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Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser, August 26, 1997

Arrow points and place names

are reminders of Attakapas

by Jim Bradshaw


Only scattered arrow points and a handful of place names are left to testify to the Attakapas Indian occupation of what is today Acadia Parish.

Arrowpoints can be found here and there at the places where the Attakapas once lived. Place names which have survived include the names of the streams that once flowed past Attakapas villages: Mermentau, corrupted from Nementou; Plaquemine Brûlée (Plaquemine meaning "persimmon" in the Indian language): Bayou Nezpiqué, named for an Indian with a tattooed nose; Bayou Queue de Tortue, believed to have been named for Chief Celestine La Tortue of the Attakapas nation.

Most historians think that the Attakapas ranged across coastal Louisiana from the Sabine River to the Atchafalaya Basin. They were said to be a fierce tribe, with the bad habit of cannibalism. Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz, who spent 16 years in Louisiana, from 1718 to 1734, relates:

"Along the west coast, not far from the sea, inhabit the nation called Atacapas (sic), that is, Man-Eaters, being so called by the other nations on account of their detestable custom of eating their enemies, or such as they believe to be their enemies. In the vast country there are no other cannibals to be met with besides the Atacapas; and since the French have gone among them, they have raised in them so great an horror of that abominable practice of devouring creatures of their own species, that they have promised to leave it off: and, accordingly, for a long time past we have heard of no such barbarity among them."

Linguist William A. Read pointed out in his seminal study of Louisiana-French in 1931 that the designation "tattooed nose" (Nezpiqué) for the Acadia Parish waterway "simply emphasizes the fact that the Indians in its vicinity practiced the art of tattooing."

He quotes a 1687 description by Henri Joutel, who lived among the Natchez Indians for a time: "The Indians are generally handsome but disfigure themselves by making scores or streaks on their faces, from the top of the forehead down the nose to the tip of the chin: which is done by pricking the skin with needles or other sharp instruments, till it bleeds, whereon they strew fine powder of charcoal, and that sinks in and mixes with the blood within the skin. They also make, after the same manner, the figures of living creatures, of leaves and flowers on the shoulders and thighs, and other parts of their bodies, and paint themselves, as has been said before, with black or red, and sometimes both together."

The early settlers of what would become Acadia Parish also found little barbarity among the Attakapas who were there in the middle 1700s and early 1800s. Old land records show regular and peaceable commerce among the Attakapas and the newcomers to the Acadia prairie lands.

Descriptions of land sales by the Indians in old records place three Attakapas villages in what is now Acadia Parish: one on Bayou Plaquemine Brûlée, about two miles west of the Branch community, another on Bayou Queue de Tortue, about 3 ½ miles south of Morse and a third on Bayou Wikoff, about four miles northeast of Rayne.

Three other Attakapas visages were situated just outside the parish limits. Two were on the Mermentau River and one on Bayou Nezpiqué.

The Attakapas village on Bayou Plaquemine Brûlée was on land bought in 1784 by Antoine Blanc from Nementou, chief of the Attakapas. Blanc bought land on the bayou one league wide and 40 arpents deep (about 2,820 acres). The deed was signed by Nementou and 13 of his warriors who lived in the village at the time. This deed was approved by Alexandre Chevalier Declouet, then commandant of the Opelousas and Attakapas districts, and was witnessed by William Hays and Louis Latiolais.

The Bayou Queue de Tortue village was on property purchased from the Indians in 1801 by John Lyon, one of Acadia's colonial settlers and the progenitor of the large Lyons family in Louisiana (the "s" having been added to the family name in later years).

John Lyon bought property from the Indians in both the Attakapas and Opelousas districts. He paid $87 for land on the south side of Bayou Queue de Tortue, in what is now Vermilion Parish, described as "fifty arpents front by the ordinary depth" (the "ordinary depth" being 40 arpents). The deed was signed by an Attakapas named Bernard, by the chief Celestin, and by an Indian called Little John, who was called a "captain."

Lyon bought land on the north side of the bayou in Acadia Parish from an Indian named Tichot. This land, with a bayou frontage of some 50 arpents, was purchased for "four cows and four four-year-old beeves." (The "beeves" were probably oxen.) The deed was signed by Tichot, "married to the widow Potate, and acting for her and the Attakapas Indians."

John Coleman, another colonial settler who bought land from the Attakapas, would testify before land commissioners in 1812 that the Lyon property included "an old village which had been inhabited by the Indians and that some of the posts of their huts were standing at the time the boundaries were established.

The site of the Attakapas village on Bayou Wikoff was on property later purchased by William Gilchrist, who held a certified copy of the sale from Jacob, an Indian of the Attakapas tribes. Dotrif Andrus, another early landowner, testified before a board of inquiry in 1814 that "fourteen or fifteen years ago, the Indians abandoned this land, where they had their village, sines then it has been uninhabited and uncultivated .... The Indian who sold (the land to) Gilchrist was an Indian of note, but not the chief of the village."

In 1799, the Attakapas sold a village on the west side of the Mermentau River to Andre Martin for $100.

Martin bought 1,523 acres on the river from Celestin La Tortue, chief of the Attakapas, "adjoining the lower side of the village then occupied by the Indians." Louis de la Houssaye, then 52 years old, told Land Office commissioners in 1814 that "from his earliest recollections ... Nementou, the chief of this village on the river by the same name with other Indians of the tribe, were residing on the land now claimed by Andre Martin, where they ever since continued to reside, and have never had any other village" to his knowledge.

In his testimony, De la Houssaye said that the inhabitants of the Attakapas village were "very numerous" when he first knew it. He recalled: "About 30 years past, when there was a Spanish expedition against Baton Rouge, then in the hands of the British, there were about 400 Indians who joined the Spanish army, of which about 120 were from the Nementou village..."

The second Attakapas village on the Mermentau was on land claimed by David Guidry and Jean Mouton. The claim was for 2,000 arpents on the west side of the river. The deed was signed by Celestin La Tortue, chief of the Attakapas, acting for one of his men named Potate, "the old village being in the center of the 50 arpents." Jean Baptiste Chiasson, testifying in 1811, said that he had visited the village about 1775 and that he thought the Attakapas had lived there many years.

The Bayou Nezpiqué village was near property owned by William Wikoff, who bought 2,733 acres on the west bank of the bayou from "Le Tortue, an Indian, calling himself chief of the village of Nezpiqué, and his son, Celestine," in 1791. The price paid was 10 cows and calves. Thomas Berwick, one of the three men who testified about the Wikoff claim in 1814, said he recollected that "the Indian village was in sight of the (Wikoff) vacherie."
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