On the Tunica Trail

On the Tunica Trail

Third Edition September 1994

Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism

Louisiana Archaeological Survey and Antiquities Commission

Jeffrey P. Brain

Peabody and Essex Museum


Tunica-Biloxi Today

Bill Day

Director, Tunica-Biloxi Cultural and Historic Preservation

Editors Note

The publication of On the Tunica Trail in 1977 launched the Anthropological Study Series, published by the Louisiana Archaeological Survey and Antiquities Commission. The goal of the series is to illuminate for a general audience some of the major episodes in Louisiana's past.

Dr. Jeffery P. Brain, author of On the Tunica Trail, is the leading authority on the Tunica Indians. His research has been sponsored by his home institution, the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, and by the National Geographic Society. He has participated in the study of a historic Tunica Indian site on the Angola penal farm in Louisiana and has studied and cataloged the "Tunica Treasure" archaeological collection.

This edition of On the Tunica Trail encapsulates his landmark study entitled Tunica Archaeology, which is released through the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. This and other of Dr. Brain's publications are recommended to readers who want to learn more about the Tunica. They are listed at the end of this booklet in the section entitled "For Further Reading."

I hope that On the Tunica Trail will bring cultural enrichment to the people of Louisiana and will stimulate an interest in preserving our historical and archaeological resources for the enjoyment and study of future generations.

Nancy Hawkins
Outreach Coordinator


    The Tunica are a good people...
    They have become nearly extinct...
    They had come down the Mississippi [to the place] where they lived

    [Youchigant, cited in Haas 1950:143].

In their own folklore, this is a capsule history of an exceptional group of North American Indians. The Tunica (which may be translated as "the people") were one of the small number of Lower Mississippi Valley tribes that played a very important role in late prehistoric and early historic events in the valley.

Similar in cultural heritage to many other Indian groups in the southeastern United States, and especially in the Mississippi Valley, the Tunica nevertheless have a special significance for the native history of the area. Unlike most Lower Mississippi Valley tribes, they are not lost to history but instead are still amongst us on their tribal lands in Marksville, Louisiana.

In northwestern Mississippi, a great center of power was spawned in the late prehistoric period by expansion of the Mississippian cultural tradition from its core area near the confluence of the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri rivers. One of the groups participating in the Mississippian tradition, which represents the zenith of the Native American cultural attainment, was called the Quizquiz. Their capital was a town with the same name that was located close to where De Soto crosses the Mississippi River in 1541. Disease and population density apparently led to a breakdown of social and political structures during the seventeenth century. When the French found the remnants of great Quizquiz on the lower Yazoo River in 1699 they were called the Tunica.

It is in the time and setting outlined above that the Tunica became known to history. Like other Indian groups they were left adrift in a changing native world which was soon to change beyond native recognition as the Europeans began to take control. The history of the Tunica and their ethnic continuity are the twin themes that are to be explored in the following pages. The story starts with the first known identification of the Tunica at the fabled town of Quizquiz.