The Lady and La Salle

La Salle (1643-1687) ~ Raoul Josset

Larger than life, envied in success and plagued by failure, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle may have landed on Texas shores by mistake, but he certainly left his mark. 

Born in France a century after Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked west of Galveston Island, and two centuries before the first shiploads of German immigrants made their way inland from Indianola, La Salle followed his brother to New France (now Canada) in order to enter the fur trade.

Once in New France, he discovered a preference for travel over trapping. Launching a first expedition to the Ohio River in 1669, he spent several years combining business with the pleasures of exploration. In 1682, he traveled the length of the Mississippi River, laying claim to the entirety of the immense drainage basin for France, and naming the territory Louisiana, after King Louis XIV. (more…)

The Capitaines and the Chickens

Boudreaux’s been much on my mind of late.

In 2012, not long after I’d written a thing or two about chickens in art and literature, he emailed a suggestion: “Cher, you want the complete chicken experience, come to Cajun country for a real Mardi Gras. They dance for chickens over here.”

As proof, he sent along Pat Mire’s documentary, Dance for a Chicken. After watching the hour-long film with a certain degree of astonishment, I tucked the link into my bookmarks and resolved to make my own run to the Louisiana prairie to witness the celebrations.

A year later, and the year after that, I remembered Boudreaux’s email only after it was too late to make plans. Each year, I watched the film again and thought,”Next year.”

This year, I remembered, and made some inquiries. After a few phone calls, a conversation or two, and a text, I had the name and address of a Church Point family willing to host a visitor from Texas. I called a friend who lives in Louisiana’s bayou country and said, “Pack your bags. We’ve got chickens waiting.” (more…)

Published in: on February 21, 2015 at 11:59 am  Comments (97)  
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La Danse de Mardi Gras

Say “Mardi Gras,” and it’s almost guaranteed: most people will think first of New Orleans. Other cities have their celebrations, but only in New Orleans has the combination of beads, bare breasts, fancy-dress balls, beer and Bourbon Street been elevated to high art.

In Cajun country, there’s no lack of beer and beads, but the traditional Courir de Mardi Gras at the center of the celebration has a slightly different emphasis: community, Capitaines, charity and chickens. (Yes, chickens. More about that later.)

In places like Iota, Church Point, Eunice and Mamou, the Mardi gras (when used as a plural for participants, it’s pronounced “grahz”) prepare for the courir, or run, under the direction of their Capitaine.  On horseback or in wagons, they visit surrounding farms, collecting ingredients for the communal gumbo that will be served later that night.

In exchange for rice, potatoes, or even a chicken, the Mardi gras frolic for the entertainment of the farmer and his family, singing a variation of a song known variously as  La Danse de Mardi Gras or La [Vieille] Chanson de Mardi Gras. A mainstay in Cajun Mardi Gras celebrations, and often heard in dance halls or concerts, the song may be the oldest in the Cajun repertoire.
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Published in: on February 14, 2015 at 10:37 am  Comments (91)  
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Winds of Change, Part III – Waving Goodbye

Indianola, Texas ~ December 2014

Six months before the German brig Johann Dethardt dropped anchor in Matagorda Bay, leaving its complement of immigrant passengers to fend for themselves, Samuel Morse was in Washington, D.C., sending the first public telegraph message to Alfred Vail, in Baltimore.

The message, chosen for Morse by Annie Ellsworth, daughter of the Governor of Connecticut, read, “What hath God wrought?” It was a question residents of Indianola surely would ask themselves, before it all was over. (more…)

Winds of Change, Part II -The Travelers

View of Indianola by Helmuth Holtz, 1860, from aboard the Barque Texana.  Courtesy The San Jacinto Museum of History, Houston. (Click to enlarge)

Tucked into the rigging of the barque Texana, Helmuth Holtz sketched for us his view of Indianola, Texas.

Behind the town lies Powderhorn Lake. A tangle of bayous traces the beach front, hinting at future roads. The variety of vessels spread across the water is impressive, as are the wharves built to accomodate them.

To the left lies the Morgan Steamship Company wharf. By 1850, just a year after Indian Point became Indianola, Morgan’s company supported three sailings a week from Galveston and two from New Orleans. By 1860, the company had secured a monopoly on coastal shipping in Texas, and could provide everything a new town required: lumber and liquor from New Orleans; garden seeds from Long Island; dressmaking supplies from Baltimore.
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Published in: on January 20, 2015 at 11:44 am  Comments (87)  
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