Chapter Five. The Indian Trade in Colonial Natchitoches
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105 chapter five The Indian Trade in Colonial Natchitoches In 1714, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis founded the post of Natchitoches primarily in order to trade with the region’s Native Americans . His mission proved successful, as French traders from Natchitoches established commercial ties with nearly all the Indians of Texas over the course of the following three decades. Because cash crop agriculture failed to develop until the latter part of the French regime, the Indian trade was the sole profitable economic activity in Natchitoches for the first half of the eighteenth century. As a result, the post’s leading citizens dominated the commerce. During the Spanish regime, however , the Indian trade diminished in importance for a number of reasons : the decline of the Indian population, Bourbon restrictions on the trade, and the government’s promotion of tobacco as a cash crop. In consequence, most of Natchitoches’s French creole elites abandoned commerce with the Indians and chose to become planters instead. By the end of the eighteenth century, only a few marginalized members of Natchitoches society, along with many drifters, were left behind still working in the increasingly unprofitable Indian trade. Immediately following the erection of the post of Natchitoches in 1714, St. Denis and the French began to use it as a center from which to develop trade with the Indian groups on the Louisiana-Texas frontier. The 8,000 or so members of the three Caddo confederacies were the first Indians to establish commercial ties with the French. Upon his arrival among the Natchitoches Indians, St. Denis had five boatloads of merchandise to distribute among the Caddos. Using fifteen Natchitoches tribesmen as guides, St. Denis reopened relations with the Hasinais of East Texas by holding a trade fair. The Canadian then returned to the French post at Natchez to pick up a fresh supply of trade goods. He brought this merchandise back to Natchitoches and maintained a moderate trade with the Caddos over the next two years. The commerce between the French and the Caddo confederacies increased dramatically after 1716, when St. Denis returned from his venture to Mexico. In the fall of that year, St. Denis and six other Frenchmen formed a commercial partnership, acquired another 12,000 piastres worth of A4542.indb 105 A4542.indb 105 11/20/07 12:23:31 PM 11/20/07 12:23:31 PM 106 chapter five trade goods at Mobile, and returned to Natchitoches. As a result of the French merchandise, the Hasinais had more guns than a moderatesized Spanish expedition did when it entered their villages in 1718. The Spaniards complained that the Kadohadachos also traded with the French at Natchitoches because they “were so interested in muskets, powder, bullets, and clothing” that they now made war on other tribes in order to obtain slaves to sell in Natchitoches.1 St. Denis’s actions coincided with developments across the Atlantic Ocean that intensified the French effort with the Caddos. In 1718, the CompanyoftheIndieswasplacedinchargeofLouisiana,andGovernor Bienville, understanding the importance of the Caddo tribes to French interests, awarded all three confederacies with an annual present. The Brossaut brothers, merchants from Lyon, obtained a trading concessionatNatchitoches ,andthevolumeoftradewiththeNatchitochesand Hasinai confederacies expanded greatly. The following year, Bénard de la Harpe received a concession for the Kadohadacho villages upstream from Natchitoches, and it was through him that the third confederacy also established a full trading partnership with the French. With the tribe’s permission, La Harpe erected the Nassonite Post (officially knows as St. Louis de Cadodaquious) at the bend of the Red River in the summer of 1719. Soon thereafter, a few French soldiers and their families arrived at the Kadohadacho villages and conducted the trade. During the 1720s, the Yatasis on Bayou Pierre allowed the French to establish a third and final trading post among the Caddos.2 By 1731, when Louis XV assumed full control of Louisiana and the SpanishpresenceinEastTexaswasreducedbyhalf,theFrenchwerenot only using their trading posts to trade with the Caddos, but they were also initiating commercial ties with the other tribes on the LouisianaTexas frontier. From the Nassonite Post, Natchitoches traders headed upstream to trade with the 20,000 or so members of the sedentary, agricultural Wichita Indians. Although the three Wichita groups— Kichais, Tawakonis, and Taovayas—resided in the Arkansas River Valley in the early eighteenth century, by the late 1740s they began a southward migration in order to gain easier access to Natchitoches traders. The Tawakonis and the Kichais established villages southwest...



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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