Hometown News For Orange County, Texas

Last of the Mound Builders

Bruce Lockett, Director T.A.S.A.

In discussing the Indians of the Southern portion of the United States it is strange that some of the first Indians to meet the Euro-Americans are barely mention in the context of Indian history.  This Indian group was known as the Atakapa Indians of Texas and Louisiana.  The Atakpa Indians were a loose federation of Indians on the coastal shores of Texas, and Louisiana, from the San Jacinto River, of Texas to Vermilion bay, of Louisiana.  Evidence has now shown that the Atakpa Proper extended to Navasota Texas across to Huntsville, Texas and Lufkin.  Texas.  The line of penetration continued in Louisiana to Merryville, Louisiana, to Derider.  Louisiana.    Leesville, Lousiana, across to Opelussa Lousiana and down to Vermillion, Bay Louisiana.

The Atakapa Proper, was made up of the following Indian groups, known as the Atakapa, Bedias, Akokisa, Patiri, Opelussa, Deadose and possibly some contingents of tribes that were falling from the pages of history.  Tribes that have been associated with the linguistic stock of Atakapa also include (Agdoza, Doxza, Igodosa, Jacdoas, Judosa and Yacdossa) Indians.  However history does not clarify if these are tribes or the names of Chiefs of those tribes within the Atakapa Proper that became assimilated into other dominant Atakapa tribes.  These tribes while having different names were of the same linguistic stock and adapted trade between the local areas of their habitation.  It is for this reason they are grouped in the similarity of their cultural, and linguistic mannerisms that

place them together.  Due to the lack of historical records we must make assumptions on some accounts where clarification is not readily available.  Only the Atakapa really know.

Little study has been conducted on these tribal groups who were thought to be just above cave man stature, and savage as savages come.  Studies which have been conducted by various anthropology groups of the State of Texas and the State of Louisiana have continued to shed new light on the Atakapa Indians as a whole.  Archaeological branches and County Historical Societies are piecing together the remnants of bones, pottery, arrow points, and dwelling places to provide a clearer picture of those who came before us.

To lay more burden upon their culture as a whole, they were tagged with the continual practice of cannibalism among their groups when the Choctaw established them as "man eaters", a name they have carried as a stigma until this day.  Anyone who has studied the culture of Indians knows this was a practice by many tribal groups in Louisiana and Texas as well as other parts of North American Indians.  While early history of the Atakapas´site this practice it seems to have been abolished after the arrival of Euro-Americans.

Recent research conducted by members of T.A.S.A. (Texas Archaeological Studies  Association- Volunteer group of historical researchers in East Texas) have located in archives, libraries along with photographic copies of personal collections and has uncovered a startling find about the Atakapa Indians.  There is now conclusive proof that the Atakapa Indians were the last of the Mound Builders in the Northern Americas.  This is attributed more to their location than the element of time.  Historical accounts simply state their was no other place to build them except on the coastal waters, rivers, and bayous, of Texas, and Louisiana.  Extensive research has uncovered that these mounds

were built in massive proportions as Shell Middens.  Once thought to just be garbage sites.

We are now taking a closer look at these Shell Middens as deposits of historical records. Laid down in layers with each generation upon the other they are a testimony of the history of the Atakapa Tribes that once lived in the marshes of Texas and Louisiana.

Unlike the Indians of the Plains, and Northern parts of the Americas the Atakapa Indians used what was viable in their areas of living.  The coastal regions are abundant in Oyster, Crab, and Clam Shell which was the main stay material of the Shell Midden Mounds. Gumbo soil by itself easily washes away, along with the sand that abounds on the rivers, bayous and lakes of the coastal region. Either by trial and error method, or by ancestor´s passage it was found these factors mixed together and the added ingredient of Spanish Moss, would provide a life like concrete structure that could withstand the elements of time.  The lime within the clamshell also helped to preserve the bones, and items carried to the burial chamber for the after life.

Like the Mounds of the Northern Indians these mounds contained human and animal bones, pottery, clay balls, and arrow and spear points.  They differed only in the method of material construction.  Along with these items have been found near by, carved ax head with petroglyph´s writing, a stone with the head of a deer carved into it, and the famous Morgan Effigy a carved figurine that has survived the passage of time.  These mounds contained these same kinds of artifact found in mounds of other cultures  Was this a practice adopted by the Atakapa or something that had been pasted down from generation to generation.  There are some who speculate this was a practice carried on by the Atakapa Indians from other cultures, while others speculate that the middens would have taken thousands of years to build and that the Atakapa Indians or their descendants 

would have continued burial practice in the same method as introduced.  Death to the Indian, and the proper passage of burial, were as important as life.  There have now been over 35 established mound sites in the coastal areas of Louisiana and Texas that have been recorded and excavated by State Archaelogist.

The Caplen Mounds found on Bolivar Peninsula, Galveston Texas in August of 1932 This shell midden some 5-6 feet tall and some 10 feet into the ground and 45 feet across produced over 80 human remains and numerous artifacts of pottery, points, drills and red balls of clay for dye.  To date it is the largest recovery of human remains from a shell midden found on the Texas Coast. (1) The Shell Middens at Port Neches, Texas on the Neches River, one of the most important archaeological discoveries lost to modernization.  The early settlement of Neches River area required good foundations to start the settlements.


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