Natchez Indian moves in downtown

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 11, 2009

NATCHEZ — The first Natchez Indian to make a formal appearance in the city in hundreds of years was at the ArtsNatchez gallery Friday.

But he’s not answering any questions, and he’s going to spend most of his time at Holder’s Drug store.

The “Indian” is actually a life-size, wooden sculpture completed by Bentonia sculptor Alexander Brown.

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Brown made the sculpture from recovered cypress wood on a commission by Holder’s Drug Store owners Larry and Annette Holder. Larry Holder said he has wanted a cigar store Indian for some time.

Most cigar store Indians are based off the American Indian cultures of the Midwest, but the Brown sculpture was based from historical accounts of what a Natchez Indian would have dressed and looked like.

“The problem was, people would come in and say, ‘A Natchez Indian? What would it look like?’” Larry Holder said. “Nobody knew.”

The project took a lot of research, including consultation with the four leading experts on southeastern American Indian culture and Grand Village of the Natchez Indians Director Jim Barnett, Brown said.

Ultimately, the artist and Holder were able to consult some drawings from French explorers, and based on those were able to pick several features to include on the sculpture.

From start to finish, the two worked together to whittle the sculpture concept down from complex to simple, Brown said.

“These were Indians before the Europeans, so they had no metal, no beasts of burden, no wheel,” Brown said. “They made some very sophisticated knives out of flint, but they had no steel needle to sew with.”

The sculpture is tattooed and naked except for a loincloth, clam and bear claw necklace and a feather headdress — the headdress was based off of the design on the seal at Britton & Koontz Bank — and he is clutching a war club.

He also has what appears to be a squirrel tucked into his belt, but it is actually a medicine pouch, Holder said.

The Natchez Indians would clean a squirrel, but would leave the skin whole.

“They had no way to carry things, so it became a purse,” Holder said.

Brown completed the sculpture from a single piece of wood in approximately 60 days.