This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

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Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Hard Trip

Following is an account of an incident that took place in 1929 in the Atchafalaya Basin. It is a true story that is from an interview recorded in 1973. I believe it illustrates the kind of life people led in the swamp in houseboat communities back in those days . The terms “he” and “she” and “JD” are used instead of names.

He: That man [his father-in-law] lived 12 years, 12 long years there…his campboat in that Williams Canal.

JD: At the end of Williams Canal [Blaise's Canal on the map at left]?

He: In Williams Canal. …what you call Williams Canal.

JD: Now, yall moved around didn’t you, I mean the houseboats….

She: No, most moved but we stayed there…

He: Aw, we’d go to Morgan City for sickness, something like that but come right back there.

JD: And yall fished the whole time you were there?

He: The whole time, me and the old lady and the kids, by ourself there.

JD: That was the only campboat there?

She: The only one there.

He: The only campboat…matter of fact, I didn’t have a campboat then. I had one, but was a small campboat. [seems to remember something that happened in the little campboat] My uncle…my uncle, me and him had a fight, when we lived in Little Pigeon, and we stayed about five years we didn’t speak.

She: Five…yeah, long time, I know.

He: And that’s where he made friends, when he come there one day, we was livin by ourself there. Never forget that, he come in sit down. We had a side door in that camp. He sit down there and come talk to me. That’s where we made friends, right there.

JD: Yall made friends again.

He: It was one of my best friends, too.

JD: No kidding.

He: Was good friends after that.

She: He’d run his lines, and he’d stop every day, every day. Stop to see how we were.

[Now the cause of the five-year estrangement with his uncle:]

He: We had a fight there in Little Pigeon when I was first married with her.

JD: Can you talk about what your fight was about, or is that private?

She: No, about fishin….

He: Fishing, yeah. Fishing, yeah, he kept…claim I had stole some of his fish. Was line fishin. That didn’t work. And I had my father-in-law that was fishin with me, at least I was fishin with him, let’s put it that way.

JD: OK, you were the young fella [laughs].

He: And he [the uncle] come and attack on me at my camp. When he hit me he knocked me overboard. When I got outta there we got hooked up [tangled fighting]. And [the father-in-law] come there and separate us, and then he went to whip ass. It was a big coulou! We stayed not talking about five years I guess. Caused her to lose her first baby.

JD: Caused her to lose her first baby? Is that right?

[She was about 16 years old at the time]

He: Had to hook my camp and tow it to Fourmile Bayou, the quickest place I could get to a doctor.

JD: [incredulous] That’s all the way down to Lake Verret!

[It is about 35 miles from Little Bayou Pigeon to Fourmile Bayou where they waited for the doctor, and another 10 miles from Fourmile Bayou to Bayou Boeuf where the doctor was, near Morgan City]

She: Went all the way down there.

He: Fourmile Bayou, yeah, from Little Pigeon!!

JD: That’s a long trip! About 10 hours.

He: Yes sir, tow that camp down there with a two-horse Lockwood, too. And, uh, went to tell some boys to go to Bayou Boeuf to get the doctor. He was in Bayou Boeuf, they had to cross Lake Palourde to go get him, he come tend to her. That’s the trouble he [his uncle] had put me in.

JD: And you lost the baby?

She: Yeah.

JD: Your first one. Boy that must have scared you.

He: I don’t remember how far he [the baby] was gone [developed].

She: Scared! I must have been about…about six weeks.

He: Not too far, but still she had a…she had to get the doctor to [tend to it]

She: I like to bled to death. That was rough.

JD: [Whistles] Where did you lose it? While you were still at uh, at uh….

She: I lost the baby comin back home, the doctor said I was all right. You see, he thought I had done lost the baby. But I hadn’t. I lost it comin back home [to Little Bayou Pigeon]. So if that would a happen today…we could a went back on the doctor.

He: Would’a sued him.

JD: Course in those days….

He: In those days, a doctor … you know, we didn’t think about suing nobody anyway.

JD: Nobody thought about that.

He: Uhuh. But he was the only family doctor we had. When I used to live on Fourmile Bayou he was my family doctor.

JD: And how far away was he? You say Lake Palourde, how far away was he you think?

He: He was livin in Bayou Boeuf.

She: He was a long ways.

He: He was a long ways from Fourmile Bayou. I say long ways, it take about a [pause] an hour and a half in a slow boat. We had slow boat then. They had to go get him and bring him at my house tied at Fourmile Bayou, and bring him back.

JD: Inboards, yeah. It would take an hour and a half each way?

[the 2-horse Lockwood Ash inboard engine would travel 5 to 8 mph]

He: Oh, yeah!

JD: Well, let me understand. Let me go back a little bit with some of this. The kind of thing like yall talk about, like the fight you had, like what you had…you know, how he acted , unfortunately what it caused, like that…the trip yall had to make? That’s the kind of stuff nobody remembers anymore. And a lot of people have an interest in how you lived back then.

He: Well I kind of forgot about it myself, ‘till you brought it up.

So, five years later the uncle came into the side door of the houseboat on Williams Canal and began a conversation. The estrangement between uncle and nephew was resolved and they became good friends from then on, fishing together and sharing resources when it was possible. The wife had five more children, all raised on a houseboat.

Life was different. The distances were more meaningful because the means to cross them were so much slower. It was why neighbors who could treat the more common health issues were so much respected. But when something was truly life threatening, like the miscarriage described above, a medical doctor was sought even though the distances would take ten to twelve hours to traverse. In this case, it was fortunate that the situation was not worsened by the mistake the doctor made. Still, think of a 20-year-old young man alone in the huge Atchafalaya Basin with a 16-year-old wife who for all he knew was dying. Alone on that boat on the return trip to Bayou Pigeon, with no hope of medical assistance, they faced the crisis together. And with that kind of experience to build on they lived another 50 years of marriage, sharing the courage of their lives with those around them.

The river is at 14.7 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, falling slowly for a few days to 14.3 feet. However, the Ohio is rising at a strong clip right now, more than 2 feet per day, and that might be enough to reverse the fall and bring back some more water. The annual low water may be later than June.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Bud Forester said...

That's an impressive story, Jim. I like that map, too... got a reference for it? Or a link? I found one online that's similar... prepared for Gen. Banks in 1863.

June 08, 2008 10:07 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Glad you liked the story. The map is probably the same one you found. I know it as the "Abbot" map, and it was prepared for General Banks. Thanks for the comment, Bud. Jim

June 08, 2008 10:49 PM  

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