Natchez Discoveries

Part 2. The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians

David Smitherman
10 min readApr 13, 2024

The Natchez people were Native Americans with prehistoric ties to the lower Mississippi valley, in and around Natchez and the Natchez Bluffs on the east bank of the Mississippi River. They existed as a complex society with a language unlike other groups up the Mississippi. Their line of descent was matrilineal, tracked through the mother’s side of the family, with a practice of intermarrying with neighboring tribes and groups. The Natchez had encounters with the Spanish in the 1500s, the British in the 1600s, and the French in the 1700s. By 1731, wars with the French led to a scattering of the Natchez people, with many sold into slavery at the French Colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola, and many others taking refuge with neighboring tribes. Today their are recognized Natchez communities in Oklahoma and South Carolina, and within recognized Chickasaw, Creek, and Cherokee tribes.

Entrance to the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, and their visitor center and museum facility.

In Natchez, the Grand Village is a national historic landmark that is administered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Descendants of the Natchez people were instrumental in setting up this site where their are three mounds from the Natchez era still in existence.

The Grand Village Site

The Natchez people are believed to have occupied this area on farms and in villages from about 1200 AD to 1730 AD. The French called this area the Grand Village of the Natchez, and their leader was known as the Great Sun. His status had a form of nobility, as noted by the drawing below, of him or her, being carried on a litter. Their leaders lived on the mounds, and administered religious and civic duties over the people. Much of what we know about the Natchez was recorded through notes and drawings by Antoine du Pratz.

The Great Sun being carried on a litter, drawings by du Pratz.

Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz, 1695 to 1775, was a French ethnographer, historian, and naturalist, who lived among the Natchez people from 1718 to 1734. He published a memoir with illustrations that recounts the life of the Natchez people, the society and its culture, and the historical events surrounding the peace and conflict between the French and Natchez.

Mound A

A map created by Ignace Broutin, a French architect, shows six mounds in Natchez in 1723, but only three are still in existence today. It indicates that Mound A had four structures on top for an unknown purpose, although it was likely they were homes for some of their leaders, or perhaps community storehouses of food and supplies.

Map of the Grand Village in 1723, by Ignace Broutin.
Map of the Grand Village today, and Mound A.

Ignace Francois Broutin, 1690 to 1751, was an architect and military officer, and a commander at Fort Rosalie at Natchez. After the wars with the Natchez he became known for his architectural work in New Orleans, in particular the Ursuline Convent completed in 1753, and still standing today.

Mound B, The Great Sun’s Mound

The Great Sun’s Mound was the largest mound, built in a step pyramid form, and was noted as having the largest home on top for the leader of the Natchez people. Archeological excavations were made in 1962, which with written records from the French, indicate that each leader added to the height and size of the mound and built a new house on top.

Mound B, and the Great Sun’s house drawing by de Batz.

This drawing of the Great Sun’s house was created by French architect, Alexandre de Batz, in 1732. His writings indicated that the house was round with walls of vertical hickory poles tied together and covered in mud, and a steep thatched roof supported by poles.

Alexandre de Batz, 1685 to 1759, was an architect, designer, and illustrator, noted for his maps, drawings, and illustrations of Native Americans along the Mississippi river valley, including the Natchez people.

Mound C, The Temple Mound

The temple built on top of this mound was a sacred place where only their leadership could enter, along with eight additional temple keepers. The temple keepers were charged with maintaining the temple and an eternal flame that burned night and day continuously. The structure was rectangular or oblong, and of similar construction to that of the Great Suns house. In addition, it included three bird sculptures on top of the roof.

Mound C, and a Temple drawing by de Batz.

A sketch from du Pratz in 1725, shows a funeral procession for Tattooed Serpent, the brother of the Great Sun, and notes that he was buried in the temple, along with eight of his retainers, which were sacrificed by strangling, to join him in the afterlife.

The funeral procession for Tattooed Serpent, drawing by du Pratz.

An earlier burial rite in 1704 was witnessed by the French for the death of a female chief.

The Plaza

The open area between the Great Sun’s Mound and the Temple Mound was used for religious and social events, that included ball games, feast, dances, and special ceremonies.

The Plaza, and a celebration dance in the Plaza, drawing by du Pratz.

Among the ceremonies that took place were celebrations of thanksgiving to their Supreme Being at each new moon. The two largest celebrations were the Deer Feast at the beginning of their year in the spring, and the Feast of Maize at the 7th moon for harvest. Du Pratz described their celebration dance as a single drummer in the center surrounded by a circle of women, and an outer circle of men that interwove and danced through the night.

The Museum at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians

The museum provides detail information on the Natchez people through a variety of displays. These are supported by archeological finds, and reports from Europeans that encountered them from the 1500s to the 1700s. By the early 1700s the French recorded that there were five villages associated with the Natchez people, with the Grand Village being the largest, and its leader the Great Sun, exercising oversight of all.

The Natchez had a calendar that began in March, as did the European calendar at that time. There calendar had 13 months beginning with each new moon, and named for the primary plants and animals they depended on for food.

Natchez calendar.

These included deer, strawberries, little corn, watermelons, peaches, mulberries, great corn, turkeys, bison, bears, cold meal or ducks, chestnuts, and nuts.

Men and women working the fields, drawing by du Pratz.

Hunting tools included bows made of locust wood, with strings made of twisted bark or animal sinew. Arrows with a variety of feathers and tips for various size game, and spears made of cane with arrowhead shaped stone tips. Stone arrowheads found in the area dating back to 7000 BC, speak to a culture that emerged after the last Ice Age.

Hunting methods, drawings by du Pratz.

Men usually did most of the hunting, often in groups, surrounding and herding the game into a kill zone. Women participated in hunting the larger game, and often brought in and prepared the animal meat for meals, or smoked the meat, drying it for preservation.

Hunting disguise, drawing by du Pratz.

The Natchez are believed to have ties to people that occupied these lands for thousands of years. Excavations have revealed basket making dating back 3000 to 9000 years ago where the materials and weaving patterns are similar to those found among the Natchez, and still produced today.

Natchez basket and pottery designs.

Pottery fragments have also been found, made of mud and reinforced with Spanish moss, and then air dried and fired. A variety of shapes with circular and spiral patterns was common.

Drawings and descriptions by du Pratz describe the Natchez dress. In the warm months the men wore a white breechcloth made of deer skin and their leadership often wore black, the women wore a mantle or skirt, and the children wore nothing at all. In winter the women added a mantle fastened over their shoulder, and the men added a shirt made of deer skin leggings. Additional coverings included a robe made of bison skin with the hair on the inside for extra warmth. Tattooing, face paints, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, were common among both men and women.

Typical dress of the Natchez people, drawings by du Pratz.

The story of the Natchez people, possibly the first Native American culture in this area, is a sad story. The city of Natchez, and the Natchez Trace Parkway are named after them in remembrance, but most of the information we have is from French Colonial records, when they were wiped out in the wars between them. British, French, and Spanish colonists were seeking to divide up the Americas by creating slave colonies producing tobacco, sugar, cotton, minerals, and other products to trade in Europe for wealth, and Africa for more slaves. Their superior technology made them think they were superior to the Native Americans too, and so they tried to treat them as slaves.

Here is a quote from Tattooed Serpent.

Why did the French come to our country? We did not go to seek them: they asked for land of us, because their country was too little for all the men that were in it. We told them they might take land where they pleased, there was enough for them and for us; that it was good the same sun should enlighten us both, and that we would walk as friends in the same path; and that we would give them of our provisions, assist them to build, and to labour in their fields. We have done so; is not this true?

What occasion then had we for Frenchmen? Before they came, did we not live better than we do, seeing we deprive ourselves of a part of our corn, our game, and fish, to give a part to them? In what respect, then, had we occasion for them? Was it for their guns? The bows and arrows which we used, were sufficient to make us live well. Was it for their white, blue, and red blankets? We can do well enough with buffalo skins, which are warmer; our women wrought feather-blankets for the winter, and mulberry-mantles for the summer; which indeed were not so beautiful; but our women were more laborious and less vain than they are now.

In time, before the arrival of the French, we lived like men who can be satisfied with what they have; whereas at this day we are like slaves, who are not suffered to do as they please.

From du Pratz memoir, dated 1720.

In the end, the French built forts, brought in slaves, tried to make slaves of Native Americans, and traded supplies for guns. Their relations with the Natchez deteriorated as French colonists expanded and infringed on the Natchez lands and resources. In 1729 the Natchez attacked Fort Rosalie and killed over 200 people, taking many hostages including women and children. By 1731, the retaliation by the French destroyed the Natchez nation, and the people were either killed or sold into slavery, with only a few escaping to take refuge with neighboring tribes. It is likely that slavery was at the root of all these conflicts.

Travel Notes

After touring the Grand Village I ventured into downtown Natchez to see Texada, the first capitol of the Mississippi Territory, and the Natchez Bluffs trail. I’m planning to include Texada in another story on the Mississippi State Capitol, and the Natchez Bluffs Trail I discovered is part of a beautiful park bordering the Mississippi River and downtown Natchez. Make sure you check it out when visiting.

The mighty Mississippi River at Natchez.
The author, and the Natchez Coffee Company.

I left crazy early on a Sunday morning and really appreciated the Natchez Coffee Company being open for business. They served up the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time. Don’t miss it!

Notes and References

Story and photographs by David Smitherman, with data collected from on site inscriptions, Wikipedia, and Google Maps. Site visits were made in March 2024.

Maps and artist conceptions are from on site inscriptions by the National Park Service, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, with artists referenced where available.



David Smitherman

Retired architect and space architect from NASA. Married with a growing family. Currently into travel, historical architecture, photography and genealogy.