Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Welcome to Bayou Teche Dispatches. . . .

Cypress logging raft on the Teche, ca. 1910 (postcard).

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 these articles, 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 use" are acceptable.
~ Shane K. Bernard

Please visit the 
Bayou Teche Dispatches Store
to purchase the author's books

Table of Contents

Fact or a misreading of source material?

 State of the Genre: Swamp Pop Music in the 21st Century
How is this south Louisiana/southeast Texas sound faring 50+ years after its heyday?

 Born of "Elite" White Reactionism?: Assessing Claims about the Rise of Cajun Ethnicity 

Disputing statements that Cajuns appeared only about 50 years ago

 Of Cajuns and Creoles: A Brief Historical Analysis
A look at the relationship between these ethnic groups

Notes on the Birth of Cajun Ethnic Identity 
An effort to clarify this important topic

❧ Thoughts on Cajuns and "Whiteness"
Were Cajuns always, or did they become, "white"?

 "Prairie de Jacko": Source of the Name?
Notes on an 18th-century place name along the Teche

 Notes on the Founding of Opelousas
Did it happen in 1720 or not?

 When Jimi Hendrix Appeared on My Father's Live TV Show 
in Lafayette, Louisiana, January 1965
The rock-guitar pioneer visited Lafayette

 Electronic Cajuns and Creoles: Early Television
as an Americanizing Agent
TV's impact on these two ethnic groups

 A Tool for Fighting Fake News & Conspiracy Theories: Teach Critical Thinking in American Classrooms
"Not what to think, but how to think"

 Portrait of a Cajun Woman: Andonia Thibodeaux 
of Bayou Tigre
An old tin-type photograph leads to a literary find

 Another Civil War Gunboat on the Teche: The U.S.S. Glide, aka Federal Gunboat No. 43

A legal document reveals the presence of one more gunboat on the bayou

 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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Petit Manchac: A Tale of Two Lafayettes

The year 2023 marks the bicentennial of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana  the seat of which was Vermilionville, renamed Lafayette in 1884 to honor the Marquis de Lafayette of American Revolution fame. This two-hundredth anniversary seems an opportune time to reconsider a popular notion about early Vermilionville / Lafayette history: namely, that the community had been founded on a site known as "Petit Manchac" — the latter word thought to be of Mobilian or Choctaw origin meaning "rear" or "rear entrance."(1)

Logo of the Lafayette Parish
bicentennial celebration.

This claim that Vermilionville / Lafayette began as Petit Manchac can be found in numerous sources spanning the past century. "Petit Manchac, Vermilionville, Lafayette," observed Father Charles Léon Souvay in 1921, "each of these three names might well be taken to typify a distinct period in the life of the thriving little city by the Bayou Vermilion." "The settlement, then called Petit Manchac," asserted the World War II-era tome Louisiana: A Guide to the State, "became the governing seat of Lafayette Parish." "'Petit Manchac' Grew Up into Lafayette,” noted a Lafayette newspaper headline in 1959. "Petit Manchac, the original name of Lafayette, even before Vermilionville, means the little back door!" stated New Orleans Magazine in 2013.(2)

But is this true? Was Petit Manchac the name of the colonial-era site that became Vermilionville and then Lafayette, a city of about 120,000 people in present-day Lafayette Parish, Louisiana.(3)

Vermilionville, later Lafayette,
Lafayette Parish, Louisiana,
from J. H. Colton's 1855 map of Louisiana.

Putting aside the Petit Manchac issue for a moment, Manchac in itself has referred over time to a number of Louisiana geographic features. For example, it is the name of a bayou running through the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Ascension, and Iberville. Furthermore, Manchac refers to a small present-day community in Tangipahoa Parish. Manchac Pass is a short waterway connecting Lake Maurepas to Lake Pontchartrain. Historically, Manchac was the name of a colonial-era British fort (also called Fort Bute) and its environs located where Bayou Manchac meets the Mississippi River.(4)

Because all these features bearing the name Manchac sit in southeast Louisiana, it seems a little odd that the future site of Vermilionville / Lafayette  found in south-central Louisiana  should have been called Petit Manchac. Odd, because Vermilionville / Lafayette sits in a region with a slightly different history and culture, where the Attakapas, not the Mobile or Choctaw, resided, and where place names deriving from the latter two tribal languages are less commonly known or altogether unknown.

Although not impossible, it does seem unlikely that Vermilionville / Lafayette traces its origin to a place called Petit Manchac. There is, for example, no known primary-source evidence for the claim (at least as far as I am aware) — no known handwritten colonial-era or early-American document referring to Vermilionville / Lafayette as Petit Manchac.

So where does the story about Petit Manchac morphing into Vermilionville / Lafayette come from? 

I believe the association of Vermilionville / Lafayette with Petit Manchac quite possibly came from someone's misreading of a 19th-century work of history  namely, Charles Gayarré's French-language book Histoire de la Louisiane, published in two-volumes between 1846 and 1847.

Volume 2 of Gayarré's 
Histoire de la Louisiane (1847).

This idea, I should say, is not at all mine, though I concur with it wholly. Rather, the idea comes from my fellow historical researcher Donald Arceneaux and archaeologist Donny Bourgeois. It was they who noticed and interpreted the following passage in Gayarré's book (which I translate)  the earliest known reference to Petit Manchac:

"The English . . . [in] Their vessels, went up the [Mississippi] river under the pretext of going to [Fort] Manchac and to Baton Rouge, stopping, after having passed New Orleans, at the place where the town of Lafayette now stands. . . . The name 'petit Manchac' stuck with this place."(5)

There it is  the association of Petit Manchac with the future site of "the town of Lafayette." 

Seems pretty clear and matter-of-fact.

The crucial passage in Gayarré.

A closer reading of the passage, however, reveals that Gayarré did not refer to Lafayette in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana. Rather, he referred to a different Lafayette, one located some 135 miles to the south-southeast, on the Mississippi River just upstream of New Orleans. 

And there was indeed a town called Lafayette on that stretch of the Mississippi  a town in fact so close to New Orleans that it eventually became part of New Orleans itself. I refer to the Crescent City neighborhood called Faubourg Lafayette, now the 10th Ward, comprising part of New Orleans' renowned Garden District. “The city of Lafayette,” the state declared in 1852, “is hereby incorporated with the city of New Orleans, and shall form part of the city of New Orleans. . . .”(6)

The faubourg of Lafayette (at left),
in relation to central New Orleans (right),
from Charles Zimpel's map of New Orleans (1834).

With this information in mind, it seems to me the assertion that Lafayette / Vermilionville developed from a place called Petit Manchac is incorrect; and that this error likely stemmed directly or indirectly from a misreading of Gayarré's Histoire de la Louisiane

The alternative, I should note, would be that early south Louisiana boasted not one but two sites called Petit Manchac, both of which grew into communities named Lafayette  a highly unlikely proposition. The simpler explanation is that someone misread Gayarré and that others repeated that error. This is, unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence in historical writing.(7)

Thanks to Carl Brasseaux and Don Arceneaux for proofing this blog article.


(1)William A. Read, "Louisiana Place-Names of Indian Origin," University Bulletin XIX (February 1927): 36. Read did not seem entirely convinced of the etymology, tentatively suggesting "Perhaps it springs . . . from Mobilian or Choctaw imashaka, 'rear,' or probably 'rear entrance.' . . ." (emphasis added).

(2)Reverend Charles Léon Souvay, "Rummaging through Old Parish Records: An Historical Sketch of the Church of Lafayette, La., 1821-1921," St. Louis Catholic Historical Review III (October 1921): 242; Louisiana: A Guide to the State (New York: Hastings House, 1945), p. 402; Lydia Krause, "'Petit Manchac' Grew Up into Lafayette,” Daily Advertiser, 30 January 1959, Sec. A, 1–5; Charles Paxton, "The Legacy of Native Acadiana," New Orleans Magazine, 1 August 2013,, accessed 27 June 2023. For ease of reading I have corrected Souvey's spelling of Vermilionville from his nonstandard "Vermillionville."

(3)"QuickFacts: Lafayette City, Louisiana; Lafayette Parish, Louisiana," US Census Bureau, population estimate of 1 July 2022,,lafayetteparishlouisiana/PST045222, accessed 27 June 2023.

(4)See Richard Campanella, "What Might Have Happened at Manchac," 64 Parishes, Winter 2022,, accessed 27 June 2023.

(5)Charles Gayarré, Histoire de la Louisiane, Vol. 2 (New Orleans: Magne & Weisse, 1847), 127. It is worth noting that Gayarré himself does not cite a source for his claim that the New Orleans faubourg of Lafayette was once called Petite Manchac  but whether or not his assertion is correct is a separate issue from that surrounding Vermilionville / Lafayette.

(6)The Statutes of the State of Louisiana, ed. U. B. Phillips (New Orleans: Emile La Sere, 1855), 383 (Sec. 43, 1852-55-1).

(7)That earliest instance of a misreading may in fact be Souvay's 1921 essay in St. Louis Catholic Historical Review (see n. 2 above). Though he footnoted that work, Souvey did not mention the source of his claim that Petit Manchac became Vermilionville/Lafayette.