Trip to Attakapas, April 1880

This fascinating article comes from 1973_Vol 8, titled A TRIP TO THE ATTAKAPAS IN OLDEN TIMES from The Louisiana Sugar Bowl, Thursday, April 15, 1880  Editor’s note:  It is close to how it was printed in 1973.  There will be some scanning anomalies.

We had waited a long time to make an excursion to the Attakapas country – “The Paradise of Louisiana” – as it is deservedly styled- -before we knew that there was a way to gratify our wish- -which was to secure a conductor. Having at length secured one, we were ready to take our departure, and engaged passage on Captain David R. Muggah’s boat, the Saint Mary, which plied regularly between New Orleans and St. Martinville, some eighty miles up the Bayou Teche.

Before leaving we made sure that Judge E. Simon, our Moses, was on board.  At 3 o’clock pm, the captain rang the bell for us to leave and in a few minutes we were off on our journey. Nothing worth mentioning occurred until we reached Bayou Plaquemine, an outlet of the Mississippi, one hundred and ten miles above New Orleans, in the parish of Iberville, and the town bearing the same name, through which we must pass. Then all on board were on the qui vive; for there was the narrow pas- sage through which the boat had to make her way, barricaded with logs, snags and brush; also an island at the very entrance, on which stood a tall cross, which probably marked the graves of other rash adventurers who had hitherto attempted the pas- sage.  Everything seemed to preclude the possibility of ingress.

It was a hideous sight, and looked, too, as though the old Father of Waters had a spite against the obstructions barring his easy and quiet passage to the sea, from the assault he was making on every point; and, withal, he had gained only a slight victory through a small abrasion which his swift current had made barely wide enough to allow our steamer to pass on without dashing her- self to pieces against projections from either bank. Yet our experienced and worthy pilot, the late and lamented Capt. E. Castello, (whose death we saw noticed in the New Orleans Country Visitor , ) at the helm, knew the way, and sent her through the narrow channel, and landed her safely back of town, to allow the passengers who had not chosen to run the risk of making the hazardous run through the chute, to re-embark.

The reader will pardon this digression, but before proceeding any further let us explain that when the Mississippi finds an opportunity it does not take it long to assert its majesty. In a few years the island, which had been used as a cemetery, was swept entirely away, and the town of Plaquemine would, most likely, have been engulfed, to say nothing of the vast extent of country subject to inundation, had not the bayou been diked, since when steamboats have had to go around by the Atchafalaya River to enter the Attakapas country.

Finally, all were again on board. We must not be mistaken when we say that, instead of going ahead, we were going backward, for the boat’s bow had been turned upstream, and she was allowed to drift down stern foremost, and so rapidly was she being carried along that she would have been dashed to pieces, only that the wheels were used to counteract the swiftness of the current, until we came to the Devil’s Elbow, an ugly looking place it was, too, for even the boat must have sickened at the sight of it, for she turned her head away, then Reeled about, as if disgusted, and proceeded on her journey.

A little further down we came to the Indian Village; but, alas! poor “Lo” was no more there; with tomahawk and scalping knife he had departed. But the “Cow Pen” was there, and will long remain to receive the large herds of cattle that are landed at that point for reshipment for other destinations and a market.

On the left, as we descended the bayou, we passed a number of very elegant residences, those of Dardenue, Roth Hebert and others; but we assure you our attention was not in that direction, for we had enough to do with looking out ahead, and trying to keep our wits about us in case we should be landed in his Satanic majesty’s domain.

Having left the Portage, the boat wended her way through several bayous and Grand River — what made it a river, more than this bayou, we could not see. Next we came to a lake called Chicot. The name itself was suggestive – snags – I Well, we thought if the Devil’s Elbow meant anything, it must have a body, and guessed this must be it. The good St. Mary held her course, never deviated, but went right along notwithstanding the snares that beset her path. Every now and then she would receive a terrible shock, and be made to shiver all over, when every passenger would study the firmness of his companion’s character; some were given to whistling, while others exclaimed, “whoop-la!’.  The ladies -well, we don’t know – perhaps, they screamed. The venerable Judge, who never forgot to use his fan freely, kept himself cool, advised others to do the same, and fear no evil; that the lake was not over five or six feet deep; that there was no danger of drowning; besides, he had heard the captain say, “slow her. ”

Thus we were making our way through the mire –for it could hardly be called water –frightening away alligators that came to the surface to watch the progress of our leviathan tearing up his retreat. The long legged white cranes scooted off in every direction; the saucy beccilancette, a species of wild duck, flew away or disappeared by diving beneath the liquid mud to conceal itself, while we were passing, to appear again in our wake, shaking its head at us in sheer defiance.

Of all the routes to any place, this was the most remarkable. Nothing but swamps, bayous and snaggy lakes, filled with alligators, snakes, and mosquitoes, without a habitation, save here and there a squatter sovereign who was waiting the overflow to float off his little bundle of moss, or the few shingles and pieux that he had gathered together, between each spell of chills, to take to market to enable him to get enough money to lay in a fresh supply of whisky and quinine for the next attack.

Well, the picture is horrible, is it not? Yet we can assure the reader, that ‘ ti s not overdrawn; so we shall not weary you with a repetition describing other bayous, lakes, swamps, etc., but shall skip on to other objects more interesting.

Having reached the Atchafalaya river, the captain sang out to the pilot – “now let her go!” then you should have heard the good St. Mary snort. Plenty of water, good fuel and happy souls. “That was a boom.” It seemed to us that she was the fastest boat that we were ever on. But she was not; for she was only good for eight miles an hour. But, let us say that what she lacked in speed was more than made up in accommodation. A table equal to any of the more pretentious packets on the Mississippi, was daily spread before us. Vin Blanc, (white wine) for breakfast; and Vin Rouge (claret) for dinner. The captain was affable, the clerks obliging and the company good. The trip, so far, we may as well say, to save time, was a success.

We soon reached the mouth of the Bayou Teche, which we ascended. The boat landed at almost every plantation to discharge freight, which afforded us a splendid opportunity of seeing the many magnificent residences along the bayou, which, by-the-way, are all on the same side – West – at least as far up as New Iberia.

As the Teche country has so often been described , both in prose and verse particularly in the latter, by Longfellow in his Evangeline, and in the former by numerous and well-written articles in the Planters’ Banner, a local newspaper, formerly published at Franklin, in the parish of St. Mary, we will not here attempt any description, but content ourself by saying that if Elysium is the dwelling place assigned to happy souls after death, they had not waited to be dead to enjoy a prospective future bliss, for they were doing it there.

Attakapas was the home of Dr. Brashear, the Berwicks, Carlins, Hawkins, Crawfords, Hopkins, Allens, Corneys, Oliviers, Smiths, Fuseliers, Judge Porter, Governor Mouton and Baker, of Congressmen Moore and Morse, Hine, Hudson, Carey, Foster, Dr. Saunders, Wilson, Vinson, Charpentiers, Lawrence, Col. Dennet, now of the Picayune, R. Hare, McKerall, Drs. J. Lyman, Duperier and Dyer, the Gordeys, Humphreys, Murphys, Lacys, Haifleigh, Gibbons, Lee, Curtis, Howie, Anderson, Tucker, McMillan, Harding, Frere, Pecots, Fourmy, Sterling, Capts. Johnson, Meynier, Castello, Patterson and Abe Smith, with others, too tedious to mention, the Old Rochel–all men of mark, each in his own line. If emulation existed among them, it was a jealous pride to excel in doing the most good, and sustain the dignity of the position each had won by a due observance of the rights of others, and by duly guarding their own. The most of them have gone to the true elysium; but a few yet remain to corroborate this writing. Centerville and Franklin was their rendezvous. The two places are but five miles apart. Dr. Smith’s store was headquarters at Centerville, and Bob Hare’s now of New Orleans –in Franklin, was the other, where they met to transact their business affairs. Seeing them all occupied, we returned on board of the boat, which soon moved off after having landed all the cargo for the latter place, which was enormous. We were again on our way to New Iberia.

When we left Franklin, it was night, so we could see nothing more of the country until the next morning. Therefore, we again sought the company of our kind old friend, to whom we were continually being placed under obligations for the many introductions to the distinguished personages we met on the journey. Many years have elapsed since that time; but we have never forgotten that we still owe a debt of gratitude for courtesies experienced on that trip, to the late Judge Edward Simon. We may find a way to reciprocate when his son, the Hon. E. Simon, Jr., late a member of the Constitutional Convention, becomes a candidate for Governor at some future time.

Morning found us at the wharf at New Iberia. There was our old friend’s servant and carriage awaiting, to bear him to his home, some ten miles further, by land, but by water, it is some twenty, so tortuous is the bayou between New Iberia and St. Martinville. It was with regrets that we separated with our guide, but we had to do so as we had to interview some of the inhabitants of the town before we could proceed further. So, after declining a seat in his carriage, and giving a promise that when we chanced to go to Saint Martinville we should call on him, we parted.

If Franklin had the appearance of a real New England town, and, in all respects, possessing everything conducive to comfort, elegance, health and happiness, this place had more the semblance of one of those makeshifts, known as “stations” without even being credited with a railroad, than being a town where people had come to live and die. In fact, it looked as if every horse, pony, mule or ox-cart had been pressed into service, to help on the exodus, for there they stood, bridled, saddled and harnessed, ready to be utilized. There was a reason for this, as will appear, when you know it was the great cattle mart to which every man who owned a stock ranch had sent his rancheros to learn what he could of the prices of such beeves and ponies as he was anxious to dispose of.

The rancheros were mostly Creoles, with goodly number of Spaniards, all equipped with long whips, raccachas and sombreros, who dashed around, la mi enfant bin. I had some difficulty in finding a tavern, and had to engage the services of a good Senegambian who showed us the way to an humble pension, kept by a newly married couple, where we were made as comfort- able as their modes cinq sous would admit of their doing; but, as we were not one of those whose father’s overgrown fortunes had catered to our gastronomic fancies, we were perfectly reconcilable to broiled papabotes, fresh milk, chickens and omelettes; peaches and cream for dessert, and coffee to wind up with. In short, we took in the position philosophically, and resolved to make the most of it, thinking that we could stand the fare for a few days at least, especially as the bride and groom had to put up with it always.

After a few days sojourn in the place, we felt quite at home, and did what “Tanasse” told us to do. It soon got out that we were his cousin. If that was so, we must be cousins to everybody- – that settled it. By Jehoshaphat! hadn’t we struck a vein? In one fell swoop we had scooped up more kinfolks than the law allowed; we had become common property -one of their number. Oh! what fun to see Alexis’ noncle Alexandre’s (was he our uncle, too? Je ne le crois pas – I don’t believe it) exhibitions of horsemanship to the young macagnons, jockeys–to show them how easy it was to donter un racaillon – a tacky -without breaking one’s neck. The lookers-on explained, “Sacra bleu comme il-y fout ca ! -how glorious! when they still saw him sticking to the wild horse’s back. No matter how he tried to shake him off, mon noncle was there.

Well, of course, that was long ago; but even now, same as then, noncle Alexandre Hebert, who is now 75 years of age, still rides to town on old Mistigry. Of course Tanasse will read this to him, and he will say, ” L’ enfant de gars il me connais bien”–the son of a gun, he knows me well- – Mais Tanasse qui c’est done ? “–who is this fellow? ” C’est mon cousin , Vic”- It’s my cousin Vic. ” Sacre gueux, comme il veu faire son coq ginger ” – How he tries to play smart. “Si jamais je l’empoigne je vais lui foute une riff lade si il ne vien s pas coucher a la maison “- I’ll give him goss, if he doesn’t stop over night with me.

It is useless to say that we never got the basting, but the most hospitable kind of a welcome. Mais il est temps de cesser notre bavard age .  – It is time to cease our babbling.

From The Louisiana Sugar Bowl, Thursday April 15, 1880