Pierre Le Moyne – Continued

The expedition arrived at Mobile Bay on Jan 30, 1699. Fortunately they were able to escape the bad fortunes of La Salle’s previously failed expedition, and had all three ships and passengers in tow. Like most sailors and ship captains of the day, historical adventures and folklore permeated the everyday conversations of Pierre and his men. One of the tales that they were most interested in was of course, the adventures of Hernando De Soto. Hernando was the first one to actually document the discovery of the great river and his crossing of it 150 years earlier. De Soto also met his end on the river and was buried in it. La Salle was also the fresh topic of the day and his description of the mouth as a “palisade”. Pierre would later discover that these tiers of rock that La Salle described were actually mud and the building blocks of the delta. While exploring Mobile Bay, Pierre spots the Mobile river and quickly decides this is not the Mississippi. They continue to follow the coast, taking soundings along the way and documenting everything they can. They run across and Island close to the coast and explore it. Here they find the bones of about 60 men scattered in the sand on one end. They determine by the artifacts found with the bones that these were probably indigenous Indians slaughtered in battle. They name it Massacre Island. We know it today as Deer Island. Pierre decides to anchor right off of an island that has nice deep water around it and is protecting him from the wind and weather at the time. This island is modern day Ship Island, right off the coast of Mississippi. He sends his brother out in a Felucca, which is a small sail boat, to do some exploring and report back. Pierre also has a couple of boats that he calls Biscayans. These boats, from what I can find out about them, were somewhat like a whaling boat. An open boat that could hold probably 25 men and some supplies. After a few days of exploring, Pierre and his brother Jean, spot some smoke coming from Massacre Island and a party of Indians in canoes, making for land from the island. They try to catch up to them but the Indians flee. They did leave there on the beach an old man, who was too sick to run, so the brothers try to talk to him in sign language and gave him some food and water. Pierre sends Jean into the woods to either bring the Indians back or capture one. Jean returns with a woman that he captured about 3 miles from the beach. From the woman they learn where the Indians are camped. They are camped along a mighty river they call the “Malbanchya”. Pierre gives the woman some tobacco to give to the men as a peace offering. The men return to retrieve the old man, who wound up dying there on the beach that morning. The Indians sing the “Calumet of Peace”. A Calumet is a symbol of peace, normally a pipe of some sort. Pierre is convinced that this river they call the Malbanchya is the Mississippi. These Indians they were befriending were from the Bilocchy, Pascagoula and Moctoby tribes. They also had settlements along the Pascagoula river. Pascagoula is Choctaw for “bread people”. Pierre wants to ingratiate himself to these people in order to get more information about the Great River. He invites them out to his ships, where he shows them great wonders and the firing of cannons. The Indians agree to take him up the great river. He travels up the river to a place where a village is set up. At the village he sees a great red pole that has animal skulls and hides attached to it. Here was the place where modern day Baton Rouge would be built. Named after the “red stick” that was sited there. Baton, which is French for stick and Rouge which is French for red. Here he meets the members of the Houmas and Bayou Goula Indians who are camped together in the village. From the logs Pierre kept on the ship he describes a very grisly scene here. He says that a plague of small pox had killed a lot of the tribe and that they put the bodies on platforms all around the village. Here is an excerpt from the original log: The smallpox, which they still had in the village had killed about 1/4 of the people. They place the bodies of the dead on platforms around their village, quite close…raised 7 feet above…This stinks badly and attracts many buzzards to the neighborhood. These Indians are the most beggardly I have yet seen, having no conveniences in their huts. After this, Pierre sends his brother and most of his men back to the ships, while he and a few of the Indian guides explore an alternate route he was told about at the village. This “alternate route” would open up the gulf coast to later expeditions as it establishes a link from upriver, to the coast. This route was through what Pierre named Bayou Manchac, through what he named Lake Maurepas and into what he named Lake Pontchartrain. This route will be key when we talk about the arrival of the Acadians later in our story…..until next post, Au Revoir!



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