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...

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