Settlement History
    The First humans to inhabit southern Louisiana appeared around 12,000 years ago.  They were hunters, and a majority of their food came from animals which are now long since extinct:  camel, giant armadillo, short-faced bear, long-horned bison, mastadon, tapir, ground sloth, saber-toothed tiger, dire wolf, and horse.  Hunting was done through the use of spears tipped with stone points.  Paleo-indians lived in small nomadic groups that remained in one area until the plants and animals began to decline.  Paleo-Indians typically set up camp near rivers or streams.  It is very difficult to determine the range of paleo-indians due to the fact that they had very few artifacts.  One site exists in Northwestern Louisiana.  Late Paleo-Indian sites are found throughout the state showing both an increase in population, and longer duration at each camp.  
paleo indian
The transition from Paleo-Indians to early Meso-Indians began around 8000 years ago.  These Indians were also nomadic, but had much smaller ranges and built more permanent camps that they returned to often.   They had a more varied diet including seeds, nuts, berries, fish, clams, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals.  Most camps were located near water.  Invented fish hooks and made more advanced tools for hunting.  Used the atlatl for hunting, which was a wooden spear thrower.  Meso-Indians made more advanced stone tools, and began making tools and ornaments out of other mediums including bone.  The Banana Bayou Archaelogical site is located in South central Louisiana and the presence of fish hooks clearly shows the use of the coastal wetlands by the Meso-Indians.
neo indians
This period lasted from 4000-400 years ago.  These Indians were more sedentary and began making pottery vessels, baked clay balls, and ceremonial objects.  Several different Neo-Indian cultures existed in Southern Louisiana including:  Poverty Point, Tchefuncte, Marksville, Troyville-Coles Creek, Caddo, and Plaquemine-Mississippian.
Indian life at the time of European Settlement
When the French first arrived in Southern Louisiana around 1700, many tribes inhabited the region, with lifestyles ranging from nomadic hunters to solely agriculture based societies.  Many of these societies were very advanced with extensive social and cultural exchange networks for the trading of goods, beliefs, language, technology, and recreation.  This exchange occurred with other native groups throughout the region and into Mexico, the Caribbean, and even with European settlers.  Some of the tribes present in the region during French settlement:  Natchez, Atakapa, Opelousa, Caddo, Tunica, Koroa, Yazoo, Houma, Bayougoula, Acolapissa, Mugulasha, Okelousa, Quinapisa, Tangipahoa, Chitimacha, Washa, and Chawasha.  Housing structures varied greatly between tribes, and consisted of palmetto-thatched houses, beehive-shaped grass houses, woodframe houses, and wattle and daub houses.  
chitimacha basket
Basket made by the Chitimacha Indians
Discovering the Mississippi

Early European Settlement
Southern Louisiana was discovered by the French explorer LaSalle in 1682.  The first French settlements were established in Southern Louisiana between 1700 and 1720.  A vast majority of the white settlers in the early colonial period were banished from Europe for antisocial behavior or were enticed to Southern Louisiana by false promises of free land.   European settlement was so sparse that native peoples remained the largest population until the 1800's.  Africans became a major constituent of Southern Louisiana in the 1770's and 1780's as plantation workers.  Most of the Africans came from one region in Western Africa, and far outnumbered whites in Southern Louisiana.  
Thousands of Acadians were exiled from English territories in 1755 and spent a decade toiling in utter poverty in English and French colonies, before arriving in Louisiana.  The first Acadians arrived in 1764, followed soon after by hundreds more.  Over 1000 migrated in 1766.  Another large influx arrived in 1785 due to another group being exiled from France.   The Acadians rapidly colonized the area of Southern Louisiana and their culture is now known as Cajun.  
New Orleans
New Orleans was the first major city in Southern Louisiana and primarily consisted of French immigrants, free slaves, and Indians.  A massive influx of 10,000 French Saint-Dominigue refugees arrived in 1809, following the Haitian revolution.  This influx of multi-cultural refugees engrained much of the cultural uniqueness which characterizes Louisiana today.  
German and Irish Immigrants
A surge of German and Irish immigrants came to Louisiana in the 1840's and 1850's.  Many of the immigrants came seeking agricultural land.  Surprisingly, they rapidly assimilated into the creole culture.  

European settlement and extractive land use
Settlement began in the mid 1800’s and logging in the region heightened towards the end of the century.  Early settlers considered the swamps to be dangerous and forbidding and that the best uses were draining for agriculture.  Baldcypress logging became the major cash crop for settlers in southern Louisiana.  The most common method was to girdle the trees allowing them to dry in place then felling them and floating them out of place.  Levees were sometimes built around forests to raise levels.  Technological advancements in the 1890’s such as the pullboat, overhead-cableway skidder and railway increased harvesting rates which continued to increase until 1913 which had 1.7 million cubic meters of lumber processed.  The last of the old-growth was harvested in the 1920’s and production crashed to 5% in the 1930’s.  The last major logging operation closed in 1955.  Second growth forests have replaced much of the ancient forests and a current timber volume of 40 million cubic meters exists, resulting in logging returning in the 1980’s.
In the colonial period agriculture was confined to the levees and other high grounds which were seasonally flooded with nutrients replenished requiring no fertilization
The invention of tractors and the use of certain crops like soybeans that could be planted in the late summer, created a strong incentive to drain and plant the marshlands.  This led to the conversion of the Mississippi alluvial floodplain cauing a decrease from 80,000 sq km to 20000 sq km.  The coastal forests are currently sinking at a rate of .2-.8 cm/year
Settlement and Wildlife
Early French explorers nearly eradicated every bird population by egg and feather collection.  Conservation measures enacted in the 1900’s reduced this threat and produced positive results.  Major reductions in bird populations occurred between 1940-1950 when seabird populations were severely impacted by chemicals such as DDT and some species including the  Eastern Brown Pelican were eradicated from the marshes.

Numerous exotics have also been introduced by human activities in the coastal marshes :
  • Alligatorweed:  major pest in open water areas in both fresh and estuarine marshes, has been somewhat successfully controlled by introducing the alligator flea beetle
  • Water hyacinth:  forms vast floating mats, native to brazil, introduced at the Cotton Centennial Exposition in new Orleans in 1884.  Planted throughout the southwest in ponds due to its pretty flower and ease of growth.  Grows in freshwater areas in mats so thick to impede navigation and drainage.  1940’s showed damage of 15million a year.  Federal government still spends millions a year to keep major canals open
  • Nutria:  introduced in the 1930’s by fur farmers.  Within 6 years of their introduction to the Mississippi delta they tore apart the vegetation by 1959 there were more than 20 million.  Populations were somewhat lower in the 1970’s and 80’s due to heavy trapping.  Nutria are the leading cause of the failure of baldcypress seedlings.

Wetland Formation
Animal Life
Plant Life
Ecosystem Function
Human Settlement
Human Interactions