Introduction to Delta Pieces: Northeast Louisiana Folklife

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Landmark of the Koroa – Sam Dickenson

Delta Archival Materials

Landmark of the Koroa

By Sam Dickinson


Up to now the origin of the names of Colewa Creek, Big Colewa Bayou and Little Colewa Bayou in West Carroll Parish has been a subject for speculation. Colewa is pronounced "Coal-wah" with the accent on the first syllable. As early as 1838 the Colewa spelling appeared on state maps.

The late Dr. William A. Read, professor of English at Louisiana State University and an authority on Indian place names, believed that Colewa was derived from an Indian term, but he was unable to explain it to his own satisfaction in a study he published in 1928.1

The postmaster at Pioneer told him the name probably was corrupted from Coldwater. That was a pure guess, the ''logical" type of explanation that occurs too often in attempts to ferret out the source of a place name without investigating the history of the place.

Oak Grove's postmaster attributed the name to Mississippi Choctaws who halted on the bayou banks while on their way to a new home in what is now Oklahoma. An elderly resident of the community recalled that one of the migrants, whom settlers called Indian Joe, stayed on the bayou several years before proceeding westward.

Dr. Read conjectured that Colewa might have come from the Choctaw "kalowa," meaning "notched" or "jagged" and perhaps implying "crooked." Nevertheless, he found etymological reasons for doubting this derivation.

The early history of Northeast Louisiana and Southeast Arkansas furnishes the answer to this question of name origin. This region in the eighteenth century and earlier was the hunting grounds of the Koroa Indians, who belonged to the Tunican linguistic stock and who were called the cruelest of all savages in all the Province of Louisiana.2

Pere Jacques Marquette heard of them when he came down the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Arkansas River in 1673. He referred to them as the Akoroa and, on his map3 located them northwest of the Akansea tribe at the Mississippi-Arkansas confluence. This was the first mention of the Koroa in journals of European explorers, unless, as the late Dr. John R. Swanton, Smithsonian Institution ethnologist, suspected, the Koroa were inhabitants of the town of Coligua which the De Soto expedition visited in Arkansas in September, 1541.4

Although they were a small tribe, the Koroa were widely "scattered, according to French travelers during the last part of the seventeenth century. One village stood on the Yazoo River; another was located below the Natchez but on the west bank of the Mississippi. The Yazoo Koroa went to Northeast Louisiana to hunt and to manufacture salt, and they would have moved there if a French official hadn't dissuaded them.5

In 1690 Henri de Tonti went to a Koroa village on Bayou Bartholomew which he called the "River of the Koroas," This settlement seems to have been located below the present Parkdale or near Wilmot, Arkansas, not far from the Louisiana line.6 Maybe it was inside Louisiana.

Next year the Sieur de Bienville learned of a Koroa village on a tributary of the Ouachita.7 It may or may not have been the one De Tonti visited. A 1718 map places this village considerably below the area of the settlement which De Tonti saw, yet above the route Bienville took from the Taensas to the Natchitoches.8

French documents give several spellings of the tribal name, Including Coroa, Courois, and Cola. "Cor-o-wah" was the usual pronunciation and the first syllable was accented.9

One of the distinguishing features of Koroa speech was the ability to pronounce "r."10 Muskhogean neighbors couldn't do that and substituted "l" for this sound. For example, the Choctaws called the Koroa the "Kulna" and stressed the first syllable.11

Coligua, the Indian town of De Soto's time, would be pronounced "Coal-e-wah." For this reason Dr. Swanton wondered if the Spanish chroniclers recorded the name of a Koroa town the way they heard Muskhogean Indians pronounce it.12

If we break the word, Colewa into three syllables--Col-e-wa--we have the same pronunciation as the Spanish-Indian Col-i-gua. And if we substitute "r" for the ''l" in the West Carroll Parish streams' name, we get almost the same sounds as those in Koroa.

Big Colewa Bayou heads about twenty miles southeast of the probably site of the Koroa village that welcomed De Tonti. Unquestionably, Koroa hunters roamed the area drained by the Colewa streams.

The Koroa tribe became extinct, but these Indians left their mark permanently on the face of Louisiana.


1. William A, Read, "Indian Place-Names in Louisiana." (rpt. Louisiana Historical Quarterly, July, 1928) Baton Rouge: Ramires-Jones Printing Company, 1929, p. 12.

2. John R. Swanton, Indian Tribes of the Lower Mississippi Valley and Adjacent Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 43 (Washington, D.C: Government Printing Office, 1911), p. 331.

3. Pere Jacques Marquette, Facsimile of the Autographed Man of the Mississippi or Conception River, Original Preserved at St. Mary's College, Montreal.

4. Gentleman of Elvas, "Extract from a Narrative of an Expedition into Florida of Hernando DeSoto," trans, into English, Publications of the Arkansas Historical Association, 1 (1906).

5. Newton D. Mereness, ed.,"Travels in the American Colonies," translation of The Journal of Diron Dartaguiette (New York, 1916), p. 51.

6. Personal communication from Stanley Faye, Aurora, Illinois, November 9, 1941. Stanley Faye, "The Forked River." rept. Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4 (October, 1942), p, 11.

7. Swanton, Op. Cit., p. 329.

8. "Partie Meridionale de la Riviere de Missisipi, et Ses Environs, dans 1'Amerique Septentrionale. Mis au jour par N. de Fer, Geographe de sa Majeste Catolique 1718."

9. Personal communication from Stanley Faye, Aurora, Illinois, October 26, 1941.

10. M. Le Page Du Pratz; The History of Louisiana Or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina, trans/ from the French (London, 1774) New Orleans: J.S.W. Harmanson Reprint, p. 300.

11. John R. Swanton, Indian Tribes of North America, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 145 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1952), p, 215.

12. Final Report of the United States De Soto Expedition Commission, 3ouse Document Number 71 (Washington, D,C.: Government Printing Office, 1939), p. 52.

Sam Dickenson was an archaeologist and journalist who was an expert on the Indians and French-Spanish colonial periods of Arkansas history. This article was originally published in the 1977 Louisiana Folklife Journal.