The First Families of Louisiana on the Eve of French Settlement
At the time of French settlement in 1700, many Indian groups lived in Louisiana, which then encompassed the Mississippi Valley and Gulf Coast region. These groups ranged from small clans of hunters to large communities of farmers. Several Louisiana societies established extensive cultural and economic exchange networks and traded material goods, belief systems, language patterns, technology, and recreational practices with other native groups in North America and probably even in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, and later with European settlers.
Native American Timeline
As in most Indian societies, Louisiana Indians carried out tasks defined along gender lines. Men ruled and defended the tribal communities and hunted and constructed buildings and canoes with tools they made. Women cared for children and the elderly, planted crops, and made clothes and utensils, which they used to prepare foods and decorate their homes and religious centers. One early French settler, Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz, observed that "most of the labour and fatigue falls to the share of the women," while Indian men had "a great deal of more spare time than the women."
Hunting was economically pivotal as a source of food, clothing, tools and jewelry. Indians stalked deer, bear, bison and a multitude of smaller game animals. When Europeans came to Louisiana, they noted that the Natchez in particular practiced the "communal surround." Upon sighting a deer, about a hundred men formed an open crescent. They drove the deer from side to side until it dropped to the ground exhausted.
Beliefs and Practices
Though their specific beliefs and practices varied, Indian religions focused on placing humans in harmony with nature and the world. The Natchez, Acolapissa, Caddo, Houma, Taensa, and Tunica constructed sacred buildings, some of which they raised on truncated pyramidal earth mounds, comparable to Mesoamerican temples.
Louisiana Indians honored their dead with celebrations of dance, song, and food. Jean-Bernard Bossu, an early French colonial observer, described a Louisiana Indian celebration that closely resembled the European All Saints' Day:
Homes, Clothing & Recreation
There were no tepees in Louisiana. Rather, Louisiana's first families lived and worshipped in palmetto-thatched houses, beehive-shaped grass houses, woodframe houses, and wattle-and-daub houses and temples.
Women prepared and cooked the food that they gathered and grew and that the men hunted and fished. Louisiana Indians boiled, roasted, baked and parched their food.
Native American women also manufactured all the clothing. Popular clothing materials were feathers, bark, cloth, and hides, as well as furs from deer, bear, bison, and smaller game animals. Both men and women fashioned such body ornaments as necklaces, bracelets, armbands, rings, and ear and nose plugs from locally available shells and pearls and imported copper.
Like Europeans and Africans of the same time period, the natives of Louisiana amused themselves with various games and sporting events. Long before Europeans arrived in the Mississippi Valley, Louisiana Indians gambled on the outcome of sporting events and games of chance. Players and spectators alike risked their earnings on all sorts of games and sports--wrestling, footracing, archery, dice, and toli, a game adopted by the French and called raquette. Dancing and music were often a part of these tribal sporting events, as well as feasts and religious ceremonies. With music in the background, Louisiana Indians performed as groups, pairs, and individuals.