Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Natchez Indian Tribes and Language


The Natchez, according to Gallatin, a residue of the well-known nation of that name, came from the banks of the Mississippi, and joined the Creek less than one hundred years ago.71 The seashore from Mobile to the Mississippi was then inhabited by several small tribes, of which the Natchez was the principal.
Before 1730 the tribe lived in the vicinity of Natchez, Miss., along St. Catherine Creek. After their dispersion by the French in 1730 most of the remainder joined the Chicasa and afterwards the Upper Creek. They are now in Creek and Cherokee Nations, Indian Territory.
The linguistic relations of the language spoken by the Taensa tribe have long been in doubt, and it is probable that they will ever remain so. As no vocabulary or text of this language was known to be in existence, the “Grammaire et vocabulaire de la langue Taensa, avec textes traduits et commentés par J.-D. Haumonté, Parisot, L. Adam,” published in Paris in 1882, was received by American linguistic students with peculiar interest. Upon the strength of the linguistic material embodied in the above Mr. Gatschet (loc. cit.) was led to affirm the complete linguistic isolation of the language.
Grave doubts of the authenticity of the grammar and vocabulary have, however, more recently been brought forward.72 The text contains internal evidences of the fraudulent character, if not of the whole, at least of a large part of the material. So palpable and gross are these that until the character of the whole can better be understood by the inspection of the original manuscript, alleged to be in Spanish, by a competent expert it will be far safer to reject both the vocabulary and grammar. By so doing we are left without any linguistic evidence whatever of the relations of the Taensa language.
D’Iberville, it is true, supplies us with the names of seven Taensa towns which were given by a Taensa Indian who accompanied him; but most of these, according to Mr. Gatschet, were given, in the Chicasa trade jargon or, as termed by the French, the “Mobilian trade jargon,” which is at least a very natural supposition. Under these circumstances we can, perhaps, do no better than rely upon the statements of several of the old writers who appear to be unanimous in regarding the language of the Taensa as of Na’htchi connection. Du Pratz’s statement to that effect is weakened from the fact that the statement also includes the Shetimasha, the language of which is known from a vocabulary to be totally distinct not only from the Na’htchi but from any other. To supplement Du Pratz’s testimony, such as it is, we have the statements of M. de Montigny, the 97missionary who affirmed the affinity of the Taensa language to that of the Na’htchi, before he had visited the latter in 1699, and of Father Gravier, who also visited them. For the present, therefore, the Taensa language is considered to be a branch of the Na’htchi.
The Taensa formerly dwelt upon the Mississippi, above and close to the Na’htchi. Early in the history of the French settlements a portion of the Taensa, pressed upon by the Chicasa, fled and were settled by the French upon Mobile Bay.
Population.—There still are four Na’htchi among the Creek in Indian Territory and a number in the Cheroki Hills near the Missouri border.