Sunday, April 20, 2014

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

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

❧ Sur le Teche: Exploring the Bayou by Canoe, Stage 2
Arnaudville to Parks

❧ Sur le Teche: Exploring the Bayou by Canoe, Stage 3
Parks to Loreauville

❧ Sur le Teche: Exploring the Bayou by Canoe, Stage 4
Loreauville to Jeanerette

❧ Sur Le Teche: Exploring the Bayou by Canoe, Stage 5
Jeanerette to Baldwin

❧ Sur Le Teche: Exploring the Bayou by Canoe, Stage 6
Baldwin to Franklin

❧ Sur Le Teche: Exploring the Bayou by Canoe, Stage 7
Franklin to Calumet

❧ 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

Sur le Teche: Exploring the Bayou by Canoe, Stage 7

Continued from Part VI:

Keith and I set out on the seventh stage of our journey down Bayou Teche on November 3, 2012, at 9:40 a.m., starting from where we left off last time just south of FranklinThe morning temperature was 57 °F; the afternoon temperature, a balmy 84 °F.

Aerial photograph of stage 7,
Far side of Franklin to Calumet.
(Click to enlarge)
(Source: Google Maps)

We shortly spotted a narrow channel running west from the Teche — the Hanson Canal and Lock (29.77261, -91.483286), "[b]uilt in 1907 by the Hanson Lumber Company," according to research by the American Canal Society, "to float log booms from the delta into Bayou Teche." (By "the delta" I assume the ACS meant that of the nearby Atchafalaya River.) In 1922 Hanson Lumber Company sold the lock to the U.S. government, which entrusted its operation to the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1959 the federal government abandoned the lock, which now sits frozen in the "open" position as a vestige of the Teche region's once prosperous but now extinct logging industry.

By 10 a.m. the sun reflected blindingly off the water. We paddled past suburban homes on the west bank, forest on the east. A glance at an aerial photograph, however, revealed that just beyond that wildwood lay enormous swathes of sugarcane. It was already the beginning of harvest and that cane would shortly be cut and ground, its extract boiled and reboiled and processed into raw granulated sugar.

Fishing camp on the Teche that day.
(Photograph by author)

An increasing number of suburban homes on the west bank meant we approached Garden City (29.765279, -91.465889), a community of several dozen houses and a few industrial buildings. Like Franklin, Garden City makes a short appearance in the classic counterculture movie Easy Rider. By "short" I mean three seconds. Those three seconds show an American flag hanging from a whitewashed, wood-framed U.S. Post Office. Although no longer a public building, the structure still stands, with an American flag hanging from the exact same spot as shown in the movie. This flag went up not too long ago, and if I had to guess I'd say the building's current owner hung it there as a paean to Easy Rider.

The old boiler.
(Photograph by author)

Around 10:20 a.m. Keith and I reached Frances Plantation, whose Creole-style "big house," built around 1810, stands on the west bank. In the bayou almost directly across from the house Keith and I spotted a rusty iron boiler (29.767817, -91.463067) half sunken amid a stand of cord grass. Paddling over to the artifact, we eyeballed it at about four feet in diameter and about twelve feet in length. Although it could have originated in a sugarhouse, we believe it came from a steamboat — and that the spot on which it sat encompassed the wreck of a steamboat. We came to this conclusion because several pairs of large iron bolts protruded from the Teche, running in tandem from the boiler toward a few sheets of corroded iron several yards away. A metal cable rested atop these sheets like a dark sunning snake. Using our canoe as a yardstick, Keith and I measured this chain of presumably related artifacts — the boiler, the pairs of bolts, the sheets of metal, the cable — and altogether they extended about 85 feet along the waterway: the length of a modest-sized steamboat.

Sheets of corroded iron near boiler.
(Photograph by author)

Later I queried local history enthusiasts about these artifacts and checked inventories of known sunken vessels on the bayou. No one knew anything about them, nor did they appear on the 1870 survey of the Teche, even though it noted every visible obstruction on the bayou (down to individual stumps and logs). This suggested the boiler and other artifacts date to after the 1870 survey. Regardless, the identity of this steamboat — if that’s indeed what it is — remains a mystery. 

Frances Plantation from the bayou.
(Photograph by author)

After documenting these artifacts, Keith and I paddled farther down the Teche and soon reached Centerville (29.75987, -91.428401) and right beyond it the community of Verdunville (29.75402, -91.401114). Suburban houses stood on both banks. Here we spotted many scattered juglines using cabbage-sized Styrofoam balls as "bobbers." We soon caught up with a motorboater checking these lines; he proudly informed us he’d caught 20 blue catfish so far that day.

Juglines on the Teche that day.
(Photograph by author)

After a short distance Keith noticed the western side of the bayou had become very shallow. Sticking his paddle into the hazy water, he touched bottom only about a foot below the surface. Spindly bamboo poles rose from the Teche along this stretch, apparently outlining the shoal for unfamiliar boaters. Aerial photographs indicate that when the bayou is low this shoal becomes a lengthy batture (which, as I mentioned previously, refers to marshy land between the water’s edge and the bank of the bayou). 

Bamboo poles marking the shoals.
(Photograph by author)

We soon noticed shoals on both sides of the Teche and, sprouting from the shoals’ slimy mud, fingers of aquatic plants twisting in the current like seaweed.

The Teche around Verdunville when low.
Note the batture takes up nearly half the riverbed in this image.
When we canoed it, about a foot of water covered this batture.
(Photograph by author)

Around noon we passed the mouth of the Verdunville Canal (29.756218, -91.398575), which runs northeast a short distance to the Atchafalaya Basin Levee. Within sight of the canal the Teche dips southward toward Ricohoc and Calumet, clusters of houses taking their names from local sugar plantations.

About 1 pm Keith and I steered left at a fork in the bayou (29.705574, -91.378969), paddled our canoe through the open west flood gate, and entered the wide expanse of the Wax Lake Outlet.

The fork in the bayou.
(Photograph by author)

Located directly between Ricohoc and Calumet, Wax Lake Outlet (29.701511, -91.372482)sometimes also called the Calumet Cut, is a massive man-made channel. Completed in the early 1940s by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Outlet runs about sixteen miles in length and stretches roughly six hundred feet in width. It was designed to spare Morgan City from floods by diverting water from the Atchafalaya River to the nearby Gulf of Mexico. The Corps drove the Outlet across the path of the Teche and, unfortunately, through the remains of the Civil War redoubt known as Camp Bisland (located as best I can tell around 29.700355,-91.373905— thus demonstrating the need for environmental impact studies. (If by chance the Outlet did not plow right through the fort, the ruin nonetheless would have ended up buried beneath the monumental levee that shadows the Outlet.)

Battle of Bisland (approximate locations):
1) Fort Bisland;
2) smaller redoubt (connected to fort by trench);
3) Confederate forward entrenchments;

4)Union positions and direction of attack.
Blue line shows original course of Teche.
(Click to enlarge)
(Source: Google Maps)

The Corps also diverted about a one-mile stretch of the Teche, damming up the bayou’s natural bend at Ricohoc/Calumet and replacing it with a straight detour through two modern flood gates. (I have been educated about these structures by a venerable boat builder of the region: they are not locks, as I initially took to calling them, because they have no chambers in which to raise and lower the water level; rather, they are flood gates, which close when swelling water in the Outlet threatens to deluge the Teche.)

West flood gate on the Teche at Wax Lake Outlet.
(Photograph by author)

The Louisiana Highway Department had previously run Highway 90 through the same narrow neck of high land — the natural Teche Ridge — so that today the Outlet, detour, flood gates, and highway (as well as a preexisting railroad) all nearly come together at a single point. It had to be this way, because except for this ridge the entire area is flood-prone cypress swamp. This is why the Confederates erected Fort Bisland on this spot: it presented an easily defendable bottleneck along the course of the Teche.

Looking up the Wax Lake Outlet
as we paddled across it.
(Photograph by author)

After the narrowness of the Teche, the Wax Lake Outlet seemed vast like the Mississippi River. Yet we could see on the opposite bank, not too far ahead, the open east flood gate and, beyond it, the continuing path of the Teche. 

This crossing had worried me for months. As I noted in a previous entry, the Outlet’s current could be treacherous. In fact, the annual Tour du Teche canoe, kayak, and pirogue race posts "safety boats" in the Outlet in case contestants run into trouble — the only place it does so for the entire 135-mile course. Race officials also permit contestants to opt out of crossing the Outlet, without penalty, should they find the passage too dangerous. As a local newspaper reported, "Wax Lake Outlet is the most daunting single obstacle in the Tour. . . . With a sometimes raging current, [it] is nothing to trifle with."

Fortunately, the Outlet was subdued that day, and Keith and I cruised across it as though it didn’t even exist. We encountered turbulence only around the two flood gates, where the waters of the Teche and the Outlet converged. There we saw roiling eddies and little whirlpools that swirled into and out of existence. Making strong, deliberate strokes, we paddled through these eruptions and shortly glided into smoother water. 

On the Teche again,
beyond the east flood gate.
(Photograph by author)

Again we came to a fork (29.701026, -91.364292). The right, we knew, was the old channel, now a dead end; the left, however, led farther down the Teche. We steered the latter course and looked for a place to stop for the day. Keith and I had planned to stop at the east floodgate — but we unexpectedly found the banks fenced off by the parish and federal governments. So instead we plowed through a mass of reeds and hyacinths to stop at an empty lot next to a house on the east bank. Beyond the lot and house ran Highway 182, which led back to our homes far up the Teche.

We covered a little more than 10.75 miles that day in about 3.75 hours. 

While Keith unloaded our supplies I walked to the house to ask if we could cross the lot to reach the highway. 

Permission granted. 

As I returned to the canoe I did something I would later regret: using my cell phone I photographed a "For Sale" sign in front of the house. It gave the homeowner’s phone number, which I would need in order to ask permission to start our next and final leg from same adjoining lot. (More about this later.)

Keith and I awaited our ride on the side of the road at Calumet, our backs to the bayou. To our front stood a wide plain covered entirely in stalks of ripe sugarcane.

Site of the Battle of Bisland,
Calumet, Louisiana.
(Photograph by author)

We were, however, in the middle of the Fort Bisland battleground (approximately 29.702517, -91.350302). The fort, as I mentioned, had been destroyed by the digging of the Wax Lake Outlet — yet most of the fighting had actually occurred about a mile east of the stronghold. Right where we stood. If Keith and I had materialized at that exact spot 149 years earlier, we would have been blown away by shell, shot, and minie balls fired by either combatant. Despite the Outlet, the highway, and the other modern improvements at Ricohoc/Calument, the battlefield proper remains, now as then, planted in cane, and would have looked much the same to the soldiers in the furrows and trenches as it did to us.

How many scattered bones had we paddled over, I wondered? How many shell fragments and cannon balls and railroad iron blasted from lumbering field pieces or from the gunboats Diana and Cotton?

It is well-known among local Civil War buffs that this cane field, like those upstream at Irish Bend, has yielded countless relics over the generations: buttons, belt buckles, coins, an array of projectiles. A few months ago, while driving this same stretch of highway, I spotted a construction crew excavating a large hole on the battlefield's edge. I stopped and audaciously asked the hard-hatted workers if I might examine the spoil. Sure, go ahead, they said, knocking off for lunch and leaving me alone to poke around in the newly exhumed dirt. Surely I would find some artifacts, I thought — a cannonball or a shell fragment, or maybe a cache of unspent bullets.

Artifacts I found at Bisland site.
The largest is about the size of a quarter.
(Photograph by author)

All I found were two decorated ceramic shards, nineteenth-century in appearance. Well, perhaps they had been part of an officer’s mess? Perhaps.

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.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Fiction Interlude: My Short Story "The Phrenologist"

Although I am a historian, and thus write non-fiction, I'm pleased to announce that one of my works of fiction, a short story titled "The Phrenologist," appears in the new anthology Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South (New Salon Press, available for Kindle and other digital formats from

Nathan Mark Phillips provided
artwork for my story and
others in the anthology.
(Courtesy Mark Nathan Phillips)

I wrote this short story in 1987, when I was twenty, and I recently took it out, revised it, and submitted it for publication. I know the story may offhand sound racially offensive, but it is actually a condemnation of racism, as well as of anti-intellectualism in general (even more so when it parades as scholarship).

In the late 1980s this story won me a spot in the creative writing class of African-American author Ernest J. Gaines (The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Gathering of Old Men, and other works.)

I excerpt the story here:

The Phrenologist
by Shane K. Bernard 
I have noticed for a long time that those who deny the intellectual importance of the volume of the brain have, in general, small heads.” 
— M. de Jouvencel, “Discussion on the Brain,” Bulletin of the Paris Anthropological Society, 1861

Doctor Pierre Maturin, a son of France, hailed from a family that for generations had produced noted physicians. He earned his degrees from the Sorbonne and the fashionable university at Edinburgh. He subsequently returned to Paris to practice as a surgeon, but, finding the competition discouraging, sailed to New Orleans in the summer of 1850, where he established himself as a general practitioner. He set up his office on the corner of Chartres and Conti, in a small stucco building adjacent to the Slave Exchange. This proved a fortunate site for the young physician, for prospective buyers often sought his services as a medical examiner of slaves. One soon found the following advertisement in the local newspapers:
SLAVEHOLDERS! PROTECT YOUR INVESTMENTS! Owners or buyers wishing to insure the health of laborers will do well by contacting me at 444 Rue Chartres. — Dr. P. Maturin
Maturin shortly distinguished himself as a specialist in the examination and treatment of slaves, and his new-found affluence gave him much leisure time to occupy as he pleased. This he employed in furthering his knowledge of medicine and physiology, and through his reading and correspondence he developed an interest in the budding field of craniometry, especially in regard to its function in determining mental capacity. “I have begun to accrue a collection of skulls,” he informed a colleague in France, “and will soon commence research on the current question of brain size and its relation to intelligence . . . what has become the new science of ‘phrenology.’”

Phrenology was a pseudoscience popular
in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Maturin’s prime phrenological interests were of a racial nature, formulated through observations made during his months as a medical examiner of the black race. As he wrote to his colleague, “I have found it to be a peculiar characteristic of the craniofacial structure of the Negro, that the jaw is much larger than that of the average white man, and that the back of the cranium — that part we call the occiput — is much more extensive in the darker race. It is my supposition that such anatomical distinctions, especially that of the skull, have a direct correlation to the obviously inferior intelligence of the Negro.”

He started his phrenological inquiry by devising and calibrating a special pair of calipers, which he wielded to measure, record, and tabulate the sizes of the twenty-two skulls in his collection. He realized that so sparse a number of crania would hardly provide enough data for his research, so he began to include such measurements as part of every medical examination. This system worked well, because heads of the living were easier to borrow than those of the dead, and nearly as accurate to evaluate.

The science book that inspired
my short story.

Maturin soon possessed a voluminous index of the cranial measurements of all his recent patients. Unfortunately, he had neglected to gather similar measurements for whites, whom he intended to use as his criteria. Maturin now subjugated every white client and acquaintance to his silver calipers, that he might, as he told them, “record for posterity the size of their splendid crania” and simultaneously advance his vital scientific inquiry. After six months, he had indexed three hundred fifty white crania, nearly equal to the number of crania he had previously measured of the black race.

When all the recorded sizes had been averaged, Maturin discovered to his disbelief no apparent difference between the sizes of black and white crania. He informed an acquaintance, “My method of measurement must be at fault, else the figures should have reflected what is plainly the truth. I have decided to abandon the caliper method and, instead, to employ a more direct means of determining the size of the brain once held — I write ‘once held,’ mind you, because my new method of direct measurement demands that I return to the use of skulls.”

To the same acquaintance he described this “new method of direct measurement”: “I have found a more accurate and simpler method, which I call ‘internal evaluation,’ the only fault of which lies in the need for a multitude of skulls. This method consists of filling each individual cranium through the hole at the base of the occiput — this hole we call the foramen magnum — with a medium, which is then emptied into a calibrated vessel. This reveals the volume of the cranium and, therefore, the exact size of the brain it once contained.

He added, “I have experimented of late with a variety of media, these ranging from water to molasses to mustard seed. But I have found the most reliable medium to be lead shot, particularly of the size called ‘BB,’ which is one-eighth-inch in diameter. Using this medium during trial measurements, the results never varied greater than one-one hundredths of a cubic inch no matter how many times I repeated the experiment. I might add that lead shot does not leak through small fractures as water is apt to do, is not so thick as to remain inside the cranium as molasses, and does not flatten like mustard seed. It is in my opinion the ideal medium.” . . . 

Again, you can purchase the entire short story, and those of other contributors, at

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Floating Dancehall on the Teche: The Club Sho Boat

While researching Bayou Teche I learned about a riverboat on the bayou that had been converted into a floating nightclub, dancehall, and restaurant. Christened the Club Sho Boat, it sat on the Teche at New Iberia from the late 1930s to the mid-1950s. (I hesitate to call the vessel a “steamboat,” even though it looked like one, because diesel engines often powered later riverboats. Thus they were not true steamboats.)

The Club Sho Boat on Bayou Teche (ca. 1940).
(Courtesy Angelle-Leigh Breaux)

I did not know, however, exactly where along the Teche the riverboat had been moored.

While driving in New Iberia about a month ago I saw a battered old sign along Main Street. It obviously had been there for decades, even generations, and yet I never before noticed it. The sign stood over the entrance to a grassy lot along the Teche, and its faded letters on a white field read “Showboat Apartments.”

“Showboat?” I thought — might not that be an oblique reference to the Club Sho Boat?

"Showboat Apartments" sign,
1915 E. Main Street, New Iberia, La.
(Photo by author, September 2013)

A short time later I examined a photograph of the Club Sho Boat in the book Looking Back: Historic Images of Iberia Parish. The book credited ownership of the photo to a present-day local photographer. Tracking her down through the Internet, I learned that the Club Sho Boat had belonged to her great-grandfather, a New Iberia entrepreneur named George Angelle. Despite his illiteracy, Angelle had excelled as a businessman, operating not only the Club Sho Boat, but an establishment on Lake Dauterive called George’s Place and another in Hot Wells, Louisiana, named Angelle’s Cafe. He also let rooms there to tourists who came to bathe in the hot springs.

Moreover, I learned that the Club Sho Boat had indeed sat on the Teche at the site of the Showboat Apartments. (Originally used as barracks at Fort Polk, the apartments opened after the Club Show Boat began operation; they are not the same apartments that stand on the property today.)

Former site of the Club Sho Boat.
The gravel at center marks the spot of the boat's slip.
(Photo by author)

Angelle’s great-granddaughter referred me to her mother, who shared with me much of the Club Sho Boat's history. She informed me, for example, that prior to its purchase by her grandfather the vessel had served as a crew boat on Lake Dauterive, perhaps for workers building levees in the Atchafalaya swamp. I also learned that Angelle first moored the vessel in the bayou (as seen in the above image) behind the present-day site of Darby Motors in New Iberia (1305 E. Main Street), then moved it a little downstream into a slip running perpendicular to the bayou (1915 E. Main Street). In addition, Angelle owned a taxi, its door bearing an image of the vessel, that conveyed club goers to and from his establishment.

Among the musicians who performed at the Club Sho Boat (the vessel’s original name is unknown) were “Cajun swing” artists Happy Fats LeBlanc, Doc Guidry, and their band — known commonly as Happy, Doc, and the Boys, a playful reference to the Seven Dwarfs in the 1937 Disney movie Snow White.

The small building at right served
as the Club Sho Boat's "fish house,"
where fish were stored and prepared for dining.
(Photo by author)

Sadly, Angelle was murdered in 1953 by a Hot Wells landowner with whom he quarreled about cattle trespassing on his property.

Article about Angelle's murder.
(Source: Lubbock [Tex.] Morning Avalanche, 23 May 1953)

After his death Angelle’s family tore down the vessel, razing it to the waterline before filling up the slip with pieces of concrete, dirt, and other debris. According to the family, the hull remains buried in the slip — perhaps awaiting excavation by a future archaeology crew.

The Club Sho Boat from the east bank of Bayou Teche,
by noted Louisiana photographer Fonville Winans.
Winans is the fisherman at left.

Coincidentally, a friend of mine, eighty-nine-year-old Clarence Barrilleaux (pronounced BEAR-REE-OH in the Cajun French manner) of Avery Island, alerted me to a surviving artifact from the Club Sho Boat. Barrilleaux told me that around 1955 his former employer, Walter S. McIlhenny — president of McIlhenny Company, maker of Tabasco brand products since 1868 — sent him to the Club Sho Boat to pick up its ship’s bell. The riverboat was being torn down at the time, recalled Barrilleaux, and McIlhenny had purchased the salvaged bell as a decoration.

Ship's bell from the Club Sho Boat
as it appears today.
(Photo by author)

Barrilleaux directed me to the bell’s current location on the Island: atop a small wooden tower in a private yard. With permission from the lease holder, I hauled an extension ladder to the bell tower, climbed to the top, and photographed the artifact. The bell is stamped:


Casting imprint on the ship's bell.
(Photo by author)

According to aficionados of vintage cast bells (there are indeed such persons), bells with this imprint date to 1865 or earlier, subsequent imprints reading “A. Fulton's Son & Co.”* If this is correct, the bell evidently predated the riverboat by many decades, for such vessels had extremely short lifespans because of snags, collisions, boiler explosions, and the like. It seems probable, therefore, that the bell had been recycled any number of times before winding up on the riverboat that ended its life as the Club Sho Boat.

Could one of these features be the ship's bell
as captured by photographer Fonville?


*“The foundry went under the name Andrew Fulton from 1827 to 1865. . . . At this time they put 'A. Fulton' on their smaller, undated bells. From 1866 to 1889 they went first under the name 'A. Fulton's Son & Co.,' then under 'A. Fulton's Sons & Co.' . . ..” Source: Neil Goeppinger, posting on, 1 March 2007,, accessed 22 September 2013. While I do not know the source of Goeppinger's information, his claims do correspond to data provided by other bell enthusiasts. (I have corrected Goeppinger's punctuation slightly.)