Monday, July 30, 2018

Not all learning is the 3 r’s… … Just as valuable is the Outdoor classroom

Kids are learning machines...Teach Them About The Wild  Atchafalaya

Mother Nature is the best teacher and getting kids outside to learn and play is good for their brains and their bodies. 

Survey  data says that the impact of changing lifestyles, urbanization and the commercialization of children’s activities, that  children today are spending nearly 8 hours a day using some  form of electronic entertainment media.  Only 6 percent of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own.

This was not a problem when I was raising my children, ie.,  smart phones and  the internet did not exist as it does today

We are at risk of losing an entire generation’s appreciation for how nature and the outdoors  works. When I say outdoor skill I am talking hunting and fishing, and a variety of wildlife related  activities. 

I believe  being in the outdoors is critical  to developing observation skills, building  confidence and problem  solving. Hunting and fishing are a part of the Atchafalaya  and  Bayou Pigeon heritage. 

I am determined  that I am going to teach my grandchildren… about the  Heritage of the Atchafalaya, their  Grandparents heritage...

Besides I have always been happier when I am in the  woods… 

Also , I am concerned that outdoor  activities  and natural heritage being taught in the  school classroom, is biased  against Hunting and  focuses on environmental  activism and political  correctness.

Ms. Patricia  Settoon of Bayou Pigeon, certified  teacher,  copy  editor of the Bayou Pigeon book is constantly reminding me... a good teacher challenges, inspires, encourages, is patient, avoids bad mannerisms, speaks clearly and distinctly, uses plain  spoken language.  

With that advice in mind...

Enjoy this little outing on the  'Spirit of the Atchafalaya' from May 28, 2018... 

Paw- paws Chasseur  Cocodrie boat 

The students, Brody Rivet and Brady LeGrange

1st  Lesson

Our Lady of the  Atchafalaya - Little Bayou Pigeon - Big Bayou Pigeon Confluence

Honor ... Our  Lady Queen of Peace and Patron of  Bayou Pigeon...Guide us from unseen underwater logs, stumps, and pilings. Keep the waters clean so Gods creatures can swim, fly and jump. Bless us all who view fish and hunt in these waters.

2 nd  lesson - A stop at the The Tree of Knowledge... 
The most famous cypress tree on Little  Bayou Pigeon

3 rd lesson - Catching  Catfish  during Spawning period

Brady taking his turn...

Brody taking his turn

Our catch...  nice channel cats 

 Lagniappe...the boys get to meet a real deal, 
full time  commercial fisherman Mr. Stud  Gros and his helper of Pierre Part, La.

Channel Cats  and Buffalo Carp

Lesson 5 - Elephant ear leaves and blooms...make good umbrellas and  flowers  for mama

Lesson 6 ... At the houseboat...What's that ?
Learning about  old fashioned shallow  well pitcher pump...

Lesson 7  Living museum ... visiting a prehistoric Indian  shell  midden ... They  found the  Atchafalaya  before it was  discovered ... Finding a 1000 year pottery shard  ...

Lesson 8 - Kilroy  was  here... at the Southern Natural Pipeline  at Big Bayou Pigeon and  so were Brady and Brody,  May 28 2018

The fun stops  at the processing shed...

But the results are tasty...give a man fish and feed  him for a day... teach him how to fish and  feed  for life... 

Readers... now it's your turn  to teach  someone  about the  Atchafalya ... preserve the heritage...

Cliff LeGrange 
225 776 2686

Monday, June 18, 2018

When The Waterways Were Open…

A Free-flowing Atchafalaya River Basin System 


The Atchafalaya River meanders from near Simmesport, LA. an area known as the Three Rivers area, i.e., where the Mississippi, Red and Atchafalaya all come together, southward down to Morgan City and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Atchafalaya River and its surrounding flood plain is a unique combination of wetlands, bayous, marshes, estuaries, and river delta area. Best known for its iconic cypress-tupelo swamps, at 260,000 acres this block of forest represents the largest remaining contiguous tract of coastal cypress in the US.

Sometimes referred to as “America’s Foreign Country", it covers an area 20 miles wide and 150 miles long. It is designated a National Heritage area, and is viewed by many as a National Treasure.

I've always been fascinated by knowing / understanding  the paths / routes  that waterways take in the Atchafalaya Basin.

When I was growing up at Bayou Pigeon, LA., it was essential for the indigenous swamper / commercial fisherman to get around in the basin with speed and accuracy. Every good Atchafalaya Basin commercial fisherman / hunter I have ever known knows the basin waterways like their own house. They understand that knowing current flow and water depth are critical to good  catches.

Waterways are the fisherman’s highways; they are the way the commercial fishermen get to ‘work’ (his place of employment). One of the first things the commercial fishermen teach their sons is the back ways and shortcuts to the best fishing / hunting spot in day or night.

I can recall in my younger years being so turned around on the waterways  at night that I would have to throw my hat in the  air to see  which way was  down.

My latest book, ‘Heritage of the Atchafalaya, A Natural and Cultural History of the Atchafalaya Basin’, was already published  when I realized there was an important chapter that I missed, ie.,  the history of the waterways before the Atchafalaya  Floodway levees, access canals, and pipeline canals. “When the Waterways Were Open’.

I cannot believe I did not think to include that...especially since it is part of our heritage to be  good, at direction in the  woods!

Goal and Objectives for this writing

My objective is to document and preserve the heritage of the Atchafalaya Basin waterways. In my view, every waterway in the basin is worthy of knowing its history / heritage, some more than others, but still, all are worth understanding.

But, it’s more than that, I find myself wishing for a plain spoken ‘explainer” of how the Atchafalaya Basin got to what it is today.  What did the Basin waterways looked like before  the  Atchafalaya  Floodway  and industrialized man and concrete conquered and disrupted the basin hydrology and eco system.  Why are the bayous like they are?  Why / how did they change so much? Who decided where the Basin guide levees would be located?  How were the guide levees dug?   Why / how did sedimentation fill in Grand Lake?  Why did scrub shrub take over the Long View?

This writing is an attempt to be an explainer … it is intended to delve into these issues, it is intended to be the  final chapter  of my book, ‘Heritage of the Atchafalaya, A Natural and Cultural history of the Atchafalaya Basin’

1870 – 1932 A Bittersweet Era of the Basin

Bittersweet, because, geomorphic wise, the time period from 1870 – 1932 was the last time that the Atchafalaya River basin was a free-flowing river system. On the other hand, that’s when in earnest that the Cajuns established their roots and developed a unique new heritage, Bayou Cajuns.  They became ‘Petite Habitant de Maracage, i.e., Farmers of the Swamp’.

Their way of life revolved around the different seasons of the Swamp; 1. The Spring, high water, i.e., annual flood pulse. 2. The Summer, the middle, in between the high and low. 3. The Low Water, Fall and Winter. During that time, it was still a semi isolated area without too much interference from the outside, i.e., Americans and the French Cajun Culture was still dominant.

Bittersweet, because it was both the beginning of the Industrial Cypress Logging in the Basin, which cut  down, a thousand years of virgin cypress trees in less than a half century.

Historical Maps

There are very few if  any, historical maps of the Atchafalaya Basin 'When It Was A Free Flowing River Basin System', that is with enough detail to use them.

For example, the Hardee Map of 1870, gives an outline / general idea of the Atchafalaya River Basin, proportion looks good, but detail is obviously lacking.  Most historical maps give a general layout of the land must be interpreted cautiously and carefully.

For example, the Hardee Map, clearly shows  the distinct  physical layout of Bayou Chene but does not call it by name.  Whereas, Bayou Sorrel, Little Bayou Pigeon, Big Bayou Pigeon, and Belle River  are specifically identified.  Corroborating that they were recognized as streams of significance.

For this story, I used a historical map, ‘Swamps Lands of Jeanerette Lumber and Shingle Company LTD. 1892 – 1915.  Compiled by H.B. Hewes, vice president and treasurer, and general manager of Jeanerette L&S Company.

Hewes mapped out the core of the lower Atchafalaya Basin.  I do not know where the base map comes from, but it appears it was painstakingly put together, which indicates that it is accurate enough.  Hewes overlaid the Arpents survey plot #’s and the Township / Ranges, Section plot numbers on his base map.  He included outlines of legal descriptions of acres / lots owned by Jeanerette L&S.

Hewes and Jeanerette Lumber Shingle would of wanted an accurate map as they were embarking on some serious industrialized cypress logging that involved a lot of money and they had a reputation of integrity in the lumber business. Essentially, 1892 was the beginning of Industrial Cypress logging in the basin, ie., the use of the Overhead skidder and pull boat skidder system.

In my research, it is the most accurate map of the The Atchafalaya Basin prior to USGS topographical maps, of which the earliest date I have seen is 1935.  The date is critical because after 1932 the Atchafalaya River did not meet the criteria to be identified as  free  flowing water way.

Jeanerette  L&S LTD. 1892 - 1919 Map

Jeanerette L&S CO. LTD 1892 -1919 Map

1892 – 1932 When the Waterways Were Open, A Free-flowing River Basin System 

To fully comprehend, understand and appreciate the heritage associated with the rivers and bayous of the Atchafalaya Basin today, you must journey back to when the Atchafalaya was a free flowing river basin system.

A free-flowing river is one unaffected by human-made changes to its flow and connectivity.

The Atchafalaya River

The Atchafalaya River basin was formed as part of earlier delta formations of the Mississippi to its east and west, and by the flow of the Red River from Texas into central Louisiana.  Around 1500 AD the Mississippi meandered into Red River, the lower part of the Red, below the meander became the Atchafalaya River. This was called the Three Rivers  area, the Mississippi,  Red and  Atchafalaya.

Little physiographic change appears to have occurred within the Atchafalaya  Basin between the birth of the modern Atchafalaya river  approximately 1542 until 1831  almost 300 years

It was free-flowing river basin system unaffected by human-made changes to its flow and connectivity. That is, water, silt, and other natural materials moved along unobstructed. Animals and fish could swim up and down stream at will. The river itself swelled and shrank naturally, flowed at an organic volume and rate, and replenished groundwater sources.  Prior to man's activity, the basin was characterized by sluggish streams, swamps,and extensive lakes.

In 1831,  at a spot below where the Mississippi  had originally meandered  into the Red River, Capt. Henry M. Shreve, founder of Shreveport and a world renowned river engineer, dug a canal (Shreves Cut) through the neck of Turnbull's Bend.  The mouth of  the Atchafalaya  was blocked by a log jam over 20 miles long, hindering navigation. Within days the cut was so large it became  the Mississippi Rivers new  route into the Atchafalaya River. The Atchafalaya would still carry water from the Red River but not direct  from the Mississippi.

With the removal of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya River rafts (log jams) beginning in the 1840’s to 1870’s, the Atchafalaya River main channel scoured its way through the natural basin from the northwest to southeast corner.  The Atchafalaya River progressively increased its diversion of waters from the Mississippi River and each year the Atchafalaya became a more aggressive, dangerous river in the spring flood pulse.

For thousands of years the Atchafalaya Basin had soaked up the Mississippi River’s annual floodwaters and distributed them throughout its streams, bayous, lakes and fresh water marshlands. Water flowed in and spread all around. There was nothing to hold it back or hem it in. It was a balanced system. The annual flood pulse brought much-needed nutrients to the swamp and the fish and wildlife were abundant.

Route of Atchafalaya River 1892- 1919

Atchafalaya River below Krotz Springs at Mile 56.4 

Bayou Big Alabama, Bayou Little Alabama, were ‘off chutes’ of the Atchafalaya River, below Krotz Springs, LA. around river mile 45.  They flowed south parallel to the Atchafalaya River main channel where they intersected with Upper Grand River at Osca or Whiskey Bay, both terms must have been used. Osca, being a Choctaw Indian  word meaning in the cane or reed. The term Whiskey Bay is thought to come from the  Opelousas Indian word, Oskibe  (Lockett, 'Louisiana as it is: A Geographical and Topographical Description of the State', 1931

The Grand River 1872 - 1919

Annual Flood Pulse below I-10, i.e.., The Lower Atchafalaya Basin

The system was balanced 

‘The Fountain of Youth’, by Charles Tenney Jackson, 1914, Chapter XI, ‘Adrift in the Floating Gardens’… “The Grand River in spring time jets out of the Atchafalaya, which spouts out of the swollen side of the Mississippi. The Atchafalaya wanders down through a dozen lakes and nameless bayous to the Gulf and the Grand meanders it way along side, with now and then an interlocking arm or bayou running across to its neighbor, and then these streams flow in and out, back and forth in a crazy – patch fashion through unbroken forest…”

Grand River, East Fork Pigeon, Pat’s Bay, Bayou Sorrel 1892 - 1919


Note the East/West – North / South flow patterns and connections of the bayous / streams, and the Arpent surveying (land division) method, long narrow strips of land, fronting the bayous / streams used in this area of the basin. The Arpent system facilitated  rapid settlement of the swamp, by providing as many settlers as possible with  some bayou frontage for access. Which indirectly enticed settlers to the area and also allowing small farmers, who could not afford to buy large blocks / tracts to purchase smaller tracts  Private ownership of land in the basin, versus public ownership, can be traced back to the  desire of the  French, Spanish and the USA, to settle the area and convert what (at the time) they thought to useless  swamp land to productive  agriculture land.

Lower Grand River, Little Bayou Pigeon, Big Bayou Pigeon, Cross Bayou, Cutoff, Bayou Postillion, Bayou Fourche, Bayou Mallet, Indigo Bayou, Bayou Choctaw

Note the water flow down Grand River  allowed the  flood pulse back into basin flood plain, (after directing  the  flow to the east at Upper Grand  River)  via into Little Bayou Pigeon.  At the same time flow through Bayou Choctaw, Lake Natchez  allowed  flood pulse east of Grand River  through Bayou Grosbec to the Lake Verett water shed… abundant fresh water and nutrients for fisheries… flood pulse could really spread out… More Balance

Lower Grand River, Little Bayou Long, Big Bayou Long / Big Fork, Mystic Crew Bayou 

Note the many streams of water flow straight south, downhill, into Old River.  Facilitating  fast flow , good  current keeping Old River wide  and  deep… into Lower Grand  River, Godell, Belle River and on to the Grassy  Lake, Lake Palourde.  At the same time feeding south to old Bayou Long.

The elevation swamp floor directly below Old River, between Grand Lake and Lower Grand River is the lowest floor elevation in the entire Lower Atchafalaya Floodway.

Belle River, Old Bayou Long, Lake Palourde, Flat Lake, Duck Lake, Willow Cove

Note the number of streams available to distribute the flood pulse into lower Grand Lake and out the Atchafalaya River into Berwick Bay.  Also, the map cartographer nomenclature for Atchafalaya River goes to Patterson, La.

Bayou Long, Wildcat Bayou / West Fork Bayou Long, Middle Fork Bayou Long, Mockingbird Bayou, Old River


Wildcat Bayou / West  Fork Bayou Long, Mockingbird  Bayou look to be  well defined even in Low  water stages,  meaning in annual flood  pulse they would have been  fast  flowing  open streams… makes you wonder how much influence water hyacinths and invasive  grass played a part in sedimentation  of these  streams…

Bayou Chene, Lake Dautervive, Lake Fausse Point


Bayou Grand  Gueule, Bayou Benoit, Bayou Grand, Bayou De plomb, Little Gonsoulin  Bayou, Bayou Eugene, Bayou Gravenburg,   Bayou Chene facilitated annual  flood pulse evenly down the  west  side of the Basin

Bayou Chene, Bayou Crook Chene

Bayou Chene (translated to Oak Bayou) a small unincorporated community in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana, United States. The community was located in the center of Atchafalaya Basin and was primarily of Anglo / Saxon, English speaking heritage in a predominant Bayou Cajun culture.  It was the only and the last inhabited swamp community, in the interior of the Atchafalaya Basin. It had a Post office, school and church. Established in 1830’s, abandoned in 1950’s due to extreme flooding. The physical landscape, ie.  four corners made Bayou Chene and ideal location for a rendezvous &   inhabited place.

Lake Chicot, Grand  Lake, Hog Island, Keel Boat Pass, Catfish Bayou,  Bayou Cowan,  Smith Bayou, Little Bayou  Pigeon, Hoop-Pole  Bayou, Buffalo Cove, Little  Buffalo Cove to Lake Fausse  Point


Lake Fausse Point and Grand Lake still open to each other in this era. It appears where Lake Chicot emptied into Grand Lake, formed 4 sand bars. Two of which are Hog Island and Turkey Island and the other two unnamed.  All surveyed, which means they were formed before 1836. This means there was sedimentation in this area from the early 1800’s.

Catfish Bayou,  Bayou Cowan,  Smith Bayou,  look to be braided streams formed from fast flowing waters as they start as sloughs and get bigger until they dump into Grand Lake. Most likely started in the early 1800’s and matured when the river rafts were removed from the head of the Atchafalaya.
Whereas, Little Bayou Pigeon and Big Bayou Pigeon are much older, typical meandering type streams from lower Grand River until they dump into Grand Lake.

With the exception of Shreve's 1831 cut , The Atchafalaya Basin was still a Free Flowing River Basin System until the 1930’s

The Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927... What Have We Done to the Atchafalaya Basin? An Explainer…

Unless you live under a  rock , most of the folks in  Louisiana are aware of / familiar with the Atchafalaya  Floodway.  As a result of the most extreme flood in recorded history, the Great Flood of 1927, the U.S. Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928, authorizing construction of levees, floodways, and other landscape modifications to control the flow of the Mississippi River. The design of the most elaborate flood control system in United states history began immediately after the Flood Control Act of 1928.  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brainstormed several ways to control Old Man River.  Yes, it included a massive system of levees and dams on the Lower Mississippi.  But, levees alone would not be enough; the plans included straightening, wider, deeper channels in the river. 

For the Lower Mississippi River alluvial valley, the Corps of Engineers included the concept of floodways that could be opened up and speed the flood pulse to a receiving basin to relieve the pressure off the levees.

In South Louisiana, the corps plan included a mind boggling idea, to leave the headwaters of the Atchafalaya river open, hem in the natural Atchafalaya River Basin between two levees, create a gigantic floodway, 1,400,000 acres of mostly bottomland hardwood and cypress / tupelo swamp between levees, set seventeen miles apart.

The stated design of Atchafalaya Basin floodway would be to speed about one half of any 1000 year flood pulse of the Mississippi River / Red river to the Gulf of Mexico, essentially acting like a big ditch.  This would take enough pressure off the lower Mississippi River levees and prevent the river from topping and / or crevassing the levees.

The floodway guide levees for the most part would be built on the rim of the lowest areas through the Atchafalaya Basin, roughly five to ten miles on either side of the Atchafalaya River, from Simmesport to Morgan City.  This would minimize flooding private land

The new guide levees cut off more than 22 natural streams carrying nutrient rich flood waters to basin deltaic plain every spring.  Not only disrupting the flow but cutting off annual water flow areas outside the levees, freezing them in time.

East Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee (EABPL).

The levee begins at the lower end of the east guide levee of the Morganza Floodway, extends southward to and through Morgan City to the Avoca Island Cutoff, and includes the Bayou
Boeuf and Bayou Sorrel locks. The length of this system is 106.7 miles, including 1.3 miles of floodwall along the Morgan City front and about 0.4 mile of floodwall below Morgan City. The Atchafalaya Basin Levee District and the city of Morgan City are responsible for operation and maintenance of this feature.

Upper Grand River, Bayou Sorrel

Closures at Upper  Grand  River and  Bayou  Sorrel, directing the flood pulse down the new borrow canal channel. Isolating and  freezing  Pat's  Bay landscape in time.

Lower Grand River, Little Bayou Pigeon, Big Bayou Pigeon, Cross Bayou, Cutoff, Bayou Postillion, Bayou Fourche, Bayou Mallet, Indigo Bayou, Bayou Choctaw

Closures at Bayou Pigeon, Bayou Postillion and Bayou Fourche.  Directing the flood pulse down the new borrow canal channel.  Remnants of the Palfrey Sugar Plantation Sugar Mill were left on the west edge of the borrow canal, brick floor of the sugar kettles was visible until the 1940’s.  Today they are covered with yards of silt.

Think about it, prior to the Floodway, water flowed down Grand River not only into Little Bayou Pigeon, but through Bayou Choctaw, through Lake Natchez to the Lake Verrett water shed… abundant fresh water and nutrients for fisheries… the flood pulse  could really spread out… Flood Pulse Balance, not anymore !

Closing  the waterways, not so easy - 

Right of  way Clearing for the EABPL Levee Upper Grand river to Old River was  done with three  separate contracts..Grand River to Bayou Sorrel. Bayou Sorrell to Bayou Pigeon. Bayou Pigeon to Old River. [1]

Interesting to note that 1935 USGS maps show the new levee completed on both sides of Little Bayou Pigeon, but the bayou intact.

Obviously, this means closing the gap and cutting little Pigeon off from the floodway was done sometime in 1936 and after the levees were completed on both sides.

Interviews with Mr. Edmond Berthelot and Mr. Felix Berthelot [2] life long residents of Bayou Pigeon, revealed the borrow canal  for levees from Bayou Sorrel to Bayou Pigeon was dug wet. Whilethe Borrow Canal from Old River to Bayou Pigeon was dug dry.  Mr. Edmond  clearly remembered that cattle would wander off the edges of the dry borrow canal and to had be removed with ropes and much difficulty because the banks were to steep.

Both men recalled that closing the bayou was more difficult than the Corps of Engineers planned .At first, a suction dredge was brought in, the dredge was not able to close the opening. A dipper  dredge and  barge was brought in.  The barge was sunk across the gap and spoil was placed behind the barge to keep the spoil from washing out until closure was stable enough and then the barge was removed.

Priceless information / heritage that would have lost without their interview.

Levee cuts little Bayou Pigeon 1936

Lower Grand River, The Godell, Belle River; Old River, Little Bayou Long, Big Bayou Long / Big Fork, Bayou Pierre Part, Lake Verrett


Blocking Old River was a game changer, both Naturally and Culturally for the Lake Verrett water shed, good and bad, depending how you want to look at it.  How is that?  Lack of water flow  from annual  flood pulse through Old  River protected the surrounding swamp  from sedimentation and  at same time  reduced  the nutrients  for the  fisheries in that area.

We have an archaeological relic, Lake Verrett is frozen in time. This was frozen in the early 1930s, when the EABPL levee crossed it.  It would have probably been filled in by now without that happening.  It looks pretty much like it looked in the 1930s.

West Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee (WABPL). 

The levee begins near the town of Hamburg, where it joins the Bayou des Glaises fuse-plug levee. It extends in a south and southeasterly direction to the Wax Lake Outlet at the latitude of the East and West Calumet Floodgates and thence eastward through Berwick to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. This levee extends 128.7 miles and connects with 3 miles of floodwall along the front of the town of Berwick. Structures along the levee include Bayou Darbonne and Courtableau drainage structures, the Charenton Floodgate, and the Berwick Lock.

The Red River, Atchafalaya, and Bayou Boeuf Levee District, the Atchafalaya Basin Levee District, the town of Berwick, and the St. Mary Parish police jury manages the levee.

Lake Dautervive, Lake Fausse Point Area

Bayou Grand  Gueule, Bayou Benoit, Bayou Grand, Bayou De plomb, Little Gonsoulin  Bayou, Bayou Eugene, Bayou Gravenburg,   all  closed by west  Atchafalaya Basin Protection  Levee (WABPL).

We have another archeological relic, Lake Fausse Point, which is frozen in time. This was frozen in the early 1930s, when The WABPL levee crossed it and froze it in time. It looks now pretty much like it looked in the 1930s. The landmass there is virtually unchanged, except now it has a lot of trees that grew over time.

Channel Training 

Floodway Guide levees was only the first phase of flood  control plan.  With the annual Flood pulse confined inside the levees.  The next phase of the flood control system, Atchafalaya Basin Main Channel Improvement Dredging.  The straightening, widening and channelization of the Atchafalaya River main channel to increase flow capacity  and ensure the floodway could pass a 1000 yr  flood.

The dredging was to extend from the Atchafalaya River at Alabama Bayou to the main body of Six Mile Lake near Morgan City. The Corp of Engineers came to conclusion they would need four new channels. Actual channelization of the river started before construction of the guide levees began.


Bayou Big  Alabama  is  an off  chute of the Atchafalaya river  at  approximately Krotz  Springs , La. (mile 45) and flows south parallel to the Atchafalaya  river, at approximately mile 56,   it is at its closest point to the Atchafalaya River. It reconnects back to the Atchafalaya River at Cow island, mile 64.

In 1934, at mile 56.4 a cut was dredged connecting Little Alabama to the Atchafalaya River from the connection, and  continued southeast to wear it intersected with Big Alabama  at Oska Bay/Whiskey Bay .  Officially, this became known as the Whiskey Bay Pilot Channel.  Original justification for the Whiskey Bay pilot channel was to provide for a shorter, straighter and easier navigation on the River for industrial marine traffic.

The dredging continued southeast to Upper Grand River. The wider and deeper Whiskey Bay Channel had the almost immediate unintended effect of reducing the flow of the historic Atchafalaya River channel through Butte La Rose and sending 75% of the annual flood pulse each spring, straight down Little Tensas bayou straight down through Lake Mongolois, Lake Chicot to Grand  Lake.

From that point, you could say, The Rest Is History, i.e., the fate of Grand Lakes was sealed, almost complete sedimentation.

Literal interpretation of Ferguson Four Channels

Ferguson Channel #4 Whiskey Bay Pilot Channel Actual Route

In addition to the Whiskey Bay channelization, other sections of the Atchafalaya River main channel were dredged plus some other distributary streams were dredged. Still other historic distributary streams were intentionally closed where they left the river to force the bulk of the flood pulse to stay in the main river channel and hence, to scour the channel wider and deeper naturally. 

Dr Martin Reuss, Corp of  Engineers historian cautioned me  that Ferguson's Four channels  may not have been  completed as  drawn. There is data to suggest that conditions on the ground changed  some the dredging plans / operations.

 Post-1932 Dredging; Gordon William McCain, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Masters thesis

Red lines indicate dredging locations from 1932-1948 along the Atchafalaya River and ABMC (Adapted from Latimer and Schweizer, 1951;

No work has been performed on Channel dredging since December 1968.

Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System (ABFS)

The  Atchafalaya Floodway project has produced many undesirable results for the Natural  and Cultural Heritage of the Natural Atchafalaya  Basin. Intuitively obvious was the levees increased the height of flooding inside the Basin; areas that only flooded in extreme condition were now inundated every season.  Removal /blockage of drainage paths from the upper reaches of the Grand River watershed into the basin increased flooding in low areas outside the Basin levees as rainwater in the up-per reaches moved through a restricted path on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. The result, heretofore unseen backwater flooding.  Higher flood levels inside the levees forced eventual permanent migration of residents from small communities like Bayou Chene, Atchafalaya town and countless isolated shanties’ built on the natural alluvial ridges of bayou’s and streams throughout the basin.  Even houseboat communities were not spared; you could not have a small garden or raise chickens.

The closing of streams at the levees and the main channel also reduced the amount of water flowing through the cypress-tupelo swamps and, in many cases, forced water to flow back into areas from the south instead of entering from the north, as it had before the closures. The back-flow filling of swamps and lakes aggravated sedimentation and removed the natural flow of water through those areas.

The flow that had washed silt and decayed plant matter from the swamps in high water times, tended to flow into an area, slow down and sit until the water level dropped significantly, often draining only once in a flood cycle instead of continually as it had in the past.

The result of the new patterns caused by the levees and stream closures has been the loss of the open and deep water areas inside the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System (ABFS).  Thousands of acres of open water in the chain of Lakes, i.e. Lake Chicot, Flat Lake, Grand Lake, Duck Lake and Six Mile Lake are now willow flats and stands of cottonwood trees. A new inland delta formation was created, caused by the increased silt carried by the deep, straight channel being dropped in the wide, slower-moving lake. While the new land might be good habitat for some wildlife, the lack of deep water makes it harder for fish to flourish during low water and high temperature periods.

Multipurpose Comprehensive Plan, Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System (ABFS)

Controlling a flood is one thing that the  corps of  engineers is good at. Maintaining a fragile ecosystem is  quite another. The  modern  day Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System (ABFS) by law incorporates a multipurpose comprehensive plan that provides flood protection to south-central Louisiana, and must preserve the Atchafalaya Basin. The strategy of the current Atchafalaya Basin Program is to restore historical overflow patterns to the extent practicable, encourage over bank water movement through defined management units, and reduce sediment deposition within the ABFS with the ultimate goal of restoring and enhancing the aquatic environment.

The basic problem is there’s too much water for too long.

The effect of today’s depth and duration of flooding crosses multiple scientific disciplines, e.g. Forestry, Fisheries, Wildlife, Hydrology, Civil Engineering, etc.  It affects our forests.  It affects our fisheries.

The Atchafalaya Basin was a free flowing River Basin System until the 1930’s.  To restore its historical overflow patterns is not practical, we cannot turn back time, but we can start looking at ways to slow this artificial acceleration.

If we are going to work on  restoring the  eco system of the Atchafalaya Basin as much as practical, first, you must know what you are restoring  it to.

Know the Heritage

1. The current Atchafalaya Basin is still great, still a national Treasure, but it is a mere reflection of its former self as a free-flowing river system and ecosystem.

2. We are not alone. The Yellowstone River in Montana is the only major free flowing river in the contiguous 48 states that has not been severely altered for flood control, navigation or hydropower.

3. Building the Atchafalaya Floodway was done for the benefit of the entire United States of America. Channelization of the streams of the Atchafalaya Basin, ie., widening and deepening the main river channels, kept the physical size of the floodway to a minimum. To the U.S. Government flood control, saving lives and property is paramount, everything else is secondary.  Tradeoffs were and are still are required of everyone.

4. Over the years we have over exploited the Atchafalaya Basin, for just about everything, e.g., industrial logging, levees, locks for flood control, marine transportation / logistics, discovery and production of Fossil fuels, dumping grounds for hazard wastes, recreation and so on.  That does not preclude the future need for some of those activities.  It means that prudent management is required.

5. The Atchafalaya Basin cannot be restored to a free-flowing river basin system. The best we can do is to protect, preserve and work to restore as practical.

6. Murphy's Laws... Everything will eventually happen given infinite time

What do you think, let me know?

Cliff LeGrange  / or 225 776 26



Swamps Lands of Jeanerette Lumber and Shingle Company LTD. 1892 – 1915.  Compiled by H.B. Hewes, Vice President and Treasurer, and General Manager of Jeanerette L&S Company

What we've done to the Mississippi River: An Explainer, Alexis C. Madrigal; May 19, 2011

Controlling the River: maintaining the Mississippi river for National Commerce, History of the Old River area and development of the Old River Control Complex, US Corps of  Engineers, 1999

A Tale of Two Rivers, Agnieszka Gautier October 11, 2013

The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya,  McPhee, J. 1987.

Designing, the Bayous, the  Control of  water in the Atchafalaya  Basin, 1800 - 1995, Martin Reuss, 1998

Comeaux, Malcolm Louis, "Settlement and Folk Occupations of the Atchafalaya Basin." (1969). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 1646.

Hall, John Whitling, "Louisiana Survey Systems: Their Antecedents, Distribution, and Characteristics." (1970). LSU Historical, Dissertations and Theses. 1724.

Taylor, James William, "The Agricultural Settlement Succession in the Prairies of Southwest Louisiana." (1956). LSU HistoricalDissertations and Theses. 157.

'The Way Things Were by a Bayou Man, Mr. Ray Gilchrist, unpublished.

The  Atchafalaya Project, US Corps of  Engineers, New Orleans district, Brochure

History of Levee Building on the Mississippi River, Apr 2018, Plate Tectonics

Controlling The River: Maintaining The Mississippi River For National Commerce.
History Of The Old River Area And Development Of The Old River Control Complex (Orcc), U.S. Corps of Engineers,

McCain, Gordon William, "Influences of Channel Dredging on Avulsion Potential at the Atchafalaya River" (2016).Theses and Dissertations. 1559.

Atchafalaya Basin Program , History & New Focus, ASCE, April 15, 2011, LDNR

Interview with Dr. Bryan Piazza, 2011,Alison M. Jones, No Water No Life®, NWNL Director

A Limited History of the Atchafalaya  Basin, by Charles R. Caillouet, Jr., President, FOA Board of Directors,

[1] From the records of  Mr. Claiborne Landry who had the  right of way clearing  contract for the section, Bayou Sorrel to Bayou Pigeon, and 'The Way Things Were by a Bayou Man, Mr. Ray Gilchrist, unpublished.

[2] Interviews by author with Mr. Edmond Berthelot and Mr. Felix Berthelot

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Memorial Day - Bayou Pigeon, LA. We Gave Our Share

Yes, it’s a 3-day weekend but let’s not forget why.

On Memorial Day we remember and honor those who lost their lives defending and fighting for the freedoms that we enjoy today. A Gallup Poll in 2000 revealed that only 28 percent of Americans knew the true meaning of Memorial Day, and 40 percent confused it with Veterans Day.

Memorial Day is the day to remember those men and women who died while serving in our nation’s armed forces, whereas Veterans Day is a day to celebrate the service of all U.S. military veterans.

For me, this holiday, is  about knowing your community history / heritage.  I believe this Blog post  will make  you feel good, especially when you begin to think your community is going in the wrong direction, ie., the closing of our church at Bayou Pigeon last November and now the threat of tearing it down.

With honor and gratitude we remember our Bayou Pigeon American  Heroes, our Cajun  Heroes. Because freedom in America,  isn't really free; There is a price to pay to keep this liberty.

Two Brothers and a first cousin,  who, served in the U.S. Army  (WWII & Korea). Two first  cousins in the same big battle, within 25 miles of each other, they died two days apart...and now 70 years later with only two  sons and a handful of their relatives left on this earth to remember them.

Bayou Pigeon has a solemn obligation to remember all her sons lost in war.

Elie Landry

Odom Landry

Accept for a few  folks over >60 (native  to Bayou Pigeon)  most of the people  <60 years  native to Bayou Pigeon do not know of Elie and Odom.

Less we  forget, they are part of our heritage. Fate put them in the War. They were real people, how could we know what they were like. Here is a small attempt for us to know what they were like, they were sons, husbands and fathers. They are part of our heritage.

Mr. Felix Berthelot,  who passed  away May 18, 8 days  ago, a WWII veteran himself, Recounted  to me he knew Elie (A –Lee) and Odom very well.  Mr. Felix said he and A-Lee were friends. They were typical Bayou Pigeon kids. French was their primary speech when they grew up. He said they would play with ‘plank board’ boats. That is a 1 x 8 or 1 x 12 flat board with a nail attaching a string about 8 ft. long to it and tying the other end to a willow pole about 6-8 ft. long where you could slide it across the water mimicking a fast moving  bateau. They would play with those for hours in Houseboat alley (borrow canal) from Mr. B Landry’s store. See the Pigeon book picture on page 229 of the dock.

Once when they playing with the boats, next to the dock, A-lee stepped on a poly-wog (mud cat) and it finned him and he hollered and hollered. Felix said A Lee's mother put some Vicks salve on it. Vick salve was used as cure all form infection in those days . Mr. Felix said he and A-lee would go Pierre Part via Putt boat to purchase / pick up supplies for the store. They would go via Grand River to Bayou Gros Bec and Dock at the Pierre Part church. Where they would load the supplies and make the trip back to Pigeon. Sometimes they would have to wait on the supplies to arrive. Sometimes the wait was hours, they often walked from the church down the Pierre Part road toward Belle River to A-Lee’s grandfather’s house ( Doo Doo Landry, see page 527 in the book ) to pick persimmons. A-Lee would climb the trees and shake the tree limbs and Felix would pick the persimmons. This was long walk, Doodoo’s house was past today’s Duffy’s Bait Shop on Hwy 70.

Odom, was older than Mr. Felix, thus his interaction with Odom was less. His most vivid recollection of Odom (O-don) was that he had a drivers license. At the time right before the war, Adolph Berthelot drove the school bus from Pigeon to Crescent school. Sometimes he would get Odom to drive his car and meet him. So he could use his car to go to Plaquemine. As Odom was dating his future wife, Edith Sauce. Odom would want to bring Edith along for the ride, but he had to find a chaperon to go with them, in the old days a woman could not  ride alone with a male. Mr. Felix once accompanied O–don to do this.

After the war , Mr, Felix said people just did not talk about the war much. It was painful losing son’s and soon it was just like A-lee and Odom had just gone missing… no one really brought conversation about them.

Avery Landry 

The third son of Bayou Pigeon, lost in an almost  forgotten war.

So quickly passes a decade, a half-century, now almost 70 years from 1950.

So, what can we do to carry on the meaning of this sacred day in our community and properly honor our fallen heroes?

Display an American flag and lower it to half-mast until noon in honor of our sons who gave their lives in service to our nation.

Reach out to Davis  Landry, Jimmy Landry, sons of Elie and Odom and Phyllis Landry Toups, sister of  Elie and Avery or any of there cousins, where  you might mention you read this post... and that we intend to honor them properly with a  special plaque  or  something when we the Bayou Pigeon  Heritage  Association takes over buildings left by The  Catholic Church at Bayou Pigeon.

There are many generation gaps between residents, native sons / daughters  and residents of Bayou Pigeon society  today... but i believe  we  can come together to remember our heroes on this  solemn remembrance... Know &  celebrate  the Heritage...


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Mr. Felician “Felix” Berthelot - b1925 - d2018

Mr. Felician “Felix” Berthelot _a  Pillar of the Bayou Pigeon  Community  

Felix Berthelot, spouse of 70 years Bernice (Toie) Landry  and  son Darrel 

Mr. Felix, 'Went Missing' on May 18, 2018; Went missing in this case only means he is no longer in our sight. Why is that? Because he  will never be  forgotten as long as our book Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of Atchafalaya is  around.  

Here are  some the things  about him from our Bayou Pigeon book library resource information.

He was born at Bayou Indigo, in 1925 (probably on a houseboat), he told me  he thought his family  came lower Grand Lake area to Bayou Pigeon. Sometime before 1930, the family moved approximately one mile north of Indigo Bayou , about a ½ mile north of the current Bayou Pigeon Pontoon Bridge on the west  side of  Grand River.  Thus the only way to get around was by boat.  This  was before  a  ferry and a bridge  at bayou pigeon. In those old days  people lived a simple life; they grew, caught, trapped or killed their next meal.  

Mr. Felix lived  his entire life at Bayou Pigeon and he experienced all elements of Cajun folk life. He has lived/worked as a Swamper; eg., he has fished for catfish, scale fish, crabs, frogging, moss picking, logging, and right of way clearing, anyway the swamp offered to make a living.

His family is in the 1930 US Census for Bayou Pigeon. Note that the Census worker, listed Felix as a daughter of Emile and Alice. This is undoubtedly because she interpreted the Cajun French pronunciation and spelling of Felix, i.e., Felician, (fa lease e ain) as his parents would have called him… as a female name. Apparently, this was a very common mistake by English Census workers of the time period as the authors found 4 or 5 examples of this in our research. The Census takers had a problem with French Cajun names. 

1930 Census  at Bayou Pigeon

1940 US Census at Bayou Pigeon

In the 1940 US Census for Bayou Pigeon. Note that  Mr. Felix's  father has passed  away as his mother Alice, is listed  as the head of the family. 

He was drafted in the Army in 1944 and went to war in Germany

In Uniform 1945 - Honorable Discharge - European  Service Award

After the war  he  went to the  GI school at Bayou Pigeon and  completed his schooling.

In 1947, he  worked as a  Swamper cutting the right of  way  for one of the first the oil field  access canals, it became  known as  Dewey Vaughn canal. 

Cutting right of way... 1947  Willie Dupre, Felix Berthelot, J.P. Gaudet, White  Setton, Pierre Templet

He married Bernice (Toie) Landry on May 6, 1948.

Bernice (Toie) Landry and Her father Clement Landry -1930"s

In 1950, he and Alden Hebert bought Mr. “Bee” Landry’s Fish buying business. This consisted of an old truck, a fish box and a list of customers. 

In 1952, he and Alden bought the inventory of Mr. Sabin Landry’s Grocery Store and opened their store in the front of Felix’s house. A year later Felix and Alden ended the partnership.

Felix kept the store and split the fish/crawfish buying customers. Felix kept Hardy’s Seafood in Arnaudville, La. and Mr. Alden kept Lafourche Seafood in Baton Rouge. Mr. Alden opened his new dock within eyesight of Felix’s dock.

From there on, his wife, Toie ran the grocery store and Felix built on his fish/crawfish wholesale business. His route expanded to include markets in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. As a  Seafood Wholesaler for 66 years, Mr. Felix  is well known and respected through out the crawfish buying industry.  His son Darrell and grandson Bryce  carry on the business.  It was a quick and easy transition all they had to was change one letter on the trucks from F.J. Berthelot & Son to D.J. Berthelot & Son...L.O.L. However living up to Legacy of Mr. Felix will be more challenging.

Mr. Felix was known as  avid  Rabbit hunter and kept a pack beagle hounds, he hunted rabbits in the Atchafalaya  Floodway  as far away as Grand Lake, and in around Bayou Pigeon. Later on he was known as avid  deer hunter and credited with taking many  nice bucks...

Mr. Felix and one his beagles c 1960's

Felix Berthelot , The Cajun Storyteller

Felix was a great, great Cajun story teller, he told many a good story to me about the Bayou Pigeon of old. He had a  sense of humor that would catch you off guard.

Hunting squirrels and fresh water Blue Crabs

Growing up at Bayou Pigeon , his father would send  him to Mr. Adolph Berthelots general store with 25 cents to buy 7 shotgun shells… His father would take  the shells  and go squirrel hunting… Mr. Felix  would count the shots  and on the seventh shot he and sister  would go meet his father and clean the squirrels for the supper table.

Squirrel  Skins as Crab bait

After skinning and cleaning the squirrels, they would turn the hide inside out and tie a  string to the hide. They would tie a brick on the line and throw it out in Grand River, in front of their house. They would catch enough fresh water blue crabs for another supper.

"Peanut Don't Smoke"

My favorite  Mr. Felix story, is shown in the picture below. This was told to a group of us one night on The 10 Gun House Boat after a long day deer hunting.  The  story was printed in the Bayou Pigeon book, with  the real names omitted, because at the time not all the real participants were not deceased.

Now, the story as first related by Mr  Felix, can be told. The players were Mr. Peanut Simoneaux, Junior Vaughn, (Mr. Felix's Brother in Law) and Leroy Vaughn.

To_By's Point & Turtle  Stew

I have always  wanted to know how the first big curve in little Bayou Pigeon gots it's name.  I never did  reach a consensus  with anyone.  Mr. Felix said it was referred as To_by's (2 B) Point by his father when he was growing up. Never really found an answer to that question.

But, I did find out  was another of Mr. Felix's great stories. 

To_By's  Point, was mostly know for Turtles,  that is among the local Bayou Pigeon folks.  How was that?  Turtles  make their nest and lay their eggs in the spring time, the high water time of the year in the Atchafalaya Basin/ Floodway. To_By's is a alluvial high ridge on Little Bayou Pigeon.

Mr. Felix  related, back in the day, he and his father would head out to fish their trot lines. At that right time of the year  you could always count on finding a turtle building their nest and laying eggs,  It was said  fishermen  stopped on the way out and in and always got a turtle, both going  and coming at To_By's Point.  Mostly “mobelians”, the kind that crawl on logs to sun themselves.  

So, to check out Mr. Felix's  story, I stopped by 2b's point one day...sure  enough there was old turtle shell...

Mr. Felix and 2B's Point turtle 2016

I never doubted him...

Gratitude is very under valued in today’s world, and it is one flaw I try to avoid. 

He bought my crawfish a couple of years (first time in 1973 that's how long I have known him)   when I did some crawfishing commercially, when no one  else would.

Most Important, I would really be  remiss if I did not my acknowledge  the  significant contribution Mr. Felix Berthelot  made to our book Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of the  Atchafalaya. 

We owe him, the community  owes him a huge debt of gratitude for his contribution, telling and thus preserving the Heritage of Bayou Pigeon. 

R.I.P.  - Mr. Felix, you will certainly never be forgotten or gone... just not in our sight...Gods  speed...

In the Spirit of Bayou Pigeon

ton ami... Chachie