Guedetonguay was a Quapaw Indian leader in the mid-eighteenth century who was the most important contact between the Quapaw and French colonial officials in Louisiana.
In 1752, the Quapaw lived along the lower Arkansas River near the Mississippi River. Their population had been greatly reduced, mainly through disease, since the arrival of French settlers in Louisiana. They were still considered important allies of French colonial authorities in New Orleans, however, even though they were able to muster only about 150 men to serve in military engagements and war parties.
Guedetonguay was made medal chief of the Quapaw in 1752 by Paul Augustin Le Pelletier de La Houssaye, who was then commander of Arkansas Post (Arkansas County). He became the principal spokesperson for the Quapaw in dealings with French authorities.
European and later American authorities selected medal chiefs to simplify, from their perspective, relations between Indian tribes and the colonial or American governments. Medal chiefs were treated as tribal authorities and official representatives in governmental affairs. They received specially made medals and other gifts as symbols of their authority, and they were also given trade goods to distribute to other members of the tribe. Men who already held traditional positions of authority and prestige in tribal affairs were often selected for this role.
Little is known about Guedetonguay’s personal life, but his success in dealing with colonial authorities indicates that he was an effective and accepted leader in tribal affairs before becoming medal chief. He met on several instances with Louisiana colonial governors in New Orleans, where his oratorical and diplomatic skills were effective in maintaining Quapaw-French relations.
In 1753, Governor Pierre François de Vaudreuil brought Guedetonguay and a delegation of minor Quapaw chiefs to New Orleans to entertain them and caution them against any friendships with the British east of the Mississippi. This was despite the relatively small number of Quapaw warriors then available to support the French establishment at Arkansas Post. A year later, Governor Louis de Kerlérec again summoned Guedetonguay to New Orleans to ask his help in curbing illegal trade with Spanish New Mexico by monitoring commerce along the Arkansas River. These two events underscore Guedetonguay’s role as a Quapaw leader, and the importance that French colonial authorities placed on assistance from the Quapaw, despite their reduced population by the middle of the 1700s.
In one well-documented incident in 1756, Guedetonguay traveled to New Orleans with an entourage of minor Quapaw chiefs to secure pardons for four Frenchmen from Arkansas Post who were accused of desertion, murder, and other offenses. In his speech to the governor and Colonial War Council, he likened the Frenchmen to his own children and related an event in which the fugitives had successfully sought sanctuary in a “sacred cabin” in a Quapaw village. When the governor refused to accept this argument for pardon, Guedetonguay diplomatically insisted, conveying at length and with ultimate success the negative consequences that might come to pass if the four were put to death for their crimes and the many positive reasons why the governor should grant this pardon.
Guedetonguay’s success in this mission was due to his own skills as a communicator and diplomat and to the strategic importance to colonial Louisiana authorities of good relationships with the Quapaw in the mid-eighteenth century.
For additional information:
Baird, W. David. The Quapaw Indians: A History of the Downstream People. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980.
Arnold, Morris S. Colonial Arkansas, 1686–1804: A Social and Cultural History. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.
Ann M. Early
Arkansas Archeological Survey
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