Monday, June 6, 2016

Welcome to Bayou Teche Dispatches. . . .

Bayou Teche Dispatches is a collection of my writings about south Louisiana history and culture. Often it consists of material I could not use in my books for one reason or another, but which I nonetheless found fascinating. I hope you enjoy reading these articles as much as I enjoyed researching and writing them.

If you publish information from them, however, please remember to cite this blog as your source and, if applicable, to supply a return link. Please do not repost articles in their entireties, but short block quotations that fall within range of "fair usage" are acceptable.
~ Shane K. Bernard

Table of Contents

 Now Available: My New Book about Bayou Teche
A narrative history of Bayou Teche and journal of canoeing the present-day bayou

 A Railroad History of Avery Island
An article I wrote for someone else's blog in 2010

 Sur le Teche: Exploring the Bayou by Canoe, Stage 1
Port Barre to Arnaudville

❧ Rough Rider Redux: A Photo of Theodore Roosevelt in Downtown New Iberia?
A forgotten photo of Theodore Roosevelt in Cajun Country

❧ A Fiction Interlude: My Short Story "The Phrenologist"
A short story about racism set in antebellum New Orleans

❧ A Floating Dancehall on the Teche: The Club Sho Boat
A riverboat that became a nightclub and restaurant

❧ A Meteor over Cajun Louisiana: Window on Atomic-Age Anxieties
Confusing a meteor for an atomic bomb

❧ A Film Documents South Louisiana's Logging Industry, ca. 1925: Responsible Stewardship or Environmental Disaster?
Digitized film about cypress logging along the Teche

❧ A Glimpse from 1968: Historic Films Looked at Cajuns and Creoles in Epic Year
Digitized French films capture an important year in south Louisiana history

❧ Now Available: My Children's History of the Cajuns in English and French Editions
Buy my Cajun book for kids so I can pay off my credit card

❧ "Cajuns of the Teche": Bad History, Wartime Propaganda, or Both?
A 1942 film with excellent images, horrible script,

❧ A Snake, a Worm, and a Dead End: In Search of the Meaning of "Teche"
Searching for the meaning of the word "Teche"

❧ Galaxies, Bowling and Swamp Pop: Johnny Preston and The Cajuns in Escondido
Examining a Cajun reference in a chain e-mail about old gas stations

❧ Serendipity and Fort Tombecbe: Cooperation between Historians and Archaeologists
Accidentally finding a map of a fort coincidentally excavated by my friend

❧ Notes on Two Nineteenth-Century Engravings of South Louisiana Scenes
Vintage magazine images of Cajun and Creole women

❧ Finding History Right around the Corner: Heroism on the Cajun Home Front
A nearly forgotten World War II landmark a block from my residence

❧ My Father's Childhood Autograph Book on the History Channel?
When Dad met Hank Williams, Sr.

❧ My Oddball Collection of Cajun Warplane Photos
Cajun-themed combat aircraft

❧ Elodie's Gift: A Family Photographic Mystery
An old tin type image given to me by a great-aunt

❧ The Nike-Cajun Rocket: How It Got Its Name
A rocket named "the Cajun"?

❧ Middle Name or Clerical Error?: Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil and "Gaurhept"
Perpetuation of a historical error

❧ Debunking the Alleged Origin of the Word "Coonass"
Finding a word by accident that wasn't yet supposed to exist

❧ More on That Word "Coonass": A Labor Dispute Trial Documents Its Use in 1940
The earliest known use of this controversial word

❧ "To Err Is Human": Errata from My Books
Everyone makes mistakes

❧ An Old Bull Durham Tobacco Ad in New Iberia, or Palimpsests on the Teche
This vintage advertisement has since been destroyed

❧ Remembering Polycarp: A Cajun TV Show Host for Children
Everyone loved Polycarp!

❧ From Jet Fighters to Football: Origin of the Phrase "Ragin' Cajun"
Where this catchy term originated (as far as anyone knows)

❧ The Elusive André Massé, Pioneer of the Attakapas
An almost mythical explorer of the Teche region

❧ More on the Elusive Andre Massé, Early Settler of the Attakapas District
Revelations about him in a historical document

❧ La Chute: A Waterfall on Bayou Teche?
A waterfall in largely flat south Louisiana

❧ Gumbo in 1764?
The earliest known reference to gumbo in Louisiana

❧ On That Word "Gumbo": Okra, Sassafras, and Baudry's Reports from 1802-1803
More on the history of gumbo in Louisiana

❧ La Pointe de Repos — Early Acadian Settlement Site along the Teche
Colonial-era settlement near present-day Parks, Louisiana

❧ A 1795 Journey up the Teche: Fact, Fiction, or Literary Hoax?
It almost fooled me . . . almost

❧ All the Same Place: Isla Cuarin, Côte de Coiron, Île Petite Anse, Petite Anse Island & Avery Island
Evolution of a place name in the south Louisiana coastal marsh

❧ The Grevembergs, Early Cattle Ranchers of the Attakapas
When someone accidentally transposes two numerals

❧ Tracking the Decline of Cajun French
Research behind the language stats in my book The Cajuns

❧ The Secret CODOFIL Papers
I waited how long for the FBI to release these documents?

❧ Agnus Dei Artifact Found on Banks of Bayou Teche
A religious symbol turns up in the mud at Breaux Bridge

Click here to see our Privacy Policy.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Now Available: My New Book about Bayou Teche

Teche: A History of Louisiana's Most Famous Bayou

My newest book, Teche: A History of Louisiana's Most Famous Bayou, has been released by my publisher, University Press of Mississippi. (To order the book from, click here. It's also available from all other booksellers, including local independent booksellers.)

Cover art for my new book.
The painting is by noted south Louisiana
artist Melissa Bonin.

As the book's description reads: 

Shane K. Bernard’s Teche examines this legendary waterway of the American Deep South. Bernard delves into the bayou’s geologic formation as a vestige of the Mississippi and Red Rivers, its prehistoric Native American occupation, and its colonial settlement by French, Spanish, and, eventually, Anglo-American pioneers. He surveys the coming of indigo, cotton, and sugar; steam-powered sugar mills and riverboats; and the brutal institution of slavery. He also examines the impact of the Civil War on the Teche, depicting the running battles up and down the bayou and the sporadic gunboat duels, when ironclads clashed in the narrow confines of the dark, sluggish river.

Image from the (New York) Weekly Graphic (18 April 1874).
Author's Collection.

Describing the misery of the postbellum era, Bernard reveals how epic floods, yellow fever, racial violence, and widespread poverty disrupted the lives of those who resided under the sprawling, moss-draped live oaks lining the Teche’s banks. Further, he chronicles the slow decline of the bayou, as the coming of the railroad, automobiles, and highways reduced its value as a means of travel. Finally, he considers modern efforts to redesign the Teche using dams, locks, levees, and other water-control measures. He examines the recent push to clean and revitalize the bayou after years of desecration by litter, pollutants, and invasive species. Illustrated with historic images and numerous maps, this book will be required reading for anyone seeking the colorful history of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

The author (right) canoeing on Bayou Teche.
(Click to enlarge.)

As a bonus, the second part of the book describes Bernard’s own canoe journey down the Teche’s 125-mile course. This modern personal account from the field reveals the current state of the bayou and the remarkable people who still live along its banks.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Railroad History of Avery Island

This is an article I wrote for someone else's blog back in 2010.  I reprint it for the first time here:

My name is Shane K. Bernard and I'm the historian and curator for McIlhenny Company and Avery Island Inc., located on Avery Island, Louisiana.

Map of Avery Island, Louisiana,
with railroad routes highlighted in yellow.
Source: Avery Island Inc. Archives

Avery Island is a salt dome in lower Iberia Parish, Louisiana. It's not an island in the traditional sense; that is, it's not surrounded by a body of open water. In fact, it's located about 3 miles inland from the nearest body of open water. But it is surrounded on all sides by wetlands — either grassy salt marsh, wooded cypress swamp, or slow-moving, muddy bayous.

The railroad came to Avery Island in 1883, primarily to serve the Island's salt mine. The railroad also served the factory that produced the world-famous TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce. It, too, was (and still is) located on Avery Island.

Photo by author

I took most of the photographs in this series on restricted private property with the permission of the landowners, McIlhenny Company & Avery Island Inc. (my employers).

Photo by author

The railroad reached Avery Island by crossing this trestle bridge over Bayou Petite Anse (actually the confluence of Bayou Leleu and Stumpy Bayou, which in turn flows into the nearby Petite Anse). I took this photo around 2000.

Photo by author

This is what the trestle bridge looks like today (May 2010). Hurricane Rita washed away the top part of the trestle in 2005. Because the railroad no longer serviced the Island by that time (the rails on the Island having been ripped up in 2002), no effort was made to repair the bridge. (By 2000 the salt mine used eighteen-wheelers and barges to transport salt; McIlhenny Company likewise used eighteen-wheelers to distribute TABASCO® Sauce.)

Photo by author

Photo by author

Photo by author

Here is Engine 455 crossing the same trestle bridge. This photo was taken in the early to mid-1950s; a diesel engine replaced Engine 455 around 1955.

Source: Avery Island Inc. Archives

Source: Avery Island Inc. Archives

Source: Avery Island Inc. Archives

Although Engine 455 ended up in a Houston scrapyard, someone at Avery Island salvaged its headlamp, which now sits in the McIlhenny Company & Avery Island Inc. Archives.

Photo by author

Here is a circa 1955 photo of the diesel engine that replaced Engine 455. As you can see, the diesel engine is crossing the trestle bridge that leads onto the Island. (The boy in the photo is reminding the railroad workers that they are entering private property; I have been told this ceremony occurred annually for legal reasons.)

Source: Avery Island Inc. Archives

A few hundred yards down Stumpy Bayou are the trestle bridge parts washed away by Hurricane Rita.

Photo by author

Note the marine life that had grown on the trestle. (My foot is in the image for scale.)

Photo by author

Here is the rail bed — the elevated whitish hump running between and parallel to the grass and bamboo — as it looks today, heading south on Avery Island toward the salt mine.

Photo by author

I took this photograph looking south on the same section of rail bed.

Photo by author

Moving south, I found a small section of track still in place at the entrance to the McIlhenny Company corporate office.

Photo by author

Right past the corporate office stands the McIlhenny station sign. There was never an actual station here, however, because the TABASCO® factory itself was the "station." (The older part of our corporate office served as the TABASCO® Sauce factory from 1905 until around 1980.) Incidentally, the station sign that appears in this photo is a new replica. The original sign shows up in the next image below; it is now preserved in the Archives. [Actually, as of February 2016 the sign is on display in the Barrel Warehouse section of the new Tabasco Museum tour.]

Photo by author

In this circa 2000 image of the same spot, you can make out the spur (see arrow) leading from the main line toward the TABASCO® factory.

Photo by author

This is looking at the station sign from the opposite direction. The yellow lines on this present-day photo show where the main line and spur (at right) would have been located.

Photo by author

Following the spur toward the old TABASCO® factory leads to some kind of device on the ground (which I assume is related to the railroad). [I have since learned that the device permitted TABASCO® factory workers to manually move boxcars back and forth along the spur.]  The yellow line shows where the side track would have continued. As you can see, it would have gone right between the two buildings (where an enclosed walkway now stands). There the spur ended.

Photo by author

This photo, taken around 1980, shows a diesel engine on the track between the two buildings. TABASCO®-related material would have been loaded/unloaded from the train at this location.

Source: McIlhenny Company Archives

A close-up image of the device that I assume to be railroad-related [See above bracketed note about the purpose of this device.]

Photo by author

Heading south again on the Island, the rail bed passes this old sign with the number "9."

Photo by author

Moving farther south the two rails became six rails. (Note the third set of rails below the arrow.) I was told that the extra set was a siding. This picture was taken in 2000.

Photo by author

Here is the same spot during the railroad’s demolition in 2002.

Photo by author

Here's another photo from the same area, showing the excavator and bulldozer that tore up the track; note the scrap in the dumpster.

Photo by author

This is the same section of track, but looking in the opposite direction (north).

Photo by author

This is what that same area looks like today.

Photo by author

A close inspection of that spot reveals signs of its previous purpose — in this case, a railroad spike stuck in a rail plate.

Photo by author

A few feet away is a rotting railroad tie that the demolition crew evidently forgot to pick up.

Photo by author

This switch, photographed in 2002 on the same stretch of railroad, is no longer to be found. [I have since been told that someone on the Island made this switch into a mailbox.]

Photo by author

We're now getting close to the Avery Island salt mine, which I'm unsure was ever so crowded with trains as depicted in this circa 1940 advertisement.  But perhaps it was, during the heyday of railroad transportation.

Source: Avery Island Inc. Archives

The rail bed reaches the salt mine and runs into this fence; note the salt mine structure in the background.

Photo by author

Looking back northward from the same spot reveals this presumably railroad-related sign reading "D."

Photo by author

Here is an 1899 photo of the salt mine with box cars present.

Source: Avery Island Inc. Archives

This circa 1930 aerial photo shows the salt mine; I've added yellow lines next to the railroad tracks. Note a spur leading off the main line.

Source: Avery Island Inc. Archives

This circa 2000 photo shows the railroad as it continued onto the salt mine property. I don't know if these rails still exist today because I did not return to the salt mine lease. (Perhaps another day and, of course, only with permission of the salt mine lessee.)

Photo by author

A close-up circa 2000 image of the rails on the salt mine lease. These could be rails from the 19th century or early 20th century, given their decrepit condition. Most of the rails ripped up in 2002 appeared in good condition — nothing at all like these rails.

Photo by author

Backing up a little, I found the rails that made up the spur shown in the above circa 1930 aerial photo.

Photo by author

A close-up image of the spur rail as it appears today — almost buried beneath the topsoil.

Photo by author

The spur rails lead into thick woods.

Photo by author

This is where the spur rails once led: A gravel and sand pit on Avery Island. It shut down in 1917.

Source: Avery Island Inc. Archives

Shane K. Bernard, Ph.D.
May 13, 2010
Avery Island, Louisiana

Addendum of 19 May 2010:

Source: Avery Island Inc. Archives

With help from others it's been determined for sure that spur #1 on this aerial photo is the spur that led to the old salt mine (dismantled after the mine caved-in at that location in the 1890s) and spur #2 is the spur that led to the sand/gravel pit that closed in 1917. This photo is interesting because it shows both spurs in the same image. Again, the rails that make up spur #1 remain in good condition as of last week; while the rails that make up spur #2 were in terrible shape when I last saw them several years ago.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rough Rider Redux: A Photo of Theodore Roosevelt in Downtown New Iberia?

Two days ago an acquaintance sent me the below image from a cache of family photographs owned by his mother, a Broussard from Iberia Parish. (Incidentally, his mother turned ninety only yesterday.) No background information accompanied the photograph, except that it showed a parade in downtown New Iberia.

The photograph, showing downtown New Iberia, early twentieth century.
(Click to enlarge)

I confirmed for myself that the photograph was indeed taken in downtown New Iberia. The two surnames appearing on buildings in the photograph, Siebeck and Renoudet, are historical New Iberia surnames. "O. Renoudet" was a well-known merchant in the town, selling carriages, wagons, and hardware. Moreover, in the photograph's distant background I could discern the rounded cupola of the old U.S. Post Office. This building exists today, perfectly restored, as the Schwing Insurance Building.

Close up of the old post office, New Iberia,
now the Schwing Insurance Building.

I then noticed something peculiar about the parade: it included a sizable number of men on horseback wearing cowboy hats and neckerchiefs. 

The same building today.
(Source: Phone Home Project,
Catholic High, New Iberia)

They reminded me vaguely of the Rough Riders, the cavalry regiment raised by Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish American War (1898). I am familiar with Rough Rider uniforms because as historian and curator to McIlhenny Company on Avery Island, Louisiana, I maintain the Rough Riders uniform of Tabasco sauce heir John Avery McIlhenny.

I then remembered reading somewhere that Roosevelt had visited New Iberia and that he had been greeted at the edge of town by mounted locals dressed like Rough Riders. It was a 2011 article by the late New Iberia journalist Morris Raphael, who, citing 1971 research by LSU history professor Richard H. Collin, wrote "In the year 1914, while Roosevelt was making a barnstorming political drive through South Louisiana, running for President* on the Progressive 'Bull Moose' ticket, he had New Iberia in mind as his destination."

But could the photograph my acquaintance sent me actually show Roosevelt on his visit to New Iberia?

I believe this person to be Roosevelt.

I now believe this to be the case, for a few reasons.

First, there is the presence of the ersatz Rough Riders. A contemporary newspaper article about Roosevelt's visit observed, "Two miles from New Iberia he left his automobile, mounted a horse, and led a large procession of horsemen into the town [New Iberia]." (Collin echoed this primary-source document, noting in his article, "The highlight of the trip [to the Teche country] . . . occurred at New Iberia where four hundred mounted 'Rough Riders,' each with a bandana around his neck, welcomed the Roosevelt entourage at the outskirts of the city. Mayor Alphe Fontelieu, leader of the group, greeted Roosevelt: 'Colonel, we have a horse for you and wish you to take command of our troop.' The colonel was of course delighted . . . [and] he led the happy troupe into town.")**

Newspaper article from September 1914
about Roosevelt's visit to New Iberia.
(Source: Chronicling America)

Second, Collin observed in his 1971 article, "To add even more tone to the ceremony three little girls in patriotic dress were put at the head of the line. . . ." One can actually see those three little girls in the photograph in question.

The "three little girls in patriotic dresses . . .
at the head of the line."
The person I believe to be Roosevelt is directly behind them.

Third, another acquaintance, Laura Hanchey Hall, viewed the above image (I had posted it to my south Louisiana history page on Facebook) and recalled that her grandmother took a photograph with Roosevelt during his New Iberia visit. I examined that photograph, and in it Roosevelt appears to be dressed much like the person in the parade that I think is Roosevelt.

Roosevelt posing with children in New Iberia, 1914.
Note he seems to have been given a neckerchief.

For these reasons, I am convinced that the photograph in question shows former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt riding horseback down Main Street in New Iberia, Tuesday, September 8, 1914. As such, this may be a long forgotten image of the 26th President of the United States.

Article mentioning date of Roosevelt's visit to New Iberia.
But the day fell on a Tuesday, not a Monday.
Rice Belt Journal (Welsh, La.), 4 September 1914.
(Source: Chronicling America)


*Roosevelt was not running for President in 1914. He had run for President in 1912 and lost to Woodrow Wilson. He did not seek office during the next presidential election, in 1916.

**Richard H. Collin, "Theodore Roosevelt's Visit to New Orleans and the Progressive Campaign of 1914," Louisiana History XII (Winter 1971): 5-19.