In becoming the founder of Mobile, New Orleans, and other surrounding cities, Bienville became an icon in history. He became the subject of hero mythology and folklore, though some truth definitely could be found in these stories. “Bienville had the reputation of knowing the Indians well. Mastering the lingua franca of the lower Mississippi, called mobilien, he was without doubt the only governor of a colony in New France to speak to the Indians without an interpreter. He pushed indianization so far as to tattoo himself with a serpent, which wrapped around his body.”1
The explorer Bertet de la Clue noted how the southern Amerindians “have their skins covered with figures of snakes which they make with the point of a needle. Mr. de Bienville who is the general of the country has all of his body covered in this way and when he is obliged to march to war with them he makes himself nude like them. They like him very much but they also fear him.”2
According to several historic sources, Bienville had gotten heavily tattooed by a local tribe. Some believe it to be the legendary lost Mauville Indians, in order to become closer with the Indian population and earn their valuable trust. Fellow explorer Henri de Tonti went so far as to say, “An officer (Bienville), a man of breeding whose name you would recognize, who, as well as an image of the Virgin and the baby Jesus, a large cross on his stomach with the miraculous words which appeared to Constantine and an endless number of marks in the savage style, had a snake which passed around his body and whose tongue pointed toward an extremity which I will leave you to guess.”3
Henri de Tonti went on to give descriptions of these tattooing practices.
“These ornaments or marks of honor are not printed without pain; for a start they draw the pattern on the skin; then, with a needle or a small well-sharpened bone, they prick to blood, following the pattern; after which, they rub on the pricked place with a powder of the color asked by the one who gets that mark.” 4