Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Lady of Cofitachequi

I’ve been doing some research and reading on the pre-Columbian southeast (US), partially in trying to piece together more of possible Biloxi sociopolitical history in an overall geopolitical and geocultural context. I’ve discovered some interesting tidbits brought down to us via the journals of the De Soto expeditions of the sixteenth century.

Among these tidbits is evidence of definite social stratification and class structure, including reverence for high chiefs or kings (and, at least in one case, a queen). One of these “paramount chiefs” who commanded a number of chiefdoms distributed over an area of at least one thousand square kilometers (Smith & Hally 1992) was named by the Spaniards “The Lady of Cofitachequi.” She was carried in a litter on the shoulders of some of her subordinates to meet the De Soto expedition. She was not treated very well by her Spanish visitors, however, and in fact was kidnapped by De Soto’s men after they pillaged her primary village and supplies. They apparently took her captive to use as a guide in locating another chiefdom at Coosa. At one point on the journey, she and one of her female slaves escaped, apparently never to be seen again by De Soto (luckily for her!).

Such encounters with Native American chiefs or kings (or queens) being carried on litters was apparently rather frequent, as the paramount chief at Coosa was also carried on a litter by his subordinates, and Natchez chiefs were also carried about on litters.

Natchez chief carried on litter

I find this particularly interesting in regards to the Native southeastern US, as there seems to be mounting evidence that the pre-Columbian Southeastern Cultural Complex (SECC) may have had more in common sociopolitically with Mesoamerica (Olmec and Maya) than we may have ever thought given the evidence of class distinction, high reverence for the ruling elite, and the layouts and monumental architecture of Mississippian and SECC cities (e.g., Cahokia, Moundville, Poverty Point).


Smith, M. and D. Hally. 1992. Chiefly Behavior: Evidence from Sixteenth Century Spanish Accounts. In Lords of the southeast: social inequality and the native elites of southeastern North America, 1992 Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, No. 3. Barker, A. and T. Pauketat, eds.