The Sixth Line
A place where a great river lives;
Where most of our crawfish used to come from;
Where commercial fishermen make a living;
A place of memories for a lot of people;
“A home for ghost stories;”
Comments on the first five lines of the poem Atchafalaya Is have appeared earlier in Riverlogue postings – now for the sixth line.
Yes, it is a home for ghost stories. It is a place where mysterious things are said to happen, some witnessed, some only spoken of. It is hard to overcredit the capacity of the human mind for imagination. But things that go bump in the night are not imagined by those who hear them, they are really there, for those people. It is we who only hear about them who scoff at the stories. If we measure size in relation to the potential for loneliness, the Basin is a big place, and it was bigger when there were fewer people in it. Being alone in this big place, and being human, and having the human capacity to imagine – this would be a formula for witnessing the unexplainable. And the Basin has had its share of the unexplainable.
Perhaps four short stories will be enough to exemplify what I mean. The first has to do with what I call “The Woman in White” legend. This legend is well known by those who once lived in the Basin, and you can hear it from people in communities on both sides of the swamp. Basically, the woman visits people who are alone in the swamp, usually working at some swamp-type task. She visited Ulysse C. late one afternoon in 1933, almost at dusk, while he was gathering moss. He had his moss pole twisted in a big clump of green moss which he pulled down and then turned to carry it to his moss barge. His boat and barge were in the bayou about 50 feet behind him. As he turned toward the boat, he heard someone call his name. He turned back and there was a very pretty woman in a very white dress sitting on a stump about 20 feet away. He swears she smiled at him and motioned for him to approach her, saying “Ulysse, come to me and you’ll never have to pick moss again”. He turned back toward the bayou, dropped his moss pole, and ran for his boat as fast as he could. When he got to the boat, he looked back and, sure enough, she was still there, sitting on the stump. She repeated the invitation. He says he was never so thankful that the Lockwood engine in his boat started with a twist of the flywheel, and he was off down the bayou as fast as the putputting bateau could take him. It was a long time before he returned for his moss barge and the pole he left on the bank. He maintains that the woman was not mean looking or scary in that way, and she really seemed nice. But, to him, she sure didn’t belong where he saw her. And, after all, he says, he was a married man.
Next, there is the Peach Coulee legend. Many people have said that no one can live (in a houseboat) on that little bayou. And the story is that there is pirate treasure buried somewhere near there, protected by the ghosts of pirates killed and buried there for that purpose. People have experienced things that should not be happening when they tie a houseboat in Peach Coulee. During the night, and sometimes in the daytime too, the sound of brickbats being thrown on the roof is heard. When the people go out to see, nothing is there. When some people tried to make bread, they would come back to the rising dough to see the marks of two big hands pressed into the soft dough. Coffee pots full of coffee fall off of the stove onto the kitchen floor. Gangplanks become detached from the houseboat during the night resulting in sleepy people nearly falling into the water in the morning. These reports and many others have come from the Peach Coulee area. As mentioned earlier, I took a class of boys from school there one weekend in 1974. We spent the night in tents and didn’t see or hear much that was alarming, except that boat that came by during the night when there was no boat – just the sound of the motor.
And then there is the Bayou Sorrel mound. A baby is heard crying there, and this has been heard by several people. The mound is a very old Native American burial site which has also been used during historic times for burials by non-native peoples. A picture of the mound is offered here.
Lastly, different people from the swamp tell me that on several occasions, when someone they know is about to die, that person appears to them. This is probably more in the line of a “spirit” rather than a ghost. But it nevertheless is an unexplained event.
Yes, the Basin is a home for ghost stories. With some digging, a lot more of this kind of material can be found. Some individuals have collected this kind of information and they are worth talking to.
The river is still acting very unseasonal in that there is a lot more water in it than we usually see in July. The Butte La Rose gauge says 8.7 feet now, with a gradual fall setting in next week. That reading is usually about 3.0 about now. The Mississippi and Ohio are both holding or rising a little. We shall see.
Rise and Shine, Jim