Native American Groups
The original inhabitants of the West Baton Rouge area were Native American groups. Native people in the West Baton Rouge area mostly lived on the “natural levees” – the higher ground built up on the banks of the Mississippi River and the larger bayous. The swamps in the interior were usually reserved for hunting, fishing, and trapping. Three tribes most commonly associated with the West Baton Rouge area were the Houma, Bayougoula, and Acolapissa Tribes, all of which spoke related languages of the “Muskogean” language family. From the 1700s to the early 1800s, these three tribes suffered significant losses from war, disease, genocide, and European oppression, which forced them to move their settlements west and, in some cases, band together and blend their cultures to survive.
The Acolapissa Tribe
The Acolapissa Tribe was composed of six villages along the Pearl River. Acolapissa means "those who hear and see" in Choctaw. In 1702, the Acolapissa Tribe moved to Bayou Castine on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Around 1719, they moved across the Mississippi near New Orleans. The remaining Acolapissa people merged with the Houma Nation by 1939.
The Bayougoula Tribe
The Bayougoula Tribe, which means "bayou people" in Choctaw, lived with the Mugulasha Tribe. The name likely came from either their location or their tribal emblem - the alligator. The present-day town of Bayou Goula in Iberville Parish, south of West Baton Rouge Parish, bore the tribal name and was likely the site of the original Bayougoula tribal village. In 1700, the Houma killed several Bayougoula victims. The Bayougoula turned on the Mugulasha and destroyed their tribe. In 1706, the Taensa, who sought refuge with the Bayougoula, attacked and killed their hosts, and the remaining Bayougoula members merged with the Houma.
The Houma Tribe
At the time of when Europeans were first arriving in the West Baton Rouge area, the Houma Tribe lived near present-day Angola State Penitentiary, near the junction of the Red River and the Mississippi River. During much of the 1700s, they migrated from place to place in search of suitable land to farm. They settled briefly on the Mississippi River near Donaldsonville. They planted maize, beans, squash, and melons. They were also hunters and fishermen who made “dug-out” canoes fashioned from cypress logs to navigate the rivers and bayous. In 1706, disease decimated the Houma, and the warring Tunica wiped out over half the tribe. By the 19th century, the Houma migrated farther south, settling along the bayous and swamps in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. Eventually, the survivors of the Bayougoula and the Acolapissa tribes became part of the Houma people and ultimately migrated as far south as Terrebonne Parish.