Louisiana Cattle Drives in the Atchafalaya Heritage Area
Nineteenth-century engraving of a south Louisiana cattle rancher. (Source: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline, [NY: John B. Alden, 1892] 17 th Century Louisiana
17 th Century Opelousas - Attakapas Region 1601 - 1700
Poste des Opelousas - 1720
Two hundred Acadian immigrants arrived in Louisiana in 1765, led by Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil and his older brother Alexandre. Spanish Governor Aubry received those Acadians; he believed they would die in misery if he did not do something to help them. It happened that they were former residents of the Chignecto Isthmus area of Novia Scotia, which was a sparsely wooded region and was known as the heart of the Acadian cattle industry in Novia Scotia.
A win/win situation for the Governor, his interest was to expand and sustain the colony. Help the new Acadian colonist immigrants survive, and help Juan Antonio Dauterive, become a major cattle producer in the colony like he wanted to be.
The authors found conflicting information as to whether the five cows and one bull were ever delivered to the Acadians as promised by the compact. It is obvious from the maps that all the Acadians did not settle on the land of Masse and Dauterive. It is possible that around mid-May, several Acadian families did briefly inhabit some of Dauterive and Masse’s ceded land in accord with the land exchange deal made back in New Orleans. Once on the frontier, these families may have also received cattle from Dauterive in agreement with the cattle compact made in the City. However, the author could find is no data that suggests the agreement was ever carried out in full. It is known that some of the Acadians bought some cattle from Jean-Baptiste Grevemberg.
Grevemberg complained to French officials that the newcomers were settling on his cattle-grazing Fausse Pointe peninsula land. As it turned out Grevemberg did not have a clear title either.
After Spain officially took control of the colony from the French, the Spanish governor granted the Acadian Exiles over two dozen land grants. These land grants totaled over 10,000 acres. By 1783, more Acadians arrived, and a new Spanish governor issued more land grants, raising total acreage to over 18,000 acres.
The Teche alluvial plain offered a different opportunity for Acadians of the Attakapas versus Acadians of Mississippi River / Bayou Lafourche. The Bayou Teche Acadians developed a slightly different model for ranching than the large Vacherie’s which grazed their large feral herds on open range with no interest in cropping.
The new Acadians combined small docile herds with crops of rice and maize
Still, this model was in contrast to the pure Petite Habitant, small farmer model on Mississippi / Lafourche side of the Basin, which demanded land clearing of back swamps and, maintaining levees, none of that was required to raise cattle.
Capitalizing on the habitat/nutrition found in prairie and marsh grasses, facilitated cattle raising. supplemental feed was unnecessary local laws allowed the cattle to roam at large, no fences confining them. Fences were only used to keep cattle out of gardens. Branding took the place of fences, separating one person’s cattle from another.
At first, this model resulted in conflicts, such as additional Acadian claims for crop damages from the free-roaming cattle and the large Vacherie’s claiming cattle rustling.
But, by the end of the 1770’s the large Vacherie’s and Acadians were accepting each other’s concessions and getting along better.
As a result, the Acadian settlers west of the Atchafalaya Basin focused on livestock raising and placed ever decreasing emphasis on agricultural production. Cattle raising became the cash crop on the Teche.
By 1771, the average Acadian household in the area had 22 cattle. He also had 6 horses, a luxury they hadn’t known in Acadia. By the end of the century, most Acadian ranches had increased their holdings of livestock to over 100 head.
By the end of the 1770s, the districts of Opelousas and Attakapas had an estimated 10,000 cattle and 2,000 horses. For the rest of the 17 century the Acadians continued to provide significant number of the drovers involved in the cattle drives to New Orleans.
Cattle drives from the Attakapas and Opelousas prairies remained the main source of beef in New Orleans throughout the eighteenth century, but the percentage of Acadian-owned cattle shipped to the colonial capital rose sharply as the prairie herds proliferated at an amazing rate in the 1780s and 1790s.
Acadian Dovers participate in American Revolution
Spain became an ally of the American Colonies during the American Revolution. The Acadians didn't mind being on the side of the enemies of England and a number of them joined the Spanish militia. Bernardo de Galvez, the Spanish governor needed beef to feed Spanish troops in New Orleans. Beef from Texas and the Attakapas was driven down the Colette trail New Orleans by Acadian drovers. Over nine thousand head of longhorn cattle were delivered to New Orleans.
This is why many of Louisiana's old families can join Daughters of the American Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution, because they are considered part of the effort for the revolutionary war.
Acadian Pousser Des b̂etes, (drive cattle)
Faced with the difficulty of managing large herds with only the family labor pool, versus the large Vacherie’s like Masse, Sorrel, and Dauterive, with black slaves, and free people of color. The Acadians drove their surplus beef to markets whenever they were fit for sale, making for smaller cattle drives. The Colette Trail was a long push from the Opelousas Post. Crossing the Bayou Des Allemande swamp was very difficult.
Corroboration of middle Atchafalaya Basin Route
Corroboration of middle Atchafalaya Basin Route - Maxfield Ludlow map 1812-1815
Base Map = Gen Nathaniel Banks 1863 Civil Mar Map
The challenges facing drovers as they moved cattle across the middle Atchafalaya Basin as only we Spillway Sportsman can understand were many. Small bayous that off chute the major stream, hundreds of sloughs, snakes and alligators, mosquitoes and thick humidity was daunting. Lost of cows by drowning and not to be overlooked, drowning of cowboys.