Houmas Indians of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana

The photo above is a group of mixed Houmas Indians in Bayou Lafourche in 1907

The Draft Registration for WWI was really a wonderful historical opportunity.  While other documents, such as the Indian Census, were taken only of tribal members, the draft asked each individual their race.  They got to decide what they said, not as dictated by another body, such as a tribe or a school or a registrar of some sort.  Some claimed mixed race.

In Louisiana, probably half of the people who claimed they were Indian came from Terrebonne Parish.  The rest were scattered in other parishes, and New Orleans, of course, but Terrebonne probably had as many as all the rest put together.  So I set about trying to discover who these Indians were.  Ironically, the history of Terrebonne parish doesn’t say anything about Indians, which I found unusual, but I did find information in some other places.

It turns out that the Houmas Indians were the primary group found there in the 1800s and early 1900s, but they weren’t there earlier.  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.

The first mention of the Houmas Indians is found in LaSalle’s report of the existance of the “Oumas” village in March of 1682, though he didn’t actually visit the location. (B.F. French, ed., Historical Collections of Louisiana, 1846, V. 1, p. 47-49) In 1686, Chevalier de Tonti went up the Mississippi River and found the “Oumas tribe, the bravest of all the savages. The location of the tribe at this time was east of the Mississippi River in West Feliciana Parish … near present-day Angola state prison. (Chevalier de Tonti, Relation De La Louisianne et de Mississippi, 1734, p. 45) In 1699, Bienville noted the conflict between the Houmas and the Bayougoula Indians, who lived further south. (Swanton, Bulletin 43, p.287-288) The two tribes had set up a red pole (from which the city “Baton Rouge” got its name) to mark the boundary of their hunting areas. (Richebourg Faillard McWilliams, Fleur de Lys and Calumet, 1953, p. 25) By the following year, the conflict had been resolved and the tribes made peace. (B.F. French, ed., Historical Collections of Louisiana and Florida, 1869, p. 55)

In 1700, the Jesuit Father Paul Du Ru joined Iberville in a trip to the Houma village. He left his servant, who directed the Indians in building a Catholic church … the first Catholic church in the Mississippi Valley. It was 50 feet long and had a cross almost 40 feet tall. (Roger Baudier, The Catholic Church in Louisiana, 1939, p. 2) On a later trip (1701-1702) to the village, Iberville counted 150 families in the tribe. (Margry, Decouvertes, Vol IV, p. 418)

About 1706, the Houmas and nearby Tunicas were feeling threatened by northern tribes from Mississippi. The Tunica settled in with the Houmas, only to later turn on them and kill over half of the tribe. The remaining Houmas moved southward. They probably settled around the mouth of the Lafourche. Some say that they moved to Bayou St. John, but is seems that they only visited that area seasonally. (Bernard de La Harpe, Historical Journal, p. 100-101) It is thought that their hunting area extended from the Lafourche eastward to Lake Ponchatrain. The main movement of the Houmas down the Lafourche probably came after 1770. The oral tradition of the Houma Indians says that one branch of the tribe settled at present-day Houma … which was in the center of their hunting land from Atchafalaya to Barataria. The village was named Chufahouma. (Oral History, Curry: # 2, #6, #15)

The following years saw the Houmas making peace … with the Chitimacha in 1716, and the Tunica and Natchez in 1723. Bienville noted in 1723 that “this nation (Houma) is very brave and very laborious.” It was reported in 1749 by Joseph De LaPorte that the Houmas lived in two villages located about six miles south of the Lafourche. De Kerlerec noted in 1758 that their location was about 66 miles upriver from New Orleans.

The latter half of the century was not a good time for the tribe. In 1771, John Thomas reported that there were 46 Houma warriors. In the latter half of the 18th century, a number of small conflicts between the Houmas and other tribes were reported. Their land, for which they had received a verbal guarantee, was sold out from under them. Legal battles were attempted … some lasting for decades … but failed due to a lack of a written document. The tribe was still on the land in 1785 and refused to move.

In 1803, Daniel Clark reported that there were 60 Houmas living on the east bank of the Mississippi River, about 75 miles upriver from New Orleans. John Sibley reported in 1806 that there were just a few Houmas living on the east side of the Mississippi just south of Bayou Manchac. Sibley also noted that some of the Houmas had traveled west and intermarried with the Attakapas tribe.

At this point, the story becomes somewhat clouded. Oral tradition of the Indians says that Alexander Billiot, the Houma chief, was living at the site of present-day Houma when the “white man came.” The traditions states that he was later given a grant for the land, though no proof of this grant exists. When they applied for the land (without a written grant), it was rejected (in 1814). They applied for “a tract of land lying on Bayou Boeuf, or Black Bayou.” This is the area between present day Houma and Morgan City. Without tribal land, the Houmas had to acquire land as private citizens.

The documented proof of Houmas Indian migration to Terrebonne Parish is lacking. The tribal identity and specifics of the Indian presence in Terrebonne Parish is still being looked into by the Bureau of Indian Affairs who issued a report which you can see at this link:   http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~laterreb/houmaindians.htm

In the mid 1990s, BIA came out with their genealogical report on the Houmas tribe. To summarize, they found only 3 progenitors that could be clearly identified as Native American:  Joseph Houma Courteau, Jeanet, and Marie Gregoire. Courteau’s daughter married Jacques Billiot.  Jeanet married his brother Joseph Billiot. Marie Gregoire married Alexander Verdin.  Courteau was said to be an “Indian of the Biloxi nation.

There are several others with possible connections. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, several other French men married Indian brides. Many of the names of these men are still recognized as being (primarily) Indian names. The surnames include: Billiot (see above), Verdin (see above), Solet, Verret, Parfait, Dardar (Michel Dardar, a Frenchman, married Adelaide Billiot, non-Indian daughter of Jean Baptiste Billiot & Marie Enerisse, in 1809), , , Naquin (Acadian Charles Naquin arrived in LA in 1785; his grandson Jean-Marie Naquin married Pauline Verdin, a daughter of Alexander Verdin & Marie Gregoire), Chiasson (Andre J. Chaisson married Felicite Isilda Billiot, non-Indian daughter of Jean Billiot & Manette Renaud).

The earliest Indian settlements in Terrebonne Parish were along Bayou Terrebonne and Little Caillou. By 1850, the settlements had spread to Pointe Aux Chenes and Bayou DuLarge.  As the English, French, Acadian, etc. came into the parish, the Indians were forced further south. In 1907, John Swanton counted almost 900 people in several settlements. These included 175 at Bayou Sale (below Dulac), 160 at Pointe Aux Chenes, 117 at Isle de Jean Charles, about 90 at Bayou DuLarge, and 65 at Pointe Barre. (Swanton, Bulletin 43, p. 291) The Indian population was reported at 2,000 by Franklin Speck in 1941. (Speck, “Report … on Historical and Economic Background of Houma Indians,” p. 14-16)

The Houmas war emblem was the crawfish, representing both honor as it wouldn’t back down from anything, even unto death, and the most abject poverty if you ate it.

You can read more about the history of the Houma at this link: http://www.dickshovel.com/hou.html

To read about the Confederation of Biloxi, Chitimacha and Choctaw, tribes of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, visit this site:  http://www.biloxi-chitimacha.com/

You can read more about their history here:  http://www.biloxi-chitimacha.com/history.htm

Interviews and photographs:  http://oralhistory.blogs.lib.lsu.edu/tag/houma-indians/

Sources:  http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~laterreb/indian.htm

About robertajestes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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22 Responses to Houmas Indians of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana

  1. Hannah says:

    Trying to find out more info from my grandma’s past. She grandmother was a Blackfoot from Lafourche. She married a Naquin.

  2. my name is Shane Billiot I an 35 years old and one proud native American . All these people listed is my Ancestors because of them my family still exist today ,and was never forced to live out our lives on a reservation .I am very proud of them for never giving up ,because of there bravery we was always able to be free !! I love the Great Spirit for he lives within our people and it is a blessing to be able to still hunt and fish where my ancestors did ..

  3. Adam Joseph Verdin, 298 Hideaway Dr, Zwolle, LA 71486 318-461-3756 says:

    My grandmother was Julia Marie Billiot, lived in Lockport, LA (Banana Grove) She married Benard Verdin.She was my Dad’s mother. My dad was Camille Bertrand Verdin. I am Adam Joseph Verdin.
    I have two sons, Adam Wade and Brian Keith Verdin. My wife and I have seven grandchildren.
    I grew up just outside of Lockport, LA.


      • Elaine Perry Verdin says:

        Hi Sue, I am Adam’s wife, Elaine…Adam is afraid of the computer, LOL I keep telling him, “It won’t bite” How are you doing? It’s been a while since we have seen your dad and D…at that family reunion at the Cantrell’s place. I do remember seeing you, I think it was you. Tell me How is your mom doing?
        Hey, I checked in here because Adam would not do it. How-a-bout you? I think it is very interesting!! We were there about 2 1/2 days for our 57TH class reunion!! WHOooooo, Adam is getting old :-)
        BTW my email is verdin.elaine@yahoo.com , 318-508-0977. I do remember the two pretty little girls..you and your sister.. ;-) Your dad was like a brother to me. He is much like my brothers….was it you or your sister with the dog kennel?
        we are leaving here on Sat A.M. to go to a small town near Houston to get on a ship for 7 days.
        We will be back on the 5TH of Dec.
        I am so sorry I did not see your message on the Indian site :-( Wade, oldeat son saw it and sent the link to me today. We were in Shreveport when he sent it and just got home a few minutes ago…
        I am on FB…7 grandchildren and one great grandchild. Wade is a grandpa now.. :-) I didn’t know your last, Married name, until today..Thanks Sue.
        Please let us know how you, your sister, your mom and dad, OH and your baby are doing!!!
        Wade has 4 daughters and Brian has 3 sons…Ryan finished his 4 years as a Ranger, Medic, and paratrooper in the Army. Patrick is 5 years younger, he is in his second year in college and is taking “Computer Science”and Sean is also in college, Medical school. Wants to be a Surgeon. Ryan is 26 years old now and will go back to college for the next semester. The boys aren’t married yet. Wade’s second daughter, Ellen married recently on Sept 9th this year…Grace is only 17 and Sadie
        is only 14, but a pretty big girl…I have to look up to her and Grace…
        Will give you a break….Have a very good day and look forward to hearing from you

  4. Johnny Fountano says:

    I am from San Antonio, Texas and my name is Johnny Fountano. I am mixed black, probably of creole descent on my fathers side. My cousin last name Fountano did a DNA test and the y chromosome came back Native American (fathers side). So I went on ancestry.com to try to find my fathers line of people and I did a DNA test myself and it also came back Y-DNA Native American Haplogroup. (my fathers side.) So I tried to look up my fathers line and came up with a great great grandfather name Joe Fountano from Iberia Parish Louisiana 1820. I believe his last name was originally Fonteneau or Founteneau and it was changed. Either he or his father, maybe grandfather is Native American, And it seem like it was close to the Houmas, Chitamachas, The Attakapas, and Appelousa is not too far either. Does anybody know anything about this?
    Thank You.

  5. Bobby Beard says:

    Pierre Nicolas Michel Dardar is my 4th Great Grandfather. Adelaide Billiot and Michel’s son Marcelin Dardar is my 3rd Great and his daughter, Marguerite Adelaide Dardar, is my Great Great Grandmother. She married a man we believed named Maximin Billiot or possibly Maximilian Billiot. There son was Joseph Edward Billeau. Not sure why the change in the last name spelling. Maximin’s last name may also have been spelled Billeau, though.

  6. Jadi says:

    I am a Verdin from South Louisiana, from the Houma area. The farthest my family tree had gone back was Alexandre Verdin and Marie Gregoire and I was looking for information on them on the Internet. I was well aware of the Indian heritage, grew up knowing I was over half, but I still wanted to find a little more about them. This was a great find. Thank you!

  7. betty jean mstthews says:

    Hi I was reading about the Houma Indians and I would like to know what tribes did the name Fitch is.my mother and her mother and daddy name is Fitch.I would like to know it I was also an Indian

  8. Denese says:

    I am trying to trace my Solet line. My 2x great grandfather was Auguste Solet. I am descended from his daughter Matilda.

  9. Jamie Dardar says:

    I Am Jamie Dardar of Point – aux – chene a registered tribsl member of united houma nation a native of the isle of jean charles and resident on island since 1973 at birth . I’m proud to have grown up on our Ancestors land free from government reservation forced on so many Natives our history may not be completely traced but our people are proud Natives decedent’s of many tribes who banded together to survive the invasion of the white settlers on Native land.this has been told by our Grand parents for generations my Grandfather spoke of this how we came to exist and survive so have many of the oldest Natives of the island. We Are Native indigenous people of this land i do Consider myself Houma Native American. A decedent of the CHIEF JEAN CHARLES NAQUIN who was Chief on the Island of jean charles a houma tribal member before his grandson Albert Naquin sold out his name and claimed to be a different tribesmen of 3 nations of Native American and disbanded to form another tribe on the island.Blood test should be conducted by our people to prove who’s Native and what percentage of Native American they have to control Registry of non native in our tribes.

    • Brandon Ledet says:

      Funny you speak of Chief Naquin. I’ve went back all the way to his father which was my 7th great grandfather. Chief Naquin was my 7th great Uncle. However I’ve spoken with present Chief and the Chief of Homuas tribe. One tells me I can’t be a member because I’m not directly from the island and the other says I’d need a number and there’s no telling when that would happen. My research shows that we all stem from the Chitimaka. None the less I love learning of my ancestors. I know I have Native blood. My grandmother is Dora Lee Naquin and my grandfather is Neil L edet. I would love to be a member and pass my heritage on to my daughter.

  10. Claudia says:

    How would I check the Mississippi tribes rolls

  11. JoAnn Scott Businelle says:

    Hi I’m a Scott my dad is Louis (L.J) Scott.My grand parents were Oris (mustache)Scott and Evelyn Liner Scott from Dularge.I am a registered member of united houma nation tribe.I would like more info on my family background as my sister in law did it and I know nothing..

  12. Pierce says:

    Looking for the Relatives of (Reado) from the Houma/Lafourche area. Great grandmother Elizabeth Reado.. born in 1866.

  13. thomas says:

    Does anyone know how I would get legal documentation to prove that I do have the Houma Indian blood line?

  14. thomas says:

    Also I contacted someone from the Houma Nation website to get information on becoming a member. They said the books were closed. Does anyone know what that means exactly? Are they not accepting new members?

  15. Travis verdin says:

    I am a verdin from dulac and I wanted to know more about the verdin Ancestors

  16. Kyrie says:

    Hello , I am trying to find out who to talk to about seeing if i was registered and getting my certificate ?

  17. Andrew Joseph Verdin says:

    My name is Andrew Joseph Verdin. I am 28. I live in Bayou Gauche as of right now. My father’s side is where my native blood comes from. I know my great grandfather new very little English and spoke mostly French. From reading my family’s scroll with our crest on it I found that when the French settlers landed near the gulf they came up through what is now a day bayou dularge, dulac, and near pointe aux chenes. The French taught many Natives to speak french as that was the only way for them to speak with one another. The Native women sometimes were given to French men an were able to marry an some were raped an had children which is a lot of the reason the Native descendants have French blood. I could not track very much back into my Native heritage because the records are lost in the memories of my family members who have past. I did however find where my last name originated and who my French family members where. Very interesting and short lives they lived. You will find if your name is Verdin… its because a woman in france who came from Royalty died to keep our name going. You can find me on Facebook by searching Drew Verdin if you have any questions.

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