Information on Louisiana Indian tribes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When visitors come into the Louisiana Treasures Museum, they always ask questions about the Louisiana Indians. The school children seem to linger at these cases the longest and ask some pretty good questions. So this week, I would like to give you some information about the Louisiana Indian tribes.

The Indians had no alphabet and no record of words or an alphabet. They would draw pictures of things, and the early explorers such as the French, Spanish and English would then interpret the drawings, each in a different way, thus giving names to the drawings. Many towns, rivers, parishes and other things derived from the names that the Indians had given them through pictures.

Here are a few examples of the names given by the Indians. The Choctaw Indians gave the name bayou, meaning river, Atchafalaya, meaning long river, Natalbany, meaning lone bear, and Ponchatoula, meaning Spanish moss or singing hair. The Micmac Indians gave the name Acadia, meaning a place.

Indians had a very hard life, and the average lifespan was only about 35. In south Louisiana, the homes were built from small tree branches and then covered with vegetation. They also built around our lakes because the main food was clams. Today, you might see a large mound of clam shells near a river; this mound is from over hundreds of years of eating clams. The lime that is in the clam shells helps preserve things that were thrown down in the piles. Several years ago, at Ruddock, I found petrified Indian feces that dates back over one thousand years. Yes, it is on display at the museum.

The Louisiana Indians also were hunters and would use the animals they killed for their daily needs. They used the hides for clothing and to make shoes and the bones for weapons and tools. They even used the intestines from the animals for different things.

Louisiana was the home of many tribes of Indians. A few of the tribes that lived in Louisiana were Tangipahoa, Washa, Muskogee, Koroa, Natchitoches and Houma.

The Louisiana Treasures Museum has collections of arrowheads, game stones, jewelry, cooking stones, pottery and many other items that were used by the Indians. For more information or hours of operation call 225-294-8352. Tours are also available upon request.

Wayne Norwood is a lieutenant with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Department and owner and operator of the Louisiana Treasures Museum.