Category Archives: Anglo-Acadians

Giant Omelette Celebration and My Thoughts

The Giant Omelette Celebration in Abbeville has passed. The website can be linked here. It is a memorable event every year.  I enjoyed it — despite the fact that I was not in a position to  be enjoying much of anything just now — I decided to let myself go and rejoice in the event.

I saw a lot of people that I knew and spoke to some of them. Tomorrow The Hillary-Kane ticket and the Trump-Pence ticket will go at one another and other will be on the final ballots as well. The country will face many other electoral decisions. But yesterday and the day before was a celebration of other structures in America which are not directly tied to this election. The town,culture and celebration are not perfect.  But they are worth experiencing and are worthy.

 

I participated as much as I could, more time than I could afford and although I spent very little I may not have been able to afford that either. But this was a glimpse of life that transcends and underlies all the political tensions in America.

 

So I hope to be in a position to comment on the outcome of the election. I hope to be able to have some success to be able in turn to solve my myriad problems. But I am also a person who enjoyed the Omelette Celebration, watched the Saints win in San Francisco and spent some time at church and with family. That’s life too…

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Fathers Day, Poverty, Harsh Reality & Sports

Last night I watched LeBron James lead the determined Cavaliers against the super professional Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. The beloved King James who had seen his jersey burnt in Cleveland when he signed to play in Miami was not quite in the land of ordinary men. He was  crossing over a bit into legend on that moment.  It was Fathers Day and a lot of American Fathers (and other fathers too) are sports fans. It seems likely that for many families in Cleveland this was Fathers Day they are not likely to forget.  Of course for the Curry family and the fans of the Golden State Warriors it was a bitter disappointment. The moment one team and one man and one city flirted with legend was the moment that another story fell short the best regular season in NBA history ended with a hard fought  seven game finals but it did not end with the championship.

Competition is not the only value worth having and really is not the central value of my own life. But it is part of life for all of us and it is part of male identity. This Sunday Americans celebrated Fathers Day. I had an enjoyable time with my father.  I brought him gifts and we enjoyed drinks at the Riverfront restaurant in Abbeville and a beautiful meal that my mother had prepared. During this occasion most of the attention goes to the stories of fathers bringing up children in pretty good situations.  But fathering is done in many parts of the world that are far from ideal. The sense of struggle is almost endless for many people and many of them are fathers too. The Syrian refugees, the destitute in camps, homeless shelters,  and squatting in sites around the world — many of these are fathers as well.  This is one very compelling study about what is happening in the world.  It does not focus on the whole world but on one part of it very specifically, the world of a large group or class of Syrian refugees.  My Dad has spent a lot of time with those who were in trouble. We have lived and he has lived and visited regions where people were involved in the kinds of lingering and sporadic civil wars that were common in the twentieth century, places where mass migrations had strained local resources,  places recently devastated by hurricanes and places under various kinds of social change.

Being with him in some of those times  and places where the trouble and need which attracted us there were prevalent was not always easy. The path of a life in the missions was certainly not one without real challenges. The story of those challenges and the joys that go with them has been a story that has long been a part of my life itself — not just the events of the story but the telling and retelling of that story. Even the journalism I have made a little bit of a living doing from time to time and the fiction that has not yet paid any bills –even that is informed by the really extremely varied story of that life and those years especially spent together often dealing with crises.

Crises shape the community, hardship shapes a community and depression shapes a community.  So does the fear of violence. Americans are subject to a considerable amount of fear of violence and there is not that much agreement about how to deal with it. The cultural hostility to a person achieving any kind of self reliance whatever can be very much manifest in groups of people that inhabit many people and intimidate the family oriented, hardworking and insightful people trying to prevent those neighborhoods from turning to living hells or remaining such. A country like ours that is so dotted with riots and violence and punctuates it life with so many bombings and mass shootings is not necessarily a place that will not be crippled by more emphasis on disarming the citizenry . The Obama administration has often been criticized  here and so have  those around him who want an unarmed lawful citizenry. They are criticized in large part because I believe that they do not know how profound the savagery, disorder and decay is in its effects in destroying the quality of life in this country.  Limiting the arms of besieged American beset with violence, chaos and resistance to public advancement on many sides will certainly increase this sense of a society where it is not safe to try to survive and thrive. Here is a story about these matter in terms of what American guns mean to maintaining a balance of terror. The bad guys will not be disarming much any time soon.

My Dad is a gun owner. He is not a big preacher of the value of an armed citizenry and in many rough places where we lived we could not keep weapons at home. In addition the radical nature of our involvement with those in need  required us to risk a level of vulnerability  — but my dad is, as I have always been, a man who knew and used guns and respected and enjoyed them.

 

But the arts of shooting and killing like many other things have not been the only part of his life that we have shared. Family, ministry and other values and themes of life have really been much more important without undervaluing those things.  There have also been times visiting tourist sites, wealthy friends and relatives, living in neighborhoods near stable work and hanging out on the beach.

 

But I think back on my life as life in which the moments victory in dark places and hard times mattered a lot. Compared to opening a new harbor facility, a new factory or a new large piece of permanent public infrastructure a lot of the victories our family shared were kind of fleeting and heard to define. Life the elated Cleveland fans who must go back to the problems that their city faces tomorrow. But Cleveland is building back in many ways over the last twenty years. Form the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to the improving Browns, to American Splendor and  the story of King James and his knights of the round ball — Cleveland is a gritty place in a gritty state looking for and finding some real meaning and hope.

I never forget the connection between the Saints winning the Super Bowl and the devastation of Katrina and Rita. Things are far from perfect now but the Super Bowl did help to keep people who stayed in the struggle in the struggle. In America a lot of fathers watch sports and find a little hope in their own struggles from the struggles of sports. That happened to us when the Saints won it all.

Whatever come in the coming year that is difficult and challenging I am sure tha watching the game last nigh after getting back from Dad’s will not be my favorite memory. I am not a huge NBA fan really. But I am also sure that it is a Father’s day even that has some meaning. It is a moment in time that many will treasure  as dads and with their dads.

Emerging Views: Chapter Fourteen; A relatively Humble Standard

Standard Oil paid for the projects discussed in this book. This last numbered chapter in this book is about them and Humble Oil who worked closely with Louisiana Story. Hopefully it sets in context other references from across the text.  It is not long enough to do much more.   This chapter is out of sequence on my blog. The thirteenth numbered chapter will have to follow in time. But this is a chapter about the oil industry as well as about funding these pictures.   It is a chapter which is only a hint at the breadth of a topic that goes far beyond the book as a whole in many ways.

The Gulf of Mexico's oil reserves remain vital to our country's future.

The Gulf of Mexico’s oil reserves remain vital to our country’s future.

But despite controversy and complexity the relationships described in this chapter were never all good or all bad. Here a few topics are discussed  within the context of what might have meaning for this text and its readers.  Much more work could be done in a different book.

Here is the pdf form:EmergingViewsChapterFourteenARelativelyHumbleStandard

Here is the text itself such as it currently is:

Chapter Fourteen: A relatively Humble Standard

 

The title of this chapter plays with the meaning of the two capitalized names when one is used as an adjective and the other as a noun. Thus this chapter is about Standard Oil and Humble Oil and how in the years between 1943 and 1953 they created a norm for these projects which was tied into their overall management style and philosophy.  In contrast to their philosophical approach as it has appeared to other writers and to this writer at other times, this was humble standard of operating procedure. To a great degree oil was trying to fit into America’s energy coast (and yes was hoping to transform it — but–) they saw and others saw the operation of the energy sector in the region as one important set of activities among many. They aspired to lead as has been stated before,  but the leadership had a different flavor and texture than other times and places have sometimes been asked to consume. It was easier on the palate.

 

There is evidence of this in their dealings with Flaherty himself. Flaherty had known great triumphs and Nanook is still at least the equal of Louisiana Story by almost every measure. But he had known a variety of pressured manipulated projects where his work was compromised. Murnau had squeezed him out of directing their supposed collaboration, Tabu. The story one sees on screen was largely written by him and some of the locations and casting may be due to him as well as many other aspects of the fim. But great as the film is in its own right it was Murnau’s as a director and it is more accurate to give Flaherty half a dozen other credits on the film and not to list him as director. That was only his greatest and not his only disappointment in terms of feeling taken advantage of by those with whom he worked. Compared to much of his life’s work this was a his widow Frances later asserted — a princely commission. Princes are not often equated with humility but in fact the royalist ideal is of a gentler and more deft touch in rule than is typical of the tyrant or the dictator. Not to overstate the case this is a story about oil companies which behaved themselves. During the time and in the place which this text describes….

 

In Chapter Twelve it was remarked that Dudley Leblanc’s thirty-fourth birthday party was an occasion for him to receive a kind of tribute from people from a variety of industries but not the petroleum industry.  It is also true that we have discussed how the Broussard Brothers became a very successful firm and remains so today but its growth as a major named focus in the oil industry on the Attakapas Prairie has been a fairly slow process. The firm was located mostly in Chalmette at first and then has gradually assumed more prominence in the region. Only in recent years has it bought the prominent and fairly stately office building in a leafy neighborhood where it now holds sway.Chris Crusta Flying Services was operated by Danny Babin of the Gueydan area and by Chris Crusta of Abbeville. Both were pilots with distinguished military careers however, the firm which provided crop dusting services across the Parish  for many years also helped to launch the business career of one of the leading figures in the oilfield in Vermilion Parish and the Prairies.  Revis Sirmon was a French speaking native of the region whose family farmed rice and who married a Cajun girl, name Lorraine Breaux,  many of his closest friends were Cajuns. Yet Revis Sirmon was a distinctly non Cajun person with his own set of folklore and religious experiences shaping his life.  His close relationship with the wealthy rice-milling  Godchaux family was a relationship with a white Creole family. Possibly there both not being Cajun entirely formed a common part of their identity in the intensely Cajun region. Revis Sirmon flew fifty combat missions in Europe in World War II and loved to fly. However, after a few years of of the risks of agricultural aviation and with two small children to worry about leaving orphaned he was ready to spend more time on the ground. He went into the oilfield fluids business called the mud business with the backing of Frank Godchaux III. Revis Sirmon’s memoirs, Eternal Pilot, a book co-written with Joseph Chaillot  do a good job of charting his life in Acadiana and the tensions between Cajun identity and residence in Acadiana. They also provide a useful glimpse of his rise in the local oilfield world and its ties to world commerce and it also is true that the book like so much else describes many people whom I knew well although it also leaves out a great deal and a great number of people whom I know were involved in the events described.    But whatever angle on takes in viewing these things it is different than the take of a book like this one, the scholar has to bring something to the research as it is not the book’s purpose to address any or all of these questions directly.  Revis Sirmon was encouraged by the ethnically prominent Charles Broussard of the Flying J. Ranch to ask Edwin Edwards (who has always identified as Cajun) to appoint him to the Mineral Board, while in that position he raised the royalty payments made to the State for mineral leases. However, as an active commercial oilman he was disqualified from future service after seven fairly distinguished years on the board when new ethics rules defined his operations as a conflict of interest. He resigned rather than before the newly propounded rules would have formally disqualified him. My maternal grandfather was in business with Revis Sirmon in a company called Riptide Investors and in developing a port known as Freshwater City. However, almost all of this oilfield story is outside the scope of this book. Almost all but not quite all. It was in 1953, the very end of this period that the pilot known as the Scatterbrain Kid founded his mud company. This was just one more sign of the growing importance of the oilfield and related industries in the immediate region where Louisiana Story had been filmed.  

 

Humble Oil and Standard Oil lend their names to the chapter and especially the capitalization of the words Humble and Standard in its title. They have since merged but at the time of the focus of this study from 1943 to 1953 they were both relatively autonomous and certainly legally independent corporations and each had a distinct and significant role that they played in the production of these photographic projects and the film Louisiana Story. The two companies had national and global connections and so forth but both came from distinct regions in the United States outside of louisiana where they retained significant rootedness.  It is not easy to minimize the importance of the oil industry and of Standard Oil of New Jersey and Humble Oil in the production of these projects more than has been done here without leaving aside  a very significant part of the story indeed. The truth is that cramming what is left of the essential parts of that story into one chapter is not an entirely satisfying solution either.  But it is the solution which is achievable in this case.

 

GAS RECYCLING PLANT IS ASKED IN ERATH FIELD

Preliminary plans for the erection of a gas recycling plant estimated to cost $2,000,000 in the Erath oil field in Vermilion Parish though the unitization of approximately 3300 acres included in the productive area were discussed at a public hearing held here Monday by Conservation Commissioner Jos. L. McHugh and other members of the committee.

 

The notice which appears here set in perspective the money spent on Louisiana Story and on the larger photography project. Here there are two points and set of line from which to measure. One is to compare the cost of the film to what Flaherty had spent on other films and also to what Hollywood spent on a feature film. The other set of measures is that established by what the oil and gas industry were spending on other expenditures in the region.  That will come back into this chapter and has already appeared in the comments made in Abbeville and Vermilion Parish which appeared in Chapter Eleven of this text. The same little article lends us more insight.


The public hearing was adjourned Tuesday afternoon and will open until the presentation of additional information, it was announced by E. L. Gladney, Jr., attorney for the commission. Other members of the commission attending the hearing were H. N. Bell, director of the minerals division; John J. Huner, state geologist; and Percy Irwin Chief Petroleum Engineer.

 

We see the importance the newspaper attributes to this commission in giving details of various kinds including names. We see that there is an attorney, a director, a geologist and a petroleum engineer. We also  see that the Conservation Commission is a very well established and multifaceted bureaucracy.  Additionally the lack of even one distinctly Cajun name or any of the phrases that might be used if the people involved had close ties to large numbers of readers. Such a thing is not entirely determinative of their identity and connections to the place but it does indicate such a level of connections or the lack thereof. This reminds us that the local readership were informed participants but did not necessarily have a shared identity with the oil industry.

 


The operators owning about 85 percent of the leases located within the productive limits of the Erath field and who are seeking the orders from the commission to unitize the field include the Phillips Petroleum Company, the Texas Company, The Humble Oil and Refining Company and the Tidewater Associated Oil Company.

“We believe that the Erath field constitutes one of the greatest and most valuable reserves of gas-distillate and gas-condensates now known to exist in the entire mid-continent area,” declared Dan DeBaillon, Lafayette, attorney who represented the operators. “We can state frankly, with the firmest of convictions, that waste of a large percentage of these valuable resources is eminent, and inescapable, if this field be either unoperated. Wisely planned development and intelligent operation of this field as a unit, as distinguished from development and operation on a wasteful basis, will result in the recoveries of millions of barrels of distillate and condensate not otherwise recoverable and at the same time, billions of “cubic feet “of gas can be saved by returning the gas to the productive formations. This returned gas, by, helping to maintain the reservoir pressure, will itself greatly increase the ultimate recoveries of distillate and condensate and also will itself, as gas, have a value in dollars and cents estimated in terms of millions of dollars.

 

Here we see that Humble Oil which would interact closely with Standard Oil in pursuing the making of Louisiana Story was accustomed to interaction with other oil companies in unitization hearings, in other interactions with the Conservation Committee and in a variety of other circumstances. While they had a special relationship with Standard Oil the industry itself was to some degree a cohesive community which could pursue its community interests in ways not so disimilar from the way that the Cajuns and the documentarians also formed communitiescapable of pursuing community interests.

 

The article goes on at some length and its detail in some places is at least some real and fairly compelling evidence that the readers of the Meridional had a fairly sophisticated understanding of the oil industry at the start of the SONJ projects. It also shows the Vermilion Parish definitively had relationships with Humble Oil.

 

 

The oil industry was remaking the realities of the life in Acadiana during the years between 1943 and 1953. One of the purposes of this chapter will be to understand through the lense of the work done on Louisiana Story and the rest of the SONJ projects how the oil industry operates and what its culture was  as regard interacting with the people, local culture and the environment of Acadiana. Without going into great detail we will seek to understand as well to what degree the portrayal of the oil interests is a valid one — mostly in the film but also briefly revisiting their portrayal in the photographic projects. There are various levels of distrust for that portrayal which are possible and in this study we will at least be honest about what level of mistrust is at the foundation of our study. This is a book largely about perception and understanding. Here we take a further step back and ask ourselves how we ought to perceive  both the role of the oil company and industry that funded these projects and the wa way that historians, scholars in general and others have perceived those involvements up to now.

 

 

One real factor to remember in the midst of documenting and analyzing these projects and the people and places that they chose to document is that  Standard Oil was footing the bill. The relationship between Humble Oil and Standard oil was a complicated one and a complete understanding of that relationship is beyond the scope of this text. However one of the objectives of this chapter will be to create a basic framework of understanding for that relationship in its most basic configuration without much appreciation for  the nuances and  complexities of the full reality even where those different and varied complexities may have shaped and impacted the experiences of the production and organization of the SONJ photography project and the Flaherty unit that created Louisiana Story.

 

I was honored to sit with Mr. Sirmon for a year (2008) and gather his stories, organize them, and ghost write this book for him (as acknowledged in the Introduction). I will be glad to answer any questions I can about it … Joseph Chaillot ( josephchaillot@gmail.com

 

At this writing there are over 125 years of  ExxonMobil history and one can fairly trace the evolution of the company to many stories including that of Humble Oil as well as that of Mobil. But the main story is surely still that of Standard Oil which has evolved and developed  from a New Jersey based and largely regional distributor and  marketer of kerosene in the U.S. to the iconic symbol of an industry which is only overshadowed by state firms in a few countries and is the  largest publicly traded petroleum and petrochemical joint stock corporation in the world. The company in 1943 and in 1953 was closer to today’s firm than to its origins. The biggest difference is perhaps hidden behind a similarity is that while ESSO and EssoMarine were prominent brands that had the kind of currency still true of the company’s dealings with the larger world today as today they operate in most of the world’s countries and are readily identified familiar brand names: Exxon, Esso and Mobil. There was another name that really mattered in those days and was essential to the life of the firm and which is not so important today.

 

That name was Rockefeller.

 

Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, located in eastern Cameron and western Vermilion Parishes, is owned and maintained by the State of Louisiana. When deeded to the state the refuge encompassed approximately 86,000 acres, but beach erosion has taken a heavy toll, and the most recent surveys indicate only 76,042 acres remaining. This area borders the Gulf of Mexico for 26.5 miles and extends inland toward the Grand Chenier ridge, a stranded beach ridge, six miles from the Gulf.

When the Rockefeller Foundation officially granted the property to the state, they spelled out in the Deed of Donation exactly how the property was to be used. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes periodic inspections of refuge activities and has reversionary rights over the refuge if the state fails to meet its obligations pertaining to the Deed of Donation, as amended.

The major terms of the original agreement stipulated 1) the property must be maintained as a wildlife refuge, 2) boundaries must be posted, 3) enforcement agents must protect the area from trespassers and poachers, 4) no public taking of fish or animals is allowed, 5) refuge staff must study and manage the property for wildlife, and 6) mineral revenues must be used on the refuge first (surplus may go toward education or public health). In 1983 the Deed of Donation was amended with a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Department of the Interior and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The MOA allows for regulated sport fishing and commercial trapping when compatible with the primary purpose of the refuge as a wildlife sanctuary. The MOA also allows surplus revenues to be used for land acquisition for wildlife management purposes. A 1987 MOA between the same two agencies ceased yielding surplus revenues for education or public health.

Planners had the foresight to realize that mineral revenues would cease at some point in time, and steps were taken to ensure that the refuge would be financially capable of operation and maintenance indefinitely. Act 321 of the 1972 legislature created the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge Trust and Protection Fund (Trust Fund). One fourth of funds derived from royalties, rentals, or otherwise from Rockefeller mineral leases were to be deposited in the Trust Fund until a principal of $5 million was reached. Act 342 in 1978 raised the Trust Fund goal to $10 million. Act 807 in 1980 increased the Trust Fund goal to $20 million, and also established the Rockefeller Scholarship Fund for Louisiana wildlife students from 5% of interest from the Trust Fund. Act 63 of 1982 raised the Trust Fund goal to $30 million, and Act 707 of 1989 reduced additions to the Trust Fund from 25% to 5% of mineral revenues. Senate Bill 662 of 1989 established an annual donation of $150,000 to the Fur and Alligator Advisory Council, and Act 832 of 1995 raised the Trust Fund cap to $50 million.

Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge is one of the most biologically diverse wildlife areas in the nation. Located at the terminus of the vast Mississippi Flyway, south Louisiana winters about 4 million waterfowl annually. Historically, Rockefeller wintered as many as 400,000-plus waterfowl annually, but severe declines in the continental duck population due to drought and poor habitat quality on the breeding grounds have altered Louisiana’s wintering population. More recent surveys indicate a wintering waterfowl population on Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge reaching 160,000. In addition to ducks, geese, and coots, numerous shorebirds and wading birds either migrate through or overwinter in Louisiana’s coastal marshes. Neotropical migrant passerines also use the shrubs and trees on levees and other “upland” areas of the refuge as a rest stop on their trans-Gulf journeys to and from Central and South America. Although Canada geese no longer migrate to the refuge from breeding areas in the north as they once did, a resident flock of giant Canada geese was established in the early 1960s.

Common resident animals include mottled ducks, nutria, muskrat, rails, raccoon, mink, otter, opossum, white-tailed deer, and alligators. An abundant fisheries population provides recreational opportunities to fishermen seeking shrimp, redfish, speckled trout, black drum, and largemouth bass, among others. No hunting is allowed on the refuge, but some regulated trapping is allowed for furbearers that could potentially damage the marsh if their populations are not controlled.

The refuge is a flat, treeless area with highly organic soils which are capable of producing immense quantities of waterfowl foods in the form of annual emergents and submerged aquatics. Since 1954 Rockefeller Refuge has been a test site for various marsh management strategies, including levees, weirs, and several types of water control structures utilized to enhance marsh health and waterfowl food production.

The style of this text has been a bit less orthodox and strict in adhering to the manner in which some other standards of text have been put together by competent people seeking to establish a norm. Standard Oil was becoming a leading company in offshore exploration and was involved with others in that field and in deep drilling. But there world’s largest refinery in Baton Rouge was leading the way to providing the   petrochemical building blocks that would lead to thousands of consumer goods. An would usher in many of the most unique qualities of the emerging era an era of the very start of a process which would distinguish previous worldwide international commerce from what is called globalization. Standard Oil itself was a mature and venerable institution. In the 2007 film There Will Be Blood American and international viewers were reminded, if they had not already known, that  the oil industry has been around for a while.  This film was loosely based on the 1926 novel OIL! By Upton Sinclair. That novel dealt with many of the issues explored by people involved in these events — and yet it is a profoundly different story. But regional texture, capitalism, a rough and dangerous industry, powerful personalities and socialism are all themes common both to this book and its subjects as well as to Sinclair’s novel and its subjects.  

Standard Oil may not have been the name of the concern but in the Rockefeller dominated era and even today the company that became Exxon was well aware of its heritage going back to the same year the Abbeville  based history of the Vigilante Committees of the Attakapas was written by a French historian living among these people that year was 1859 when the remembered exploring entrepreneurs  

Colonel Edwin Drake and Uncle Billy Smith drilled the first successful oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The colonel’s discovery triggered an oil boom that in many ways resembled the gold rush of a decade earlier. The internal combustion engine was a long way into the future.as the icon of  oil consumption. However it was also in 1859 that Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir created the first commercially successful internal combustion engine.  As the oil industry prepared to lead its way in creating this region’s future few felt it was in any way a fledgling enterprise.

Lionel Leblanc and Robert Flaherty’s  parent’s generation were in some cases unborn, were in diapers or in the case of a few late to procreate were when in 1870 Rockefeller and his associates formed the Standard Oil Company (Ohio), with combined facilities constituting the largest refining capacity of any single firm in the world at that time and seemingly exceeding any comparable entity consisting of consortia or government entities. In America 79 years is a fairly long time compared to most other continents. The idea that they were leading America to a new future does not mean that they were themselves perceived as new. The  name Standard is chosen to signify high, uniform quality and the name Rockefeller .was iconic as a symbol of wealth and prestige. It would be foolish and would distort the story to pretend that Flaherty, Stryker or the Cajuns did not have a healthy respect for all things Standard Oil.

In 1882 the SONJ entity which has its name or initials stamped on so many documents in this project came to be.  It was in that year that it touched another great American icon when

Standard Oil lubricated the invention of the man who also revolutionized the film industry by revolutionizing a system related to film itself. Standard Oil  contributed to Thomas Edison’s first central generating system by providing lubricants from its new chemical divisions.. Besides SONJ  in this year, Standard Oil Trust formed to include the Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) and in those years SONJ was referred to usually as the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and shortened to two words rather than four letters –Jersey Standard. .

In 1885 the company became associated with New York City, where documentary film and photography had its main American nest from 1920 to 1953 at the very shortest duration. That year the Standard Oil Trust relocated its corporate headquarters to 26 Broadway, New York City. The nine-story office building became a landmark which would have been known to the majority of the scene and history conscious film and camera people involved in this set of projects long before they worked for Standard Oil.

In 1911, following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, that reshaped a lot of the United States in its view of itself in economic terms Standard Oil was broken up into 34 unrelated companies, including Jersey Standard, the SONJ which funded this photographic venture.  The year also marks the first time Jersey Standard’s sales of kerosene are surpassed by gasoline, conjectures about a photographic bias against horses which seems evident if in fact it exists would be related to the fact that by the 1940s the company depended largely on a  product that in the early days had often been discarded as a waste product.  In 1911 many buggies could carry a kerosene lantern and be good customers. Auto racing became part of the Standard Oil legacy through Mobil products in the decades between 1911 and 1943.

In 1919 the company that actually furnished the drillers for Louisiana Story became a real part of the Standard Oil family and tradition when SONJ or

Jersey Standard acquired a 50 percent interest in Humble Oil & Refining Company of Texas. In that same year Humble Oil , led by its pioneering Chief Geologist Wallace Pratt, developed the full commercial employment of  micropaleontology in oil exploration.This study of microscopic fossils contained in cuttings and core samples from drilling was an aid in finding oil which tied the Oil industry more to local universities in various region and made the science and technology of the industry a bit more compelling. It laid the foundation for the kind of postwar industrial leadership sought in this set of projects.

Just about the time these projects were getting cranked up and closer to the subject of this text in 1942, the world’s first fluid catalytic cracker went into onstream operation at Louisiana Standard’s Baton Rouge refinery. The process, was developed by four SONJ scientists known as the “four horsemen,” and became the worldwide industry standard for producing gasoline. Fortune magazine when it covered the story described it as “the most revolutionary chemical-engineering achievement of the last 50 years.” In the fifties SONJ would found more cultural and educational programs and more automobile related products as centerpieces of its overall vision. Those fascination with shaping culture through the Esso Education Foundation after 1955 and the increased interest in playing a dominant role in serving the needs of automobiles after the development of Uniflo in 1952 doubtless affected these projects, though this text does not provide a close analysis of how that played out.

 

This chapter simply provides a bit of history to serve as a background to other observations made throughout the text. It is very far from exhaustive and does not disclose a great deal of highly compelling close analysis of Standard’s role here. But it is the place to make a few assertions if there is indeed any such place.

 

  1. Standard Oil and its competitors and friends funded education, built things and employed people. But Cajun technology in building, dredging, design and drainage was seldom incorporated except by a few who struggled hard to do so. Lack of respect for the accumulated knowledge of regional conditions had a powerful negative set of impacts on the region from the Cajun point of view.
  2. Standard Oil and the Rockefellers with deeply Baptist Protestant heritage may well be responsible for the lack of Catholicism in Louisiana Story simply because of their enormous general reputation. Likewise, the other desires and needs of that family and coporation likely transmitted themselves across the project with little direct efforts from those at the top of the power structures involved. All evidence for this is general in nature at this point and may exist in specific form or may not.
  3. Cajun inventions continued to proliferate in navigation, crawfish farming seafood processing and elsewhere across the region, horseracing and breeding of the Cajun quarter horse continued to produce ethnic excellence. There is a sense among many that Cajun leadership in this industry and the cultural accommodations that could have produced better relationships never fully materialized.
  4. Both Huey Long and Dudley Leblanc were at different times Public Service Commissioners and as such dealt with the oil and gas industry. The importance of this industry to all sides of the political spectrum over a much larger period than is central to this text can scarcely be disputed. Longism was of course more influential and successful than whatever Leblancism may be said to be. On the other hand, Huey was killed by the husband of one of Dudley Leblanc’s Evangeline girls Yvonne Pavy for suggesting that she had Negro blood. Weis’s family disputes that claim  and he was in many respects one of the finest and most gifted citizens of Louisiana in his time. But it is highly credible that the dictator was killed for insulting the genealogy in question by a man who considered himself and his family superior specimens to Long himself. Dudley Leblanc, diminished over time but died in peace and as a fairly old man. The oil industry although soaked by Huey in many ways was more associated with Huey and the Long Machine than with Dudley Leblanc.
  5. These projects coincided with the last great push of Dudley Leblanc in politics. Had he been closer to the oil industry and less close to four or five other industries it is quite possible that his fortunes would have continued to rise and the period would have been a different one than it was.

In conclusion to this chapter, Standard oil is not at the heart of this text about a project it made possible. But in many ways it chose to take a back seat, to hide behind the scenery and many other metaphors. They influenced many things but determined very few. There chapter is the last numbered chapter before the conclusion and their role is the least thoroughly studied of the communities whose interactions define this text.

   

 

Emerging Views: Chapter Twelve; Dudley Leblanc and the Sense of Acadiana

The Honorable Dudley J. Leblanc -- Acadian Icon

The Honorable Dudley J. Leblanc — Acadian Icon

 

This is a special chapter among many chapters that are special to me because it focuses on the life, work and views of one man as a context for what was going on in the region when the documentarians  (or documentarists as is often preferred) arrived in Acadiana. Dudley Leblanc is man mentioned many times in the text before now and a great deal is left out even after this chapter is read. In fact he too has his place in the conclusion. In a different world this book would have been written long ago and there would be another book out under my name about Dudley Leblanc alone.  But such is not the case. In fact this serialization is running up against difficulties born of my relative weariness doing other things entirely separate from this book.

The politics of Dudley Leblanc are mostly the focus of this chapter and the personal life with the business aspects only creeping in a bit. The merest glimpses into a full and rich life of great complexity. But politics is very much in the fabric of Acadian and Cajun culture and the tradition of these places that make up Acadiana. Politics has always mattered to me as anyone can tell who reads this blog. I am not in any way the kind of political figure that Dudley Leblanc was in this region but he does sort of fill the atmosphere of all politics with a kind of (to me at least) glory tinted residue.

 

Congratulating Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills on reforming Marijuana law...

Congratulating Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills on reforming Marijuana law…

My grandfather was influenced by and we are related to Dudley Leblanc. I once watched an old home movie of them on a boat together. Warren Perrin pictured with me below has made available to me recently some fascinating materials provided by the heirs  of Corinne Broussard, one of the Evangeline Girls who made the first pilgrimage with Dudley Leblanc to Acadie. His legacy lives on ….

Dudley Leblanc was an author, historian, showman, President of the Association of Louisiana Acadians,  the leader of the lawful opposition to what many consider to be the closest thing to a dictatorship ever under the United States Flag, he was a devout Catholic , a family man and a skilled legislator. He wrote a charted song and besides all of that was a very serious businessman. But he was part of Acadiana and it was part of him in a uniquely strong way that showed through all he did. He loved Louisiana and the United States and worked with Acadians and their causes in several countries but  he was our politician — the great contribution of this place and time to politics . His influence is still around even when it is not noted.  But his French language radio shows, his huge business which disappeared like a fairy dream and his superb devotion to his ethnic community framed his politics and gave them life.

HADACOL was once the second largest advertiser in the United States.

HADACOL was once the second largest advertiser in the United States.

There is a tendency among some to see him as style over substance but nothing could be farther from the truth. In my view only a tiny handful of U.S. politicians have equaled his substance but his substance was not the substance many analysts are looking to find. He left a book behind which is fifty years old this year which along with founding state parks in this state, helping to create an old age pension, negotiating countless positive deals in the opposition and opposing others — along with all of that his book is his legacy. His family is of course as well.

The Acadian Miracle by Dudley Leblanc is fifty years old this year.

The Acadian Miracle by Dudley Leblanc is fifty years old this year.

The Acadian Museum in Erath is a place where a great deal of his legacy is preserved and new materials are still coming to light in their efforts to archive and preserve things. You can link to them here.  The rather poor picture of Warren Perrin and I together  that I have above is taken in the Acadian Museum and below is another I took  related to the Museum. They remain and are active in outreaches across the community that Leblanc loved.

Acadian Museum table at an Abbeville farmer's market.

Acadian Museum table at an Abbeville farmer’s market.

Here is where the text in pdf form will be when a technical glitch is cured :

 

He is the chapter in such text form as is available:

 

Chapter Twelve:

Dudley Leblanc and the Sense of Acadiana

 

This set of chapter in this book is in large part a collection of and commentary upon clipping. My use of scholarly quotes earlier on was more extensive than average and so the change should not be too drastic. I prefer to use enough of my source material to let it speak for itself where it can. This text seeks to bring together many distincto points of view to create a whole which the reader can inhabit much as the mind inhabits a bit of fine verse or fiction. Entering into all these points of view the reader can form his or her own point of view.

 

Early in this chapter, second only to a clipping from 1928 and excerpt from a play there is a brief article from the Abbeville Meridional in the 1930s. It reports on an act of violence perpetrated against a Boudreaux from Abbeville in large part because of his association with Dudley Leblanc. Without understanding the violence that runs through Cajun experience there is no way to understand Cajun experience. Cajuns are a people whatever else that are and they are a small people. It would be interesting to do a book about Cajun courage entirely  — but that is not this book. This writer that I am is also a man. As a man I consider myself a fairly brave man ( and by my own lights that has never been a very wise thing to say in public or in writing for almost anyone) but it is not in doubt that a small group of people who value ethnic identity are by definition at risk perpetually. It does not take all that much reasoning to figure that out. Languedoc with is structure of confederated ethnic communities within a powerful nation state which accepted these diverse communities is a kind of paradise dream for our way of viewing the world. The Confederacy as our ancestors hoped it might be is another. The golden age of the 1840s saw this sort of life more or less achieved under the banner of the stars and stripes. But the bad times have been many and of varying seriousness. Much of politics in this and many other modern societies with which the Cajun has to interact appears to be the wholesale degradation of any real chance of cultural integrity or any real chance of preserving a responsible policy as regards culture. When the Cajun is urged by others to discard the burdens of his or her culture because others are doing so this often  appears to the true Cajun like the suggestion like the serious suggestion that he cut off his fingers because a friend had to change gloves. We will return to that metaphor or strong simile  at the end of this chapter.

 

Before reaching the article about Boudreaux and Leblanc the reader will read a brief excerpt from a play about a Boudreaux and a Leblanc. In the midst of all of this the reader hopefully remembers that a Boudreaux and a Leblanc had the largest Cajun roles as the father and son LaTour in Louisiana Story. Any reader who is not a Cajun  should remember that Dudley Leblanc probably saw America differently that the readers parents or grandparents in ways that were specific to the Cajun experience. But the Cajun experience also varied and Leblanc is a very individual and specific person. This chapter is about Dudley Leblanc and the way that he represented a focus and expression of Cajun identity.

 

This text is not intended to comply with the conventions of a text written about the history of New York City because there is a certain body of knowledge about New York City which is part of the patrimony of educated American ‘s cultural patrimony and which is not applicable to discussion of postwar Acadiana. In addition to the need to make clearer some basic facts about each relevant aspect of Cajun life and Acadiana there is also the cost to this writer which perhaps is made less by being middle aged, divorced and more or less permanently curmudgeonly not to mention childless. As was evident in Gene Yoes review of Louisiana Story in 1949, people worry about the perception of larger society which is created by almost any assessment or expression of the culture, identity or   way of life of the people here. Defensiveness is commonplace enough, so is courage and so is the pressure to produce work without the supports for research and a quality process of authentication which might be available for other subjects. In addition the conditions described above make the producers of plays, films, histories, journalism, songs and other works responsive ot questions and concerns of the ethnic community more sensitive to criticism than they might otherwise be — none of this makes a text of this type easier to write. On the other hand, these are differences of degree. Any book about perceptions and understanding between American communities is fraught with some of the same challenges though perhaps not to the same degree — nonetheless, to a substantial degree.  Dudley Leblanc and his family appear in the social and personal notices sections of the Meridional so many times it is difficult to express without superlatives. That context is worth remembering when we discuss the man as this text does.

 

Below is a piece about his birthday party which appeared in the August 25 issue of 1928.

 

LEBLANC WAS HONORED AT BIRTHDAY DINNER

Dudley J. LeBlanc, who is also head of the T. B. A. Benevolent Association was guest of honor at a surprise birthday dinner given Saturday night at the Terrace Hotel. Over 100 employees, business associates, and other friends of the Commissioner attended. An orchestra played during the evening.

 

Greetings were extended to Commissioner LeBlanc by several speakers, the first being T. L. Evans, president of the Commercial National Bank, Robert Voorhies, manager, and Miss Sadie Folse, secretary of the T. B. A. and V. Gray qf the Dixie National Insurance Association, and Sidney Alpha for the Lafayette Tribune in which Mr LeBlanc is also interested.

 

Near the close of the banquet the honoree was presented with a platinum gold watch as a gift from his employees The presentation was made by Bennett J. Voorhies, local attorney.

Another feature of the occasion was the presentation of a large birthday cake on which were 34 candles. The cake was a gift from Mrs. H. Scranton, proprietor of the Terrace Hotel

Advertiser, Lafayette.

   

Comparing the pictures here and scene of the trappers eating in Louisiana Story to what Dudley Leblanc’s wife Evelyn Hebert Leblanc experienced as dinner with her girlfriends is also useful. It illustrates a set of contexts for the Cajun experience at the time and a set of experiences neither the documentarian backgrounds and presuppositions nor the interests of Standard Oil of New Jersey were eager to see presented to the nation as the Cajun experience at the time of the nascent oil boom.  In that context it is useful to notice that in the list of interests above which feted Dudley Leblanc there are financial, hospitality, professional and print media among others — but no specific petroleum interests. So now on to the life of Mrs. Dudley Leblanc:

 

MRS. ROBERT YOUNG JUNIOR ENTERTAINS 500 NIGHT CLUB

Another delightful, meeting of the 500 night club was held Wednesday night with Mrs. Robert Young, Jr., at hostess. This beautiful home on Main St. was beautifully arranged with vases and bowls of nasturtiums.  Ladies’ first prize was won by Mrs. R. A., Dalton. Second by Mrs. H; A. Eldredge. Guest by Mrs. E. L. Terrier* Gentleman’s first prize was won  by Mr. Clay Summers. Second by Dr.  P. J. Young, Jr., Guest by, Mr. Andrew Broussard, Consolation by Miss Della Broussard and Booby by Mr. I. H. Oertling.

 

Mrs. Young served a 3 delicious plate luncheon consisting of dressing’ sliced turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, with sweet peas, stuffed tomatoes, salad on lettuce, olives, hot rolls and tea. Members present were: Mr, and Mrs Clay Summers, Miss Delia Broussard, Mr. Pete, LeBlanc, Mr. and Mrs. Perry LeBlanc, Miss Bess Faulk, Mrs. Dudley LeBlanc, Mrs. Roy Richardson, Dr. and Mrs. H. A. Eldredge, Dr. R. J. Young Jr., Guests present were. Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Terrier, Miss Hilda Hebert, Mr and Mrs. I. H. Oertling, Mrs. Marcus Broussard, Mrs.  Newton LeBlanc,. Miss Mabel Young, and Mr. Andrew Broussard.

 

This house was on the same street where the film Louisiana Story was edited and where the crew lived and the people in story were by and large as  Cajun as Lionel Leblanc or the fictional LaTours. Mr. and Mrs. Clay Summers were my great grandparents. While he was born an anglo-protestant she was a very Cajun French speaking Catholic named Esther Leblanc and was Dudley’s cousin.  The choices made of what to portray are real choices continually made in the creation of an American identity and sense of self.

 

Dudley Leblanc’s connection to the community is glimpsed a bit in the coverage of his wedding in the Meridional.  A lot more could be gleaned from it than will be attempted in this chapter.  The following appeared as a social announcement in the Meridional in 1921 and was a significant sign of social and community recognition for a fairly important match which would be meaningful for Abbeville, Vermilion Parish and the Cajun community. The wedding is certainly not a sumptuous affair to rival the elite of Europe or New York City and the notice does not claim that it is  — but it is not the stuff of a trapper’s cabin either.

 

One of the pretty church weddings of the season was that of Miss Evelyn Hebert, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Morgan Hebert of this place , to Mr. Dudley LeBlanc, of Erath, on March 29th, at 8 o’clock a. m. at St. Mary Magdelein’s Catholic Church.. The marriage ceremony was performed at mass. The bride was handsomely gowned in white embroidered chiffon with illusion veil, while the maid of honor and bridesmaids wore pink organdy gowns and pink picture hats. Miss Evelyn stands high in this community and has many friends. The happy young couple left on the morning train on their honeymoon trip. On their return they will occupy their own little bungalow on the West side of the Bayou which is just completed. The Meridional wishes them a long life of prosperity.

 

A later announcement in the Meridional’s social notices completes the coverage of this early state of their union. It is worth remembering what is not included in the portrayals of the Cajun communities in the SONJ projects but to remember that these goings on were quite important to the community as a whole..

 

April 19, 1921, Mr. and Mrs. Dudley Leblanc returned from their honeymoon * trip to New Orleans, Sunday.

 

It is useful to remember which Cajuns were not much included in the SONJ projects to represent these people in either the photographic collection or the film Louisiana Story. Dudley Leblanc lived a very different life overall than the one lived by the natural actor Lionel Leblanc. LaTour and the actor who portrayed him were clearly selections with political, economic and moral dimensions made by the Flahertys and by Standard Oil of New Jersey which led to a particular view of the people and region portrayed in Louisiana Story. The influence of Harnett Kane’s book The Bayous of Louisiana is deeply to be felt in so many SONJ choices. The use of Avery Island is certainly suggested by Kan’s appealing treatment of that locale. Kane also reports on living with a trapper family and in doing so really maps out a rough draft for Louisiana Story even in the happenstantial way that this unrelated segment of his book is near the segment on Avery Island. The discourse of real outsiders continues to inform itself primarily and to primarily seek to avoid being informed by the Cajun community as a whole. The effort to communicate Cajun experience to the mainstream society is not so simple a task for those within the community either.

 

However, much this text  may seem to be a web of the author’s close personal associations it is actually more the case that the reader gets only a minimal sense of all the connections between this writer and his subject. A choice has been made to make such connections but not without also many specific choices to limit such references.  

 

The following is an excerpt from the play A Sort of Miracle in Loreauville, published by Edgemoor Press, of Houston Texas. The playwright was a returning undergraduate  who had gone from Abbeville to Louisiana State University as an undergraduate where she had become pregnant for a son, hid the pregnancy and dropped out. She had given that son up for adoption, moved to Abbeville and married and old friend, nearly an early puppy love and a son of a prominent local family. They had a child in 1964 and did not have any others for a long time. When that young son began attending school she returned to the University of Southwestern Louisiana and wrote a play for an English class which was published.  She did not graduate at that time but graduated after her son who was in first grade in 1973 graduated many years later. She is still very much alive at this writing and she is my mother.

 

The play is set in 1900s Loreauville where her own grandmother grew up, 1900s Loreauville provided the setting, motifs and characters about which her grandmother  — Regina Oubre Hollier composed a series of paintings some of which were awarded various honors, sold and given other recognition at the time of her writing A Sort of Miracle. This conversation takes place as a priest is preparing the sacrament of the sick, also the last rites (in an irreducible tension) for a very sick little girl, Madame Leblanc is the girl’s mother.

 

MADAME LEBLANC: Pere Boudreaux, he’s a good man of God, him. So holy. You should have heard how strong he prayed for MArie. It was so beautiful… (serenely) they say that when the blessing is given, sometimes they have a miracle.  

 

  1. DUBOIS: Prayer is very good for the soul, and I’m sure the good Lord has some plans for us all, but miracles seem to be getting scarcer all the time. Science is teaching us more about things that used to be explained in other ways.

 

MADAME LEBLANC: I don’t know nothing about science. I only know the Lord. He hears everybody’s prayer and he always answers. Sometimes he answer “no” because he knows everything what’s best. Maybe if He takes Marie up to Heaven, it means  that she couldn’t never have been happy here.

 

  1. DUBOIS: Maybe so.

 

The play is about the 1900 and is also very much about becoming an adult in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There is not on the surface much to connect it with the period of 1943 to 1953 nor with the life of Dudley Leblanc outside of names and ethnicities but in fact there are some connections that are worth making.

   

 

State Highway Man Pardoned In Attack On Jos. Boudreaux

BATON ROUGE, La.—Louis A. Jones, assistant superintendent of the’ Louisiana Highway patrol, convicted of assaulting Joseph Boudreaux of Abbeville, La., on the capitol steps ‘during the 1932 ‘legislature, was pardoned by Gov. 0. K. Allen last Friday.

The pardon was approved on recommendation, of the state pardon board. Jones had previously been reprieved by the governor before serving any of a six months jail sentence imposed*by Judge Caruth Jones in East Baton Rouge district court.

Boudreaux –,. friend and supporter of Dudley J. Leblanc opponent of the political’ organization of Huey P. Long in the 1932 governorship campaign in which he ran against Allen — suffered a fractured skull when he was slugged in front of the Statehouse. Boudreaux said he was struck from behind while being put out of the capitol by two men. He blamed political animosity.

 

The article above  appeared in the Abbeville Meridional on November 17 of 1934. Everyone knows what a highwayman is — an outlaw and a land pirate. The headline is fairly confrontational while the  legitimacy of the corrupt government itself is not directly challenged.  The truth is that Louisiana politics in general is now and always has been a pretty rough business. But most people agree that Huey Long was the toughest character to deal with in Louisiana politics since the period of Statehood.  His use of violence, corruption and intimidation were underreported.  Huey Long was one of his most visible and vocal opponents. The British Empire, the Union armies and a variety of other large opponents are part of the heritage of  opponents which Cajuns remember their ancestors opposing. Cajuns did not dream up and do not dream up reasons to be defensive. But neither is there any overly simplistic basis for all feelings of ethnic concern.  Earlier in this text I put forward a brief allusion to evidence (which I believe to be substantial) that the ku Klux Klan was at the very least influenced by Cajun institutions and associations at it inception and in its early days. However, that does not mean that the Klan was not seen as a threat by the Cajuns of the Dudley Leblanc era along with many other threats. The following is an excerpt shortened mostly because of places where the text was problematic for physical reasons rather than for content. During the time when Dudley leblanc was directly facing other issues the Meridional which covered him faithfully was also reporting on the matters related to the Klan in the region. Very little of the topic appeared in the Meridional compared to other matters which were related to ongoing  conflict but the discussion that does appear is worth noting..

 

A STALE TOPIC

For a long time the Ku Klux Klan question has practically been ignored by the leading local papers of the state, but the recent statements of  R I. Thompson, at a Klan initiation near Baton Rouge, has partially revived the discussion. ….Thompson reasserted the ancient fallacies of the hooded order “The Klan does not believe in religious prejudices …. but the Klan is a fraternal structure it has no negro members ‘ The Klan is a Christian order therefore no Jews are admitted ” “The Klan is an American order. Therefore no Catholics could be admitted, because the Catholics owe allegiance to a foreign power, and therefore are not American in the Klan’s understanding of the word ” Wise qualification–“Klan’s understanding ” Of course if that is the honest “understanding” of the Klansmen it is their American privilege to so understand. We are ready to excuse the ignorant member of the order, who follows the lead of unscrupulous stump speakers, but how a man of Thompson’s supposed intelligence can voice such idiotic statements is one of the mysteries we are unable to solve. By the above statement as well as several others Mr Thompson qualifies for a special niche in the Menckenian category of “dull and dangerous asses.” We are very sorry to have to touch on this disagreeable subject again but we pride ourselves on letting it down easy…

 

It is not easy to write this text from the position which I take as a fifty one year old man who has done a good bit of living but it has proven impossible to complete it earlier. I think it would not only be dishonest but pointless for me to attempt to write this text as though it  seemed likely that was going to witness a golden age of Cajun wellbeing, or that I thought things in America were really going very well or that I believed that all in all the world was making excellent progress in all the most important ways.  So it is that I do not see the end of struggle for ethnic identity and the preservation and perfection of a sense of community as being a process that will be likely to end either. The question of American identity posed by the Klan is not one which this text has sought to avoid although it has not centered on what constitutes the nature of Roman Catholicism. I started with the clipping about the birthday party in part because it allows a chance to see that whatever struggle may typify much of Cajun experience in the United States it is not an entirely strident and directly confrontational struggle. Cajuns do not live lives in which ethnic interests and mainstream interests are always pitted against one another, It is not a community that alway seeks to see  things in stark confrontational terms even when it  would be possible to see things that way. Below is an example of one struggle handled by Dudley Leblanc and reported by the Meridional. There was an article introducing and explaining the context of his open letter but only the letter is reproduced below because it gives a voice to Dudley Leblanc in a manner which is one of the objectives of this Chapter.

.
LOUISIANA PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION

Sept. 12th, 1929.

Abbeville Meridional, Abbeville, La;

Gentlemen,’ You will probably be interested in knowing that I have had the train schedule restored. The schedule was changed without consent or approval of the Commission and  it has been; a pleasure for me to be of some assistance to the good people of Abbeville. There will be a formal hearing in the near future, probably at Abbeville, where both sides of the question can be heard before a member of the Commission and the case will then be decided as to whether the schedule will be changed or left as it is now.

With kind regards and best wishes, I remain,

Very truly yours,

Dudley J. Leblanc

 

In all of his political career Leblanc was fully engaged in real struggles for a better quality of life for his community and these struggles were not couched in terms of ethnic confrontation most of the time.

 

But the Cajuns are and always have been devoted to the American experience and identity even during the long spell between about 1875 and 1940 when most Cajuns only called themselves Americans in a legal or very formal and explicit context. Nonetheless, in all those years there was an effort to merge effectively with each era of American institutions. But the Cajun vision of America did not always resemble the mainstream vision very closely: Nonetheless, in understanding a man like Dudley Leblanc it is useful to understand this desire to  succeed as a true American and to see Cajuns succeed as true Americans. This second glimpse from the Meridional shows that aspect of Leblanc and of Cajun life as well. It does so in a subtle and not very flag-waving kind of way.

 

DUDLEY LEBLANC NAMED. ON LAFAYETTE BOARD

Lafayette, La.—Announcement of the election of 12 directors of the reorganized Lafayette Chamber of Commerce was made at a meeting last Thursday night at the courthouse. The board, which will meet soon to name officers, is composed of E. E. Soulier, Mike Donlon, J. J. Davidson, Jr., Dudley J. LeBlanc, T. M. Callahan, A. F. Boustany, Dr. L. O. Clark, E- E. McMillan, Donald Labbe, A. M. Bujard, Felix H. Mouton, and J. L. Fletcher.

The Chamber of Commerce in Lafayette at that time and in any part of the united States at any time is an institution devoted to the relatively optimistic pursuit of commerce, development and well being in the context of  the commercially viable and economically vibrant United States of America. Dudley Leblanc who was not less an ethnic activist than many other form better known communities, was also a member of the Chamber of Commerce and accepted most of its values and vision for America.

 

Acadiana had never been isolated in the sense that a handful of places are. Rather it had always been a place of commerce, change and  migration since the time the first Cajuns began to emerge as such. In this text one of the challenges has been to try to show an ethnic community which is in continuous change within a larger American social and cultural context. Dudley J. Leblanc was a voice for the region and also for the Cajun people. It is important to understand the totality of his involvement in the issues of his time and the life of the state and the region.  The questions of whether he lived in better  times or worse for the Cajuns and for this region cannot be answered fully here. But to the degree that this text sees him as an influence over the SONJ Projects and over the region that they came to document  he must be properly understood or nothing much is gained by way of understanding in  referring to his influence.  In earlier chapters the work of Leblanc as regard Cajun identity  has been the only focus of discussion in this regard and some brief applications of that aspect of his life and work to the film Louisiana Story. But a great deal more remains to be discussed if he is to be at all understood.

 

One fact worth remembering is that Dudley Leblanc had a large set of connections across the nation and the globe. Merely to catalogue these would take a great while. But his core constituents were kept abreast of many of his contacts through the local press. For every two Cajun associations with a specific quality he had two that were about some other aspect of what he saw as the real American fabric of life.  

 

TBA Celebrates Thirteenth Anniversary

Celebrating the thirteenth anniversary of the TBA  American Benefit Association, a number of persons were guests of Dudley J. Leblanc at a delightful party at the Edgewater Club near Lafayette.  Formerly known as the TBA Benevolent Association, and operating mostly in Louisiana, the TBA American Benefit Association has enlarged its scope until now it operates in practically every state in the United States. The main offices are located in Lafayette. President Leblanc of this association is a native of Vermilion Parish and a resident of Abbeville.

 

As Dudley Leblanc’s life progressed his political career became one of his most distinguishing endeavors. It would grow apace with his business ventures. Space will not allow me to reproduce the more colorful and perhaps pandering advertisements announcing some other candidates efforts to be elected to various posts but the announcements by Leblanc like much of his life were characterized by a simple and straightforward manner.  

 

I hereby announce myself as a ‘candidate.’for the House of Representatives from the Parish of Vermilion subject to the Democratic primary of 1924. Your vote and support is respectfully solicited. Dudley J. Leblanc

 

I hereby, announce myself as a candidate for the House of Representatives from the Parish of Vermilion subject to the Democratic primary of 1924. Your vote and support is respectfully solicited. Dudley J. LeBlanc

 

Dudley Leblanc did not take long to become involved in controversy as a representative in the state legislature.  His Leblanc Warehousing Bill was an effort to attack a host of ills and was much supported and much opposed and fully controverted and the storm of controversy seems to have not made any dent in the resolutions of this very new political figure.
Cliipings were passed around the local papers more in those days and a great deal of recopying of letters, editorials and press releases occurred in relation to all this. Rice millers organized to oppose his bill and the efforts with it to increase the rights and security of farmers. “We are in receipt of a communication from Mr. H I. Gueydan, of Crowley, also forwarded to Mr LeBlanc, vigorously protesting against the Warehouse Bill introduced by Mr. Le Blanc in the present session of the State Legislature. The clipping from The Acadian …. we  it are reproducing m this issue,” A sort of semi editorial in the Meridional would begin that way. At another point  the Meridional would report:  “This is the letter of Mr. Gueydan to the Meridional, and Mr. LeBlanc in regard to the bill. Personally we know very Iittle about the matter….” The local press seemed overall to have started off fairly certain that  Dudley Leblanc would fail to sustain his solidarity with the Rice farmers in the face of the organized opposition he met.  The fact that other states were using similar provisions did not persuade opponents that his concepts would prevail. Probably some of them were motivated and formed in their thoughts by hatred and contempt for Cajuns who predominated among rice farmers but the language was tempered and a name that was at least somewhat local and French was usually attached to opposition propaganda. An example of a letter printed in those days is excerpted here:  “Mr. LeBlanc points out that certain similar laws have been in existence in various other states for a number of years where what is pursued in this bill has proved advantageous to the farmers. Questions have arisen as to the the similarity of those laws with the bill presented by Mr. LeBlanc and also to the amount of good they have accomplished. .We are convinced, however that the State should operate with as few commissions os possible… .we are fast drifting into a condition amounting to government by commission. There is the possibility of a commission of this sort becoming so well ‘set’ as to work a vast amount of harm, and. bid defiance to those who would seek to dislodge it. And if the farmer ultimately pays the bill for this warehouse service will his condition be bettered to any perceptible degree? …  As Mr. LeBlanc has so ably pointed out, our present system is beset with many evils, at a minimum: Farmers at times suffer rank injustice in the disposal or their rice, but is it true that the bill proposed would remedy all this—or would it make matters worse?  All we can do is to hope and pray that the right will prevail. We are sure of one thing and that Is that Mr. LeBlanc has the interest of the farmer at heart, that it is his honest belief that this bill will work to their benefit. I am convinced that this Bill would work farther expenses on the rice farmer, and would be a Godsend to rice graders.  Mr. Dudley LeBlanc would hurt the very ones he wishes to benefit. … There is a fair amount of the most offensive forms of condescension in the tone of this letter. But Leblanc would not in this or any other significant instance be pushed aside by people who perhaps held him in low regard at least partly because of his ethnicity

 

The Meridional reported some of the efforts to oppose Leblanc. Politics were fierce even when they were not corrupt and violent:

 

VIGOROUS PROTEST IS RAISED BY LOCAL RICE MEN OVER LEBLANC BILL

Local  Warehousemen  United in Meeting. to Kill the Bill; Other Crowley men joined Mr. H. L. Gueydan today in the vigorous fight against the warehousing bill introduced by .Representative Dudley J. LeBlanc  of Vermilion Parish, creating a new commission and  requiring every public rice warehouse to furnish a public rice grader at a salary of not under $150.00 and which would force each warehouse to pay a  license fee of $10 annually for every two feet of floor space, payable in advance and also other objectionable requirements of the LeBlanc Warehouse Bill.

 

Dudley LeBlanc responded articulately in my opinion and his struggle is real but not excessively confrontational in tone or manner: Elsewhere his words appear as follows

“It s not my intent to hope for radical change  nor is it my intention to have the Legislature enact laws that  will prove detrimental to some of our business interests.  I would certainly prefer not to make any enemies, but I fail to understand how men who are supposed to be interested in the rice industry can conscientiously say- that such a measure would hurt the rice farmers “In some of the country papers in the rice district, there is now some opposition but this opposition comes from the mouthpieces of corporate interests. Some have seen fit to criticize the minor details of this measure and have •endeavored to make it appear that it would work against the interest of the rice farmer Every Insignificant detail can be worked out satisfactorilv to me. provided, of course, that the principle of the Bill is left intact and that the measure carries with it a degree of relief to our poor oppressed rice producers “It is estimated, as a matter, of explanation, that the total amount of money to be expended bv a rice producer would be five cents a sack of 200 pounds in order to obtain this rice. There is no additional expense entailed — neither on the Parish nor on the State and neither the warehouseman nor the rice mill would he called upon to put out any money since this five cents per sack would cover the entire expense. Every intelligent person realizes that due to the fact that many of our farmers are uneducated, They are not in a position to market their product’ intelligently. This Bill provides the proper assistance and enables the farmer to market his product in a similar position with the grain grower in other grain growing states.”.

 

Over various issues of several local papers Leblanc made his case and explained what the Bill did and did not required. Here are some of his words: “It requires every warehouse to be licensed and bonded and to furnish a public fee grade for a length of time after it is stored in said warehouse. It  requires the warehouseman to issue a reliable receipt showing the exact  grade or quality of his rice with the percentage of each grade or quality to the farmer storing his rice on each trip to the rice grader — appointed by the created Commission will by this new measure  enable the farmer  to know exactly the grade and quality of his products and with this knowledge, he will be in a better position to sell his rice. This will eliminate the possibilities of the big man  using undue influence and will help the regular fellow.  In the event that the farmer wants to obtain a little loan on the crop to deal with corresponding expenses and does not want to sell it at  that particular time, a receipt can serve as security for the stated amount of sale to get a loan through any bank…..”

 

The fact is that whether in helping to create the State Park system, build his business or interact with Robert Flaherty as with his opposition to Huey Long Dudley Leblanc was a deeply devoted ethnic Cajun. He however used the term Acadian almost exclusively. We will return to other aspects of his life before reaching the end of this text and have already discussed him before but it is important to know what he meant to the Abbeville in which the SONJ  folks centered their work in Acadiana. He described his early service as a State Representative: “During my campaign for member of the House of Representatives I made certain political pledges to my people which I have endeavored to faithfully keep; My people are to a certain extent very much oppressed. The Parish of Vermilion is an agricultural parish and the farmers have expected this administration to give them some relief. I have endeavored to the best of my ability to enact laws and which would carry to the aggrieved  farmers some degree …

 

Dudley and Evelyn were building all aspects of the Cajun ideal of leadership and that meant  growing a family in March 14, 1925 a birth announcement for their son appeared in the Meridional. Nine years later the little boy is in the papers again for a festive occurrence called the

“Queen of Hearts” at Mount Carmel Elementary School where  Dudley J. Leblanc Junior received a second prize reported in the Meridional. February 17, 1934… He also played golf with neighbors of all ethnicities among whites and in at least one tournament the honorable Dudley J. Leblanc, who on the course was just “Dudley”, took second honors.

 

These are mere glimpses into the life of Dudley Leblanc. The influence he had in the region had not declined substantially by the mid 1940s. He had never successfully organized the trappers around himself across South Louisiana and  by the time Harnett Kane’s book came out they had lost several struggles especially in the southeastern section of the State. Flaherty and Standard Oil could possibly see them benefiting from the coming of the oil industry. But Dudley Leblanc’s rice farmers would benefit far more often than the trappers as more of them had more land in most cases.
While the last chapter was the lion’s share of the reportage on the film Louisiana Story this chapter is a tiny sampling the reportage on the story told by Dudley Leblanc for and about the people of his part of Louisiana especially. It was Harnett Kane and not Dudley Leblanc whom the documentarians were predisposed to pay attention to in covering the Cajuns. Dudley Leblanc had established himself as a voice for the Cajuns in all the ways described in earlier chapter and in countless ways vaguely suggested in this chapter. But it was not his voice that those who had the privilege of informing mainstream America were likely to seek out. Kane was a better man and a better writer than many, but the reliance on his text to the exclusion of Dudley Leblanc’s  point of view is inexcusable. Only Flaherty really absorbs some of it and barely gets some credit here for that.  The business of American understanding has its own shame and corrupt  inner processes even as it has been known for exposing corruption and insider dealing elsewhere in American society.  Leblanc could have contributed a lot more to the discussion in the FSA documentary period and in the SONJ period. To evaluate documentaries and reporting I think an historian must consider what they leave out and under represent as well as what they do shot, write, publish and exhibit…

Emerging Views: Chapter Eleven The Movie at the Dixie as it Was

This posting of this chapter raises a few issues for me. Not the least of these issues is that Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen are still not ready to be posted and chapter fourteen will be ready before Chapter Thirteen. So my little serialization system is about to experience some more strain than it already has. Secondly it is time to post a few more bits of accompanying information for those who are not  reading this right now but may in one of the unpredictable future upswings in readership which this blog occasionally enjoys. Below is a map to more or less remind or inform people of what the Acaidana region is.

 

More or less what Acadian means to those who do not know...

More or less what Acadiana means to those who do not know…

But this post brings up more than this  map relates to — at least directly. Here below is one of my grandmother’s pictures of a period before the film premiere and painted long after the film premiere. But it does address issues of cultural relevance and give a little more context to the discussion.

 

My great grandmother painted glimpses of Cajun life -- this is one of those.

My great grandmother painted glimpses of Cajun life — this is one of those.

So we come to a chapter that shows how the local community responded to the premiere of Louisiana Story. I hope that it is informative and entertaining to at least some reader and a bit more to an even smaller set of people.

This is a glimpse of how the black and white film was presented to the world. The local papers ran black and white promotional and reporting spreads.

This is a glimpse of how the black and white film was presented to the world. The local papers ran black and white promotional and reporting spreads.

 

Here is a pdf version of the text: EmergingViewsChapterElevenTheMovieattheDixieasitWas (1)

Here is the text itself:

Chapter Eleven:

The Movie at the Dixie as it Was

 

The previous chapter tried to see the premiere of Louisiana Story in the context of history and in the relevance it has to our own times. In doing so a few liberties were taken with the normal conventions for an historical narrative. There was no premiere at the Frank’s. The premiere was held at the Dixie which in time became the Frank’s Theater. It was not held in 1948 which is the official date of release but early in 1949. The two chapters are meant to illustrate also the problems with what I call folkloristic evidence. There is no doubt that people not old enough to be there who do have a memory — in the folklorisitic sense — of the film remember it being at the Frank’s in 1948. There are some who have better data and some worse. But such memories are not rendered entirely worthless. The building known as the Frank’s today is indeed the spot and 1948 is the place to find the film on most lists arranged by year.   This chapter seeks to look at the premiere of the film as it was viewed and understood at the time, also to provide a kind of plain and straightforward narrative history of the film as it was perceived although not in great detail nor exhaustively. It does not seek to apologize for the fact that it has been perceived through an evolving lens. It only seeks to balance that view with one more restricted to the known responses of people to the film at the time. It especially looks at the response of local journalists and the interviews they did with local people whose own words about the film have not appeared much in this text so far. This work of history is obviously more personal than most works of academic history and the people and places make up a framework of the writer’s life. In addition, the time and delays involved in the production of the text give it a certain quality of intimacy that may not be ideal but cannot be avoided. My own experience with the Abbeville Meridional newspaper is very extensive — I have been featured in it, read it and been employed by it on far too many occasions to discuss here. That is for the reader to bear in mind.  Clearly, I think that a great deal of academic objectivity is brought to all the varied sources relied upon by this text and to the questions raised in pursuing its arguments and narrative. But the reader will have to evaluate that for him or herself.

 

The masthead under which the coverage appeared was different than than of today but similar and familiar as well. Today’s masthead states that the paper is “The Voice of Vermilion Parish, The Most Cajun Place on Earth”. In those days it merely said: “ABBEVILLE MERIDIONALOLDEST CONTINUOUS BUSINESS IN VERMILION PARISH ABBEVILLE, LOUISIANA, SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 1949 LEADING NEWSPAPER OF VERMILION PARISH SINOE 1856 NO; 8 “

   

There were two articles on the front page in that issue but deeper inside was an extravagant full page pictorial spread that told readers it would be at the Dixie Theater from the next day, Sunday, February 20, 1949 to the following Thursday. The newspaper also had a regular advertisement for its films which showed too mainstream films playing as a double feature on Friday and Saturday which were its biggest money making days. That same advertisement did however give the “Southern Premiere” of Louisiana Story bigger billing than either of the other two films. But in addition to being extravagant for such a spread in this particular paper it has the following telling lines on the side among others:|

Showing In The South A GEM! Abbeville has been chosen as the “Premiere City for this great film, LOUISIANA STORY, because it was filmed here and stars Vermilion Parish people. It’s- film is the everyday story your friends and your relatives.

 

The pictorial spread shows review snippets from the New York Times, Life Magazine and other sources. The celebration of the film as everyday life is very telling. It is not clear if the writer of those lines had seen the film but it has some significance in any case. It was a Saturday issue and in Louisiana to be classified as a daily one need only publish five papers a week. That is what the Meridional has done for a while including at the time of this writing. Today there is no Saturday or Monday issue but in those days the Saturday issue came out regularly and this was one of those issues. There were at least two articles about the film on the first page and may have been a mention elsewhere that has escaped my research.

The first and more background oriented article begins; with a montage of photographs described as follows:

Filmed entirely in the marshes of Vermilion, Iberia and Lafayette parishes, “Louisiana Story” has as its stars Joseph Boudreaux of Cameron parish and Lionel LeBlanc of Abbeville. Scenes reproduced from the picture show Mr. LeBlanc, above, looking into the sky, Joseph talking with Frank Hardy, an oil worker, left, and fondling his pet raccoon, top left.

This little detail is significant because photo essays are expensive and time-consuming  for small community papers and this would not be the last to be placed in the paper related to this film. This article goes on:

Louisiana Story’s Lionel LeBlanc — Abbeville’s own movie star, came to our office Tuesday, sat down in our chair and told us how much he enjoyed making “Louisiana Story”. “It’s too bad we didn’t meet 20 years ago,” he quoted Producer-Director Robert Flaherty as telling him, “because we could have done great things together.” LeBlanc, who is now 65 years old and .’almost* past the times when he could spend days and days bogging through the marsh country, says that, despite his age, he didn’t find the filming of the story, too rigorous a job “Times have changed since I first went into the marshes. Then it ‘was work to kill an alligator, but now my four sons, all of whom are trappers, can drive their boats with ‘motor paddles’ right up to where the ‘gator is,” the Louisiana Story actor remembers. “Then all they have to do is shoot him and drag him into the boat.”

 

The personal tone is typical perhaps of Southern rural newspapers and even small American newspapers but it is especially true of the Cajun rural community press.  The story about how much harder life was when he was young than it is for the pampered trappers of the modern era is also an old Cajun tradition which resonates no doubt among cowboys, loggers and lobstermen of other American rural ethnicities. The article continues to let the reader get to know more about this man lifted to the movie screens which Cajuns generally liked and admired.

 

LeBlanc killed his last alligator 10 years ago. He now handles E. A. Mcllhenny’s trapping ranch • and has been doing that work for 20 years. It was through Mr. Mcllhenny that Mr. LeBlanc was discovered by the film producer. He reports that Mr. Flaherty asked the fur ranch owner where he could find a man who knew the marshes and who looked like and was a fur trapper,  Abbeville’s star, whose home is on Maude Avenue, remembers one bad experience during the filming of the movie.

 

In the days of the film Abbeville had racial segregation of housing. Today Maude Avenue is made up of some white families, some Vietnamese families and is largely an African- American (with the distinct cultural mix that still exists to a fading degree among African Americans in Acadiana) middle class neighborhood. In those days it was a neighborhood of the prosperous white working class. Nothing fancy but a good place to live from which a daughter or son might contend for a place in what economically based social strata existed in the parish not as an equal but above a few other neighborhoods in a town which did note such things.  After this implied bit of social introduction and orientation as to who Lionel Leblanc is in the community, the Meridional gives a brief passage a chance to relate the worlds of trapping and movie-making as they coexist in this new moment of history. Here it is worth repeating the last half of the last sentence.

 

… Abbeville’s star, whose home is on Maude Avenue, remembers one bad experience during the filming of the movie.

He and a crew of others went out into the marshes on a “marsh buggy” which bogged down. LeBlanc and the crew had to walk several miles to get out of the swamp. Mr. LeBlanc smiles as he remembers that the producer, who is about 65, wanted to make the trip with them. With his knowledge of the danger in the swamp and the weaknesses of all man-made attempts to tame the swamps, he adds that “Mr. Flaherty might not have gotten out because you have to know how to ‘walk the marshes’ “.

 

Walking the marshes is no joke. Harnett T. Kane has a passage in his influential book in these projects about walking what I was raised to call Flotant  and there so many risks they literally could fill a chapter very neatly.  The marshes and swamps are beautiful and abundant but they offer more risks than a stranger can usually even properly imagine. Flaherty of course was no ordinary stranger but a man who had put new lands into the world’s maps.  Yet the trapper, who clearly liked Flaherty just fine knows the man was not ready for that environment in the time of preparation allowed in a shooting schedule. Trappers walk the marsh — almost nobody else does. Native Americans rarely did and more as proof of manliness under grave risk than as a livelihood. Hunters, fishermen, ranchers and oilmen may boast of having done so a few times now and then and they do so usually with a lot of bravado in the telling. But for the true trapper it is a matter of daily life and daily bread. The Meridional knows that many of the parish’s young people of greater advantages would in many cases dream of being movie stars and they have catered to such interests in varied ways over decades. Therefore, they explore what the unlikely local hero of the glamorous industry has to say about life on film.

 

When asked if he intended continuing in the movies, Mr. LeBlanc said, an emphatic “no”. He says that he will continue to trap however, in this, however, he also is a bit discouraged. “Trapping isn’t as good now as it was. This season I have seen many go into the marshes and come out with their expenses on their backs.” But, at 65, he has the right to ‘hibernate’ at his home on Maude Avenue, and bask in his glory. There aren’t many who can become full-fledged movie stars after spending 64 years in the marshes of Louisiana.

 

There is a whole fabric of social cues in this brief article which cannot be spelled out without making too much of them but which the reader may be able to speculate upon after reading this text. The next article on the front page serves as an interesting framework and foundation for better understanding an earlier chapter about “Cajun Works”. Remember that the film industry has become rooted in this small place of small enterprises and the newspaper coverage shows that this work was begun as people took every advantage they could of the possible opportunities to make the moviemakers feel connected and welcome in this place. The next article is about the premiere itself.  It is reproduced in full below as it appeared.

 

Throngs Are Expected For Southern Premiere

 

The first premiere in the history of Abbeville will be held Sunday when “Louisiana Story,” a film depicting the encroachment of modern industry over trie fur trapper in his native marshes, opens here. State officials, representatives from nearby towns, stars of the film, representatives of the state press and a contingent from Life magazine

 

Robert Flaherty, producer and director, with his staff, will arrive by plane Friday and will remain through Sunday. Invitations have been extended to Governor Earl K. Long, the directors of various state departments, Mayor Delesseps Morrison, the mayors of Lafayette, New Iberia, and Crowley and to others. The film, which has been awarded several prizes for its excellence, was produced by Robert Flaherty under a grant from a major oil company. The veteran producer spent 14 months making it and maintained his headquarters at the Mettles home in Abbeville.

 

He picked the stars from the surrounding territory, Lionel LeBlanc, who lives on Maude avenue and is employed by E. A. Mcllhenny, was selected to play the part of the father in the film. Joseph Boudreaux, a native of Cameron parish, was cast in the roll of the son. It is around him and his experiences with the members of the oil company crew that is the basis for the story. But the film is more than the story of the boy and the oil country —it is the story of the adventure and the intrigue of bayou swamps, the marshes. The film was shot in the natural surrounding and depicts the marshes as they are. The ‘characters in the film are real, too. They are the trappers who have lived for generations on the bayous and have learned their ways of trapping the muskrat and mink from their fathers and grandfathers. Even the oil company men are taken from real life, many of  them being brought Abbeville from the different locations at which they are now working. Joseph Boudreaux, Lionel Le Blanc, Mrs. Evelyn Bienvenu, and Frank Hardy are coming for the premiere. The Chamber of Commerce and Civic organisations, along with the Abbeville Women’s Club, are planning to entertain Mr. Flaherty and the out-of-town visitors.. ,

 

The occasion is clearly anticipated as a major event in the small town. It is also true that not everyone is presumed to have been very closely following the production of the film prior to that point. Had the film been well covered in the Meridional prior to this front page coverage? The local paper certainly gives some indication of how the film crew were received.

 

Flaherty had received favorable press in the newspaper back in the 1930’s for Elephant Boy made in India and the admiring reviewer also lauded the earlier Man of Aran  when he praised this film. All of this preceded his coming to Abbeville or having any plans to do so for that matter. On Saturday July 12, 1947 the following piece appeared in the Meridional as reproduced below:

 

Film Production Unit Shoot 250,000 Feet Near Abbeville

Shooting schedules of “Louisiana Boy”,  a feature motion picture with a southwestern Louisiana background, were completed this week and the company of Robert Flaherty Productions from New York’ were preparing to head north again to complete technical finishing afj the 250,-000 feet of film made here. Flaherty, discoverer of Sabu; the Indian youngster who rose to stardom in “Elephant Boy” and other films, stated that he had spent approximately three months looking for a native Acadian’ boy to use as a star in the production, finally finding J. C. Boudreaux of Cameron, Louisiana on a lucky hunch by Mrs. Flaherty. Other native characters were found to fill supporting roles. Including Lionel. LeBlanc of Abbeville, well known trapper and fisherman of Vermilion Parish, where most of the scenes were laid. The film depicts the life of a ‘youngster of the Louisiana , marshes, and the change brought when the barge derricks of “oil survey crews begin to probe into the remote fastnesses of the swamp. The film shows many scenes of the lonely grandeur of the marshlands, and records the sounds of its amphibious Wildlife. Flaherty said that title ‘Louisiana Boy” was purely a working title, and that the film would probably appear under another name when released sometime in November 1947.

 

There may have been a bit more coverage of the filming process but not so very much more. The film was not as big of an event as the premiere. Some films had been made in part in the region but a film premiere was unheard of and  was received with a very warm welcome. The Saturday, February  26, 1949 running mostly in ENglish had a full page pictorial coverage of the premiere. It ran under the banner:

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 26, 1949 THE ABBEVILLE MERIDIONAL as usual and then in French  Vien ici ~~ mon Petit Salo-pri . The words loosely indicate that a call had come out to display Acadian heritage and that the people had responded. The chief manifestation was the much photographed buggy parade. The central brief article in this pictorial was  as is reproduced below:

They ‘hooked ole Dobbin to the shay’ last week and came to Abbeville to stage the now famous “Buggy Parade*’ to the Dixie Theater for the Southern Premiere of the movie “Louisiana Story.” Mr. and Mrs. Ulysse Hebert came in from Maurice in their buggy to lead the parade. They followed behind Police Officer Howard Guidry and Happy Flats the hillbilly singer, and a member of his band. Representatives from Life Magazine, from Time Magazine, from Harper’s Brothers Publishing company, and many local photographers started taking pictures and they couldn’t stop. When the buggies were unloaded and the crowd had filed into the theater, there had been more pictures taken in Abbeville than in any other one day in History. Uncle Nick Broussard of Erath, who traveled “many a mile in a buggy, arrived just in time to join the parade as it was going into it’s last lap. Co-chairmen of the parade were Corbette LeBlanc and Ernest Trahan of Maurice.

The future Buggy parades of Church Point may have owed something to this precedent and the totality of the event was clearly in the realm that has earned Cajuns a reputation for exuberant celebration among many Americans. However, to a Cajun there are other aspects to this story than mere exhilaration and the coming together in this way seems suitable to the event.  Nonetheless, it was clearly a big event that would long be remembered in the town.

 

What could be gleaned from the local press about the way the film itself was remembered and appreciated as a final complete work viewed and remembered? Here again it is useful to work through the limited text that exists in its complete totality. The March 5. 1949 article incorrectly names Frances Parkinson Keyes as Evelyn and has a few other problems typical of the overworked and understaffed quality of small papers. For while big city papers may have more pressure they also have more resources and so careless errors are ferreted out that a local rural writer carries into eternity on every piece even when they are not added in by other careless errors. The errors are as much the result of cares in many cases as they are of carelessness.

 

 

LOUISIANA STORY—A REVIEW Premiere Film Uses New Technique To Tell Story Of State Marshes

By Gene Yoes, Jr.

“Louisiana Story”, the great documentary film about the marshes ‘ of Louisiana and of Vermilion parish has come and gone. Behind it, it leaves some who did not appreciate the picture But the vast majority of those who saw the stirring film acclaim it as magnificent “Louisiana Story” is the recital of ‘ the life of an Acadian fur trapper’s  son—told through the all-seeing eyes of a camera It is a true to life story, a story that is happening every day in the marshes at our back door It shows the fur trapper’s son, played by young Boudreaux, as a child of nature almost untouched by the synthetic mechanized world we live in.

 

But, as the story develops, we see this child’s playground, the marshes, invaded by an oil exploration crew. We see the ordinary calm of his life, at first, disturbed, later altered, by the man-made machinery.’ Then, the oil company leaves. Left behind is a child who feels empty because of its departure!, but a child who very easily slips back into his normal, everyday way of life. Two of the most magnificent sequences in the film were presented without the use of words—a technique that is new, and many times as powerful as the shopworn phrases of Hollywood. After the oil well had “blown out” with dangerous underground gas and. water, the crew was waiting! for orders to move to another location The child, in his desire to keep his newly found friends from leaving, poured the contents of his evil-spirit-chasing-salt into the well to remove the “hex” that was causing the well to “blow out”. This dramatically demonstrated the change in the child, his acceptance  of this new mode of life. In the other sequence, the child was fondling his new rifle that his father had bought in the city. His pet raccoon, which he thought had been devoured by the alligator, returned. The child dropped his new rifle, and went to his coon. “Told” without the use of dialogue, this sequence powerfully shows the child as he rejects the mechanized world, the artificial world created by machinery, and returns to his native environment, to his native way of living. Some have said that the film gives a “bad impression” of this area of Louisiana, that it presents this area as a large swamp. But, we think that they may have missed the point of the story. At the beginning of the film, it is implicitly stated that the movie was made in one particular locale, Bayou Petit Anse.

 

It is true that the people of the Northern part of the United States may believe that all of Louisiana is a swamp. “Louisiana Story” will not change their opinion—no amount of films or stories can change them. But, after seeing this film, we are sure that the occupant of a penthouse on the richest ground in New York would gladly exchange his property for the property of John La-tour or any property in the marshes of Louisiana that are capable of spouting black, liquid gold. Robert Flaherty’s product was not an ordinary film—it was not’ made with the flourish that is typical of Hollywood films. For its locale, the producer picked the area around Bayou Petite Anse in Vermilion parish. For its star, Flaherty picked native Acadians—Lionel LeBlanc of Abbeville, Joseph Carl Boudreaux of Little Pecan Island.

 

The cost of the film was less than one-fourth that of a Hollywood production—but the film has been acclaimed as great by the New York Times, New York Post, New York Mirror, Harper’s Magazine, the Brooklyn Eagle, the New York Herald-Tribune, Life and Star. And the comments of many of those who saw the film here—Miss Evelyn Parkinson Keyes, (noted author), W. B. Cotten, Jr., (Baton Rouge), F. A. Godchaux, Sr., Mr. and Mrs. W. B. MacMillan, Mr. and Mrs. Matt Vernon (Daily Iberian), President and Mrs. Joel Fletcher of Southwestem Louisiana Institute, and many others echoed those reviews.

 

Boudreaux’s family had moved for Cameron to Little Pecan Island while he was making the film. He used the thousands of dollars he earned to buy the family a set of propane powered appliances.  Later he would continue to hunt alligators but would not be in films other than Louisiana Story; The Reverse Angle as himself.  Beyond that, one who has read up to this point should not need much explanation to follow this review. An opinion can be formed of how Southern, Cajun and rural American identity are interrelated in the minds of various people.

 

One of the questions in a book like this is whether a book mostly without presidents, armies and stacks of dead bodies deserves really to be an academic history at all. For this book aspires to a serious record of this film and these photographs and the people about whom they were made. But the fact of the lives of the actors does raise a question, if history is to really cover such apparently ordinary lives can it be history in the same way that a history of commanders in World War II is American history? The trivial details set in the Battle for Gettysburg are one thing, but should history take cognizance of the trivial details of daily life? That is the question which led me to show in earlier chapters all the ways I believe Cajun significance has been unfairly diminished in our history. If they deserve (or we deserve) real historical recognition then it will consist largely of ordinary people and events being described in stories of special significance. Not every story can be significant history and have those words mean much. But where the significant stories are Cajun the ordinary will usually predominate as a mode of experience.

 

The ordinary is a trait of Cajun and Acadian culture more than of most places. There is an extraordinary ordinariness about life among these people in some ways. Even those to whom they are very exotic note this as well. In that ordinary life things that are real and useful are seldom wasted. The premiere had much to offer the people of the region in terms of support for memory and recollection. A March 12, 1949 issue of the Meridional had this something still to say. It is reproduced in full on the following page

 

BUGGY PARADE’ FILM HAS FIRST SHOWING

On Monday night at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lionel LeBIanc, a film of the “Boggy Parade” was presented by Charles Nunes. The movie was made during the pre-premiere festivities of the “Louisiana Story” which had its Southern premiere here three weeks ago. Lionel leBlanc, a native of Abbeville, played one of the leading roles in the movie. He was chosen to play in the film because of his knowledge of the Southeast marshes. The “Buggy Parade” movie was made by Mr. Nunes from the sidewalk awning of the Audrey Hotel and from in front of the Dixie theater where “Louisiana 8tory” was shown. Attending the showing were Mr. Nunez, Mr. and Mrs. LeBIanc, Mr. and Mrs. Minos LeBIanc, Mr. and Mrs. .Gene-Yoes, as well as several children.

 

       

We will return before the last words of the conclusion to other written responses to this film among the Cajun people and the people of Abbeville. But in this brief chapter the bulk of the Meridional’s published response to the events related to the entire series of events related to the SONJ cinematic invasion has been reproduced. The photographs are not here and add a great deal. The struggle of different Americans to correctly perceive and understand one another is illustrated in these relatively few words. Not the only local paper to discuss these events the Meridional still deserves a chapter of its own. They give us the record not necessarily of the premiere at the Dixie as it was in any absolute sense as perhaps this chapter title might suggest — but at least how the film’s premiere was perceived in town and in the Parish as a whole at the time.

 

In segregating this particular source here I both show respect and a kind of mistrust. Community journalism has very real limits and shortcomings. I choose to expose the reader to this voice after having said some other things. Likewise differences in my perspective and those in these articles are more clearly and I  think fairly illustrated when the words are joined into a single compelling voice for whatever perspective the local newspaper represents.

 

Emerging Views: Chapter Ten, The Premiere at the Frank’s and the Years that Followed

This is one of the posts which is very different from the way things would be if this were and actual book.  If this were a proper book with an actual promotions budget which most readers had bought in advance or at least borrowed from a library that had bought it then I could let this chapter stand without mentioning the next chapter. But in this case I know that only a few readers are reading this text directly from the site at this time. A good portion of those few readers are reading as the texts appear in these blog posts. So it may be that some are relative experts on the local scene. If you are don’t get discouraged by possible inacuracies or near inaccuracies in this chapter’s account of the premiere of Louisiana Story.  The next chapter is a near companion piece and the two together make one more or less complete telling of the  story of the  long remembered premiere.

new courthouse clock going up in Abbeville... at the time of my last post...

new courthouse clock going up in Abbeville…
at the time of my last post…

The town has a life, a memory and a folklore, this book is in a sense a part of that as well. In the conclusion there will be more mention of yet another view of the premiere that has become part of our heritage and reality.  But in terms of this event, these two chapters should make things right in themselves.

 

The St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church Where I was baptized, made my First Communion and was wed.

The St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church Where I was baptized, made my First Communion and was wed.

I am typing this post at the Vermilion Parish Library Main Branch, also the Abbeville Branch which stands at the site of the Old Palms hospital. I wrote and article and took pictures and collected pictures for Bonnes Nouvelles describing both the library and the Palms and how these two histories come together.  In that story there were multiple points of view and multiple perspectives.that is the way history and time works its way out in our world. The Premiere discussed here was in a sense celebrated as a key event in Abbeville’s sesquicentennial.  That telling is the one highlighted in the conclusion.

 

Me in front of a Christmas lights nativity scene shot by one of the proprietors on my phone as I walked into the Donors Dinner.

Me in front of a Christmas lights nativity scene shot by one of the proprietors on my phone as I walked into the Donors Dinner.

But as I type this today, I simply urge the experts to accept what this chapter has to say but wait until the next chapter has been absorbed to come to a full judgement.

 

Palms Hotel & Hospital owned by great-grands, later grandmother &sibs

Palms Hotel & Hospital owned by great-grands, later grandmother &sibs

 

Here is the  Chapter in a pdf format: EmergingVIewsChapterTen

 

Here is the text itself:

Chapter Ten:

The Premiere at the Frank’s and the Years that Followed

 

While most people who arrived at the premiere of Louisiana Story either walked from nearby or arrived in automobiles one is impressed by the horses and buggies hitched and posted around the Frank’s Theater in the images of the premiere. There is something about a horse and buggy being driven to a movie premiere that is in itself noteworthy. Movies and automobiles seem to come together on to the world stage and we expect them to stay together.  In addition, there are no horses in Louisiana Story. Furthermore it was funded and largely produced by Standard Oil which depended on selling fuel for automobiles for much of its income. Horses as most readers will grasp consume very little gasoline. So the buggies at the premiere are worth a comment or two and there will be a few comments here about them.

 

However, the cars not in this picture were also part of this scene. Postwar Acadiana was everywhere changing even as it continued to be a place either backward or culturally conservative depending on one’s point of view. Or from this writer’s point of view a little bit of both. The world of the fictional Latour family was being affected by all sorts of change and some of it was of a more global nature and some of it was profoundly local.

 

Some might think that the life of a trapper remained much the same as long as the person remained a trapper but that is not necessarily the case. Trapping continues in Acadiana today. The same Nunez family that provided pelts and alligator skins for the film operates just such a business today. I spoke with them and took the photograph below in working on this  draft of this text.  There is no hitching post notable in front of the fur trading post in 2016. But there are places where horses could be hitched. Many alligator skins are farmed today, many come from the broad expanses of the Atchafalaya Swamp and then some do come from the harvest of alligators during the carefully managed hunting season. Alligator hunters discuss the decline of nutria  populations in Vermilion Parish and the impact that has on alligators. But in 1948 nutria pelts were the up and coming source of revenue for trappers in the region. Trapping was a more mainstream and less controversial part of life in those days. Today we live in a world where trappers and fur traders are more defensive about their way of life than was the case in those days.

 

The world depicted in the somewhat arranged swamp and marsh scenes in Louisiana Story had been changing in the years since the first camera had taken the first pre-production shots for the film had been taken. In the January 23, 1947 issue of the Jeff Davis Parish News there was coverage of a report to the Kiwanis Club. Earl Atwood of Lake Arthur was an employee United States Department of the Interior in its Department of Fish and WIldlife. The man was speaking about the growing importance of the species called coypu and nutria variously. In the 1945 to 1946 season the nutria pelt on the coypu held the sixth place in the number of pelts taken in Louisiana went to the more or less invasive species at 8,784 pelts in the trapping season. But according to Atwood the following season had led to an improvement in the rank of the number of pelts taken to fifth place and the market allowed those pelts to take fourth place in total money value for a species of fur-bearing animal. The nutria (as it is almost always called in Louisiana) had some impact on plague of invasive water hyacinths. Those were promising results for trappers oilmen and anyone else struggling to keep rural waterways open in those days.

 

In the January 18, 1945 issue of the Jeff Davis Parish News there had been reporting of the shutting down of camps which provided German prisoners of war as local farm labor to area farmers.  Four hundred hostile soldiers in that camp had then been returned to Camp Polk. The same process occurred elsewhere in Acadiana and Southwest Louisiana. The fabric of rural life no longer featured these exotic features. America’s own veterans returned to seek out a path forward in this as in many other parts of rural America. The oil industry would play a large role in forming the economic structure of rural Acadiana and its fringes from the very moment the war ended. Abbeville was a little East of Jeff Davis Parish and Iberia Parish was East of Abbeville But trapping farming and the oil industry were affected by these same very specific factors that got little national attention. People cared a good bit about  nutria and hyacinths and German POW farm labor. By 1948 the nutria had abated the worst of the hyacinth crisis despite it continuing negative effects to this day. By 1948 POWs were gone and for all practical purposes all the troops were home who would be coming home. Abbeville where the film would premiere was a postwar town in the definable postwar era locally and nationally.  

 

The postwar era if defined in almost any way that one might define it would not end in 1953. The year 1953 is chosen as the end of the period which is the direct focus of this study because it is the last year in which the Standard Oil of New Jersey documentary projects were working in Postwar Acadiana. Actually the date may be imperfect even for that standard but it is suggested by many of the most important and highly accessible sources. When this narrative arrives at the end of the year 1953 we just more or less magically stop without apology. But the postwar reality which had begun to take shape in 1945 was in full swing in 1948 when the film Robert Flaherty had made was exhibited at the Frank’s Theater in Abbeville.  The idea of a postwar era involves two smaller ideas forming a single complete idea. The idea is first that the war has ended and that is pretty well established in the case of World War Two to a higher and more certain degree than is the case with most wars. The second part of the realization of a postwar reality is the realization that the society, community, region and people being described as postwar entities are not merely the same as they were before the war. Rather they are somehow at least significantly transformed by having passed through the war. Louisiana Story was and is, I believe, a truly  postwar film. That reality is essential to all that it is. It has a great deal to say about a new stage for the oil industry and for the Cajun people and for the region after the end of the Second World War.  The transformations that had occurred during the war years were at a worldwide, a national and at smaller scales. Some of the transformations were directly related to the war, some were indirectly related and some were coincidental. But all of these transformations came together to create a single reality. That reality is what we have been describing as Postwar Acadiana.     

 

The house on Main Street had settled back into its existence as something other than a place to make movies. Robert and Frances Flaherty had completed their last real collaboration on the full and complete work of making a movie. His filmography was not yet complete but the last film would be an editing and reworking of an existing film far more than anything else. Louisiana Story had really brought their lives as married filmmakers to a close.  They had been busy promoting the film before its premiere and after the last edit and would continue in that mode for a while. Their agent and principal publicist for Flaherty productions always felt they were not getting enough money for the film in various deals they made with exhibitors and distributors. The Flahertys had been paid all along, they did not have to share any of the current and future proceeds with Standard Oil and they had been able to keep a film unit together under their command for a reasonably long time. People do and don’t become very rich for real reasons, in some ways it is not so different than having a talent for sports or music. The Flaherty’s had lived well, had made a movie that they were proud of, had built a further basis for their legacy, had unique ties to a major industry. It is really not surprising that they were not in the mood or of the mind to drive hard bargains for the money to be paid by exhibitors and distributors.

 

In the few years since the surrender of Japan on the ship in the waters joining the vast and far off Pacific Ocean life had changed on the Gulf Coast of the United States of America.  Abbeville, Acadiana and the rest of America had decisively and clearly moved from the wartime to the postwar American experience. While things were not yet as they would be in 1953 they were well on their way to that exact configuration of American life and society. The good and the bad of a really postwar way of life was making itself felt. The Louisiana Maneuvers which had trained so many men and some women for service in the U.S. Military during the Big One had involved an element of involvement by several colleges and universities in Louisiana. The funding and resources that came into the region at that time helped to remake Southwestern Louisiana Institute which was in Lafayette, Louisiana and now exists there as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Abbeville is its own Parish Seat in Vermilion. New Iberia and Lafayette are each larger cities that have their own Parishes: Iberia and Lafayette respectively. Lafayette is to the North of Abbeville and New Iberia is to the East. At the time of Flaherty’s residence the cities had about an equal influence over the town and Avery Island where they and their SONJ photography visitors traveled most often was almost in New Iberia. But Lafayette was on the way to being the much greater influence and that is true now although New Iberia remains a very important  neighboring seat of a neighboring parish.The postwar years brought back many men and a good number of women who had seen much of the world, achieved new skills and made more connections than they would have otherwises and all these factors contributed to dramatically accelerating the pace of life in south Louisiana. The oil business that SONJ was trying to promote and document was indeed growing rapidly, Lafayette which had already had SLI  was emerging as a significant medical and financial center. Students and returned military service personnel would be among those attending the premiere of Louisiana Story.

 

Mr. Joel Lafayette Fletcher the former Dean of the College of Agriculture at SLI, became the president of this institution of higher learning in 1941 just before the years at the center of our study at the onset of U.S.becoming fully engaged in World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Not ignoring the draft it is also true that a huge number of people rushed off to volunteer out of reasons not so different than those which caused recruiting to reach new heights  after the attacks of September 11, 2001. SLI had not had any really substantial military component to its institutions and so enrollment dropped both at very high rates and very suddenly. Fletcher had faced the prospect of presiding over the collapse of an institution starting with huge reductions in the number of faculty. Fletcher took action and with his academic vice president, Dr. Joseph Riehl, went to the nation’s capital and negotiated all that was necessary for the Navy to locate its V-12 and V-5 officer training programs at SLI. Among the results of all this change was the coming of recruits who were also athletes  as All-Americans from many colleges transferred to SLI in Lafayette, Louisiana. As the SONJ film and photography projects were getting underway SLI won the first Oil Bowl in 1943 with these players. During the war years and early postwar years this same institution organized a College of Engineering. Some of it had a military component and a great deal of it would be about preparing engineer for the oil industry and is service sectors even when the engineers were not petroleum engineers as many would eventually be. When World War II ended the school was associated with the Oil Bowl, had served as a major part of the war effort and was ready to provide engineers for the oil industry The school realized a further advance because of the war when it  purchased 108 units of veterans housing, buildings that became known as “Vet Village”. The tradition of military roles for schools that were not particularly military was well established in Acadiana. St. Charles College in Grand Coteau in St. Landry Parish was the first Jesuit College in the Southern United States. This school which combined a preparatory academy of high standards and an abbreviated University level curriculum was a key institution for the Cajun elite and others of means in the region during its tenure. It was where future Confederate General Alfred Mouton had studied before attending the US Military Academy at West Point, where future Louisiana Speaker of the House and District Judge Estilette studied before continuing on at Yale.  It had been a site for an army student company and a military radio course during World War Two. However St. Charles had closed after a fire in the early 1920s and one more connection to the golden era of Cajun Americanism in the late 1830s and the 1840s was lost. By the time World War II came around a period of real marginalization had preceded the changes brought about by that conflict. The fictional Latours really represented that marginalization in a strong way but one that people could identify with fairly well. Their feelings about the portrayal and the realities it represented might be complex but almost nobody doubted that the  oil industry offered the best chance forward for a culture and ethnic community that was not thriving economically to the degree it once had and which was showing other signs of strain. .

 

War of course is never off of the radar screen of the entire planet. The military cullture and the warlike conditions of the war years that had ended in 1945 and wrapped up in 1946 really had left a period of peace which was notable and profound in the Acadiana region. But there were seeds of the next war blooming and not all were oblivious to them. Yet it was already possible to guess that the next war would be huge and bloody but contained in the quiet and sense of restraint created by the unique Cold War conditions that were emerging. .  Korea was to be the next place where many men and some women would serve under their country’s arms and some would die for these United States of America. Korea had been  ruled by the Japanese Empire from 1910 and was one of the last foreign possessions rested from that dying and remade Empire in the 1945 and 1946 period when so much was happening around the world that defined the closing act on the real and bloody drama that was World War II. As part of that grand finale of struggle at a date later than many Americans would guess once this period faded into the past, that is in August 1945, the Soviet Union joined in on the great Pacific theater of the war as allowed by the defeat of Germany in  its very belligerent form as the Third Reich and  declared war on Japan. This Communist ally to the United States who was already becoming a potential adversary in Europe undertook these efforts with the understanding of the United States and by specific agreement with the United States occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel. After the first and only recorded events of atomic warfare and all else that was involved the  U.S. forces subsequently occupied the south and integrated a rule of the region tied to the rebuilding of the Philippines and most of all Japan which had surrendered. By 1948 when Louisiana Story premiered at the Frank’s, two separate governments had been set up on opposite sides of the agreed line. According to what all parties saw as the state of international law both the  government of the Soviet client state and the American client state believed the border dividing the country could not be permanent. Each of these countries claimed to be the legitimate government of Korea as a whole — with some willingness to consider accommodations of the other government’s claims and forms to some degree.. Cajuns like other American military personnel were already serving in a region offering signs of future conflict and a serious war at that. The Chinese Civil War was yet another strain in this growing symphony of tension and brewing violence likely to bring in the United States. But despite all of that this was a period of peace and hope in which the oil industry a path into the future and a new order distinctly different from the period before the Second World War or the period of that war. Louisiana Story was a good film for that sense of the likely trend of local events.

 

Postwar Acadiana was increasingly going to be an oil industry dominated Acadiana. Louisiana Story told a tale which many could relate to very well.  It may not have been the story of very many lives directly in the sense that a tiny percentage of Cajuns or Acadiana residents were trappers and not such a large percentage were landowners who signed oil leases. Yet nonetheless the film was very relatable and relevant in that it showed the oil industry bringing in the promise of a new prosperity. That was in itself a hugely important theme of everyday life and daily conversations.    When the film was exhibited it was not terribly hard to connect with local audiences. Horses and buggies and antique wagons nearly filled the town center as people chose to participate and show support for the event and the film that occasioned it. Cajuns were known for being the inhabitants of a part of the country where people kept their old buggies and related gear long after they had begun to rely on automobiles for daily transportation.

 

One of the realities of life in the Acadiana of the 1940s was that it was a society in which the horse which is absent from the film Louisiana Story still played an important role. The horse was still truly useful for working cattle and is still of some use in that regard. However, it had even more usefulness in other areas of life which focussed on ritual and recreation. Horses of course do not burn petroleum based fuels and that may explain why although they are not absent from the SONJ documentary projects they are very little represented there.

 

The role of Cajun quarter horse racing in shaping the cultural landscape is among the greatest realities in recreational life of the 1940s and fifties. The roots of these events and the impact they had on the larger world of quarter horse racing also revealed a number of realities within the evolving culture of Acadiana which addressed a set of circumstances that were in themselves due to change. The horse was a mode of transit on and between farms especially for young people when the family automobile and tractors were engaged in the business of farming. The word Cajun had by force of varied circumstances come to have multiple meanings even in the Acadiana region itself and some people grew up especially as white creoles with no blood ties or marital ties to the ethnic community and no grounding in its folklore or associations who believed that they were Cajuns because they spoke French and lived in Louisiana’s Acadiana region and were Catholics this was emphasized by the influence of the outside world calling all such people Cajuns in many newspaper and other media outlets. In addition the Cajuns did have many countless ties to the White Creoles in the community’s vicinity and were not eager to be too earnest in excluding them. The larger world began to associate many of the most rural and poorest people with being Cajun and very often those people were not at all Cajuns. In fact though poor and very rural Cajuns did exist they might or might not differ sharply from those held up as examples of the group by the incredibly misguided flounderings around of the mainstream consciousness. The Cajuns did really do a lot of ritual horseback riding and bring to the  to the areas near the community many racing events and venues. So did some of their neighbors. But among other things the Cajun horseracing world was a form of employment for the most needy young boys and men and a handful of girls as well.

 

Much like trapping , jockeying offered a life at the edges of a society that was not all that likely to offer many opportunities. Some people made a really “excellent living” at trapping to use the term Helen Van Dongen used to describe Lionel Leblanc who portrayed the trapper Latour. Such people like Leblanc usually had a whole series of enterprises besides trapping to engage their energies and fill their hours or as in the case of Leblanc had a single job or regular position which allowed them to trap as well. A few became fur buyers and brokers and of those a few got rich rich. The abundance of the nutria, the rising market for furs in a world recovering from the austerity of war and many other factors contributed to the sense of hope that trappers had for prosperity. Into all this mix the oil industry in real life as in the film Louisiana Story offered a few new chances for a good livelihood.  Even a new canal or a an improved waterway in the vast marshes could make the lives of some number of trappers substantially easier. It was also noted fairly early on that the alligator benefitted from the rise of the nutria population. The alligators also controlled what was already coming to be recognized as the real risks and dangers associated with a large nutria population. While the muskrat built a kind of artificial island nest and was a small animal the nutria was much bigger and burrowed into natural and man-made levees which joined with emerging oil activity to disrupt water and drainage patterns. This whole set of pressures on the marsh seemed to be creating more understanding of fur trapping and alligator hunting — both of which were often done by the same people as in the film. The sense of the way that these pressures would join with other emerging pressures to really challenge the fur trapping industry was not yet very manifest to everyone involved in the newly emerging economic situation in the marsh. People who might attend a premiere of a film in Abbeville were interested in fur trapping and felt as much connected to it almost as to the oil industry. Both industries were relevant to their daily lives.

 

The horse racing, breeding, cattle working and other industries of the Cajuns and of Acadian were significant. Throroughbreds get more attention for many reasons but in the world of quarter horses many prizes and titles were associated with this very unique section of a very rural environment. The world of major thoroughbred racing has continued to feel the impact of Acadian’s jockeys in recent decades as such greats as Calvin Borel, Shane Sellers , Randy Romero and Kent Desormeaux have created an almost incredible record in that more international, national and glamorous sport. All had deep roots in the races dominated by quarterhorse contests which have for generations filled the rural areas of Acadiana. Today these tracks may be in decline (although how seriously is hard to say) but in 1948 they were very much a going concern. Horses then which appeared outside the premiere in 1948 were very much a symbol of the Cajuns and Acadiana. Of course horses have been symbols of many peoples and countries. In fact that is probably why unlike the Russian bear, the English Lion, the American Eagle and so forth they do not stick. They are real and powerful symbols and images and realities for many peoples and so they do not come to be associated with one people. If there is an animal that now must recognizably is associated with Cajuns it is the lowly crawfish. A distant second would be the alligator.  But the horse has always been very important and even now continues to be relatively important. The traditional length for a rural race in Acadiana is four arpents (quatres arpents). The arpent is 64 yards. The original yards would have been slightly different from the yards in the American system of measure and on real estate transactions this all led to confusion. However, in the racing world the standard American yard had been completely adopted by 1948. The riding of horses also at the heart of much of traditional identity.

 

The jockeys that made their livings and rose to some sort of prosperity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were often the most malnourished young boys whose families were perhaps genetically small but also did not have enough to eat. They started off earning enough to get a few meals for themselves and their families and perhaps some would gain enough weight to be disqualified from greatness. The rare combination of malnutrition, genetic smallness and coming to manhood without getting big but while growing in reputation, skill and business savvy laid the foundation for a successful jockey of the era between the 1860s and 1948. But the great rewards of the recent batch of professionals did not exist. Likewise Cajun rodeo cowboys were around and could supplement an income with skills used in ranching and the life of the old vacherie.  However, this life was not built on the shadows which haunted the jockey culture but neither were Cajun cowboys extremely successful in the world of rodeo. There were plenty who were somewhat successful and there were a handful who were very successful but there was not kind of institutional dominance which united the Jim Boudreaux, Kenny and Jim Bergeron and Ernest Theriot with others in creating a kind of dynastic tradition atop the sport.

 

In addition the equivalent of the smallest bush races was more like the informal rodeos after a local cattle drive or roundup. That kind of activity fed and defined the local culture and had a lot to do with shaping local life and values but it did not make as good a basis for a larger connection with society as a whole. It made for a world where the skills of the cowboy were tied to the business of raising beef and breeding horses almost entirely.     

 

The buggies that appeared at the Frank’s were part of a dying breed. 1955 is a year that folklorisitically and generally speaking one could say and people did say (as confirmed by the Buggy Festival materials online) that almost all regular use of buggies as transportation in Cajun towns effectively ended. In 1961 Church Point Louisiana, which preserved a mounted Courire  with mounted Mardi Gras riders when changing torts law made it more rare also chartered and organized a Buggy Festival where  antique buggies were preserved and paraded.  The horse played many roles in  Acadiana. Horse breeding accomplishments have been significant. Lynn Richard’s book A History of Cajun Quarter Horse Racing has done a decent job of documenting the achievements of these local breeders, trainers and jockeys and the fans who supported them in achieving national, regional and even international excellence. The stock used for racing bled its way into the farms and ranches of the region. The sense of communal economy was both real and promoted in this culture. Acadiana does not manufacture cars and trucks.  All the dealerships, mechanics and roads in the region will not allow it to participate in the car based economy in the way that it could participate in the  horse industry.

 

The new Postwar era of increasingly worldwide oil and petroleum was a set of opportunities that Cajuns wished to participate in as much as they could. However, it was also a period of many risks. The Cajun rancher could control the herd of horses and make their future and current plans adapt to current conditions. Like many other aspects of life the role of the small town and the common man in the coming years seemed likely to be more passive.  But Louisiana Story told a true story of  trappers given a new security by the newly confident industry.  This was set around fictional events but it was the experience of many.

 

The troubles over lands and navigable marshes, old rights and state laws in the larger swamps would all have new aspects as the oil industry advanced. But those disputes were like the Korean War — one can see the  pieces in place but the troubles are not yet in full swing. Coastal erosion and the role of abandoned canals, cuts and the depredations of the nutria which allowed hurricanes to wreak vast damage. These things would be mostly whispers after Audrey would come in a couple of years and Hurricane Rita was far off. The BP oil spill and the discussions which followed were still a long way from center of most people’s thoughts.

The days would come when trappers, coastal ranchers, shrimpers like those pictured above going out to fight the BP spill with specialized gear and others among the Cajuns and their neighbors would have to consider whether the promise of abundance offered in  Louisiana Story was a  fair promise. There would be times of trouble and many problems would not be resolved. Yet when the film premiered at the Frank’s it offered a happy ending that people could relate to easily enough. People wanted to be optimistic about the role of petroleum in the future and they were.   
 

Emerging Views: Chapter Nine Cajun Works and Works in Acadiana

This next chapter in Emerging views deals with all the photographic projects but focuses on the film made in Abbeville, rural Vermilion and rural Iberia Parishes. It deals with many of the aspects of the work which was being done and how that work tied into Acadiana experience before and after that film, Louisiana Story was made.  Here is a link of some use to those who might like to make a movie in Abbeville today.

But the work of sustaining a living community, of building a region and a set of local traditions, of continuing to enhance a regional and ethnic aesthetic — this work continues without ever stopping… It references the past and reaches for the future.

As I was on the way to the place where I am typing this post I took this set of photographs. In many ways a new public clock is a symbol and expression of a community tradition.

As I was on the way to the place where I am typing this post I took this set of photographs. In many ways a new public clock is a symbol and expression of a community tradition.

Today as I was coming to the Library to drop off some books and scholarly journals as a donation and to  dive right in to the public access internet in my current internet deprived state — as i was doing that I saw that at this moment and at no other they were putting up a traditional looking new clock where there has never been one in my memory. That is the way life and the life of a community evolve. New things occur which speak to us of a whole set of previous experiences and of future hopes and aspirations as well as of the current events going on…

14-556_3204 IMG_20160526_084947_802-2 Continue reading

Emerging Views: Chapter Eight: Louisiana in the Story

In each of these posts I include a few words before the post itself. But the words are few and the posts have not included any images that were not part of the chapters. But today there are many reasons why in my daily life in May of 2016. I am thinking of American perceptions of Louisiana and of the Cajuns and of Acadiana. All of those are different things. I think of how challenging it would be to teach High School history to people from Louisiana and as a Louisianan knowing the standardized test reward distortions of the truth. I think that is more so for Cajuns than others in the state.

I am happy to reflect on Zachary Richard receiving the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities this year. That is some part of embracing the truth — but it is a little and a little late for me and for many others.

Zachary Richard Acadian humanist rightly honored

Zachary Richard Acadian humanist rightly honored

I also attended the Acadiana Press Club Forum  Yesterday at the Daily Advertiser and was well aware of how much good work is done by many in community organizations, environmental groups, the media, the DOTD and elsewhere across our to improve the quality of our infrastructure and to have an infrastructure that is responsive to environmental and cultural realities.

Toby Takes Charge: DOTD set out state of I-49 Connector plans

Toby Takes Charge: DOTD set out state of I-49 Connector plans

Nonetheless, a lot of sad realities in running the I-49 Connector through the Evangeline Throughway were evident to the people assembled. One has the real sense of a society that is out of touch with this place and its needs and potential. That was the case in the period treated in this text as well. One could see in the meeting that the people of this region remain a treasure even when one has become as down in the mouth about the state of things as I have.

Young but experienced reporter from Abbeville was on the job...  Not sure who she is with these days, I have known her since she was an infant...

Young but experienced reporter from Abbeville was on the job…
Not sure who she is with these days, I have known her since she was an infant…

So the struggle for Louisiana’s past, present and future continues since the days described in this text to the present day.  Here is a pdf version of the text: ChapterEightTheLouisianaintheStory

Here is the text itself:

 

Chapter Eight:

The Louisiana in the Story

 

The Confederacy had long ago faded into obscurity as the main focus of attention in American politics in 1943. The fact that a Cajun had led the Louisiana Secession Committee when only a few states had seceded was not on that any students of American history as a whole could be expected to know. However, Cajuns participated in being part of the rural South which was subject to perceptions rooted in their defeat in the Civil War and was also affected by conditions largely created in that war. The South was made out as backward by influential men  like H.L. Mencken and the Cajuns were a more remote and backward part than usual of the rural South. Not everything in that point of view is wrong. Nonetheless,  this is not fair or entirely true. This chapter seeks (not in all ways that could be shown but in a few ways that can be shown here) to show that the range of significance of Cajuns in American life has been deeply askew and is profoundly unsatisfactory. This chapter does not do much directly to rehabilitate Louisiana as a whole as being worthy of more study and teaching. The reason is that in general  this text is devoted to Acadiana and not Louisiana. There will be the odd spillover but this chapter is mostly to show that the Cajuns deserved and deserve serious attention in the way America sees itself.

 

Writing this text as a Cajun myself and as someone of English descent and many  other identities produces no simple single point of view. Points of view change over time and the points of view which are espoused by the most numerous and most influential portion of historians also changes. A reminder of that is present in Parkman’s massive tome. This example of changing points of view also happens to be relevant to our understanding of the Cajuns and how they came to be who they are and were in 1943.

 

Hence it happened that the English were for a
time almost as anxious to keep the Acadians in
Acadia as they were forty years later to get them out
of it; nor had the Acadians themselves any inclina-
tion to leave their homes. But the French authori-
ties needed them at Isle Royale, and made every
effort to draw them thither. By the fourteenth article
of the Treaty of Utrecht such of them as might
choose to leave Acadia were free to do so within the
space of a year, carrying with them their personal
effects; while a letter of Queen Anne, addressed to
Nicholson, then governor of Acadia, permitted the
emigrants to sell their lands and houses.

The missionary F^lix Pain had reported, as we
have seen, that they were, in general, disposed to
remain where they were; on which Costebelle, who
now commanded at Louisbourg, sent two officers. La
Ronde Denys and Pensens, with instructions to set
the priests at work to persuade their flocks to move.^
La Ronde Denys and his colleague repaired to
Annapolis, where they promised the inhabitants
vessels for their removal, provisions for a year, and
freedom from all taxation for ten years. Then, hav-
ing been well prepared in advance, the heads of
families were formed in a circle, and in presence of
the English governor, the two French officers, and
the priests Justinien, Bonaventure, and Gaulin, they
all signed, chiefly with crosses, a paper to the effect
that they would live and die subjects of the King of
France.* A few embarked at once for Isle Royale
in the vessel “Marie- Joseph,” and the rest were to
follow within the year.

 

The exiled Acadians had dealings with the Duke of Nivernais as was shown in the cite from Dudley Leblanc’s book The Acadian Miracle and its attendant source. He was the means of the rescue of those held in Liverpool while he was also negotiating the Treaty of Paris. Thomas Jefferson: Who would preside over the United States as the Louisiana Purchase was negotiated knew the Duke of Nivernais. He was appointed Ambassador to France on March 10, 1785; Presented his credentials to the French Court and was accepted republican credentials and all on: May 17, 1785. The termination of the mission was  September 26, 1789. The Duke of Nivernais meanwhile did not stay forever in England. He did leave London, where he had freed the Liverpool Acadians and negotiated the Treaty of Paris (10 February 1763). From 1787 to 1789 he was a member of the Council of State and dealt with Ambassadors such as Thomas Jefferson. Nivernais was not unsympathetic to Lafayette, Washington and even the more radical Jefferson as is evident from the fact that in time this Duke  chose not to emigrate during the Revolution. He paid for these principles with a great deal of personal loss including the loss of almost  all his money and his liberty too when  he was imprisoned in 1793. While happy endings are few in the Great Upheaval, the Duke of Nivernais at least escaped the guillotine and regained his liberty after the fall of Robespierre. His role and future had he lived longer are not entirely clear but it is clear that he was free and poor when he  died in Paris on 25 February 1798.

 

Thus there is at most one degree of separation between the most influential leader of the intellectual struggle for American independence and the Acadians.  The irrefutable fact is that he knew Nivernais before the Louisiana Purchase.  The question of whether he knew much before authoring the Declaration is one we will touch on just briefly in this text. It is well known that  Thomas Jefferson was a Francophile. It is known that he took a broad interest in all sorts of people and that among the peoples of the world he most often took a superior interest in Americans on the East Coast of North America, the British, the French and the Hellenes. It might do to include the Romans as well. But the Acadians were the people who most embodied the quality of being French, Americans and part of the British Empire. If he knew them a bit better he might have known that they also embodied some qualities of the Hellenes. He was a man who stayed informed about affairs of his time. Yet our history is written and taught as though he had no awareness of the Acadians. There would seem to be a possibility that he had some sympathy for what had happened to a people who had been scattered throughout the thirteen colonies and whose homes and lives, liberties and pursuits of happiness had been so horribly and almost utterly abrogated. One could examine two passages of the Declaration with that in mind especially.

 

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

 

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

 

The first of the two passages cited above is of special significance when one considers what his words were later as President when the Acadians were living in Louisiana and he was the President of the United States of America. The Treaty of the Louisiana Purchase is very specific about the naturalization of the same foreigners he might have been writing about  as well as their fellow citizens in Louisiana. Read the words carefully to see what they have to say about Franco-American relations and empathies which were specifically relevant to the people becoming the Cajuns.

 

Art: III

The inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States and admitted as soon as possible according to the principles of the federal Constitution to the enjoyment of all these rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States, and in the meantime they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property and the Religion which they profess.

It also stand to be stated here that the Louisiana Purchase was an incredibly important event in American history. The transformation of the country by that single act from a coastal to a truly continental power has such vast effects that they can scarcely be overstated in considering anything that follows in the story of the Union. The Cajuns were at the very least living in the  lands of the Louisiana Purchase.

 

The Acadian struggle is in fact extremely important in one respect.  If the British wronged the Acadians it was a colossal wrong and if the Americans operated in sympathy with them that act of sympathy offsets much of what was less than morally perfect in the Revolution and the War of Independence. The British always from the first moment had an enormous set of incentives to distort and alter the record of events to minimize the importance of the Acadian expulsion in shaping the climate of the times in which they lost much of their American Empire. They have always been devoted to marshalling the intellectual resources behind their military and political maneuverings and interests. They have been extremely successful in doing so. The undermining of the American sense of moral entitlement among revolutionary historians has often been rather extreme. There are exceptions of course but the exceptions only show how clear the trend has been.

 

To remain anything like the country the Founders hoped for the truth about the Acadians needed to become part of our national history and it never has been. I know that there is very little exploration of how the Acadians might play a role in that period because there is no evidence in most historical inquiries and surveys related to the period. The French call the War of 1812 the Second War of American Independence more often than not.  That has been resisted by Americans but mostly in service to the interest of the Court of St. James.

 

The Acadian or Cajun role in that war and antecedents and subsequent events related to it has quite a bit of relevance to their relationship with the State of Louisiana for which the film Louisiana Story is named and  in which Harnett Kane wrote the book which most of any single publish source likely formed the perspectives specific to South Louisiana and the Cajuns as they formed their agenda and created their artistic reportage on the region and the people in the postwar era.  

 

If the Acadians were an autonomous people with a chief recognized in France from at least 800 A.D. and if the British consistently failed to recognize a status that was clearly legally theirs then the Cajuns were entitled to take extraordinary member in their own right against the British. Once they had been dispossessed, had families divided in a manner unusual even among the most despised people of the world and lost about half of the population of their province to the brutalities of exile — once all that had happened there was virtually nothing they could have done which in the view of many would amount to anything worth reckoning at all in the balance if it could harm the British Empire and its principals.  Perhaps one thing they did in that struggle was to influence the Americans in their revolution and War of Independence.

 

Perhaps they rejoiced as much as almost anyone when the words of the Declaration appeared which removed from their tormentors a piece of land larger than Acadie (although it would take a war won largely with French help to win it).   Read those fairly familiar words from the eyes of those who had lost so very much.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

 

The other thing which they may have done falls across the line of history into the realm of folklore once again. Perhaps they took the arguably very small act of setting up a relationship with Jean Lafitte and the Baratarian Association specifically to provide for the defense of their interests in the region and of their own lives and liberties from the depredations of the British.  The person who would have been most in charge of this activity would have been Gils Robin. The memories of this period persist across Acadiana.

 

There is a Jean Louis Robin Canal and a Jean Louis Robin Lake to this day in South Eastern Louisiana. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina  journalist Ken Wells did a book published in 2008 about the family still building their own boats and navigating the waters of that region. Today they are only partly Cajun culturally and genealogically  and have become part of another cultural fabric beside the homes of their Cajun ancestors. But in his book they remember the ties between the outlying Cajuns of that region  the pirates and privateers of the Barataria Association. Folkloristically, the story would be more or less that the brothers Gils, Martin and Jean Robin would have moved to the region shortly after the Acadians had settled in the Lafourche region relatively nearby. Their small community would have ties to  Attakakpas and Oppelousas Prairies of  Louisiana in the West as well as with Lafourche. Martin Robin who was a godfather to one of the Lafitte children was the grandchild of one of these brothers. Jean Lafitte also had a number of titles he sometimes used that are capable of being given Cajun interpretation unique to it Helllenic Centre Ouest Languedoc vernacular.  But the words have other possible explanations. In addition to the role Lafitte played in the Battle of New Orleans which was crucial in terms of artillery and supply and guides to the waters of the area Cajun units also fought in the area. Future Governor Henry Schuyler Thibodaux was a Lieutenant who saw action there. In addition Cajun or Acadian units served in several parts of the encounter. The service record was perhaps mixed in that battle but while some Acadians may have been farmed out to the other units and deployed some real expertise in throwing up defenses along the wetlands it does seem to be likely that the plurality of Acadians served on the ill-fated West Bank line under David Morgan.  Morgan had put his troops in a more or less indefensible position to support Patterson, the artillerist not from Lafitte’s group. The bad position was exacerbated by the Kentucky riflemen in the unit who were sick exhausted and without Lafitte and others from Louisiana would have been unarmed for all practical purposes. At the moment of the attack all witness blamed the break in the line on the lack of courage not of the Cajuns but the troops from Kentucky. However, a court of inquiry found them also without fault because the position was so ill conceived and because the overall glory of the event was enough to overshadow the failures. Nonetheless men  very likely to biased in favor of the Kentuckians over the men from South Louisiana thought they broke first.  

 

The most fierce fighters on the American side on that day may well have been the Free Blacks. I did write earlier that no North American Colored officers existed before the Confederates of the Louisiana Native Guard. However, anyone who knows the battle well will remember Major Savary and Lieutenant Listeau were officers of color who fought in the battle. However, it seems very likely that their commissions like many titles of the era were carried over from other service. They held commissions as Spanish troops in Santo Domingo and the US recognized those commissions. This was intended to be temporary. Dominique Youx the Lafitte artillerist who played the most significant role of direct fighting by any Baratarian is of uncertain  (certainly not Cajun) ancestry and became a respectable citizen of Louisiana when others went to galveston for  the chance to continue a disreputable way of life.  He likely had some colored ranking people in his unit but they were not formally commissioned, that leaves Listeau and Savary as exceptions to my statement about the Louisiana Native Guard. The Spanish had a few knowingly and  officially commissioned colored officers in the Caribbean but not in their North American forces. Nonetheless, the victory at New Orleans was the greatest in American history at that time by many measures and Cajuns were there.

 

The First Battle of Baton Rouge taking West Florida for Spain and weakening the British position against the infant USA was a small but significant battle.  The Cajuns were there. A Cajun General led the action that mattered the most in last major Confederate victory. They had always been citizens with a secure treaty footing since Louisiana entered the union.   Yet the perceptions that abounded in 1943 and still abound today had them as less than a footnote to most of American history and a footnote or two to some of it.

 

An earlier chapter has already discussed Cajun alienation. The next chapter will deal with Cajun backwardness and poverty to the degree and extent that it did exist in  as honest and direct terms as can be captured in a chapter of a text like this. J.C. Boudreaux’s selection for Louisiana story is mentioned and discussed at some length by Richard Leacock in his correspondence with his wife Happy. He mentions they chose Boudreaux in part because he was dark enough to meet their ideal of a Cajun boy. They also liked his version of the Cajun accent. Physical morphology is very relevant to Cajun identity. In fact there is a sense of a vision of beauty and so forth specific to the ethnicity. But within that context there are many types and the fact is they chose a darker and curlier Cajun than many. Boudreaux’s looks are plenty Cajun but so are some family’s whose faces show a lot of intermarriage with the Norsemen of medieval Normandy.

 

The point of all this is not really pillory American historians, the British, the documentarians are anyone else. However, it is too show that in my opinion the Cajuns had already been pushed aside, their role in America stolen from them by one force or another and all of this determined what the documentarians would see when they came to postwar Acadiana          

 

In the study of history there has been a long and in fact continuous struggle over the proper viewpoint  for the historical discipline itself.  Herodotus set forth his motivations and objectives in writing his history and that has been the custom of many historians since that time. It can be argued that it has been an unimportant part of the process to define and redefine this sense of the scholar’s objectives and values since the start of the historical tradition. When this is done it is traditionally done in the introduction and not in the eighth chapter. That tradition also goes back to the very early days of history as a kind of profession or avocation.  

 

THE FIRST BOOK OF THE HISTORIES, CALLED CLIO

This is the Showing forth of the Inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassos, to the end that neither the deeds of men may be forgotten by lapse of time, nor the works great and marvellous, which have been produced some by Hellenes and some by Barbarians, may lose their renown; and especially that the causes may be remembered for which these waged war with one another.

 

In understanding the history of these documentaries and of postwar Acadiana it is interesting to try to understand their own historical understanding and objectives. It is not possible to fully address this subject without addressing the sense that the documentarians had about Cajun history and what that understanding they had could, should and would mean for the subjects about which this text is written. What is most obvious is that they did not schedule a formal interview with Dudley Leblanc who had published The True Story of the Acadians. They almost certainly did not completely read the text as a group and if some read it or scanned it that was not much reported. Really any sane person knowing most of the facts of their operation would have to take this lack of contact with Dudley Leblanc as very significant. However, when the only historical method employed is to write about what is reported in diaries and letters then one does not inquire into what is omitted and why The history of  the documentarians in the 1930s and into new incarnation under Standard Oil in the 1940s  has often been written without this reverse angle which independently examines the sources which  they were examining. Here the reverse angle is the principal one. The story of the documentarians is secondary in this text to the story of the Cajuns. But it is an important secondary story which is told from a more critical point of view because of the responsible and relatively complete treatment of their subjects in this endeavor.

 

The Cajuns were of course subject to the same limits of time and resources available to be devoted to the education of the documentarians as anyone else they chose to document. The average inhabitant of the region had no knowledge of their work at all. The documentarians of the era were, as we have already seen, influenced very significantly by the book by Harnett Kane published in 1943. The relationship with Kane and his perceptions were a more favorable than fair representation of the views of Cajuns which had come to characterize the view of the relationship between Cajuns and the State of Louisiana. it also shows a good bit of the view of Cajuns within the State of Louisiana.  

   

 

The name of the film is not Cajun although it was released again under that name. The name of the film is Louisiana Story. The original screenplay was called The Christmas Tree. That references the oil industry which was paying for the production but the final product is named after the state. So in this chapter we want to discuss the idea of Cajuns and Acadiana as recorded over the 1943 period and what the period indicated as to the underlying relationship between the people  and culture they recorded. This has been addressed briefly in the other chapters but will be addressed more carefully here.

 

There is an observed principle in politics that is formulated by some unknown wag as as “if you are not at the table then you are on the table”. in the recording and teaching of American history Cajuns have not been at the table. In addition there was no lack of reasons for them to be misrepresented. The problems were not new in 1943 and have not disappeared since then. Because this book aspires to set out a more comprehensive view of the efforts of various Americans to understand one another than is usually attempted it demands a review of the historical context at many points and this chapter is one of those points.

 

What is clear about this process of waiting a history is that it remains a humanist far more than a scientific undertaking.  Science has yet to be subjected in my opinion to the fullest and highest form of criticism. It needs and deserves to be evaluated in terms of its general assumptions and the assumptions of specific people and institutions among others criteria. However, in the humanities one expects the writer and scholar to know  the work in a field, to tell the truth about the fact covered and to do some work which adds to the reliable record. Not very many serious people pretend that the context of the times, the needs of society and the grand mentality of the scholar do not affect the final work.

 

In reaching for the  Louisiana context discussed here there are quite a few things to consider. The chapter which in many ways forms the center of this book focuses mostly on the SONJ photographers and the images they recorded. This is in large part a function of the way that an archive of underutilized images can tell a great deal about a place and a people and how other places and people recorded in the great SONJ project could by inference be more fully evaluated using other images from the collection. The other chapters tend to pay more attention to Louisiana Story and that is in large part because Louisiana Story  and that is not only because the film forms a single and very substantial work to evaluate.  It is because of that surely. But it is also because there is a very definite intended audience and viewership use which forms a sort of fixed point by which and through which the film can be evaluated for the purpose of this film.

The truth is that there was a great deal of the identity of Louisiana which was not favorable to the state as a whole in terms of how it was perceived in America. But the perceptions shared by all were unduly unfavorable to the Cajuns by almost any standard.  The perceptions were largely reinforced by the work done by the documentarians and the legacy of holding down the Cajuns while offering them something in return was continued more than anything else by these visitors from New England. That is not the whole story but it is the story of this chapter.  

 

************* Appendix to the Chapter********************

 

TREATY BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE FRENCH REPUBLIC

The President of the United States of America and the First Consul of the French Republic in the name of the French People desiring to remove all Source of misunderstanding relative to objects of discussion mentioned in the Second and fifth articles of the Convention of the 8th Vendémiaire an 9 (30 September 1800) relative to the rights claimed by the United States in virtue of the Treaty concluded at Madrid the 27 of October 1795, between His Catholic Majesty & the Said United States, & willing to Strengthen the union and friendship which at the time of the Said Convention was happily reestablished between the two nations have respectively named their Plenipotentiaries to wit The President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate of the Said States; Robert R. Livingston Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States and James Monroe Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy extraordinary of the Said States near the Government of the French Republic; And the First Consul in the name of the French people, Citizen Francis Barbé Marbois Minister of the public treasury who after having respectively exchanged their full powers have agreed to the following Articles.

Article I

Whereas by the Article the third of the Treaty concluded at St Ildefonso the 9th Vendémiaire an 9 (1st October) 1800 between the First Consul of the French Republic and his Catholic Majesty it was agreed as follows.

“His Catholic Majesty promises and engages on his part to cede to the French Republic six months after the full and entire execution of the conditions and Stipulations herein relative to his Royal Highness the Duke of Parma, the Colony or Province of Louisiana with the Same extent that it now has in the hand of Spain, & that it had when France possessed it; and Such as it Should be after the Treaties subsequently entered into between Spain and other States.”

And whereas in pursuance of the Treaty and particularly of the third article the French Republic has an incontestible title to the domain and to the possession of the said Territory–The First Consul of the French Republic desiring to give to the United States a strong proof of his friendship doth hereby cede to the United States in the name of the French Republic for ever and in full Sovereignty the said territory with all its rights and appurtenances as fully and in the Same manner as they have been acquired by the French Republic in virtue of the above mentioned Treaty concluded with his Catholic Majesty.

Art: II

In the cession made by the preceeding article are included the adjacent Islands belonging to Louisiana all public lots and Squares, vacant lands and all public buildings, fortifications, barracks and other edifices which are not private property.–The Archives, papers & documents relative to the domain and Sovereignty of Louisiana and its dependances will be left in the possession of the Commissaries of the United States, and copies will be afterwards given in due form to the Magistrates and Municipal officers of such of the said papers and documents as may be necessary to them.

Art: III

The inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States and admitted as soon as possible according to the principles of the federal Constitution to the enjoyment of all these rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States, and in the mean time they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property and the Religion which they profess.

Art: IV

There Shall be Sent by the Government of France a Commissary to Louisiana to the end that he do every act necessary as well to receive from the Officers of his Catholic Majesty the Said country and its dependances in the name of the French Republic if it has not been already done as to transmit it in the name of the French Republic to the Commissary or agent of the United States.

Art: V

Immediately after the ratification of the present Treaty by the President of the United States and in case that of the first Consul’s shall have been previously obtained, the commissary of the French Republic shall remit all military posts of New Orleans and other parts of the ceded territory to the Commissary or Commissaries named by the President to take possession–the troops whether of France or Spain who may be there shall cease to occupy any military post from the time of taking possession and shall be embarked as soon as possible in the course of three months after the ratification of this treaty.

Art: VI

The United States promise to execute Such treaties and articles as may have been agreed between Spain and the tribes and nations of Indians until by mutual consent of the United States and the said tribes or nations other Suitable articles Shall have been agreed upon.

Art: VII

As it is reciprocally advantageous to the commerce of France and the United States to encourage the communication of both nations for a limited time in the country ceded by the present treaty until general arrangements relative to commerce of both nations may be agreed on; it has been agreed between the contracting parties that the French Ships coming directly from France or any of her colonies loaded only with the produce and manufactures of France or her Said Colonies; and the Ships of Spain coming directly from Spain or any of her colonies loaded only with the produce or manufactures of Spain or her Colonies shall be admitted during the Space of twelve years in the Port of New-Orleans and in all other legal ports-of-entry within the ceded territory in the Same manner as the Ships of the United States coming directly from France or Spain or any of their Colonies without being Subject to any other or greater duty on merchandize or other or greater tonnage than that paid by the citizens of the United States.

During that Space of time above mentioned no other nation Shall have a right to the Same privileges in the Ports of the ceded territory–the twelve years Shall commence three months after the exchange of ratifications if it Shall take place in France or three months after it Shall have been notified at Paris to the French Government if it Shall take place in the United States; It is however well understood that the object of the above article is to favour the manufactures, Commerce, freight and navigation of France and of Spain So far as relates to the importations that the French and Spanish Shall make into the Said Ports of the United States without in any Sort affecting the regulations that the United States may make concerning the exportation of the produce and merchandize of the United States, or any right they may have to make Such regulations.

Art: VIII

In future and for ever after the expiration of the twelve years, the Ships of France shall be treated upon the footing of the most favoured nations in the ports above mentioned.

Art: IX

The particular Convention Signed this day by the respective Ministers, having for its object to provide for the payment of debts due to the Citizens of the United States by the French Republic prior to the 30th Sept. 1800 (8th Vendémiaire an 9) is approved and to have its execution in the Same manner as if it had been inserted in this present treaty, and it Shall be ratified in the same form and in the Same time So that the one Shall not be ratified distinct from the other.

Another particular Convention Signed at the Same date as the present treaty relative to a definitive rule between the contracting parties is in the like manner approved and will be ratified in the Same form, and in the Same time and jointly.

Art: X

The present treaty Shall be ratified in good and due form and the ratifications Shall be exchanged in the Space of Six months after the date of the Signature by the Ministers Plenipotentiary or Sooner if possible.

In faith whereof the respective Plenipotentiaries have Signed these articles in the French and English languages; declaring nevertheless that the present Treaty was originally agreed to in the French language; and have thereunto affixed their Seals.

Done at Paris the tenth day of Floreal in the eleventh year of the French Republic; and the 30th of April 1803.

Robt R Livingston [seal]

Jas. Monroe [seal]

Barbé Marbois [seal]

 

 

Emerging Views Chapter Seven: Folklore Symbols and the Codes of Film

I am typing and preparing to post this post on a Friday afternoon. Weekends mean movies for many people and this blog has seen its fair share of material about film. But this is a slightly different look at issues related to film in my intended academic book.

Here is the pdf version:EmergingViewsChapterSeven

Here is the text itself:

 

Chapter Seven:

Folklore, Symbols and the Codes of Film

 

A recent compilation of very old  fairy tales and folklore made into a single play by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim from which a screenplay and film was adapted  is titled Into the Woods. the title is drawn from the fact that a certain type of European folk tale often begins with a journey into the woods. It also comes from the fact that the device of the forest unites the varied actions and subplots of the play. however, the viewer is also drawn into a sense of being in the tangles and shadows of a literary and dramatic forest.  The film Flaherty made could have been made in many places or environments as far as the Standard Oil commission was concerned. It was in fact made in the flooded wetlands forest which is the Louisiana swamp as compiled from various Acadiana wetlands locations in the Acadian prairie. This chapter is a bit tangles, labyrinthine and imagistic compared to some of the others and that is not by accident. More of that will follow these words from Into the Woods.

Into the woods,

It’s time to go,

It may be all

In vain, you/I know.

Into the woods-

But even so,

I have to take the journey.

 

The scholar and the serious student of history perhaps are often drawn to books of history in pursuit of that refreshing freedom from the lack of rigor which seems to pervade so much of the human narrative of shared experience. Certainly this writer can relate to that sentiment. this chapter is a sort of wooded patch in this text as a whole. here the child is intended as much as the adult and the inner savage as much the intended reader as the carefully developed sophisticate in the same pair of eyes. This is not fiction or folklore alone but it is not pure history either. It is an effort to bring the reader into places that pure history will not get them.

This is not mostly a chapter about mermaids, the Feu Faux Folleis, Loup Garous, the little people ruled by ‘Tit Pucette nor all the other children’s characters that inhabit the forests in the eyes of a small child in a truly traditional Cajun home. It is not about the function of such tales predominantly nor about the timny clothings and trails of acts involved in the purest fantasies. But it does demand that the reader be able to relate a little bit to that world of stories and imaginings. It is a step into the woods of a very particular folkloristic environment. It is thereby a step out of the traditional historic text.         

Earlier in discussing Louisiana Story I have written about the meaning of the boy’s names Alexander, Ulysses and Napoleon. I have tried to show that in and of themselves they showed a certain insight and comprehension of Cajun culture. Movies however are compromise. They are notoriously disappointing to those who know the cultural groups they portray the best even when the film is generally well received in the portrayed cultural group as a whole. The source of that compromise is not really the audience or viewership but the perceptions that the filmmakers and their backers have of what the large audience and viewership can tolerate.   Here there is a wrong choice that comes down to a single word which was grossly inappropriate and that undermines the entire sense of authenticity of the film. The word is spoken on more than one occasion by J.C. Boudreaux as the boy at the heart of the film. It is the word “Oui” meaning “yes” in French. The word is spelled the same in Cajun French and has various pronunciations but it is central to the whole of Cajun identity that it is never given the standard French pronunciation Resembling the English sound “Whee!”. It either is sounded as a variant of the first two letters of the English word wet or else as a variant of the first three letters of the English word whale.  

It seems reasonable that any reader would question how significant the pronunciation of a single word can be. Yet I would assure that reader that unless he or she actually knows the significance there is almost no way that he or she would ever imagine how much that word means. But once the significance of the sound has been determined the question of why this horrific error was permitted will be revisited. For now let me say that this book is an exercise in transparency more pronounced than most in Cajun culture. It is possible that the right pronunciation was deliberately concealed from a mass market and not only the result of seeking to be comprehensible in a film marketed without even the maximum possible use of subtitles or captions.

In order to understand Cajun folklore and the social fabric being documented on has to understand the four great divisions of the medieval Kingdom of France.To understand 1943 and 1953, one has to go back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries just a bit.  France was made up of two divisions, the division between Langudeouile and Languedoc as well as the division between the Paix des Coutumes  and the Paix des Droits Ecrit.  Both Languedeouile and Languedoc translate in English as Language of Yes. Those who said yes as Oui had a variety of dialects but that word was central. Those who said yes as Oc had many dialects to but that word was central. In that word much of their civilization resided. The text that summarizes this vastly complex matter best and which has real scholarly authority which I know is the one quoted below. It is the 1967 third edition of Amos and Walton’s Introduction to French Law produced  by the well respected scholars Lawson, Anton and Brown at the time  because of changes in France’s Matrimonial laws in 1965.  The second chapter is titled “A Short History of the Sources of French Law”  the first subsection of the third subsection of that chapter is titled “pays des coutumes and pays de droit ecrit”   This whole subsection is not very long and it is tempting to reproduce it entirely here but  we will settle for the most significant first half in order to keep the length of the whole chapter in perspective and really refer to the rest later on when it seems more relevant. Here are those concise sentences:

In the south of France the Roman civilization affected the the whole people. The population was much denser than in the north and it was on a higher level of culture. The customary law was the Roman law and when the renaissance of the study of law began and the Corpus Juris of Justinian came to be studied, it was received without question as living law.

The south  was like a country which having lost their codes lived for centuries on their memory, and one day discovered them again. In the north on the other hand, the Barbaric element had early become predominant, and their law — largely Germanic in origin –had become the customary law, though it varied a good deal in different localities.

The line of demarcation between the pays de coutumes and the pays de droit ecrit corresponded in the main with the language boundary between the Langue d’oc and the Langue d’oil, but Alsace was a pays de droit ecrit and there were certain “islands” of the  droit ecrit in the pays de coutumes.  

The pays de coutumes comprised about two-thirds of the territory of France. The Coutumes were very numerous,  almost three hundred in all, but many of them governed only a single city or a territory of very small extent There were about sixty which were the laws of a whole province or large territory.      

The period when the conditions described above pertained was on of great length nu began to come to an end in about the year 1500. As ends of great systems of civilization go it was not a very brutal end and from many point of view the lands of the coutumes were the more successful and  influential in creating the order that succeeded the one described in the quoted passage. however there are always at least a few sides to every great story. This is a great story.

However, another interesting aspect of all this which the authors of the quoted text relegated to a footnote is that the border between Langue d’oc  and Langue d’oil as they name them and thus between most of the pays de coutumes and the pays de droit ecrit as they also spell them was a line running East to West from La Rochelle to Geneva. thus the Acadians can be shown to come almost exclusive from the Western end of the border land. In this uniquely fuzzy chapter I will assert that their coutume was largely in a triangle formed by straight lines connecting La Rochelles, Poitiers and Bergerac.  That is a fact virtually impossible to prove by anything approaching rigorous historical standards. But it is ventured here anyway. In addition the passage quoted suggests that the people of the pays de coutumes held intact most of Roman law by oral tradition and local institution across the turmoil of centuries and then saw their system resurrected. Imagine how strong such oral and local traditions must be for that to be accomplished.  

Thus the settler of Acadie brought with them an enormous capacity for the preservation and defense of their local culture for keeping it intact through secrecy, cohesion and integration within the context of local and larger bodies of written law. The text quoted above also makes clear that the sophistication, skills and institutions developed in the pays de coutumes were because of their highly developed nature very influential in creating the framework of private international law in what would emerge as modern European and Western Civilization.  From the struggles around the expulsion to the founding of the New Acadia and then on into the States Rights controversies surrounding the development of the Confederacy and the onset of the War Between the States the Acadians and Cajuns continued to see the world through a consistent prism which gave them a means and method for interpreting their own history and an understanding of politics both as the pursuit of justice and as the pursuit of the possible as well as of individual interests.

These internal cultural forces forged over the years from about the year 800 had a number of points of origin. No strong historical evidence exists that it was from the Acadians  as well as other factors that these internal structures in France drew their original impetus. Here again we are in the forest of the unproven as we make a few contextual assertions. With due deference to the appendix let us propose that the ancestors of the Acadians were already a distinct Hellenic minority in Western France in 800 A.D. Along with a few others they would already have possessed the skills and traditions which later formed this distinctive region and its whole nature. The traditions that actually support these views are not widely diffused but bits and pieces of evidence are scattered across the continents, oceans, languages and centuries which support that interpretation of the historical facts that do exist.

In addition the inner folkloristic story I would propose is at some points at variance with the fine scholarship of texts like the one noted above. Cajun secret and inner folklore would assert that at its peak there was a Conseil des Chefs peaking at 300 members which worked with one another to represent almost 450 coutumes. These all swore allegiance to the the King of France secretly and in words that did not have the same binding force as the words spoken in his own language. Thus the struggles of the future Acadians take on a very different look with this context

The High Chief of the Acadians was not a second king or any kind of ex-officio supreme president of the Conseil.  However, Acadian heritage would assert that he was not rank and file either. One of a handful of high offices assigned perpetually to a particular chief would have been reserved to this chief. So now the reader find himself or herself in a whole world of insecurity compared to the relative certainties of the quotes from treaties, proclamations and petitions that characterize the best political histories. When such assertions are made let it be clear that the whole edifice of this text does not depend upon them. Rather an effort is made here to distinguish what does and what does not depend upon these special data.   

Let us then consider at least not a people first forged on the shores of Acadie but a people led and shaped by a strong force which integrated with the small number of Scots, English and French settlers that joined them there. But the heart and soul of the colony was from the triangle formed around the towns of La Rochelle, Poitiers and Bergerac. They were even there a secretive people with strong cohesion who were barely assured of being a majority in the town and associated region in France which was the center of their coutume in the realm just before the settlers began to cross to the New World.  For them the chance to come to the New World was a chance for rebirth as a society. The autonomy of both the people and the elite could be asserted more convincingly from this new location.  This meant migrations involved in the founding of Acadie on the Atlantic seaboard in what is now Canada had ties back home and these ties were in the guilds of boatwrights and specially and uniquely important guild of Sauniers who specialized in levees, dykes sluices and salt collection. The aboiteau was a special water control device developed and deployed in Acadie to clear the marshes of enough water to render them suitable for grazing and agriculture without allowing to many problems with excessive drying, saltwater intrusion or other problems. the British especially but also the French were often offended by their unwillingness to trespass on MicMac lands, their unwillingness to gratuitously attack other aboriginal American peoples, their determination to preserve natural resources in proper proportions across the regions. There was a reticence to note how much work their conservative colonial methods involved. but there are countless records indicating the indisputable proof of their enormous productivity, the variety and diversity typical of their economy and  their capacity for military, paramilitary and political coordination among themselves. One of the institutions of this period was the oldest significant social club of European Americans in the history of  North America.  Le Orde des Bon Temps means “The Order of Good Times”.  This order presided over in part by Acadian recipients of chivalric and noble titles in both France and the United Kingdom as well as by chiefs of the and holders of  various titles and offices traditional to the ethnic community in Acadie and back in France. Although a thanksgiving prayer and gifts of food to the poor and trade with the Micmac tribe were all works of this order these were not their principal activities. Their principal purpose was simply to have a truly grand feast on regular occasions so as to maintain commercial levels of demand for the finest foods both able to be produced in the colony and able to be imported in cost effective quantities. The excess of these feasts was distributed to widows, orphans, wounded veterans of battle and others whom the British might call the deserving poor.  Those who became wealthy were expected to participate and could possibly make a profit off of concessions and activities but more likely than not would spend much of their fortune in order to feed their families and dependents well and to gain some prestige. The cry of “Laissez Les Bons Temps Roulez!”  is still required at most grand Cajun functions. That cry means Let the Good Times Roll but goes back to this organization, the survival of this order continuously cannot be proved or disproved. If it exists and always has then it truly perfected the secrecy much respected in the culture.

There were always problems in the colony where the Order of Good Times held say and  a great deal of serious debate has gone on for centuries but it seems clearly true that while there was a connection to the maritime communities, traditions and guilds of their homeland in France nonetheless it was New England that had the best of  the competition in fisheries, naval warfare and shipping over the centuries. Parkman’s work is considered distorted from an Acadian point of view by the biased and partial collection of sources funded by the government of Nova Scotia to allow historians to tell only distorted tales. But nonetheless there is at least a kernel of truth to his account at all points and here is his account of early Acadian history:

The French province of Acadia, answering to the
present Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, was a gov-
ernment separate from Canada and subordinate to it.
Jacques Francois de Brouillan, appointed to com-
mand it, landed at Chibucto, the site of Halifax, in
1702, and crossed by hills and forests to the Basin of
Mines, where he found a small but prosperous settle-
ment. “It seems to me,” he wrote to the minister,
“that these people live like true republicans, acknowl-
edging neither royal authority nor courts of law.”i
It was merely that their remoteness and isolation
made them independent, of necessity, so far as
concerned temporal government. When Brouillan
reached Port Royal he found a different state of
things. The fort and garrison were in bad condi-
tion; but the adjacent settlement, primitive as it
was, appeared on the whole duly submissive.

^ Brouillan au Ministre, 6 Octobre, 1702.



1700-1710.] THE FISHERY QUESTION. Ill

Possibly it would have been less so if it had been
more prosperous; but the inhabitants had lately been
deprived of fishing, their best resource, by a New
England privateer which had driven their craft from
the neighboring seas; and when the governor sent
Lieutenant Neuvillette in an armed vessel to seize
the interloping stranger, a fight ensued, in which the
lieutenant was killed, and his vessel captured. New
England is said to have had no less than three hun-
dred vessels every year in these waters.  Before the
war a French officer proposed that New England
sailors should be hired to teach the Acadians how to
fish, and the King seems to have approved the plan.^
Whether it was adopted or not, New England in
peace or war had a lion’s share of the Acadian
fisheries. “It grieves me to the heart,” writes
Subercase, Brouillan’s successor, “to see Messieurs
les Bostonnais enrich themselves in our domain; for
the base of their commerce is the fish which they
catch off our coasts, and send to all parts of the
world.”

What is clear is that the Acadians were autonomous and not independent. Although they were only a small colony they were reasserting their existence as a Coutume. They had plenty of institutions that were not available for visitors to review and those institutions maintained the complicated connections they had to Canada and to France.  Pierre JdB Maisonnant and others maintained a minimal balance of terror with what seems to me great skill, integrity and caution. However all of recorded Acadian historical existence back to the year 800  is a history lived on the edge of great powers in the teeth of relatively existential challenges and threats. The documentarians came from the southern and cosmopolitan new England city of New York but they were still New Englanders coming to the Cajuns with their agendas, prejudices, predilections and aspirations and generally operating from a more advantaged position and they were in a tradition of that kind of interaction which went back over 300 years. They fabricated in a certain sense that primitive culture that Barsam rejoices in but they did so with real images affected by centuries of Yankee raids, an expulsion shaped partly in New England and a Civil War Yankee invasion at the time when American Northern armies were named after the New England community.  

In some ways the documentarians were less likely to be singled for mistreatment in Acadiana because the Cajuns had become so alienated and because they were seeking to enter the American mainstream.  But Acadians were committed to a heritage and in that heritage there was trouble with all British Americans but also special trouble with the real Yankees. Yankees like the documentarians.   

The thing about Acadian and Cajun folklore is that the blurring together of history and folkloristic tradition is somewhat distinctive. Especially compared to the Samoa of Moana and the Inuit hunting ranges of Nanook.  Whatever else Flaherty’s previous experiences brought to the documentary efforts of the SONJ years they brought comparison with two communities with much less documentation and mutual influence with American society, New England and the Anglo-American tradition. However, the Man of Aran might be a useful comparison to attend to more carefully than is possible to do in this study’s review of the relationship between the state of Cajun culture and Louisiana Story.  Cajuns can and many do know at some point in their lives that in 1689 Port Royal residents Abraham Boudrot (whose descendants use Boudreaux today) had 8 fruit trees, Anne Melanson widow of Jacques St. Etienne de la Tour had 84, Pierre Leblanc had 10 and Francois Broussard had two. The historian of the world, of the United States or of Switzerland may find those data uninspiring and trivial but they are real enough. For the Cajun however, they have real meaning. They show that mere escape from the cold, defense from hostiles and a meal for the morrow no longer demanded all of the energy and attention of their  ancestors in 1689 when Diereville was doing the research for the work that would  be published in Rouen, France 1708 under the title Une Relatione de Voyage de l’Acadie.  

Abbeville native Chris Segura’s Marshland Brace and Marshland Trinity make up three novellas that together compose the  impressions of an informed and sensitive mind grappling with Cajun life and culture in the 1950s. One of the principle characters in this collection of stories is the Cajun Trapper who could perhaps be a friend to the fictional Latour played by Lionel Leblanc. The third story was added to the Marshland Brace which won the Louisiana Literary Award to create  the new Trinity there are plenty of werewolf references which like those in Louisiana Story come mostly through the prism and lense of a young boy’s imagination .  The front cover of the Marshland Trinity was published with Segura and his brother armed and headed into the local wilderness as boys. I distributed the book at one time. All of these fused and coiled threads of reality across time join with conversations that I have had with Chris Segura myself about his book and about my own research, collections and reflections on the folklore and history of the Cajun People. All of this creates a sort of nexus of words, events and ideas which do not lend themselves to a fully traditional historical analysis.

What is distinctive about history is the collection of facts verified at a high level of certainty which also  allow comparison with other facts compared at a different time and then allow for a study of change over time. That is simplistic perhaps but it is close enough to a working definition to to function in most contexts. This chapter is not perhaps pure history but is a sort of inline addendum. It seeks to allow for a richer sensibility and perception within the relevant historical context.  This chapter is the point at which this text leaves behind forever any chance of  retaining a safe perspective which is secured by the conventions of even a more liberal and expansive view of  an ethnohistorical text.  

Here as we move into a literary, folkloric and slightly anthropological mode of analysis we do not abandon history entirely. However, we do become part of the process of the passage of time in a somewhat different way. The text asks new and somewhat different questions,  the questions addressed fall into the areas of inquiry that almost any reasonable approach to a text of this type would avoid. Some of the questions a wise scholar would avoid for one set of reasons. Those are: Is there a kind of mythmaking In the work of Flaherty and Stryker?

Did they set out to create a particular myth here?

The second set of questions revolves around whether or not the Cajuns had a symbolic language and set of folkloric values which remained relevant to the Cajun between 1943 and 1953?

Can we learn something about those values and meaning and understand these systems and the documentaries interrelated?

At least these first sentences make the text seem to be asking purely respectable question if not the usual questions historians ask.   But in reality this chapter will attempt go into that Cajun system which surrounded the making of the documentary. That is a journey which will make some demands more of the imagination and the sensibility than of the rational and narrative capacities of the mind.  The  documentarians working for a very unique and uniquely powerful and ambitious corporation had come into a unique cultural and economic milieu. They had done so at a unique moment in the history of America and the world. This chapter seeks to bring to light some of the uniquely obscure but rather interesting parts of the cultural scene.

In order to take that journey it is necessary to make some unconventional connections between events and points of evidence that are not connected by the most perfect chains of evidence. What emerges is a picture more like history that historical fiction but deliberately fictional.   

 

It makes some sense to move forward into this chapter with a quote from  Dudley Leblanc’s The Acadian Miracle ( The quote below is from Chapter 28, p. 328) published after our period in 1966 but representing his life’s work and much of what was on his mind in the years between 1943 and 1953.  

The Duke of Nivernois was deeply affected by their unswerving loyalty to France and to their faith. He sent his secretary, Mr. de la Rochette, with instructions to assure them that they would be returned to France as soon as England would allow them to leave.

Arriving at Liverpool on December 31, 1762, Mr. de la Rochette went to the Acadian quarter., and after having  made himself known to those who had sent the petition, he acquainted them with his mission and the orders which he had received from His Excellency. In Spite of of the precautions  which he took to moderate their joy, he could not keep them from crying  “Vive Le Roi!” (Long Live the King!) until it reechoed. Then tears of joy welled up in the eyes of all as they gradually grasped the meaning of the royal message. The end of the long years of captivity and painful heartaches of separation, exile, death and misery in all its multitudinous forms had finally come. All the men and women were weeping for joy and sobbed like children. Several became  uncontrollable; they clapped their hands together, raised them towards the heavens beat them against the walls and did not cease to weep.  they spent the night showering blessing on the King and his ambassador.”   

The Cajun story in its fullness is made up of incidents like this and traditional Cajun culture would understand that the meaning and importance this particular incident would be greater for the descendants of those in that Liverpool detainment than would be possible for it to hold for the entire community. Yet it would be important for the entire community as well.  While Joseph Broussard was fighting with the MicMac squads and some were dying as more or less slaves on Virginia plantations many other things were happening as well.  Longfellow describes the Exile in general terms in this way.

MANY a weary year had passed since the burning of Grand-Pré,
When on the falling tide the freighted vessels departed,
Bearing a nation, with all its household gods, into exile,
Exile without an end, and without an example in story.
Far asunder, on separate coasts, the Acadians landed;        670
Scattered were they, like flakes of snow, when the wind from the northeast
Strikes aslant through the fogs that darken the Banks of Newfoundland.
Friendless, homeless, hopeless, they wandered from city to city,
From the cold lakes of the North to sultry Southern savannas,—
From the bleak shores of the sea to the lands where the Father of Waters        675
Seizes the hills in his hands, and drags them down to the ocean,
Deep in their sands to bury the scattered bones of the mammoth.
Friends they sought and homes; and many, despairing, heart-broken,
Asked of the earth but a grave, and no longer a friend nor a fireside.
Written their history stands on tablets of stone in the churchyards.

Longfellow is obviously impressed by the fact that there is no parallel in history or even fiction for the way the Acadian people would endure and survive the combination of suffering and scattering which would deliver them across numerous countries, three continents and a large number of islands  before they secured their central base of operations in yet another place largely wild wet and needing much to develope. One remembers indeed the many tombs they left in that great exile but also that Louisiana Governor Henry Schuyler Thibodaux was born in this scattered exile. Longfellow continues with the heart of the story of a kind of extremely sublime truly human love of a woman who could never be what anyone would hope to be and yet somehow was an example to all Acadians as well.  

       680
Long among them was seen a maiden who waited and wandered,
Lowly and meek in spirit, and patiently suffering all things.
Fair was she and young; but, alas! before her extended,
Dreary and vast and silent, the desert of life, with its pathway
Marked by the graves of those who had sorrowed and suffered before her,        685
Passions long extinguished, and hopes long dead and abandoned,
As the emigrant’s way o’er the Western desert is marked by
Camp-fires long consumed, and bones that bleach in the sunshine.
Something there was in her life incomplete, imperfect, unfinished;
As if a morning of June, with all its music and sunshine,        690
Suddenly paused in the sky, and, fading, slowly descended
Into the east again, from whence it late had arisen.
Sometimes she lingered in towns, till, urged by the fever within her,
Urged by a restless longing, the hunger and thirst of the spirit,
She would commence again her endless search and endeavor;        695
Sometimes in churchyards strayed, and gazed on the crosses and tombstones,
Sat by some nameless grave, and thought that perhaps in its bosom
He was already at rest, and she longed to slumber beside him.
Sometimes a rumor, a hearsay, an inarticulate whisper,
Came with its airy hand to point and beckon her forward.        700
Sometimes she spake with those who had seen her beloved and known him,
But it was long ago, in some far-off place or forgotten.
‘Gabriel Lajeunesse!’ they said; ‘Oh yes! we have seen him.
He was with Basil the blacksmith, and both have gone to the prairies;
Coureurs-des-Bois are they, and famous hunters and trappers.’        705
‘Gabriel Lajeunesse!’ said others; ‘Oh yes! we have seen him.
He is a Voyageur in the lowlands of Louisiana.’
Then would they say, ‘Dear child! why dream and wait for him longer?
Are there not other youths as fair as Gabriel? others
Who have hearts as tender and true, and spirits as loyal?        710
Here is Baptiste Leblanc, the notary’s son, who has loved thee
Many a tedious year; come, give him thy hand and be happy!
Thou art too fair to be left to braid St. Catherine’s tresses.’ 2
Then would Evangeline answer, serenely but sadly, ‘I cannot!
Whither my heart has gone, there follows my hand, and not elsewhere.        715
For when the heart goes before, like a lamp, and illumines the pathway,
Many things are made clear, that else lie hidden in darkness.’

 

There are other more perfectly historical stories too, tales of men who paddled canoes over a thousand miles to recover their children from bondage are joined with tales of privateer clubs based in Cayenne that boarded and sometimes commanded ships that preyed on British shipping in the Caribbean during the Seven Year’s War and struck dread into many larger and better armed ships. There are stories those who devoted themselves to brokering a peace with the British that they never doubted their standing and authority to effect just as they never doubted that they were legitimately the French Neutrals when nobody else in that era really held a similar status.However that most famous story of all in the poem is based in very large part on one or two real couples buried in the prairie’s soil after long separation whose story was told by the very  Acadians at Harvard when Alexander Mouton was studying at Georgetown and not long before Alfred Mouton would study at West Point. There are discrepancies and problems but a lot of evidence too for those stories and one old relative showed me many yellowing pages I no longer have access to which spelled out all the connections with real evidence.

Merely to call oneself a Cajun is to buy into and express connection to a very complex association. None of all this old turmoil was alien to the Acadiana which the documentarians entered. one of the tasks of this study has been to show that they did have a strong connection with the Cajuns in the region through those employed with the filmmaking operation, through contacts developed by Harnett T. Kane and distilled in his writings, through the work of Kane’s illustrator Tilden Landry, probably through Virgil Thomson’s exposure to Allen Lomax’s ethnomusicology collection of Cajun recordings, through the connections that the McIlhenny family and the Standard Oil people and institutions had already developed with the ethnic community. All of this adds up to quite a bit before one takes into account the people who appeared in their lenses. People with whom they often exchanged at least a brief conversation as well. Yet I and many other Cajuns if pressed would say that they were missing something. This chapter will try to see what they grasped and what they didn’t and how those two realities fit together.

 

That brings us back to the point that movies  are compromises. I have written that big films are notoriously disappointing to those who know the cultural groups they portray the best even when the film is generally well received in the portrayed cultural group as a whole. In Louisiana Story there is a wrong choice that comes down to a single word which was grossly inappropriate and that undermines the entire sense of authenticity of the film. The word is spoken on more than one occasion by J.C. Boudreaux as the boy at the heart of the film. It is the word “Oui” meaning “yes” in French. The word is spelled the same in Cajun French and has various pronunciations but it is central to the whole of Cajun identity that it is never given the standard French pronunciation Resembling the English sound “Whee!”. It either is sounded as a variant of the first two letters of the English word wet or else as a variant of the first three letters of the English word whale.  All that is familiar and yet now perhaps the reader can begin to fathom its real significance. Oc and Oui were very distinct. Oui slightly skewed is a poor substitute for a word that held the whole of a heritage. But like many aspects of modern Cajun culture it is prized for how little  and precious and hard to preserve it actually is.

Let me state that there are people who will never speak to me in Cajun French again because they heard me use the standard pronunciation of Oui just once, These same people had forgiven all the many other faults both in my overall capacity for French and my mastery of our dialect in particular. Such extreme behavior is not the norm but it is nonetheless significant. But was it deliberately a concealment or was it a gross error driven by the need to be understood?

There  are pieces of evidence in both directions.    Frances Flaherty has stated that the film is a fantasy and an autobiographical fantasy at that in which the boy relives in a new place the childhood of Robert Flaherty in the wilderness of the Canadian borderlands. That statement delivered to Robert Gardner in the peabody interview is clearly an overstatement at best. But it is also a very Cajun thing to do. The statement allows for communication at several levels in the film and allows the viewer to decide what kind of truth to try to ferret out. That is what this chapter does as well.  

Cajuns as we have slightly reviewed already are people who value genealogies and names. Especially family names are given great significance. The name of the fictional family in  Louisiana Story is Latour. The Latours were a Huguenot family among the Acadian community on both sides of the Atlantic before the  Code Noir also outlawed reformed Christianity in the colonies. In the 1620s one prominent La Tour with strong Acadian practicing a hybrid of reformed and Catholic  connections became a Knight of high order and perhaps a baron of low order in the British court and married One of Her Britannic Majesty’s Ladies-in-Waiting.. The King of England as it were  gave Acadie to a Scotsman as Nova Scotia and LaTour was the man to lead the attack to seize the land and give it to the Brits. He fought a long and fierce if not very bloody battle with small forces against his own son by his first Acadian wife. The son La Tour was a tragic and classic Acadian hero and the father honored in Britain was seen as a traitor to the people. This is the kind of tragedy that occurs in Acadian history.

In time the de la Tour and La Tour branches of the  family would almost all become Latours like the fictional trappers in the film. After 1685 the Acadian Latours became Catholics but in Acadian fashion there were often a few Latours who were expected to retain a communication with reformed Christianity. The average Latour would not make much of such things and today might not be aware of these realities. But not everything in Cajun culture is about the average member of a class group or family. But FLaherty for all his chaotic and thunderous prowling about being incomprehensible was a uniquley keen observer of the societies he filmed. He of course had a Catholic and a Protestant parent. He came into a society which in 1943 was still more apt to carefully observe the Fete National des Acadiens on August 15 as the Roman Catholics  Feast of the Assumption.  the hard earned efforts of the 1880s had made this day equally and both jointly and separately the National Day of the Acadians or  Le Jour National des Acadiens. There is little of the Catholicism of the family that one could even conjecture or infer. While Flaherty had his wife mrs. Flaherty and his editor Helen Van Dongen  working at the film he had  not much to do for Evelyn Bienvenue’s character of the wife and mother. Acadian Catholicism always had something to say to what were seen in the days not so very long ago as more anti-feminist  patterns. The same family in a generation today which might find much of American feminism unpalatable today would have found the world of the early twentieth century not feminist enough. A tradition and community as a whole  were steeped in connections to the feminine  half of things was prized in much of Ancient Greece, Byzantine Christianity, High Medieval France and Acadie.

This is not of course how the American people saw their own society. Labor saving devices were designed to help women and while Cajuns adapted and adopted them mostly they came from the mainstream American society. In Moral Reconstruction Foster has shown the role of real women and the vision of Christian womanhood in remaking the Old South into the New South. However, whatever the truth may have been there was at minimum at least a sense of as much fear of the roles and dignity of women being undermined on the Cajun side as may have existed in those parts of the larger society that saw a very hardworking Cajun woman more often than not. Fe ever saw a panacea of ideal life for women.

One point worth looking at is the writing of Therese of Lisieux who statue Dudley Leblanc had put up so close to the house where Flaherty made his film. The text is relevant in a number of ways. Marie Francoise Therese Martin was a nun in a community of women. Nuns were always relevant to Cajun life. Abbeville had a new community of Dominican sisters and an older community of Carmelite sisters when the film was being made at the Nettles. They added something to the overall role and standing of women in society. this young French nun tells of starting to write her autobiography as demanded by her spiritual director.  

Before setting about my task I knelt before the statue of Our Lady which had given my family so many proofs of Our Heavenly Mother’s loving care.[2] As I knelt I begged of that dear Mother to guide my hand, and thus ensure that only what was pleasing to her should find place here.

Then opening the Gospels, my eyes fell on these words: “Jesus, going up into a mountain, called unto Him whom He would Himself.”[3]

They threw a clear light upon the mystery of my vocation and of my entire life, and above all upon the favours which Our Lord has granted to my soul. He does not call those who are worthy, but those whom He will. As St. Paul says: “God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy.[4] So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”[5

The spiritual life of this young woman deserved a statue at church and all young women in Acadiana had some kind of spiritual life. The bible at the heart of all Christianity could be authoritatively interpreted by a young woman although only published after her death. The statue of a woman is a holy object that shapes family, tradition and imagination.  but this is not what the documentarians are looking for at all. It does not suit their story to tell of an Acadiana with ongoing ties to modern Catholic France. Instead in Louisiana Story frogs and magical salt express the spiritual nature of the Cajun experience. Neither glimpse is a complete one. However, the point to be made here is that perception was shaped extensively on both sides by what both sides of this experience chose to allow to be recorded and to record. It is to be hoped that  perhaps this analysis will allow for a more complete understanding of the documentary process and how it contributes to cultural history.   

Emerging Views: Chapter Six, Folklore & Postwar History

 

 

Mommee homemakerThis comes out in a  bit quicker pace than I had intended because I may be tied up for the next few days. Therefore, I am filing this chapter now. So far the recent posts are chapters of this text in order so it should not be hard to catch up if a reader jumps in on any given post. This chapter is about what the documentarians saw in Acadiana, where the cultural scene was coming form and what  else was going on in the world. It is also about folklore in this text.

Here is the pdf version available of this chapter: ChapterSixCajunFolkloreandPostwarHistory

Here is the text itself:

Chapter Six:

The Spirit of the People and the Community,

in Cameras and Folklore

 

Section One: Chapter Introduction

 

This chapter like the second  chapter of this text is a chapter divided into three sections. It is also a long chapter which allows more easily for divisions and less easily for treatment in a single undifferentiated body of text in the entire chapter.  The first section is this introduction, the second is a brief historical overview of mentalities, sentiments, resonances and the events and people which shaped them especially from 1843 to 1943.This second section particularly seeks to understand how Cajun culture came to be alienated from the mainstream American culture to the degree that it did. The last section seeks to understand what constituted and defined the folklore and folkloristic environment encountered by the documentarians of the SONJ projects and also a bit about the folklore and folkoristic environment they brought with them.

The nature of this study has already been shown to focus on the kind of human experience which is far from the battlefields and political halls of power which have been the stronghold and defining spaces for traditional history. At this point this study turns to the historical exploration of a good many aspects of experience which are certainly not products in any clear way of that aspect of history which in the first chapter was designated the historical moment. We will attempt however to look even at these deep cultural resonances not only as products of the historical tradition which in the first chapter was described as it has formed Cajun Country and its peoples — especially the Cajun people themselves. We will look at whatever folk spirit is discussed here very much in those historical terms. However this study will not stop there. It will also be the task of this chapter to show how the postwar moment in which this activity occurs shaped, flavored and defined the longer trends and stream of traditional experience.

 

A next question to ask is, what is the purpose of discussing spirit  at all in this context? That is not the most vital or crucial question in this chapter but it is an important question and it deserves to be answered. For a variety of reasons that will be the question we attempt to answer first in this chapter. The main reason for answering it first is so that we will not be tripping over it as the discussion progresses.

 

First, it perhaps sets the tone of this discussion to recognize that there is a Robert and Frances Flaherty Study Center at Claremont College School of Theology. James Coogan wrote an article about this site in the same journal in which my own review of Pare Lorentz’s memoirs appeared and only a few years after the fact of that immediately posthumous review. But the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television is not the only entity which has had occasion to interface with this unusual institution  The online platform for the Center discusses and presents its significance and purpose in connection with its longtime director James Coogan as follows:

 

Robert and Frances Flaherty Study Center

Dr. Coogan’s special interests are in religion and the performing arts and religion and media, and in the unique contribution which these can make to understanding the religious dimensions of experience. He has had extensive experience in music, theater and media production, including more than thirty plays and dozens of instructional films and television programs.

Working with Frances Flaherty, he developed a Center to provide resources for the study of non-fiction film, which has since preserved and made accessible to the scholarly community thousands of still photographs, audio recordings, and films related to the production of NANOOK OF THE NORTH and the other Flaherty films. These pioneered a new use of the film medium, focused on cross-cultural communication, care of the earth through right relationship to it, and the moving image as a tool for the human spirit, to inspire and shape a better future for the earth and its peoples.

Recognized by the International Documentary Association by its award for film preservation and scholarship, the Center’s work continues as its materials are being transferred to digital media, to facilitate wider distribution and use by filmmakers, scholars, and students.

 

The fact that the creators of Louisiana Story have their work archived and enshrined especially in a school of theology surely indicates a great deal about how Frances Flaherty saw their work in the years after the death of her husband. We will start with that discussion which is readily undertaken before plunging into the  more challenging question of what spiritual and folkloristic aims Robert Flaherty, the SONJ photographers and Roy Stryker may have had. The reader can presuppose correctly that the answer is likely to be different very different for each of those three subjects. Robert Flaherty was, among the many other things he may have been, most certainly was the husband of Frances Flaherty her perceptions and sensibilities formed a very important part of the life context in which he did his work.With Stryker and the SONJ photographers there is very little, if anything, that one can presume about their motivations and sensibilities from the motivations and sensibilities of Frances Flaherty.

 

Speaking with Robert Gardner of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum in 1960, within a decade of Robert Flaherty’s  death Frances Hubbard Flaherty had many spiritually oriented things to say  about her husband’s work and her husband himself. Frances Flaherty made the following statement about Flaherty’s films as a whole body and his approach to filmmaking:

His  attitude toward it  (the camera) was that of a mystic…. The camera was a machine for seeing more than the eye could see. He didn’t presume to write scripts, he didn’t presume to tell the camera what to see.  He didn’t tell the camera, “This is life!” He asked the camera, “What is this mystery that you cans see better than I?  Far better than I can see movement  — and life is movement — better than I can see you can see  not only the movements that reveal emotion but the finer inner movements that reveal the spirit. You take us to a new dimension of seeing. You  give us a new awareness. Through your eyes we rediscover the world around us, we rediscover ourselves, the world is at once in morning again and we are reborn.”

.   

This religious sensibility is more than a little and thin layer of religiosity imposed on the memory of a life. Frances Flaherty was extraordinarily serious about this religious and spiritual dimension to her life’s work with her husband. Most famous people’s lives and great works are not described in such spiritual terms by those nearest and dearest to them after  their deaths. The value of her assessment of his work itself is also worth considering and we will look at it with both a critical and an appreciative eye. However, it is more to the point here that they were there together in a life much shared and their work is remembered in spiritual terms by the surviving spouse. Spirituality as embodied in daily life is not an alien construct imposed on their work strictly from the outside.

 

Not only in comparison to what has already been quoted from the views of Frances Flaherty but keeping the following passage in mind one can compare another New Englander’s view of Acadian life and the connection of these people and the wilderness and rural environment in which they lived. Here are the opening stanzas of Longfellow’s Evangeline,  

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean        
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
 This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?
Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers,—
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,        
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o’er the ocean.
Naught but tradition remains of the beautiful village of Grand-Pré.        
 Ye who believe in affection that hopes, and endures, and is patient,
Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman’s devotion,
List to the mournful tradition, still sung by the pines of the forest;
List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.

 

It deserves to be mentioned that it is debatable how much of a New Englander Frances Flaherty ever was. She was born in Germany, had formative years outside of the region, traveled much of her life and so forth but she was also very much attached to the intellectual and spiritual communities of New England which have done so much to define the United States of America and its peoples and communities. Dudley Leblanc had not yet written The Acadian Miracle, which appeared with a 1966 Abbeville, Louisiana copyright  and was produced mostly from his study in Erath, Louisiana and his publisher in Lafayette, Louisiana.   But these works from that book written by one of the most prominent and relevant Cajuns do show something of their own perception of themselves:

 

Simple in their mode of living, moral and temperate in their habits, They enjoyed a rural community life that has been the theme of many a poem. They were peaceful and happy, ardently Catholic and French.

They worked earnestly and diligently. They built villages, planted orchards and built dykes (levees). They built a few roads and constructed chapels and churches.

Thus the Acadian nation was being formed.   

 

There is no doubt that  the Longfellow poem was the most important poem in Leblanc’s mind as he wrote these lines. There are three different views of  the mutual relationship of spirituality, community and the environment between Longfellow, Frances Flaherty and Dudley Leblanc. But all three have carefully developed opinions about all three of these realities and all three are of the opinion that all three are important matters that deserve to be discussed. All are of the opinion that our humanity in some way depends on these elements and the way that they achieve any balance at all. All saw in these elements a set of necessities for the continuity of the humane and decent life in the time in which they each lived.

 

This whole effort of course is underwritten by Standard Oil of New Jersey. One might presume that the spirituality of the experience of this documentary venture would  surely end when it ran up against the checkbook of the Standard Oil Corporation. In the same peabody Museum interview with Robert Gardner in which the widow and photographer and screenwriter delivered the quoted description of Robert Flaherty’s meaning and method she said many other interesting things. She read from a document that she presented as the authorizing text which  Standard Oil presented to Robert Flaherty as his commission to make the film that became Louisiana Story. She presented this excerpt from that unnamed document as the description that they provided of what they wanted for their money.

…a classic, a permanent artistic record of the contribution which the oil industry has made to civilization. A film that will present the story of oil with the distinctly epic sweep it deserves and assure the piece a permanent place in the highest ranks of the literature of the screen. The film would also be such an absorbing human story that it would stand on its own feet as entertainment anywhere. Because of its entertainment value it would be distributed through the regular motion picture houses in America and abroad.

 

While there is no mention of Catholicism, Druids or mystics this is hardly corporate boilerplate. There is some spiritual element in the minds of the least religious people in words like classic epic, civilization, human, highest, literature and story when these words are all shoved together in a few sentences. Whatever else may be the case the people funding  this effort were closer to the feeling with which kings commissioned Cathedrals in the middle ages than the were to the feelings with which most television and print commercials are contracted in the workaday business of the advertising industry. The struggle of all these people to express things that go beyond the ordinary description of facts and narration of events is certainly evident. While the same documentary evidence of such a high purpose is not evident in the SONJ  photography project does not present itself there is still a reality that both projects were related and that it was through Stryker that Flaherty received his commission.

 

Where does that leave the scholar or anyone seeking to understand that unseen reality which Flaherty’s mystic camera set out to record?

 

It is important to remember that the crew of the Louisiana Story met Lionel Leblanc at Avery Island’s rather opulent and manicured Jungle Gardens, met J.C. Boudreaux first at a cafe in Cameron and then at movie house in Gueydan. The crew techs were largely hired in or around Abbeville and New Iberia. The trapper’s cabin used for interior and exterior shots of the was not in a location as remote as the fictional location fabricated from several sequences of raw footage.  But it was the most significant interaction they had with wilderness trapping families that I have been able to detect. But all the Cajuns on the crew and the cast had some wilderness experience and many had significant wilderness experience.

 

The fact that  there were a good number of Cajuns at work on the film certainly helped to add an authenticity to Flaherty’s method of  trying to see the spirit of the people. I have mentioned the ways they failed to interface effectively with some of the life of the people around them. given those shortcomings in their method of interacting it is important to note one of the great strengths of the work that they pursued. The connection to the ethnic community was preserved in the people doing the production — Clarence Faulk the production assistant,  his brother Burnell and their cousin the star of the film — J.C Boudreaux were Cajuns. Evelyn Bienvenu as well as Lionel Leblanc and the carpenter usually respectfully addressed as Mr. Hebert were Cajuns  certainly helped to make up for the degree to which they failed to participate fully in the region’s life and to reach out for complete information about  way of life and culture which might have been available to them.  In addition within the way that Cajun-ness is measured and rated among those near the center of the ethnic community a good number of these people would be considered very Cajun.

 

In some ways the interaction between these film people and the Cajun community was  better than it often is when movies are made in a location. Movies are disruptive in all sorts of ways and there are many stories to be heard of conflicts with the local communities where films are shot to match the many stories of communities competing to receive and attract filmmakers. Richard Leacock in his letters home to his wife Happy in Greenwich Village discussed the complications involved in hiring J.C, Boudreaux. There were few  moments which would illustrate the distinctions between the two places as clearly but that was because there were so few really challenging interactions which were undertaken. J.C. was a Catholic, Cajun, white, Louisianan male minor and all of those identifiers would have meaning for these people and these meanings would interact in a particular system of values with which the film people were not very familiar.

  1. C. Boudreaux was subject to child labor laws and compulsory education laws in Louisiana that protected white children from exploitive labor practices. In addition he was required to be properly educated and needed parental consent, Flaherty had commissioned Leacock to get the boy on board so at least for one part of the process he remained either in charge closely involved with the issues involved in recruiting the child. In that process he found out that Boudreaux was the illegitimate son of a union in which his mother was no longer involved and also that she was  eligible to marry under both the law of the state and the laws of the Catholic Church but was not married to her  current domestic companion and all of this affected the forms and  means of granting parental consent under the law at that time.  Leacock is further impressed that the lawyers on retainer or in the practice of working with Flaherty or the documentarians who are prestigious  New York lawyers are not knowledgeable of Louisiana’s Civil Code nor are they licensed to practice in the State. This survival of the legacy of Napoleon surprises him. He is surprised at the legal complexities involved in making the film in Louisiana.   

 

There was a community at the Nettles in the three hundred block of North Main Street in Abbeville. Helen Van Dongen in her diary recounts the fact that at first people from the town called on them but under Robert Flaherty’s cue these social calls were not returned and so they ceased. She does not blame Flaherty because of the demanding and unusual schedule the people associated with the film kept but she does regret it to some degree and the theme of loneliness and alienation is developed in her diary quite a bit. She also states that she felt like people in Abbeville regarded all the household at the Nettles as a family with Robert and Frances Flaherty as mother and father and everyone else as their children. It may be from my experience of both New York and Abbeville that she was not entirely off the mark.  Certainly there would have been a tendency to regard the household as a social unit that was stronger than in the Greenwich Village to which Richard Leacock was ever sending his letters to Happy Leacock as she awaited the birth of their first child. What was lost in their connection with the  town under these circumstances surely did increase at least to some degree their connection with the Cajuns that usually shared the table at least now and then and often slept over  –those on the production itself. In addition to this connection within the household we know that there was a great deal more.  Arnold Eagle’s film The Pirogue Maker is not only significant because it shows the work of the man who made the pirogue used in the film but it is more significant in that it shows how people were able to connect to such a craftsman who had to be deeply connected to the cultural environment. No footage of this making of the pirogue appears in Louisiana Story. However it does establish the authenticity that was present in the process the Flahertys had come to represent. Nor was the Eagle film the only example. Besides the SONJ photographs archived by Eagle, Webb and Leacock that were part of the production there were many photographs by Frances Flaherty that were part of the production of all of her husband’s films more or less. They were her special and largely unsung life and treasured part of the work which is revealed just a bit in the film Hidden and Seeking made about their life together during the last years of her life and including footage shot of her and her environs in Vermont. In addition to those photographic explorations we know from Van Dongen’s diary that they located and  set out to record the work of a Mrs. Dronet they believed was a very authentic worker in Cajun homespun.

 

The web of all these connections provided some real and valuable and honest insight into the lives and folkways of the Acadian heritage and the Cajun people. There were surely many limits to the method but anyone with experience in connecting with distinct cultural groups will recognize all the opportunities for a conversation, a random observation or a personal connection that would lead from one of these openings into Cajun culture and bring them to another such connection. A substantial amount of time invested by this household at the Nettles into the process they had committed themselves to bring about and make complete could not help but yield some insight and worthy observation.

 

Section Two: The History of Alienation and Isolation

 

However, the sense not only of the exotic but of the alienated and entirely separate nature of Cajun life and experience is not dependent entirely upon this connection to impenetrable wilds in order to understand the possible spiritual and aesthetic resonances and sensibilities of these people who would become associated with the film it is important to understand both their durable distinctiveness and the long journey of alienation which had characterized their history since 1865. For one thing about all human endeavor is that the value of communicating with other people in the same field leads those in the endeavor to develop a kind of shorthand to make communication easier. That is efficient in all sorts of ways but also leads to  misunderstandings that invite their little or not so little rebellions along the way.

American history cannot much be accused of minimizing the significance of the War Between the States however when considering the postwar era as such or documentary history as such it is generally considered to be a fairly safe assumption that the gaps between the Confederates and the Federals is not a principal concern. Leaving aside the question of what concerns are principal let us consider the fact that there is no point in history where the wounds opened in that conflagration fully healed for all those involved. Clearly the documentarians were not carpetbaggers but they were not devoid of all sectional sentiment. That sentiment varied from one to the next. The same generalizations apply to those they came to document in the South. First of all the journey from New York into the heart of Cajun Country and Vermilion and Iberia Parishes by all of the Standard Oil of New Jersey documentarians was largely a journey by people associated strongly  with New England into the former Confederate States of America. A child born in 1864 was 79 years old in 1943 and the pace of change in rural Dixie was often slow and memories were often long. When people discussed the past there were still faces around who could say they had been born under Confederate flags. When my parents were teenagers in Abbeville in the 1950s a senior matron of unusually long life in our extended family was still telling the story of how her family hid her as a child in a well near their house when the Yankees passed through the region. She used to say to many, including my great grandmother, who was her daughter and a woman I knew very well that this was one of her earliest vivid and distinct memories. It was true that there was a moment of lessened sectionalism and heightened nationalism in this postwar moment of 1947 that is at the center of our period and in the years ;leading up to this point. But it does not do any justice to this period to ignore the sectional antipathies in a region where injuries suffered in the eighteenth century were remembered by all and injuries from the fourteenth and fifteenth century were remembered by,some of the elite, conservative or influential..    

 

There is not space in an essay of this type to write any definitive  cultural history of Dixie even in summary. There was a complicated relationship with the Southern heritage in Cajun Country, there were fewer Confederate monuments in public spaces than in rural areas that did not have the competing tragedy of the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia to memorialize and remember along with the Lost Cause of Dixie. In addition, the history of the region was more integrated into mainstream Southern experience before the Civil War than it was after the CIvil War. In many ways the history of the Acadiana region after the civil war is a history of becoming alienated and exotic survivors. Cajuns were as alienated in their own way as many other groups that were more disadvantaged. The struggles of the Gens Libre des Coleurs  and the Metis were perhaps more serious in almost every way but the disadvantages of their worsening position tended to draw them into the mainstream of American history as Colored People. They were alienated  definitely but alienation was not their principal concern. Cajuns found alienation to be their principal concern. They entered this period of alienation after a catastrophic war. It was a very bloody war. More Yankees or Unionists in uniform were killed in this war than all Americans killed in any other war and more than Southerners were killed in uniform. Of course the percentage of Southerners killed was much higher as they had the smaller armies. More Southerners or Secessionists killed in this war than Yankees if one counts all losses civilian and military in that war and while percentages were high for civilians in the early wars of the eighteenth century no total of all Americans killed comes close to matching this great killing in any other war. it was in many ways just the kind of horror Americans came to this continent to avoid among others — the remaking of an entire society by bloodletting and violence. That is a well known fact of history but bears repeating. Standard Oil of new Jersey would become part of the industry that would have a great deal to do with remaking some of what were known as the antebellum Cotton States into a new type of oil fired economy which would provide a new precious commodity to the nation which had emerged since the Civil War. But Standard Oil of New Jersey would not be oblivious to the Sectional past as it forged these new economic institutions. The documentary period is one of many pieces of evidence that shows that they were aware of challenges related to cultural and historical differences across the postwar United States.   

 

The town in which the Flaherty led household had situated itself was founded in that part of the antebellum era which could seem a golden age. The age of Evangeline being published, of the bilingual education law, of the Governorship of Alexandre Mouton. That Acadian had strong connections with his own ethnic community, with the  Creole aristocracy that sort of did and sort of did not exist much as it had during colonial times and with the new British American elite. He had been speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1831 and 1832. Later he filled a vacancy in the Senate as a rising star in the Democratic Party and then elected to a full term in the U.S. Senate in 1837  where he served as Chairman of the Agriculture Committee until he resigned in connection with the taking of the office of the Governor of Louisiana from 1843 to 1846.  He supported private wealth at the expense of the growth of government but also set up reforms that would increase the influence and voting rights of white men  who were not well landed or otherwise privileged. He would later lead the Secession Committee through its crucial phases. He also fathered 19 legitimate children by two wives. He sought in the fabric of Acadian ethnic life to strengthen the regional operations of the community within the Attakapas. The Town of Abbeville, then known as La Chapelle, and the church parish of St. Mary Magdalen were founded by a French missionary priest called Pere Megret on July 25, 1843 when he purchased 160 arpents (about 135 acres) of property on the Vermilion River from Joseph Leblanc and his wife Isabelle Broussard Leblanc.  Optimism about the Acadian ethnic future in the slaveholding culture of the South was a part of the fabric of the founding of this town. It struggled successfully with the Anglo and Protestant community of Perry’s bridge to become the seat of Vermilion Parish when that time came. Father Megret also established a chapel under special missionary rites to guide English-speaking Protestant souls into the Catholic Church at Perry’s Bridge. However exotic or distinct the Cajun community in the area may have been in the early 1840s it is clear that it was not alienated. There were problems enough in the antebellum order and Louisiana was far from an exception but the Cajuns were a committed and successful part of the struggle of the region to become whatever it was in the future going to be. Unlike the older communities on the Attakapas Prairie or what Longfellow calls the beautiful Town of Grand Pre the Town of Abbeville has no real pioneering heritage. It is the town of a softer era in the history of a people who value hard men, hard work, hard fighting, caution and close husbandry of resources. Despite the catastrophes of the Civil War some of the feeling of the era of privileged optimism has clung to the town. I and Dudley Leblanc are both descended from Joseph Leblanc and Isabelle Broussard Leblanc. This little world around Abbeville would take far too long to describe to be attempted in this chapter but it was not all that much like Margaret Mitchell’s Georgia. But it was a way of life and a community that eventually felt threatened by the election of Abraham Lincoln and would go to war against its former sister states.         

 

To feel an empathy with the Confederacy one need not see the kind of romance and dreamlike quality that the film more than the novel  titled Gone With the Wind  seems to evoke so powerfully.The Confederacy was fighting for many things which no longer seem credible as reasons to fight. The world indeed has so vastly changed. In 1816 the American Colonization Society was founded by a man named Robert Finley about whom I know almost nothing. However, within a few months the ACS had held a meeting presided over by Henry Clay and attended by other Southern luminaries like Andrew Jackson and James Monroe. These men also faced a distinguished Northern delegation (as it were without formal sectionalism) of whom Daniel Webster may have been the most distinguished. These men actually got $100,000 in funds from the US Congress and after a short time in 1819 had sent a ship with 88 Free Black emigrants three white ACS agents to begin founding the colony which would become the nation of Liberia. This is the same pre- confederacy where at the same time the Congo Square had free and slave musicians from many regions and tribes and nations in Africa performing amid Louisiana French martial music and creating Jazz’s roots. This is the same pre-confederacy where Treme was a neighbor of prosperous people of Free Coloured descent in New Orleans and where the City of Richmond was starting to show a lesser version of the same development. This was the same pre-confederacy where dueling codes and historic re-enactments of and elaborations upon ancient jousts were often celebrated. This was the same pre-confederacy South where serious conversations about race and class still went on in many homes, taverns, vestries and colleges. Was it a perfect society? No, indeed.

 

There were many clubs and associations in the pre-confederate South that celebrated knights and serfs from Europe’s past. There were those who hoped and were trying to find a way to have real manorialism rather than chattel slavery plantations. Like Aristotle, Confucius and the Bible they were devoted to the idea of building a real society that saw people as valuable and relationships as worthy of being institutionalized. It is true that all of this has little meaning according the modern view of America. However, America has changed. American Southrons fought for civilization and what we have now is market savagery. I could write much more about the socialist and royalist policies that distinguished Louisiana. Far from perfect the South was still too good for a world determined to rid itself of all I call goodness in mankind. It was a real society that could deal with the inevitable evolutions of race, class and religion.

 

It was possible in the rural South to find many people in Market towns and beside a rural hearth who saw the Lost Cause of Dixie as the grand and singular tragic drama of American history but it was virtually impossible to find a really Cajun homestead or village where that was the case. The story behind the Evangeline epic poem is a very American story as well and is just as tragic as the Lost Cause. The Cajun, like all humans everywhere was and remains a human specimen of definite and definitely limited resources in emotional and sentimental terms.  These limited resources had to be spread over a longer history of victories and defeats by the same distinct community compared to their counterparts in the rest of Dixie. In that regard the Cajun cultural conservative just as damaged by the losses of the Confederacy found himself or herself in a position similar to that of a man with a limited income  and very many financial obligations. The list of tragedies to be remembered and for which no immediate remedy could be found was not infinitely long but it was longer than the one which most Southerners chose to set up at the structure of their historical journey. Furthermore cotton was not king in Acadiana at any time. Sugar was the closest to a king of that kind and the history of sugar and cotton both before and after the Civil War were very different. Low wages paid to freed slaves who paid rent on their former slave cottages provided an arrangement that could sustain wealth and there was no equivalent of the boll weevil to curse and afflict the crop. Cajuns, white Creoles and Anglos who preserve a plantation through the Civil War could usually keep it going with lots of struggle and a little luck.  It was not an impossible task. For Creoles of Color it was different as a Sectional Racist orthodoxy began to dominate rural Acadiana increasingly.   The traditional form of the society of old Louisiana was not remade overnight. In addition Louisiana which preserved the French Law had a long legal tradition of regarding sugar as king that persisted in its social practices. In evidence of this consider these cites from the Code Noir.

 

Article IX. Free men who shall have one or more children during concubinage with their slaves, together with their masters who accepted it, shall each be fined two thousand pounds of sugar. If they are the masters of the slave who produced said children, we desire, in addition to the fine, that the slave and the children be removed and that she and they be sent to work at the hospital, never to gain their freedom. We do not expect however for the present article to be applied when the man was not married to another person during his concubinage with this slave, who he should then marry according to the accepted rites of the Church. In this way she shall then be freed, the children becoming free and legitimate. .

 

Article XXXIX. The masters of freed slaves who have given refuge to fugitive slaves in their homes shall be punished by a fine of three hundred pounds of sugar for each day of refuge.

 

Article XVIII. We forbid slaves from selling sugar cane, for whatever reason or occasion, even with the permission of their master, at the risk of a whipping for the slaves and a fine of ten pounds for the masters who gave them permission, and an equal fine for the buyer.

Article XIX. We also forbid slaves from selling any type of commodities, even fruit, vegetables, firewood, herbs for cooking and animals either at the market, or at individual houses, without a letter or a known mark from their masters granting express permission. Slaves shall risk the confiscation of goods sold in this way, without their masters receiving restitution for the loss, and a fine of six pounds shall be levied against the buyers. .

 

The Code continued to shape the understanding of slavery and social standing always had something to do with the aspirations of slaveholders in the South. The slaveholders were not insensitive to the connections of Versailles to sugar and its lack of connections to cotton even though Versailles had little to do with anything from many other points of view. There was sugar still being grown in Vermilion and Iberia Parishes  when the SONJ projects were filmed and shot. Flaherty had filmed sugar cane harvests for the film The Land in the end of the 1930s social documentary era. Rice, cattle, fur, cane and then later oil were the principal products of the region around Abbeville. Seafood, music, soldiery, and a host of products and services related to navigation and cuisine were also important. Louisiana Story chooses to focus on the nexus of fur and oil. Those are important stories but they are also especially free of Confederate baggage. Cajun trappers existed in the Confederacy and were happier, more prosperous and less alienated than many of them were in the United States in the 1940s. But the new then that their lives were never at the center of the life of antebellum or Confederate South.    

 

What is discussed here is a journey of alienation by a people who found life in the mainstream offputting. However, in a sense it also true that Flaherty chose the occupation with the least to do with any particular period Acadiana’s history. For Cajuns it was often the case that there was a sense of facing three unpalatable realities  at the same time.  It was a cultural shift from  a time when French heritage and American citizenship had enjoyed a more promising and positive relationship than they were coming to have in the years between 1865 and 1943.  The portraits of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI had hung in honor in the halls of the Congress in Philadelphia before the Capital was moved to Washington and the District of Columbia. The Louisiana Purchase was both a friendly act and one which established a very definite equality between Citizens of France in Napoleonic Imperial Louisiana and those of the current United States of America. The result was a new country which was in a real sense a merger of two societies. This unity had been imperfectly but impressively sealed in the Battle of New Orleans.  While other states, like Missouri would find themselves under the British common law after entering the Union, Louisiana itself at least would remain under the State’s new version of the French Civil Code. In 1847 the first laws describing language in schools were passed and the assurance was made of right to English only, French only and bilingual education. The Acadian Governor Mouton had  from the Cajun point of view presided over the zenith of antebellum life in Louisiana before the forces of chaos and destruction which led to the Civil War were pouring across the region and were contested by his son Alfred Mouton. That same Alfred Mouton  was killed in that war and so it was to that same golden age which Margaret Mitchell commemorated in Gone With the Wind was in fact a golden age in memory for many Cajuns as well. The horrors that followed were no less horrible for them than for other Southerners in fact they may have been worse years to come on average but the complexities of the period which followed were not  going to be simply defined.  Postbellum America was an increasingly alienating and hostile place for Acadians to live out their lives and destiny as Acadians or Cajuns. The reasons why this came to be the case are numerous and too complicated to cover in this chapter.  However enough of the history of the era’s sensibility and mentality can be addressed to allow the reader an understanding  sense of isolation from mainstream culture which pervades Louisiana Story. In this chapter more than most Louisiana Story will be regarded as the most perfected version and form of the overall SONJ documentary effort in the region.

 

This is a text which has long past the point where caution would stop in pointing out the distinctions between the Cajun experience as remembered in Cajun history and the most well known tales of American history. But here there is more to discuss in the same vein.  The  importance of law in Louisiana and the whole struggle of the South to find its way forward has enormous importance in the scope and play of Cajun history. There are many things that changed after the defeat, poverty, occupation and propaganda campaigns which shaped the Reconstruction period. It is worth stating clearly that it seems abundantly evident to this writer that a great deal has been invested into a few interpretations of  how the events of the war and the years that followed shaped the United States. This interpretation presented in this study is not one of the greatly developed and highly publicized interpretations of those years. Neither is it a nuanced and individualized interpretation  developed from some individual inspiration. It is an interpretation of these events very much more influenced by the Cajun experience than by any other experience.

 

There is no way to avoid writing that despite all that has been written by very many competent people about the issues related to race in these decades I find that there are many large areas of important experience that are not duly explained.

 

While the Code Noir of 1685 was not the law in effect in Louisiana in 1860 it was still the strongest single source of the legal spirit behind the Louisiana Civil Code and the customs and practices of the State. That law stated in its final article the following: Article LIX. We grant to freed slaves the same rights, privileges and immunities that are enjoyed by freeborn persons. We desire that they are deserving of this acquired freedom, and that this freedom gives them, as much for their person as for their property, the same happiness that natural liberty has on our other subjects.

 

An ocean of ink has been expended to show that by no means did any spirit of this law exist in the South. That has been done by those of a more Southron party and disposition and those more inclined to extol the benevolence of the wonderful Union reconstruction. There is evidence that much of that ink does not deal adequately with the facts as they existed in Louisiana. We see that in the period of time immediately following Louisiana’s secession, Governor Thomas Overton Moore issued pleas for troops on April 17 and April 21, 1861. There is a great deal to be learned from the incidents related to the creation and the rest of the story of the Louisiana Native Guard. So that story is outlined here in brief. It remains in testimony to realities of that era.

In response to the governor’s request, a committee of ten prominent New Orleans free people of color who included people across the color spectrum which in their society was not the only factor for determining a family or an individual’s rank but was the single most important purely social factor in a complex social system. The certified were a group of people less than one eighth Negroes who were proven to be committed to the social order of antebellum Louisiana and these enjoyed a special relationship with the Creole and Cajun elite. These people were being woven into the fabric of the merged culture of Louisiana after Statehood until the War. Below them were the Octoroons, the Quadroons, the Mulattoes and the true free blacks. Writers today will tend to call all of these people free blacks and they have their reasons for doing so but that is not how they saw themselves. This complex and racially conscious and stratified community was represented in this Committee of Ten who  called a meeting at the Catholic Institute on the 22d of April. About two thousand people attended the meeting where muster lists were opened, with about 1,500 free men of color signed up.  The anglo Southron Governor Moore included in all the proper and ordinary channels these applications and included  these men as part of the state’s militia. The Louisiana Native Guard is so named because they were natives who were not quite citizens but they were accepted as armed patriots in the Confederate cause. It bears adding that while this text asserts that Acadians were largely very free under the laws of 1685 many French people were not. Thus in the way of thinking of many in Louisiana including most Cajuns these freed people had preserved the kind of liberty and status a 1685 Frenchman  would have who did not enjoy the freedom of a Coutume, a religious order, a knightly order, a chartered city or a privileged family. That was still a real level of  freedom. Ancient Acadian rights, the Louisiana Purchase and the US Constitution allowed the Cajuns more freedoms to which the freedmen were not a party. Likewise the “Kentucks” as Cajuns sometimes called the newcomers asserted the rights of Scotsmen, Englishmen  and the rights of the Louisiana Purchase and the US Constitution. Those were rights to which these people were not a party but did not preclude them from preserving the rights of French Colonial Natives which were transferred as an unspecified adjunct to the rights of Citizens under the Purchase. So the  new militia regiment of colored Natives  was formed during May 1861. The men were mostly but not all from the Francophone community, some members of the colored Confederate regiment came from wealthy prominent gens libres de coleurs families. they filled the majority of NCO posts iniitially but the majority of the men held the rank of private soldiers and were in civilian life  clerks, artisans, and skilled laborers. at the end of that fateful May on the 29th in 1861, Governor Moore appointed three white officers as commanders of the regiment, and company commanders were appointed from among the larger group of elected non-commissioned officers. This volunteer militia unit was the first of any in North American history to knowingly  have African-American officer. That is not because there had not been colored soldiers under the United States, Britain, Spain and France. It was Louisiana as she rose up for Dixie that chose to take this step.Though ten per cent of the members of this Confederate unit  would later join the Union Army’s First Louisiana Native Guard, the two are regarded by most as separate military units. It is one of the tragedies of the falling and failing South that these men never fired a shot in anger as Confederates against the Yankee invader. WHile there may be many other stories for which their fate is a better one for a Cajun view of what the South it was supposed to be it was a sign of bad times to come. It indicates something about the  customs, commerce and status of person in Louisiana that these Native Guards were traditional American militia volunteers, and as such supplied their own arms and uniforms. One here is reminded of another article of the Code Noir, as follows: Article XV. We forbid slaves from carrying any offensive weapons or large sticks, at the risk of being whipped and having the weapons confiscated. The weapons shall then belong to he who confiscated them. The sole exception shall be made for those who have been sent by their masters to hunt and who are carrying either a letter from their masters or his known mark.

 

There is every reason to believe that the even as the Code lived on in more current laws regarding  arms restrictions strictly enforced against slaves were not applied to these men in their daily lives before the war.These were displayed in a grand review of troops in New Orleans on November 23, 1861, and again on January 8, 1862. The terribly wasted troops offered their services to escort Union prisoners taken prisoner by the Confederate forces at the First Battle of Bull Run. One could imagine that this could have been done with white troops as well and with international observers it might have been a means of showing the possibility of Confederate policy working out a secure future the abolitionist powers they sought to ally with  as they marched through New Orleans.But this would have required the kind of social daring the COnfederacy would usually lack.

 

Confederate General David Twiggs failed to accept the unit’s  offer, but thanked them for the “promptness with which they answered the call. That was a response that reflected the way such transactions occurred in the military. The Louisiana State Legislature had begun to change the society into something new when they passed a law in January 1862 reorganizing the militia into only “…free white males capable of bearing arms… ”. The Native Guards regiment was effectively disbanded by this law on February 15, 1862. Despite the change in racial ideology already starting Governor Moore  used his executive powers to reinstate the Native Guards  to oppose the U.S. Naval invasion. But when the regular Confederate forces under Major General Mansfield Lovell abandoned New Orleans the whole system was plunged, into disarray. Cajuns served in the regular Confederate Forces and had militia units advancing to defend the city as well as the unauthorized units that have always been part of the culture who hoped to join in  the fight in their traditional guerilla manner. But none of these units did well when the Confederate forces withdrew and the  militia units were left to fend for themselves. The Native Guards were subject to the same relative disgrace and so it was no great surprise that they were again, and in finality, ordered to disband by General John L. Lewis, 1862, as Federal ships arrived opposite the city. General Lewis  of the Louisiana Militia as he sent word to their units deployed in useless positions  disbanded these colored Confederates and cautioned them to hide their arms and uniforms before returning home. He also began the process requiring them to hide their COnfederate service, later ten percent of this unit would serve in the Union and be among the most distinguished colored troops. Some came to the irregular Cajun militia according to spoken tradition and assisted in the armed and highly secretive smuggling supplies to Confederate forces during the war. None of those ever received much recognition even though some did fire shots in anger at Union forces in these irregular units.  The white creole Colonel Felix Labatut maintained the belief that colored troops could make a difference and was proven right by the Union service with distinction of his former officers Cailloux and Morrison in the cause of the Yankee invaders.

 

The moratorium of colored troops by the South certainly did not limit the deployment of colored troops by the union. From the Cajun point of view it was a bitter irony to lose possible GLC units and see that throughout the war and in the   time of the period after end of hostilities in the Civil War was a time in which Cajun folklore reports that people believed that Yankee bureaucrats had motivated and armed a quarter of a million freed slaves and loosed them in strongly encouraged rage upon the Southland. This period followed the kinds of endless horrors described in books like Yankee Autumn in Acadiana and local institutions of my ancestors rolled over to face the new challenge. the  Knights of the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan Also known with the same name given here but with the word White preceding all the others i.e. “White Knights…” also known as the Ku Klux Klan, the KKK and the Klan. The Klan share many motifs, traditions and operating procedures with the much older Ridelles and somewhat older Comites de Vigilance that existed among the Acadians. However, the Klan always had it own symbols too and those grew in importance and common symbols declined. The Cross-Lighting was never an Acadian symbol but perhaps went with the ideas of ethnic differentiation that are very Acadian.  Knights of the White  Camellia  have been basically a special Louisiana version of the Ku Klux Klan. The name is a triple entendre it references the beautiful flowers of this area, the legendary kingdom of Arthur of the Round Table, and the Chivalric legacy left by Prince Camille de Polignac who was a Confederate General during the Civil War. This Prince took command from the Acadian General Mouton after he died achieving the last major victory under the Confederate flag. He embodies a sense of the lost potential of Acadiana to bring the South into a prominent place in the world.

 

Prince de Polignac was long loved and honored in the region but his legacy had little to do with the future of the Union, Louisiana or the Cajuns. Other forces would shape how the region was perceived across the country. Francis Parkman’s France and England in North America published in 1890 was one of the milestones on that journey of alienation. The book tended to set the historic trajectory of the American culture as one that was hostile and alien to the Cajuns and in which they found themselves more often regarded as hostile aliens.  The period from 1890 to 1915 was one of remarkable and accelerating alienation from the period in the past when things might have been quite different than they were now trending to become.   The Reconstruction period has a complicated and mixed record with Gens Libres de Coleurs in Louisiana. In many ways this crisis  and these complexities grew out of the experience of the Louisiana Native Guard.  

 

Whatever the vision of the Union may have been and whatever the motives behind that vision might have been the did not deliver a racial paradise that began in 1860 and continues today. Radical Reconstruction would replace the occupation and early reconstruction and then be replaced by a new white racial orthodoxy in the former Confederacy. rule  In 1890, the state of Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act requiring separate accommodations for blacks and whites on railroads, including separate railway cars . The old Louisiana system would have been more complex and not integration across the board. The Comité des Citoyens (Committee of Citizens) was liberal in that it reflected the citizenship granted to people of color under the Union occupation rather than the native status but it is wrong to think they were all dedicated to repeal the law in order to create racially integrated rides.The members for different reasons all feared the effects of not having a more complex system with exemptions, a mixed race category and so forth.Homer Plessy, was a man of mixed race, selected to participate in the test case. Plessy was born a free man in a free native cultural category and was an “octoroon” with the status this connoted as described earlier in this section. Under the new Louisiana law and the new racial orthodoxy he was classified as black, and required to sit in the “colored” car. The total resources given to setting up the test case are impressive. But space will not allow for a full recounting of those events. From an Cajun point of view the way the law was upheld and doctrine of separate but equal tended to deliver four bad results. It encouraged colored people to possibly pass for white where they might marry Cajuns and damage the bloodlines because the alternatives were so bad. Secondly, they did not favor open and in their view unconscionable oppression of what they considered the inferior races. Without the privileges of octaroons to defend the African-Americans they believed they would be oppressed. Thirdly, they feared that the support for white supremacy provided by the colored upper echelons was essential to the survival of white supremacy. Lastly they thought it was a replacement of a better system by an inferior one and showed disrespect  for Louisiana custom. The railroads however favored more or less pure integration of the rail cars to save money on duplicate cars and that has rightly enough confused the issue as they joined in the effort by the Citizens Committee.   

 

Once national political influence had been closed off and the world  had begun to reinterpret  their Southern, French and other identities as Americans the ties they had to the rest of French Louisiana or all of Louisiana whether manifest in the influences between their music and Jazz or Country music or anything else only added to the sense of their identity as aliens. Cajuns had stopped referring to themselves as American except when officially required to even before the outlawing of French education in 1915. Kate Chopin and others who had great talent and turned it to creating a new Louisiana consensus were impressive to those who followed such things but they did not heal the rift.  They were not an old alien culture but a very American culture which had been alienated.

 

Section Three: Folklore and Mentalities in Acadiana

 

In the 1940s an SONJ photographer wrote of Natchez as “a Crinoline Crypt”. The Cajuns by 19403  had chosen to deal with their Confederate Heritage differently than the very distinct and strongly preservationist manner in which that period has always been recalled in Natchez. Natchez is no more the typical Southern town than Erath or Abbeville are the most typical towns but it could be said that they are distinctive in different ways. It is possible to  write this text and compare the losses of coastal integrity, the expulsion from Nova Scotia and the Dust Bowl year affecting Acadiana’s neighbors. It is even possible to measure the struggle of Dudley Leblanc with the FDA. Cajuns live with a tragedy season, Thibodeaux has stated that well in his book Hell or High Water. Hurricane season forms the minds of those from South Louisiana into the habit of comparing tragedies. Thus far many Cajuns the destruction of the antebellum  South was not and is not the greatest tragedy on these American shores but is one of the greatest. It towers over many others. To be French, to be Catholic and to be Confederate each added a layer of alienation to the Cajun. But as long as these kind of identifier tended almost only to alienate the Cajun had many more levels of alienation after all of these layers were accounted for in his history and identity.   For the Cajun who sought to deal responsibly and fully with the larger society it often seemed that unless Americans seek some greater sanity about ethnic identity and the history of conflicts  there would always be many problems the United States of America  cannot deal with intelligently.

 

James Axtell in The Invasion Within tells of the way that cultural conflicts can create new opportunities for misery and illustrates that with the experience of the Huron and the Iroquois with the French and English.  Of course a great deal of happiness and profit can and does come from interactions between cultural groups. It also happens that his text is mostly about a set of interactions between Cajuns and the people of Standard Oil and the documentary film community. Overall the exchange between these different groups was more good than bad and did not lead to war, pillaging and horror as much as to useful cooperation. Yet in this section of this chapter it is also my objective to show that unhappiness, misunderstanding and a kind of misery led to alienation from the end of the Civil War and have continued all these years. Real definable events contributed to these unseen forces and they existed even in Postwar Acadiana to be captured on film as the isolated and alienated aspects of Cajun culture. This unseen folkloristic, mental and spiritual world is still a mixed world of joy and acceptance in part and of alienation and isolation in part. So the miseries which isolate and alienate continue and even today as this is being written It is to me true that even in relative peace and in the years since the 1943 start where many more Cajuns were able to achieve a life of greater material comfort in part because of their cooperation with Standard Oil, there are those who dream of what they think America should be for their own people and other communities and find that they care very much about such things– according to what I hear people who are deeply committed to that sense find that the mental aspect of their life at least is hell on earth as often as not.  

 

In the folklore and literature of region and identity which began to define Louisiana after the Civil War there was a great sense of a mysterious past and faded glories but also a real historical sense of a much more complex and sophisticated social order than the currently prevailing social order. This became a kind of new layer of exile from an exotic past that joined with the Cajun sense of having left behind and yet maintained ties to France,  some how to Greece, to early ferment and promise of the United States and now to the Confederacy they felt was increasingly forgotten and misunderstood in ways that did not benefit them in the present of their economic situation nor in their sense of themselves.. I cannot exhaustively cover those issues in this text. Their own sense of alienation in the new order underscored for them that the Old South had been was a society in which people were at least somewhat sensitive to the heritage of others. When they went to New Orleans they often remembered Congo Square or Place Congo. Its name was changed to honor a Confederate Hero after the war who deserved to be honored  and while he was Creole not Cajun they liked Beauregard well enough as a symbol. But many felt the loss of Congo Square as one of many institutions of old Louisiana that  gave white Southrons a place to go where they could be educated about the diversity and reality of black African heritages more in a few minutes than many Americans in the new order were in a lifetime despite Jazz clubs and other influences that went on in the New order. Their  ties to a Hellenic  Hellenic Heritage appear as an appendix to this book but allow it to be said without showing that  they had such a heritage that the Hellenic world was a heritage which many individuals and communities in the Confederate States of America knew something about.

 

One comes up on the limits of what can be done in an academic text when one writes about the workings and life of an ancient people struggling for survival of their ideals and culture and often using secrecy. One of the realities is that Cajuns maintained a relationship with the german community in Louisiana as a community, with various Indian tribes as they were known, with old French communities on the Missisippi and with old friends and relations in the land from which they had been expelled. They could not look back on their past or live out their present comfortably with the attitudes that now prevailed regarding Indians in the new order.  Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil was among other things my ancestor, a resistance leader in Acadie, Captain of the Attakapas, little understood  as he is he stands tall as the founding leader of Acadians in the New Acadia.  His story was central to their story as a people and an Indian tribe was near the heart of his story. The MicMacs were and are the Aboriginal American tribe which played the most important role in Acadian history. The MicMac were close allies of the Acadians prior to Le Grand Derangement. The end of the Cherokee stay in Georgia must not overshadow all that was better about that connection than ever happened in other regions. The Acadians had no role in causing this but did find kindred spirits in the rest of the South. This tradition continued,  I have read in a non footnoted article that the highest ranking officer who was (acknowledged to be) nonwhite in either side of the Civil War was General Stan Waite whose exact title is unclear to me but who was the Supreme Commander of all or some forces from the Native American tribes in the Confederacy. For the Cajuns the new kind of White Supremacy that followed reconstruction was nothing like the Dixie for which their ancestors had fought and died.

 

So all of this had led up to the postwar moment when Cajuns were trying to enter into a more American identity and the documentarians and Standard Oil were coming to take a look at them and also to use them for their own devices. Cajun identity not the shadows of an ancient primitive past but the shadows of a recently acquired alienation.

 

Section Three: the Folklore and Spirit of Communities and People

 

Gone With the WInd has made its way into a few mentions in these pages already and it may seem to be a tenuous connection to make to these events although it is a movie that most people who push the actions at the heart of our narrative forward had seen. the novel is based on a substantial amount of fact and is written by someone who knew the region about which she wrote. In the post Civil Rights era it is easy to criticize the film and the novel for the subservience of the Blacks. In a feminist environment it is easy to criticize its assumptions about women. There are many other reasons to criticize this story about one of the most traumatic events in the history of North America. The events leading up to that terrible war and the war itself remain vividly and vitally connected to current  and historical events which vary from place to place.   There is a difference in every war between the war the losers wished they were fighting and the war they actually fought. I am not one of those who feels that the Confederacy was the South’s finest hour in the senses that many people do believe it was her finest hour. In many ways the greatest promise for some people from whom I claim descent was already in decline. The period from 1610 to 1820 or so would have been a period of real advancement. The heart Jacksonian Era would have been a mixed period and the era from 1845 to 1898 would be largely a continuous decline from a certain set of standards. But there were good trends in large numbers before 1860 and the greatness of the Confederacy lies in her willingness to fight and die for the cause of such a tradition as they hoped to preserve. Had they won it would have been less good than if they had found a path without secession but there would still be hope that they could reverse the worst trends and enhance the best ones in their civilization as it was expressed in those states and that new nation. In terms of what can be done in a study which addresses  documentary film it seems impossible not to mention the massive Ken Burns documentary The Civil War. It is hardly debatable that the work gathered together more filmic elements around this theme at a higher level of workmanship and skill than had ever been done before.

 

While there is some goodness in the New South that Gaines Foster has recorded and analyzed in Moral Reconstruction as well as visiting its weaknesses.   Cajuns regarded these changes with great suspicions. The antebellum order while mostly Protestant was the South had some great Catholic institutions. It also had a Jewish Secretary of State named Judah Benjamin. I have said before in these Notes that how Western Civilization views Jesus is a good sign of its health and progress. I see many signs of a better religious consensus developing in the pre-Confederate South. For this and so many other things the South fought and lost. It truly did lose so much in the eyes of many Cajuns. The poverty, Jim Crow, Scientific racism and ideological Anglo-Saxonism of the postwar South were not extensions of the society the Cajuns joined other SOuthrons to fight for and had  sought to preserve. These new orthodoxies were madness.

 

One symbol of the lost world of the Confederacy was the remembered ride of Prince Camille de Polignac This man was a French Prince and Confederate General who fought in Acadiana during the War Between the States. He reminded them of the days of Paix des Coutumes and the years and centuries as part of a complex France of autonomous peoples. The lynching of the Catholic Italians by the White Leagues in New Orleans was a complicated matter for Cajuns. They had lynched all kinds of people and did not intermarry or accept many Italians into their number until at least 1920. But they could see that the Mafiosi were not the only objects of hostility in the eyes and minds of the leagues. The Spanish American  war also led to complicated relationships with other white foreigners. They had also had a different view of free labor than most white southerners, Yankees, abolitionists or anyone else. In the days of Dixie as they remembered it that did not matter but in the new order it was very alienating.

A final thing to consider as one considers this alienated culture they came to see was whether or not it survived or was simply shot as it faded away. The truth is that there are lot of signs of continuity that could be mentioned in this context but this text will focus on a very few. All do tot the context of these people and their identity and do not relate to the patterns of material culture that were most easily captured on film. It pays to remember how the images of Cajun life were compiled and constructed as one looks at what has happened since then. It may also help to look at what has happened since then to fully see what the SONJ projects were trying to achieve.          

 

The tales and actions that define the Acadian experience and identity have not disappeared since the postwar period chronicled in this text. In fact in many ways it could be argued that the opposite is the case. The Founding of New Acadia: The Beginnings of Acadian Life in Louisiana, 1765-1803 by Carl Brasseux  is only one of his relatively numerous books that have defined the history of the Cajuns and their experience in terms that meet the standards of professional academic historians. Dudley Leblanc’s book The Acadian Miracle is actually a good book which represents great achievements in scholarship and writing and translation. But Brasseaux’s books is fine and solid scholarship. Of all his books The Founding is is perhaps the most important to the Acadian ethnic community. Founding outlines in its opening chapters the Great Upheaval from which this location of peoples into what would become the Confederacy emerged.  This same set of facts was later dealt with by others in what is known in Vermilion Parish most often as the Queen’s Apology .  This is in physical terms a very elaborately produced Royal Proclamation. The document laden with parliamentary seals is the result of a lawsuit brought by Warren Perrin of the Acadian Center in Erath, Louisiana near where Dudley Leblanc lived worked and led his part of the Acadian ethnic struggle for identity. Limited as it may be in many ways this document from Her Britannic Majesty demonstrates as nothing else could the relevance and continuity of the Acadiana heritage. One might argue that it imposes on the historian or other reader who wishes to be informed both the burden and the duty of reading and taking time to understand texts like this which relate to the experience of a people still dealing with the British Court and government for centuries  and still processing important paperwork out of Vermilion Parish as recently as  2003 at the latest.

 

Cajuns as I have already written have an affinity for the Confederate experience for the wars of liberation on French soil. There is evidence for both of these struggles having importance expressed in images, monuments and flags over the decades but  the woes recorded in Evangeline as remembered there and in many other ways are the suffering most central to Cajun and other Acadian identity. There have been some scholarly books recently that have begun to explore the possibilities of Acadian interpretations of that period. Cajuns rallied around the innocence proposed in Longfellow’s Evangeline because they did not agree that they were rebels. They did see the trouble with Britain as a kind of conflict having uniquely mixed qualities of British crime, arguable Acadian neutrality violation, French neglect and Aboriginal American struggle. In the midst of all this there was good and bad deportment on all sides. However most of all this was from a certain point of view a civil war fought between two profoundly different societies. During this period called the Great Upheaval the Acadians waged guerilla war with the MicMacs or MiqMaq in small numbers after their treaty rights were violated and their homes destroyed.  Among the inner circles of Acadians in Vermilion Parish and elsewhere it was always understood that according to specific anecdotes, partial documents and the sense of the people they had helped to create the new world order from the ashes of Acadie. They had experienced the failure and horror of the  Imperial system in a very extreme way. They looked back on their history as an autonomous Coutume in France, at their recent struggle as Americans in a unique way and at the oddly distorted and always refreshed sense of what their ancient Greek past might be about . It was in this  boil of resentments, insights and memories that they joined other forces at work in the world and spread revolutionary ideas to France, the Caribbean and the Thirteen British American Colonies. They shed blood in the cause that is roughly the American Reolutionary cause very late in this American Revolutionary section of the larger Upheaval period at a time which blurs into the next section of period when both the American Confederation Period and the French Revolution were about to really reach their dominance of this action of upheaval. As already mentioned in Chapter One Acadians joined the St. Martinville Militia as the first groups arrived in Acadiana and under Galvez threw Spanish and Creole and Acadian support into the American Revolution by attacking and conquering Baton Rouge and British West Florida.  The largest part of Acadians settled in Louisiana either in the country of the Chitimacha under Olivier Theriot or under Joseph Broussard in the land of the Atakapas. These people were an Aboriginal American tribe known for small numbers, ferocity and cannibalism who were very diminished in wars with other Aboriginal American nations, the Spanish and the French before the Acadians under Joseph Broussard came to this region. The Prairie where Abbeville and Lafayette sit is the Attakapas country in Acadian and Louisiana parlance. A good number of Atakapas (or Attakapas of Atakkapas) were killed in skirmishes and their wives and children taken as mistresses and second families by the Acadians. Some of their descendants joined the Houma who also interbred and intermarried heavily with the Acadians. However people who were not white by the Acadian standard became Houma rather than Cajun and these people were part of a larger fabric of Cajun ethnicity only to the degree that such a larger fabric could be said to exist in the United States of the more intensely nationalist and randomly diverse culture which was replacing the old federalist model based on diverse settled communities seeking both to blend and join together on the one hand and to experience different and unique autonomous identities on the other hand. The Attakapas name was so hated by neighbors that only people who are almost pure European White have ever dared to use it since first contact. There are remnants but no tribe. The remnants are spread over a large area.  However, they have just recently held their first public reunion in centuries. Again part of the heritage struggle of our times. The Attakapas were one of the many peoples affected by this period and process of turmoil. The Tories exiled by the Americans who ended up on old Acadian lands are another part of the same story. The Acadian involvement in the Battle of New Orleans  is yet another part of the this struggle across generations.  

 

There has already been a mention or two of the Feast of the Assumption in this text. That day in August is not to be confused with a second date recognized for this purpose recently by the British.  This national feast in August grew up out of a long struggle and anticipated response involving the Vatican bureaucracy and the Papacy and this is in contrast with  and not be confused with July 28 which was not an anticipated result of the lawsuit. The July 28 day set aside to commemorate “the Great Upheaval” and expulsion of the Acadians in Queen Elizabeth of Scotland and of England Second of the Name’s Royal Proclamation and Apology Regarding the Acadian “Le Grand Derangement”  is arguably in part a recognition of the people and in other ways a recognition of the threat posed by the first date and a desire to undermine it. Thus in a certain real sense the conflict continues to this very day as each summer develops.  Le Grand Derangement  is a term well understood to apply to the expulsion and some other events, it is French for “The Great Upheaval”. It is not agreed what all of the other events included in the term ought to be. The longest span of time included could be from the Treaty of Utrecht to the Battle of New Orleans  — thus a long and vast ordeal that includes all of the American and almost all of the  French Revolution. There are other interpretations of the period designated that vary to no more than the period from the Battle of Beausejour until the execution of the Dauterive Compact. The proclamation was issued in 2003 and the annual day began by that proclamation in 2005.  Acadians have a complex view of the proclamation. Warren Perrin’s own book Acadian Redemption touches upon the tensions. However, the general view among members of the ASG and others had been that there is a kind of deliberate inadequacy and a threatening tone in the proclamation and that this only adds to a world that is always dangerous. However, there is some relief and benefit to the Acadian people in that Her Britannic Majesty acknowledged the people as an ethnicity, recounted the history (however incomplete) and responded with a regular, formal and royal missive. In other words although the threat of bad relations with the UK is certainly a very bad threat in today’s world the threat of meaninglessness and blindness to the past and to human identity is greater for all people but especially the Acadians. The Proclamation has been seen as opening a door to a process that could be good or bad in the eyes of many. However, without the proclamation trouble with the UK was possible but real dialog was impossible and now both are possible.

 

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Appendix to Chapter Six may be Moved to the Section beyond the Bibliography as an Appendix to the entire book:

 

Code Noir

 

Article I. We desire and we expect that the Edict of 23 April 1615 of the late King, our most honored lord and father who remains glorious in our memory, be executed in our islands. This accomplished, we enjoin all of our officers to chase from our islands all the Jews who have established residence there. As with all declared enemies of Christianity, we command them to be gone within three months of the day of issuance of the present [order], at the risk of confiscation of their persons and their goods.

 

Article II. All slaves that shall be in our islands shall be baptized and instructed in the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. We enjoin the inhabitants who shall purchase newly-arrived Negroes to inform the Governor and Intendant of said islands of this fact within no more that eight days, or risk being fined an arbitrary amount. They shall give the necessary orders to have them instructed and baptized within a suitable amount of time.

Article III. We forbid any religion other than the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith from being practiced in public. We desire that offenders be punished as rebels disobedient of our orders. We forbid any gathering to that end, which we declare to be conventicle, illegal, and seditious, and subject to the same punishment as would be applicable to the masters who permit it or accept it from their slaves.

Article IV. No persons assigned to positions of authority over Negroes shall be other than a member of the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith, and the master who assigned these persons shall risk having said Negroes confiscated, and arbitrary punishment levied against the persons who accepted said position of authority.

Article V. We forbid our subjects who belong to the so-called “reformed” religion from causing any trouble or unforeseen difficulties for our other subjects or even for their own slaves in the free exercise of the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith, at the risk of exemplary punishment.

Article VI. We enjoin all our subjects, of whatever religion and social status they may be, to observe Sundays and the holidays that are observed by our subjects of the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. We forbid them to work, nor make their slaves work, on said days, from midnight until the following midnight. They shall neither cultivate the earth, manufacture sugar, nor perform any other work, at the risk of a fine and an arbitrary punishment against the masters, and of confiscation by our officers of as much sugar worked by said slaves before being caught.

Article VII. We forbid them also to hold slave markets or any other market on said days at the risk of similar punishments and of confiscation of the merchandise that shall be discovered at the market, and an arbitrary fine against the sellers.

Article VIII. We declare that our subjects who are not of the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith, are incapable of contracting a valid marriage in the future. We declare any child born from such unions to be bastards, and we desire that said marriages be held and reputed, and to hold and repute, as actual concubinage.

Article IX. Free men who shall have one or more children during concubinage with their slaves, together with their masters who accepted it, shall each be fined two thousand pounds of sugar. If they are the masters of the slave who produced said children, we desire, in addition to the fine, that the slave and the children be removed and that she and they be sent to work at the hospital, never to gain their freedom. We do not expect however for the present article to be applied when the man was not married to another person during his concubinage with this slave, who he should then marry according to the accepted rites of the Church. In this way she shall then be freed, the children becoming free and legitimate. . . .

Article XI. We forbid priests from conducting weddings between slaves if it appears that they do not have their masters’ permission. We also forbid masters from using any constraints on their slaves to marry them without their wishes.

Article XII. Children born from marriages between slaves shall be slaves, and if the husband and wife have different masters, they shall belong to the masters of the female slave, not to the master of her husband.

Article XIII. We desire that if a male slave has married a free woman, their children, either male or female, shall be free as is their mother, regardless of their father’s condition of slavery. And if the father is free and the mother a slave, the children shall also be slaves. . . .

Article XV. We forbid slaves from carrying any offensive weapons or large sticks, at the risk of being whipped and having the weapons confiscated. The weapons shall then belong to he who confiscated them. The sole exception shall be made for those who have been sent by their masters to hunt and who are carrying either a letter from their masters or his known mark.

Article XVI. We also forbid slaves who belong to different masters from gathering, either during the day or at night, under the pretext of a wedding or other excuse, either at one of the master’s houses or elsewhere, and especially not in major roads or isolated locations. They shall risk corporal punishment that shall not be less than the whip and the fleur de lys, and for frequent recidivists and in other aggravating circumstances, they may be punished with death, a decision we leave to their judge. We enjoin all our subjects, even if they are not officers, to rush to the offenders, arrest them, and take them to prison, and that there be no decree against them. . . .

Article XVIII. We forbid slaves from selling sugar cane, for whatever reason or occasion, even with the permission of their master, at the risk of a whipping for the slaves and a fine of ten pounds for the masters who gave them permission, and an equal fine for the buyer.

Article XIX. We also forbid slaves from selling any type of commodities, even fruit, vegetables, firewood, herbs for cooking and animals either at the market, or at individual houses, without a letter or a known mark from their masters granting express permission. Slaves shall risk the confiscation of goods sold in this way, without their masters receiving restitution for the loss, and a fine of six pounds shall be levied against the buyers. . . .

Article XXVII. Slaves who are infirm due to age, sickness or other reason, whether the sickness is curable or not, shall be nourished and cared for by their masters. In the case that they be abandoned, said slaves shall be awarded to the hospital, to which their master shall be required to pay six sols per day for the care and feeding of each slave. . . .

Article XXXI. Slaves shall not be a party, either in court or in a civil matter, either as a litigant or as a defendant, or as a civil party in a criminal matter. And compensation shall be pursued in criminal matters for insults and excesses that have been committed against slaves. . . .

Article XXXIII. The slave who has struck his master in the face or has drawn blood, or has similarly struck the wife of his master, his mistress, or their children, shall be punished by death. . . .

Article XXXVIII. The fugitive slave who has been on the run for one month from the day his master reported him to the police, shall have his ears cut off and shall be branded with a fleur de lys on one shoulder. If he commits the same infraction for another month, again counting from the day he is reported, he shall have his hamstring cut and be branded with a fleur de lys on the other shoulder. The third time, he shall be put to death.

Article XXXIX. The masters of freed slaves who have given refuge to fugitive slaves in their homes shall be punished by a fine of three hundred pounds of sugar for each day of refuge.

Article XL. The slave who has been punished with death based on denunciation by his master, and who is not a party to the crime for which he was condemned, shall be assessed prior to his execution by two of the principal citizens of the island named by a judge. The assessment price shall be paid by the master, and in order to satisfy this requirement, the Intendant shall impose said sum on the head of each Negro. The amount levied in the estimation shall be paid for each of the said Negroes and levied by the [Tax] Farmer of the Royal Western lands to avoid costs. . . .

Article XLII. The masters may also, when they believe that their slaves so deserve, chain them and have them beaten with rods or straps. They shall be forbidden however from torturing them or mutilating any limb, at the risk of having the slaves confiscated and having extraordinary charges brought against them.

Article XLIII. We enjoin our officers to criminally prosecute the masters, or their foremen, who have killed a slave under their auspices or control, and to punish the master according to the circumstances of the atrocity. In the case where there is absolution, we allow our officers to return the absolved master or foreman, without them needing our pardon.

Article XLIV. We declare slaves to be charges, and as such enter into community property. They are not to be mortgaged, and shall be shared equally between the co-inheritors without benefit to the wife or one particular inheritor, nor subject to the right of primogeniture, the usual customs duties, feudal or lineage charges, or feudal or seigneurial taxes. They shall not be affected by the details of decrees, nor from the imposition of the four-fifths, in case of disposal by death or bequeathing. . . .

Article XLVII. Husband, wife and prepubescent children, if they are all under the same master, may not be taken and sold separately. We declare the seizing and sales that shall be done as such to be void. For slaves who have been separated, we desire that the seller shall risk their loss, and that the slaves he kept shall be awarded to the buyer, without him having to pay any supplement. . . .

Article LV. Masters twenty years of age may free their slaves by any act toward the living or due to death, without their having to give just cause for their actions, nor do they require parental advice as long as they are minors of 25 years of age.

Article LVI. The children who are declared to be sole legatees by their masters, or named as executors of their wills, or tutors of their children, shall be held and considered as freed slaves. . . .

Article LVIII. We declare their freedom is granted in our islands if their place of birth was in our islands. We declare also that freed slaves shall not require our letters of naturalization to enjoy the advantages of our natural subjects in our kingdom, lands or country of obedience, even when they are born in foreign countries.

Article LIX. We grant to freed slaves the same rights, privileges and immunities that are enjoyed by freeborn persons. We desire that they are deserving of this acquired freedom, and that this freedom gives them, as much for their person as for their property, the same happiness that natural liberty has on our other subjects.

Versailles, March 1685, the forty second year of our reign.

Signed LOUIS,

and below the King.

Colbert, visa, Le Tellier.

Read, posted and recorded at the sovereign council of the coast of Saint Domingue, kept at Petit Goave, 6 May 1687, Signed Moriceau.