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Jefferson Hennessy is a Webmaster and feature article journalist with a Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Jefferson is available for feature and profile story writing assignments. He is willing to travel. Click on the "view my complete profile" link to send Jefferson an email message.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Father Jean-Marie Jammes: Part One

A gentle spirit enriches the Acadian tapestry.

Evidence to support the existence of divine intervention can be found in abundance while listening to Father Jean-Marie Jammes (pron. Shom) tell his life story.

On this quiet Saturday morning, Father Jammes’ journey of 75 years finds him silently reading historical clerical documents while fighting a losing battle against growing stacks of paper and precious books in his crowded office at the Saint Martin de Tours Ministry building in St. Martinville, Louisiana.

During an interview Father Jammes' tireless energy often causes him to rise from his chair to search his bookshelves for the perfect passage that will best illustrate his point in English. His most used reference books appear to be placed at eye level, or higher. While searching the shelves he strokes the dark whiskers on his chin and speaks aloud to himself in his native French tongue. Finally, after a careful search he says, "Ah yes. This will be very helpful to you I think," as he steps down from a small stool with prize in hand. While explaining his love of books he says, "I became an historian a little bit by accident, because what I like is to read all the time."

Jean-Marie Jammes was born in Marvejols, a small village nestled near the feet of the Margeride Mountains of central France, just northwest of Mende. During a return trip home a few years ago Father Jammes found more evidence of divination in his life in the form of a small, six by four inch green book.

While walking among a haphazard pile of childhood books which were scattered across the floor of a barn near his home, his eye spotted a little book that he did not remember owning. A closer look revealed the title of the book to be "An Anthology of Poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow," which included the famous St. Martinville poem "Evangeline." He discovered later that the book had been given to him by his mother's friend on the occasion of little Jean-Marie's first Christmas in 1920.

After hearing the story of how Father Jammes overcame so many difficult obstacles to arrive safely in St. Martinville, that little green book will make even the most ardent skeptic give pause. Often in Father Jammes life in times of difficulty he has been helped - somehow. His story of miraculous release from a Nazi prison in occupied France, and his story of last minute rescue from obscurity by a tall American who chose him among hundreds to attend school in America both deserve telling, allowing the listener to decide between chance or providence as the source of Father Jammes' eventual good fortune.

A Miraculous Release

Nineteen forty-three was a dark time in French history. Hitler's Nazi army occupied the northern half of France until the American army landed in North Africa in late 1942, forcing the Germans to steal the southern half of France as quickly as possible.

On October 13th of 1943, Father Jammes found himself in a sudden and serious confrontation with the Nazi army. He was only 20 days into his 22nd year of life, and as a young priest at that time he was responsible for a group of 100 students who were members of the Chantiers de la Jeunesse (SHAN teeAY de LA ju NESS), which was a community service organization for people in their late teens and early twenties who were not in the army.

Father Jammes remembers that fateful autumn morning, high in the mountains where he was to administer a special feast for those students whose service with the Chantiers was over.

"It was during the night," says Father Jammes, "all of a sudden I heard...rup, rup, rup, rup...I knew the Germans are coming.”

"We were at that time near a river, the Dordogne. At 6 o'clock in the morning I crossed the river without taking off my shoes, there was not very much water. We found a small place hidden completely on both sides, a valley, very little, with hills on both sides and trees."

Then Father Jammes whispers, "I said to my group of Chantiers, 'You stay quiet here. And if by 4 o'clock tonight I am not back, you go back to the camp.'"

Father Jammes had a plan. He would walk back to his center, about 14 miles away, and seek help to protect his youngsters. As he walked in haste it was a beautiful, cool blue sunny morning which created for Father Jammes the happy illusion that everything may work out for best.

"So I start walking," says Father Jammes. "I found a farm where the people were verrry nice. They gave me the best breakfast I ever had, bacon and eggs, you know?

"They said, 'Don't move! The Germans came here this morning. They are down in the valley. They are all over the place. Please don't move!' I said, 'Look, I have really to go because of my youngsters,' I told them. So I left."

As he was walking back to his hidden Chantiers he remembers, "Then all of a sudden, coming out from behind the bushes I hear two Germans with guns. They arrested me."

Later that afternoon at about 6 p.m. Father Jammes was taken by the Germans to an old French military prison where he was locked up with five other Frenchmen "the same age as my father" in a small cell with a narrow window in the ceiling high above.

Father Jammes says he is still ashamed of himself because of something he did that first day in prison. Those five undernourished prisoners asked him questions about himself, and eventually discovered that he had not eaten since breakfast.

At the time Father Jammes did not know how precious food would become, but today he realizes how precious food was to those five men.

"They were very nice to me," he says as he recalls the moment. "And when they discovered I had not eaten since early that morning, they didn't realize what I had done in the morning with that breakfast. Much better than anything they had eaten the whole day." Father Jammes stops, becoming touched with emotion then says, "So one of them gave me a little piece of bread."

For the next 39 days Father Jammes shared his cellmate's pangs of hunger during the long, quiet night hours, and the mental anguish of not knowing why he was imprisoned, or if he would ever be released. He knew there was no chance of escape by force of wit or weapons...but perhaps, thought Father Jammes, escape may be arranged in a different, more powerful way.

Because the Germans did not discover the small book that Father Jammes had placed inside his cossack, while reading that book he learned about a man named Felix de Valois, who every year has a feast given in his honor.

In silent desperation, Father Jammes decided to pray to the famous Felix de Valois who is admired in French history as the liberator of French refugees during the war against the Turks seven hundred years ago. Father Jammes explains:

"I had two aunts, sisters of my father, who had joined the order of Felix de Valois, but they were no longer helping to save people in captivity. So I said to Felix de Valois, 'My aunts have given their lives to the liberation of people in captivity. They never had the chance to do anything to liberate anyone today. We have the chance. I want to be out on the 20th in order to be able to say mass on the 21st.'" As a point of clarification he says, "The feast of the 21st is the feast of the presentation of Mary which is important to me."

Then he states his final point with confident assurance, "And so, on the 20th...the Germans came for me." After a momentary spell of silence in the room he councils, "Prayer is a reality."

"They didn't tell me, 'You are free,'" he continues. "They said, 'Take your things,' and my things were very little. I left with a plate and a cup I had been using for thirty-nine days."

Father Jammes did get to say mass like he promised he would, and eventually he worked for the French Air Force against the Nazi army. His brave efforts surely helped to liberate many.
And in typical Father Jammes fashion he wants to be very clear about those days, and how he feels about them today, when he says at interview's end, "Don't be too hard on our German friends. They have suffered too."

(End of Part One)

Father Jean-Marie Jammes: Part Two

Father Jammes decides he will try to go to America, and he would have been left behind like another face in the crowd if not for the unsolicited kindness of an American stranger.

A Tall American

The year before his arrival in the United States in the fall of 1950 is a story of repeated attempts to enter America that is not well known by St. Martinville parishioners. He says of those days, "I had been teaching English in France without knowing English very well. So I went to London during the summer of 1949 to learn some English."

After six weeks of English class at the University of London an invitation to hear the Lord Mayor of London give a speech was offered to him and a dozen other foreign students at the university. This invite was intended to make up for a beautiful boat ride on the Thames River that they all missed because at the last minute no more space was available on the riverboat. Fortunately for St. Martin de Tours Church parishioners Father Jammes went to hear the Lord Mayor that autumn day. He recalls the moment:

"The majority of the people there were Americans. I found myself in contact at once with an American girl whose father had been running to become Senator of Rhode Island. But he had died just before the election so he was never elected. Nevertheless, she was from a good family in Rhode Island.

"So she saw a priest and she is the one who came to me, I am dressed as a clergyman, you know, so she came and asked me questions. Too many questions because all of a sudden a guard came and said, 'Aren't you ashamed to talk while the Lord Mayor is giving a speech?' So, in any case, she is the one who told me, 'Why don't you come to the States?' I said later to myself, 'Okay, let me try.'"

In Paris, after leaving London, Father Jammes followed a twisted bureaucratic road that eventually landed him at the desk of a hardheaded secretary with an overblown sense of importance because she held the keys to America. The first thing that secretary told our hopeful Frenchman was, "You're too old." Father Jammes says, "At that time I was going to be thirty."

He continues, "She said, 'You don't have a diploma.' It is a fact at that time I didn't have a diploma, but I had been in Rome. I had a religious diploma, but for her it was not too good. And then she said, 'You've come too late.' Because that was in November and in the selection, I found out, there were 1200 people in France who had applied. And there were only 200 going to be selected. So she said, 'Bye.' And she left."

But Father Jammes was not going to be that easily deterred.

He had one more address to try. A woman at an all girls school, his earliest point of inquiry into a new life in America, gave him the name and address of the vice-president of New York State University who was living in downtown Paris near the Seine River. When Father Jammes knocked on his door, the vice-president had no time to talk, so Father Jammes told his story quickly while walking down one flight of stairs.

In the lobby he was instructed by the vice-president to go back to the office of that same secretary, but this time Father Jammes had an official invitation.

"So the following day," continues Father Jammes, "I return and passed in front of the secretary! And I said to a man, 'I have an appointment.' The man said, 'Look, we are very sorry, but tomorrow is definitely the last day in which we interview the people who have been pre-selected out of 1200.' Some of them had kind of been good material and he said, 'So look, come tomorrow. Here is a list of the papers you should have. You need three letters of reference by people who know you and can testify on your behalf.' Father Jammes says disappointingly, 'I didn't have that.'"

Father Jammes returned the following day without any letters of reference, but a convincing letter was on its way. He was told to wait his turn while each of the pre-selected applicants were interviewed by an intimidating panel of four Frenchmen and one American.

As he sat outside the interview room he watched every applicant walk out of the door in tears. Their wet eyes told Father Jammes the door to America is closed and made of heartless iron.

"So I went through the 'interrogation,' and I left," he recalls, "but I was still inside the building on the same floor saying to myself I should go back and tell them, 'Don't worry! You didn't receive any letters of recommendation, I didn't bring you any letters. But you are going to have good letters!'

"I had already asked the man with the Legion of Honor who had been in jail with me, who had been liberated after a year in Dachau concentration camp. A very, very brilliant man, an artist for many years.”

"So I was standing there wondering and all of a sudden...the man who was the American came out of the room. So we are there, and first of all he is very tall, and second he is an American, and you know in America you are more straightforward. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'What's the matter Father?' I said, 'I was wondering whether I should come back to tell you that you will have..."

Father Jammes stops, touched with emotion. He finishes his sentence, "The American said, 'Don't worry. We put you at the top of the list.'"

So in spite of all his agonizing worries and difficulties - being too old and too late, with no "impressive" diploma, and no letters of reference on his behalf - finally, Father Jammes' new life in America was born. And from the moment he stepped on American soil Father Jammes has been very busy.

At the University of Chicago he earned a Ph.D. in Sociology in 1954, then he traveled back and forth between France and America every year for the next nineteen years working for the U.S. Embassy in Paris and the French government, always in the service of others.

In 1973 he was invited to work in Louisiana. James Domengeaux, the founder of an organization dedicated to the preservation of the French language called CODOFIL (Council on the Development of French in Louisiana), must also be considered a pivotal player in Father Jammes life.

At the end of three years of work with CODOFIL Father Jammes began to organize exchanges of information between the many French-speaking nations of the world.

Plus during this time he was invited often to be the guest speaker on television and radio programs to talk about French speaking people and their language. To list his energetic contributions to Louisiana and French speakers all over the world would take more space than is provided here.

In 1983 Father Jammes became an American citizen. Listening to another one of his "almost didn't" stories, once again the hearer of the tale finds that Father Jammes miraculous good fortune is still at work.

Remember that little green book Father Jammes recently found in a barn near his childhood home, scattered among dozens of books in a pile on the floor? The book was an anthology of poems written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Inside the book on the first page is written "Christmas 1920" by his mother's friend in black ink, a gift for the newborn son of Urbain and Josephine Jammes.

Reading the following lines of a poem in that book titled "A Psalm of Life," the words seem to predict the energetic life to come in little Jean-Marie, born September 24, 1920. A long life that has brought him to his current Ministry Building office behind St. Martin de Tours Church, within 75 steps of Evangeline's legendary oak tree. *

A Psalm of Life
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
“Life is but an empty dream!”
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time; -

Footprints that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

The Legend of the Tunica Treasure

A history of the Tunica Indian tribe and their landmark court case to reclaim the greatest archeological find in the lower Mississippi valley.

In the blistering summer heat of 1968, an astounding archeological discovery was made on the Old Trudeau Plantation in Tunica, a rural central Louisiana community on the east bank of the Mississippi River about 15 miles northwest of St. Francisville.

What was discovered on that fateful day in 1968 would eventually come to be known to archeologists as “the greatest archeological find in the lower Mississippi valley,” and “one of the greatest archeological finds of the 20th century.”

But just a few years after its discovery it would be described as “the curse of the Tunica Treasure” by Leonard Charrier (sharie-ay), an untrained pothunter who unearthed this great archeological find - a secluded Tunica mausoleum that held over 100 Tunica Indian graves.

Through extensive study of 18th century maps and early colonial period documents Charrier figured out the exact location of something that had been jealously guarded by history for 240 years, something archeologists had been actively searching for since the 1930s.

Armed with a metal detector, and the casual permission of the plantation’s caretaker to poke around on the property, Charrier went in search of his treasure hunter’s dream: the long-hidden grave of the wealthy 18th century Tunica Indian, Cahura-Joligo (Ka-HUE-ra Jo-LEE-go). Legend had it that this great Tunica chief was buried with a cache of gold and silver coins given to him by French monarch Louis XV in gratitude for his tribe’s military assistance to French settlers in colonial Louisiana.

When Charrier first stood on the land where his research had guided him, it didn’t take long before his metal detector started to react strongly, indicating buried metal, and lots of it.

Buried underground was evidence of the unique relationship the Tunica Indians shared with French and Spanish settlers during the early colonization of Louisiana: European glazed earthenware pieces, Rhine valley stoneware, blue and white Dutch delftware, brass and iron pots, pan and kettles, musket parts, ceremonial pipes, iron tools, pewter bowls, shell ear pins, jugs, bowls and jars, brass bells, glass beads, cooking utensils, iron knives and brass buttons.

Tunica Entrepreneurs

According to archeologists, what makes the Tunica Treasure unique is the sheer quantity and variety of European items, which is unparalleled at any other known contemporary native site of the mid-eighteenth century in the Southeast. The Tunica’s entrepreneurial shrewdness as traders of horses and salt, and their value as military allies with French and Spanish colonists, earned them the rewards of European contact and friendship. And as the material wealth of the Tunica increased, they became ever more changed by, and dependent upon, the colonial European lifestyle.

In December of 1721, the Tunica were visited by the official historian of New France [Canada], Father Charlevoix, who met the great chief, Cahura-Joligo, and recorded the following description of the Tunica’s now-famous Grand Mingo whose tribe was living at what is now known as Angola, Louisiana, just a few miles north of the Tunica Treasure mausoleum at the Old Trudeau Plantation:

“The chief received us very politely; he was dressed in the French fashion, and seemed to be not at all uneasy in that habit. Of all the savages of Canada there is none so much depended on by our commandants as this chief. He loves our nation, and has no cause to repent of the services he has rendered it. He trades with the French, whom he supplies with horses and fowls, and he understands his trade very well. He has learned of us to hoard up money, and he is reckoned very rich.”

Ten years after this meeting, in June of 1731, members of the Natchez tribe who were exacting their revenge on the Tunica for their military assistance to the French, killed Cahura-Joligo during a surprise early morning raid. Immediately after the death of the great Tunica chief, the tribe relocated south to the Trudeau site where they lived and prospered for the next sixty years.

Charrier’s Deal

Without the Old Trudeau Plantation owner’s knowledge or permission, and without any archeological training, Charrier began what has since been described as a haphazard mutilation of the Tunica mausoleum, unearthing the contents of more than 100 Indian graves between 1968 and 1970.

On weekends and after working hours at Angola Prison where he worked as a prison guard, Charrier repeatedly visited the burial site just two miles south of Angola, still searching for Cahura-Joligo's grave. The artifacts he found were removed surreptitiously from the site, and carried away in his car across the Mississippi River on the Saint Francisville ferry, then piled and stuffed into every nook and cranny of his small residence in Bunkie, LA.

In late 1969 Charrier was in the market to sell the artifacts he had unearthed to date. He brought into his confidence Louisiana archeologist Stu Neitzel who, after his initial shock at seeing such marvelous artifacts piled up in the closets of Charrier’s house, immediately contacted archeologist Dr. Jeffrey Brain of the Peabody Museum in Essex, Massachusetts, the leading authority on Tunica Indian history. When Dr. Brain finally arrived in Bunkie with Neitzel to see the items for himself, he offered $4,000 to Charrier for the entire collection.

Declining Brain's offer, Charrier said he wanted $40,000 for "his" collection, even though proof of ownership could not be presented at this meeting. Charrier assured Brain he could prove he had clear title to the artifacts. Brain countered with an offer of $8,000, but Charrier again declined.

A deal was eventually made, however. Charrier agreed to sell the collection to the Peabody Museum, where it would be restored, studied and displayed. The money to buy the collection was to come from a consortium made up of the Peabody Museum, the Corning Museum, and the Smithsonian.

So, on September 10, 1970, the remarkable collection left the little town of Bunkie, which is located just a short 10-minute drive away from Marksville, home of the Tunica Indian tribe for the past 200 years.

Proving Ownership

Four years later, on October 26, 1974, when the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana incorporated and again resumed the Tunica's 55-year effort to obtain federal recognition as a tribe, they were still unaware that the remains of their ancestors had been unearthed, and that the grave goods were being housed at the Peabody Museum. Nor could they have imagined that during the previous four years Brain and Charrier had been at great odds over finalizing the sale of the collection. The sticking point continued to be Charrier's lack of any legal proof of ownership.

In the summer of 1972, Charrier finally revealed to Brain where the artifacts had been found, saying that a Mississippi widow named Louise Bell was the owner of the Old Trudeau Plantation property. After meeting with the widow Bell and her initially uncooperative family members, Brain was eventually given permission by the family to view, and eventually to continue excavation of, the Tunica Indian graveyard.

During the next two years Charrier waited anxiously to discover the wishes of the Bell family concerning ownership of the artifacts he had unearthed on their property.

When no decision had been made by the Bells to either give or sell the rights to the artifacts to him, Charrier filed suit against the Bell family on July 17, 1974 in the West Feliciana Parish District Court of Louisiana. In his petition Charrier claimed:

"During the years 1968 through 1970 the Plaintiff herein, with the permission of the Defendants or their agent or agents, discovered a quantity of precious old relics on the Defendant's land which belonged to the Tunica Indians and which had many, many years ago been abandoned by these Indians."

Late in 1975, before the Charrier v. Bell court case began, a newly established agency of the State of Louisiana called the Louisiana Archeological Survey and Antiquities Commission (LASAC) entered the case as a third party, claiming Louisiana had a fiduciary responsibility to protect Indian burial sites. The state agency asserted:

"There are no lawful heirs to the Tunica Indians who originally buried the artifacts and, under State law, the succession of persons who die without heirs or which are not claimed by those having a right to them, belong to the State."

Because of the state's response to Charrier's lawsuit it soon became public knowledge that up for grabs was an incredible collection of artifacts known as "The Tunica Treasure."

And it was because of the state's publicized intervention that the Tunica tribe finally heard of the discovery of their ancestor's mausoleum by Charrier, and in time, the disturbing story of its excavation.

A Litigious Roller Coaster

On June 14, 1976 the first chapter of the "Charrier vs. Bell" court battle for ownership of The Tunica Treasure began. The next three and a half years would create a litigious roller coaster of perplexing decisions and appeals so exhausting that, by the winter of 1979 Dr. Brain would describe the contentious legal maneuvers as an unimaginable waste of emotional and intellectual effort.

As for the Tunica Indian tribe's role in the ongoing court process, until the federal government would formally recognize them as a tribe, all they could do was watch the unfolding legal battle as a minor player. But the Tunica Indians’ legal status was about to change dramatically.

After five years of hard work that began in October of 1974, once again yet another petition was submitted - by the now incorporated Tunica-Biloxi tribe - to the Secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., titled "Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe of Louisiana, Petition for Recognition of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe in Compliance with CFR Part 54 (1979).” One can only imagine the tribe's feelings of guarded optimism.

While the Bureau of Indian Affairs conducted its investigation of the Tunica-Biloxi petition, two more significant events occurred. The Peabody Museum returned The Tunica Treasure to Louisiana, where it was housed by the Cabildo Museum in New Orleans, although the ownership issue was still unsettled. And in July of 1981, an article appeared in The New Yorker magazine that was favorable to Charrier, describing the Tunica Indians' interest in the artifacts as merely "a potential source of employment." This latest insult made the Indians even more eager to join the court battle as a major player.

Up to this point in early July of 1981 the court battle was being contested by three interested parties: the plaintiff "pothunter" Leonard Charrier, the defendant Bell family landowners, and the state intervener the LASAC, which had earlier purchased Louise Bell's Trudeau Plantation property and the rights to the artifacts on behalf of the State of Louisiana for $175,000.

Louisiana Assistant Attorney General, Fred Benton, Jr., believed that the state could never agree to a settlement that rewarded a treasure hunter for destroying the archeological heritage of some of its citizens. When asked about Charrier's actions Benton said, "The [Trudeau] site was pillaged. Are we to give a guy money for destroying all of this archeology?"

On July 27, 1981, an announcement appeared in the Federal Register, putting an end to the Tunica tribe's 60-year quest for official recognition:

"Notice is hereby given that the Assistant Secretary acknowledges that the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe exists as an Indian tribe."

Federal recognition of the tribe added a new twist to the Tunica Treasure court case drama.

When the Tunica finally joined the "Charrier vs. Bell" lawsuit in the fall of 1981, Fred Benton, Jr. agreed to merge the state's claim with the Tunica Indian’s claim in order to help them obtain possession and control of their ancestor’s grave goods. With Benton on their side, the Tunica gained a powerful ally in their battle to reclaim what they felt rightfully belonged to them.

The Tunica Triumph

March 18, 1985. What had begun nine years ago in the crowded second-floor courtroom of the West Feliciana Parish Court House in Saint Francisville had now arrived at its remarkable conclusion.

Appeals Court Judge C. Lenton Sartain issued a 15-page decision concerning the true ownership of the now-famous "Tunica Treasure." He said, in part:

"While the relinquishment of immediate possession may have been proved, an objective viewing of the circumstances and intent of the relinquishment does not result in a finding of abandonment... The relinquishment of possession normally serves some spiritual, moral, or religious purpose of the descendant/owner, but it is not intended as a means of relinquishing ownership to a stranger."

Plainly speaking, the judge ruled that the common law doctrine of abandonment does not apply to burial materials. When a body is buried, the survivors do not intend to abandon that body as if it were an acre of land. Therefore, Judge Sartain reasoned, the bones and grave goods remain the property of the descendants, who in this case are the Tunica-Biloxi Indians.

Charrier continued to appeal all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court, but Judge Sartain's common sense ruling stuck. The message to all pothunters was clear: those who hope to be rewarded for plundering Indian graves for profit in Louisiana are in for a big disappointment.

Five years later, Judge Sartain’s 15-page decision determining ownership of the Tunica Treasure laid the foundation for federal legislation known as NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Reparation Act of 1990, signed into law by President George Bush.

A Two Million Dollar Restoration

In the summer of 1989, the Tunica Treasure was finally returned by the Cabildo Museum in New Orleans to the Tunica-Biloxi reservation in Marksville. By now all of Charrier’s court claims of ownership had ended in failure. And the Tunica tribe believed they were ready to properly care for the delicate artifacts that had remained in the care of the Cabildo Museum for nearly ten years.

In eager anticipation the Tunica-Biloxi Museum's curator and anthropologist, Bill Day, opened the grave goods boxes one by one only to discover that he had a serious problem on his hands. After a close inspection of the collection Day understood the reason for the grave goods poor condition. Day explains:

"These ceramics were loaded with chlorides from being in the ground for two hundred years. When metallic or ceramic objects absorb salt, anytime you have environmental change, this can cause extensive damage, because with [added] moisture hydrochloric acid forms, which allows moisture to penetrate, which causes salt to crystallize. When a crystal forms [in ceramics] it doesn't stop forming; something has to give. So there is exfoliation, disintegration [of the ceramics]."

Day was eventually informed by an architect who works for the Tunica Tribe that the reason for the deteriorating condition of the collection was that “for some time” during nearly ten years the Tunica Treasure was housed by the Cabildo, it was not properly cared for.

In fact, for an unknown period of time the collection had been stored in grocery store pasteboard boxes in old historic cabins, unprotected from humidity, out behind Madame John's Legacy in the French Quarter, with iron kettles stacked on top of some of the fragile ceramics. It was during this time that the collection was exposed to destructive moisture.

Extremely disappointed by the condition of the grave goods that had finally found their way back to the tribe, Day decided to seek the advice of professional conservators and ask them two questions: "Can these ceramics be saved? If so, how much will it cost?"

After careful inspection of the fragile ceramics the conservators replied, "Yes, some can be saved. It will cost between one-and-a-half million to two million dollars."

So, with the latest obstacle in The Tunica Treasure odyssey clearly defined, the undaunted Day began knocking on doors from Shreveport down to New Orleans, trying to raise money to restore the Tunica's enormous collection of grave goods. Eventually enough funds were raised to buy two refrigerated truck trailers, which would serve as the Tunica Indian conservation laboratory. The tribe eventually put together what Day proudly describes as "one of the most sophisticated conservation laboratories anywhere."

Tunica-Biloxi Success Story

As of August, 2003, the Tunica-Biloxi tribe has restored 78 percent of the fragile grave goods that were unearthed 35 years ago, a stunning 255,000 artifacts. In 2004, the collection is to be housed in a new Cultural Resource Center (photo) on the reservation that will consist of a museum to display the Tunica Treasure, a gift shop, tribal offices, library, restoration/conservation laboratory, computer lab, and exhibit hall.

Their new cultural center is a direct result of the Tunica’s customary entrepreneurial spirit exemplified by the tribe’s continued success in the gaming and hospitality industries, with their Paragon Casino Resort, golf course, Convention Center, and various non-gaming business franchises in central Louisiana.

Tunica-Biloxi Chairman, Earl J. Barbry, Sr., says his tribe is currently “one of largest employers in central Louisiana.” Recently the Louisiana legislature honored Barbry’s tribe with a Tunica-Biloxi Day conference where Barbry spoke to House and Senate members about his plans to attract new business to Louisiana. Barbry says it is important to him to “consider how new business will benefit both the greater community and the tribe.” But more importantly, Barbry insists, “the best investment we’ve ever made, or ever will make, is in our children.”

A Chronology of Tunica History – 1541 to Present

1541 – “Quizquiz” (pron. keys-keys) near Friars Point, MS. Tunica makes contact with Spanish explorer DeSoto.

1682 to 1706 – “Yazoo River” near Vicksburg, MS. The Tunica are farmers, friendly, traded salt and fowl for goods with French missionaries. Introduction to European material culture of worldly goods.

1706 to 1731 – “Portage of the Cross” near Angola, LA. The Tunica trades heavily in salt and horses with French and Spanish colonials, and are trusted military allies of the French.

1731 – Natchez nearly wiped out by French. Grand Mingo, Cahura-Joligo is killed in a Natchez retaliatory raid.

1731 to 1763 - With the death of Cahura-Joligo, tribe moves south to Trudeau, LA. Location of the “Tunica Treasure” mausoleum.

1764 to 1790 – After Tunica raid on British troops the tribe moves west across the Mississippi River to Pointe Coupee, LA to be near French settlements.

1790 – The Tunica tribe moves to Marksville, LA where they currently reside.

A Chronology of the Tunica Treasure Court Case

1968 to 1970 - Pothunter, Leonard Cherrier, discovers and mutilates ancient Tunica mausoleum at Tunica, LA. Charrier’s find later comes to be known as “the greatest archeological find in the lower Mississippi valley.”

1969 – Cherrier offers to sell the Tunica collection to Dr. Jeffrey Brain of the Peabody Museum in Essex, MA although Cherrier cannot prove ownership.

September 10, 1970 – Tunica Treasure transported from Cherrier’s home near Bunkie, LA to Peabody Museum to be studied and displayed. Cherrier is still unwilling to reveal the location of the mausoleum, and has yet to receive any money for the collection.

1972 – Cherrier reveals the mausoleum’s location to Dr. Brain who begins a scientific study of the site.

July 17, 1974 – Charrier files a lawsuit against the Trudeau property owner, Louise Bell. The Tunica Treasure court case titled Charrier v. Bell begins.

October 26, 1974 – The Tunica and Biloxi tribes incorporate and file for federal recognition. The Tunica still have no knowledge of their mausoleum’s exhumation and the ongoing Peabody study.

1975 – The newly created Louisiana Archeological Survey and Antiquities Commission enters Cherrier v. Bell as a third party claiming that since there are no rightful heirs in existence the grave goods belong to the state. With the LASAC’s publicized intervention into Charrier v. Bell the Tunica tribe learns of the existence of “The Tunica Treasure.”

June 14, 1976 – The first chapter of Charrier v. Bell court battle begins in St. Francisville, LA courthouse. The court case would be appealed repeatedly well into the mid-1980s.

1979 – The LASAC purchases Louise Bell’s property at Trudeau for $175,000.

1980 - The Tunica Treasure is shipped from the Peabody Museum to the Cabildo Museum in New Orleans where it is to be stored until a lawful owner is determined.

July 27, 1981 – The Federal Register announces the Tunica-Biloxi tribe officially exists as an Indian tribe.

1981 – The Tunica enter Charrier v. Bell lawsuit. Louisiana Assistant Attorney General, Fred Benton, Jr., agrees to merge the State’s claim with the Tunica claim to help them regain possession of their ancestor’s grave goods.

March 18, 1985 – Appeals Court Judge, C. Lenton Sartain, issues judgment in favor of the Tunica Indians that is not overturned by any higher court. Charrier appeals Sartain’s ruling all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court, to no avail.

1989 – The Tunica receive their ancestors grave goods from the Cabildo and discover the 240-year-old ceramics are severely damaged. The Tunica must raise two million dollars to restore the collection. Initial restoration funds are raised by requests for donations.

1991 – Grand Casino Avoyelles is built by the Sovereign Tunica-Biloxi Nation. Casino profits are used to continue restoration of the Tunica Treasure grave goods.

1994 – Approximately 40% of the Tunica Treasure is restored and enshrined in the new Tunica-Biloxi Museum. Admission is free.

2003 – Approx. 78% of the collection is restored and the old Tunica Treasure Museum is torn down to build a new Cultural Resource Center and Museum to be completed in late 2004.

This Blog post is Dedicated
to the Memory of Bill Day -
Director, Tunica-Biloxi Cultural
and Historic Preservation

Thank you note to Bill Day (1995):

“Mr. Day, I managed to talk to the Hoshman's, owners of the Old Trudeau Plantation, who let me have a five minute look at the site. I took a couple of photos and gave one to Trent to use in the article. The site is not very impressive to look at but very creepy to experience, a very odd sensation comes over you while standing there quietly, soaking it in. Thank you for teaching me about both sides of the "American" nickel, especially about the side with the buffalo on it.”

- Jefferson Hennessy