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|A Natchez love story shattered by 1729 Natchez Massacre|
Among the handful of French escapees from the Natchez Massacre of November 28, 1729, was a soldier named Navarre, whose true love -- a Natchez Indian maiden -- saved him from perishing in the assault.
This 280-year-old love story was first told by DuPratz, a French settler in Natchez during the 1720s who happened to be away when the massacre occurred. In later life, DuPratz wrote about the good and bad times of the French settlement at Natchez and included the story of Navarre and his Indian girlfriend, whose name he didn't record.
In the days after the massacre, Navarre talked about the woman he loved with other French soldiers at the Tonika (Tunica) village below the mouth of the Red River at its confluence with the Mississippi. DuPratz said Navarre told the soldiers that his girlfriend "came to him early in the morning and warned him that the French were going to be killed by the Natchez."
She told him to leave immediately and in order to defend himself, "she brought him a pistol, powder, and balls..." She begged Navarre to take care of himself, to fight hard "and die like a warrior" if he had to die.
Mounted on horseback, Navarre rushed to inform Commandant Chepert of the attack. At that moment, Chepert was still sleeping in his cabin near Fort Rosalie, and would awake with a hangover in the coming minutes before being killed by the Indians. His mistreatment of the Natchez, particularly his effort to take prized land from them, led to the massacre.
As he raced toward Fort Rosalie, Navarre met another French soldier who was attempting to escape. This man told Navarre that it was too late -- "the Natchez had struck the blow." Navarre reined his horse into the woods and remained there quietly until dark, alert to every sound of the forest. Easing his way to one of the French settlement clusters, he saw a light in one of the cabins "but perceiving that it was full of natives he fled..."
Seeing no route of escape, he went to the hut of his girlfriend "who concealed him in the depths of the wood, where she and her companions nourished him for eight to ten days, and then brought him provisions for his journey, showed him the road to take to the Tonikas..."
Navarre's girlfriend predicted the French would "exact vengeance for the death of their brothers." When that happened, she asked Navarre to come for her so that they could be together again.
In the days following his safe arrival at the Tonika village, Navarre made good on his word to return for his girlfriend. Just as she had predicted, the French mounted an expedition against the Natchez. Navarre was one of a party of six sent in advance of a large French force moving upriver. Navarre and his comrades' mission was to scout the enemy strength and to see if the Natchez were interested in peace.
The men moved up the Mississippi in a pirogue, landed and made their way to the Grand Village, where a large group of Natchez were living. DuPratz said the Frenchmen walked toward the Grand Village in the open and with two miles to go, a Natchez party of warriors -- "yelling" -- came racing out of the woods and surrounded them. Instead of talking peace, the Frenchmen, surprised and overwhelmed, immediately raised their weapons. Navarre fired the first shot.
The Natchez, holding their fire, shouted for the French to surrender. Instead, the Frenchmen, still firing, dashed into a ravine "which presented the appearance of a natural entrenchment." The Natchez quickly returned fire.
Navarre was hit, and he was furious, wrote DuPratz. He was still separated from his girlfriend, who probably was in the vicinity of the Grand Village. Navarre likely had conflicting thoughts racing through his mind at that moment. His fellow soldiers, friends and neighbors were dead, their bodies strewn across the countryside, women and children slaughtered or enslaved. His lover's people were the murderers of his world, yet she was waiting for him to come for her.
Navarre's commander would later say that he "had taken too much of the fire-liquor." Though wounded, Navarre continued to fight, and at the same time cursed and taunted the Natchez with every breath. A short time later, he was killed.
Such romances apparently were not that uncommon on the frontier and this one was clearly more than just a convenient sexual relationship. The two loved one another.
.Author Carl Waldman makes an assessment of the French relationship with Native Americans in his book, "Atlas of North American Indians":
"Basic racial acceptance of Native Americans within French character is proven by the common practice -- even encouraged as official policy for purposes of acculturation -- of intermarriage and miscegenation (racial mixing). The French also had the acumen to recognize the wide differences in culture among different tribes as well as open-mindedness to participate in Indian rituals. They perceived the mystical relationship Indians had with the land and generally made a point in seeking tribal approval of land use. Whatever the underlying cause or causes, perhaps the best evidence of French acceptance of Indians was their acceptance by Indians."
But somehow this relationship went terribly wrong at Natchez, resulting in a massacre of the French settlement, the banishment and eventual extermination of the Natchez Indian tribe and the separation by death of a French soldier and his Natchez maiden.
(Stanley Nelson can be reached at email@example.com)
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