restricted access Chapter One. An Overview of Colonial Natchitoches
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1 chapter one An Overview of Colonial Natchitoches The establishment ofNatchitochesin1714grewoutofathreedecade struggle between France, Spain, and Great Britain for control of the Mississippi River Valley. In the late seventeenth century, France, with colonies in the West Indies and Canada, began to challenge Spanish control over productive American possessions, especially New Spain. In the 1680s, the French Crown decided to colonize the Mississippi Valley to discourage English occupation of the region and to serve as a base of attack on New Spain’s rich silver mines. French policy makers also hoped to profit by trading with the region’s Indians for furs and by establishing some type of cash crop. René Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle, headed the first colonization effort that left France in the summer of 1684. La Salle, however, accidentally sailed past the mouth of the Mississippi River, and his expedition instead landed on the Texas coast near Matagorda Bay. Within five years, all but a handful of the two hundred or so French settlers had perished, including La Salle, terminating this initial colonization attempt.1 During this short period, however, Frenchmen from La Salle’s colony were able to establish friendly relations with the Caddo Indians, one of the most important tribes in the region. The Caddos lived on the western edge of the Eastern Woodlands in permanent villages and had originally occupied the vast region from the Trinity River in Texas north to the Arkansas River. Their forest homeland encouraged these Caddoan speakers to become the most productive farmers in Texas, and the surplus food they raised in the fields allowed them to develop a hereditary elite that dominated a sophisticated political and religious society. Though men and women planted corn, beans, squash, and watermelon together in the spring, during the summer Caddo men hunted for deer, bear, and small game in the surrounding forest, while women collected wild fruits and nuts. Following the fall harvest, the men went on extensive winter hunts, sometimes heading west to stalk buffalo. Skilled craftsmen fashioned quality bows made of the pliable wood of the Osage orange tree and formed some of the finest pottery in North America. The Caddos exchanged these items, in addition to salt A4542.indb 1 A4542.indb 1 11/20/07 12:23:15 PM 11/20/07 12:23:15 PM 2 chapter one and food products, with the great mound-building chiefdom and population center at Cahokia to the north and to the west with the Pueblo villages of New Mexico. Residing at the crossroads of four major trails where the Eastern Woodlands met the Great Plains, the Caddos profited from extensive trade.2 An extreme drought, which began around 1350, and the introduction of European diseases two centuries later, combined to reduce the Caddo population and drive them to abandon the Arkansas River Valley in favor of relocation to the south. By the late seventeenth century, the Caddo population dropped from perhaps as many as 250,000 to as low as 15,000 people. In consequence, the remaining Caddos formed three loose confederacies, ruled as before by a political religious elite. The Kadohadacho confederacy, located near the bend of the Red River, consisted of four tribes. Further downstream, three tribes composed the least populous of the confederacies, called the Natchitoches. To the west, along the upper reaches of the Neches and Angelina rivers in East Texas, the Hasinais were the largest confederacy, consisting of nine major tribes. Two independent Caddoan-speaking tribes, the Ais and the Adaes, lived between the Hasinais and the Natchitoches.3 All three confederacies, desirous of obtaining access to European metal goods, warmly welcomed the Frenchmen from La Salle’s colony A4542.indb 2 A4542.indb 2 11/20/07 12:23:15 PM 11/20/07 12:23:15 PM 3 an overview of colonial natchitoches into their villages. Caddos needed arms and ammunition to defend themselves against neighboring tribes who already had European suppliers . Earlier in the century, the Lipan Apaches had established trade ties with the Hispanics settled in New Mexico. Supplied with Spanish horses and weapons, the Lipans continually raided the Texas Indian tribes, including the Caddos, capturing slaves to sell in the illegal underground market Spanish smugglers established in New Mexico. The Caddos, who also routinely obtained horses, were able to provide the French with mounts and furs in return for metal goods and weapons in order to defend themselves from the Apaches. Despite the failure of La Salle’s colonization...


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Subject Headings

  • Slaves -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- Economic conditions -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- History -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- Social conditions -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- Race relations -- History -- 18th century.
  • French Americans -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Creoles -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Free African Americans -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Community life -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches.
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