Migrations of the Tunica
Migrations of the Tunica

These excerpts from the De Soto narratives have not been quoted at such length to emphasize the "bellicose" nature of ancient Quizquiz so much as to demonstrate the character and achievements of the early Tunica. Quizquiz almost certainly represents the first record of the people known to later history as the Tunica. There are several points of interest, then about this "province so large and good," that are pertinent to our story.

The confrontation at Quizquiz was certainly of no little significance. The Spaniards had been severely bloodied in conflicts with other Indian groups just prior to arriving at Quizquiz, and being confronted by the prospect of determined resistance (reportedly reinforced by "almost four thousand armed warriors...within less than three hours after their arrival in town" [Garcilaso 1951:425]), they sued for peace. This was a most novel move for the hitherto arrogant and uncompromising conquistadores. It is significant that it was at Quizquiz they were first brought to humbler attitudes, for it was there that they first encountered a segment of the great Mississippian cultural development. These were peoples who could raise great armies in a few hours; but these were also peoples whose men tended the agricultural fields, and who built walled towns containing large mounds upon which their chiefs were accustomed to reside. These peoples were ancestors of the Tunica.

Quizquiz was located in nothwestern Mississippi near the town of Friars Point and a short distance above the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. It is an interesting historical footnote that this point was the southern frontier of the Mississippian thrust in the mid-sixteenth century. It is a coincidence of even greater significance for the history of the tribe that the area can be linked with the Tunica. The place offered a strategic riverine position which was a primary consideration in the location of Tunica settlements. It also provided a rich natural environment that supported the large population.

Here a break in the historical record must be recognized before the story can be continued. There was a gap of more than a century and a half before European contact next was made with the Tunica and at that time they were a modest tribe who numbered only a few hundred warriors, a pale reflection of great Quizquiz (even discounting the customary exaggerations of the De Soto narratives). While the Spanish entrada had little immediate political, cultural, or economic effect upon the Indians, its biological effect must have been enormous. Unaccustomed diseases were introduced which ravaged the native population. The Quizquiz and their neighbors must have suffered horribly. The Quizquiz-Tunica responded to the resulting epidemics, famine, warfare, and population shifts by moving south sometime between 1541 and 1699.


    We arrived at the Tonicas [Tunica] about sixty leagues below the Ankanseas [the Arkansas Indians near the mouth of the river that still bear their name]. The first village is four leagues from the Micissippi inland on the bank of a quite pretty river; they are dispersed in little villages; they cover in all four leagues of country; they are about 260 cabins.... They are very peaceable people, well disposed, much attached to the French, living entirely on Indian corn, they are employed solely on their fields; they do not hunt like the other Indians [La Source 1861:80-81].

In 1699, as described above, the French found the Tunica on the Yazoo River near its confluence with the Mississippi. La Source was with an intrepid group of missionaries from Quebec who were looking for "new souls to save," and in the process were to serve the imperial aspirations of France as she strove for control of the Mississippi Valley. The first contact returned the Tunica to history, and the fact that they were of such good nature and well disposed to the French brought them the attentions of the French missionary effort.

A certain Father Antoine Davion was a member of La Source's group, and he elected to establish a mission among the Tunica. He was already elderly when he established his post, and he apparently had great difficulty learning the native languages. Nevertheless, he was remarkable among the early French missionaries in sticking to his post for some 20 years even though his labors produced few converts.

Although Father Davion's service to his God was with little reward - and he eventually returned to France to die in disappointment and disgrace - he had helped establish strong ties between the French and the Tunica. Davion saw himself as an instrument of God, but the Tunica apparently viewed him as the means to direct and continuing access to European material culture. They rejected his religion, but avidly accept his worldly goods. This response to European contact was not unusual among native groups, but in this special case of the Tunica it has more than usual significance, for it is a key to their distinctive lifeway and to their subsequent history.

That the Tunica were the heirs to ancient Quizquiz is indicated by their apparent emphasis upon agriculture, as cited above, and the suggestion that such activities were the responsibility of the men, an unusual development among native North Americans. Further support is provided by Father Gravier, a contemporary of Davion's. Who specifically notes that unlike other tribes, "the men do here what peasants do in France; they cultivate and dig the earth, plant and harvest the crops... The women do only indoor work, make the earthen pots and their clothes" (Gravier 1861:134-135). Additional indication of the identification of the Tunica with Quizquiz is provided by the fact that when the Tunica left the vicinity of the mouth of the Arkansas, they settled at the next major riverine confluence to the south: that of the Yazoo and the Mississippi.

The two facts cited above - the Tunica taste for European goods and their choice for settlement at prime commercial crossroads - are significant observations. The Tunica not only recognized the value of the newly introduced items, but they were able to "capitalize" upon them in the classic economic sense of the word. Their success is dramatically demonstrated by the extraordinary wealth of European material that has been recovered from the Trudeau site, to be discussed below.

Kettles, hoes, axes, plates, and mugs
Kettles, hoes, axes, plates, and mugs are just a few of the types of European manufactured goods that the Tunica acquired. (These artifacts from Trudeau were conserved by, and photographs were provided by, the Tunica-Biloxi Indians.)

As already mentioned, the desirability of European technology and its artifacts was recognized by all native groups. What makes the Tunica case exceptional is that they were able to accumulate unusual quantities, in fact unprecedented quantities, of these goods. They did so making themselves indispensable to the French in two ways. First, as overtly stated in the contemporary records, the Tunica were important allies in the political and military schemes of the French (and to a lesser extent other colonial powers) during the initial contact period. A secondary importance, hitherto given little recognition, was their less obvious but more enduring economic ability. The Tunica were traders and entrepreneurs of the first order, as is most clearly manifested by their control of such major communication points as river confluences. They were not mere toll collectors, however; for there is evidence that they controlled a vital element of trade. They were a major factor in the manufacture and distribution of salt, an indispensable commodity to native and European alike. As observed by the great historian, John R. Swanton:
    The Tunica were much engaged in the boiling down and selling of salt [1946:819].

    When the French entered the country, trade in salt was still active but most salt seems to have been extracted in northern Louisiana. The Tunica Indians are particularly mentioned in connection with it... [1946:738].

    By 1682, the Tunica had concentrated upon the Yazoo River a few miles above its mouth, though parties were scattered through the forests of northeastern Louisiana to boil salt with which they were in the habit of trading...[1946:197-198].

The trade in salt was clearly a prehistoric development that the Tunica were able to turn to their advantage with the Europeans as well. To the credit of the Tunica, however, and to their ultimate advantage, they were not committed to this one final resource, as we shall see.