[Note: This is a single part of what will be, by my classification, about 240 compact tribal histories (contact to 1900). It is limited to the lower 48 states of the U.S. but also includes those First Nations from Canada and Mexico that had important roles (Huron, Micmac, Assiniboine, etc.).
This history's content and style are representative. The normal process at this point is to circulate an almost finished product among a peer group for comment and criticism. At the end of this History you will find links to those Nations referred to in the History of the Houma.
Using the Internet, this can be more inclusive. Feel free to comment or suggest corrections via e-mail. Working together we can end some of the historical misinformation about Native Americans. You will find the ego at this end to be of standard size. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to your comments... Lee Sultzman.
Originally, east-central Mississippi as part of the Chakchiuma. By 1682 the Houma had separated from the Chakchiuma and were living a few miles inland from the east bank of the Mississippi River just below the present border between Mississippi and Louisiana. Attacked by the Tunica in 1708, the Houma resettled just above New Orleans. They remained there until
1722 when they moved, due to the pressure of white settlement, a short distance upstream to Ascension Parish. In 1776 they sold their land east of the river and crossed over to Assumption Parish on the opposite side. During the next 50 years they gradually drifted south into Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes southwest of New Orleans. Most of their descendents are still there today and live in or in the vicinity of Montagne, Golden Meadow, and Dulac-Grand Caillou.
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.
Muskogean - closely related to Chakchiuma, Chickasaw, and Choctaw.
The Houma seem to have had more than one village but no names were recorded until the 1720s when they were simply called Little Houma and Great Houma. Beginning with the Quinipissa in 1698, the Houma survived by absorbing people from almost every small tribe in the region. By 1739 they had merged with the Acolapissa and Bayougoula, and during the next two centuries, they apparently added a sprinkling of Alibamu, Atakapa, Biloxi, Chitamacha, Chatot, Choctaw, Mobile, Pascagoula, Pensacola, Taensa, and Tunica.
Because of the similarity in their names, and the totem of both tribes was the red crayfish, it would seem that the Houma were once part of the Chakchiuma who lived along the upper Yazoo River in Mississippi. The Houma apparently separated from the Chakchiuma sometime after 1540 and moved west to the east bank of the Mississippi River. The lifestyle of the Houma was typical of other small Muskogean-speaking tribes in the lower Mississippi Valley, and in 1699 there were still indications of their links to the earlier Mississippian mound builders. The main Houma village was located on a hillside away from the river to protect it from flood. Its 140 wattle and daub houses were arranged into the hillside in a circular pattern of two rows around a large public area in the center. Three major structures on platform mounds dominated the public area; two of which were temples in which the village priest maintained the Houma's eternal fire. Welcoming ceremonies followed formal ritual in 1699. A delegation bearing a calumet greeted the French at the river landing and conducted them to point just outside the village where they waited until receiving permission from the Houma chief to enter the village itself.
The chief received them in the public area, and after an exchange of gifts, a ritual ball game and three-hour dance followed. Drums were fashioned from large gourds with the seeds still inside. A dinner was served afterwards inside the large public home of the chief, and 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.
While De Soto wintered with the Chickasaw near the middle Tennessee River during the winter of 1540-41, they asked for his assistance in putting down a revolt by the Chakchiuma, one of their tributary tribes to the southwest. De Soto suspected this was a plot to divide his army but, after putting his soldiers on alert, sent a small force with the Chickasaw warriors to attack the Chakchiuma. The fortified village was abandoned when they arrived, and after setting it afire, the Spanish returned to their camp without meeting the Chakchiuma. Two years later, De Soto had died and been secretly buried in the water of the Mississippi River. After a failed attempt to reach Mexico overland through Texas, the battered remnant of his army had returned to the Mississippi and loaded into a makeshift fleet to fight its way down the river to reach the Gulf of Mexico. Although they passed the historic location of the Houma on the east side of the river, the Spanish made no mention of them.
It would appear that the Houma did not meet a European until 1686. Robert La Salle and Henri de Tonti came down the Mississippi in the spring of 1682 enroute to the mouth of Mississippi where, in April, 1682, La Salle claimed the Mississippi Valley (Louisiana) and its native peoples, including the Houma, for France. From his visits with the Taensa and Natchez upstream, La Salle knew of the Houma and marked their location on his map, but he did not visit them. Just above the future location of New Orleans, he noted a destroyed Tangipahoa (see Acolapissa) village, the result of a recent war with the Houma. Upon his return to Illinois, La Salle announced his "discovery," but the French officials in Canada were preoccupied with the war in the Great Lakes against the Iroquois and displayed little interest in the vast region La Salle had just added to the French Empire. Realizing that Spain also had claims to the area, La Salle left Tonti in charge of his post in Illinois and returned to France to win support for his plan to establish a new French colony at the mouth of the Mississippi.
Unfortunately, the French government in Paris had its own problems with Britain and Spain that would finally result in the King William's War (1688-97). Many felt that La Salle's plan to fortify the mouth of the Mississippi and invade Mexico was the work of a madman, but the idea of annoying his Spanish enemies appealed to Louis XIV. La Salle received royal approval and sailed from France in 1685 with 200 colonists, some of whom had been recruited from French prisons. The plan called for Tonti to come downstream in 1686 for a rendezvous at the mouth of the river, but La Salle's navigator somehow managed to miss the enormous delta at the mouth of the Mississippi and deposit the expedition on the coast of Texas, 400 miles to the west. Tonti arrived as scheduled and, while enroute, had stopped and spent five days with the Houma, their first known European contact. He also managed to make peace with the Quinipissa downstream who had attacked the French expedition in 1682.
Tonti reached the mouth of the river, but no one was there. He waited until his supplies ran out and returned to Illinois leaving a letter for La Salle with the Quinipissa chief. La Salle never saw it. In March, 1687, while attempting to reach the Mississippi to find help for his floundering colony, he was murdered by his own men on the plains of eastern Texas. Tonti did not learn of this until 1689 but immediately departed Illinois to rescue the survivors of La Salle's colony. However, he stopped at the Taensa village upstream of the Houma to proceed overland to Texas. Tonti met with the Caddo to the west, but his effort was in vain. Most of La Salle's ill-fated colony had already been massacred by the Karankawa. Further European contact for the Houma had to wait until the end of the King William's War in 1697.
France emergence from this conflict as the dominant power in North America was due in no small part to the extraordinary exploits of a 36-year-old naval officer, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville. Although the King William's War against Britain and Spain and the simultaneous Beaver Wars with the Iroquois had completely occupied the French after La Salle's failure in Texas, Louis XIV had not forgotten Louisiana. However, nothing had been done in the interim to exploit the region, and when an oversupply of beaver fur on the European market created a drastic fall in its price, Louis suddenly "got religion" and decided to listen to Jesuit protests about the detrimental effect the fur trade was having on Native Americans. The result was a royal decree in 1696 suspending the French fur trade in the western Great Lakes. The decision was a complete disaster for the French in North America.
The fur trade was the basis for the French alliance with the Great Lakes Algonquian, and the suspension took effect just as the Iroquois were on the verge of defeat. As the supply of trade goods dwindled, the Algonquian tribes in Wisconsin began to harass the French trading with their Dakota enemies, Tonti's operation in Illinois ground to a halt, and the lone French presence on the lower Mississippi, the Arkansas Post near the Quapaw villages at the mouth of the Arkansas River, ran out of trade goods. Urgent appeals for relief were dispatched from Quebec to Paris, but Louis would not listen. Meanwhile, British traders had rapidly extended their operations west from Charleston, South Carolina. Utilizing their contacts with the Lower Creeks in Georgia, they had built a trading post among the Upper Creeks in Alabama during 1685 and soon afterwards were visiting the Chickasaw in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee. The drop in the price of beaver fur had almost no effect on the Charleston traders. Besides deerskins, they wanted native slaves for the British plantations in the Carolinas and West Indies and were willing to provide firearms to any tribe that would provide these.
Pressured by the more-numerous Choctaw to the south, the Chickasaw found the offer attractive, and beginning in the 1690s, heavily-armed Chickasaw warriors began to attack neighboring tribes to capture slaves for the British. Jean Couture, whom Tonti had left in charge at the Arkansas Post, was without trade goods and, after the royal decree, was unlikely to get any more. Rather than allow the British to steal his customers through default, Couture decided to guide the Charleston trader Thomas Welch to Arkansas Post in 1698. Welch gave the Quapaw thirty guns to acquire the "merchandise" for his next visit by attacking the Chakchiuma east of the river. However, the Quapaw were more interested in territory than slaves and used their new weapons to drive the Chepoussa and Michigamea of the Illinois Confederation from northeastern Arkansas. When word of Welch's visit and Couture's betrayal reached Quebec, the French realized they would have to immediately reassert their authority over the lower Mississippi Valley or lose it to the British.
With the trade suspension still in effect, the initial effort was by missionaries. The bishop of Quebec declared Louisiana part of his diocese and sent the Jesuits Francis Antoine Davion and Joliet de Montigny down the Mississippi to establish missions in the area. Davion visited several of the Chickasaw villages but, after a decidedly cool reception to his message, decided that the Chickasaw were already under British influence and chose to locate his mission with the Tunica near the mouth of the Yazoo River. With the ink hardly dry on the peace treaty, another European war (Queen Anne's War 1701-13) was rapidly approaching, but Spain had switched sides in the meantime and had allied with France against Great Britain. As preparations got underway in France in 1698 for Iberville to lead an expedition to establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi, the Spanish found themselves in the awkward position of being unable to oppose an ally. They did, however, quickly build a new fort at Pensacola to protect their claim to the Gulf Coast.
Iberville's fleet departed France late in 1698 and arrived off Pensacola in January. Noting the new Spanish fort, he proceeded west towards the mouth of the Mississippi but could not find his way through the maze of waterways in the delta (the same obstacle that had prevented Spanish exploration of the lower river after De Soto). In February Iberville decided to anchor to the east at Biloxi and travel overland to locate the Mississippi. Much had changed since Tonti's visit in 1686. Chickasaw raids had combined with disease to decimate the native populations in the area, and the signs of death and destruction were everywhere in the form of burned and abandoned villages. The few natives seen were either skittish or hostile, for they had learned the hard way to associate a white face with the British slave hunters who frequently accompanied the Chickasaw war parties. However, Iberville's younger brother, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne d'Bienville, met a Bayougoula hunting party in the area looking for buffalo. Once they were assured that the French did not intend to enslave them, the Bayougoula were friendly and invited the French to visit their village on the west bank of the Mississippi.
In March, 1699 Iberville, accompanied by his brothers, Bienville and Sauvole, and Father Anatasius Douay, was guided to the Bayougoula village by a Biloxi warrior. Living in the same village at the time was a second tribe, the Mugulasha. In order to prove that he was on the same river as La Salle had been when he had claimed Louisiana for France in 1682, Iberville needed to find the Quinipissa and the letter Tonti had left with their chief. However, the Bayougoula and Mugulasha chiefs said that they had never heard of this tribe. Suspicions were aroused when the French learned the Mugulasha chief not only had the blue serge coat La Salle had given the Quinipissa chief in 1682, but the same name as the Quinipissa chief. A glass bottle from Tonti was also found in the Bayougoula temple. Despite this, the Bayougoula continued to deny any knowledge of La Salle, Tonti, or the letter. However, they did offer to aid in the search by guiding the French to the Houma just upstream.
Enroute near the mouth of the Red River, the Bayougoula pointed out a large red pole decorated with fish heads and bear bones that marked their boundary with the Houma. Translated into French, the location became known as Baton Rouge, the present-day capital of Louisiana. Because of their friendly meeting with Tonti, the Houma immediately recognized the birchbark canoes of the French and welcomed them in the manner previously described above. They proved more forthcoming about the Quinipissa than the Bayougoula and told Iberville that most of the Quinipissa had died from an epidemic a few years earlier. Some of the survivors had joined the Houma afterwards. Although the Houma had heard of Tonti's letter, they did not have it. Iberville left frustrated and proceeded upstream a short ways before deciding to divide his party into three groups to explore the area during the return to Biloxi.
Running short of provisions, Sauvole stopped at the Bayougoula village to purchase food where Father Douay accused the Bayougoula of stealing his equipment for saying mass. Unable to quiet the outraged priest, Sauvole was forced to leave empty-handed to avoid trouble. Soon afterwards, Bienville also visited, and perhaps trying to make amends for the incident with Father Douay, the Bayougoula gave him Tonti's letter which they had kept in secret. As it turned out, the Mugulasha were the Quinipissa, but the Bayougoula had avoided telling the French out of fear that they were still angry for the attack on La Salle. But Iberville was delighted and, leaving Sauvole in charge at Biloxi, took Tonti's letter with him when he returned to France in May. During his absence, Tonti arrived at Biloxi that fall looking for work, and told his services would be welcome, left several of his men at Fort Maurepas when he returned upstream to close his post in Illinois. Iberville returned in January, only to learn the that in September Bienville had discovered a British ship making its way up the Mississippi 70 miles above the mouth.
Bienville informed the captain that he was trespassing into territory claimed by France and ordered him to leave only to be informed that Britain also claimed the area and were planning to colonize it with disaffected French Huguenots. Since it was now obvious that the Mugulasha were the Quinipissa, Iberville cornered the Bayougoula chief during his next visit to Biloxi and got him to sell a piece of land downstream for the construction of a French fort to block British access to the river. Construction began immediately on Fort Mississippi but was hampered by a chronic diarrhea that had broken out among the French at Biloxi. With the work underway, Iberville proceeded with his plans to explore the Red River that spring and sent Bienville and Louis Juchereau de St. Denis ahead to the Taensa for guides and supplies to make the overland journey to the Caddo villages near Natchitoches. Iberville followed but stopped first at the Bayougoula village. He purchased a field from the Mugulasha and had it sown with wheat to feed the French at Biloxi.
While there, he learned that the same dysentery that was plaguing the French had spread to the tribes along the Mississippi with far more deadly results. He was powerless to stop the epidemic, but the Bayougoula had started a war with the Houma that winter, and the Houma and their Taensa allies had retaliated with a surprise attack that had captured many of the Bayougoula women and children. Anxious for their return, the Bayougoula asked Iberville to be the "master of peace" and arrange a truce with the Houma. The French were good at this, and their ability to resolve intertribal disputes had been a major reason for their power over the tribes in the Great Lakes. Iberville proceeded upstream on his peace-making mission to the Houma, but his welcome this time was not nearly as joyous as in 1699. The dysentery had struck that spring killing half of them. Even with their Taensa allies, the Houma had been weakened to the point that they could no longer continue their war against the Bayougoula. Iberville had no trouble arranging a peace before he left. Meanwhile, Father de Limoges remained behind to establish a mission for the Houma. When Father Gravier visited that November, Limoges had already built a chapel and performed several baptisms.
At the Natchez villages, Iberville found their Great Sun (chief) dying of the same disease that had caused such devastation among the Houma. The journey upstream was stressful, and by the time he arrived at the Taensa villages, Iberville's knees bothered his so much that he was forced to send Bienville and St. Denis on alone to the Caddo while he returned to Biloxi. They reached Natchitoches and beyond, but on the return, Bienville chose to follow the Red River all the way to Mississippi. Quickly growing tired of the French insistence of wading through one swamp after another, the Taensa deserted them, but Bienville finally reached the Bayougoula on the Mississippi only to learn that something terrible had transpired in his absence. It is unclear whether it was a dispute over the land sales to the French; the French discovery of the Mugulasha's true identity; or the Mugulasha had secretly aided their Quinipissa relatives among the Houma during the war - but the Bayougoula had suddenly turned on their Mugulasha guests and massacred every last one of them.
This self-inflicted reduction in their population left the Bayougoula more susceptible to attacks by the Chickasaw, and they invited some of the Acolapissa and Tioux to take their place. For obvious reasons, the offer was declined. With the outbreak of the Queen Anne's War in 1701, Iberville moved his operations to new fort on Mobile Bay to be closer to the Spanish at Pensacola. A few French remained at Biloxi, while St. Denis and his Canadians continued to garrison Fort Mississippi. Iberville's most pressing concern was that the Chickasaw would form an alliance with the British against the French. To prevent this, he sent Tonti to arrange a truce between the Chickasaw and Choctaw so that the Chickasaw minkos (chiefs) could attend a peace conference with him at Mobile in the spring of 1702. Tonti succeeded, but because some Chickasaw refused to stop their raids, he had to personally escort their leaders to Mobile.
Once the customary gifts had been distributed, Iberville got down to business with threats to arm the Choctaw and other tribes if the Chickasaw did not end their ties (slave raids) with the British. However, at the same time, he promised to supply them with French trade goods at prices far lower than what the British were charging. The Chickasaw agreed and signed a treaty recognizing French authority in the region, and an uneasy peace settled over the lower Mississippi Valley during the next three years. Iberville was recalled to military service soon afterwards and left Louisiana never to return. While leading the French expedition that captured the West Indian island of Nevis from the British in 1706, he contracted yellow fever and died on a ship in Havana harbor. Sauvole had died in 1701, and Tonti had also succumbed to yellow fever when it hit Mobile in 1704. By default, French leadership in Louisiana passed to Iberville's 23 year-old brother, Bienville.
Peace with the Chickasaw brought relief to Louisiana, but in the east, South Carolina colonists, as part of the Queen Anne's War, had combined with their Yamasee, Cherokee, and Creek allies to destroy the Spanish missions in northern Florida (1703-05). During the next few years, hundreds of Apalachee, Chatot and Tawasa (Creek) refugees fled to the protection of the French at Mobile. British privateers captured and burned Pensacola in 1707, and the following year, an Alibamu, Catawba, and Cherokee war party, acting in the British interest, attacked the refugee villages near Mobile. However, they avoided the French fort which survived the war as the only French or Spanish military post on the Gulf Coast. After the Chickasaw had signed their treaty with Iberville in 1702, British traders had lowered prices to meet the new competition from the French and redoubled their visits to the Chickasaw. By 1705 the minkos who signed the treaty at Mobile could no longer control their warriors, and the slave raids resumed.
Bienville honored his brother's pledge and armed the Choctaw, Houma, and other French allies in the region. He also began using Choctaw mercenaries to attack British pack trains enroute to the Chickasaw, but the French could not provide enough weapons to equal the armament that the British had given the Chickasaw over the years. Threatened by both the Chickasaw and Yazoo, the Taensa abandoned their villages in northeast Louisiana in the spring of 1706 and accepted the Bayougoula offer to settle with them. Perhaps the Taensa were unwilling to wait until the Bayougoula got mad and massacred them one night, but soon after their arrival, they attacked the Bayougoula killing most of them. The 200 who escaped the slaughter fled downstream to Bayou St. John where they settled under the protection of the Acolapissa on the north side of Lake Ponchartrain.
Meanwhile, the renewal of Chickasaw raids in 1706 also forced the Tunica to leave the mouth of the Yazoo River. They moved downstream towards the French. Their relations with the Natchez had never been friendly, so the Tunica had to find a place beyond them, and the Houma just downstream gave the Tunica permission to settle in their territory. The Tunica were a trading tribe, and the Houma's location near the mouth of the Red River appealed to them. In fact, it appealed to them so much that they wanted it for themselves and attacked the Houma. Half were killed, and the Houma survivors joined the similarly dispossessed Bayougoula downstream at Bayou St. John. Ironically, being battered and driven from their homes actually made the Bayougoula and Houma more important to the French. After they formed an alliance with the Acolapissa, the three tribes together were suddenly one of the most powerful French allies along the lower Mississippi River.
After their massacre of the Bayougoula, the Taensa had occupied their lands. They continued to make mischief by inviting several unsuspecting Chitimacha families to a feast and then capturing them to sell as slaves to the French. In January, 1707 a Chitimacha war party looking for the Taensa decided there was little distinction between slave buyers and sellers and attacked a group of French on the Mississippi River. Killed were Father Jean Francois Buisson de St. Cosme and three other French, but St. Cosme's native slave (the reason for the confrontation) escaped and carried the news to the French. Bienville chose to ignore the circumstances behind the attack and ordered the Chitimacha to bring the murderers to Mobile. When they were too slow in complying with his demands, Bienville asked the other tribes in the area to declare war on them and organized a coalition (Choctaw, Houma, Acolapissa, Bayougoula, Biloxi, Pascagoula, Taensa) which attacked the Chitimacha villages later that year.
A "sacrificial lamb" was ultimately brought to Mobile and executed by tomahawk in the square inside the fort, but the war continued for almost twelve years during which the French and their allies drove the Chitimacha deeper into the swamps of southern Louisiana. The Chawasha and Washa made a separate peace in 1712 and agreed to settle at a designated spot on the Mississippi near the present site of Plaquemine, Louisiana. Although the French enslaved most of the Chitamacha they captured, they were never able to completely defeat them. However, the peace treaty signed in 1718 confined the Chitimacha to a small portion of their original homeland near Grand Lake. The Houma, Acolapissa, and Bayougoula served the French well during this conflict and became well-armed in the process. By 1715 the Taensa had grown so nervous waiting for the inevitable retaliation for their attack on the Bayougoula that they left the area and moved east to Mobile.
Up to this point, there were very few French in Louisiana (less than 200). Towards the end of the Queen Anne's War, the British military threat to Louisiana eased, and Louis XIV awarded a 15-year charter to Antoine Crozat to colonize the lower Mississippi. Crozat replaced Bienville as governor with Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, an experienced official from Canada and, until recently, the commandant of the important post at Detroit. Bienville continued as lieutenant governor, but it was an unhappy arrangement for the four years of Cadillac's administration. Crozat's venture failed to produce profits or settlement, and in 1717 he returned the charter to the king. Louis XIV had died in 1715 and was succeeded by his grandson, unfortunately, Louis XV was only five years old and while he was "growing into his new job," France was ruled by a regent, Phillip II, Duc d'Orleans.
Saddled with enormous debts from the Sun King's exquisite taste in housing (Versailles) and numerous European wars, Phillip took Crozat's charter and gave it to John Law, a Scotsman who was director of the Bank of France. Law had conceived a plan to finance the monarchy's debt through the sale of shares in the Mississippi Company (Company of the Indies). With Phillip's enthusiastic support, Law had little trouble finding people interested in his "get rich quick" scheme. Besides the general public, many investors were important members of the French nobility. Bienville was appointed governor and founded New Orleans in 1718. Located near the mouth of the Mississippi, the new city grew so rapidly that it became the capital of French Louisiana four years later. Law also sold large land grants near New Orleans and Natchez, and a hoard of new colonists arrived in Louisiana, including 2,000 Germans who settled on the Mississippi just north of New Orleans on what became known as the German Coast. Before the "Mississippi Bubble" burst in 1725 due to massive overspeculation, the number of whites in Louisiana had grown to over 5,000. Thousands of Frenchmen lost everything in the financial collapse, and Law left France with a lynch mob at his heels.
So far as the tribes of the lower Mississippi Valley were concerned, the damage had already been done. Besides taking over the land, the new colonists, brought hundreds of black slaves with them and unleashed new diseases (yaws, malaria, leprosy) into region as well some old killers. Living just north of New Orleans, the Houma, Acolapissa, and Bayougoula together numbered close to 1,000, and their 250 warriors had been enough to make the Taensa leave the area. Three years later, a smallpox epidemic in New Orleans had spread north along the river and killed half of them. Although they maintained separate chiefs until the 1750s, the three tribes were virtually one and the same by this time and were increasingly referred to as the Houma. Shortly after the epidemic, the Houma moved upstream to the entrance of Bayou Lafourche in Ascension Parish, where they settled along both sides of the Mississippi at place known afterwards as Houmas Coast.
The Houma remained loyal to the French throughout the remaining years of their rule in Louisiana, serving as auxiliaries in the Natchez (1729-31) and Chickasaw Wars (1731-52) and defending the German Coast from attacks by the British faction during the Choctaw Civil War (1746-50). They prospered in their new location by providing meat and fish to New Orleans, but the French often paid for these services with brandy. Alcoholism proved just as deadly for the Houma as smallpox, and by the time of the French and Indian War (1755-63), Governor Louis Billouart de Kerlerec noted in his 1758 report on the Louisiana tribes that the Houma had been decimated by alcohol and had only 60 warriors. The French and Indian War was the last conflict in the long struggle between Britain and France for North America. After the capture of Quebec in September, 1759, Montreal surrendered the following year. The war continued elsewhere for three more years, but in North America, the British had already won.
The French and their allies were not prepared to accept the outcome. For that matter, neither was France. As peace talks got underway in Paris, France secretly transferred New Orleans and Louisiana west of the Mississippi to Spain in November 1762 to keep it from falling into the hands of the British. The British were surprised when they learned of this deception when the Treaty of Paris was signed the following year, but they wanted peace more than they wanted all of Louisiana. Spain was somewhat overwhelmed by this sudden bequest, and beset by serious problems at home and with its Central and South America colonies, it chose to treat its possession of Louisiana as temporary. The Spanish did not actually try to govern until 1765. Meanwhile, hundreds of French and their native allies abandoned their homes east of the Mississippi in 1763 and crossed the river into Spanish Louisiana.
Adding to the sudden influx were the Arcadian French (Cajuns) that had been expelled from the Canadian Maritimes by the British in 1755. Beside the French, the Houma had to contend with groups of: Alibamu, Biloxi, Chatot, Choctaw, Coushatta, Mobile, Pakana (Creeks), Pascagoula, Pensacola, and their old friends, the Taensa and Tunica. By the time Spain decided to assert its authority in 1765, Louisiana had become a lawless "melting pot" of contending peoples. Unfortunately, the first Spanish governor, Antonio de Ulloa, tried to enforce laws that completely disrupted the economic relationships between the tribes and French in Louisiana. The licenses of the French traders were revoked without an attempt to replace them with Spaniards. Tribes near the Mississippi compensated by trading with the British across the river, but farther west, the ill-conceived policy provoked the Caddo into threatening war against the Spanish. Ulloa backed away from the brink, reinstated gifts to tribal chiefs, and increased the number of licensed traders, but widespread dissatisfaction led to an armed insurrection in New Orleans during 1768.
His successor, Alejandro O'Reilly, arrived the following year with troops and crushed the revolt. Five of the leaders were executed, but O'Reilly and his successors afterwards ruled Louisiana with a gentle hand. The only major change under the Spanish rule was the flag on the flagpole. Former French officials were incorporated into the Spanish administration, and to compete with the British traders crossing the Mississippi to trade with the Louisiana tribes, new licenses were issued to French traders. In December, 1769 O'Reilly ordered an end to the widespread practice of Native American slavery. However, unwilling to provoke the French colonists, he looked the other way when it came to enforcement. As a result, native slavery was fairly common in Louisiana until 1808.
Perhaps because it conducted by a Frenchman, the Spanish census of the Louisiana tribes in 1768 was unusually thorough. The Houma numbered about 250 at the time and were still living in two villages on either side of the Mississippi in Ascension and Assumption Parishes north of New Orleans. What had changed, however, was that in the same vicinity were a Taensa and two Alibamu villages, with Biloxi and Choctaw villages just a few miles upstream. Meanwhile, Arcadian and German settlements had spread up the river and were beginning to enclose the Houma from all sides. The situation grew steadily worse, and in 1772 the settlers accused the Houma of stealing their cattle. Four years later the Houma sold most of their land to two French Creoles. Some Houma remained in the area until the 1840s, but the others relocated west of the river where they built two (perhaps three) villages on Bayou Lafourche near Donaldsonville. The discrepancy in the number of Houma villages at this time is an indication that tribal identities were beginning to lose their meaning in Louisiana.
In 1779 Spain entered the Revolutionary War (1775-83) on the side of the Americans, or more accurately, it entered the war against the British. Spanish governor Bernaldo de Galvez seized Baton Rouge and Natchez, and the following year took Mobile. A British counterattack failed, and in May, 1781, a Spanish army captured Pensacola, the last British military post on the Gulf. The war ended in 1783 with British recognition of American independence at the Treaty of Paris. The western border of the United States was set at the Mississippi, but in a separate peace agreement, the British ceded Western Florida (southern Alabama and Mississippi) and returned Eastern Florida to Spain. The immediate problem was that neither treaty defined the northern boundary of Florida. The Americans considered the boundary was where it had been in 1763, approximately the same latitude as the current border between Florida and Georgia. However, to make more land available for white settlement, the British, during the 20 years they controlled Florida, had administratively moved its boundary north to the latitude at the mouth of the Yazoo River.
When Georgia officials arrived to take control of Natchez, the Spanish promptly arrested them, and whatever cooperation that had existed before between Spain and United States came to an abrupt end. Concerned that the Americans wanted Florida and Louisiana (which was true), Spain utilized French and British traders to arm the Creeks, Cherokee, and Choctaw to prevent the westward expansion of the American frontier. As a result, these large tribes east of the Mississippi became very well armed. Small groups of Choctaw had peacefully hunted west of the Mississippi for years, but after 1785 they started coming in large groups and remaining for extended periods. There had been occasional confrontations, but after drought struck the Southeast in 1792, the Choctaw were forced to hunt to survive and became aggressive towards the Houma, Caddo, and other small tribes in Louisiana. At the same time, a group of Tallapoosa (Creeks) settled near the Big Black River in Mississippi, and began attacking American settlers in the area. Once the Americans left, the Tallapoosa became to menace the Houma and others west of the river.
Louisiana had become a very dangerous place for Native Americans during the 1790s. With the Spanish military too weak to police the situation, the small tribes were forced to merge to survive, but this was not enough. The Alibamu, Biloxi, and others shifted away from the Mississippi and relocated near the Sabine and Red Rivers in western Louisiana. A small group of Houma joined the exodus and moved to the Atakapa near Opelousa. The remaining Houma (by this time a mixed group from several tribes) left Assumption Parish during the 1790s and moved progressively farther south. By 1840 they had concentrated in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes west of New Orleans where their presence has been acknowledged through the name of present-day Houma, Louisiana. However, by the time the United States purchased Louisiana from France in 1803, so little of the tribal organization of the Terrebonne and Lafourche Houma remained, that the American agent, John Sibley, only made note of the 60 Houma living with the Atakapa at Opelousa. Both of these groups later moved to the other Atakapa near Lake Charles and within a few years had disappeared. They may have accompanied the Choctaw to Oklahoma during the 1830s, but so far as the United States was concerned, the Houma were extinct.
However, the Houma in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes were still very much alive. During the remainder of the 1800s, they intermarried with French Creoles and blacks but always retained a sense of being Native American, It was, however, increasingly difficult to pinpoint exactly from which tribe. The Houma language disappeared and was replaced by Cajun French. Most became Catholic, but native crafts and skills survived. By their own count, the Houma numbered somewhere around 900 in 1910, but the census of that year reported only 120 Native Americans in Terrebonne Parish. By 1930, this number had made an amazing jump to 936. Most of the Houma continued to support themselves by hunting and fishing. Oil field work was added after petroleum was discovered in southern Louisiana during the 1930s. Unfortunately, the oil discoveries cost the Houma most of their land. Louisiana schools were segregated until 1969, and the state insisted that, as "people of color, the Houma attend black schools. As a result, few Houma attended school before the 1950s.
The current drive of the Houma for federal recognition began in 1979 with the formation of the United Houma Nation, Inc. With an enrollment of 11,000, the Houma are currently the largest tribe in Louisiana. Recognized by the state of Louisiana, they are also members of the Louisiana Intertribal Council. Their petition to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for federal status was first filed in 1987, but after seven years of hearing, it was denied in December, 1994. Although the BIA acknowledged that the Houma had Native American ancestry, it was unable to find sufficient evidence that they were actually the descendents of the Houma tribe. The United Houma Nation is currently suing the federal government in an effort to overturn the decision.