Thursday, February 19, 2015

In the Big Swamp, Race Just Seems To Adjust Itself.

In the  Spirit of Black  History Month 

&  the Atchafalaya  National  Heritage  Area

Feb. 8, 2021

Excerpt  from "Bayou Pigeon, La. Spirit of the Atchafalaya" 

Bayou Pigeon, Louisiana, is a small unincorporated village located in the southern tip of Iberville Parish, in the state of Louisiana.  It is on the eastern edge of the Atchafalaya River Basin and is part of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area.  It is  considered as part of the Eastern Gateway To The  Atchafalaya.

The story of Bayou Pigeon is in many ways  the story of the Atchafalaya Basin. The  confluence of  Pigeon Bayou  and  Grand  River has been a populated place since 1843. From the antebellum period, the industrial cypress  logging period  to an era  where the primary pursuit of residents was exploiting the natural resources of the  basin. They eked out a living hunting and fishing.

Until the  mid 1930,s no official roads penetrated to the Bayou  Pigeon area, only a dirt path following the lower Grand  River.

Any inhabitant could live there at no cost and no government intrusion,  some  would say in a blissful isolation.

After the  creation of the  Atchafalaya  Floodway, The landscape of the community evolved  to a linear format along Lower Grand River at the confluence of Little Bayou Pigeon and Lower Grand River with the residents making homesteads along the high ground. 

There is one bridge across that joins the residents who live on both sides. The geographic location is 30.04.'10.70" N - 91.17' 07.30" W.

The 1940 US census  recorded there were 390 souls living at Bayou Pigeon, LA.  The majority of the families lived on houseboats.

The town of Plaquemine was 25 miles away, and the road  was  poor. 

 At that time  Bayou Pigeon  folks traced their ancestry from Pierre Part, La., another small Cajun Community in nearby Assumption Parish. Thus, travel to and from Bayou Pigeon was mostly from Pierre Part, LA. by water/ boat at that time. 

Most Plaquemine folk,  thought Bayou Pigeon, was a semi-isolated community of levee dwellers who talked French and a little broken English.  That eked out a living hunting and fishing and did not have much formal education.  

They were considered poor, but they had few prejudices, except maybe they did not trust government.  

No African Americans lived at Bayou Pigeon, it was a pure unadulterated  Cajun Fishing  Village.  

The Bayou Cajuns people there lived a simple life, they grew, caught, trapped or killed their next meal.  They sold what was extra when they could to earn a few dollars for other necessities.

In 1933 the building of a clam shell road from Bayou Sorrel to Bayou Pigeon started a process of Americanization in the history of the community. 

 With the opening of the new clamshell highway, one of the first visitors to travel to Bayou Pigeon was an African-American named Charlie Eads, Sr. 

Mr. Eads started a peddler service to Bayou Pigeon, sometime before 1940. The exact year is not documented. With the clamshell road, what was considered  all day arduous trip was now a half-day trip. Mr. Eads’ flatbed truck was outfitted to serve as a store on wheels.  

Mr. Charlie Eads, Sr. operated this peddler service route for approximately two years, after which time he turned it over to one of his sons, Charlie Eads, Jr., affectionately nicknamed "Bully" who operated the route to the late 1950’s.  

Bully rode down the highway, stopping and blowing his truck horn at every five or six houses on the highway. Bayou Pigeon had two small grocery stores at that time, but Bully offered milk, fresh vegetables, fruits, some staples, some fish, meat, sliced bread and ice, the most valuable commodity of all. 

The Eads family children would get up at 4 a.m. to pick the fresh vegetables and load Bully's truck for his daily delivery to Bayou Pigeon.  

At first, Bully served the community on the east side of Grand River.  Mr. Adam Landry born and raised at Bayou Pigeon remembers he would get in his father’s pirogue and paddle across the river to the Hwy 75 road and purchase supplies from Bully.

After the Bayou Pigeon ferry in 1947, Bully would cross the bridge and deliver services to folks across the bayou and made crossing the river by boat to get to him no longer necessary. 

Bully always received a warm, “Bonjour, Comment Sa Va” welcome, because not only was he a source of goods not available in the community, but also he was a source of news and gossip and a link to the outside world for people who seldom strayed outside of Bayou Pigeon. 

Bully would also do special favors for his customers such as going to the post office in Plaquemine and bringing Money Orders to his customers in Bayou Pigeon.

Bully was also a taxi service.  

Mr. Curtiss Leonard, now of Morgan City, lived at Bayou Pigeon until the sixth grade, remembers Bully very well.  He and his mother would catch a ride with Bully for one dollar, to Plaquemine.  Bully dropped them off at Dalbor's store for shopping and they would spend the night at the Lamar Hotel.  Bully would pick them at the hotel the next morning and ride them back to Bayou Pigeon

Bully did this for other folks who had no other transportation.  All would ride in the front seat of Bully’s single cab pickup truck.

In the 1950’s when many of the weekend campers began to arrive at Bayou Pigeon, Bully would stop in front of their camps as well. He had a sense of humor and was always smiling.

Oh, there was always some modest negotiation, with selling goods, but there was never a feeling that someone had the upper hand, because Bully was black.  
Bully had a great work ethic and personality He was known in the community as a trustworthy and reliable person.  In fact Bully was beloved by the community.

In fact, The Big Swamp had a history where racial issues just seem to always work itself out.  In the industrial cypress logging era, there were mixed race crews, who worked and lived side by side.  The work was rugged and dangerous, safety was a main concern.  Workers depended on each other to have their backs.

The same applied to all races and ethnicity that traveled around  and into  the interior  of the  Atchafalaya Basin.   When someone helps you  when your boat and motor  breaks  down and brings supplies to help you grow, catch or kill your next meal, who cares about race.

In 1959, Bully had health issues that forced him to end his store-on-wheels route to Bayou Pigeon.

If you enjoyed the story Bully Eads,  the book  has several  interesting stories, eg.,  Susan Verami,  the first documented resident and a Free Woman of Color at Bayou Pigeon and the Civil War field reports of  some of the first black Federal troops on patrol in the Bayou Pigeon / Atchafalaya Swamp.  

You can buy the book by contacting Cliff LeGrange at 225 776 2686 or


Thursday, February 5, 2015

"The Ghosts of the Past Speak to 

All Who Will Listen”

The purpose of this  particular blog post is connect the dots on what eventually happened to the Antebellum homes of the Sugar Planters at Bayou Pigeon.  The  Civil War ended the Era of Agriculture at Bayou Pigeon.  We have included a lot of data from our research because we believe it is important to be right.  “In God We Trust’ all others bring data / pictures.

The word Antebellum conjures up thoughts of Pre Civil War large Southern Cotton and Sugar Cane plantations, Black Slaves and palatial mansions.

Bayou Pigeon nestled along the eastern side of the Atchafalaya Basin, in extreme lower part of Iberville parish, today it is known as a Cajun fishing community but its origins are Anglo-Americans Planters / Farmers from the New Iberia / Bayou Teche area.  

They came to build and operate Sugar Cane plantations in the late 1840’s.  After the U.S. government surveyed the Atchafalaya Swamp in 1832 – 36, the federal government and the relatively new State of Louisiana opened the newly surveyed land for land grants and sale. 

The Riggs Family who hail from Accomack, County Virginia and came to Louisiana in 1804, and invested in agriculture land on the western edge of the Atchafalaya Basin in the Bayou Teche / New Iberia area. These landowners were relatively wealthy, and were able to purchase this newly opened up land.  By 1850 all the high ridges at the confluence of Pigeon Bayou and Grand River were bought up by the Riggs Family and their 'in laws'.  Objective Evidence by these excerpts from official parish conveyance records.

It took 9 years, but The Riggs Family and their ‘in laws’ established sugar plantations and produced sugar by 1860.  The George Mitchelltree family established their plantation by buying his brothers’ property at succession, (John Mitchelltree) in 1850. John Mitcheltree was married to Mary Philomena Riggs, thus he was part of the early Riggs family movement to the area. 
Opposite George Mitcheltree and on the east bank of Grand River was the plantation of Laughlin and Nettleton. G.C. Laughlin married Mary Francis Riggs, daughter of Mary Reynolds Riggs. This plantation was established in the late 1840’s as well. 
 Adjacent to and below Mitcheltree on the west side of Grand River was the plantation of George Bollinger.  Who bought his property from the John Mitchelltree succession as well. Bollinger was from Kentucky as Mitchelltree. 
Justillien Michel, the first Cajun at Bayou Pigeon established a plantation, by buying The Jasper Gall plantation, in 1858. Gall was married to Mary Frances Riggs.

Page 75 - Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of the Atchafalaya

The Map below describes the location of  the four sugar plantations at Bayou Pigeon / Grand River and  the ownership in 1859.

Page 68 - Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of the Atchafalaya, 1850 US census

These folks were not absentee landowners they all moved to Iberville parish and established residences.  This is documented / verified/ corroborated by the 1860 census of Iberville Parish ward 8

Page 69 & 70 - Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of the Atchafalaya

These were working sugar plantations with cultivated fields, black slaves, Sugar boiling houses, including plantation homes for the owner. As evidenced by the documents below, i.e., the succession of John Mitchelltree upon his death in 1850. Note: The succession clearly describes their was a main  dwelling house on the property.

# 1 The George Mitchelltree Plantation

Page 107 - Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of the Atchafalaya

Records from Iberville Parish Clerk of Courts office, document the disposition of the George Mitchelltree plantation after his death.  The map below list the structures on the property when the plantation was sold at Sheriffs sale in 1875 after heirs of George Mitchelltree could not pay the taxes.  The clearly show the location of the main / big house on the property.  This document is truly one the priceless documents in the history of Bayou Pigeon.

Page 115 - Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of the Atchafalaya

In 1895 Nestor Michel, lifelong resident of Bayou Pigeon purchased this property from the F.B. Williams Cypress Company.  He moved his family into the big house on the property.  The picture below is the only known picture of the Mitchelltree / Michel house

Ms. Clementine Berthelot Michel the second wife of Nestor Michel lived in the house until her death in 1947. Ms. Joyce Percle daughter of Adeia Michel Percle, youngest daughter of Nestor and Clementine and Mr. Dealis Vaughn youngest son of Sidney Vaughn described the interior of the house.  The house was torn down by Sidney Vaughn and Paul Michel in 1949.  The sketch below provides the layout of the house as they remember it in 19 48   / 1950 time frame. The house would have approximately 100 years old.  I am not sure if the origin of the house was known at the time the old house was torn down.

# 2 Laughlin –Nettleton Plantation 

Pages 80 83 - Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of the Atchafalaya

We / I did not connect the dots on this one prior to the printing of the Bicentennial edition, i.e., The Laughlin _Nettleton / Berthelot Family connection.   Granville Clifford Laughlin lived with his wife Mary Riggs Laughlin on their Down home plantation on east side of Grand River at its confluence with Lower Grand River.

Granville passed in 1859 and left Mary with 11 kids and the “Down Home” plantation.  The plantation had about 400 cleared acres, 10 slaves and was valued $28,000 in 1860. In 2013 dollars it would be somewhere between minimum of 809,000 and 10.7 mm.  

A young Lawyer from Plaquemine was hired to do the succession of Granville.  He was Thomas E. Grace, in doing the succession he fell in love with Granville’s and Mary's  daughter, Elizabeth Camilla Laughlin. He married her in 1860 at the Down Home plantation.

What happened to the Down home Plantation house that Lizzie Laughlin was married in?

In 1915 - Anatole Berthelot of Bayou Pigeon purchased via Sheriffs sale the former property of William Hedges for $400.00. Anatole was encouraged into buying the property by Nestor Michel to buy after it had been available for a number of years.  The purchased included all the buildings and other improvements on the property.  It is safe to assume that one the buildings was the Down Home Big House.

Page 580 Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of the Atchafalaya

J.C. Berthelot, Big Communion 

In the Background, is one of only two known pictures of the Berthelot house, circa 1930’s.  Grandma Julienne lived in the house until death. Look at it for a while… you are looking at the Laughlin down Home Plantation home built in the 1850’s.  The 1913 conveyance where Anatole Berthelot bought this property insinuates that there was more than one building. Anatole‘s son Augustine, lived in a similar looking house a short distance away. Several of our reliable sources of information testified that the Augustine Berthelot house looked just like the Anatole Berthelot house. We (the authors assume this could be a second plantation dwelling. Where Mr. Nettleton, part owner and overseer of “Down Home” plantation lived. But we cannot find objective evidence to prove that, e.g., a picture. The Anatole / Grandma Julienne house was torn down by Clement Landry the son in law of Anatole Berthelot, in the 1950’s. 

Page 427 Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of the Atchafalaya

In the right background, is the only other known picture showing some of the Laughlin / 
Berthelot house, ie.,  Down  Home Plantation. Note How close to the road and how high the back is off the ground.  Suggesting that before the Borrow canal, the house was raised  quite high  off the ground.

GPS / location of the old Laughlin  Down Home Plantation House

# 3 the Bollinger Plantation house

Even more difficult to connect the dots on…was finding out what happened to the George Bollinger Plantation located on the west side of Grand River… just below the Mitchelltree Plantation. The Bollinger Plantation was eventually purchased by Nestor Michel in 1917.  Nestor sold it to Henry Dugas in 1929.  

Sometime after that Clebert Frioux, the son in law of Anatole Berthelot purchased part of the old Bollinger plantation, including the house on the property.  Many folks  testified that Clebert Frioux lived in a plantation looking house, facing the Grand  River, just  to name a few,  they were Shirley Mae Settoon, J.C. Berthelot,  Claude Landry, Eugene  Vaughn. 

Correspondence from the  Laughlin / Riggs family corroborates the  Bollinger plantation.

The Bollinger home was located between the former homes of C.I. and Bernice Clement and the  Ernest Hedges home by verbal interviews from the folks mentioned above. Until recently we thought that finding a picture or proof of this Plantation home at Bayou Pigeon was lost to history.   

However, Jaime Morales, spouse of Quentin Morales, new commercial fishing family at bayou Pigeon, made me aware of video from the 1940’s That had a short clip of Bayou Pigeon.  The  video was done by LA. Baptist College.  This video is another priceless peice of history. After reviewing the video we managed to get the following screen capture from the video.  

The man and woman on the right, standing on the porch of the houseboat are Leo Landry, and his first wife, Laura LeBlanc. 

Lo and behold, look at the picture of the house in the background. After verifying where the the Leo Landry houseboat, located in 'houseboat alley' where this  picture was taken.   The house in the background  is on the west side of Grand River exactly  where the Frioux  house was said to be located !  

By the grace of God we have found a picture of the Bollinger plantation house.

In conclusion, you might ask why we are doing this. If we don’t document our history it will surely disappear.  

Nestor Michel, more than likely knew he was living in the old George Mitchelltree home, but obviously he did not pass that information down, if he did it lasted one generation at best.  We will never know if Anatole Berthelot,  knew the origin of the residence he purchased. We know that none of the second generation Berthelots descendants were aware.  Again, the same for Clebert Frioux and his descendants. By connecting these dots of history we are ensuring / perpetuating the continuing existence of Cajun Bayou Pigeon culture. People find it interesting to know how the people / their descendants lived their day to day lives.

Wise people say; “If we know where we came from, we may better understand who we are and we may better know where to go.
Besides it’s fun to look at how we change over the years, 

The Ghosts of the Past Speak to All Who Will Listen"

 Preserve the Heritage!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Book Review - "Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of the Atchafalaya"

The Louisiana Historical Association Journal Fall 2014 Vol. No. 4 - Book review

by Dr Malcolm Comeaux

Bayou Pigeon: Spirit of the Atchafalaya. By Cliff LeGrange, Adam J. Landry, Geraldine Settoon, James J. Landry, and Patricia L. Settoon. (Baton Rouge Printing, 2011, 696 pp. Introduction, foreword, Maps, photographs, sketches, timeline, bibliography, index, cloth 469.95, ISBN 978-0-615-65490-4).

Bayou Pigeon is an excellent work. This book written by a committee of capable non-scholars for a popular audience, provides a wide scope exploration of one small community—Bayou Pigeon—and how the people of this community were forced to adjust over time to altering economic and environmental realities.  Although centered on just this one town, the findings have broader implications and can be assumed to be relevant for other small communities in and around the Atchafalaya Basin.  Lessons learned would apply to all of them.

I laud the authors for their dedication to uncovering and preserving the area’s rich history and for going forwarding publishing this book. Nowadays, with the rise of electronic research tools and resources, as well as options for self-publishing, many books are produced and areas of research tackled without involvement of trained scholars. This evolution should be embraced by academics, since passionate non specialist have something to contribute.  This trend cannot be stopped, and Bayou Pigeon is an excellent example of this societal movement and how it can be done successfully.  It was written and printed by a dedicated group with little regard toward remuneration, and they should be commended.

The book is well organized, and its themes are consistent. In a testament to the care and time invested by the authors, the first printing won a bronze medal in the IPPY Awards (the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the category of  “South-Best Regional Nonfiction.”  This second printing is somewhat expanded, and many of the picayunish errors of the first have been corrected, except for a few found where French words are used.

Bayou Pigeon can be divided into several parts (all of which could have been books unto themselves. The first, after a short introduction, explores the area’s history (Chapters 3-8).  This section includes a detailed timeline of events in French Louisiana, early settlement on ridges in the swamp, the antebellum agriculture era, the impact of the Civil War, logging floods and the beginnings of the folk economy based on the swamp.  The next section (Chapters 9-15) treats more historical topics such as movement out of the swamp, development of the floodway, the impact of World War II, population growth, and Americanization of the people.  The next section (Chapters 16-21) is on the developing swamp economy, but includes music and religion.  The final text section (Chapters 19-34), the longest at 223 pages, is on genealogy.  Finally, the last three chapters provide a photographic essay, remember those who served in the military, and discuss the origin of the name “Pigeon.”  There is no conclusion that sums up the findings of the book.

A flyer describes this book as “Big, Bold, Beautiful,” and that is an apt description.  It weighs a little over seven pounds.  Reasons for the weight are one, the very heavy, coated, and glossy paper (done in order to enhance the beauty of the illustrations, maps and photographs), and two, the length—696 pages.  It is also of an unusual size, as the pages are nine by twelve inches. This allows for inordinate amount of information to be put on each page and for larger maps and illustrations.

This book has several strong points, one being the many high quality maps.  Many were drawn specifically for this book, but most are either older historical maps or maps from various government agencies.  Another distinction of the book is the great number of colored, hand drawn illustrations of houses, places, stores, and the like.  They are a delight.  Relatedly, the vast number of pictures is another strong point of the book.  Many are simply snapshots, but others are beautiful works of art.

They all tell stories and are a delight to examine.  Indeed a person could spend hours just dreamily perusing the illustrations and photos contained in this book.  I firmly believe this book should be in all public libraries in South Louisiana and in University Libraries.  I fear, however, that its weight and resulting cost might make it a hard sell to the general public.  It would, however, make an excellent “coffee table book,” and could be sold to tourist or anyone with a sincere interest in the swamps or peoples of South Louisiana.

Arizona State University Malcolm Comeaux

Emeritus Professor , Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. (480)965-7533 ; Emeritus Faculty, School of Geographical Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences ;

ACADEMIC TRAINING ; Ph.D. 1969 ; Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Dissertation: Settlement and Folk Occupations of the Atchafalaya Basin. ; M.A. 1966; Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois; Thesis: Impact of Transportation Activities Upon the Historical Development of Cairo, Illinois ; B.A. 1963 ; University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana, (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

AREAS OF SPECIALIZATION: Cajun Scholar ...Culture Diffusion and Culture Change, Historical Geography, Geography of Europe, History of Geographic Thought, Geography of Arizona and the Southwest, The French of Louisiana.

I mean this as sincerely as I can team, Adam Landry, Cherry Settoon, Jim Landry, Patricia Settoon, Mr. Stan Routh, Robert Sinclair, Kevin Bankston, and though not listed in the credit line of the book, Diane Solar LeGrange, Eloise Blanchard Landry, Calvin LeBlanc, Mr. Wildy Templet, Elaine Barras Williams, John Delahaye) all contributed to making this book what it is...

Stan Routh, a person with the credibility to know, what he is talking about called it,(By the way he said this before / independent of  Dr. Comeaux's review). “This is a very, very, good book written by a very, very good and knowledgeable team of authors”, Stan Routh, 2012. 

When our team passes from this world, some like Stan will have lots of accolades, the rest of us can at least list to our credit, Co-Author, Copy Editor, Graphics Designer, Researcher, Contributor, or Printer of the Award Winning Book “Bayou Pigeon, LA. Spirit of the Atchafalaya”. We left something behind bigger than ourselves...