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Atakapa Historical Marker located
between DeRidder and Merryville,
Louisiana at intersection of
US Hwy 190 and LA Hwy 111
The Atakapas uh-Tak-uh-paws (Attakapa, Attakapas, Attacapa) are a Southwest Louisiana/Southeast Texas branch of ancient Indians who lived in the Gulf of Mexico's northwestern crescent and called themselves Ishaks (ee-SHAKS). The name means the People. In prehistorical times the Ishaks divided into two populations. Some Ishaks lived on the southcoast of what is now Texas, down to Matagorda Bay. Other Ishaks lived on the upper coast of the Gulf's northwestern crescent at what is now Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. In Louisiana, on the coast, they spread all the way to what is now Vermilion Bay. The former Ishaks, those on the lower coast, inhabited their hinterland to perhaps a distance of a week's walk. Those on the upper coast inhabited their hinterland to perhaps a distance of several weeks' walk. The latter Ishaks came to be called Atakapas.

The name Atakapas has been spelled variously through the past three centuries. Henry R. Schoolcraft, America's first universal authority on the American Indians, spelled the name Attukapas on page 35 in Volume VI of his work, "History of the Indian Tribes of the United States" (1854). And he spelled Attacapas on page 325 in Volume II. Attakapas is considered a modern spelling that is often encountered at the present time. It is based on the slur word (cannibal) for all the Indians living to the Choctaws' west. The French in Louisiana generally adopted that spelling. In 1885 the Smithsonian Institute's Indian languages expert, Albert S. Gatschet, chose a simplified spelling, Atakapas.

The earliest physical description of the Ishaks was made by Cabeza de Vaca after he and his Spanish mates were saved from shipwrech and starvation by the people whom he called the Han people. Swanton wrote that Han probably reflects the word by which the Ishaks called their dwellings. Cabeza de Vaca described Ishaks as well built; translate it as well formed, handsome. His stay among them, from 1528 to about 1535, happened more than a century and a half before other Spaniards intruded permanently into the Ishaks' homeland.

Martin Duralde, Spanish commander of the Attakapas Post at what is now Franklin, Louisiana, revealed in the mid-1700's what he supposed was the Atakapas' idea of the origin or genesis. He claimed to have learned presumably from the Indians, that they considered themselves a people who came out of the sea. Archaeologist, Dr. Chip McGimsey, Louisiana University in Lafayette, in letter of June 2, 1997, to Hugh Singleton, historian and linguist, Lake Charles, LA., maintained that the current evidence shows that...Ishaks simply represent the historic descendants of people who had been living in this region, (i.e. the northwestern crescent of the Gulf Coast) for thousands of years.

According to findings of some archaeologists in Southwest Louisiana, revealed in an article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1996, there is evidence of human habitation over the past 10,000 years in Vernon Parish, Louisiana, near the apex area of the Ishaks' ancient homeland. But over the millennia many different peoples could have inhabited that area. It would have attracted tribes by its red earth deposits useful for pottery making. It is an area that presently attracts seekers after relics of the ancient Indians.

The prehistorical Ishaks in Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas were hunters, fishers, and gatherers. The Ishaks hunted with bow and arrow, which they call te n o n tik (bow and string and arrow). Unlike today's users of the bow, the Ishaks did not forget to include the all important string in naming that hunting implement. The string for their main hunting bow was of triple-twisted sinews. Its bow of hickory wood stood 4-1/2 feet tall, and was the product of generations of careful craftsmanship. The bow was so powerful it could send an arrow clean through a bull bison.

Through prehistorical times the Ishak ancestors of the Atakapas hunted the bison. Hence, they were a nomadic people following the wandering herd. When hunting deer, sometimes the Ishaks chose to run a deer to exhaustion rather than slay it with arrow.

The Ishaks were also fishers. Long before Europeans arrived, Ishaks harvested the waters of Southwest Louisiana/Southeast Texas, which were teeming with fish. They caught fish by hand, by net, by hooked bone, by weirs (traps), by arrow and by spear. They harvested salt water oysters along the length of their homeland's coast. They dried and smoked oysters and shrimp and other seafoods for consumption and for barter.

The Ishaks were also gatherers, nomads often on the move by the seasons, gathering food and useful items. They gathered and packed pecans for barter via the ancient trade routes of the Indians. Their forways for gathering food in what is now S.W. LA/S.E. TX found them tramping their forests there and camping on the more than half a dozen streams in their homeland. They looked for roots, berries, nuts, wild grapes, persimmons, and other fruits, along with other useful plants like sedges and rushes for making mats and baskets. They gathered also medicinal plants for remedies.

The Indians' concept of land ownership was that an individual did not own land. The tribe owned areas the limits of which were fixed in the minds of the tribesmen, and they used those lands as hunting grounds. The lands were largely bypassed and overlooked by early Europeans and later were in the heart of the Louisiana Purchase "No Man's Land." After the Louisiana Purchase, the United States Land Office attempted to determine which previous sales of land should be recognized as having been valid and which fraudulent. The commissioners classified the claims, and most of the Indian claims appear to have fallen in two classes, "B" and "C". The "B" claims were recommended for confirmation and the "C" claims were not.

An example of a "B" class as contained in "AMERICAN STATE PAPERS - PUBLIC LANDS": Francois Brusard claim for 730 acres was originally claimed by Bernard, Attakapas Chief. Classed as "C" was 3,333 acres claim by John Coleman, originally claimed by Attakapas Indians.

Historically Ishaks were called Atakapas, a Choctaw slur, by the Spaniards and then by the French in Louisiana which gave the Ishak people an ugly reputation, rumor of which continues through today. Descendants of the Atakapa Indians exist unrecognized and misnamed under various names of choice like Creoles, Creole Indians, and Creoles of Color. The term colored has clouded the Atakapas' racial identity. Atakapa descendants show a wide range of complexions which is attributed to the genes for light or brown complexions. Many Atakapas no longer know their correct racial identity.

The naming of US Highway 190 between the Sabine River and DeRidder, LA, as the Atakapa-Coushatta Trace is attributed to the fact that Atakapa Indians inhabited and traversed Beauregard Parish. It is more clearly defined as part of the Atakapa foot trails in the Atakapas' homeland that reached as far North as parts of present-day Natchitoches, Rapides, and Sabine Parishes and parishes lying along all the S.E. Texas and S.W. Louisiana coast. The Atakapa have been identified as the only tribe consisting of six bands to inhabit all of Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas for centuries prior to habitation by Europeans.

Historical Marker memorializing the Atakapas-Ishak is situated adjacent to the Junction, US Hwy 190 and LA Hwy 111, between Merryville and DeRidder, Louisiana, which is an integral part of the ancestral homeland.

The aborginal Atakapa Ishak of Louisiana are a quiet, peaceful, meek, even passive people, yet they have served this nation in all its wars. Though neglected and unschooled from 1690's to early 1900's, they have proved themselves to be highly intelligent, of accomplished talents, industrious and self-sustaining. Numbers of them have become professionals, and individuals serving their country in positions of honor, such as President Carter's Ambassador to Kenya and the Seychelles, Dr. Wilbert LeMelle of New Iberia, LA and Alex Boudreaux of Lake Charles who served as a Tuskogee Airman during WW II.


1528 Cabeza de Vaca and his Spanish mates were saved from shipwreck and starvation by the Atakapas

1703 Bienville sent three Frenchmen up the Sabine River who met the Atakapas

1714 The Atakapas are one of 14 tribes that come to De l' Epinay where he is fortifying Dauphin Island

1731 St. Denis uses a reinforcement of Atakapas warriors to fight the Natchez

1733 Atakapas begged the French to establish trade of furs, tallow, and horses

1735 Atakapas warriors are in New Orleans posing for artist A. de Batz

1760 Brand Book for District of Opelousas
& Attakapas reflects Indian occupation in cattle rearing

1779 Galvez, Spanish Governor of Louisiana, was furnished 180 warriors for expeditions against British forts on Mississippi River

1885 Albert Gatschet, Smithsonian Institute's language expert, collected complete Atakapa grammar

1908 Dr. Gatschet visited Atakapa survivors in Lake Charles to obtain more vocabulary

1932 Atakapa Language Dictionary published by the Smithsonian

1998 Dedication of Atakapa-Coushatta Trace-Scenic Byway Marker (US Highway 190) Beauregard Parish, LA

2003 Atakapa-Ishak (foot trails) historical marker erected (junction of US Highway 190 and LA Highway 111) Beauregard Parish, LA

Atakapa Ishak Indians of Southwest Louisiana
What Is It

Is it a flute?
Is it a whistle?
Is it Atakapa?

Three Little Indians and a Three-Legged
Dog ATAKAPAS-ISHAK Children at Lake Charles,Southwest Louisiana,
Summer, 1934

They are two brothers and their sister, left to right, ages 8, 6, and 4 respectively. You see them in typical, sun-tanned complexions of summer. Their remainder-of-the-year, clear-honey complexions take on a million-dollar tan from the steady summer sun sitting over the Gulf's Northwestern Crescent. For 12,000 years, the archeologists say, that spacious crescent of the Gulf of Mexico has been the prehistorical and historical home of these children's Ishak (that word means 'The People') ancestors of S.W. LA/S.E. Texas.

The three give no notice to their beautiful tan, no more than do their people give notice to the genetically wide range of complexions visible among all Ishak Indians. Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas ought to know by now that these Indians' complexions, like the complexions of all North American Indians, range (even among sibling) "from ivory to darkest brown" as two researchers, Leacock and Lurie, also others, tell us. But from early 1500's, beginning with the Spaniards, European intruders into the Gulf's Northwestern Crescent thought, or judged, or assumed, or pretended (whichever) that a people's complexion signals their worth, that the lighter the complexion, the more the people's worth, and the darker, the lesser their worth.

The earliest intruders, Spaniards, saw the aboriginal Ishak as, overall, of a "tinted" complexion. "Pueblo Tinto y Libero" they called the Ishak. "Tinto" is the Spanish word that most closely could express the Ishak's wide range of complexions, due to (as we now know from the research by geneticists) North American Indians' totally mixing/mingling of their genes throughout this continent long, long before any other people, e.g. Europeans, intruded here. "Libero" or "Free" tells that Queen Isabella forbade the enslaving of her subjects, ancestors of children like these three.

Later, in their turn to rule in Louisiana, the French translated Spaniards' name for the Ishak aboriginals as "Peuple du Couleur et Libre" ("Free People of Color"). Notice that both "tinto" and "couleur" in the Spanish and French names have nothing to do with, and carry no connotation of, African or Negro. That connotation was to be sneaked in later (forced in, rather) when the French rulers saw benefits to themselves by so doing, and a strategy for so doing with the cooperation of a compliant Catholic Church. To assure itself of that necessary cooperation the French Regime had to throw that Church a bone...a monopoly in religion through all of the Regime.

Much, much misery has swept over the Gulf's Northwest Crescent and its Ishak Indians before and after the 1934 day the photographer and her hand-held Kodak snapped this shot of these three little Indians and the three-legged dog. By the 1930's the Atakapas-Ishak across their homeland had retreated into themselves as a minority people best must do before a bullying majority. And in that retreating, for the children's own good, their elders shielded them from much about their people's lot. Many, maybe most, little Ishak like these three lived their childhood unaware of who they are, also their teen years, even into young manhood and womanhood. But a child's awareness can be a surprising thing. He/she notices and remembers more than adults can shield from them. Today, many remember their peoples' Atakapas-Ishak identity and are claiming it as their own.

Atakapa relics are still found on old village sites;
arrow points, scraps of pottery, cooking balls and
an occasional stone bead as seen on right of picture.

The Atakapas have been assimilated into our main cultural society. Yet each retains a link to their culture along with retaining their unique personality. Indicative of the assimilation of the Atakapas into the white man's realm is Rachel Mouton. She has a
15-year corporate background with Chevron USA in San Francisco, CA and National Data Corporation in Atlanta, GA. She now owns and manages her own consulting practice in Lafayette, LA, specializing in motivational workshops and professional development programs. She is a free-lance writer, an herbalist and avid yogi.
Mouton's recently published book, LIFE AS AN OXYMORON is a daring perspective about life and contradiction as seen through a young girl's eyes. Journey along with the author as she contrasts well-accepted Christian teachings alongside popular secular lifestyles, using her own personal experiences and unique outlook. This book will touch your heart, make you laugh, cry and sing but in the end, this book will undoubtedly cause you to re-visit your own value system and whether or not it aligns with your way of life.

As stated by one critic: "Mouton has cooked up some delicious chicken gumbo for the soul...taste it!" Gary Norsault


Atakapa Homeland, SE Texas - SW Louisiana

Atakapa Ishak mound,
adjacent to Highway 190
near Merryville, Louisiana
and the Sabine River.
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