Natchez? I thought they were all gone! Who were they? Where are they now? How many are left? What are they doing? Those are the many questions presented today about the little known tribe of the Mississippi valley. In my paper I will introduce to you the history of the Natchez people and what happen to them when the first European arrived in their region.
The Natchez (W-nahk' chee or Nah'-chee) once lived in the area that is now Natchez, Mississippi. The Natchez Indians were among the last Indian groups to inhabit the area now known as southwestern Mississippi. "Their direct ancestors known as the Plaquemine culture can be traced back to about 1200 A.D. The Natchez language was related to several other native languages in the Southeast and links the Plaquemine people to still earlier cultures in the Lower Mississippi River Valley". (The Southern Frontier pg 34-40) In fact, prior to European contact, the Natchez tribe had towns and settlements throughout the southeast from what is now Eastern Oklahoma to North and South Carolina.
The Natchez people live on scattered family farms, growing corn, bean and squash. They also hunted, fished and gathered wild plant foods. The primary division of labour was by sex. Women were responsible for cultivating the fields, gathering wild-plant food, cooking and preserving food, rearing the young children, and manufacturing such basic domestic items as cordage, baskets, pottery, and clothing. Men assumed the primary roles of warriors and hunters, occupations that often took them away from the village for extended periods of time. Men also cleared the fields by girdling trees, assisted in the harvest, constructed houses and public buildings, and manufactured ceremonial objects and implements for personal use.
[T]he economic foundation of the Southeast Indians was maize, the cultivation of which was well established in most areas by the time of first European contact in the mid-16th century (The Southern Frontier pg 73). Several varieties of maize were grown. The importance of maize cultivation to the way of life of the southern Indians cannot be mistaken. Not only did maize supply a high yield of healthy food with a minimal costs of labour, but maize, beans, and squash could be easily dried and stored for later consumption. This reliable food base enabled men to spend much time away from their villages on hunting, trading, and war expeditions.
The tribe was led by a hereditary chief and was divided into classes of nobility and commoners. The highly structured class system of the Natchez consisted of four groups: three upper classes, composed hierarchically of the suns, the nobles, and the honoured people, and a lower class of commoners (or stinkards, as they are referred to in the early French sources). [U]pper class individuals were required to marry into the lower class of commoners, and many commoners also married other commoners. (The Indians of the Southeastern United States pg 198)