Published on March 31, 2012 by Amy
In the age of European exploration, beginning in the 16th century, Louisiana was inhabited by peoples of three Native American language groups: the Caddoan, Muskogean, and Tunican. Caddoan peoples included the Caddo, Natchitoches, Yatasi, and Adai. They lived in the northwestern part of the present state. The Muskogean peoples, who included the Houma, Choctaw, Acolapissa, and Taensa, lived in east central Louisiana on or near the Mississippi River. Most of the Tunicans, including the Chitimacha, Atakapa, and several smaller groups, lived along the Gulf Coast; the small Koroa group inhabited northeastern Louisiana.
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Eventually many of these peoples moved away, as did the Caddo in the 1830s, or were greatly reduced by war, disease, or intermarriage. As some groups disappeared, others migrated into Louisiana in waves occurring in the mid-1760s and mid-1790s.
The Chitimacha, Houma, Tunica-Biloxi, Coushatta, and Choctaw still have communities in Louisiana.
One of the southern most Louisiana parishes, Terrebonne Parish was established March 22, 1822, from the southern part of Lafourche Interior, bordering upon the Gulf of Mexico.
Houma, the seat of Terrebonne Parish is known as the Venice of America because of its many waterways and bayous. The town was named after the Houmas Indians, whose war emblem was the crawfish. It is located on the Intracoastal Canal that is directly connected to the Gulf of Mexico by the Houma Navigation Canal.
Historians say the Houmas Indians originally came from Mississippi and Alabama and settled near Baton Rouge. After many conflicts with other Indian tribes and to escape the encroachment of the white man, the Houmas Indians continued moving south to more remote areas. They settled in Terrebonne Parish and today we still see remnants of that civilization.
…as darkness fell the interior was illuminated by enormous (15′ high, two feet thick) cane torches. The Houma men were fairly tall, averaging about 5′ 10″ with breechcloths extending to the knee with a mantle of turkey feathers added for warmth or decoration. Women were bare to the waist with a short skirt. Both sexes wore their hair long and braided, and there was extensive use of body and face tattooing. The French also noticed that the older Houma men, including the chief, had flattened foreheads, but the practice seemed to be ending, since none of the younger men had their appearance altered in this manner. Agriculture provided most of the Houma diet, and the village was surrounded by fields in which they grew corn, beans, squash, melons and sunflowers. Hunting and fishing, using dugout rather than birchbark canoes, provided the remainder.
The Houma probably numbered 3,000 in 1650. Iberville said that the Houma had 350 warriors (1,800 total) in 1699. A deadly dysentery the following year cut this in half. During the next thirty years, the tribes along the lower Mississippi were hit by more than a dozen epidemics which resulted in population losses exceeding 90%. War, alcohol, and massacre also contributed. By the time New Orleans was founded in 1718, the Houma had fallen to less than 400, and the French afterwards combined them with the neighboring Acolapissa and Bayougoula. Only fifty years before, these three tribes would have totaled almost 10,000, but by 1718 only 1,000 had survived. Smallpox in 1721 killed another half, and the count of 1739, using Houma as the name of all three tribes, was less than 300. The Spanish census of 1768 listed 250 Houma on the “Humas Coast” north of New Orleans. At first glance, this would indicate that their population had stabilized, but this was not the case.
To escape British rule after the French defeat in 1763, large numbers of French native allies moved west of the Mississippi River. Louisiana became a “melting pot” of many small tribes, and the Houma counts only reflect the fact that they had absorbed some of the newcomers. Afterwards, the decline returned to its former rate. By the time the United States purchased Louisiana in 1803, the Americans could find only 60 Houma. There were, however, an undetermined number at the time living in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes in southern Louisiana. However, their native bloodlines were mixed, and further confusion was added by intermarriage with whites and blacks during the 1800s. Although their own figures indicated there were 900 Houma in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes at the turn of the century, the 1910 census gave only 120 Native Americans in these locations. It appears that the Houma figures were either more accurate, or there was an amazing increase in their birth rate during the next twenty years. By 1920 the number reported had jumped to 639 with 936 in 1930. Although their petition for federal status was denied in 1994, the 11,000 members of the United Houma Nation are recognized by Louisiana state and are currently the largest tribe in the state.
Sometimes given as Ouma (French) or Huma. The name translates literally as “red” and is apparently a shortened form of Saktci-homma, the name of the Chakchiuma meaning “red crawfish.” Houma in southern Louisiana are sometimes referred to as Sabine, a derogatory term usually intended as a racial insult.