- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) - Long before Natchez was known for its antebellum grandeur, European explorers were telling stories of the rich native cultures they encountered in southwest Mississippi.

Now, a group of people connected to one of those tribes is looking for some of the stories that may have lingered in the area after the Native Americans migrated away.

Tammy Greer is the director of the Center for American Indian Research and Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi. She’s also a member of the United Houma Nation, and is part of a group of Houma working to pinpoint the historical Houma presence in Adams County.

“In our traditional stories, they talk about us coming from the Choctaw, but from that time to the time where we ended up at what is present day Angola, we don’t hear much about what happened,” Greer said.

Grand Village of the Natchez Indians Director Jim Barnett said at the time of the first European contact, the Houma had a village in the hills that bordered the Wilkinson County community of Fort Adams.

“They remained in that spot until 1706, when they either left the village willingly or were driven out by the Tunica Indians who came down the river and took over that village location,” Barnett said.

During southwest Mississippi’s French colonial period, the Houma became somewhat fractured because of disease, migrations and interactions with settlers, Barnett said.

“Eventually they moved into what became Spanish Louisiana after the French and Indian War in the 1760s. The Houmas, Tunicas and several other tribes were allies of the French, which means they were enemies of the English, so when the English got control of everything to the east of the river, they moved into the west of the river and were welcomed by the Spanish with the thought they could help defend against an English incursion.”

Greer said that while the search for new information might not be easy, when people groups have moved from one place to another someone has always stayed behind or later returned, and even if there aren’t many of Houma heritage in the area, she wants to hear from them.

“It is hard to retrace (the movement) among the Houma. There is no written record because most of the Houma did not receive a public education until the 1950s and 60s, but our ancestors and elders in our community know the stories, and we are getting pieces of (our history), and I thought since I was here in Mississippi that I would reach out in the other direction to see what the people in Natchez know,” she said.

“If it is true there was a Houma community in there, probably there are people in Natchez - the elders of their community - who have passed along the stories about who lived there and what they did, and what battles they had and who they married,” she said.

The Houma Nation is a state-recognized tribe, and has several communities in south Louisiana, including in West Lafitte and Chalmette.