Extinct Ancient Societies Natchez American Indians

About the Natchez Native Americans, history of the extinct society, how they were destroyed and the last of them.

PEOPLE GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: SEVEN EXTINCT SOCIETIES

NATCHEZ

Their Society: The Natchez, an American Indian tribe, lived on the eastern bank of the lower Mississippi River near modern Natchez, Miss. In 1700, some 4,000 Natchez people lived in nine farming communities and grew squash, corn, pumpkins, and beans. They also hunted and were extremely adept at pottery making and textile weaving.

Their government was a despotic theocracy headed by an absolute monarch, who was also the tribe's high priest. The Natchez were sun worshipers; they believed that their king was the descendant of the sun god and revered him as the "Great Sun." Because the Natchez were culturally similar to Indians of central Mexico, and because they used the same building technique in the construction of their temples, it is argued that they may have migrated to the Mississippi region from Mexico.

Unlike most American Indian cultures, Natchez society was stratified into four classes. The Suns, relatives of the Great Sun, formed the highest ranks--rulers and priests. Below the Suns were the Nobles, followed by the Honored Men. Commoners were known as Stinkards and were treated as mere servants of the upper classes. Class structure was not rigid since all people of the upper classes, including the Suns, had to marry commoners.

Natchez society was strongly matriarchal. The mother or sister of a deceased Great Sun chose his successor from among her brothers or sons. The offspring of a female Sun maintained that social status, while the children of a male Sun dropped down one rung on the social ladder. Female Suns lived privileged lives. Their commoner husbands had to wait on them continually and could never disagree with them. If the husband committed an infidelity, the Sun wife could have him beheaded. However, she was allowed as many lovers as she desired.

How and When Destroyed: French explorers led by Robert Cavelier de La Salle initially encountered the Natchez in 1682. By the first decade of the 1700s the French, based in New Orleans, had begun trading with the Natchez and intruding on their lands. A French fort and plantations were established in Natchez territory, and in 1716 and 1723 the French and Natchez engaged in bloody skirmishes. Surprisingly, the Natchez Suns were pro-French and restrained their people from open warfare with the newcomers, at least until 1729, when the arrogant, tyrannical commandant of the French fort on Natchez soil ordered the Indians to vacate their main village so that he could have the land for his personal plantation. The Natchez immediately rose against the invaders, slaughtering 200 Frenchmen, capturing 400 women and children, and burning the fort. The French governor of Louisiana ordered a counterattack by French troops and their Choctaw Indian allies. Overwhelmed by superior numbers and the enemy's artillery, the Natchez were defeated. Approximately 400 Natchez surrendered and were sold into slavery in the West Indies. The rest of the survivors--probably numbering no more than 450--sought refuge among the Chickasaws, Creeks, and Cherokees.

The Last of the Natchez: In 1735 there were still some 700 Natchez alive. Some were slaves in the West Indies; the rest lived with other American Indian tribes. Those in Caribbean bondage soon died, while the remainder gradually lost their tribal identity and language. When the U.S. government forced all Indian nations east of the Mississippi to move to officially designated Indian territory (in present-day Oklahoma) during the 1800s, the remaining Natchez went with them. By 1900 there were only 20 left. In a short time even they had disappeared.

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