him at Natchez:
"My most memorable survey experience with Stu occurred on a hot, humid day when we were surveying the terraces of St. Catherine creek in Natchez. We were positioned adjacent to the International Paper plant, and the atmosphere was putrid. Moreover, the area to be surveyed was situated in the vicinity of the dump. After two hours of finding nothing, I returned to the truck in a depressed state. Located next to the vehicle was a big pile of waste and sitting on top of the pile in regal fashion was Stu. He had unraveled a large roll of paper, forming a carpet leading up to the top of the mound. The end of the roll was turned over and arranged as an awning over his head. There indeed was the Great Sun."
I will never forget my brief meeting with Stu. He is forever linked in my memory with Natchez and the Natchez Indians.
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