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.

My Photo
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.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Groceries and Tokens

So, they abandoned life on the water for a land-based existence, these families that made up the Myette Point community. The transition came with gains and losses. One of the losses was the convenience of having all your supplies brought to you by the fishboats, so that one of the immediate needs that had to be met was finding a place to purchase provisions such as groceries, staples, fishing equipment, etc. – all of the things the fishboats had previously made available. The nearest source for this that they found was the plantation company stores and one privately owned store of a similar nature. There were two sugar plantations that were somewhat near to Myette Point - Oaklawn and Bellevue. Each of these had a company store that could provide the basic needs of the families, and the other one was a private establishment owned and operated by Medric Martin since 1935 and continuing today. Early on, the Martin store, known to all local people as “Medric’s”, became the primary location for the needs of the new community at Myette Point. It was about three miles away by dirt and gravel road, while the Bellevue store was about five miles from Myette Point. Interestingly, the Oaklawn plantation store was closer but does not seem to have cultivated business from the new community. They went, instead, to Medric’s. Mr. Medric is 95 years old as this is written, and he has many memories of the early days of Myette Point and its people. He speaks favorably of them with respect to their ability to function in a frontier environment, and of their honesty in commercial dealings. In the first few years he would deliver groceries to the levee when the road was dry, and he often hunted ducks with them.

“They came there [to Myette Point], and I met em. I used to go huntin…I started meeting em. They needed groceries and things, so, they came in. They had no way…they had to walk in and walk out, so I…. And uh, that’s how I start meetin em. Those were mighty good people, those days they fished and things and plenty times they didn’t have any money, and I advanced em. Oh yeah. I advanced em. People what needed something, I let em have it. And…and, all of em paid me. [. . .]” [Medric Martin, 1996]

As always in any fishing activity, not all fish were considered prime saleable items. The familiar catfish and buffalo were almost always marketable, but not so garfish and choupique (bowfin). Boys who caught such fish saw opportunity in a public not averse to eating them. This population was primarily the black workers of the plantation population. Whenever a garfish or choupique was caught, the boys would walk the two and a half miles to the plantation and sell their fish to enthusiastic buyers there. However, there was a catch to these sales that provides an opportunity to mention a part of the plantation economy not often discussed today. It is the token system.

On some plantations, such as Oaklawn, there was a double method of payment used. The more familiar one would be the one where cash was paid to employees at an agreed upon rate for work done. This was paid monthly. The other method used tokens. It seems that if an employee ran out of cash between pay periods, they could appeal to the plantation on a day called “order day” for an advance on the next pay day. This advance would be made to them in the form of tokens, metallic coin-like pieces that had monetary value assigned by the plantation. The tokens could only be used at the company store. Enter the Myette Point boys. When they sold their garfish and choupiques to the plantation workers, they often received tokens as payment, which in turn could only be used to buy things at the company store. They did accept this form of payment for their fish, not having much option. Edward Couvilleir and Bootsie Millet talk about this.

EC: I remember…I remember when we used to catch a gar, a choupique or somethin me and Bootsie took [off] and head to the front with that sucker to sell it.

BM: Aw yeah. [laughs]

EC: Yeah lord! They had a oak tree about…almost middle ways along the trail [in the fields] goin to the lake, and that’s where you stop and rest, under that oak tree.

BM: Umhm.

EC: Big old tree, man! There wasn’t no such thing as ridin…walk to the front, over here. And they had them tokens out here, that’s what they’d pay us for the fish with, tokens. [. . .] That’s what they had at Oaklawn.

BM: Oaklawn Store, that’s all they would handle…them, uh…

EC: Tokens. They had a triangle hole in the middle of em. Yeah. You had to buy from Oaklawn Store with that.

The token image is from the Exonumia website.

The river is at 13.2 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, rising just a little in the next few days. The Mississippi and Ohio will encourage falling stages on the Atchafalaya after that. The river shrimp are starting their migration 30 miles south of here. They should be here in two or three weeks. Fun to see at night.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Rita said...

I recently drove across the atchafalaya basin.. It was so beautiful. I also liked reading the history of the area. Do new residents live in the basin that I see from I-10? Do they live in swamp/basin/earth friendly houseboats? I am from Alabama, and grew up skiing on the Tennessee River, and recently took up canoeing in some remote areas. I LOVE the flora that we find in the back waters. Anyway, just found your blog and will read more!
Have a good day!

March 28, 2010 11:43 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Rita: No, no one lives full time in the Basin that you see from I-10. They used to sixty years ago but not now. Glad you like the blog, let me know more of what you think if you read more of it. Thanks for the comment!

March 29, 2010 7:18 PM  
Blogger Rita said...

Thanks Jim for your blog.. I am enjoying reading other articles I missed the first time! You have documented so much information! You know, a lot of the history sounds like rural Alabama. I am going to enjoy reading your previous posts!

April 03, 2010 12:29 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home