Louisiana Cattle Drives in the Atchafalaya Heritage Area
Cattle crossing stream somewhere on the Colette Trail… Sketched by A.R. Waud; From the Alfred and William Waud Collection; The Waud Collection presents a visually fascinating history of America in the mid-19th century, covering subjects as diverse as the reconstructed South and the townships that dotted both banks of the nation's largest river system.
17 th Century Opelousas - Attakapas Region 1601 - 1700
Excerpt of early map of the Location of the Opelousas post to Bayou Courtableau and the Atchafalaya River
Poste des Opelousas - 1720
18 century Settlement in Opelousas - Attakapas Region
Historic marker near New Iberia, La.
Pre-Acadian Ranches of the Middle Teche Valley.
A transect of Teche Alluvial ridge, Andrew Sluyter, Agricultural History · April 2012
Nineteenth century engraving of a south Louisiana cattle rancher. (Source: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline, [NY: John B. Alden, 1892] 17 th Century Louisiana
Base Map – Barthelemy Lafon Map 1806 thought to be earliest map of the Teche region
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.
Acadians receive Land Grants in Bayou Teche Area
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.
The unusual herding practice of free roaming cattle 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. It is documented that in 1773, Amant Broussard and Pierre Broussard, assisted by eight or nine drovers, began driving herds of cattle to New Orleans for the large Vacherie’s. They followed the Colette Trail. For the rest of the 17 th century the Acadians in the area continued to provide a significant number of drovers for the large Vacherie's in the area as well as their own herds.
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. The Acadian settlers west of the Atchafalaya Basin placed ever decreasing emphasis on agricultural production and focused on livestock raising. Cattle raising became the cash crop on the Teche.
By the end of the 1770s, the districts of Opelousas and Attakapas had an estimated 10,000 cattle and 2,000 horses.
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.
Despite their success in the Louisianan cattle industry and the affluence it brought the Acadians, they managed to hold on to their old world culture.
Acadian Drovers 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 / Logic of Middle Atchafalaya Basin Route
Geologic Quadrangle Map of Middle Atchafalaya Basin
18 th Century – Waypoints / Corrals / Along the Middle route
Where Bayou Butte Larose intersects with the Atchafalaya River was used as a way station on the water route from Opelousas to the Mississippi. The inhabitants of the northwestern part of the Attakapas could use the Atchafalaya near Butte la Rose as a loading station for cattle destined for the New Orleans. The area has an elevation of 13 feet ideal for cattle pens for holding the cattle; to this day the area of the cow pens is called Cow Island
Butte Larose Cow Island Cattle Drive Way Point
The Traverse Platte on Grand River in Iberville Parish
The area known as Transverse Platte on Grand river near bayou Plaquemine was more than likely a series of sandbars that transversed a natural stream flowing into The Grand River at that point (like stepping stones). Allowing cattle drives to cross the stream easily during low water and become a natural way point to confluence with Grand River.
Transverse bars form by sediment aggrading to a profile of equilibrium (Jopling, 1966) and grow by down current sedimentation. Transverse bars, assume irregular or asymmetrical patterns due to several factors that include bar-mouth cross-sectional geometry, proximity to exposed banks, adjacent currents, steadiness of flow, and basin depth distribution.
Over time, the annual flood pulse with high flow and decreasing current would start the evolution to a dissected state. Braiding (bar dissection) begins during decreasing discharges when the flow passing through the bar mouth becomes unable to sustain active sediment transport over the entire bar surface.
Maxfield Ludlow Map of 1815 (field Data From 1812- 1815)
Bayou Goula / Iberville Parish Cow Pens
Dauterive Bayou Goula Concession and Portage4. William Reeves , From Tally Ho to Forest Home, The History of Two Louisiana Plantations;
More corroboration of Dauterive Bayou Goula Concession and the Portage to the Grand River, e.g., Civil War Map of 1863
Base Map = Gen Nathaniel Banks 1863 Civil Mar Map
Corroboration of extensive steamboat travel in the Atchafalaya Basin
The Death Nell of Cattle Drives Era
After the Civil War, the coming of the railroads replaced the Colette trail.
Southern Pacific railroad New Orleans to Patterson 1855, to Lafayette 1883
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.
1. Stella Carline Tanoos, Lost history of Louisiana, Louisiana Cattle drives, powerpoint presentation, unpublished, 2018
2. Tim Hebert, http://www.acadian-cajun.com/hiscaj2.htm, Cajuns in the 17th & 18 century
3. Steven A. Cormier, Acadians in gray; Appendices, Acadiansingray.com/Appendices-Acadian%20Communities%20in%20LA.htm; Acadian Communities in Louisiana
4.CenturyArchaeological and Historical Studies in the White Castle Gap Revetment, Iberville Parish, Louisiana; Cultural Resources Laboratory Texas A& M University, college station, Texas 77843, January 1982; prepared for Department of the army, U.S. Army Engineer District, New Orleans, Report PD-RC-82-02
5 Donald J. Arceneaux, A New Look at the Initial Acadian Settlement Location in the Attakapas; 06-10-2015 6. William Reeves, From Tally Ho to Forest Home, The History of Two Louisiana Plantations; Chapter 1; 7. Le Poste Des Opelousas À La Louisiane; http://www.mylouisianafamily.com
8. Water Route from the Opelousas to the Mississippi In 1791; By Lyle Givens Williams; originally published in the Attakapas Gazette, Vol. 5-1, pg. 5, 1970. View archived document here
9. Andrew Sluyter; The Role Of Blacks In Establishing Cattle Ranching In Louisiana In The Eighteenth Century; Louisiana State University, June 27, 2017
10. Malcolm F Vidrine, William R. Fontenot, Charles M. Allen, Bruno Bosari, and Larry Allen, Parie Cajuns and the Cajun Prairie, A history, 17 th, N.A. Prairie, Conference; 220 -224 2001
11. W. T. Block; Bellowing Cows Marked First Trail To New Orleans Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, about 1975, exact date unknown; also in Block, Frontier Tales of The Texas-Louisiana Borderlands, MSS, pp. 153-158, in Lamar and Tyrrell libraries.
12. Maxfield Ludlow Map, LA. State Archives, Historical Maps, 1815
13. Jim Bradshaw: Cattle Feud Had Big Impact On Louisiana History;
14. Attakapas Gazette, The Grevembergs, Early Cattle Ranchers of the Attakapas, May 14, 2011
15. Marianne Allen Corradi , Excerpts From The D’hauterive, Billaud And Allied Families Of Louisiana – Attakapas Gazette 2013/14
16. Henry L Abbot, Department of Gulf Map #8, Atchafalaya Basin, Feb. 8, 1863;
17. Jim Bradshaw, The Cradle of French Louisiana; Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser, July 29, 1997
18. Milton B. Newton, Jr, The Journal of John Landreth, Surveyor an Expedition to the Gulf Coast, November 15, 1818 - May 19, 1819
19. Jane Vidrine, A Man Can Stand, Yeah: Ranching Traditions in Louisiana, Folklife in Louisiana, http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/creole_art_ranching_trad.html
20.Francis Duplessis, Plaquemine survey, Oct. 1794 Louisiana State Archives , Genealogical Society of Utah Microfilm: 1766-1929, Accession P1985-4, Reel 6.