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Story Archives: Those who sow the wind, reap the whirlwind
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|Those who sow the wind, reap the whirlwind|
(24th in a Series)
BY JACK ELLIOTT
After massacring over two hundred people and capturing hundreds of others on November 28, 1729, the Natchez Indians effectively destroyed the French Natchez settlement.
The Natchez had attempted -- and would continue to attempt -- to bring in other tribes to support them in destroying the French. With the possible destruction of the Louisiana colony, the French were forced to retaliate with brutal force. Other tribes were drawn into what amounted to an intertribal war with some supporting the Natchez, others the French. The violence on that day was like a rock dropped into a quiet pond, whose ripples spread ever outwards… even to the shores of France. Violence breeds violence; those who sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.
By early 1730 in retaliation for the November massacre, the French with the aid of their Choctaw allies drove the Natchez Indians from Natchez and re-established a garrison in a provisional fort. Although the Natchez had suffered tremendous casualties as the result of a surprise strike by the Choctaws, they did manage to escape under cover of darkness and were rumored to have moved west of the Mississippi. However they were not all west of the river, and they continued to be a threat as evidenced by their attacks on the Natchez garrison during the summer which resulted in the deaths of about 20 French and Africans.
Despite these attacks, the Natchez were now on the defensive. Prior to the massacre they were possibly trying to organize an anti-French conspiracy, a massive organized insurrection aimed at destroying all the French. After the massacre they had certainly incited the Yazoos and Koroas to destroy the French colony on the Yazoo River. But subsequently their fortunes began to turn. They offended some Choctaws, and shortly afterward the Choctaws were fighting alongside the French. The Tunicas who remained allies of the French determined to aid in the campaign and kept the French informed of Natchez movements. During the summer the Tunicas captured about fifty Natchez and sold them as slaves to the French who resold them in Saint-Dominique, modern Haiti.
Toward the end of December, Governor Perier determined to put an end to the problem once and for all with another major campaign against the Natchez who had reportedly established a settlement near the Tensas River in the vicinity of present-day Sicily Island. He assembled a force of several hundred regular troops along with local militia and about 150 Indians of the Tunica, Colapissa, and other tribes. Moving upriver they entered the Red River where the troops were reinforced by members of the Natchez and Natchitoches garrisons. Using Indian scouts they located a Natchez settlement and fort in January 1731.
After laying siege to the fort and all who took shelter within, the French managed to capture the Great Sun and the Flour chief through a ruse and used them as leverage to obtain the surrender of most of the others. About 300-400 men, women, and children were captured and sold into slavery in Saint-Dominique. However about seventy warriors escaped. Under interrogation, the Great Sun informed Jean-Paul Le Sueur (who had led the Choctaws against the Natchez the year before) that the settlement did not include all the Natchez. Instead they had dispersed, and there were at least three other groups besides the warriors that had escaped. The smallest group had gone north to settle with the Chickasaws, while two others were still in the general area of Natchez. So despite two major campaigns and considerable Natchez casualties, the problem had not been solved.
In December 1729, upon hearing of the massacre, Perier had dispatched a ship, the St. Michel, to France to inform the Royal Court and the Company of the Indies of the disaster. The Company had effectively owned and operated the Louisiana colony since 1717, and it had been because of the Company that the population, both white and black, had increased from a few dozen to a few thousand. Although this population was meager compared that of the English colonies on the Atlantic, it did give the colony a sufficient demographic base to attain some degree of economic viability and begin exporting crops such as tobacco to the Atlantic world. However, the costs had been large and the returns uninspiring. When word reached Paris that Natchez had been destroyed, the news frightened nervous investors. On top of the loss in lives and productivity was the ensuing cost of endless military activities that did not even manage to quell the Natchez Indians. In January 1731, while the French were besieging the Natchez fort near Sicily Island, the Company relinquished control of the colony to the French crown. Free of its money pit, Louisiana, the Company flourished financially for some years after.
Having dispersed in small groups the Natchez continued to be troublesome. In April 1731 they attacked a group of Frenchmen on the Arkansas River. The following June they attacked a Tunica village resulting in many casualties on both sides. Other attacks took place on the upper Mississippi against a French convoy and against the Natchitoches tribe west of the river. During the same time period their onetime ally, the Yazoos, who had destroyed the French settlement on the Yazoo, were passing through Choctaw territory on their way to the Chickasaws when they were set upon by Choctaws. Virtually all of the warriors were killed and their women were taken as slaves. This was the end of the Yazoos.
The small group of Natchez who had settled among the Chickasaws continued to grow in their fairly impregnable location in the midst of a larger tribe and distant from waterways. This posed a serious problem for the French. Not only were they concerned about the Natchez, but they were perhaps more concerned about the Chickasaws themselves who were allied with the English and a perpetual thorn in France's side. Two disastrous campaigns would be launched against the Chickasaws in 1736 and 1739. Each required enormous expenditures in terms of transporting troops and supplies over considerable distances, and each campaign resulted in disaster. In the end the Natchez were neither completed defeated nor destroyed, although they suffered many casualties. They fragmented into numerous small groups that -- settled with farflung tribes -- were eventually assimilated. However, as late as the 20th century, a few Indians in Oklahoma still identified themselves as Natchez.
Regardless of what went on in Paris and regardless of the never ending game of international chess played out in the backwoods of North America, life – and death – went on in Louisiana. The Natchez Indians had departed from Natchez and -- except for a few reappearances -- were gone for good. Meanwhile a military post at Natchez was still essential and had to be re-established on a permanent basis. Consequently the French decided that it was time to rebuild Fort Rosalie and rebuild it in a much more substantial form than the wooden palisade that had been erected in 1716.
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