“The first white men to visit the villages of the Tunica tribe….were missionary priests from Canada, who came in 1698, and one of whom, Father Davion, soon afterwards established himself among them as missionary,” it is stated in a bulletin of the Bureau of American Enthology.
The priests were not the first Europeans to see the site – Suer de LaSalle claimed the entire Mississippi River Valley for France in 1682. He may have come ashore in what would some day be Warren County, but he made no settlements.
The priests who made the journey 16 years later began their trip in birchbark canoes where Chicago is now located. It was great weather, on writing “We did not perceive that it was winter,” though it was January. The land was described as “perfectly charming,” and by the time they reached the Tunica village the peach trees were in full bloom.
The place where the priests chose to erect the Cross of Christ was an ideal location, one of the priests describing the place as “quiet and pretty stream, about 12 miles inland from the Mississippi River.
They named the mission, which was about 10 miles north of present-day Vicksburg, St. Pierre. A few years later it would also be the name of a fort in the area.
The Tunicas numbered about 700 (some say 2000) who lived in several small villages, all within a few miles of each other. It was estimated that there were about 260 cabins, all made of palisades and mud. The houses, quite large, were mainly for sleeping, for all cooking was done outside in earthern vessels.
The Tunicas did not hunt as did most other tribes, but seem to have been vegetarians, their main diet being corn. One of the diarists wrote that the soil was very fertile and the corn sometimes grew 20 feet high. The Indians did not gather more than they could eat.
The Tunicas had never seen snow, and the diarists wrote “There is never any winter among them….There is always grass there, and at the end of January, the peach and plum trees and violets were in full bloom.”
As to wildlife, alligators were in great numbers so that “you might see 30 together.” They were described as “frightful, some 12 to 15 feet long,” and “no doubt they could swallow a man up in they caught him.”
The Tunicas had a temple on a little hill, and in it were earthern figures which were their manitous.
They intered their dead, and the diarist, who was a priest, wrote that when one died “the relations come to weep over the grave of the departed and make a fire there and pass their hands over it, crying out and weeping.” It was a custom, alarming to the French, that when a chief died others volunteered to be killed, to die with him.
There was another aspect of their culture that may have shocked the priests: on account of the heat the men went naked as did the young females until the age of 12 or so or until they married, and then they wore only a little fringe.
Another practice which concerned the Christians was that the Tunicas practiced polygamy.
Regardless, Father Davion learned their language, ministered to them, and became greatly revered. The Tunica were noted for their affection and loyalty toward the French, possibly due to the fact that they were in no way kin to the neighboring tribes.
In the fall of 1700 the Jesuit Father, Nicholas Foucault, who had arrived a year earlier to assist Davion, was murdered along with three other Frenchmen by treacherous Koroas in collusion with the Yazoo.
Father Davion fled to Mobile but returned to St. Pierre upon the urgent request of a delegation of the Tunicas about 1705, who promised full reparations upon the murderers.
In 1706 Father Davion accompanied the Tunicas to a new home near the mouth of the Red River, for the Chickasaws, who were warlike, had raided their lands on the Yazoo. Father Davion remained with the Tunicas until 1719 when he retired and moved to Mobile.
The St. Pierre mission came to an end in 1706. It began in 1698, making it the first European establishment in what is today Mississippi and Warren County.
St. Pierre was located north of Redwood on Highway 3 where the old bridge crossed the Yazoo. Historic Markers on the site tell the story of both the mission and the fort and also of Confederate fortifications in the 1860s.