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The Natchez Story: Pre-history

An artists illustration of the Emerald Mound Site, (22 AD 504), a Plaquemine culture mound site in Adams County, Mississippi inhabited from 1200 to 1700 CE. Illustrated by Herb Roe 2011.

An artists illustration of the Emerald Mound Site, (22 AD 504), a Plaquemine culture mound site in Adams County, Mississippi inhabited from 1200 to 1700 CE. Illustrated by Herb Roe 2011.

I’m not sure when the Natchez people first came to call themselves the Natchez, but they are undoubtedly descendents of what archaeologists call the Mississippian culture. The ancestors of the Natchez probably lived continuously in the Southeastern part of North America from around 9500 B.C. Archaeologists call this period “Paleo”, followed by the “Archaic” (8000 B.C.–600 B.C.), followed by the “Woodland” (600 B.C.–750 A.D.). The “Mississippian” era is from 1050 A.D.–1400 A.D. The Natchez were definitely established by 1542 when they roundly defeated part of De Soto’s expedition army near a site known today as the Emerald Mound, named after the Emerald Plantation nearby.

Emerald Mound today

Emerald Mound today

“Covering eight acres, Emerald Mound measures 770 by 435 feet at the base and is 35 feet high [making it the second largest mound next to Monk’s Mound at 100 feet high, 955 feet long including the access ramp at the southern end, and 775 feet wide]. The mound was built by depositing earth along the sides of a natural hill, thus reshaping it and creating an enormous artificial plateau. Emerald Mound, built and used during the Mississippian period between 1250 and 1600 A.D.,was a ceremonial center for the local population, which resided in outlying villages and hamlets. Its builders were ancestors of the Natchez Indians. By the late 1600s, the Natchez had abandoned Emerald Mound and established their capital at the “Grand Village” some 12 miles to the southwest.” [from Emerald Mound National Historic Landmark]

To put this into perspective, Monks Mound is roughly the same size at its base as the Great Pyramid of Giza (13.1 acres / 5.3 hectares). Its base circumference is larger than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. For more information on Monks Mound at Cahokia read the Native American Antiquity article on “The Lost City of Cahokia”.

“The Natchez (pronounced Nah’-Chee, Nauche, or W’Nahx’-Chee) Nation, is a precursor and confederator of the “original” Muscogee (Creek) Confederacy. W’Nahx’-Chee means “fast warrior(s)” in the Natchez language. Prior to the arrival of northern Europeans, and in non-Native terms “in pre-historic times”, Natchez Nation stretched from what is now North Carolina into Oklahoma; from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Ours were some of the world’s largest cities of the time.” [From the Natchez website]

“The Muscogee (Creek) people are descendents of a remarkable culture that, before 1500 AD, spanned all the region known today as the Southeastern United States. Early ancestors of the Muscogee constructed magnificent earthen pyramids along the rivers of this region as part of their elaborate ceremonial complexes. The historic Muscogee later built expansive towns within these same broad river valleys in the present states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. The Muscogee were not one tribe but a union of several. This union evolved into a confederacy that, in the Euro-American described “historic period,” was the most sophisticated political organization north of Mexico. Member tribes were called tribal towns. Within this political structure, each tribal town maintained political autonomy and distinct land holdings.

“The confederacy was dynamic in its capacity to expand. New tribal towns were born of “Mother towns” as populations increased. The confederation was also expanded by the addition of tribes conquered by towns of the confederacy, and, in time, by the incorporation of tribes and fragments of tribes devastated by the European imperial powers. Within this confederacy, the language and the culture of the founding tribal towns became dominant.” [From the Muscogee website]

Some of the original tribes of the confederacy included the Natchez, Powhaten, Calusa, Cofitachiqui, and Creek. (Cofitachiqui, was probably a Cherokee chief encountered by the De Soto expedition).

After defeating the De Soto army, the Natchez suffered extensive losses from diseases they picked up from the Spaniards. This is suspected of being the reason they left the Emerald Mound area. Again from the Natchez website: “After initial decimation from European (De Soto) contact by virtue of influenza, smallpox, cholera, chicken pox, war against the French and the like, Natchez Nation lived with and remained to have great influence on their previous confederates.”

K. T. "Hutke" Fields, Principal Chief, Natchez Nation

K. T. “Hutke” Fields, Principal Chief, Natchez Nation

“The Natchez have a traditional form of government dating back VERY LONG before European contact. In “all actuality” Natchez can be considered the oldest continually functioning government on the face of the earth (see Natchezan, Mississippian, Hopewell, Adena, Spiro/Caddo…cultures).

“Four primary or principal clan mothers “Vliketv Etske” or in Natchez, Kwalneeshoo Tenvwete, represent their own and related clans and are responsible for maintaining continuity of the nation and all of its judicial functions. Principal Clan Mothers are also referred to as “Law Keepers,” Etske Ostat Vhvkv Nvkvfvstv, Hvnusu in Natchez. The Natchez are the “original four-mother-nation.” The principal clan mothers are considered to be the “four mothers” of the entire people.

“Tribal affairs are managed by what is referred to as the Principal or Peace Chief (Uvcenv Cunv Uvsel; The Great Sun) and the Principal War Chief (Uvcenv Cunv Esv or Vnksev). The latter is sometimes referred to as the First Warrior or Second Chief. The two work in harmony and are selected by virtue of their traits and expertise for lifetime appointments, as are the clan mothers. Among the duties of the “Sun Chief” are maintaining internal affairs and calling together the “Council of Suns (Natchez confederated council)” or a “Great Council of the Suns”. The Great Council of Suns, was once the combined leadership of the southeast tribes; the ultimate decision making body and includes all “Suns” that have received adult names as represented by the principal clan mothers. The Great Council also includes leaders of associated tribes.” [from the Natchez website]


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