Category Archives: Environment

Why the Moon Matters Much

It is hard to look at the news cycle at the current moment or at the state of the world and readily conclude that a blog post about the Moon and humanity’s future as it relates to the Moon ought to be our top priority for understanding and exploration of ourselves and our world. Yet, amidst all my other concerns I am sure that the Moon ranks very highly indeed. It is true that I do not get paid to think about these things and have many other concerns. So there is an element of arrogance in my persistence in exploring these ideas.

When I was a child the Apollo Program was a very big part of my life in the way that other great institutions are part of a child’s life. Apollo 11 was uniquely significant amongst all space related achievements of the human race up till now. Huge numbers of people could see that the human civilization was transformed in some profound way by the fact that we could perform a crewed landing on the moon and return the crew safely to Earth. It seemed to little kids of certain types and to many others that future would involve significant human development on the Moon.  I was eight years old in 1972 when Apollo 17 was completed. The years since have seen no return of human beings to the Moon. But the Moon remains a unique site with unique and totally irreplaceable potential for human kind.

I wrote a novel in which the first set of chapters or part or book is titled The Moon. But the novel has not been published. In that novel I set the action of the early chapters mostly on the moon in in crater cap colonies.

Of course we now know that there is some water on the moon, a significant amount. But not enough for the kind of lifestyle that I depict in my novel. I do believe that a well run colonial system on the moon would eventually find other deposits of water frozen into the substrata as the novel describes and this would be among the most valued mineral assets in such and economy. However that need not be true for colonies to thrive there. There is enough water to start small colonies and we could capture comets and crash them into craters on the far side of the moon in controlled landings.  There is no question that we can approach comets and land devices on them. That was proved in the Rosetta Mission.  We could select small icy comets and learn to steer them into craters on the far side while building all early colonies on the near side. Most comets are less that ten miles across in their frozen state and there are a huge number of them. They are mostly made of water. we could develop an industry to send a comet a year of less than a quarter mile in diameter crashing into the Moon’s surface for the first many years of settlement and supply enough water needs for a thriving economy there. In time we would orbit more and even smaller comets around the moon and then break them up using most of the water on the moon and some on the ships we would build in orbit around the moon. The mass added in water would be equaled by the mass launched from the moon in space ships and components for spaceships and space stations made on the moon. Thus over a century or so we have a satellite of the same mass but perhaps two to ten percent of it mass would be liquid water and atmosphere in the crater cap colonies. ships to mars and other places could be huge, fast, safe and luxurious and still be cheaper than anything we could build on earth according to proper economic and fiscal analysis.

The best discussions we can have about the future of human development on the Moon relate to understanding how it must function in our future. There are many reasons why we should develop the Moon and do so soon. I want to discuss a few of them. First, the Moon is an accessible place the lack of atmosphere and the low gravity make it easy to launch materials into space. Earth can support lunar operations relatively easily. Rescue and support ships could reach the Moon in a few days. Communication is very rapid. The economic potential for a fully developed Moon is vast and the uses for an increasingly complex civilization on Earth are myriad.

The real world impact of developing sizable colonies on the Moon could be transformative for our civilization. Mining, space based solar power plants, huge communication satellite communication capacity and a thousand other industries could yield large results on Earth in a relatively short time. All of these concepts are relatively respectable for discussion around the world even though many people in the discussion would never really consider space colonization as a serious option. There is a great deal that needs to be tended to on Earth it is true but there are those of us who believe that colonizing the Moon will help us to tend to the things that concern us on Earth.
Beyond that it’s essential to the defense of the Earth from an attack from outside. That means taking responsibility for a threat potential which is not given serious respect in moast places. We can say that vigilance sanning and resources on the moon as weel as continuous activity around the comets and asteroids would help us to guard against collisions from and comets better than keeping all our resources on Eath and we can see that the threats from such collisions are real. that is one way in which lunar colonies would be a protective and defensive asset.  But that is not the whole picture occupying the Moon effectively would also provide at least some real advantage in deling with any technological species coming to meet us with good, evil or neutral intentions. So we must consider whether alien threats are worthy on any consideration.

As far as the possibility of Alien contact goes nothing could be less important when it is not happening and very few things could be more important when they are happening. A framework for estimating the chances for communicating with another civilization is provided by the Drake Equation. This equation is used to estimate the number of communicating civilizations around during the lifetime  (or the present moment of) a program searching for their communication signals thus predicting the  success probability for the Search for Extra(T)errestrial Intelligence or SETI

N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L

  • N = The number of civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.
  • R* =The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.
  • fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.
  • ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.
  • fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.
  • fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.
  • fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.
  • L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

As far as security, national and otherwise goes. There is real risk if there is and it could be enormous. there are plenty of people who have claimed encounters with aliens, some may be highly credible. For examples see here, here and here. One question some people have long asked is whether the universe is more like a desert or a jungle. The desert theorists have been the most assertive in the most respected parts of the scientific establishment for a long time. But the recent search for exoplanets has revealed a lot of exoplanets and a good number of those in what is called the Goldilocks zone around their own stars (not too hot and not too cold for liquid water) and that has changed the assessment. Of course in most very ancient traditions and mythologies the Heavens were a jungle of sorts — full of mysterious and mystical creatures and creators. We don’t have to theorize about the existence of theoretically habitable planets anymore. Information about them can be seen here and here — and there are almost certainly a vast number more.

Various pieces of the alien threat assessment have to be considered.

I propose the Franksummers3ba Equation for the number of Alien First Contacts by direct visitation that humans will experience on earth and in the possible colonies within our own solar system. It is based on the Drake Equation.

N = ( R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fs • fe• fb • fr • fp • fs  •L)M

  • N= The number of civilizations which might arrive at Earth and contact  or confront humans here or in surrounding future colonies relatively unannounced.
  • R* =The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.
  • fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.
  • ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.
  • fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.
  • fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.
  • fs = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that develop space travel .
  • fe=The fraction of those civilizations that choose to locate planets like ours.
  •  fb=The fraction of those civilizations that build and launch interstellar craft: finding the political resources and will to do so as well as the wealth.
  •  fr= The fraction of those civilizations  which develop individual craft or groups of craft capable of reaching our solar system  from their launch point.
  •  fp= The fraction of those civilizations  which either reach a high percentage of detected planets in range or which highly prioritize reaching a planet like ours.
  • • fs= The fraction of those civilizations which use stealth or secrecy beyond our capacities of remote detection and which find it preferable to avoid electromagnetic or similar communication at a distance in advance of first contact.
  • Ll  = The length of time such civilizations launch such craft divided by the period of time humans survive in this solar system.
  • NOTE:  the brackets indicate that this is the product which gives us a number for contact from any launch site even though the next operation is also mathematically identical multiplication.
  • M=The rate at which civilizations of this sort reproduce autonomous launch sites which are in these parameter or civilizations enter these parameters which are otherwise disqualified by one or more factors through creating autonomous launch sites.

 

 

So that’s all I have time for here. But this is yet another post in favor of taking space colonization seriously. I am not sure what else I will be able to write on this subject because my Earthbound concerns are sufficient to take up my time and energy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Floods and Fortitude

Randy Newman a poet and songwriter, as well as gifted singer, wrote a song about an earlier flood. The song still works and its lyrics still resonate. The place names of the remembered waters are not exactly the right ones but they are not so far away. We are accustomed to being tried here and this is certainly a trial.  But there is a lot of complexity to the issues that relate to this flood and to other disasters. Previous trials have been mentioned in this blog here, here and here for example.  But man made disasters are more often the subject of this blog than storms and there has never been a shortage of manmade disasters. Sometimes the line is blurry. There is a town suing the State of Louisiana for road planning that interfered with effective drainage and that kind of thing is tricky. It takes skill and technology and hard work to live here.  In Randy Newman’s song the Flood has the feel of a an assault or siege.

 What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

I took the pictures above in the days of the flooding along with many others. Some of them were lost in a phone which was also lost in the flood. Actually it was damaged beyond repair. But as bad as things were there was not so much sense of moral assault this time as their sometimes is. Not quite as much as in the Randy Newman tune.
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us awayPresident Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers land.”
The politicians still have a great deal of politicking to do. Meanwhile, we are all (actually most of us — we have our deadweight folks, also the truly needy and the shattered– but most of us are ) trying to do the best to get through this and get others through this. I have invested some time because as bleak as my situation is I am not substantially victimized by the flood itself. There is always a question of how the culture around here relates to the cultural framework of our society as a whole and how it ought to relate to that society. The Cajun Navy has become one of the points of controversy in this communication between ways of doing and being, a link to that controversy is here.  My judgement of being isolated and abused is not yet as intense as in the Newman lyrics:
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away

What can I do? Well, I have done quite a few things. So have others around me. At the bottom of this post is a collection of pictures I took during the time I spent at the distribution center in the United Way facility in Lafayette, Louisiana. I was busy receiving and helping to distribute goods.  In the set of pictures just below these words I was working with St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Abbeville which was involved in a variety of flood relief activity. It so happens that the house chosen for me to work on was that of an old and dear friend and his family. John Dale Lege and Charlene were very close friends years ago and part of what John Dale and I did together was volunteer work on the houses of the needy. But John Dale was in those days a very hardworking young father and a black belt in Karate. Today he is long now fully disabled. In testimony to how close we were back then I am the godfather of his daughter Anne Frances whose middle name is in honor partly of me. She is a mother now and long has been a productive citizen. I stay in touch but we are not that close any more. There home was ravaged by the flood and they were one real and tangible set of actual people injured by this catastrophe. However, before either of these outraeches I had already been busy doing flood related things…

 

 

The truth is hard to come by… goes the John Denver song I like.  to quote but the truth is United Way, St. Mary Magdalene Church and others with whom I have worked are making a difference. We are doing what we can.  For me getting back to normal doesn’t seem so great but still it has to be a primary goal. The disaster must be addressed whatever our normal problems may be. The local chapter of the American Red Cross, the local United Way organization, Lafayette High School Student Government, St. Thomas More High School and Americorps were only some of the organizations that I saw involved in the receiving and distribution day that I participated in. Among for proffit organizations I saw Rope, Soap and Dope, Hub City Diner and the gentleman I am in the picture with is a Spolinno (sp?) from Crowley originally who owns and operates A. Bryan’s Jewelry in Lafayette. The community was coming together in many ways.

A Bryan's United Way Flood The Love - 3 United Way Flood The Love - 2 United Way Flood The Love - 1

Best wishes to all who are helping. the crisis is not over yet. But the recovery is well underway.

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 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 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.

 

Emerging Views Innocent Eyes and Pristine Culture, Ch. 4

 

Louisiana regional map bold

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

This chapter is about a long term view of the documentary craft and of Robert Flaherty’s work and mind. The man who made Louisiana Story and other films like Man of Aran and Elephant Boy. It is also about how to view Cajun culture as a whole and also how to view cultures in general, In themes and scope it is very different from the last chapter focusing on a year. Here bigger questions about life and humanity are asked.

 

The year 1947 described in the last chapter is the fulcrum and center of the Standard Oil funded projects in Acadiana which are studied in this text. This chapter is near the start of a book that has an introduction, a conclusion, fourteen numbered chapters and four appendices. The year 1947 like the year 2016 is a year like many others. But in many ways each year is unique. In discussing a filmmaker or a culture the differences and the universality are also profoundly distinctive questions from discussing a year. Individual people and specific cultures are so very much themselves.  The hope in writing a book like this is that specific knowledge leads to broad and possibly universal insight.

I am writing this in 2016 and it has many significant features as a year for many people but for me it is a very dark time overall. The year in which probably the string of resources devoted to many projects and goals is likely to run out. But to others like those enthused about what Donald Trump has to offer this must be a year of promise as he comes to the fore. Every year has a different meaning for different people.

But for me this is also the year to publish this book in blog posts in draft. A book that is not mostly about a single year or ecven a set of years but about looking at the world through a lense of some things that happened.  Here is the pdf for this chapter: EmergingViewsChapter4InnocentEyesandPristineCulture

Here is the chapter:

 

Chapter Four:

Innocent Eyes and Pristine Cultures

 

This book is about two very specific sets of photographs in large part. one set is largely a collection of stills and the other although some stills are part of the story is largely a movie. But each chapter so far has reminded the reader that perception is conditioned by those doing the perceiving and also tends to have some kind of real effect upon those people and patterns which are perceived.  This chapter goes beyond the previous chapters in the depth and seeking to understand what the documentarians employed by Standard Oil were doing. Still however there will not be a great deal of technical sophistication and detail in this part of the study. The aspect of sound  as it was operating at the time and specifically in the case of Louisiana Story and the brief mention of other technical aspects of the photographic or cinematic process in only a handful of cases will be worked into study however partially. This does bend some of the conventions of what a history text about South Louisiana might be expected to be but  not in the direction of becoming a manual for professional photographers. I like to believe I know a little something about photography but I  am far more interested in photographers as regards this text.  Taylor Calder-Marshall titled the most authoritative  and seminal biography of Robert Flaherty The Innocent Eye and the idea that Flaherty had an innocent point of view and was at his best depicting pristine cultures has been a widely held and broadly supported idea about his work. Thus in title and concept this chapter focuses on Flaherty’s work more than on the SONJ stills although not to the exclusion of that project or its images. How Louisiana Story fits into the body of Flaherty’s work is a question importance in determining how to evaluate it. Some idea of how it is regarded in the scholarship of documentary film can be gleaned from Ronald S. Magliozzi’s biographical essay on Flaherty which appears in the 1998 volume titled Filming Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story: The Helen Van Dongen Story. Magliozzi writes,”Louisiana Story was Flaherty’s return to themes of wilderness, exploration and innocence, and to the style of poetic humanism that distinguished his most highly regarded films.”  The context for the view of Cajun culture which was portrayed in the film also has a context within the documentary film community in the largest sense as it existed then and as it exists now. In the same volume just named, in his essay “Discover and Disclose; Helen Van Dongen and Louisiana Story” Richard Barsam discusses Flaherty and reveals how the community of critical and in a sense historical scholars view this body of work by a great American documentarian.

Flaherty’s view of the world was founded not only on a humanistic

faith in man but moreover on a romantic neglect of human evil. This tender vision embraces the human not the material continuum of this world.  Flaherty agreed with Rousseau that the most “primitive” or least advanced people are the happiest and the least corrupt and that the arts and sciences that comprise what we call civilization corrupt man’s native goodness.    

 

One may note that in this book terms like sexism and ethno-centricity are sometimes used but so are terms like misogyny and bigotry. It is hard to say how ethnocentric Flaherty may have been as a documentarian and a New Englander viewing the world. But I really do think it is important to remember that he made Man of Aran about the extremely rural part of  Irish population coping with the extremes of nature. I feel that Flaherty felt as connected to an Irish sense of identity as much as to any other form of identity with which he was born. If that is even remotely true then it does something to prove along with other evidence that he was not a bigot. He knew the family he created in Louisiana Story was purely fictional and that his actors were quite different from the people they portrayed. However sometimes he seems to have been a bit seduced by his own fiction, perhaps almost any filmmaker would have been seduced by the beauty of the work.

 

Lionel Leblanc was a real trapper, could really speak French and really knew the wetlands. J.C. Boudreaux really had a way with a pirogue, with animals and really hooked and pulled in an alligator when asked to do so for the film. Evelyn Bienvenue could really cook and keep house in a remote cabin if need be. Choosing these people and not professional actors was part of Flaherty’s integrity. In a later chapter we will Cajun character and mainstream American perception of that character in more detail. However, perhaps here it is fair to ask what the American audience  could be expected to accept about anyone like the Cajun trappers. One might argue that cowboys and other groups were portrayed with no greater authenticity and that although almost all of the cowboy films were both openly fictional and set in the past  nonetheless the American people were absorbing an image of the cowboy that really people had to live with and which was in various ways misleading. An increasingly urban society may have needed to believe that this in extreme wilderness or rural environments were more “other” than they actually were. Many American communities were still developing a more urban and suburban identity and the a kind of insecurity about this new life in an industrial superpower of large and midsize cities created a need to show that people living and working  in the vast wildernesses of this country were not just Americans who had some differences with their countrymen and countrywomen. The people had to be a bit more exotic. I believe the Cajun trappers were a bit exotic. I also believe that Flaherty did not attempt and did not achieve an academic ethnological film capturing their way of life. He created a work of art which preserved some real visual and other information.  Flaherty was certainly not unique in bringing a great number of parameters and predispositions to his efforts to portray a subject. Rather he was normal in that regard.      

 

The idea of making pictures for a living predates the invention of the photographic process. Artists who made pictures for a living were attracted to the  institutions and cultural processes which made it possible for them to earn a living and also to satisfy the inner needs  and aspirations which led them to become artists in the first place. Gaines Foster, previously cited for his analysis of the transformed cultural patterns of the former Confederacy in the twentieth century as described in the book Moral Reconstruction has also written of a set of artistic and

perceptual institutions in his book Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South 1865 to 1913.  The book is almost as much about monuments and statuary as this book is about photographic and filmic representations. It is almost as much  — not quite as much. The processes that produced those images were different but they had an important role to play in shaping the larger society of the emerging New South — those Confederate soldiers made of stone, plaster, poetic verse or metal which were created by Southern communities or veterans organizations to deal with the aftermath of the war and move on  are treated as tangible products and given his address of the famous quote from H.L.  Menken describing the South as the “Sahara of the Bozart”, it would seem that the fact of these tangible objects as art object and visual crafts is significant to the overall vision of the New South as Foster conceives it. What is more or less an industry of producing images is supported by a set of cultural condition worth understanding and has cultural effects worth understanding.

 

The American Civil War produced a kind of industry in representational art in a number of periods and on both sides. William Styple created a memorable book in Generals in Bronze: Interviewing the Commanders of the Civil War  an edition of the interviews conducted by James Kelly with Union generals for the bronzes he prepared commemorating their heroic struggle for the Northern Society that wished to preserve a quality record of their great triumph over the Rebellion. In that book, where the text is largely the work of a visual artist, the  result is still a book in which there is an endless and insoluble tension between whether the real interest is in the images commissioned and effected or the general officers of the Union Army and the Grand Army of the Republic who are being depicted. Of course the photography of the Civil War is one of its interesting features because combat and marital photography on a grand scale were relatively recent parts of the vast pattern of  human struggle of war. Matthew Brady certainly made himself into a bit of a legend and a fixture in the studies of historians by doing his work to capture the great faces involved in creating and shaping that great conflict.  His work distinguishes itself and tends to rise above whatever field of work he finds himself in but yet he studied in the National Academy and photographed the Civil War. Neither the Civil War nor the Academy were individual pursuits or inventions  of his mind. Brady was part of a kind of professional community and involved in an enterprise that was bound to employ a good number of practitioners representational arts and crafts. He simply made sure that significant American photography was a real part of what went on. Perhaps others would have done so in his place and perhaps not. But Brady defined himself, his work and his subject in a context defined for him by his times and his place in those times.     

 

  

 

Indiana University Art Museum discusses one of these historical groups of pictures produced in a context which defines them. to  fully and richly understand these images one must understand the milieu which produced them.  

 

The classical itinerary of the Grand Tour was a phenomenon of eighteenth-century Enlightenment humanism. A journey to Italy to view the remains of antiquity was considered an essential element of an upper-class education, and an extended visit to Rome was the Grand Tourist’s primary objective. Many tourists and artists spent at least several months in Rome, often continuing south to Naples, a city renowned both for its beauty and for its proximity to Mount Vesuvius and the archaeological sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Paestum.

Eighteenth-century Rome hosted a sizeable international community of artists (including Germans, Danes, and Swiss). Many settled there permanently, while others came to study, either independently or at schools such as the French Academy in Rome. After their exposure to Rome’s classical architecture, some of the academy’s students became important figures in the neoclassical movement in revolutionary France.

Some artists traveled to Italy in the company of British aristocrats, who employed them to record the famous sites they visited. Many Italian artists also catered to foreign tourists. Pompeo Batoni grew wealthy painting portraits of British aristocrats and copies of Old Master paintings, commissioned as souvenirs by travelers. A demand for views of famous panoramas encouraged the growth of veduta painting, a genre focusing on topographical or bird’s-eye views of cities (exemplified by Canaletto’s views of Venice).

 

The list of such contexts for artists to gather and create works is not an endless and infinite series. In fact, the contrary is true. There is a limited number of venues where many or a good number of artists can gather to portray anything and make a living. At any given time there are few opportunities to portray things that matter in interesting ways and make a living doing so. Stryker and Flaherty both stand above the landscape of such things. Providing employment to the truly gifted and exceptional for many years is really an impressive achievement. Let there be no doubt as to this writer’s view of the work. I question why these people pointed the cameras in one direction and not another in social and cultural terms but they knew their craft, their business and their way of life very well. They were not merely competent. A significant number of them were geniuses in the practice of these crafts and arts tied to light and lenses,

 

The pictures and the film funded by Standard Oil tell a story and one important question is whether it is to any degree the story they came to tell is a true story. Whether the story they did tell was in any way a true story. My undergraduate studies were heavy in literature and I have a high regard for the truth of fiction itself. But fiction is not the same kind of truth as sportswriting for example which I have sometimes done for a living. This study takes a look at the degree to which this group of skilled observers and communicators did communicate fact and create historical documents or sources.  We have already examined that question a bit from the point of view of the subjects themselves, the question perhaps is not so simple in resolution as some might assume that it would be. However, all though not directly exhausting the subject or even doing it justice the study has made clear the evidence sufficient to show that the Cajuns were not a pristine culture. The Cajuns were not pristine in their contact with the New England environment. They had fought with New England Yankees in every war since the Civil War and against them in the Civil War. They had played a unique if debatable role in the War of 1812 and the American Revolution. None of these qualities were true of Flaherty’s Samoans, Inuit clans or people of the Irish outer islands.Although of course with the rural Irish there are greater similarities. These are Flaherty’s connections of course. The people of the SONJ project coming together mostly from the FSA experience are more oriented to see the Cajuns as rural Americans and that is generally these sense one gets in the difference between the two groups of images. The SONJ pictures had they formed a movie would have captured more of the Acadian experience of moving into the mainstream.

 

But the people  being photographed had an even older relationship with New England than the Revolutionary era of course.  Pierre Maisonnat had been a scourge of New England shipping long ago. One might wonder to what degree the struggle between Acadians and Yankees continued in yet another century in the propaganda value of selection of decidedly backwards subjects to shoot compared to the most forward thinking or looking subjects. Lafayette, Louisiana was not Boston no matter what but neither was it the La Tour cabin. Perhaps some of the people they shot may have descended from Maisonnat  or some other Acadian privateer under the French standard. Less than perfect relations between the regions and peoples has a bit of precedent over quite a bit of time,  Pierre Maisonnat  dit Baptiste was born in Bergerac, France in 1663 in the larger region of Western France which besides Bergerac included La Rochelle and Poitiers  from which most Acadian colonists came. Flaherty and Webb had not grown up hating Maisonnat but that is not the only way a tradition of hostility can find its way into subsequent traditions. So whether it seems fair or not this study will not presume goodwill was an essential part of whatever perspective distinguished these documentarians. The relationship  between New Englanders and Acadians was not all hostile and negative. One chapter in Brasseaux’s Founding of the New Acadia is devoted to tracking the positive aspects of the relations between what amounted to neighboring communities. Those good relations between wars included trade, personal friendship and varied forms of what amounted to political and diplomatic cooperation. But the point of all this is that in no way whatsoever was this a pristine culture in the sense that Flaherty was recording either an aboriginal culture which had been in this place since before the start of the historical record nor was this in any way a culture which had never been observed by the people who most defined the basic culture of New York and the North Eastern Seaboard of the United States. There is a third way in which the Cajuns might be a pristine culture for Flaherty. They could be pristine in the way that they faced the natural environment without the support of a larger outside society before the coming of the oil industry.  In the chapters so far it has been shown that the most rural Cajuns participated in a cash economy, were connected to many institutions in towns and communities and  in many other ways were not pristine. But it is also true that while a trapper might buy all his traps he respected the trapper who could make his own if  he needed to and maybe ran one or two handmade traps. The trapper’s wife might buy most of her vegetables but still respected the trapper’s wife who had a garden, chickens,ducks, turtles and a few fruit trees within the distance a woman could walk carrying a baby. That was still an admired accomplishment. The average trapper might not live a pristine lifestyle at all in this last since but perhaps had rags and patches of  pure subsistence capabilities and a view that those trappers would prosper most who made their money in the larger market and kept most of it by producing a great deal themselves when no trapping would or could occur. The SONJ photographers certainly captured many images of these varied kinds of economic activities near the home which were often either directly in support of the man’s work far from home or were undertaken by women. In addition to subsistence, women could generate cash income from excess eggs, chickens and produce. This could be even more important to farmers and cattlemen than to trappers although the farmers and trappers usually had more money and wealth. The farmers and cattlemen only got paid a few times each year in many cases and these small sales provided cash flow to the families which could make a large difference in the survival of the farm or ranch.    So generally, there was no pristine culture to record by any real meaning of the word.

 

  

 

There are of course other significant influences in  the environment which one cannot ignore. Not the least of those is the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell and the 1939 film based on that novel  Gone With the Wind was very much in the air. Scarlett O’Hara was sweeping through Abbeville in a big way when Dudley Leblanc elevated the image of Therese of Lisieux not all that far away from the towns movie screens. The two women are of course very different. Some have said and written that Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett was very much based on the novelist herself.  Dudley Leblanc was certainly selecting a different kind of Catholic woman to present to this little Southern town. Gone With the Wind provides a view of things in the aftermath of the Civil War which was more palatable to New England sensibilities than most of the visions of the conflict which were prevalent in Acadiana.  The differences between Georgia’s hill  country and Acadiana were real differences and so Mitchell’s vision does not account for everything that differs between the two narratives of the War Between the States that had not so very long who dropped out of living memory. a child born in 1865 was 80 years old in 1945 and had no memories even of that year. Of course there were a few survivors here and there who could remember something. But the war  had mostly passed from the subject of childhood recollections to the subject of records and the history, fiction and drama based on those records.

 

Georgia after all was one of the thirteen colonies and had an undeniable link to New England in positive terms that went back to the very start of its colonial history. The great adventure of the Revolution would be clearly a joint venture by Georgia, Massachusetts, New York and most of the rest of the American East Coast had a direct connection to that experience  of a kind absent elsewhere in the country. Here there are layers of alienation between New York and the Cajuns that did not exist between New York and Atlanta.

 

One may wonder what Hollywood and Atlanta really have to do with New York, Vermont and Acadiana. Moviemakers are and were a community as well and the connections across the literary and photographic world were extensive. An excellent look at a small part of that set of connections appears in the fascinating book Some Time in the Sun: The Hollywood Years of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Nathanael West, Aldous Huxley and James Agee by Tom Dardis. This is not the time and place to delve thoroughly into the Dardis’s book. However anyone with a serious interest in the South should note the name Faulkner. Anyone with a serious interest in connections between New England and the South should note the name Fitzgerald and anyone interested in the documentary sensibility behind the SONJ works should note the name James Agee. People coming into the South to do this work could not get around and utterly ignore Gone With the Wind.  Gone With the Wind offers a very definite set of interpretations of the Southern experience as it was before and after the Civil War and as it continued to be in the 1930s. One of the most important trends in the sociology of the novel is that people transition from a plantation and slavery based economy to one based on small forms of trade, craftsmanship and entrepreneurship. The Standard Oil interest in showing a transition to a new economy is also a seen by Flaherty as a transition to a commercial model of economic prosperity. However, trappers had been working without slaves in fairly  large numbers with their own hands to produce goods with a cash value and negotiating leases and land rights associated with their industry since before the Civil War and at  all times since. The La Tour family that could  have an innocent naivete about leases or about using money was simply an impossibility.

  

Now in this chapter the questions are asked with more interest in what the documentarians were about. What were the predispositions, conditions, propensities and values of the documentary community more or less based in New York City. In other words,  the attention of this study shifts in this chapter to the pictures both still and moving in and of themselves and asks what are they?

 

To return to the earlier references they are not Grand Tour paintings, Kelly bronzes, the memorials of the New South nor the photographs of Mathew Brady. It will also help to discuss some other things which they clearly are not ever going to become. Neither Louisiana Story nor the SONJ photographs replicate the life experience of the Acadian or “Cajun” people in any highly respectable form of ethnological craft which conforms to what is  anthropologically described or idealized and yet certainly worse work has been done less honestly with less anthropological value  and has gotten at least temporary credence at home in the more serious and professional academic venues where Webb, Flaherty and Van Dongen spent very little time.  What is true of anthropology is true of history. These works or not the work of archivists, preservationists or oral historians that are tuned to the best ideal of the academic departments  and committed to their standards. Much of their work is not done in a spirit of fine professionalism or even in any  historically accurate way by those standards..On the other hand most scholars would have to admit on seeing the work that the best of it is more useful than the worst work that has ever found its way through more academically managed channels. So what can be said of Flaherty’s vision and method in particular?

 

John Grierson, saw Flaherty’s work as flawed because it failed to confront social ills and explore the conflict man and man.  Nonetheless, Grierson’s critique of Flaherty’s work assumes more cultural research than evidence suggests. Flaherty wrote the basis of the screenplay used in Louisiana Story without really having done any research one can find and it is called The Christmas Tree.  However his process was to improve upon these things over time. Once on sight he produced a screenplay that is better in almost every sense one can imagine.   Richard Leacock remembered working with Flaherty and his tripod based filming when he had been used to hand held work. The purity and detail of the shots was strikingly beautiful to him. In a sense the tripod is a metaphor for Flaherty’s work. His weakness might be in what he chose not to shoot. His strength however was in his capacity to keep focussed and and let the truth of what he did film emerge with clarity.

 

The documentary photographs appearing in this section of the study constitute the latter of the two Stryker collections and serve as the means to study Acadian life and analyze assimilation.  Perhaps the most sensitive treatment of Louisiana’s image in the SONJ photographs appears in Frank de Caro’s essay “A Pretty Good Picture of Louisiana: The Great Documentary Projects,” almost all studies of Stryker’s work have emphasized his work directing the Historic Division of the Farm Security Administration during Roosevelt’s New Deal.  De Caro’s analysis makes much of SONJ’s propaganda agenda.  He does not discuss the correspondence or photographs in general which might argue for other general interpretations of the photographs. Generally, however de Caro’s treatment is detailed and balanced.  De Caro writes of his own view of how the Standard Oil project both worked as part of Standard Oil and part of the documentary tradition:

“In their pictures, there is abundant evidence of Standard OiL’s presence.  An Esso sign appears discreetly along picturesque Bayou Lafourche (fig. 74); another sign for Essomarine shares almost equal attention with a shrimpboat in Morgan City….But they took pictures of many other things as well, and what has been said of the project as a whole is certainly true of Louisiana: through his photographers Stryker engaged in “the building of a photographic record of America on the homefront, the day-by-day existence lived by ordinary Americans.

  Like the FSA photographers, those of the Standard Oil project were in a position to observe and record traditional folk cultures…..They covered a lot of territory with a mandate to shoot the human actions and creations that interested them…. In the Project’s Louisiana pictures, traditional folklife is certainly an important element.”

I think this passage illustrate in a kind of indirect way the difference between the movie and the still collection. Both have their biases and limit and both have bits of genius but the still are more like journalistic reportage. Flaherty’s film is in my view a kind of fine art made as a corporate commercial in a manner informed largely by ethnology. That may be quite a mouthful as a description but I believe it is better to come to a complicated truth than to a simple lie. ethnological, artistic and commercial elements all remain vital components of the total work which is Louisiana Story.

 

As we stated in chapter one of this text this set of documentaries has its own place in and helps to preserve a  specific  moment in history, it is something that happened in a particular place and it is a very American phenomenon. Helen Van Dongen became an American citizen while filming Louisiana Story but the American quality of it all goes far beyond that. From the point of view of the learned communities of French Louisiana and some other regions it often seems that the United States lacks more and more  and retains less and less any conscious and articulate tradition of recording or historical understanding of itself and its destiny within which a community of Euro-Americans who occupied their region before the establishment of Anglo-Americans in the area really can be understood. America has remarkably often redefined itself and the clear truth in the eyes of such people has often seemed to be the casualty. I have read and will not cite where a number of scholars who are eager to show that the Roosevelts were not at all Dutch, that even the Scots Irish were more or less English and that key Californios had forgotten their heritage. This seems to be a kind of absolute nonsense that  America has prized  and held close to itself along with its ever evolving its self perceptions. There is always less space and time for those narratives. In addition to that there is a political element to the whole transition which relies on real qualities of the founding of the Republic which people as different as Prohibitionists, Civil RIghts workers and many other have found ways to capitalize upon.  the fact is that this country is about ideas more than communities in some ways.  This country has appeared in the writing of many of its best leader and thinkers as a designed and culturally neutral political union of free men.  Others have viewed it as an extension and perfection of the new Promised Land receiving its way of life from Providence. If that vision is at all true then the story was written in many ways be a fairly diverse set of real communities largely of white people who had to relate to one another in very specific ways often and on a large scale. However somehow the telling of that story creates a sort of central union of the people here around a single simple myth in a way which for many people now more on the periphery clearly never existed.

 

The 1930s may have been the first time that a large scale effort was made by artists, thinkers and political leaders to discover the uniquely American culture often called the American Way of Life.  Those years of the Depression and of the New Deal were also the years when the American “Documentary” exploded from obscurity to what may have been its zenith.  The documentaries made possible a more intense debate and dialogue about the relationship between culture and America.  That dialogues continues as we consider the broad and rich community of American documentary filmmakers at that time.

 

This documentary impulse played a central role in the formation of the body of sources discussed in the both in the prior and in the subsequent  pages of this thesis.  It was in the classic documentary period of the 1930’s that Roy Stryker became involved in the New Deal effort to photograph rural life in America.  His work with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Agency known as the Farmer’s Security Administration is only discussed briefly in this thesis but is central to the dissertation of which this thesis is an adapted section.  During the thirties Stryker became famous for directing photographers who took tens of thousands of photographs of rural America.  On the basis of that achievement he was hired by Standard Oil in the forties to capture and show, in a similarly enormous photographic collection, the impact of the oil industry on the fabric of American life.

 

Besides  the Roy Stryker matrix for his work Flaherty has another affinity that needs to be understood in order to achieve any really sophisticated understanding of his film. That affinity is really not so  easily laid bare and understood as the documentary film context. Flaherty had a strong affinity for silent film. Understanding what silent film was and how it maintained a hold on Flaherty is a challenge that cannot be left unmet if the film is to be understood in its own historical context , within the history of film.

 

One factor in understanding how Flaherty’s work has been perceived is that the documentarians were predominantly Leftists. Some were what are called liberal Democrats, some were socialists and some were Communists at least at some point in their lives. Although they were not leaders in the Workers FIlm and Photo League sponsored by the Comintern (or Communist International) the documentarians lived and worked in the same 1930s New York. Work outside of book length publication and first rate journals has been presented at the University of California at Berkeley which clearly show that while the New Deal films, international Communist films and American Leftist films can be understood as different as can Grierson’s Labour Government Sponsored British films there is a kind of community or milieu that embraces all of these filmmakers and does not include many other people or institutions. In more reductionist terms one can see the  totality of this filmmaking documentary community in New York as a whole and as one thing. in the midst of all that and active in it is Flaherty. Flaherty does not do the politics of Lorentz’s New Deal films, does not see the principal characters as victims as Grierson does and is not paid by international Communist institutions. The natural question to ask is whether Flaherty was an authentic American leftist. Was Flaherty a Leftist?

 

Flaherty worked with Pare Lorentz and the New Deal on The Land, he worked with Grierson and the British Left on Industrial Britain.  However he also worked with Standard Oil, Paramount and lots of private enterprise. I do not think his views fit into the modern left very well. He is in my view closer to my own political views which are a nuanced form of the far right. Family, honor, a kind of Darwinist triumph, individual violence for the common good, tradition and a husbandry of resources are more in line with his values. He found it easier to admire the far Left than the laziest and least responsible articulations of the American right in many cases. One of my happiest times  was spent as a certified Foreign Expert in the People’s Republic of China in part  2004 and part of 2005. Flaherty I believe found attractive in the Left a sense of responsibility, that one must reason through to the results and outcomes of actions and not merely try one’s best and have a blind faith in the market. He also was put off by the kinds of fascism which are intrinsically genocidal or focussed on hate. Flaherty and I are quite distinct and I am sure I am not projecting myself on him but  rather am able to relate to his point of view in some ways.

 

Flaherty made his name and a path to a sufficient fortune with his film Nanook of the North in 1921. This is really a silent film with titles on screen that provide the needed words. It has the advantage that it can be exhibited with titles in different languages and can allow the universal aspect of images and human struggle in nature to reach directly to the viewer. This does not have to be a Leftist panacea. One could argue that D.W. Griffith’s classic film Intolerance is libertarian and his film the Birth of A Nation is a Rightist piece.  But the worldwide struggle of the modern Left saw a beautiful opportunity in silent film for a universal language accessible to the masses. One of the greatest masters of silent film was a true Leftist — Charlie Chaplin. In recent years the film The Artist won both acclaim and commercial success and showed that at least one silent film could make a mark in the age that had never known the medium. It also had a special tug at hearts in French Louisiana because the paucity of French cultural imports into the United States is very notable and this film was a French masterpiece that raised its head over the vast and endless wave of British communications.  

 

He was committed to this medium and the way he let go if is indicative of what the medium meant in social terms. Chaplin was of course a wealthy fixture of a capitalist industry as well as a Leftist and so his story is not entirely uncomplicated either. But as a man who had made such a vast fortune he could afford to fight a final battle for a great and greatly loved work the medium to which he owed so much when others had lost that chance forever to do more than a few feeble attempt at recalling lost glories of silent film.

 

As silent film was clearly fading into the darkness under the sonorous and brilliant onslaught of the talkies into the movie theaters City Lights remains one of the greatest anomalies in film history.  A blockbuster hit in a medium (silent film) that was plainly dead.  Historians, like the rest of the human race, both enjoy exploring anomalies and hold them in a nearly superstitious awe.  There is always the danger that the anomaly may destroy the entire basis of the paradigm by which the historian has explained a series of developments.  City Lights,  at first glance might seem to indicate that the demand for sound over silent films did not have nearly the depth nor the inevitability which seems evident from so much evidence otherwise.  City Lights could scarcely have achieved greater success artistically or commercially despite its appearance in 1931 when the fast paced sound revolution had already swept the industry and created dozens of films, including The Jazz Singer, Public Enemy, The Blue Angel and many less important films.  To begin to understand this silent film is to understand the man who made it and the time in which it was made.

 

One might make a strong argument that, while Griffith and Porter and others made very powerful and original contributions to silent film, Chaplin made the finest silent films in American history.  Whether or not they were the best, the films certainly carried true silence to outer limits.  By that I mean that he did not limit the ways in which silent film could be used he attacked the most impregnable stronghold of spoken theater and later talkies. The way in which he did this is that as a  director Chaplin filmed groups of people conversing naturalistically in his entirely silent medium.  However as actor and creator of the Tramp he was invested in a character who was a true mime.  Chaplin’s medium could not be adapted to sound without losing something of its most essential nature.  The mime is silent, the mime is everyman and the mime is physical not spoken comedy.  The Tramp is a great mime of the American silent era.  For Chaplin the coming of sound had to be especially disturbing.  The contention i offer here is that City Lights addresses, along with the theme of the Great Depression Chaplin’s reaction to the coming of sound to film. The Leftist (among other identities he holds) still has the obligation to address the political and economic crisis but the Leftist is joined with the rest of him in mourning the passing of the language that all the suffering masses of the world can understand together.

The difference between the nineteen twenties and the nineteen thirties for Americans includes the difference between a decade of prosperity ending in disgrace and a decade of grinding poverty gradually ameliorated by the New Deal and preparations for a terrible war.  Warren Susman, perhaps better qualified than all but a handful of scholars to describe the spirit of the twenties in American culture, wrote: “By 1922 an exceptional number of Americans came to believe in a series of changes in the structure of their world…. they found themselves developing new techniques both for amassing still more knowledge and even achieving a fuller experience (Susman, Culture as History:  The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century, 106).”

 

Silent film was an important technique for achieving new forms of communication and experience and the international nature of that communication was always an obvious quality of the movies before sound and it was much discussed. To the degree that the 1948 film Louisiana Story touched and drew from the old inner sources that had fueled Nanook Flaherty had to be reminded of the glory days of silent film. In those glory days of silent film, the films made by Flaherty and Chaplin in America or as American productions made in Canada or elsewhere to differing degrees were in  what aspired to be a really world wide film community. Chaplin and Flaherty both saw that their work joined in a fairly high level of competition and dialog based on serious artistic endeavor which allowed their films to be compared equally and fairly with the films of Eisenstein, to see Hollywood compared on equal grounds with the brilliant work which had built and sustained the Lumiere studios in France since their inception in 1895.  Even as artists it was heady stuff to believe one was working in a truly universal medium in which the best human communicators could compete as equals with anyone or at least that American geniuses could compete evenly with European pioneers of film.  This rising cosmopolitan nature of film was suppressed by what Sklar calls the “counter-revolution of sound which would erect a capital, language and patent barrier around American film beginning in 1928.  Remarkably, this lessening and suppression of an international marketplace for images was accompanied by a dissolution of the full and free economic intercourse of nations.  The Great Depression is as much a phenomenon of greatly lessened international exchange as the new sound movie industry”.

 

It seems that Chaplin knew too that there was an escapism in the new sound extravaganzas that could mock the suffering of the poor and struggling in which toe intimate human portrayals he loved in silent film did not. Louisiana Story made much later  than City maintains the intimate feel  Chaplin celebrates in that last hurrah. Richard Leacock was making a scientific technical comment when he said later that Louisiana Story was more of a silent film than otherwise. However in an artistic and philosophical sense that same reality exists. In City Lights which was a silent film with a sound track he wished to contrast his simple scenes of simple people doing good with the grand spectacles attempted after the Jazz Singer.  He seemed to be saying that in age when so many were isolated, depressed and in need the poetry of silent film was better able to meet their needs than the circus of the talkies.  His side rallying under the banner of silence lost the war for film and  Flaherty was to make his living in talkies and in that sense he crossed over to what could have been the enemy. Yet the film City Lights itself  won the battle  for audiences and acclaim and was a smashing success.  This success caused many to remember it  as the most critically oriented of Chaplin’s films and one which had  the most specific message besides The Great Dictator.   People like Flaherty who made films which had to do more than merely make money and entertain were more likely to remember the message of City Lights for the rest of their careers.  There was no great subtlety to blindness of the girl beloved by the Tramp. AMong other things happening the great mime was in love with an audience that could not see. The filmmaker like Flaherty who demanded that one look hard at his images and saw each frame as a kind of painting could understand the fear of an audience that could no longer be counted on to look hard as they waited for sound to inform them.  The optimistic and subversive  subtlety of the Chaplin message is essentially to prove that silent film could amuse and entertain the fractured world of the thirties while also reaching the world and carrying a shaft of truth.  

 

Flaherty’s message in Louisiana Story is provided by his instructions from Roy Stryker and he will make a film that shows oil bringing prosperity but he was likely to remember a lot of films made during the great economic crisis of the Depression. He faced new challenges with microphones and the dedicated editing of Van Dongen. She edited both pictures and sound the technology did not sync them and few clips really have the sound that was recorded with images with which the sound is played on exhibition. Nor is their an enormous amount of speech. Flaherty must have had occasion to compare making this film with making Nanook. He also would have remembered that crisis which marked the end of silent film’s dominance. If he remembered that he remembered that one man at a level beyond Flaherty or anyone else could most easily perceive, and was likely to express, a sense of the mysterious not-at-all-causal relationship between sound film and the Depression.  That man was the self-made millionaire immigrant and world famous mime of the silent screen — Charles Chaplin.

 

In  light of this possible connection of seemingly unrelated events City Lights takes on a new depth and complexity of meaning.The world is well aware that less trade joins the world together and the collapse of markets means starvation and doom for millions. Chaplin is well aware a medium that enabled the whole world to communicate is dying. For him the connection between the two events is mysterious but real. New Deal sound films will address the Depression but Chaplin’s response in City Lights is significant as well in the history of film. Americans that read history have traditionally assigned the  greatest importance to political and economic events in shaping the past of their country, rather than cultural history. The temperaments drawn to the old drum and trumpet histories have often been reticent to engage with what seems to be the newer and softer cultural histories. Books life Foster’s Ghosts have been comparatively rare where cultural expression and harder edged military and political history are see in a very close linkage.    Strange as it may seem to us, it clearly seemed  the coming of sound film was to seem to Chaplin to be a very significant aspect of the split apart world and increasingly isolated and fractured trading systems which typified the period when City Lights was made.

 

Cultural historian Warren I Susman often repeated the claim that Mickey Mouse was as important to the thirties as F.D.R. and Steamboat Willie is a sound film.  That should remind anyone of the powerful contribution of sound to film. Anyone who wishes to should notice that Disney is now very international so good engineering and invention did not destroy the industry.  However, the coming of the talkies was both a metaphor for America’s new isolation and fixation on itself. This fixation of American film on American audiences and sometimes subjects is surely partly responsible for producing many of  the great American documentary projects and perhaps objectively sound films served as one minor agent among many in creating that isolation of Depression Era America within the realm of popular culture.

 

City Lights was Chaplin’s greatest response to all the changes between the twenties and the thirties.  The film tells the story of a Tramp mistaken for a millionaire by a beautiful blind flower girl.  Arouse to compassion and love, the tramp resolves to help her.  By saving a drunken man from suicide the Tramp is sporadically and occasionally over time able to access some of the wealth and power of the closed off world of the elite.  He uses that world of the rich and its resources to assist the flower girl.  Combining his bizarre relationship with the rich man with a career of being beaten up, working as a street sweeper and gambling he is able to first tip, then feed, then rescue from eviction and finally restore sight to the blind flower girl.  When the Tramp, who has remained a millionaire in the mind of the girl, meets the prosperous and sighted florist he once helped she acts kindly toward him as a needy Tramp and then later discovers and rejects the same man she had helped when it seems she discovers who her benefactor really is.

 

City Lights is not silent in an absolute sense.  Sound technology provides musical accompaniment and certain sound effects for the film’s images.  The first important title plate in the film states that City Lights is “A Comedy Romance in Pantomime” its final word announcing its connection with silents and not “talkies.” How different is it really than Louisiana Story? It is different surely but perhaps there is something to Leacock’s feeling that it is a kind of hybrid because it is shot so far out of a studio with technology that did not dynchronixe sound and images.  

 

One of the themes Chaplin takes care to establish from the outset is that the Tramp lies outside the officially approved course and direction of life in the “city.”  An early scene develops this scene very extensively within the first minutes of the film.  In the shot establishing the scene a large crowd, complete with officers of the law, gathers around the base of a stage on which speakers and dignitaries are gathered before the large veiled monument to “peace and prosperity.”  One thing that Flaherty does in the 1948 film is to show that the countryside people have a viable way of life outside the mainstream society represented by Standard Oil’s subsidiary.

 

In City Lights a small number of long slow shots moving in on the stages the focus comes to center on the wooden and pompous dignitaries making speeches which are rendered a little ridiculous by the sound track which merely gives the film audience whistle and blue notes.  The rather documentary nature of the shots themselves create a comic tension with the sound. The noises and sounds of the drillers and all their machines are not so far from that cacophony. But they are not ridiculous because the failure of the drilling is remedied really by the Boy’s magic.  

 

The Boy in Louisiana Story is no less a fictional creation of a character than is the Tramp. According to James Naremore’s Acting in the Cinema, Chaplin first used the Tramp in the film Kid’s Auto Race which was a comedy about the Tramp disrupting both a public spectacle and the news crew attempting to film it (Naremore, 12-14).  Chaplin’s long experience makes this more sophisticated as one holds in mind the anticipated unveiling of the monument, the absurd sounds of the speakers and the serious visual dignity of the ordered crowd and speakers. Both the Tramp and the Boy are observers not bound by the rules of life which constrained the more well established and integrated members of society.

 

In the start of City Lights at an appropriate point in time the ribbon is pulled and the wraps fall from the monument as the martial airs of an anthem fill the sound track.  The revelation is of Tramp sleeping indecorously on one of the two laps of the monument.  While the Tramp wakes, gets hung up by his pants on the sword of a monument dedicated to peace, uses the monument’s face to “accidentally” thumb his nose at the civic ceremony and finally disappears over a fence his powerful critics are helpless.  The editing continuously juxtaposes shots of the Tramp with irate police and offended and nonplused public speakers who are bound by convention to stand still for the anthem.  The society and its talk is rendered absurd by the end of the first scene in the film. In Louisiana Story the Boy is aware and managing his environment and the oil company breaks in upon it. here too the contrast is not really what the viewer might expect. The more monied part of the world is not necessarily the clearly better world.   

 

The film City Lights never again achieves as broad a social focus as it  has in that civil ceremony at the start of the film.  However the beginning forms the audience perception of the Tramp and his connection to his society.  It also shows the effective upstaging of speech by silent comedy in graphic terms. In Louisiana Story it is the pristine quality of nature and the innocence of boyhood which will never again return to the peak achieved in the first scenes.

 

In City Lights the sequences Chaplin uses to build this film develop around certain motifs realted to sensory perception.  The articulate and literary structure of Chaplin’s last great silent film is itself a message about the medium.  First, the motif of altered perceptions forms a critical series of turning points in the film.  The first is the clever shot which shows the Tramp crossing traffic through a car, buying a flower and then being mistaken for a millionaire when the girl hears a car door slam just after the tramp pays her.  This same theme is reiterated in all the shots which show a convivial rich man of expansive gestures who in his drunkenness sees the Tramp as his brother and in cold sobriety of his normal life shuns the Tramp utterly.  Finally, the motif is tragically climactic when a girl altered by her ability to see rejects the gentle love of the visually unlovely Tramp. In Louisiana Story the raccoon, the alligator and other animals do not speak and the boy is a speaking person who can and does live well in their world. The speech among people and the noise of the machines is a strong contrast to the quiet but not silent world of the natural swamp.

 

Another recurrent motif in the film City Lights is the mockery of speech.  This motif begins with the scene at the dedication of the monument, continues with the contrast between the broken promises of the rich man and the kind deeds of the nearly mute tramp.  Words are also made ridiculous at the cocktail parties.  Especially where the Tramp swallows a whistle so that whenever he speaks a whistle comes forth which he can not control and which makes the whole event ridiculous.The blow out by the drilling rig and the falling silent leave the sound of the swamp again ascendant. It is not the same as City Lights but perhaps there is an affinity there as well.

 

Lastly a  third major motif in City Lights  that is related to altered perception but is also related to another set of contrasts.  Chaplin uses the shift from light to darkness and night to dawn repeatedly in titles, the name of the movie, lighting, and the girl’s blindness and recovery.  It is in the dark that the Tramp can do amazing things and is seen as valuable and good.  In the cold of full light the senses confuse the inner and magical perceptions and he is rendered ordinary.  This light and darkness is synecdochal for many reversals.  The drunk millionaire behaves better than he does sober.  Blind  as she is the girl sees the Tramp more clearly than sighted.  The critique of judging by the senses is a cry for understanding in the Depression and for fraternity with those who seem shabby.  The same motif serves to question the value of aiding another sense to the medium of film — namely sound. In Louisiana Story the Boy uses magic salt to save the oil industry — really that is strong but not far from what is given us to watch. Here the rational sight of the mind is an impediment to seeing things through to completion. The resolution to the needs of the technological world come from the more silent and natural world ruled over by the Boy.

 

In City Lights one of the techniques which makes this complicated layering of meaning effective rather than confusing is Chaplin’s economy of locations.  Repeated shots of the rich man’s car and house, lit and filmed similarly as with the girl’s house, the streets and the young boys who punctuate the scene before Chaplin’s first and final encounter with the flower girl are examples of a similar limiting of the number of images. While there is no single place that is the little swamp where Louisiana Story occurs. The narrative location is limited and simple. The trapper’s cottage, the boatside banks, the swamp at Avery Island in a lush manicured park and the drilling barge site  made into a single constrained  narrative or cinematic location. Flaherty keeps the focus on that location pretty tight.

 

All of these connections are loose ones. But they are enough perhaps to show one of the other sets of defining and constraining influences  which shaped and defined the making of the film discussed in this study. This is  a conclusion of what  we have to say about the artistic environment and community which produced these images.

 

Somehow this real community of people ended up funded by the Oil industry’s biggest American player in the heart of Cajun Country. The reasons are not all that mysterious, one of the most important oil production areas during the forties was Acadiana and the section of the Gulf of Mexico adjoining the Acadiana region.  Standard Oil sought to set itself up for leadership in many areas including this one in face of postwar uncertainty. And because of Louisiana Story it has worked out that Standard Oil’s effort at what may have been documentary propaganda is best known for work done in Acadiana.  The photographs taken by Stryker’s  photographers have received some attention but a better known effort is the film subsidized by Standard Oil at the same time.  

 

The photographs funded by Standard Oil are the most important source of this study and to a very large degree this study is about them and what they can contribute to the study of cultural history.  That contribution is tested by including them at the same time in a cultural historical study of the Cajun people.  Finally, the photographs are compared and related to the film Louisiana Story, the differences between the film and the photographs are very instructive in terms of the ways in which documentary art can function as a source for cultural history.

 

Scholarly, technical and critical writing about Flaherty and the Louisiana Story, has almost entirely come from a perspective other than that of Louisiana history. The big exception is the film Louisiana Story: The Reverse Angle that film will find its way into a later chapter at some length.  None would argue that Flaherty who produced and directed the film depicting the wetlands oilfields of the 1940s intended to produce an academic history.  Yet at the very least, his film forms a small part of the history of the region.  It was largely from the study of outsiders’ perceptions of assimilation  and persistence and especially as it related to what they did and did not wish to shoot that this essay on the Louisiana Story emerged as a tentative thesis proposal many years ago.  Because the time and place of Flaherty’s production was studied from a more general historical perspective, the film has emerged in the context of influences which have not yet received much attention.  Louisiana Story differs from Flaherty’s first film Nanook of the North which creatively documented the hunting life of an Eskimo family.  The principal character was in fact named Nanook, the places filmed were actually his hunting grounds and the family was actually his family.  Louisiana Story was not a documentary of a place or a culture in the same way as Nanook of the North. Rather, Flaherty’s last film was a fine piece of drama and myth in film. But it was a film where real Cajun clothes-makers, pirogue wrights, trappers and animal wranglers among others were employed to do things that Cajuns really did. It employed a real Cajun cast and it was beautifully shot and edited. In fact it may have been harder to sell a film name Lionel of the manicured Jungle Gardens Park than one named Nanook of the North. there is plenty of opportunity to discuss the ethics and values of the project but it is neither all one thing or all another. That has been written before and will be repeated again.

 

Louisiana Story uses a relatively small  Cajun cast and a few Standard Oil people of no great numbers for a modest cast overall and achieves an economy both perceptual and financial. Yet this was not a very cheap film not is it a nature film with just an odd human shiot now and then,  Given the small number of words, the audience achieves a surprising rapport with these few characters.  Yet each character is a type even more than a person.  One little boy, one father, one mother and one driller allows the audience to focus on the impact of the oil industry upon Acadians and their wetlands, and the universal meanings associated with changing times and the dreamlike state of childhood.  Like the walrus scene and sequence in Nanook involving the hunt, the alligator scene combined some authentic action with a touch of highly improbable drama.

 

The topic discussed here clearly demands that all the questions historians are concerned about be answered or the reasons they are not addressed be specified. In general terms this text provides a means of evaluating the historical and cultural accuracy in Flaherty’s work, roughly assessing the candor of his relations with his subjects or determining the clarity and sensitivity  his filmic portrayal of certain folkways  both as functions of the  questions arising out of  Louisiana history as well as  the very different questions arising out of film history.  Robert Flaherty, called “father of the documentary” has attracted the close attention of many able writers that has continued in the nearly quarter century that this project was dormant.  Few of the  writers about his work really know much about the fullness or breadth of his subject matter of this last greatly acclaimed and arguably his  most technically accomplished film.  In addition there has been in most cases a reluctance to really see the Standard Oil and the Documentarian influences playing out in all their complex tensions.That reluctance has in part arisen from a deference to studies of the Depression era work by some of the same people . That makes it seem to those with a deep connection to this film above all others that his working environment in the 1940s has been little studied and studied with a kind of detachment that has not served the subject well. The little book  Filming Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story is a partial exception but it is a little book with very specific things to fit into its pages.

 

Among the facts often ignored by those who have studied Flaherty’s relationship with Standard Oil during the making of his last film is that   fact which is at the center of this text. The fact that  Standard Oil sponsored another documentary project in Louisiana of which Flaherty was aware.  Roy Stryker, who directed photographers Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Pare Lorentz during his tenure as head of the Farmer’s Security Administration Historical Division, hired a group of photographers working in the area where Flaherty worked and there was much overlap between both projects.  There is strong evidence, presented below in the discussion of making Louisiana Story,  that ED and Louise Rosskam wrote a letter in which they presented ideas which led Flaherty to his choice of location and many of the basic elements of plot and theme.  The Rosskams letter, written in 1945 also adds to the evidence which shows that both projects operated to some degree as one. Furthermore, evidence suggests that Flaherty relied very little upon the Cajuns he filmed for the content of Louisiana Story.  When Flaherty did use information from the broader focus in Acadiana he may have relied very directly on the SONJ photographers.  “I am very glad that you are letting me work with Bob Flaherty.”  Todd Webb wrote to Roy Emerson Stryker, “…Will all of the things I do over there be cleared through our office?  Will he give me any instructions as to what stills he wants or shall I use my own judgement?” It is certainly true that enough data existed within the work done by the Stryker project to have fleshed out the story of the family of a Cajun trapper and the discovery of oil on their land.  Another telling piece of evidence that Flaherty derived ideas from Stryker’s photographer’s rest in the perceptions shared by local people and the photographers that Flaherty lived in isolation from the local people of the area but in close association with the SONJ photographers.

 

In the summer of 1947 Todd Webb wrote to Roy Stryker again about the Flaherty project “This documentary film business is kind of a farce.” The young documentary photographer wrote, “Our experience as alligators  when you were down here made me wonder and I have seen plenty since…It is amazing how little they know about the town or the people. They have lived 14 months on their own little island on Main St.”  In contrast with Webb’s description of Flaherty’s isolation, he forever describes himself and his colleagues in the SONJ projectas stalking alligators and muskrats, interviewing farmers, trappers, fishermen and boatmen.  Finally among the more than three hundred photographs filed as “Flaherty Production Shots” there are numerous photographs which mirror or duplicate others in the main body of the collection.

 

There may be sources which would shed light on Robert Flaherty’s production of Moana resting in obscurity in Samoa and if it were known that Flaherty’s sponsor in that venture was also taking thousands of stills in the same islands, while making the film it might undermine the perception solidified by his earliest biographer that Flaherty creatively stumbled toward his works alone.  Film histories, for all their virtues, often show a lack of interest in the places which mesmerized the film artists they describe.  John Grierson, speculated as to the  relationship between Flaherty and the people and places he filmed.  Sources exist in Louisiana which shed light on how Flaherty made Louisiana Story  specifically.  The new evidence refutes the idea that had the most currency when the least study was being done and was the talk of lecture halls and symposia that Flaherty collaborated with his “natural actors” to create a film document of nearly anthropological quality. In the period after the VIetnam War and for some lingering time thereafter the idea of the creative and individualistic artist has become more popular.  Again I must remind the reader of some things we discussed early on. Certainly when I began this study almost a quarter of a century before starting its final draft, This documentary impulse played a central role in the formation of the body of sources discussed in the both in the prior and in the subsequent  pages of this thesis.  It was in the classic documentary period of the 1930’s that Roy Stryker became involved in the New Deal effort to photograph rural life in America.  His work with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Agency known as the Farmer’s Security Administration is only discussed briefly in this thesis but is central to the dissertation of which this thesis is an adapted section.  During the thirties Stryker became famous for directing photographers who took tens of thousands of photographs of rural America.  On the basis of that achievement he was hired by Standard Oil in the forties to capture and show, in a similarly enormous photographic collection, the impact of the oil industry on the fabric of American life.

Harkening back to the first chapter of this book it is good to remember that until recently it could be asserted that.  Historians generally do not take seriously the claim of the creator of a documentary to produce a historic study of a place.  The interaction between subject and artist does shape a film and all recognize the film as a valid source for the history of its makers.  Without doubt, documentary filmmakers and photographers of the 1930s and 1940s aimed at work of historical value.  Any documentary intends to record a time, a place and a people in an historic set of relationships.  Unless such claims have been tried by a careful but creative comparison with other historical sources both the documentary and the subject of the documentary are not fully understood.  When historians use documentaries as valid insights into the events they depict, the study of both the documentary and the subject changes dramatically because the historian must compare it carefully to other views of the subject filmed.

 

If Flaherty as an artist sought to create a work of his own genius; his relationship with others hold small interest.  If he collaborated in a documentary endeavor that functioned as a ferment of projects with shared artistic and technical elements, the meanings and value of his work relates to that community of vision in some way.  The few photographs which illustrate this essay may indicate to those familiar with Louisiana Story how still images produced by those surrounding Flaherty influenced him.  The sense of collaborating to record life in America typified much important work born out of the national trial of the 1930s and 1940s.  Evidence that Flaherty was working within a documentary community exists in his choice of Virgil Thompson, the composer who had done the score for many New Deal documentary films.  Outwardly focused and loosely organized in complicated ways the small army of Americans involved in documentary sought to define America, politics and the art of documentary but not themselves.  The totality of the documentary community escapes essay definition but it clearly existed.

 

The full roster of Stryker’s photographers who worked in Louisiana during Standard Oil years included Esther Bubley and Martha McMillan Roberts, who had both begun working for Stryker as darkroom technicians during his F.S.A. years.  Others with an F.S.A. past were John Collier, Edward and Louise Rosskam and Russell Lee.  Only three of the photographers working under Roy Stryker in Louisiana during the Standard Oil years had no past connection with the F.S.A.  Two of the three photographers, Todd Webb and Arnold Eagle became closely associated with Flaherty during his work on Louisiana Story.

 

The crew filming Louisiana Story was small and the photographers who came over from Stryker’s project were well informed about the area before meeting Flaherty.  Given the talkative nature of all parties in this crew it strains the belief to think that Flaherty was not influenced by these men.  Todd Webb had read about the region and photographed it.  Webb’s New England background may not have blinded him to Acadiana, but neither did it help him to see it.  Perhaps Arnold Eagle’s identity as an immigrant who spoke heavily accented English led him to a particular fascination with the real adaptations of the Acadians.  As discussed below, Flaherty did not develop Louisiana Story from the kind of interaction with those he filmed which many scholars have hypothesized as his chief method of learning about his subject.  The alternative hypothesis of this essay is that Flaherty was significantly influenced by the others working for Standard Oil in a documentary capacity.  The photographic vision, the biases and the insights of those in the Stryker photographic project had an important role to play in shaping Flaherty’s last film.

 

If Flaherty has left no direct confession that he borrowed from others rather than seeking out his own oral sources then the burden of proof lies on this writer to show such borrowing occurred.  In Louisiana Story Flaherty’s amateur anthropology did not capture as much historical detail as Eagle’s workmanlike observations of the cultural and social distinctiveness of a group of long-time American citizens.  Arnold Eagle seemed very interested in the human process of creating things.  His work generates much of the little knowledge of the degree of impact Flaherty’s crew had on the  environment they filmed.  Subtler than the varied host which invades a location to produce a commercial film, the crew nonetheless affected the behavior of those it filmed.  Flaherty did not often seek out the maximum exposure to the kind of people he sought to film, but rather selected a swamp for some crucial scenes where no trapper ever went.  These things alone do not disprove the hypothesis that he relied on his own research in attempting to document the Cajun culture.  Below we will discuss the relationship between Flaherty and those around him — both the Cajuns and the photographers working in the area.

 

In arguing that Louisiana Story bears the stamp of a work made by, and in a real sense for and even because of the strong culture was  largely about the little community of documentarians does not mean that they did not document something real. It only means that these artists who were working for Standard Oil but had a well developed concept of what documentary film was and that was modified to suit the needs of Standard Oil. The Cajun contribution to shaping what would appear at the end was the third level of input. It was a known quantity that Standard Oil was hiring but they were not people created in Standard  Oil’s own image this was a community  propensity to seek first of all to communicate with  Easter Seaboard  American intellectuals, with the workers of the larger cities, with European Leftists and with the larger film community and industry. However, Flaherty really liked to connect with a large American moviegoing audience.

 

They brought all their predispositions of the period and the result in both projects if taken as a whole collection as regards Acadiana and the Cajuns is largely a second-hand view of the culture it depicts well filtered by all the factors and influences outlined in this chapter. I am not arguing that Flaherty did not create a worthwhile original story, nor that the story has nothing to offer those interested in Cajun life or the natural history of the region.  Louisiana Story offers us less variety than the photography but does unique service they cannot do in preserving the sounds of Cajun speech and a few techniques of swamping.  The point is that the story was made by a man much more removed from his subject than the man who made Nanook.  Flaherty interpreted individual elements of the local reality within a fictional framework and that this may largely have occurred because he was able to rely on others to forge the ties with his subject which had been so time consuming in his earlier films.  Flaherty in fact had a close relationship with another documentary project and yet both had been studied almost as separate and autonomous for half a century when this project first began.

 

Standard Oil’s other major project in Louisiana produced many stills of swamps, trappers, oilmen and pirogues such as Flaherty filmed.  The few Stryker pictures which appear here merely represent a much larger body of images, some with more striking visual similarities to the film.  The still photographs however provide a much more documentary corpus of images than the film.  The Stryker images include several kinds of fishing, trapping, moss gathering, and hunting which made up the way of life in the wetlands.  The romantic images are balanced with many prosaic ones.

 

The treatment  and analysis of Louisiana Story in this study advances the claim  not so much that Flaherty did not learn a great deal from his Cajun natural actors nor that the film is not a “documentary” at all as has sometimes been believed. This is a bit of modest thesis as texts submitted for dissertation defense go. It asserts that one can study both the filmmaking and the subject the film was made about as one studies and   writes cultural history. The film is not irrelevant to the Acadiana of the period but is more distant from local realities than Stryker’s still photography project.  Perhaps exactly one remove more distant, based largely on the information and influence reaching him from the more historical efforts of the Stryker photographers.  Less historiographical-critical print has come forth about the “Latour” family than about the Samoans, Inuit and folk of Aran in Flaherty’s film.  Any historian’s study of any work of art, especially of a documentary film, begins with efforts to recreate the past encounter between artist and subject.  That remaking of the past constitutes much of an historian’s contribution to understanding art.  Such restoration of the creative context becomes more crucial if one wishes to evaluate the film as historical document.  The Latours were fictional in every way that Hamlet was fictional and a few others besides, there seems certainly to have been a historical character on whom Hamlet was based and no single trapper family inspired this film.  But Shakespeare was not taking pictures and recording sound. Sometimes the medium is the message. The film has some standards of integrity that matter and the photographic collection has even more to offer in that regard.

 

Emerging Views Chapter Three

 

 

Histr2

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

I am sitting at a public library computer as I type this in a great deal of uncertainty about almost everything.  I am also without internet access at home. It urns out I have on other application for graduate study open and am looking into that possibility but am not overly optimistic given the realities of my recent life experience and such. But this chapter I think has something to say about living in the time one is in although it is not an inspirational text.

The link to the pdf is here. EmergingViewsLouisianaStorytheSONJPhotosandAcadianaFulcrumandCenter

 

Emerging Views:

Chapter Three 1947, Fulcrum and Center

 

Some might critique a few chapters of this text as being mere yearbooks in a text that already uses too many forms of expression in too many ways. That may be a bit unfair to the introduction and the conclusion but it is not so unfair to this chapter. The integrity of  a study like this as a work of history is related in no small way to checking carefully with what was going on in the geographical region and in the ethnic and other communities or groups being studied at a given time. In 1947 both the work on Louisiana Story  under Flaherty and the work of the Standard Oil of New Jersey  Photographic collection as administered directly by Stryker were in full swing.  The oil industry in the region was in full swing and the Cajun ethnic community was still very much alive.

 

Having asserted those general kinds of facts for which there is diverse and overwhelming evidence what else can be said?  In a chapter examining the year itself  what is there to learn?

 

In Louisiana politics at this time there were two of the most well defined factions within a single political party which have ever existed in the United States of America. The Democratic primary was tantamount to election for virtually every office  except the Presidency of the United States where votes cast in Louisiana did not determine the outcome. The Democrats may have referred to their factions as Longist and Anti-Long as they are almost always referred to in historical journalism and documentaries today. But frequently throughout the state and almost always in Acadiana they were known as the Machine and the Home Rule factions respectively. Machine had the advantage that the word was spelled the same and only the pronunciation changed for English and Cajun French. Home Rule was usually said in English even among Cajuns who preferred never to speak English — and such Francophone purists were rare in 1947.  The Home Rule  faction was in the Governor’s Mansion in 1947. Jimmy Davis and Dudley Leblanc were on different edges of that faction. In many way Jimmy Davis exemplified the British Louisiana cultural complex from which Cajuns felt alienated. Dudley was a major leader and living symbol of identity in the ethnic community. It was also true that Jimmy Davis’s very British American  song You are My Sunshine could be given a different interpretation by Cajun politicians. Sunshine was a symbol of Joseph Broussard and the Beausoleil Broussards for most Cajuns and was for a much smaller number a symbol of the last french King who was really admired by almost all of the Acadian elite even if they sought a kind of social independence from him at many levels. That was Louis XIV, the Sun King. A Governor who would sing about sunshine a great deal was easy to like in those days where the culture had felt most isolated in its history over recent decades.  Harry Truman was President and, while there was little reason to believe he thought much about the Cajuns one way or another, some among the Cajuns felt that it was interesting that Missouri which was the second state admitted to the Union from the Louisiana Purchase was the home of the current President. In a place where memories were long there was a sense of attachment to that area and there were still those who had very old business ties all up and down the Mississippi River. Compared for example to New York which had produced both FDR and nourished the documentarians community as such — Missouri seemed close to home.  All of this went with a feeling of cautiously seeking more of an American identity as the really postwar era developed.          

Every one of these ten years from 1943 to 1953 can be seen as having its own qualities derived from world events and the state of American society. Each year also has its own unique set of sources to a certain degree. In 1943 World War II is going on and in 1953 the Korean War is going on. The two wars are very different national experiences but  in 1947 there is more or less as much peace as a great and powerful country ever has. In this time of peace new opportunities came with a new national prosperity. !947 a company with was founded by a family with deep ties to the Attakapas country and a name that was commercial and political magic across Acadiana. Yet they were on the eastern periphery in Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish. The Broussard Brothers had one tugboat based in Chalmette, Louisiana. At the time of this writing they have a mile of developed waterfront on the Intracoastal Canal in Vermilion Parish’s Intracoastal City. The Broussard Brothers Company also have  a prominent building in the best neighborhood in Abbeville where such a building can be on its own and a fleet of vessels working the Gulf of Mexico. They would create almost all of that wealth in the oil industry and would remain deeply connected to the region and the community. However, there was no reason for anyone to know that would happen in 1947 and their experience is not all that typical of the connections between the ethnic community and the oil industry.

 

At the time of her arrival in Abbeville in 1946 Helen Van Dongen seemed to feel strongly a desire to make contact with and get to know and rightly understand the Cajuns as individuals and as a community. She seems favorably impressed with the ones working closely with the film. But in my judgement, there is a strong trend to isolation and a giving up on that hope of a connection which is pronounced over time. However, much of that has to do with the stress of work and intensity of her schedule and her sense of responsibility which kept her fully occupied. Much of it could be attributed to those work related factors but not all of this trend could be. She had grown accustomed to the society of the McIlhenny family, the Documentarians and the Standard Oil people. Interacting with the Cajun community was no longer what she sought out most eagerly. Her loneliness and desire for more pleasant interactions no longer drover her toward the Cajuns. She did not go to church, to Cajun dance halls, did not play golf at the all white but very ethnically mixed Abbeville Country club and did not much like the movies in town.  The only movie she describes in detail in the diary she kept was outside of the Parish at a drive in and she does observe the largely Cajun families with small children going out for the evening there — but not so favorably. There is never anything to indicate what might be called bigotry in Van Dongen’s attitude toward the Cajuns that we have any evidence to support. In fact she seems taken enough with Lionel Leblanc at first that one could argue there was a bit of chemistry between the two very different people. But one can easily enough imagine things getting out of hand in the opposite direction. She was single, a bit adventurous, had an eye and an ear for new things. One can imagine her going native and learning the two-step, riding on a float or drinking too much at a Courire de Mardi Gras. One can imagine her  complaining about some partner at a fais do do making unwanted advances  at the family oriented Cajun street dancing events. You could imagine her complaining about the cruelty of pigs screaming their lives out at a boucherie.  Those are not impossible things to picture but it is pretty clear that they did not happen. If some single event presents itself in the record somewhere it does not change the fact that her immersion was very partial indeed. She was surely under no great moral obligation to go native but she seems to have known her involvement was at some level unsatisfactory and by deep into 1947 she no longer worried about the deficiencies in that involvement.  

 

On January 13, 1947 Helen Van Dongen made her first entry of the calendar year in the diary she had been keeping in Abbeville during much of 1946.  the entry is brief and merely states, “Today I became an American Citizen.” In March she records moving the last of her editing process to her cutting room in New York.  But those few months of entries provide a rich insight into the inner workings of the film and its making. They also provide some very limited but valid and honest insights into the Cajuns and their region. But perhaps the most useful effect of the diary is the degree to which they illuminate not how those making the film viewed the Cajuns but to what an almost extraordinary extent they did not view them in any natural or unscripted context whatsoever.  

 

In a work of this kind it seems useful to take stock in the middle of the narrative of how everything was playing out at a point of importance in the action. The film was merely a proposal which Roy Stryker had prepared to make to Robert Flaherty in March of 1944. Since that time a first research trip and a simple screenplay called “The Christmas Tree” had been created,  talent gathered for the film, the locations scouted the numerous contracts made and largely honored without dispute.  The movie had gotten underway in an America still at war that knew victory was coming. But a great deal of fighting remained to be endured and conducted as effectively as possible. Some on the crew had worked on patriotic films, Van Dongen had worked on the Know Your Enemy, Japan  film.  Many Americans  and many Cajuns were fighting the war and many were not yet home  when the planning for the film had been done. But by the time the contracts were signed in 1946 to start filmmaking in earnest the project had assumed fully its essentially post-war character.

 

The film Louisiana Story was one of the most significant projects of her life and Helen Van Dongen’s day to day life is not very well known to us. outside of her somewhat controverted  book published under the title Filming Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story: The Helen Van Dongen Story.  It may be that such a lifestyle could have been glimpsed in interviews when this work was begun but that opportunity was missed. Van Dongen was an attractive woman with presence who had worked with Robert J. Flaherty on The Land.  Her serious relationship with Joris Ivens is mysterious but certainly grew out of a relationship where she worked as the film editor of an older man. It seems likely that some of the tensions which cropped up in her relationship with Frances Flaherty, Robert Flaherty’s wife grew out of the sexual tensions in the relationship. About a quarter of a century her senior Flaherty turned sixty-three in February of 1947. There is little to suggest he was either a prude or sexually exhausted. he may well have been exclusively involved with his wife and a very ethical employer to Helen Van Dongen. However there have always been rumors and innuendo. Partly the achievements of a woman in her profession were likely to be seen with some level of suspicion. Partly she was more or less and unmarried woman cohabiting with a married couple. But far more than that it has to do with Flaherty. In many ways he was an extraordinarily moral man but perhaps also the kind of man who could have lived in something bordering on polygamy in twentieth century America with very little sense of guilt. There is a real sense of extended family about his operation.  Her salary had been the highest of those contracted to work on the film,  She had been engaged in relating to all the different personalities and interest groups involved in the film. She had signed her contract when others had done so and that was in 1946. There was little in the contract that gave a great deal of information about the future of her work. However, it does enable one to make some interesting conjectures. In 1947 she was fully engaged in the work of the film. The challenges were truly significant as she had the artisanal challenge of laying in the soundtrack next to the film. Sync sound would owe some of its development later on in the industry’s life to the work of one of her colleagues on this project Richard Leacock. Leacock’s interest was inspired by the hard and demanding work that he saw Helen Van Dongen doing but that did not make theirs an easy relationship.  Leacock also seems to have learned some French from Van Dongen and her involvement with the Acadians around them. While LEacock seems to have enjoyed being part of the family of his wife and daughter and been reasonably devoted tot them someone  given to such suspicions cannot help but wondering if Leacock was a bit infatuated with Van Dongen. This could fit psychologically with a more open and pronounced fact regarding his thinking which is that  he almost worshipped  Flaherty in many ways. Leacock may well have envied Flaherty the way the Helen with whom he worked closely and who was paid more than  he was treated and related to the older man. It may be that he suspected sexual chemistry between her and the director whether it was there or not.  But all these tensions that may or may not have occurred for any number of reasons were not enough  to derail the steady progress of the film. One thinks too of all that could have been strained at times in the  lives and establishments of the local Cajun people working on and associated with the film. It seems likely that there must have been some missed cues along the way. But whatever tensions there were when the Mr. Hebert who worked for the crew turned his skills as a carpenter to the new industry of filmmaking they were to produce the needed  builds and  products without major incident.  Likewise whatever tensions there were between Evelyn Bienvenu and Lionel Leblanc playing a couple for the first time, between the real owners and residents of the trapper family cottage where the fictional La Tour  family lived between the McIlhenny family and their filming guests — regardless of what challenges this process may have presented the show did go on. Unlike a touring performance it went on being made not being presented.  

 

Lionel Leblanc was living a very different life in 1947 than he usually lived. Like most Cajuns he liked movies and the chance to make one was a source of joy and contentment. He was the McIlhenny family’s assistant manager on Avery Island and a very experienced trapper. He was used to working for a family who were certainly outside of the Cajun community. Nothing in the wilderness to which the oil industry was drawn was unfamiliar to him. He spoke French and English and he was very much aware his Cajun heritage. Representing his culture to the outside world and the outside world to his culture was a familiar task for him. The only unusual thing was making a movie but when that was considered in full and understood clearly it was an enormous change in his way of life. He was aware of the significance of what he was doing in shaping the way Cajuns, Cajun country and the Cajun culture would be perceived across the country for years to come.

 

Arnold Eagle was watching the progress of the film and was busy contributing in many ways to its progress he was receiving an incredible education that he would pass on to others in the profession of photography for many years to come but he was also keeping the connection between Roy Stryker’s larger operation and the activity going on in and around Flaherty’s base in Abbeville. There was a sense in which he as much as anyone else was the real presence of Standard Oil on the site of the filming.

 

The film was a multifaceted project and everyone was aware of the challenges involved in getting the images, editing the film, working the sound, preparing the music, managing the people and balancing the financial books. One could easily feel that the film was all that any of them would ever have to do. Movies had a way of blocking out every other concern. The “movie people” knew that experience was temporary and for them would be repeated in the next film. However,  the others could only reason that this was the case. Whatever perspective they were able to bring from their outside lives they could not help feeling the heady intensity of the filmmaking process. It was also a very special environment centered around the filming headquarters in Abbeville, Louisiana. Abbeville was just big enough to offer the benefits of a town to the crew that were often working in the deep countryside.Van Dongen admits she was unused to cooking for groups of people and when a few times in her time she found she had to cook she seems to claim that almost no foodstuffs were available in Abbeville. That seems on its face to be the most absurd and perhaps the only absurd statement in her Abbeville diary. Even in those days people came to Abbeville to eat and the restaurants acquire almost all the food from sources that other residents had access to. As i myself am  one of the most experienced travelers that I have ever met I know that when things become unpleasant there is a tendency to blame the locale for problems really based on one’s own lack of familiarity with the region.  The food  comments are a sign of this growing alienation in Van Dongen. That alienation becomes a kind of lense of perception through which everything else can be seen. One’s sense of discomfort colors every observation of the region.   

 

Here too there was a blend of forces at work in determining what could and would be the way that Acadiana was perceived. HADACOL was making its way into the national consciousness. It was a powerful economic formula for success and  and offered a great deal of appeal to an era and style of life in rural America that was passing into the mists of history. It offered access to a little alcohol in places where alcohol could not be sold except as medicine. This also had the advantage over whiskey sold in just the same circumstances that it actually was formulated as a healing potion. HADACOL was certainly not mostly an excuse for a means to get drunk. Its taste made it hard to drink a lot of it compared to almost any other way to access medicine. In fact a great deal has been done to show that moderate alcohol consumption has many health benefits and those were among the primary benefits most people got from HADACOL. One was less likely to abuse it than tastier and cheaper beverages and so it was a benefit to the consumer who would receive the benefits of a mild intoxicant judiciously administered. That kind of benefit shown to have an effect on hypertension and heart disease comes closer  to justifying the whole enterprise than was ever admitted by HADACOL’s critics at the time of its mass distribution. Besides the alcohol however the elixir offered the consumer some nutritional supplements  which in fact both mitigate the risks of alcohol and provided benefits to large sections of the population likely to have deficiencies in b vitamins, niacin and iron. Beyond the components of the formula HADACOL increasingly offered intangibles that centered around a sense of belonging and a sense of community. It offered a sense of the glitter and fun of something special for those whose lives were lived in a great deal of hard work, tedium and plain living. None of this  solves the basic problem of any perceived cure all. No matter what problems people had with their health someone encouraged them to take HADACOL. How often that someone was Dudley Leblanc is unclear. But he surely knew that it had a cure all reputation. Most things are not as effectively treated by any cure all as they are by the best specific therapies  that existed in the late 1940s which existed and were expertly geared to each individual malady. If people who could have gotten better therapy only took HADACOL instead then HADACOL did some harm. It is not entirely clear how much that happened. But it probably did happen to some people.

 

Foster in Moral Reconstruction has shown how the South’s cultural history in an earlier period was of transformation into the Bible Belt, Clearly Evangelical Protestant Christianity had never typified the Cajun experience. But Cajuns had been part of the  fabric of Southern experience and were not unknown to any large group in the South. While the  distribution of HADACOL at its peak went far beyond the South, Dixie remained a major region and was an early region for its distribution. It could be argued that many in the evangelical Protestant South were conditioned to seek out things like this elixir specifically from Cajuns and had that tradition in their own communities and families. More convincingly it could be argued that they were accustomed to seek out  those products and services on the edge of their laws and folkways from French Louisiana whether Metis, Creole of  Color, Cajun or white creole communities were providing them. Whatever the reason HADACOL was getting more and more attention each year and that attention it received nationally did not have a large effect on the SONJ projects. There is very little about TABASCO hot sauce or any other major commercial operation outside of the oil industry. What did get reported and recorded were mostly small and traditional operations.     

 

Hadacol was a mixture of vitamins B1 and B2, iron, niacin, calcium, phosphorous, honey, and diluted hydrochloric acid in 12% alcohol. It is unclear exactly what the fullest and most definite explanation for the Food and Drug Administration’s problems with HADACOL.  But there are plenty of reasons for there to have been problems. In many ways HADACOL was for the Cajuns of this era very much what a more obviously political  or paramilitary uprising would be for many other ethnic groups around the postwar world.  

 

America had a long time concern about alcohol and for many dry counties around the rural south HADACOL had  become a means of acquiring alcohol at the local drug store. The alcohol content wasn’t all that high, but the hydrochloric acid meant it was delivered through the body faster than it would be otherwise. However it was certainly a medicine that delivered  a variety supplements and medicinal components that at least arguably had value in treating the sick. Dudley Leblanc used both the money and the fame generated in the production of HADACOL  as part of an overall program which from a Cajun point of view was not so very different than what more violent men have done to lead the forces of a beleaguered  people in rebellion against the changes in the larger world that they found most threatening. Cajun beauty pageants, statues of St. therese of Lisieux in front of Catholic Churches in Acadiana, trips to old Acadie in Nova Scotia and many other manifestations of ethnic identity were expensive and Dudley Leblanc would gain renown in the Cajun community for doing all of those things before his life was over. In those days of the year 1947 the Cajun  community could see where State Senator Leblanc was headed and where he had begun. His life was a continuity and a complex one at that. HADACOL would not peak until after Flaherty film had been released it had not yet become all that it would be but it was the biggest single voice coming from the community at the time. The question of what fraud is and what it is not has a cultural dimension. From its start there was in HADACOL and element of magic, entertainment and community that were as important as the element of medicine. But the Cajun traiteur is for all practical purpose a Christian witch or wizard and although that may be somewhat contradictory or even religiously anathema. Dudley Leblanc was more tied to that rich tradition than he was willing to declare clearly, The magical healer may have its problems and weaknesses but it was not an occupation he invented out of whole cloth. American History knows the HADACOL of the very early fifties as the last great American medicine show. the ethnic community to which he belonged knew him as something tied to something even older.

 

The record of his life has a great deal in it and he is far more than the record shows. It is important to remember that Forest Davis Huey Long’s contemporary biographer called him the most dangerous man in America. Dudley Leblanc had been Long’s most effective and serious political opponent back in  the 1930s. The machine guns, armored cars, concealed carry squads, political operatives and blackmail masters were easy for many others to forget and Long had his good qualities and his achievements. However, the Cajuns generally did not forget. They trusted Dudley Leblanc to broker the deal between the things they liked about the Share Our Wealth Plan and other aspects of Longism and also protect competing values and sensibilities.

 

So Dudley Leblanc needed a focus for his accumulation of wealth and his outreach to people outside of his Cajun community. HADACOL was the vehicle that people could tolerate and sometimes endorse. The mixture really made a lot of people feel better because they were in distress and when they took it the elixir distributed alcohol quickly to the pain centers of the brain and nervous system, And although it wasn’t a cure for the many diseases it was advertised for it is worth considering those claims with some definite care. there are a few sides at least to the story. Alcohol can ease high blood pressure in moderate doses,  honey can soothe some manifestations of ulcers, iron can help to effectively treat  anemia, it seems that with a vigorous placebo effect added in there were surely many people who did in fact experience some curative effects. But even if that were true to a greater extent than we can prove HADACOL was advertised to address many other health concerns.

 

HADACOL was  booming in 1947 and people could see it would be everywhere, on radio, on billboards, in newspapers and magazines, and at the local pharmacy. There was generally a great deal of fear of its use as an alcoholic beverage and a great deal was made of the relatively tiny percentage of the concoction that was sold in liquor stores and bars. In an appeal to justice it was said by those seeking to disgrace Leblanc’s empire that people paid $3.50 for a 24-ounce bottle much as an addict will buy a substance upon which they have developed a dependency — spending their last dollars when  they had no food in the pantry. HADACOL in Acadiana funded Dudley Leblanc’s French language radio show as it largest and sometimes exclusive sponsor. It was clear to many investigating the HADACOL that was starting to The hope for a better tomorrow trumped common sense in those days, just as it does now. LeBlanc pushed Hadacol on his radio show, which he broadcast in French. He published a medical pamphlet extolling the wonder of his elixir. He gave away swag featuring the name Hadacol on it, including water pistols and a comic book for children with stories drawn from glowing testimonies. LeBlanc wrote a jingle called “The Hadacol Boogie” which was recorded by several artists including Jerry Lee Lewis. He gave out Hadacol tokens, good for 25 cents off a bottle. LeBlanc had to expand his factory, then build more factories. Hadacol use spread from Louisiana across the nation. Millions of bottles were sold every year.

 

The Food and Drug Administration objected, not to Hadacol itself, but to LeBlanc’s use of suggestion and the placebo effect as tools within the caring mutual community. It is not impossible to believe that in the HADACOL community Leblanc really believed that people might have access to others  who could better assist their needs for a cure for cancer, epilepsy, asthma, and other diseases when HADACOL itself clearly did not cure them. WHen claims were questioned   he made it clear that he wanted to avoid trouble and direct confrontation with the Federal government. When pressed he always pulled those claims singled out for challenge as false, but the damage was being done with each wave of attacks by all sorts of groups sponsored by the FDA and others. Once an attack had been addressed in those days there were still forward bounding growth. It had not yet gotten to the point that the critics imposed an unbearable obstacle to him in doing business in those days.

 

Among the significant activities going on at that time was that organizing activity undertaken by Robert Leblanc within the Louisiana National Guard.He organized company H in Abbeville to continue the military service when he had begun when he served in the United States Army and really with the Office of Strategic Services in Europe and then transferred to the China-Burma theater in World War Two.  This was the origin of the Second Battalion of the 256th Infantry Brigade which exists and is headquartered in Abbeville at the time of this writing.. This battalion has very distinctive Cajun and even Prairie Cajun identity. Of course there are no ethnically exclusive battalions. However, the Cajuns despite service in all sorts of units have a strong affinity for the militia and its most organized form in the United States — the National Guard. Fred Leblanc was Attorney General and Edward Hebert was a Congressman who in the future would become Louisiana’s longest serving Congressional Representative. Neither of these two politicians were  particularly publicly known as deeply attached to the Acadiana region of the state. Charlene Richard who is venerated as a saint but has not been  formally canonized was born that year. Bobby Charles Guidry who would become a famous musician in his late teens was a young boy in Abbeville and Whitney Adam Leblanc whom we will revisit in the last chapter was a young adolescent in neighboring Iberia Parish going to school and helping out on his family’s farm. There was no great scandal in the fact that the Cajun experience was far broader than was captured by the SONJ projects but it is nonetheless a fact that work they did would represent a great deal of the ethnic community’s experience to a good portion of the American population at one time or another.  Lionel Leblanc was a man Helen Van Dongen described as good looking, competent man who made an excellent living and spoke precise excellent English.  She at least was concerned about the possibility that he was being exploited and asked to play a kind of naive and backward trapper who not only was not typical but perhaps did not exist at all.  

 

The SONJ project would capture many aspects of Cajun life and culture in these years. Much of their Cajun documentary work would be of the Bayou Cajun environment in the East of the State that went back to Olivier Theriot and La Fourche des Chetimaches would not be of the  but besides Louisiana Story they had other work being done in the Prairie Cajun region of the Terre des Attakapas that had Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil as its direct founding Patriarch. These photographers traveled through Vermilion Parish and visited Flaherty and others more often than not when they were doing work on the Cajuns and it is hard to determine all the lines of  communication that existed between these people. But Dudley Leblanc had many connections across Vermilion Parish and he was well aware of most things related to Cajun identity that were happening he probably had at least a part of his mind’s  eye focussed on this  Standard Oil effort to document the current Cajun experience. He left behind a great many personal papers, diaries and logs which have not been properly archived and even a relative harassing the family over the years has not produced an exhaustive inventory. Some have done much more than I have in looking through and copying his papers but I am fairly sure significant papers have been lost. Nonetheless, the Standard Oil documentary projects were not his priority — that is certain. My grandfather Frank Summers who knew Dudley Leblanc and considered him a closer relative by circumstance than he would be on a genealogic chart seemed to believe that he and Robert Flaherty met briefly once or perhaps twice and in that time did talk about their common interests. But again the absence speaks louder than the presence. Dudley Leblanc could have provided introductions, speedboats, parties, old photographs and much more but those things did not happen. However, it is a disservice to two extraordinary men to believe that they did not have an influence on one another. These were both extraordinary conversationalists and if in fact they spoke for a few minutes then it is likely both took away some real influence and information from the other. Flaherty did not lack for a base of support, funding and prestige with which to make an impression on the local people.

 

Standard Oil was very committed to this great project. The real value of their commitment is not so easy to calculate. Hundred of thousands of dollars were disbursed directly to the people working on  and running these projects directly. But the commitment was larger than that. SONJ subsidiaries also provided access and support in kind and any devotion of oil industry assets and time on any kind of large scale has a very high measurable dollar value. but those accounts were not presented to the people in the projects at all in many cases. Doubtless the accounts were better kept somewhere than I have found them.  But clearly in 2016 dollars this total outlay runs into the millions of dollars.  

 

1947 in postwar Acadiana was a region very much typified by uncertainty and also a certainty that change would occur and was occurring. The Standard Oil projects captured priceless images of this region at that moment. They brought out real truth and real beauty and pointed out real problems. They showed the viewers that Standard Oil could bring prosperity to a backward region and that was not entirely untrue. They made it possible to criticize what they did not do by doing something that certainly had real value in preserving information and images.

 

The reader can form an impression of his or her own of what exactly these projects amount to in the broad range of sources with which to view twentieth century America. Whatever the projects may be determined to be they were in full operation in 1947.   

 

Emerging Views Chapter Two

Originally I put this up with no photographs at all now it simply lacks the photographs that matter to the text. I have included a few photos of other kinds here in the introduction to the post that are marginally relevant because pictures after all are what this is about.

download LS 1

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.

Mommee produce cart

 

This chapter is very much an amputee without its photographs. As I sit here with my chronic foot problems, in my fifties and in decline in so many ways I feel a kindred relationship with the chapter itself.  The place where the rights to the pictures and the finest instances of those images resides is at the Roy Stryker Papers and Collection in the Ekstrom Archives of the University of Louisville which has now largely been renamed the Standard Oil (New Jersey) Collection .  But the chapter such as it is appears below. A pdf version of a draft of this chapter is available EmergingViewsChapterTwoInsidethelenses.

 

Here we go:

Chapter Two: Inside the Lenses, Cajun People and Material Culture

 

Section One of Chapter Two:

THE LOOK OF POST WAR ACADIANA AND THE PHOTOGRAPHIC VISION

Because of approximately  twenty photographic plates needing to appear in sufficient size and quality this chapter has the length and the cost to make it in many measures the bulk of the book itself. The photographs are worth it I believe. However, this can distort the reality that  more of the text is about Louisiana Story than about the SONJ project.  In this chapter there is a good bit of Arnold Eagle in evidence and he operated in both worlds. But before dealing with the operations and goings on based in the Nettles I wish to take the reader a few hundred yards down the street that runs alongside St. Mary Magdalene Church and in front of the Nettles. On the grounds of that fairly impressive church is fairly impressive statue which at a smaller church would truly stand out and draw views but as it is it remains only moderately impressive compared to the lofty tower of a church situated on a high pediment..    

 

In 1939 on the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, Dudley Leblanc donated a marble statue, granite pedestal and concrete base of a state of the Frenchwoman who had been canonized in 1925. Had St.Therese, or Therese Martin,  lived a long lifespan we would have been  seventy six years old in  1939 and only 52 when she was canonized. Today she is a recognized Doctor of the Church. This honor was bestowed by Pope John Paul II. That honor is difficult for non-Catholics whom I would love to have understand this text to grasp. The Catholic Church considers itself to be about 2000 years old and has alway honored the exceptional among the faithful from the Death of St. Stephen. Churches and monuments in the thousands have been dedicated to this vast industry of veneration. How many canonized Saints there are is something that serious people have killed and  argued over. Being a canonized Saint is a big deal, really big deal and there are lots of them.  There are thirty-three Doctors of the Church. These are a very diverse group each of whom represents in some way a  great segment of the vast and complex Catholic heritage.

One of those  thirty-three very exceptional  names has been added since 1939. One would have to say that in terms of Catholic iconography, doctrine and other measures Dudley Leblanc knew how to pick a winner. One could argue he was only caught up in a popular religious movement but that really is not a sufficient explanation. The Cajuns like Dudley Leblanc had a talent for picking the biggest winner imaginable in the Catholic world although for others who choose not to examine religious history in a serious way this all may seem very irrelevant to American history. Nor was this an obvious bet, she was in her twenties when she died. This may seem irreverent to many but to a certain kind of person her face is very beautiful, She had a kind of wit and verve in her writing which was in stark contrast to some other spiritual writers of importance. Dudley Leblanc saw in her a symbol and a stream of thought  worth supporting.

Dudley Leblanc is not known for his speeches or writing or writing on her behalf although he was a very well known speaker and writer. He is known for his donation of an image. Cajun beauty pageants, the HADACOL medicine shows and various other visual expressions were very important parts of his legacy. The blessing of the fleets, the Courires de Mardi Gras, the fais do-do, the tintamarre and many (but not an unlimited list) of other expressions form part the Cajun visual language and system of expression which form a vital part of the culture the Standard Oil Documentaries came to express for and interpret to America. They liked to think and there is quite a bit of evidence that they were pretty good at this sort of thing.

 

In addition there were and still are many communal activities that defined the community and shaped Cajun life The SONJ photographers did capture some of these events such as the boucherie, the pirogue races and some from the more deliberately exhibition related categories such as  the blessing of the fleet.  Flaherty, as mentioned earlier in this text, keeps the focus tighter than anything that will allow much of this visual language to seep into his film. This text in many ways attempts  to find an understanding of what happens when various visual languages come together and especially when theses specific languages did come together in this particular instance in mid twentieth century America. It is also a story about and a treatment of how these languages and their audiences did not communicate or converge. It is about what can be learned from the way different communities and segments of society competed for ears and eyeballs in an earlier period in the information age.

 

This chapter leaves out a,most entirely two forces which shaped the production of film and still photographs in this study. More or less the McIlhenny family and the Standard Oil organization are left out of the discussion except  for being addressed indirectly when the Cajuns or Flaherty and Stryker’s documentarians are dealing or being informed by one or more of these other two factors.the major exception is right in this paragraph, just here: Standard oil defined the total concept of the film from the start with a commission for a particular thing. Going through the primary sources on all this is not so simple and even the Calder-Marshall and Rotha biographies   fail to make  the point clearly in a few words. But the rather excellent essay “Step by Step’ by  Eva Orbanz that appears in Filming Robert Flaherty’s  Louisiana Story has a very succinct summary of what needs to be gotten at here.

On april 3, 1944, Roy Stryker, manager of Public Relations for Standard Oil of New Jersey, invited Robert Flaherty to New York. He had something to discuss with him over a bottle of Jameson’s. Would Flaherty be interested in making  a film about the difficulties and dangers of oil production?    An industrial film that would be interesting enough to show in commercial theaters?

Flaherty was interested.   

 

The commission was not to make a film about the Cajuns or about Louisiana but about the challenges that Standard Oil faced in its pursuit of its basic industrial position. The challenges faced by the oil industry were to be rendered entertaining and meaningful by Flaherty’s artistry. In terms of knowing where the money came from the Cajuns were just along for the ride. But both the fact that Roy Stryker did the asking and the fact that Flaherty was the one asked do frame that business meeting in rather  definite and telling ways. These were not just any two men. They were not strangers and it was not the first time they had been involved in large projects connected to one another.

 

This is not a book about Pare Lorentz, the FSA,  the collaboration of Helen Van Dongen  and Flaherty on The Land or Roy Stryker’s direction of much of the vast photographic project of the FSA.  It does not have to be a book about the 1930s to recognize that this was in many ways a rebirth with private funding of a massive publicly funded project from before the World War. But anyone who knows anything about the reputation of reborn or resurrected entities knows that the new is usually quite different from the old.  The FSA and New Deal projects did not just simply pause and then start up. A great deal distinguishes the two project and historians of documentary film  have tended to love the FSA — Pare Lorentz era  and nearly ignore this era with the limited exception of Louisiana Story studied and written about with some apology. However just before the work on this book began in the 1990s there were a few scholars who had begun to build on the tiny beachhead of learned discussion of these images. Some of that work was literally going on and coming out  around me as I was starting to put this together.     

 

The photographs and the film studied here have a history of their own.  The work of Arthur Calder-Marshall on Flaherty’s film and the by contemporary scholars such as James Curtis and Frank de Caro have shown that these same images can be valued as their own historical entities.  I have benefited from the careful and creative analysis which such scholars have provided.  In these pages I seek to understand the photographs as they relate to a social history of cultural group as it is recorded on film.  Perhaps, this comparative and mutually referential method allows more knowledge of all the evidence.  The weaknesses of the method may be exacerbated by the relative brevity of this work.  However, effort to push the frontiers between detailed photographic analysis and a more traditional approach to social history comes from a conscious conviction that this effort will bear fruit in a better historical understanding.

 

For the purposes of social and cultural history the photograph offers advantages and disadvantages.  Scholars often write and speak of the majority of past persons as “the inarticulate.”  Ironically, these folks spoke, created, built, planted and did numerous other things which expressed their personality in articles of reality.  Their communication, however, becomes either ephemeral, obscure or unintelligible unless someone records it in a clearer more permanent way.  Because this may not happen and because if it does the sources are often ignored, the folk cultures, the masses, the plain folk and the poor of history emerge through the writings of the elite and through statistical evidence.  Both of those sources depersonalize the subject of study and tend to make social history seem less detailed and accurate than diplomatic or political history.  The photograph reminds the historian that his subjects were living beings, existing in the complex and meaning world of personal experience.  The Cajun raconteur Emanuel Mores died as these photographic projects were completed.  His version of the folktale “The Two Ships” captures the situation of all historian s.  Yet it especially applies to this study.  Moras’s comic tale has been recorded as follows:

 

A cold wave froze the sea and a captain

    shouted to another that a cold wave had

    frozen the ships.  But he did not answer.

    The other shouted the same thing and did

    not get any answer either.

 

   It made them angry.  They began quarreling.

    The next day the sun came out, the ice melted,

    they were freed, they sailed and the frozen

    voices began to melt.  The ships had left

    the place, but other ships passes there and

    heard the quarrel, saw no one, heard lots of

    noise, but no one in sight.  The frozen words

    were melting.

 

Leaving aside the comedy of the metaphor and the humor of the poem,  this metaphor seems apt for trying to create a sense of a largely visual dialog now in the twenty-first century based on pieces of communication revived from  a sleep in various forms of preservation over the years.  The historian must take the frozen words and images which he discovers and try to reconstruct the experience of ships which passed.  In the previous chapter the history of the region and people to which the photographers had come was introduced. However, there was no detailed  description of the kinds of realities a photographer or motion picture cameraman can easily capture in their lense. This chapter has three parts. The first part is what you are reading now. The second part is a description of the Cajun hose and a discussion of how the Cajun house relates to the rest of Cajun culture and the Acadian heritage as it is manifest in Acadian material culture. The third and final part of this book works through the SONJ images selected and demonstrates an approach to using these photographs and photography of this sort as an historical source and document. That third part of this chapter is the part of this study which singularly fulfills or should fulfill the promise made repeatedly to take the images seriously as works of history in their own right.     

 

Looking for the unique images of Acadiana, photographers reached out, like one of the captains in Moras’s story’, to the Cajuns who were living and active to them but are now  frozen in their frames as far our text is concerned. They were trained, skilled and experienced observers often succeeded  captured persisting material manifestations of Cajun cultural that had become rare in the 1940s. In some cases they preserved the information that had some use in the restoration of traditional skills, in other cases they preserved what may have been the only serious portrayals of a given reality on film. They tended toward the distinct, quaint and old fashioned in their choices of subject. That means they tended to photograph places or people who tended in one way or another to be examples of material cultural persistence. The questions a student of Louisiana’s  Cajuns  will have about material cultural persistence cannot resolve themselves here.  But it is possible this chapter will provide a better basis for asking the right questions.

The other interesting set of questions related to analyzing these images is about what may be learned about how the Cajuns photographed related to their subjects. Merely by existing the photographs demonstrate that the Cajuns and the photographers  had substantial interactions. These are not satellite photographs.The photographs were taken on the ground by people who collected other information not contained on the negative. One must also ask how the Cajuns allowed themselves to be frozen in their encounters with photographers.  Finally, how did each party see their encounter with history — the ships to come.

 

One factor to be considered in understanding the look of Acadiana as the photographers encountered it is to understand the way peoples and cultures interacted with each other and the built or fabricated landscape. Acadiana had an identity as part of the United States as well as many other sources of its cultural identity. So besides Cajun culture in all its rich complexity and American culture in all its richness and complexity there were many other possible adjectives designating a culture which might be applied to  the people, buildings and physical objects which the  photographers tried to capture on film.

 

Besides Confederate, Francophone and American connections and empathies there are other ways of looking at patterns of people and cultures that in some way typified the region.  The region has a long tradition of harboring those whom some still call Emigres. Literally, this only means emigrants or people moving out of a country. However, in both Britain and the French colonies it acquired a special meaning as referring to the Bourbon nobility who fled from the guillotines that killed the majority of their population during France’s reign of terror which was in many ways brought on by the American Revolution and the French role in it.The pattern begun in those early days had continued  in the centuries before the SONJ projects and has gone on since those projects ended. These left visual cues that the photographers were poorly prepared to discern but would have shaped some of the lives and communities that they filmed or shot. Before Simone Delery’s book Napoleon’s Soldiers in America was published long after the years in question there was little available to alert people to the presence and contribution of the Napoleonic Officer Corps to Acadiana. The boy in Louisiana Story is named  not only Alexander and Ulysses but Napoleon and that name also is  an apt name for a Cajun boy in its own way.  

In certain circles accessible only to the folklorist in Louisiana Emigres is a designation that has come to mean highly elite populations of Francophone background who fled to Louisiana in organized groups to save their lives and settle. The waves of such refugees are: 1. The Bourbon Nobles fleeing the reign of terror, 2. the planter and merchant elite both creole of color and white race  fleeing Haiti after the slave revolt, 3.the Napoleonic Nobility and officer corps fleeing here after his first and second falls, 4. the small but significant group of French speaking Austrian Jews who came here after the fall of the Hapsburg Empire and 5. the Vietnamese specifically who either were themselves or were attached to the Nguyens who are the Royal Clan of Nguyen of the city of Hue and it family of the Kings and Queens of Indochine. Acadiana politics has also always had a somewhat distinctive quality and these layers of people laid on by migration to the basic population groups that existed before  has contributed to a politics with a kind of heritage of relatively right wing politics has been one stream in the complexity of region that produced four term Democrat Governor Edwin Edwards and the first female to hold the office in Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of New Iberia. Both were elected during a time when the Democrats were clearly to the left of the Republicans in what is basically a two party country. At the time of the SONJ photographs however, there had not been a governor from Acadiana since Governor Alexander Mouton the very Acadian Governor of Louisiana and father of the martyred Hero of Mansfield, General Alfred Mouton. The more recent years had seen a great decline in the prestige of the Cajuns and of the French language and although men like Jimmy Domengeaux and Dudley Leblanc were leading a movement to restore French and the Cajun heritage it was more noted for struggle than memorable victories in those years. This ascendance of English had a strong set of visual elements and manifestations. But most of all, to the degree that advertised products were most often Anglo-American or advertised in English, these picture, unable to capture spoken French, actually Anglicize the realities of their subjects’ lives by showing English words.  The photographers struggled to comprehend persistence and change in Acadiana just as scholars struggle today.  Todd Webb, one of the two Stryker photographers whose work most often appears in these pages, wrote to Roy Stryker the following contrast between Harnett Kane’s book and the realities surveyed.  “I was disappointed in La Fourche, where I went last Saturday and Sunday.”  Webb wrote from his hotel room in Baton Rouge, “I had read Harnett Kane’s  “The Bayous of Louisiana” (sic) and he neglected to say that a highway ran along the Bayou and that houses were really quite some distance away.  The people have turned almost completely away from the Bayou and the highway has taken its place.”  Webb would later discover that La Fourche had became famous as “the world’s longest street” and that in other communities the waterway still held ascendancy over graded right of way.  Kane, eager to see distinctiveness survive, had made La Fourche appear as riverine and unique in structure as it had been years ago. according to Webb. Not every scholar would agree about what Webb found. But we see this more clearly if we remember how he may have hoped for many easily obtained photographs of Cajuns in the town using the Bayous  and instead found cars, trucks, bicycles and wagons on the road did most of the work and achieved most of the connections between the Cajuns in this old Bayou Cajun settlement.

 

Acadiana during the 1940s offered much appeal to the photographers working there.  “Some day this week we are going to Abbeville to see Flaherty.”  Wrote Webb of the man producing Louisiana Story.  Robert Flaherty, recognized as the father of the documentary film, had received critical attention and some financial wealth for previous portrayals of remote cultures and places.  The man who had directed Nanook of the North, Man of Aran and Moana now brought his gifts to a Cajun subject.  His vision of a pristine culture would influence many.  The excitement of working with Flaherty in later days and Webb’s declaration that “Gross Tete and the Teche are both much better…(because they showed more cultural persistence than Bayou La Fourche)” all show that Webb and his boss never saw themselves as dispassionate scientists.  Yet, all parties to this project had ambivalent feelings about the ways this region differed from others in America. The distinctive appealed to them and made them feel successful. But that is not the same thing as them feeling that it should be preserved. However, from what can be remembered from nearly a quarter of a century ago there were more likely to be hostile statements from these generally Yankee aligned photographers when dealing with signs of the Confederacy and the antebellum South than when dealing with the distinctively Acadian. Todd Webb expressed weariness shooting Natchez which was “a crinoline crypt”. Nothing that strongly negative  was associated with his perceptions of Acadiana. But one must remember that a photographer can have all kinds of biases and a very defined agenda and still a shooter of the quality of any of these people will usually be longing most of all for the great picture most of all.  

The fact that there is no story titled Courir de Mardi Gras in the Roy Stryker SONJ collections is one of the most telling facts in the entire survey of what is and is not included in these photographs. The running on Fat Tuesday is certainly a very photogenic ritual of collection of chickens and other ingredients from members of a Cajun Community , beating the bounds around the physical limits of a community and a mixture of charity and intimidation. The whole rather elaborate ritual is  traditionally run by a ridelle under a captain. Men in masks and colorful costumes collect ingredients for a communal feast centered on chicken gumbo. This is done on the day before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Why this is not a major feature of the SONJ projects is open to question. But it is significant that it was absent.

 

The photograph has as complex a set of biases and insights as any other type of evidence.  Both art and science manifest themselves in the activity of photographers.  This paper has benefited from exposure to the correspondence between Roy Stryker and his photographers.  Stryker, while no photographer himself, loved the vision of the camera.  Stryker wrote the artistic and opinionated Webb encouraging words.  “Dear Todd, You are certainly going after Louisiana….” Wrote the office bound Stryker, wistfully, “Looks like the old Farm Security days:  storefronts, gravestones, interesting faces, etc., etc.  It was a nice set of pictures and I congratulate you.  Keep it up.”   The reader should recognize the living eyes which directed the mechanical ones. These men are deeply bound to their New Deal experience and the thing one often senses is that Standard Oil is subsidizing men and a few women whose hearts are invested in the old New Deal concepts. Neither Standard Oil nor the documentarians had a vision that came primarily from Acadiana or the Cajuns.  A photograph like any article of historical evidence is provided by a “witness” and comes through the filter made up of the witness’s interests, prejudices and medium of record.  Photographs provide access to subjects of various types within the context of a single document.  Careful analysis allows a unique view of gender, environment, popular culture and commerce to speak from the complex and holistic mesh of relationships which existed.

 

This study assumes that photographs have as significant and verifiable a message to convey to professional historians as any other medium. Text has been the dominant source type and should remain so but photographs matter as well.  It is difficult to determine how technical analysis of camera angles, lighting and other aspects of photography clouds the work.  Among the benefits of photographic sources, the greatest asset consists in their ability to speak to the reader’s imagination and intellect without too much introduction from their scholarly chaperone, the researcher.  However, the reader has no guarantee of any ultimate neutral objectivity on the part of the historian who must select the photographs and arrange them in order.Within the photographs, dress, vernacular architecture, transportation, ritual , and occupation serve as points of departure for scholarly inquiry.  The attempt has not been to support an essay on Acadian heritage and Cajun by looking at the breadth of visual imagery within the context provided  by texts and also try especially hard to seek out signs of persistence and assimilation with the  photographs providing key insights into the postwar period. The writer hopes to reveal in these picture and the study as a whole, the history of a people and region by investigating the information in a limited set of photographic documents as they relate to a limited set of questions of an historical rather than an artistic nature.  This study cares as much or more about the backgrounds of Todd Webb and Arnold Eagle, as a New Englander and an Eastern European immigrant respectively, as about their artistic style and is almost ignorant of the many technical questions about cameras, film and lighting which each of them had to answer every day.  A real effort has been made to understand these photographers and their perceptions and biases as well as all the cultural substance of the Cajuns, of Acadiana  and of whatever else they filmed. The human communication and perceptions and not the techniques of photography form the subject of this study.

 

The reason for mentioning that there was no folder called Courir de Mardi Gras is  because many photographs in this were taken as part of sets and kept as parts of “stories”, a term with a technical specific meaning here related to the ordinary English meaning .  These sets were centered around “stories” such as “The Pirogue Maker,” “River Story,” or “Scenes along a Bayou.”  This study seeks to recreate some of the feel of those stories even where the photographs have gravitated into very disparate sections of the SONJ files.  Perhaps, the final elements of structure to which this study aspires is a movement from environmental mandates on a human nature shared by all persons in all cultures toward those cultural and individual expressions which might never have happened except for unique Cajun experience.  Sometimes, the economy itself is distinctive and nowhere does culture cease to to shape and impact the relationship between Cajuns and their environment.  The section on architecture and the House in chapter one functions as a bridge between discussion of the functional and the sublime. and also between history and material culture studies. But America is a place where many things are hidden that would be obvious in a country where more people understood hidden hidden cultural realities.  

 

This study is an attempt to integrate sources and methods which are emerging as increasingly important in the study of history and to apply them to a unique set of historical questions. The most arrogant part of this work, and all good writing has an element of arrogance, is the effort to set a high standard of how historians can use photographic evidence. These questions are largely those on the interdisciplinary edge of history, community-studies, anthropology and cultural geography.  The desire by scholars today to recreate a lived experience of the majority of people in a historical period has inspired a wide range of scholarship of history and related subjects  in France and America particularly.

 

The study of photographs and sets of photographs allows the historian to determine the type of housing, farming and transportation which untied a recent society in a way not available from the descriptions in wills, building contracts standing structure surveys and the documents generated by agribusiness.  Vernacular architecture alone constitutes a part of cultural experience and articulation unknown to those reading social history until fairly recently.  Clearly photographs facilitate the development of a more ready apprehension of a region’s architectural style and landscape function than prose does.  The editors of Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture were somewhat inspiring to this writer in the early days of this project. I understand in researching the next section of this chapter that it brought out the potential of this quality of photographs and that the  Perspectives journal at the time was nearly as photographic in quality as it is textual.  Photographs also allow the historian to make strong prose arguments about the uniqueness of a style or the economic diversity of a farming community while allowing the reader access to evidence which functions as a counterbalance to the narrow focus of the writer.  Clearly, the historian has an obligation to describe individual photographs within the context of the photographer’s career and other factors not related to the function of the image a historical document or even as historical datum.  The wisdom of this approach and the value of the result are very much open to the question, all that is asked is that the study be evaluated on the basis of what it has set out to do.

 

Section Two of Chapter Two:

ACADIANA’S MATERIAL CULTURE AND THE CAJUN HOUSE

The Stryker photographers’ entire collection did not include much of the relatively few obvious very fine and upscale examples of Cajun architecture which are found near the places they photographed. They certainly did not seek out those which may have lost their distinct visual identity through renovation. Louisiana is a place which has several types of houses within the Creole and Cajun cultural milieu which have a basic modularity. The idea of a modular house in the extreme way in which these houses were modular is that one can start a house with a very modest amount of money and expenditure and live in it have a highly functioning cabin. One can then continue through many stages all the way up to something which can be called a mansion and at all phases have a highly functioning house except for the annoyance directly related to construction of new portions of the building. The system allows for many traits or ideals of the local culture to manifest themselves. There is self sufficiency which does not require a large mortgage, there is attachment to the land as one need not move in order to progress up the scale of financial progress and home value without leaving the same spot. It allowed the family, farm workers (slave or free when both existed) and contract labor to be divided with the home improvements the owners needed in a way which benefitted the builders who had to maintain less permanent labor and the farmer or business owner who might be glad to have work of value to him (or in some cases her) which his employees and dependents could engage in readily when the principal occupation of the establishment was interrupted. This sort of thing happens quite a bit in rural life. Often such an interruption might also involve weather that makes home improvement impossible but there would also be many times when it would be possible to work on the house but not on the normal profit center of the establishment. Thus  in the mindset dsitnctive of the region value could be added even when immediate profits could not be achieved.

 

After the relative decline of much of the region following both the Civil War and World War One The modular technology common to architecture in the region also had the effect of allowing the owner to disguise the distinct cultural identity of the home by adding what amounted to nondescript or confusing elements to later modules. Thus in time entire groups of houses with  a basic Creole or Acadian identity  were instead sort of odd mainstream American or regional Southern houses.

 

As stated above, the Stryker photographers’ entire collection  of architectural or architecturally framed images did not include much of the relatively few obvious very fine and upscale examples of Cajun architecture which are found near the places they photographed. The same selective interest also goes for more upscale typically Southern and Creole architecture from the nineteenth century which dots the countryside and clusters in the towns and villages of Acadiana. How such distinctions are made and how various housing types relate to the people living in the towns is a question beyond the scope of this study. But in general the types of houses described above do exist and are not much found in the SONJ photographs.  The interests they followed were not laser focused and narrowly singular either. was in evidence which depicted the economically disadvantaged, the working class, the Acadian, the industrial and the natural —  a house had the best chance of making it on to film if it was a poor or low cost home with a moderate Acadian identity and working class occupants in an industrial or very natural set of environs. Few houses had all those qualities but the trends and tendencies are clearly there. In studying what is on the film there is always a need to remember what is not making it into the lenses. Like all works of human understanding these photographs telescoped reality into a coherent set of themes, concepts and relationships.  To a large degree, the metaphorical ships have left and the words have little context if we do not have someone to tell us they were there. The pictures come from a place and time. WIth the benefit of a broader cultural history that  shows that place and time the photographs have the opportunity to become coherent conversations once again. The historical background provides a kind of map and description such as a good Crime Scene Investigation Unit might compile after a crime has occurred. This at least is a simile and not another metaphor.

 

During the research for this study a  significant survey of Acadian heritage and pure Cajun houses was undertaken directly by this writer under the direction of Jay Edwards of Louisiana State University, an anthropologist who also directed the Fred Kniffen Laboratory. This project was undertaken in conjunction with his Vernacular Architecture Seminar. The underlying purpose was to get some idea of the prevalence or at least availability of the Cajun House to the photographers in a small area that virtually all of them would have visited more than once. In that project a research was conducted of traditional communities, collections of traditional houses such as exists in Acadian Village in Lafayette. A review of  the Vermilionville living history component of the Jean Lafitte National Park and finally to review folkloristic and historical textual sources and photographs. Unfortunately, the research produced by that last part was lost and the reader will have to rely on the general sense of the sources from which it was drawn as manifest in the bibliography of this text.

 

After, that research was done a formulaic concept was put forward which allowed for some points in more scientific system as well as an informed judgement  in a more humanist system Using both systems it was arranged for evaluations to be made and credited for  the deviations from the standard to be well understood. This second phase of the project culminated with positing that a classic Cajun house developed which had all or most of a set of easily charted features, including the following:  

  1. A sharply inclined gabled roof.
  2. Construction of cypress walls lined on the inside with a mix of Spanish moss and mud.
  3. The floor is elevated on piers from the ground.
  4. Has galleries in the front and back of the house.
  5. The front and back of the house are on the longer sides of The rectangular structure.
  6. The front gallery runs the full length, or very nearly the full length of the house.
  7. The space above the ceiling is habitable.
  8. The windows have non-louvered shutters
  9. The galleries are beneath the solid wedge of the roof and not beneath an extension of the roof.
  10. There are windows on every side of the house.
  11. The roof is covered with cypress shakes.
  12. The profile includes an acute, an obtuse, and two right angles in its elevation
  13. The walls consist of center-matched or quarter-matched horizontal planks

The third stage of the project was to survey all houses on the road which becomes State St. in Abbeville and record a positive or negative for each characteristic, this survey will extend from the Woodlawn bridge to Henry Louisiana, The other route surveyed will be Hwy. 14-Concorde St.-Charity St. from Kaplan to Erath.  A drive by photographic survey was made first. then an external sampling of measures and more photographs was made of homes scoring at each level range of high medium and  low  However there were entire segments that were not sampled in each category. These samples at all three  levels will provided a little scientific basis for asking how many houses embody enough of these qualities qualities to be a visibly Cajun House..  At least one photograph and the physical location of each house with a score of eight or more positives will be retrieved in this portion of the project. Then a good number of the high scoring sample houses and a few houses in the four to six  points range were entered and thoroughly  examined for construction techniques and the  effects of renovation. The results of all these investigations was preserved and the were recorded and  contrasts between high scoring exteriors and inauthentic construction techniques were noted .

 

Fourthly, the age, variation, appearance and general feel of the houses with the scores will be contrasted with the model house. it was then evident that the tradition was more varied and vibrant and complex than the model but that the model was nonetheless a very good rubric for having a good investigation and good conversations with owners. Flaws in the set of characteristics and the method as it unfolded were discussed with Doctor Edwards, with owners of the houses and residents and before he dropped out to pursue a related project I discussed these things with the architecture graduate student who was my research partner. Files were developed for  Houses which scored high without seeming Cajun and those scoring low while appearing Cajun will be photographed and discussed.Finally, an effort was made to determine whether certain sets of characteristics appeared together most often and to set up a formula whereby one can analyze the basic frequency of certain characteristics.  

I ended this project with a great deal of confidence that the Cajun House was an important part of the landscape and that it was fair to note that the SONJ photographers had not come to understand the  Cajun House very well.  It seemed that the limits and structural qualities of their project had a great deal to do with why they did see well and missed many opportunities. It was a fair modern American response to ask the question: who decides what a Cajun house is, and what its features distinguish it?

 

But I was left feeling equally sure that the question could be answered fairly well and that the shallow quality of the architectural awareness I detected in almost every photographer was a real thing to be criticized. That question underlies other questions about Acadiana’s vernacular architecture.  The region is a diverse and complex landscape where the natural, built and near-built environment interact in very close and somewhat subtle ways.  No single simple structural analysis can make sense of all the buildings and builders which have appeared on the scene in this new Acadia.  This chapter discusses a sort of “classic” house.  This typical Cajun house represents a significant number of homes built during those periods of history in which Cajuns developed greatest autonomy and community identity in Louisiana.  This discussion also takes note of the new archaeological evidence for a distinct Acadian architecture prior to the expulsion from Canada’s original Acadia.  The house type defined as Cajun hereis readily recognized locally and has inspired very numerous works of folk art, including paintings, drawings and photographs as well as three dimensional models and toys in a variety of forms.  Furthermore, the house type has commonly served as a symbol for those seeking to promote local “cultural tourism” by outsiders and finally it is a house-form continuously adapted and imitated by Cajuns for their own homes until the time of this writing.

 

The exact situation in the 1940s was not possible to determine in the time I had but it was possible to see that these photographers and their wealthy patron could have learned a great deal more than they appeared to have actually bothered to learn. The sense this gave me was not that they missed the whole of Acadian architecture but that what they did miss mattered and could be evaluated.

 

In the environs of Lafayette, Louisiana (the largest city in the prairie region of Acadiana) two collections of historic Acadian or Cajun houses have been established and made open to the public.  The oldest of the two collections is the Acadian Village, operated by the Lafayette Association for Retarded Citizens which was developed in the 1970s.  The six houses appearing in figure “insert info.” vary significantly in age.  The Aurelie Bernard house, formerly of St. Martinville consists of two portions the original built around 1800 and a symmetrical extension sideways added in 1840.  The Thibodeaux house from Breaux Bridge and the Le Blanc house from near Youngsville both date from near the end of the antebellum period.

 

The fairly broad sampling of prairie Cajun houses at Acadian village constitutes a reasonable representation of what local people see as classic Cajun vernacular architecture.  Many feature predominate in these Acadian Village houses as a group but there is also a gegree of variety in the features of each house.  Significantly, all the Cajun houses at Acadian Village share the following features:

 

First, all have gabled roofs.

Second, all have an eaveside front.

Third, all have a  basic frontal symmetry with regard to doors and windows.

Fourth, all have a gallery under the eaveside.

Fifth, all are elevated from the ground on piers.

Many other features including the use of cypress in construction appear in all these Acadian Village houses. These houses were not conveniently collected in the 1940s but they were around and people were talking about them.

 

Those details await further discussion below.  The second collection of houses also serves as a useful reference point from which to evaluate the SONJ photographs and their record of Cajun life.  Vermilionville is a project of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the humanities.

 

The two Cajun or Acadian homes actually collected from the surrounding area share the five features listed above as common to the Acadian Village homes.  They also share cypress construction and other features not listed above with the Acadian Village homes.

One of the homes brought to Vermilionville belonged to Armand Broussard a wealthy Cajun who belonged to the slaveholding planter class.  the house appears distinctly Cajun despite some ornamentation which may have been Anglo-American and Creole in inspiration. In my view of the visual language of the area it seemed to me that the owner was asserting both ethnic identity and a sense wishing to be part of his region and country in which Cajuns were not the dominant ethnic group.  This Broussard home was built in 1790 and its large area and elegant appearance show that the Cajun style was apt for building homes which were as comfortable as most if not all in the surrounding area.  Another home of comparable elegance at Vermilionville is a hipped roof Creole home brought from the Mississippi River Valley and not to be confused with the local architecture.

 

The above description of these buildings serve merely to demonstrate in verifiable terms a fact which is difficult to support from written sources but which is readily apparent to a perceptive observer.  That fact is that people in Acadiana share a perception of the Cajun or Acadian house.  In fact Cajun people and their neighbors who wish to be more like them have continued to model their homes on this image throughout this century — before and after the SONJ projects.

 

Important questions arise concerning the interplay between the geographical and historical reality of Cajun houses, the perception of local people that certain features typified a Cajun house and the attitudes of outside researchers and artists towards the local vernacular architecture.  Over the entire history of Cajun houses to the present a complex system of feedback has occurred in which a tradition developed and was understood.  Artists, builders and consumers reacted to the tradition.  The newer homes within a still definable tradition expressed reaction to previous buildings and the impression those buildings had made on the community.  The cycle would continue as these buildings in turn shaped perceptions and were used as models for further building. Thus in short the process of change after establishment in Louisiana might be described as follows:

A= Acadian building tradition as far as an important symbol of their home in what is now Nova Scotia..

e = The effect of environmentally driven adaptations derived from the Caribbean, Louisiana elsewhere. Dating techniques seem to show that the first homes appear to have largely reflected A but quickly became Ae in reaction to the differences in climate and available building materials. and Visual Rhetoric

 

Section Three of Chapter Two:

( Note to 2016 review group at LSU the images are not currently available to be seen, Reading the text is not entirely pointless in my opinion or I would not be sending this in to be read)

IMAGES OF CAJUN LIFE, WORK AND ENVIRONMENT

The last section of this chapter is a careful examination of some of the images themselves.

it is the heart of this study in which after all the background has been established and before a higher criticism has been applied to the methodologies the photographs are allowed to inform those interested in history. That is they both guide a focus of external evidence and allow for purely visual information not otherwise readily available.

Plate one, photographed by Todd Webb in May 1947, displays the complex rural pattern of cultural and technological development in an assimilating Acadiana.  The levees show both persistence and change in farming and in relations between various cultures and the people who lived those cultures.  Acadiana in Nova Scotia made levees to protect their crops from encroaching swamp and sea water.  The later immigrants from Scotland hired Acadians to design and maintain their hydraulic systems.  In plate one, levees remain a daily part of life, but the water management of rice, not corn or other grains, emerge as the problem.  Here flooded and prepared fields await the airplanes which will plant seed in a broadcast method — strangely combining  new technology with the oldest form of sowing grain.

The farmhouse is of a Southern “shotgun” architecture, which in itself may be a primal expression of Louisiana’s vernacular architecture.  The home is a set of rooms, two rooms wide, going back to the kitchen.  A separate roof covers the porch.  A more traditional Cajun home in contrast would have two storeys , the first alone having a ceiling, and the upper floor would extend over the porch.  The Cajun home traditionally had a steeper roof and rested on cypress blocks at 15 points.  While even the home appearing in plate two, differs from the most typical homes, the Acadian home went through an eighteenth century and possibly two nineteenth century shifts in design and could also expand sideways from its original 15 block base.  Cajun architecture remained significantly adaptable throughout the nineteenth century and has enjoyed a miniscule revival in the last two decades.

The following chapter goes into a more careful and detailed study of Cajun vernacular architecture than is possible in this chapter.  There seems to have been a continuous adaptation to outside forces but there is also a sort of geometrical rhetoric of Cajun houses which is evident during the thirties, forties and even at the time of this writing.  This rhetorical system could preserve forms despite changes in materials and technologies.  The photographers seem to have had a fairly good eye for the “traditional Cajun house” in all its permutations.  The silhouette with its gallery cut away into the eaveside of a gabled house and the eaveside gallery fronting an artery  of the village (bayou or street) is the strongest feature of Cajun vernacular architecture.  This silhouette functions as a sculpted shape against the sky which makes a political statement about community an identity.  A statistical sample taken and anlyzed by this writer indicates that many such houses exist even among newly constructed houses today.  The survival of Cajun vernacular architecture indicates the kind of complexity which exists in the collection of photographs and is confirmed by other evidence.  An important hypothesis for this study is that Cajuns adopted their neighbors’ artifacts and values but also propagated their own values and artifacts to their neighbors.  The evidence gathered for this study indicates that a unique cultural region has endured and does not appear to be in danger of dissappearing soon and even communicates more of its music, foodways and ideas than ever before to the larger society. On the other hand the differences between the larger culture and Acadiana as a society are somewhat less dramatic than in the past.

Why the Acadian home has more often vanished than it has been modified becomes a complex problem.  Architects today admit that, in terms of comfort in the elements and function, the Acadian home outperformed most structures available during its decline.  Apparently, the conformity of farmers who wished to have an American home conspired with the diminishing number of builders who possessed the knowledge to construct an Acadian home.  Carl A. Brasseaux’s discussion of housing in The Founding of the New Acadia and Lauren Post’s discussion in Cajun Sketches offer more highly accessible treatments of these issues.  Apparently the house varied in construction and yet remained within distinct parameters of cultural development.  The photographers did not know a great deal about housing or about the different influences which might be displayed.  Todd Webb, who despised ante-bellum mansions, the French quarter and Southern pride also detected a pride by the Cajuns in their  old cypress homes.

Webb’s impression of the people and their relationship to these houses seems richer in prejudice then perception.

“W.B. has lined up an old house for me which I am

     staring on tomorrow.”  He wrote to Stryker, The way

     they cherish these old houses gives me a pain in

     the ass but I think it will be pretty interesting

     to photograph.  The Live Oaks (sic), festooned

     with moss are fascinating and somehow seem to

     be in line with the decadence that I feel in the

     South.  The cypress tree is a wonder, not only in

     growth but in use.  The wood itself is beautiful

     and almost everlasting and it is almost extinct (sic).

     Another American tragedy of which there are

     many in the South.”

The family in the shotgun home pictured here in plate one in 1947, lived near Abbeville.  These farm people likely spoke French and English, canned foods themselves and bought them canned.  Their furnishings may have included Cajun spindle and calfskin chairs purchased nearby, as well as various store-bought and mass produced products.

Plate one is a composite picture of gradual transformation which reflects the relative independence of the Cajun farmer.  Unlike the urban ethnic working for a non-ethnic, the Cajun farmer could adapt gradually to a changing world.  His family would embrace a new product or folkway because they preferred it, or because it more efficient or at least because the old ways had perished for lack of expertise and supply.  The Acadiana region retained a sufficient base of independent producers to account for their relative autonomy as a culture for 200 years.

Harnett Kane called Acadiana a land of “primarily small men and small affairs,” James H. Dorman has written of the prevalence of “ribbon farms,” and few have failed to mention this diffusion of capital.  The “ribbon farm” serves to highlight the importance of community to a society of small land-holders.  “Ribbon farms” is the term which rural sociologists use to describe farms where farmers live near one another, have some centralized services and work small holdings.  Even today many rural Cajuns work for themselves.  Slavery, sharecropping, salaried work, and accumulated wealth have all changes the region. The industry paying for this project also was already having and would continue to have an effect. The income from oil leases and royalties allowed extended families and nuclear families villages and other units of Cajun culture to make better adjustments to the demands of the era and the problems with the limits of the region than if those oil checks had not come in. In folkloristic terms many oil people from outside the region have commented on how the Cajuns were notable for marrying oil money. Because of legal situation that amount to a great deal on wonders if this book will ever be published if one writes that the oil industry also imposed many costs on the Cajuns that were never mitigated or even recognized. This cost however was very real and still goes on and the legacy lawsuits that have recently been the subject of much controversy are only a small part of that picture. But it is also true that oil provided a much appreciated  and  unique support to the economic struggles and plans of the small landholders of the region. The oil industry  came at just the right time to prevent other crises and  to bolster and support a life of  hard work and the productive capital that the typical small farmer or  (more rarely) landowning trapper already had and continued to maintain. Oil was in itself a kind of economic system recreating the main business climate in the region, in it there were many benefits and opportunities and also some very destructive and unpleasant forces. In that way it was not so different than many other economic systems which had existed at various times in the region.  None of those economic systems ever eroded the base of Cajun autonomous small producers so radically that the tradition of independence withered entirely away.  Cajun racism in the past to the degree that it was distinctive in any way from other racism tended to  focus more on two factors. Those factors were the relatively weak honors an African-American genealogy  would bring to a family and therefore a desire to limit mutual filiation. The second factor was keyed to the fact that Blacks, even free people before and after the war, tended to be employed by wealthier people. Thus free black planters had a very important role. Cajuns had always shared employment within classes  or segments and employed some fellow cajuns continually, But working one’s own capital and means of production and doing this as much as possible within a community with a few elite leaders of significant wealth and with communal facilities  remained a persistent ideal over the centuries and regions. Very little racial conflict or violence ever occurred between Cajuns and Black farmers and ranchers who lived in more or less autonomous communities when the Cajuns were relatively stable and at peace. Men who had beliefs and used language no history department at a major university in the United States would be likely to support would beat  and intimidate white men who were or were not Cajuns and engaged in race baiting of the local colored farming communities. However, in crises there was always a sense among everyone in the region that virtually anything might happen. Some of Longfellow’s idea of a people who love peace above all else is true. That is partly because Cajuns fear more than most people what they may become when pressed too hard. Whether true or not the idea of limitless rage as an ethnic quality is very old and widespread.

 

Farming and Cattle ranching, war and the learned professions are the most amenable ways to advance in Cajun culture across many times in history.   In recent years, trapping continues but has not enjoyed expansion or been able to offer much steady employment, commercial hunting in banned, and barnyard and cottage industries have declined in recent years.  Only the aquaculture and fisheries enable large numbers of small producers to earn a good living without dependence on the employer.  Those same industries employ many people in the processing and marketing end of the industry, proportionately more Blacks, Anglos and Vietnamese than Cajuns.  Where French language and Cajun customs persist most intensely, where the community is less closely tied to the mainstream labor market, more people enjoy the autonomy traditional to Cajun life.

 

If the farm in plate one also included stock operations the herd would likely have found its way a few miles up the road to the corrals directly behind the men pictured in plate three.  This stockyard sat on the nearby Richard family property on North Henry Road just outside Abbeville.  The local stock traders watch an auction in progress.  Like much of the local economy, stock auctions were managed by a cooperative.  The auctions in this building occurred in a sort of amphitheater where the cattle could be viewed in small lots when driven in from behind the wall against which the boy is seated.  These men look like other stockmen and farmers in other places.  The lack of accouterments of “cowboy” culture (boots, Stetsons, wide belts, etc.) distinguishes them from groups to the West of Acadiana.  However, this serves as an example of visual images with little evidence of cultural autonomy.  Assimilation seems nearly total.

This picture required the photographer to do very little in terms of composition.  The mix of people, all male and all serious captures enough of the mood sought by the photographer conspicuous to his subjects and yet he does not greatly alter their behavior.

One of the traps a scholar can leap into in this type of study concerns the distinction between Southwestern Louisiana’s economic adaptation and Cajun culture, with the grassy prairies here any European group would have raised cattle.  Nonetheless, stock-raising has formed a vital part of the Cajun economy since first settlement.  In the early days, this mobile property was brought and sold in the bordering lands of Mexico, English West Florida and among the Anglo-Americans settling above Acadiana.  This provided some of the needed money for transportation, resettlement and the development of the lands in the area.  Another form of trade which competed with the cattle drive was the water traffic in furs and foodstuffs which once tied together all of Southwestern Louisiana.  To exclude the physical environment from any model of how behaviors developed would miss a great deal.  Yet the interaction between human culture and the environment becomes highly complex in practice.

 

The farm near Abbeville and the stockmen both exemplify change and assimilation on the prairie.  The life of Cajuns on the prairies of Southwest Louisiana can not easily  distinguish its ways of sustaining prosperity from countless other plains and prairie cultures.  To the degree that the prairie economy was distinctive, such distinctions (flooding fields for rice, crawfish and catfish) drew upon a wetlands tradition.

 

The photographer took the picture in plate four not because it was typical but because it fulfilled Stryker’s mission of recording that which soon might pass away.  Without human figures, the photo records the garden and the home as a slice of history.  Empty of children and the other active signs of life the picture speaks, appropriately enough, of a past in which such homes as this had dominated their surroundings.  The intensity of economic production which left little room for such luxuries as a front yard reminds one that Acadiana has never experienced the depopulation of the countryside, by migration to the city, which characterized the rest of the nation since the 1880s.  The land grows ever more populous creating pressures for high profit, labor intensive rural industries.  Journalists, scholars, politicians, economists and sociologists tend toward the urbane.  Fewer intellectuals and writers who become well-known write from the prospective of a resident in a small rural community.  Perhaps this has something to do with those who see poverty whenever they see farms.  If a family owns herds, buildings, boats, and tools and a small spread of land but the immediate descendants of that family become debt-encumbered, college-educated condominium dwellers does that constitute upward social mobility?  In most economic and psychic terms it certainly constitutes a fall in fortunes.  Consumerism and prosperity must be distinguished  by a historian seeking to study those who cherish an economy based on subsistence and cooperation.

 

This small home has more Cajun features than the shotgun home on the Abbeville rice farm in plate one.  The economic conservative living in the home pictured in plate four practiced a mix of commercial cucumber planting and shrimping.  Such a mixed economy had already declined in Grand Isle, most of this shrimper’s neighbors had abandoned cucumbers to invest themselves completely in the increasingly lucrative seafood industry.  This raises certain ecological questions.  The earlier wetlands economy involved such a variety of small scale operations that the region’s natural balance continued. to produce sufficiently for the population.  Once refrigeration and better transportation made more distant markets accessible, certain aspects of the Cajun economy would benefit unequally.  This change did not obliterate distinctive cultural traditions, it could accelerate assimilation and damage the environment.

 

One also wonders if the shrimper’s wife lost economic status as production moved into the male dominated offshore world.  Did barnyard animals and subsistence gardening diminish as life and work became more specialized?  The answer seems to be that Cajun women experienced role strain and had to adjust in a much shorter period of time to the transition from a world of family economics, to male providence of nearly all wealth and again to a two career or cooperative economy.  It is unlikely that a significant number of most rural wetlands Cajun women ever divorced themselves from income producing activities or lost power and interest in the world outside the home.

 

The role of women in the economy of Acadiana is tied partly to the role of the family in the economy.  Acadiana in the twentieth century has increasingly moved towards the separation of family life and economic production which typifies the modern, industrial and post-industrial global economy.  Like countless traditional societies, the Cajuns have been forced to adapt to an increasingly market driven economy in which the accumulation of capital and the development of the new technologies has increasingly led to a specialization and concentration on the production of a few goods and services by members of units other than families.

 

The success of the local culture in maintaining a large economic base tied to its traditional folk activities is remarkable despite the relative decline of such activities.  The home garden and the small barnyard establishment of chickens, and milk cows have fared less well than traditional male activities discussed in detail below.  However, research would need to be done to ascertain how many families remained vital economic units.  There are still farm families where both spouses cooperate on producing a few staples, women who run small businesses with their relatives from their homes and other signs of persisting involvement by some Cajun women in preserving their families’ economic independence from marketing their labor and developing the capital of others.

 

The role of women in the culture of Acadiana has yet to become the sole focus of a single monograph.  The economic and social development of the region must include women.Cajun society was still in the early Postwar period  patriarchal to the degree which nearly all Western cultures and many others have recognized men’s authority over their family.  Women certainly expected that during their peak childbearing years wives  focused much of their energy on childbearing and child rearing and that men did not

.

The old woman in plate five had over 100 living descendants and appears in the Stryker collection posed in the same porch and chair beside one of her youngest great grandchildren.  Rural and aged as she was, the photographers must have been as alien to her as she was to them and perhaps they captured this in the way her expression fails to engage the viewer directly.

 

In the photographs of Acadiana as opposed to other regions, the Stryker photographers have a high incidence of men smiling and relatively expressive of physical affection to their children.  On that basis alone one could not make much of an argument about relationships between family members.  However, it appears that many photographs show men in the region holding their children and smiling among other photographs taken in Acadiana in the earlier part of the twentieth century.  Many also show the serious paternal poses which were typical of the time.  Perhaps Cajun men felt more comfortable expressing physical affection for their children than did some other ethnic groups.

 

The following picture, plate six simply depicts the pride of a father in his healthy young child.  Cajun culture in prairie and wetlands centered around family life.  Religion, commerce and politics were all shaped by the family.  In politics for example a title of great power before a name was “Cousin,” and in doing business the negotiations between strangers are often preceded by an effort to discover and recognize any familial ties between the parties.  In the pejorative terminology of American mainstream society, nepotism functioned as a central mechanism of Cajun life.  This lifeway allowed the Cajuns to survive.  The keen scientific observer and Spanish governor Antonio de Uloa (much maligned for a passive administration) said of the “Acadianos” in 1766, that they were a “people who live as if they were a single family…; they give each other assistance…as if they were all brothers and sisters, thus making them more desirable as settlers than any other kind of people.”

 

Despite the remarkable lack of credit and attention given to the people about whom Ulloa wrote it would be difficult to comprehend the draining, dredging, flooding and clearing which the Cajuns had to achieve in order to subsist in what remained a wetlands environment.  Their contribution to the state and the Gulf Coast overshadows that of many better understood groups.

 

Even in 1992, the folkways of beginning a relationship by seeking to find a kinship tie endures.  Kinship exists in two ways, first there is genetic kinship.  The second type, ritual kinship has been studied in somewhat different forms in the Caribbean, the Philippines and Latin America and will be discussed later in this study.  Third cousins once removed even today may feel significant bonds as “family” which they do not find with non-relatives.  The degree to which they do not find with non-relatives.  The degree to which such values can survive in a society and world which literally worships the individual as the creative source of all that is valuable in life perhaps amazes an observer of twentieth century Cajuns more than anything else.  Families may often be classes by outside “scientists” as codependent, dysfunctional or repressive.  Sometimes they seem appropriately warm and supportive.  However, close extended family ties form a basic element of Cajun culture.

 

The spirit of extended family loyalties is captures in B.A. Botkin’s A Treasury of Southern Folklore . The details might well represent the perceptions of an entirely candid if effusive observer in a very ordinary situation in Vermilion Parish.  The slightly patronizing tones of the author should not detract from the forceful distinction he made between his and the Cajun’s concept of family.

 “One pitchy black night” writes Irvin S. Cobb

  in the hunting season, five years ago (circa

  1920), we were feeling our way along the bayou

  below Abbeville on our way to the ducking

       grounds.  In a sharp turn our launch went

  hard aground.  The prospect seemed to be that

  we would stay right were we were until morning

  or even later than that….

  There were four of us in the party–three

  outlanders and one native – and inevitably

  the native was a Broussard.  He went aft

  and leaned over the rail and speaking in

  French, he sent his voice out across those

  empty spaces….Promptly out of the void

  came first one answering voice and then

  another and yet a third (The three men freed

  the boat from the mud and refused the narrator’s

  offer to pay)….When navigation had been

  resumed I put a question to the resident:

  “How did you know those chaps were living

  out here in this wilderness?”

  “I didn’t … I took a chance.  I yelled out

  that there was a Broussard in trouble here

  on the mudbank and that if he had any cousins

  around here he’d like them to rally around.

  So they rallied around and rescued us.”

 

Another form of kinship consists of ritual kinship.  The concept may seem alien to Anglo-Americans, yet it is the nature of relationships between in-laws.  The difference being that, in America another ritual can also bind people in ties of kinship.  Baptism produces a Parrain and a Nanan for the Cajun child.  This relationship has declined in status during the last several decades, yet continues to enjoy significant prestige.  Parrain may translate into “Godfather” but the roles assigned to such figures in Acadiana are far more prestigious and complex than among Anglo-Catholics while less important than in Spanish culture.

 

Extended family and nuclear family exist within traditional Western European concepts of family.  To this day, a high degree of endogamy (marriage within the overall Cajun culture) and of geographical proximity to one’s relatives combines within a goodly number of family reunions, a high interest in genealogies and a resurgence of regional pride to keep extended family ties alive.  Nonetheless, the educational, economic and legal structures of the United States effectively discourage the intricate mesh of socio-economic collaboration which supported the Cajun extended family for so long.  By the time these photographs were taken, some degree of erosion of extended familial ties was visible.  In the study of kinship, the historian confronts evidence of American forces of assimilation which may in time annihilate Cajun distinctiveness.

 

Marriage remains the central relationship in Cajun culture.  In the 1940s divorce was nearly unknown and the Alleman’s who appear in plate seven certainly would have defined themselves as life-partners.  Nonetheless, compared to the warm and affectionate pictures of fathers with their children, this image does not reveal great warmth of intimacy.

 

Arnold Eagle has clearly posed these people and both are looking directly at the camera.  Nonetheless, no evidence exists to suggest that he modified their habitual seating or living arrangement.  In the 1930s collection by Stryker’s F.S,A. Photographers, trappers ‘ camps appear as ruinous, but those did not constitute year-round dwellings.  The Cajun homes if clean, and practical often lack much beauty.  The guns, fireplace, the lamp and the crucifix all serve a practical function (religion would have seemed practical).  The Acadian people’s experience of a demanding environment and unsympathetic government and corporate neighbors as well as limited church activity in the area may have contributed to the strong pragmatic bent of the culture.  A “Down to earth” level of prosperity, safety first farming dwelling and a close relationship with the wilderness characterized the type of lifestyle perceived as sensible.  This did not preclude wage earning, commerce or expensive celebrations but it did preclude spending too much on consumer goods and objets d’art.

 

Taking a picture of this family and those things which their most casual visitors could see, Eagle uses the bright interior lighting to emphasize the stark simplicity of these people’s lives.  Edbon Alleman’s more central position, in front of the fireplace, and his stern look, crossed legs and hands gripping his rocker as a throne contrast with Mrs. Alleman’s demure gaze, her hands in her lap.  Cajun women have often been seen by outsiders to have forceful and talkative personalities, yet by recent feminist standards it is clear that Mr. Alleman “headed” his home when intrusive outsiders were around.

 

Cajun families have always possessed guns for hunting and during the French and Indian War, War of 1812 and Civil War they bore their own arms into battle.  The guns may disturb the urban eye of the late twentieth century (they remain ubiquitous among Cajuns).  Most Americans movies and songs made about outsiders in Acadiana such a Southern Comfort, Gator Bait and “The Highway Goes on Forever” portray the Cajuns as extremely violent, no doubt some basis exists for this.  Cajuns have long endured hostility and persecution from powerful outsiders, sometimes these territorial people have added to such conflicts.  Acadians fought the British in Acadia in the late 1750s.  Their descendants opposed outsiders with force between 1850 and 1870.  In more recent times, Cajuns supported and assisted Vietnamese Catholics in their resettlement in Acadiana, but violence punctuated competition over fishing rights.  Vietnamese fisherman were not aware of the orally agreed upon territories of Cajun fishermen.  Overwhelmingly, however, a Cajun home has received les autres with hospitality and coffee, like extended family.

 

From the marital unit, Cajuns established social, religious and commercial ties to other families.  According to Lauren C. Post, and most other authorities, women controlled many of the chattels which produced cash, especially chicken and milch cows.  They also maintained gardens and spinning wheels well into the first decade of this century.  Men traditionally controlled the land, herds of cattle and hogs which the family brought to market less often but for greater sums.  Adolescent males hunted, fished, did chores and raised their own funds through countless small youth dominated industries (bountying, frogging, etc.).  Cajun youth often provided a significant portion of the meat and fish eaten by the family.  Cajun families swapped woolens and game, cooperated with neighbors in halerie, boucherie, couverage, the planning of the village fais do do, and the normal affairs of business and politics.  Of all the various means for such connections, coffee seems to have been the most common excuse for prolonged interaction.

 

Here in plate eight, the Allemans entertain in the way one might entertain men who had come to discuss politics or business but whom one knew well.  Notice the relative ease that which these people feel on the porch.  Two men still manifest an awareness of the intrusive camera but one perceives the breezy comfort which the porch both symbolizes and provides.  Eagle has angled this picture in such a way as to capture all three open sides of the porch, the open windows and the open door, the attic vent and the space below the raised house.  by the 1960s, the air conditioner and the television would do much to erode the role of the porch (as throughout the Anglo and African regions of the South), yet,  as late as this writing, Cajun culture is an out-of-doors way of life.  Street dances, festivals, water-sports, hunting, fishing, new technologies in aquaculture and petroleum mining and the other mixes of old and new activities express the connection of the people to the wide and flat openness broken by giant oaks beneath a vast blue or clouded sky.  People did not feel less welcome on the porch.  They only felt cooler in the long, hot and humid months of the summer.

 

Coffee, in 1945, was not the weak adjunct to hospitality which is found in a jar of freeze-dried granules.  It was a gift.  Acadian coffee remained a source of pride for the people of the region.  Made strong enough that it seemed pure black in a demi-tasse (a very small cup).  Cajuns worked for some time on their coffee, “Ca c’est bon le cafe! ” being a prized compliment.  Most families considered themselves past masters at this art.  The technique of making coffee shows how interaction for centuries with Anglo-American culture (beginning in Nova Scotia) allowed the Cajuns to believe that all Cajuns did certain things better than other peoples.  The Cajuns typically also stereotyped various groups of outsiders based on certain properties. It is very hard to say with certainty how welcome the outsiders with cameras felt in Acadiana. But that will be discussed at some length in another chapter.

 

Emanuel Moras, the raconteur whose tale appears  earlier in this  chapter, told the following tale:

“There was a fruit peddler who got on

         a steamer to cross the ocean.  The captain

         objected to having him on board because

         he thought the fish would capsize his

         steamer in order to get the fruits, but

         he was assured it would not happen, so

         the peddler was allowed to remain on

         board.  While at sea, the fish got on.

         The captain grabbed the box of oranges

         and threw it overboard when he saw a

         big fish getting on.  The fish swallowed

         the box and a little later came back for

         some more.  This time the captain threw

         the basket of bananas overboard.  The fish

         swallowed it, and returned later.  This time

         they threw the Dago (Italian-American) over-

         The ship reached land safely.  A year later,

         the fisherman caught the fish, cut him open

         without knowing the history of the fish.

         They found the Dago.  He was sitting on a

         box of oranges, selling bananas at the

         same old price, two for a nickel.  He had not

         changed his price.”

 

Food and drink and economics distinguished the Italian-Americans in Cajun folk imagination and homemade, laboriously prepared and generously shared coffee distinguished the Cajuns in their own minds.

 

The coffee beans were patiently roasted to “between” medium and dark in a stove-top roaster.  French drip coffee has all but vanished since the sixties, in the 1940s it was made with the kind of concentration evinced by joseph Mouton, a cattle rancher and small-scale meat packer entertained the photographer with a steak dinner and Webb took pictures of most of his daily routine.  The Moutons exemplify a common case in the area, this family held substantial assets in head of cattle, land, equipment and businesses.  Unlike wealthy or substantial persons elsewhere, the Moutons employed little non-family labor.  Their home and dress remain as stark and austere as their neighbors’.  Their manner and porch lack even the simple refinements of the Allemans.

 

Traditionally, husbands made a family’s very early first pot of coffee.  Wives made the subsequent ones.Mrs. Mouton in plate ten, serves a late morning pot to her husband and one other man in a much more casual way then Mrs. Alleman.  Joseph Mouton would seldom do business at home while Alleman may have been entertaining customers of his pirogue making shop.  Mr. Alleman is pictured in plate  eleven with the tools of his trade and one of his products.  Edbon Alleman’s craft served a vital function in the complex of skills and techniques which allowed the Cajuns to thrive in the wetlands.

 

Plates twelve through eighteen trace a single material Cajun response to the local environment and the universal human need for transportation.  Arnold Eagle who took these photographs also made a film entitled The Pirogue Maker.  This film shows the grace and skill of the artisan in a way which  the stills do not fully capture. In these images, Arnold Eagle has captured Edbon Alleman’s creation of a pirogue.  The countless shallow channels and lakes which nature has placed in Southwest Louisiana require a flat bottom boat to be conveniently negotiated.  In 1992 many flat-bottom vessels of various sizes are produced and sold in Acadiana.  These modern vessels, fashioned primarily from aluminum, boast speeds and carrying capacity which the traditional pirogue does not.

 

The Cajun experience included  a full history of exposure to and participation in French maritime culture, numerous voyages during Le Grand Derangement, exposure to and imitation of Micmac birch bark canoes in Nova Scotia and Attakapas dugouts in Louisiana.  Into this rich mix of cultural knowledge came the internal combustion engine and other modernizing technologies.  Cajuns fished, trapped, gathered and farmed in swamps, bayous, marshes, bays and in the open Gulf waters.  The diversity of their needs led to a great deal of variety and creativity in boat design.

Among the other vessels photographed by Stryker’s photographers was the small skiff made to be rowed from a standing position, various v-hulled vessels, the sea going fishing boat known as the Lafitte skiff and the Cajun bateau, which functions as a barge.  Cajun vessels which do not appear in the collection include the compartmentalized water-car or fish car which was towed behind these barges as a series of live wells for bringing his catch to market so that no inland fishery could be truly remote.  The photographs do come at a time when few of the metal boats imitating traditional pirogue and bateau designs had been produced.  Nonetheless it is interesting that these successful innovations eluded the photographers of time.

The simple houseboat, shown in plate 19, allowed some Cajuns to live in whichever part of the wetlands suited their need and inclination at a given time.  The houseboat allows access to vast natural resources without the capital outlay or ecological cost of trying to remove the region from its wild state.  These adaptations not easily modified to accommodate the newer creature comforts disappeared.

 

The Stryker photographers generally recorded scenes of relaxed domestic life and cheerful faces at work on the houseboat.  The houseboat developed in the Atchafalaya region of Acadiana once the initial attempts at farming the remote islands and cheniers of the swamp had proven unprofitable.  Many swamper families developed the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers and the houseboat allowed the family to stay together instead of remaining at home near a struggling garden and barnyard while the men of the family traveled from one run down camp to another in pursuit of furs, fish, frogs and fowl.

 

The bayous and channels remain places of work and recreation.  The waters have ceased to serve as homes for families.  During the summers, friends within a town may visit boat-to-boat and from the wharves which form the spine of so many towns.  But the houseboat was an extreme adaptation and its passing into the status of relic and recreational vehicle has real significance as a sign of assimilation.  Determining what it means for a culture  to turn a formerly necessary cultural trait into an aspect of recreation has been a theme in the work of Gaines Foster’s studies of a distinct Southern culture in the United States.  Any keen observer of modern life sees highland games, fencing, track and field, martial arts, competitions, Hawaiian lu’au and surfing realizes that much  of recreation carries over from the past folkways of cultures that attached different significance to these same activities.  In some cases, the activities remain powerful vehicles for transmitting the identity of the culture in which the practice originated, otherwise the activities may simply become absorbed into the subculture of recreation as it exists in a larger and totally alien cultural context.  Many small towns and more “modern” lifestyles could also establsih themselves around water.  Captain Zenon Doucet of the “40 Fathoms” and his crew went after shrimp.  They travelled out into the gulf and carried ice to preserve their catch.  When they returned they sold their catch and lived for a while in the relatively modern town of morgan City, Louisiana.  At times, they would have tenders bring them ice and sell their catch (or more Likely its oldest portion) to the tender to stay out a little longer.  Plates twenty and twenty-one represent a number of photographs in which the Stryker photographers captured some aspect of the shrimping industry.

 

This lifestyle was much practiced in smaller towns such as Delcambre where these boats are docked.  During hurricanes and storms, the off-season and holidays, shrimpers sometimes worked ashore.  Often they had access to family farms or business where extra help was needed.

 

The four pictures in plates twenty-two through twenty-five –– a merchant and his son engaging in part time commercial fishing, a fisherman tarring his nets to preserve them in the hot and humid climate, a man shovelling oysters and a man collecting moss to be cured for upholstery — together capture some of the rich diversity of life on the waters and wetlands.  This fabric of work has evolved continuously, the photographers also took pictures of the hoop nets being tarred and of other forms of fishing.  The seafood and fishing industry is not a simple industry in any way.  the earliest recorded example of raising crawfish in artificial ponds is the 1770 account collected in Phillip Pittman’s 1906 study

.  A visitor to the region wrote “The craw-fish abound in this country; they are in every part of the earth…they send to their gardens, where they have a small pond dug for that purpose, and are sure of getting as many as they have occasion for. (34)”  Large scale commercial crawfish production did not develop until the mid twentieth century.  The raising of turtles in the Atchafalaya region and the development of catfish ponds throughout Acadiana has also developed mostly during the twentieth century, both were established when these photographs were taken.  The raising of alligators and redfish have developed in the years since the photographs discussed and the crawfish industry has expanded along with the catfish.  These aquacultural industries have benefitted by individual quick freezing technologies, better grading and packaging technologies and improved communications and transportation.  This industry has continued a long tradition which was much more precarious in the 1940s than it is in the 1990s.

The seafood and fishing industry in Acadiana also includes a complex of extractive freshwater, salt marsh and salt water fisheries.  Each of the species raised as an aquacultural product first became part of the diet through the efforts of extractive fisherman.  The labor and capital invested in the preparation and care of oyster shoals and bed varies from bed to bed.  despite oystering mariculture has never really existed in Acadiana.  The saltwater bays and the Gulf of Mexico have been exploited by extractive fishing alone.  In recent decades the offshore oil production has increased the diversity of employment opportunities in the Gulf.

 

The freshwater extractive fisheries have long provided the plurality of livelihoods in the Atchafalaya region.  The finest study done of the cultural geography of the Atchfalaya region is Malcom L. Comeaux’s 1972 study Atchafalaya Swamp Life:  Settlement and Folk Occupations.  Comeaux’s study shows the variety and complexity of technologies used to catch fish in the freshwater Atchafalaya Basin.  Comeaux also shows the ways in which the local fisheries fit in with other aspects of the folk economies.  Figure two, taken from Comeaux’s book (page 98), illustrates how these various economic practices fit into the season of the Atchafalaya, how they changed over time and the way in which a single family might be involved in all of the traditional “swamping” activities.

 

The photographers captured an impressive portion of the richness of the life and work which spread out from the wetlands.  The photographers observed realities such as the collaboration of a father and son and then expressed that reality in their own vocabulary.  The artistry which shows the proud father with his son and their catch as a unit of strength does not come from the people, but rather from the composition and direction of the photographers.  The artist has both father and son facing the camera as one, the fish joining them as a visual baseline and the heads controlled by the heads of the family.  A journalist achieves the same unity by using images, facts and statistics to weave an argument about his or her subject.  here, one rests assured that father and son actually shared and economic interest in the fish, faced customers and suppliers together and functioned under the headship of the father.  The creative and imaginative work of the photographer told “the truth” about what he saw.  Art need not mean “not factual.”  What was the role of imagination and ideals in the somewhat exotic world these people had set out to capture on film?

 

Notes:

 

Carl A. Brasseaux, The Founding of the New Acadia; 11 and 31.

My proposal is to begin with a few paragraphs giving a bibliographic and historiographic summary of the literature and research which has dealt with the Cajun house.  These paragraphs will treat the historical and climactic forces which impacted on its design

See Kniffen’ s treatment of the shotgun house in his essay titled “The Study of Folk Architecture: Geographical Perspectives” which appears in the anthology Cultural Diffusion and Landscapes:  Selections by Fred B. Kniffen; edited by H> Jesse Walker and Randall A. Detro.

Refer to the next chapter of this study,and look at  Louisana’s Remarkable  French Vernacular Architecture by Jay Edwardss

Todd Webb to Roy Stryker, May 9, 1947; Box 1, S.C.S.O.N.J. at E.P.A.

See Post especially Cajun Sketches.  Writer also had considerable personal experience in farmhouses during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In Holtman , See Dorman 90-95.  In Bayous of Louisiana Kane uses this and similar terms often throughout.

The term ribbon farm was first applied by rural sociologists retrospectively studying the manorial and pre-manorial farms of Europe’s past from the vantage point of the nineteenth century.

The original source of this abound.  However, the wirter has excluded Papeles Procedents de Cuba from this bibliography.  For the present see “Allons a la Louisiane”, Brasseaux, Founding of the New Acadia.  See also Post, Cajun Sketches, 39.

See Post, Sketches, 100-103 and 107-109.

 

Acadiana Profile magazine has done numerous articles on the local economy which indirectly address this set of “women’s issues.”  The local economy today increasingly divides work from the home as is true of much of the world.  Acadiana is rapidly becoming less distinctive regarding these things.

In fact despite the warmth of a few Walker Evans photographs men hugging children is not a common theme in American photography.  The photographs are posed but not therefore insignificant.  The subjects comfort in the situation is significant.

Audiencia de Santo Domingo, Leggio 2585.

Botkin, Southern Folklore, 590.

“Godfather” and “Godmother” the obligations are far more comprehensive than religious ones.

This inspires the comment of everyone writing of Cajuns in Louisiana after 1860.

“Halerie”, hauling wood for buildings; “Boucherie” most festive and ritualized of cooperative events “killing”, butchering and processing and storing a hog or several hogs. “Couverage” roofing and “fais do do” to “make (the babies)sleep” for an outdoor dance for adults, all remain tied to the outdoors.

The social use of the outdoor space in the South generally is a phenomena much remarked upon by northerners before compressed freon and electricity changed the region’s idea of a pleasant summer evening.  Much of cajun life remains tied to the outdoors.

Corinne Saucier’s Folktales, 84.

See Comeaux’s Atchfalaya for discussion of swamping boats and technologies and the function of these in a hunting and gathering lifestyle.  Furthermore this lifestyle was largely commercial and in many ways less subsistence oriented than the more stable life of the smallest prairie farms.

Due to the withdrawal of my colleague Richard Simonton from the project on which we had collaborated and into which I had invested some considerable time, I have decided to ask permission to radically redefine my project in a way which requires little if any scientific and technical expertise,  but which may have some considerable scientific value.

Today I am not going to graduate school

I do have a graduate degree from back in the 1990s. That has not changed. But I was thinking of going back for more.

 

LSU diploma photo

My graduate degree diploma

FUS SCA

My Sophomore Class Award from FUS

USL Diploma photo

My undergraduate diploma appears here.

insurance certificate

my Insurance Certification Course Diploma

certificate catech.

My Certification as a Catechist for the Diocese of Baton Rouge

I have just been informed that I did not make it from the waiting list to the active enrollment at LSU’s History Department for the Fall. I will be posting, if I can, a series of chapters and sections in imperfect form from the proposed dissertation that I have been working on for the last few months. This not only a rough draft but references a set of images in key places which are not available to the viewer.  I nonetheless include it here because it is a big part of my life’s work and  this blog is where such things go.  I am including the Introduction and Chapter One in this post. The links above are to the  (hopefully) evolving Google Drive versions

 

Emerging Views:

Louisiana Story, the SONJ Photography Project

and Acadiana’s Regional Identity

 

Thesis Introduction:  

 

This thesis seeks to explore Acadian and Cajun identity and the identity of the region in which these people lived through the metaphorical lens of two interconnected projects which employed many real physical lenses. The study will be aware of the future and will draw on a great deal of the past which may be unfamiliar and goes back in a tradition across centuries. However the period of the study includes only 1943 to 1953. The work focuses mostly on the period from 1946 to 1952.  Both of the projects that occasion this study were directed by fairly impressive men in American cultural history who are really giants in the history of American documentary images. They have in common mostly the single fact that both projects were  largely funded by Standard Oil of New Jersey and  took place in a region which is called and was coming to be called Acadiana. However, one project took place only in that region whereas the other was undertaken by photographers all across the oil producing regions of the United States. This thesis largely ignores the  specific work of photographers outside the region but is aware of the the difference between Flaherty working only in this area and the Roy Stryker project working in this region among many others. Visual images are the central documents involved in this study.  Historians who are concerned about such things may be assured that written documents will play a significant role. Formal oral history will not play a role simply because the resources need to employ such techniques on an effective scale in a timely manner have not been forthcoming.

 

One might argue with considerable reason that this project demands too much of its sources and is too ambitious in scope for a thesis at the level of study for the Master of Arts Degree  or even a Doctoral Dissertation if such a dissertation is to rely heavily on the film Louisiana Story and photographs taken by the Standard Oil of New Jersey massive photographic project. The supporting documentation preserved in the Roy Stryker Papers in the Ekstrom Photographic Archives of the University of Louisville provide a real and necessary context for these images but that context is in every way minimal. The photographers on this project, Standard Oil, Roy Stryker and Robert Flaherty are all secondary characters in the story which this thesis seeks to capture and communicate. The photographers are made known largely by their work. there are notes and letters from them in the Stryker Papers. Richard Leacock was a kind of living bridge between the two projects. FLaherty’s photographer was both in and not fully in the odd fraternity of those roving photographers who made the rest of the Standard Oil of New Jersey photographs. The breadth of this great project and its ties to the Farm Security photographic Project and Pare Lorentz’s films provide a broad subject about which several good books could be written. This however is not that book nor one of those books. This book is mostly about the Cajuns. But this must The Acadians becoming known as Cajuns in the time when the images were produced take pride of place as protagonists in the story. That ambiguous name issue persists to the present day and is manifest in the film Louisiana Story. They are not seen primarily as individuals. There is a definite influence from anthropology and its tendency to study communities as such and not rely as exclusively on the narrative of individuals and their behavior. One test of the success of the thesis will be whether it successfully remains a history  while experiencing largely a a set of communal and ethnic realities as the principal historical facts and events in question.

 

This author grew up and worked in Abbeville, Louisiana writing for The Abbeville Meridional  a newspaper which had its offices and still has them directly across the street from a home called the Nettles which is where Robert J. Flaherty and Helen Van Dongen edited the film Louisiana Story. The film had it premiere at the old Frank’s Theater which in 2015 is the object of a preservation society but which was an active cinema or movie house at the time of the filming and also was the venue in which this author saw many of his earliest films. When this author interviewed JC Boudreaux decades ago he indicated how much the movies meant to him as a boy.  Standard Oil reached out to the Cajuns as a force of assimilation by offering one of the best loved and most admired aspects and artifacts of American society, One thing that must be kept in mind is that this was a film made in an area where films were appreciated but were not made.

 

Louisiana Story exists as by far the most central and significant single source among the sources used and relied upon in this thesis. This thesis is not intended primarily as a work of film or photographic history and the author would rather have it considered as some contribution to American cultural history. But that does not take away from the historical significance of the film itself.

 

Louisiana Story was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story in 1948.This 78-minute black-and-white film remains controversial in many respects. In fact, there is little one can say about it which is not controversial among the relatively few scholars and learned persons well versed in the history and impact of the film. Robert J. Flaherty was in fact a great documentarian, he did in fact have a lot of experience living and filming among varied peoples around the world and  he did live in and among many Acadian or Cajun people while creating this work that is in essence fictional. Journalists, Wikipedes and informed people are increasingly eager to point out that  it has often been misidentified as a documentary film, when it is better described by some hybrid term like “docufiction”. The distrust of many cultural and film scholars for big businesses in general has often been surpassed by their distrust of businesses which earn their profits outside of of communication and pay for any sort of communication which in any way presents itself as fact. Thus whatever prestige or trust is earned for the film because its script was written by Frances H. Flaherty and Robert J. Flaherty and the film which  was written by the grand old man of the time was also directed by Robert J. Flaherty — whatever  capital is gained in terms of a basic learned willingness to undertake the journey the film offers is lost to a writer such as this author for other reasons. The principal reason is that the film was commissioned by the Standard Oil Company. Let us not pretend in this introduction to really address all the motivations behind the funding of the film and all of the conditions imposed on the project. Standard Oil assuredly had an agenda and any scholarly view of the film and its subjects must take that agenda into account. Where does that admission leave the writer and readers of this text?

 

This text does not manifest the point of view that the film accurately captures and portrays all that was happening among Cajuns at the time. It does not seek to endorse all that Standard Oil may have been trying to say at the time the film was made. However, this text does demand of any reader, professional scholar or otherwise, a willingness to take the film on its own terms and the related photographs as well even as one explores sources and conditions which allow for a more nuanced critical and historical evaluation both of the works on film and also of those subjects. The reader is asked to see both the photographs and the film as serious attempts to record real conditions and events in a way that required skill. Such works deserve a certain respect, however critical that respect may be.

 

Besides the Academy Award Nomination there are other indications of the greatness of the film. These indicia also manifest the same complex realities as are evident in the script. There is a transformation of that which is perceived through the work of art and in turn this transformed reality is presented to the larger society and becomes part of its perception of the community being portrayed.  Like Flaherty,Virgil Thomson was doing real musicology at least in some imperfect sense and when won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his score to the film he allowed it to be clearly understood that it was in fact  based on scholarly tape recordings  by the contemporary Alan Lomax who had collected the music of indigenous Cajun musicians. The product which those bestowing the Pulitzer Prize and any audience of the film experience is his professional artistic interpretation real Cajun musical experience and expression  which he scored for the film and which then was beautifully  performed by the Philadelphia Symphony. Following the Academy Award Nomination and the Pulitzer Prize there was a third laurel to distinguish the film in the early years of its existence. Louisiana Story was also in the top 10 of the first British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound poll in 1952. In the thesis there will be some detailed treatment of the movie and its filming but not in a thorough or exhaustive sense. If this thesis is worked into a long book it will not be the exhaustive book on the film much less on Robert J. Flaherty. Nor is this text a challenge to Carl Brasseaux’s great series of works on the history of the people and region. But the text is going to move definitively in the direction of Brasseaux’s subjects after starting with each piece of filmic art and with the entire collection.  For most of the next few pages this introduction will depart from the film and look around at the place and people to which Flaherty had come. For a moment and for many moments hereafter the text will entirely ignore the occasion of its existence and one might well wonder what any of this has to do with the SONJ filmings. It has nothing to do with them except that they came to the place described to do the work which occasions this text but is not its principal subject. Considering all of this it is more unusual that it was not given more scholarly attention that it is questionable whether or not it deserves scholarly attention.  But since this is not primarily a text about the movies why does all of this matter?

 

It matters because this text seeks to give a simple set of relatively uncontroversial facts about the underlying historical reality being filmed by those in the employ of Standard Oil and then to bring the reader to an understanding of what the perceptions of those creating the film works, the perceptions of their viewers and audience and the perception of the Cajun subjects. In understanding all of that one hopes to emerge with a better understanding of how perception functions in defining cultural boundaries, limits and identities in America in the twentieth century.

Most people first  reading this text even if it were widely  will have lived in the twentieth  century America and so it may seem to be very near to journalism and yet one can see the entire century’s greatest struggles, challenges and promises related to how America saw smaller communities within its larger society and how these communities both saw themselves and the larger society. Often the most important questions relate to how the smaller communities believed that the larger society saw them. Louisiana Story and these photographs allow the questions related to perception very directly.

 

I would like to take a break from considering these images and their makers and the subjects posing or not for their benefit. Let me briefly introduce the place and people to which they had come for the purposes of this thesis. Whether it is the an entirely correct of that people and place is less important for the purposes of an introduction than is the question of whether the reader can embrace as a reader the underlying suppositions and parameters of the portrayal of this Acadiana and Cajun experience. The thesis depends for any hope of success on the reader accepting the basic parameters  and features of this cultural experience as having at least a limited historical validity for the purposes of this text. These parameter and features share with other histories the reality that one is selecting a handful of subjects to consider and a handful of stories to tell in what is actually a far more complex and rich context. Those features and stories are not so much selected out of some universal sense of what is most important. Rather they are the facts and conditions most relevant to the  discussion in the text being written. The frame of mind in which this thesis was conceived differs from the frame of mind in which it might be finished. The text has its own history as does its writer. The writer knows that there is a chance that this might seem a much more clever book if the basic structure of this underlying reality were sort of leaked amorphously into the whole context of the thesis rather than revealed in all their humble nakedness here in the introduction.   However, understanding the asserted nature of the cultural and regional subjects in the context I propose is vital to understanding any discussion of the perceptions these films create or allow. So who were these Cajuns? What was Acadiana? What was their role in American history? How did they relate to Standard Oil and the interests it represented?

 

Those four questions and some others are among the questions this text will answer in a somewhat cursory way. This introduction will at least introduce the answers we will give ina far more cursory manner.  

 

Flaherty would shoot  the film outside of Abbeville. He shot in Bayou Petite Anse where the story is dramatically set and it was shot in Weeks Island but several of the most compelling scenes in  Louisiana Story largely on Avery Island in Iberia Parish. That is not far from either Abbeville or the other locations just mentioned. But just as Abbeville was a  very definite kind of place where Flaherty would live, host photographers and have his real base of operations.  Avery Island is a definite and  unique place as well. It is a place  with which this writer is extremely familiar. The role of the Tabasco hot sauce  magnates in production and the likely influence upon Flaherty and his cast and crew has to be considered in any consideration of what influences affected the making and conception of the film. In working with this family and its patriarch at the time Flaherty entered a tiny world within a world, within a world and one could sustain this metaphor for a few more iterations. The place had its own small histories and the current McIlhenny with whom Flaherty most had to contend had his own involved outsider’s view of the Acadians and the big oil companies. He was largely able to deal with both of these groups of people and their institutions from an autonomous and often advantaged point of view. He was not an outsider at some distant remove but a man who was rooted in his own local history with real insights and well developed prejudices. The connection of Louisiana Story to Avery Island is a connection to something close to the Acadian and Cajun experience and yet largely outside of it. The Tabasco fortune is founded largely on continuity in a very specific place. The roots of the fortune which preserves the natural environs in which some of the film was shot began with a kind of invention of Tabasco Sauce by an already well off man  whose family owned the salt dome which lifts up a hill of farms villages and wilderness above the flat, wet and otherwise similar lowlands spreading out over the region. The salt mine inside was the source of a good fortune and of a kind only a few neighbors could emulate. Unlike oil, salt is only extracted in a tiny number of places in the region. One of the heirs of this estate invented a product and saw its potential in 1868. The man was  Edmund McIlhenny who mixed up his own personal pepper sauce recipe with three natural ingredients: fully aged red peppers, salt from Avery Island, Louisiana, and high-quality, distilled vinegar. Decades of continuity and industry had already established had already established Tabasco as a major beneficiary of American society and its opportunities  for trade and  commercial development. To some degree this connection affected Flaherty’s dependence on largesse and resources of Standard Oil. But to a much larger degree it served as a further and additional footing from which to perceive the Cajun experience from the outside. His belief in documentary film, his funding from Standard Oil and his connection with the hot sauce empire all  shaped his perceptions of his subject. But he still had entered directly and reasonably honestly into the heart of Acadiana. Specifically, he had come to Abbeville. Abbeville is and was a  small town in South Louisiana now named after a town in France. This writer’s  connection to it could scarcely be greater for anyone who is not a native. I was born elsewhere in the region, the city of Crowley to parents who were both natives of Abbeville. The town was named La Chapelle when my Leblanc ancestors sold the land to a man recognized as the founder and known as Pere Megret, meaning Father Megret. Pere Megret was the French missionary priest who developed the town. The church is much at the center of the town and religion was everywhere presented to Flaherty. He was living near local Catholic experience. I was baptized, made my first communion, and wed to a young woman native to Abbeville in a church which Flaherty could see from his base in the house called the Nettles. Religion was all around Flaherty but has little to do with his film. This was also the historic home of Severin Leblanc a prominent vigilante in the era leading up to the Civil War and Dudley Leblanc who was this writer’s cousin and  Severin’s descendant  had published a book called  the True Story of the Acadians in 1927 and had published a better edition  of the same book before World War II. He had tangled with the prominent Huey P. Long Machine in the state and known both victories and defeats. He was a wealthy enough man who enjoyed entertaining people from out of town.  Severin Leblanc had places he could easily sleep and entertain in Abbeville, Erath and other spots in Vermilion Parish. There was a Cajun cultural ferment which Flaherty could have participated more in than he did. But he was a keen observer inserted into that epicenter Cajun identity.

 

Flaherty had come to the very epicenter of information from the inside. Flaherty would cast a Lionel Leblanc as the father of the Cajun trapping family who along with the drilling team more or less make up the characters portrayed in the film and every Leblanc or LeBlanc in the town of Abbeville  could be assumed to be aware of that casting choice  The boy who had the largest role in the film is a Boudreaux, Joseph or  J.C. Boudreaux  these people are also a prominent Acadian family with widespread relations across the region. Back in 1993 I interviewed  J.C. Boudreaux by telephone to get his impressions of the experience of making the film and since then he has been featured in the documentary Louisiana Story: A Reverse Angle. Dudley Leblanc would have been indirectly connected to these and other people with whom Flaherty worked.  The very best place to hear a well informed advocate from the inside tell him about the Acadian experience. it is an overstatement to say that there is no evidence that Flaherty became deeply immersed in this interior set of perceptions. This thesis will attempt to illustrate and explain what the signs of influence are and how they are manifest in the film but the larger absence of Leblanc’s vision of the Acadian experience is more telling than its lesser presence. In the end one has to say that picture does not have some of the authenticity and integrity which one might hope to find.

 

The larger reality which most distinguished the historical moment in which Louisiana Story was made and in which  the other photography of the Standard Oil of New Jersey photography directed by Stryker was that really all of the men involved and the women as well had been through the intense and formative experiences that together constituted the Second World War. World War II had placed the United States of America at the forefront of the world in ways never really imagined by most Americans. The McIlhenny family, Roy Stryker, Dudley Leblanc,Robert Flaherty and cast of locals who played the fictional family at the heart of Flaherty’s film were all looking toward the future and were  wondering what that future might have to offer. These photographs and the film that Standard Oil had commissioned Flaherty to make do not seem to have been advertising and public relations geared to making a quick return on investment.  Standard Oil’s motivations are not entirely revealed in the sources on which this thesis is based and it may happen that over time other sources might reveal more nuance to their motivations. Perhaps colorful and compelling quotes from key players in these decisions will offer a different insight. However, what seems clearly to be the case is that these executives and stakeholders in Standard Oil wanted to show that petroleum could usher America and Americans into a new era of prosperity and help the country to find its feet. Dudley Leblanc had been in the Louisiana State Legislature  during most American active involvement in World War Two. He brought many experiences to bear in that office but none more important than serving as a Sargeant in the Army in the first World War. His brother Raoul Leblanc and others who fought in France had learned the value of speaking French and English both in that war and the advantage had been relevant again in the Second World War. America had twice helped to save French civilization and in the eyes of many boosters and defenders of Acadian and Cajun culture and ways of life the cajun troops had played a crucial role more often than recorded because of their bilingualism. In addition their record as it stood was not negligible. In addition to all of that like many Americans who came back from the wars Cajuns felt a reason to hope for an America that would have more to offer them as it had more to offer everyone. This was not only in the sense of material prosperity but also in terms of a more capacious way of life that recognized who they were. Womens Studies and African American Studies have noted the rising expectations of women and African Americans after the Second World War. Cajuns experienced the same increase in hopes for the future at least to a degree that any number of voices in the community have since recognized. It was in this context that Standard Oil sought to illustrate how the oil and gas industry might help bring many of the remote and rural parts of the USA into the bright American future. But while they shot photographs across a large portion of  the entire country they made no other film similar to Louisiana Story which was largely produced in Abbeville Louisiana.  For them this was the place to make the most compelling statements about the way the oil industry would interact with rural American culture or a largely rural American culture.

 

The Standard Oil photographs in the larger project directed by Roy Stryker constitute a broader vision which is discussed in these pages. Those other photographs depict pirogue races, boats that act as school busses, people dressed up for church, Catholic priests blessing the fleets of boats that supported the nearby Cajun villages and towns as well as many of the fine regional restaurants and what existed of the national seafood market at the time the pictures were taken. Poor families with guns and Catholic religious articles are also part of a cultural mosaic of the relatively quaint, exotic and rural. But the pictures also show the movies, cars and other symbols of the national American culture which attracted the Cajuns to the future which Standard Oil seemed eager to provide for many. Any real depiction of these towns and villages and fleets is largely absent from Louisiana Story. Flaherty sets the focus close and depicts the life of a very rural trapper family. Trapping continued to be an important part of the life and economy of Vermilion Parish of which Abbeville is the seat. Flaherty did not invent or fabricate the idea of trappers. Trappers constituted a significant [part of the cultural fabric and the human community. Like cowboys in Texas and Oklahoma, lumberjacks in Washington and Oregon and lobstermen in Maine the trappers manifest a kind of ideal and had an influence on other rural people in the community that went beyond their numbers. While Flaherty may not portrayed  cajuns very fairly he came much closer to achieving a fair portrayal of Cajun trappers.

 

This thesis will have to return again to the question who Flaherty already was when he took the commission and to a lesser degree consider who Stryker and the photographers and members of the production crew may have been.  There were in fact numerous problems that the Cajuns and other rural Americans faced in the emerging economy of the new American superpower. Flaherty saw the exotic nature of the Cajun way of life as a cinematic opportunity. Acadiana and the petroleum industry were forming new connections to bring about a truly distinctive future in a distinctive region. Dudley Leblanc had helped to put all of his brothers through college. His cousin and my Anglo-Acadian grandfather who later became  Louisiana  Chief Justice Frank W. Summers had commanded a ship in World War Two and been part of the great Pacific campaign and the Occupation that followed.  Abbeville was full of people far more educated and worldly than  the Cajuns portrayed in the film. There is some discomfort in watching the film and some have rightly pointed out that the film was reissued in 1952 by film distributer with a reputation for exploitation and was under a new title, Cajun. This release was in fact on the bottom half of a double bill with another film called Watusi. Clearly the existence of ethnic slurs against the Acadian and Cajun heritage and the individuals associated with it was not going to end. The film could be and was part of a set of perceptions which allowed the larger society to look down on the Acadians and dismiss many of their claims to prosperity and recognition. But is there a simple relationship between the uncomfortable feeling some members of the community feel when they imagine others watching the film and when they worry about perceptions it may reflect of their way of life. In 1966 years after the film Louisiana Story had been released and the released again Dudley Leblanc published his book The Acadian Miracle.  By then their was a kind of renaissance underway of Cajun music, language and folk rituals. The oil industry in Louisiana and in Acadian portions of Louisiana  inside and outside of what is sometimes called Acadiana. In many ways the prosperity brought by oil seemed to have resulted in the way suggested by the Louisiana Story.   

 

So America was coming out of the War. Acadians and American elsewhere were seeking a way into the future and Standard Oil was willing to show a path into that new future of hope and prosperity, Flaherty meanwhile made a fairly memorable film about a Cajun trapper family and a drilling crew. It is possible now to return to the question of why these sources are worth considering in this context. In brief, is there a current history book in all of this?

 

While the truth is that this author, Frank W. Summers III, deserves whatever glory and whatever shame there may be in this endeavor up to this point it also was written in  periodic dialog with the late Professor Mark T. Carleton of the Louisiana State University Department of History. Carleton brought a sense of the power of photographs from his book Politics and Punishment on prison reform and brutality in Angola, Louisiana’s great prison. He also was able to look at questions of race and racial consciousness among all those involved in these projects and depicted in them. Further he could see from his work on a book like River Capital  how pictures can be used by various parties to tell stories and then reinterpreted by historians in a way which tell the tales of those taking and using the photographs as well.  Professor Carleton also brought a knowledge of Louisiana and Southern History and a sense of how visions of American consciousness and American society described by historians like David Potter who had influenced him early in life did and did not apply to Louisiana in the same way that they did to some other parts of the country.. Nonetheless, we did not always have the easiest relationship and disagreed about some historical points which mattered profoundly to each of us.  He did seem to trust the closeness I had to the context especially of Flaherty’s work where some other historians might have distrusted the whole project because of this same closeness.

 

The boy who is the protagonist is named  Alexander Napoleon Ulysses Le Tour  has in his name a great deal to say about what Flaherty may have absorbed from his surroundings. The name is French and Greek and slightly Anglicized. Whether or not the boy deserves the  connections with Napoleon and the two great Greeks for whom he is named is for the viewer to decide, the overall evaluation of the film is dependent in part on what one takes to be ironic or comical. This writer tends to believe that very little of the film is intended to be comical or ironic.however what is not ironic is certainly ambiguous because in the credits the character with the grand and glorious name is just identified as “the boy”. was played by Joseph Boudreaux.  Flaherty who immersed himself in Abbeville and its larger surrounds as well as the rest of the Acadian cultural context which surrounded him. In that environment he heard of genealogies in plenty. For while Flaherty loved to tell stories he was a conversationalist as well as a raconteur. He could and did find interesting people and listen to them. In that environment he had words and snippets of stories and bits of information which was sort of a mixture of history, folklore and mythology. In French and in English there had already been and continued to be a first and second Acadian  Coast and the talk of an Acadian triangle. There was talk of the western parishes being known as  Acadiana: That part of Louisiana where the Acadians have been perceived to be the dominant cultural and population group most definitively in recent decades has increasingly .become known as Acadiana. In 2015 Vermilion Parish where Flaherty had his base claims to be “the most Cajun place on Earth”. The sources reviewed here do not show exactly what parts of the tradition Flaherty was exposed to but among the streams of claims and names are the following:

First Acadians came from Acadie: Mostly the same place as the Canadian province now officially known as Nova Scotia. although it also included much of New Brunswick and some parts of other provinces in Canada. The next level of knowledge that lived in oral history and tradition was that  Acadie had first been named Arcadie when it was settled. That is the French equivalent of Arcadia and reflected the Greco-French character and heritage of those intending to settle there. Ulyssee (as the name often enough occurs in Cajun genealogies) or Ulysses was a mythical and legendary king in ancient Greece who also  knew and interacted with ancient Arcadians. The name was not unknown among the Acadians but Flaherty selected it the deeply Christian religious names selected by Longfellow for his fictional representations of real people are also realistic names — Gabriel and Evangeline,  But Flaherty chooses to take a boy with the very Cajun and very Christian name of Joseph and give him the name of two Greek pagan kings. Ulysses with his claims to the legacy of Homeric verse and Alexander the Great: King of Macedonia and Greece who conquered Persia, the Eastern Mediterranean and much of Western Asia Alexander reshaped the world. His father was Philip King of Macedonia who conquered much of Greece. The Macedonians were a people with very long and close ties to the Arcadians. The connection of the Acadians to ancient Greece is a relationship first among themselves. The sense of community which was captured in many of the SONJ photographs was based on a real set of connections that were deep rooted and continued to be maintained. It is likely that Flaherty had been somewhat exposed to the oral tradition that related to the basic structure of medieval France. The division between  Languedoc and Languedeouile was one of two vital distinctions. The other was between Paix des Coutumes and Paix des Droits Ecrit. To return to these topics later may be useful and necessary but in this introduction it is sufficient to say that the Acadians had been a somewhat autonomous group or a coutume they held to a Greek heritage within their French identity just as other communities had hyphenated identities across much of France.

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Alexander may also have been a reference to Alexandre Mouton a former Acadian Governor of Louisiana before the War Between the States. He was also the father of  Alfred Mouton who had attended St. Charles College in grand Coteau, enrolled at and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and then led the vigilante movement  in which Abbeville’s Severin Leblanc. Alfred had later been a Confederate General who died achieving the last major Confederate victory of the war. The contrast between this father, Governor and cultural icon and the odd little boly in the swamps may seem a stark contrast indeed. Yet it may be that Flaherty was speaking a somewhat different language.    

 

When one writes of Flaherty’s vision it is easy to see that the  vision was not entirely individual. The film was not made by one person and was well photographed by Richard Leacock and skillfully edited  by Helen Van Dongen, who were also the associate producers. Original release was through independent film distributor Lopert Films with Flaherty and not SONJ staking a claim to most of the rights and  glories one might expect the oil company to hold on to. All of them became involved in the community and  aware of the history of the people around them not to a scholarly degree nor not necessarily even to the extent which the very best journalist might have achieved and yet it was something substantial which informed their work. . Although the film was both fictional and constricted to a narrow focus on a single family that is not all the film is  — some glimmer of the other level of insight is preserved.This thesis will attempt to examine that level of insight as well.

 

Flaherty’s film is like the larger collection of photographs discussed in this text in that visual appeal, an attraction to the exotic and the chance to show the modernizing and Americanizing potential of the “Oil and Gas Industry” writ large provide the main motivations for where to point a camera, what to develope, what to print and what to display. But those motivations are not the only ones involved and to some scholarly tastes this work may seem more than a bit too sympathetic to these works and those who produced them. To the sources themselves in that this author has no doubt that  the vision through the cameras in question in itself is a vision which greatly enriches our capacity to understand the region and contributes directly to Louisiana’s cultural history. To note the flaws in that vision is not at all the same thing as dismissing that vision.  Louisiana Story is also an effort to deal with consciousness of the past and with ongoing tradition.  That same sense of history pervades the SONJ photographs. In order to show that they were leading America to a better future Standard Oil had to show that they were aware of the background and roots of the people to whom they were bring petroleum funded progress.

.

In the Louisiana Story the mythology, history and memory of the Cajun people is especially compressed into the first sequence.  The early voiceover in the open swamps  does give us some valuable information however truncated. One asks whether the mermaids, werewolves, talismanic articles and other aspects of the exotic life of this boy in the swamps is tied in with his name which will be explored in this introduction and the whole tone of the scene will be explored in the thesis.

 

A relatively attentive viewing of the film by someone who is not watching with a scholar as often as not reveals a story dealing with the adventures of a young Cajun boy and his pet raccoon, who live  what may be more quirky underprivileged or seen as a somewhat idyllic existence playing in the bayous of Louisiana. One may also see that the boy clearly has developed skills related to hunting, fishing and other folkways he will need in his life. Some see the signing of the oil lease and the subsequent production of oil as an authentic economic working out of the new way of life. others see the story of the little boy and an alligator as being the major story with the oil merely being a kind of subplot involving the boy’s elderly father’s allowing an oil company to drill for oil in the inlet that runs behind their house in the swamps. For those taking this view the main plot is what happens in the swamp. Conflict these people hope to see between traditional people and the new oil company does not materialize. The conflict is instead between boy and nature in this view and action for the plot is provided by the experience the boy has of  a giant alligator in the area, which the boy and others believe to have eaten the pet raccoon and which is hunted in revenge. Another possible view of this is that alligator hunts and the risks of dealing with giant alligators are simply a real part of the boys daily life.

 

For some who have commented in various formats, the boys magic, mythical beliefs and other eccentricities have a double meaning. They are not intended to be literal characteristics of the young trapper in that view. So here there is visual and other tension in plenty between the rural child and  the completely assembled miniature oil rig which with its friendly crew  which is towed on a slender barge into the inlet from connecting narrow waterways. One of the struggles with very recent history is to achieve some kind of historical distance and sense of perspective. If one is writing about the Roman Empire’s Gallic Wars it is safe to spend a few pages on the similarities to the current wars of the historians homeland but if one is writing about the Vietnam War it may be wiser to be more miserly in such comparisons. It is not so easy to bring oneself or the reader into the period and draw up the borders which so effectively kept the people about whom one is writing from knowing what would happen next. !946 to 1952 is within a great deal of living memory. To many historians it seems close enough in time, But it is important to remember that there is a significant moment of crisis in Flaherty’s film when the rig strikes a gas pocket and there is a blow out. It is hard to see that footage today without thinking of the Macondo well blowout and the BP disaster with the vast spillage of millions of barrels of crude. In addition, the years which followed the growth of the oil industry led to a great deal of environmental damage which can be discussed and evaluated with the insight gleaned from a great deal of evidence that was not available to Flaherty or anyone else at the time these cameras were capturing the images that would form this larger view of the region.So if to many viewers today it seems that  most of this blowout is dealt with swiftly and off-camera that is not necessarily an attempt to hide some larger truth that Flaherty is aware of and wishes to distort by concealment., Today’s environmentally viewer may see an unrealistic and distorted construct and view of  the drillers with what they perceive as a barge, rig and  loads of pipe. They may feel there is a menace being distorted in the  faces and voices of the friendly drillers  but in fact many drillers were friendly especially when dealing with landowners who had legal rights, local connections, weapons and notoriously bad tempers when offended. To the same sensibility it seems more than a bit too perfect when the representatives of big oil depart from the Louisiana swamps expeditiously leaving behind a boy sitting more or less on top of a device called a “Christmas Tree” which promotes the continued and useful production of oil and  in the eyes of these critics this continuous production suggests the future of  phenomenally clean environment and a wealthy Cajun family because the spill has shown no lasting damage and the first funds  are shown being spent on real and practical needs as they continue to live their life of relative simple austerity in the swamps. But there were far richer Cajuns, Dudley Leblanc’s HADACOL would be a marketing phenomenon and a source of profits that would briefly eclipse Tabasco Sauce and most oil checks. Cajun cattle barons and planters had long existed. In addition it is true that many trappers and small farmers experienced a very significant financial benefit and that benefit would be a positive force in the region. Many Cajuns from a very large portion of this ethnic community realized that this exact kind of prosperity did offer real hope for the advancement of the community. The same sorts of viewers have seen the actions of fishermen and shrimpers struggling to address the crises of the year when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit and again skimming oil during the BP disaster. A few may be aware of the struggle of trappers against Leander Perez and the oil and gas interests in Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parish and assume that Flaherty is portraying a fantasy  when there is no individual or organized resistance to the incursion of the oil interests in the swamp a blowout which has such similarities to the BP disaster has occurred. However, the truth is the oil industry were not pirates, often as not at least they paid their bills and the lease or purchase of rights to wealth beneath the surface benefitted many families like the fictional La Tour family in keeping pace with and competing with the economic progress of city people of all ethnic groups, people like the McIlhenny family and traditional Cajun financial elites like large ranchers and planters. Hard work, thrifty behavior and oil or increasingly oil and gas wealth provided larger opportunities. The oil interests were often enough seen with reason as no less unequivocally friendly and progressive humanitarians  by small landowners in this region. Oil leases made possible a new set of aspirations and realities for people in this region. While one may consider the larger conflicts, issues related to carbon and fossil fuels and the problems related to the oil industry it is not possible to dismiss the reality of the promise Standard Oil is paying to portray. From the point of view of the Cajun community it is hard to forgive or diminish the importance worst actions of the work actors in the oil and gas industry. It is nonetheless impossible not to be certain that the infusion of oil and gas funds made many positive changes and helped to preserve many cultural assets. The income especially of small landowners allowed many people to maintain and improve the environmental conditions of the land and to preserve wildlife and biological resources. The oil industry brought in many people with little respect for the local culture and tensions and hatreds are immortalized in the facts of the case Roach v. Dresser. An oil man there states his right to discriminate against Cajuns. The courts found against him. That is all part of the story. But the outsiders also rented apartments and plots of land from Cajuns, bought food and hired boats and sometimes married and settled down. It may well be the truth that there was going to be a crisis no matter what in the environment and among the people. It may well be that the moral questions relate to whether the set of crises related to the oil industry were better or worse than the crises that would have resulted from the absence of that industry. Really the absence would not have occasioned the crisis but the other pressures in American society and the region exerted enormous influence on America’s rural areas. The coming of oil money to the region did allow for the people of rural Acadiana to face the new era with more resources and therefore more confidence.  

 

This thesis has had two lives, one which began in 2016 and one which ended in 1993.  The project never really reached a point of oblivion or death but was in a situation more similar to that of a patient in a coma. The author retained an interest in the subject, collected data and hoped a workable copy of the originalo largely finished Master of Arts Thesis would survive until such a date as it could be finished. During that more than twenty-two-year period of dormancy many things happened to both Acadian scholarship and to perceptions of Lousiana Story.  There was less change and less scholarly activity as regards the Standard Oil Photographs, Roy Stryker or the particular images and particular photographers which formed the perception of Acadiana and Cajun experience which  form the rest of the subject of this text along with the film and Cajun culture in the period in question.
In 1994, Louisiana Story was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.  It seems that there are certainly those who have been considering the film during the dormant years of this thesis.  This thesis attempts to present present the reality that was being recorded and the way that reality was modified by being recorded and portrayed in a certain way.  The limits of this project are well defined and there is no doubt that scholars face numerous challenges  in  defining the status determining what were the means of adaptation of various communities at relatively greater or lesser disadvantage compared to the larger American society as a whole. The late forties in Acadiana is a small lense on the larger problems and promises of America in what is often called the American Century. The Acadian experience in Louisiana can be discussed in a number of ways and like any ethnic and particular community identity it has an historical context which defines both the reality of the identity and its perception over time. The perception a community or people has of itself and the perception that exists of that people outside of the community in a larger society or set of societies evolves and shifts according to trends created in the community and the trends that exist in the larger society or set of societies in which it exists.    

Chapter One: Postwar Cajun Country, What they Came to Shoot

 

Many books have the word Introduction in the title. This book does not, in fact in a certain sense it makes rather assertive claims for itself as a self contained study of a very defined subject rather than asserting that it is a sound introduction to a larger subject. A lot of introducing goes on however because this is a book which demands multiple introductions. Each image featured as an included plate is introduced explicitly in the text, each story and short film to which images or attached must at least be introduced as a concept it demands of space allow for nothing more and each of the two great projects funded by Standard Oil  which were also in a very loose sense one project require introduction. The work the documentarians are doing  has to be explained in the contexts in which it developed and was pursued. This chapter is to introduce the Cajuns and Acadiana or the New Acadia or Cajun country as one wishes to describe it. The chapter is perhaps longer than ideal but as an introduction to this subject it is actually very brief.

 

Within this introduction of the Cajuns, the way the subject of Cajun identity is approached in this text also demands some introduction.  Some readers may have been introduced to them before and find this introduction profoundly different than what they have seen. Readers are encouraged to flip to the last chapter length segment of prose in this book and note that it is titled “Conclusion” there is also a solid body or middle to this document but any reader is correct in detecting the heavy emphasis on introductions.  It may be that in a sense while every book has an introduction, a body and a conclusion there is also a way in which each book tends toward a certain portion of this basic narrative cycle or expository cycle as the case must be. When I began this thesis I was fairly young and now as I write these words in and edit the earlier text in hope of finishing the book I am not young at all. There is no book however ambitious in scope which I could not be reasonably expected to have finished in the years since I started this book.  Compared to a history of World War II or even of American film in the post war era the subject of this text must seem less ambitious than the amount of time it has taken to finish it could ever justify. I wish to discuss a bit of the journey of writing about the Cajuns of this period.

When I started this book almost a  quarter of a century ago it was my definite perception that  Acadian life and the experience of Acadian interaction with the American mainstream have drawn more attention from popular, non-academic writers than from professional historians.  In the years just before I started this project a few important works of scholarship had appeared. But in the intervening and especially in recent years both excellent academic studies and more works of journalism which are informed by the earlier works have appeared detailing Cajun experience and addressing the process of differentiation, assimilation, the struggle for identity and other concerns which this thesis seeks to address.   Nonetheless, the history of Acadiana and the culture of the Acadian or “Cajun” people remains relatively obscure and  obscured not only by ignorance but by a history of misinformation. It must be assumed that the photographers and others who came to Cajun Country under the auspices of Standard Oil brought their preconceptions with them.  Later in life some of the members of that team would leave varied thoughts on the nature of those preconceptions. It is somewhat mysterious even now whether or not Flaherty had any previous interactions with Acadian people before he began working on the film, Helen Van Dongen states clearly in the diary she edited for later release that he did not. One wonders if he did when working on the film The Land or interacting with Pare Lorentz and possibly Stryker in that context.  Each of those men had met a Cajun or two. Yet it is clear that while Van DOngen was not writing in the format where every word is carefully weighed for perfect accuracy nonetheless she had reason to think of Flaherty’s exposure to any group of people on that Depression era film. As on Louisiana Story, she was his editor then as well. Van Dongen’s. It seems likely then that those making the film came to the place they were filming with a lot of preconceived ideas and one might say prejudices. This thesis will need to explore what those preconceptions may have been, but the reader and this author must share our own set of parameters and references for what Cajuns and Cajun Country really were all about in order for almost anything in this book to  make sense. This real view is of course not absolute but simply a more realistic or more historically accurate view. That is what justifies this rather overly long chapter. This is a kind of history of the Cajuns in what chapter, a cultural history and one perhaps more open to the influences of communal perceptions and folklore than the other histories that have been attempted. (ref. FRFLS)

 

Cajun culture may be seen as a culture which is in part defined by its place in the larger world and its repeated experience of occupying a particular kind of place in that world. The reader should try to experience a bit of what it feels like to be a Cajun in reading this book. The experience underneath the skin is what many readers of history were once drawn to and it is hoped that this book can provide some of that experience.  There are two aspects of the Cajun experience that together have to come into a kind of focus for the reader to form an accurate perception of who and what the Cajuns were and what their land and waters were all about at the time various cameras began to capture images. One aspect is the long history of the people which one might call the historical tradition and the other is the history just having been lived before these documentaries were made. We may call the second shorter and more intense history the historical moment.

 

The moment in history when the documentary makers came to South Louisiana was a very specific moment.  Sam Broussard was serving in Europe in the Second World War and at some point was devoted to leading specifically Cajun men as bilingual operatives and translators dealing with the French Resistance and underground or Maquis against the Nazi occupation. Broussard did a good job of documenting these adventures and worked with New Orleans based historian Stephen E. Ambrose in preparing materials for an historian to use in understanding that experience. In recent years with the help of several south Louisiana institutions, Pat Mire and those working with him have done a good job of documenting that service in the military as Cajuns precisely and that service was a key part of that moment in historical documentary film Mon Cher Camarade. Among those featured in the Mire film is this writer’s long time acquaintance and distant relative General Robert Leblanc. The General was then a young man working with the resistance who provided  the allies with assistance in securing bridges, guarding prisoners and sabotaging rail transit.  The testimony within the Mire film given by sons of Vermilion Parish such as Abbeville’s Leblanc, Erath’s Lee Bernard and others in the film such as Sam Broussard shows that, during World War II, the  hundreds of French-speaking Cajun men from South Louisiana enlisted in the U.S. military not only did their duty as American soldiers but did many things that only they as the Cajuns they were could have done. Broussard’s work does not spend much time discussing the fact that the same thing had happened in World War One and that while it was on a much smaller scale than what occurred in World War Two it had the effect of helping to raise the ethnic consciousness of key figures like Dudley Leblanc and his brothers as well as their wives children and associates. The bad times that followed the First World War had not only included the general woes of the Great Depression in the narrowest sense but the struggles of agricultural and waterfront Americans which were a bit unique and cruelly affected all of  Acadian  heritage regions. But perhaps more often than is recognized some leaders among the Cajuns sent the generation that went to World War II off to war with a definite expectation that they would make a unique contribution in Europe and other Francophone regions and with a determination that if better times followed this war then their contributions  should not be forgotten. From the Cajun point of view there were many layers of disappointment and resentment through which to view the world in which they live, Many Cajuns calculated and deeply felt that the  linguistic skills and French heritage of the Cajun people had been denigrated for decades in South Louisiana. Despite whatever consciousness  had come from the First World War and may have been articulated by a few Cajun leaders this French heritage was, as the testimony of many in Pat Mire’s film points out,  ridiculed as well by American officers in the military induction and processing centers at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and Fort Polk, Louisiana. These men would be coming back before our period of interest is over the process had just started in 1943 when we begin to consider the region. But the process would go beyond intelligence units and soon Cajus would be selected for such service across the breadth and depth of the invasion.

 

Preeminent Cajun and Acadian historian Carl Brasseaux and Acadian and Cajun folklorist Barry Ancelet have noted that the value of the French which resembled the French spoken in the rural areas where the invasion occurred was uniquely valuable to America. That is in addition to the capacity to speak French in general which also had great value. These were men who had been punished for speaking French in school and who had been humiliated by their homeland in various ways for preserving that linguistic and cultural heritage. The film shows as those who are Cajuns are likely to have had their relatives remark that these same somewhat alienated men found that their ability to speak French became of measurably valuable importance to the American war effort in French North Africa and in France and Belgium.

 

Indeed, Brasseaux points out that the Cajun translators were as important to the American war effort as the now more acclaimed and well known Native American “Code Talkers, ” yet, the Cajun translators’ contributions in this regard have been largely ignored until now. This is an important part of a new look at the American experience, from a South Louisiana perspective. But it is not the whole story my grandfather whose mother was a Leblanc and who was named Frank W. Summers was commanding a ship in the Pacific and his brother who also a Summers named  for the antebellum Vigilante Severin Leblanc their ancestor and mine — they and other Cajuns did their duty in a theater where French was rarely needed. The Cajun G.I.s of World War II were American citizens, they served everywhere Americans in large numbers served but  their cultural pedigree was relevant to the European theater  and their prowess in war there was a tribute to something other than the typical American experience. Their families shared all the experiences that many others had around the country. Those experiences of G.I.s were killed, wounded or came home unscathed to the naked eye as did other troops.

 

We must remember what was uniquely Cajun and what was generally American about the end of the war. The end of a Second World War that would create the postwar conditions which more generally define our period in this text. Leaving aside many important influences, facts and considerations let us consider the end of the war and the growth of the oil industry as the major defining characteristics of the moment in history at which all of this began. Now we can turn to the historical  tradition that defined the Cajun people.

 

Those who live on the gulf coast today or for other reasons watch a lot of televised or online weather reporting may be familiar with the “cone of uncertainty” that predicts a hurricane’s path from where it is a at any given time to where it may be in ever increasing intervals of time. The end of the cone is wide and it’s scary to be in it but the chances that the worst part of the storm will hit any particular place is not very high in that wide end, On the other hand the end just near the present location of the hurricane is very narrow and there is a lot of certainty about it. Not so many people are likely to be scared but those in that ned are almost sure to be hit by the storm’s fury. In Acadian history this metaphor is more apt than it would be for most places. It is very easy to show the connection of current Cajun culture through history to the coming of Louisiana into the union in with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The nest period is from 1755 to 1803 and it is a complicated period in the extreme. It starts with the exile famously described by the great American Poet William Wadsworth Longfellow in his epic poem Evangeline. Then there is the period in Acadie in what is now Canada and had begun to be Camada when the Cajuns were living there before the exile. For many people that is the totality of Acadian history. However in this chapter we will briefly consider the possibility of Acadian anxiety that exists on the other side of the Atlantic. Finally, we come to the very tenuous and somewhat mythological history of the Acadians before they were French. It is a lot to consider and it will not all be proven either. We are concerned with what existed as a possible historical sensibility of  the Cajuns of our historic moment and geographical region. We will at least acknowledge the possibility of all the Cajuns in some earlier form may once have been.  But in considering the tradition we do not look away from the people they were in that very exact period of time which we are considering.   It is not easy to select out a few aspects of this long and rich tradition to include in a chapter such as this. But something must be provided before any more detailed questions can be really answered about what the documentarians did or did not see and how America correctly or incorrectly sees the Cajuns. It is also true that one wishes to appeal to a reasonably broad readership and not much prior knowledge can be presumed of a reasonably broad readership. For all those reasons before any of the questions of perception that form the heart of this study  can  receive much attention the story of the people and their place (often referred to here as Acadiana) must be briefly repeated and summarized.  This is an attempt at a cultural history and the difficulties of tracing the origins and dating the true beginning of a culture are manifold.  With a work of even the most creative history of a nation state if it but meets the duly  meticulous standards of Academic political history then it is possible to talk of roots and origins and yet still write with confident authority of a year or perhaps even an instant when the political unit being discussed became fully itself.  Such confidence  eludes one who attempts the history of a culture.  There can never be a single date when the cultural complex which was the civilization of the crumbling Roman Empire’s Western Provinces became the culture and civilization of Medieval European Christendom.  Between 476 and 800 A.D. a complex variety of forces was weaving a new reality far more complicated than changing the role and legal prerogatives of the Emperor. “Europe” does not really have a birthday and I am inclined to think any scholar who gives it one more than a little bit of a fool.

 

the unique problems of doing a history of Acadiana may seem paltry compared to a history of all Europe but they are significant enough and for any particularities they may have they also resemble the problems of cultural history as a whole.  The study of culture by anthropologists relies for much of its rhetorical  and cognitive structure on the ethnographic efforts at what Clifford Geertz has called “thick  descriptions” and upon the efforts of ethologists to translate numerous “thick descriptions”a database for comparative analysis, termed ethnology.  The cultural historian must perform some of the same descriptive and comparative tasks as the anthropologist but must also attempt to show change over time and create a narrative or expositive structure which remains true to the muse Clio and her particular demands.  This sacred muse demands something beyond the anthropologist’s “ethnographic present.”

 

Lauren C. Post, professor at San Diego State university, Carl A. Brasseaux and James H. Dorman, a colleague of Brasseaux at U.S.L. and then at the same institution named the university of Louisiana, are three seminal influences on this my own interpretation of Acadian history.  Post and Brasseaux’s work shall find its way into endnotes from time to time.  Dorman’s work is a separate case in that it primarily finds its place here in this early part of the first real chapter beyond general introductions.  Dorman’s The People Called Cajuns:  An Introduction to an Ethnohistory  has made very good use of Frederick Barth’s work which defines culture not in terms of changeable content but in terms of boundaries.  To carry forth Barth’s hypothesis to a clear extreme, among a great many people in the United States and elsewhere Anglo-Saxon cultural identity prevails despite the nearly unbridgeable gap between Graham Greene and Beowulf or between nuclear missiles and woad-smeared warriors the culture persists although over time it has changed a great deal. Such change ought not even to be presumed to weaken the culture. In  a great deal of its content the modern life lived in the setting which Princess Catherine visits with nostalgia as Kate Middleton’s hometown  may more resemble life in contemporary Japan than in thirteenth century London, yet traditions and customs reinforce loyalties which go back through a people’s history — England really is still England.  These analogies are not Dorman’s, nor are they entirely appropriate to the the points he is trying to make and which I am agreeing with so emphatically.  The point is that cultural content functions to maintain a sense of shared identity — “we-ness”–and that where such identity exists a culture exists.  Culture like all living things can be young or dying or both or neither.  Culture must allow for the individual variety among individuals and sub-culture within the whole. The houses one lives in and the food one eats all have a lot to do with one’s cultural identity but the whole is both greater than and distinct from the sum of its parts.

 

This study deals with perceptions and ideals woven into the stuff of daily life. Much of that stuff of daily life can be captured in a lens or by a microphone, in this case some very special microphones and cameras were turned on the people discussed in this text and they captured some things that distinguished some of the people from the lives of many of their viewers and therefore made interesting viewing.  The perceptions of this historian, of the photographers studied in this thesis and of the Cajuns provide the data for locating boundaries and senses of identity.  The humanities and a few social sciences provide a chance to take seriously what people feel and believe and understand as one considers what the data one can collect may demonstrate or show. This writer is very proud to be a humanist, even if he is not as good a humanist as he would like to be.  

 

This approach grows partly out of a deep cynicism about the claims of analysis which produces irrefutable findings drawn from objective manipulations of raw data.  Each aspect of this study candidly takes the personal and group ideologies which have shaped the evidence into account.  The Cajun perceptions and ideologies form the core and source of what is called “culture” in this study.  The sense of identity, the perception of community and of outsiders may be the most essential part of that core and source. Identity and perception may seem like very fuzzy and unspecified sorts of things to study and they certainly can be  fuzzy. This is not a particularly fuzzy text and this study is based on a commitment to a very specific journey into that sense of identity and perception.    

 

So while this text starts off with me declaring a profound interest in what people perceived and how they perceived it that is not intended to let the reader off the hook and allow him or her to imagine whatever he or she wishes. The mentality of the subject-observers matters a great deal in this study. Saying that clearly, content has remained central to the method of cultural history and analysis used here.  This thesis has documentary art and the cultural promotion of Dudley Leblanc at the heart of a complex of deliberate expressions which includes people like the executives at Standard Oil and the McIlhenny family who are neither Cajuns nor documentarians and also bring a set of skills and a set of agenda driven policies to their cultural expressions. The rest of this thesis seeks in a very compressed and inevitably cursory way to engage in a larger study of Cajun cultural content and its perception.  That larger work will attempt to study Acadiana through its traditional crafts and industries, through its folk art and folk tales,  and then take as useful sources the documentary art which appeared between 1930 and 1953 and through various works of reportage and fiction. But all of that has to be glimpsed through a simpler and more basic construct Cajun history that can form some authoritative point of reference.  In this  thesis one is asked to believe that viewing the product of these documentary artists one can evaluate their historical work as producing an understanding which is similar to or discordant with the cultural reality perceived in the larger context only briefly glimpsed in this  work not because it is unimportant but because this is a work of limited length that  focuses on the documentary endeavors funded by the Standard Oil Corporation in the 1940s.  Even more restrictively, the work really emphasizes the contribution of Robert Flaherty far more that others on his crew or of his wife Frances and in terms of the SONJ photographers has a clear bias in favor of the photographic work of the only two photographers involved in both projects during that time.  Those photographers and filmmakers are believed to be biased and imperfect observers and yet skilled ones too, Any evaluation of their work requires an understanding of the material culture of the Cajuns as these people took pictures of visible cultural content, being unable to directly photograph thought. In addition it is believed on pretty good evidence that the documentary artists in this study set out to create works in which document what they believed to be a form of history.

 

The fourth chapter of this thesis deals with what the documentarians amounted to as a kind of community and subculture of their own. But some of this has to be discussed here as well.

Much has been written about documentary expression.  Not all documentaries nor documentarians are created equal. This study tests the documentary as historical document.  Folk tales and folk art have also often been collected by people acting on America’s documentary impulse. There are Cajuns and anecdotes about Cajuns in collections like Botkin’s collection of Southern materials and there are references to the Cajuns in the folklore collection over which Lyle Saxon presided titled  Gumbo YaYa. That collection from the Louisiana Writers Project is a kind of New Deal relative of the last project that had brought Robert Flaherty and Helen Van Dongen together. Roy Stryker also came from that great family as did some of his photographers. Some of the biases of that set of effort are evident in the preface to Gumbo Yaya. Sason writes, “The Cajuns have produced many State leaders, from Governor Alexandre Mouton to Jimmy Domengeaux, the present representative of the Bayou Country in Congress. In this book, however, we have attempted to treat only of those humbler dwellers of their part of the State. Harry Huguenot, Velma McElroy Juneau, Mary Jane Sweeney, Margaret Ellis, and Blanche Oliver worked in those outlying districts.” This writer is a Cajun whose name is Summers but it is interesting to note that  the most prominent and certain Cajun names are entirely absent from this list of characters in that collection. This is significant in a society where names and genealogies have an extreme importance to cultural identity.

 

This writer has read and researched thoroughly a great deal about the Acadian people of most of half a century and all of that forms a sort of comprehensive cross reference which is yet subordinated another much smaller body of research either cited or at least catalogued here. This thesis seeks use all of that research to evaluate that evidence appearing in the documentaries funded by Standard Oil of New Jersey in these years.Whatever innocence Robert Flaherty may have been famous for it was not contagious to the SONJ photographers or to Roy Stryker. We will leave most questions of method to Chapter Four but a few things must be said here to show why a scholar should at least presume to take the documentary work of the SONJ photographers seriously.  

 

Throughout the letters of Todd Webb and the Rosskams one finds reference to interviews with local informants and with experts.  There are references to discussing local history with journalists and professors associated with Louisiana State University and also with Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now University of Southwestern Louisiana or USL) . Photographic sets were made from fairly objective samples taken by floating down the Bayous.  Bayou Teche and Bayou Piere Part were especially well documented.  From the worf of the Stryker photographers a blend of subjective creativity with social science emerges.  Their picture of Louisiana folklife can be correlated with other sources of information.  The historian can then produce a more complete vision of the past than might be possible without using the largely honest and truthful if not necessarily unbiased photographs. FOr one’s biases do not make one dishonest. The overall effort was in may carefully formed opinion an effort to tell the truth. There is another question not so easily  be answered. Does a skilled artist produce the kind of information that most interest a cultural historian studying that subject which the artisit is also studying? From that question derives another question, don’t the artist and the cultural historian perceive and wish to perceive and present something very different from one another?

While in this text I clearly pay more attention to the photographers as subjects themselves than I do to most journalists writing strict reportage the gap is not infinite. I believe that they photographed the Cajuns in Cajun country and that is what the reader is invited to believe as well. Vastly more attention is paid to the photographers as minds than another scholar might pay to census takers and rightly so — BUT,  the photographers are secondary to the attempt to use their work in order to write about the subject both of the photographs and the thesis. That subject is the Cajuns and at the same time how the Cajuns were perceived by the larger society in the United States especially,

 

The history of the region can not subsist only in a few sources but rather in a large number of diverse sources and in fact the need for perspective has led this writer to discuss remote events which make the photographs and other documentary sources intelligible.  The photographs will mean little to anyone who approaches them without knowing that the people of South Louisiana have a history very distinct from the people of central Mississippi, western Virginia, or the hill country of South Carolina. In other words while deeply identified with the Confederate Ordeal of the Civil War and all the periods flowing from it that never became as important an identifiers. Beyond that they had many differences between themselves and others in the region. These differences were deeply in a distinct historical experience. A cursory summary of that experience is necessary to continue to speak of the Cajun people and to mean anything intelligible.

 

From approximately 1604 until approximately 1640 a widely scattered population of French colonists developed in the first Acadia, which  is now known as Nova Scotia in Canada.  These colonists suffered all of the handicaps of a scattered and ill organized population in a new place.  By about 1640, a relatively large increase in immigration from Centre-Ouest provinces and from Normandy began to settle in Acadia and to build farms and villages.  They began to build levees and to construct a hydraulic system which allowed them to manage this area which was very susceptible to floods.  A distinctive French colonial community had begun to develop along with a modicum of prosperity and the steady growth of the population.  Politically however, this community was soon to become a minority culture in the control of aliens.

 

By the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 the 2,000 or more Acadians along the Bay of Fundee became officially British subjects.  While this was the first of many terrible political disappointments which would shape the history of these people it does not seem to have quashed the optimism of these people for their young colony.  Tension with the British, and continued immigration from La Chausec, Poitous, France indicate the relative confidence of the people and their desire to control their own destiny.  This ambiguous state of affairs continued until the sporadic violence of the past developed into the war known to American schoolchildren as the French and Indian War.  The undeclared agreement of most Cajuns, maritime Acadians and scholars is that during the violence between 1753 and 1755 the Acadian culture became something truly distinct from French or even French Canadian culture.  By 1755, the population of Acadia had approached 15,000.  The British authorities coerced as many Acadians as possible into ships and scattered 6,000 of these people among the British colonies of the New World.  Many of those scattered were refused entry into the colonies and died attempting to reach France and Santo Domingo.  Numerous others did in fact arrive at both their ancestral homeland and at the West Indian colony.  A number of others settled amongst the colonies which would become the United States.  In Acadia, Joseph Broussard “dit Beausoleil” commanded and organized a sizable resistance which, in league with some Indians and with the sympathy of all Acadians who had been able to remain on their own or other farms, maintained intermittent military pressure on the British until his surrender in 1759, after the fall of Quebec. Today, anyone can go to Nova Scotia and visit the Grand Pre historic Site. The development of this as a place of tourism and pilgrimage especially for Cajuns without excluding other people from what it has to offer. Eighteenth Century Grand Pre was an economically and otherwise significant small town in the colony of Acadie through several changes in the politics and Imperial organization of the region.. Today there is a statue of Evangline the Acadian heroine of Longfellow’s epic poem. There is also chapel reproducing the one where Acadians were imprisoned prior to expulsion. There are murals, engraved names and other aspects of the memorial preserve some of the events of Le Grand Derangement. I have made a pilgrimage there  with some family members and friends as many Louisiana Acadians do and the spot was visited by Dudley Leblanc during the years after this study and others although the changes in the presentation and form of the place is a question beyond that of this thesis  In recent years a decent number of  scholars have turned their attention to the Acadian experience before and during the expulsion but for a good treatment of the colonial era I think that there is no substitute for the brief and highly readable book by Naomi Griffiths. One fact which needs to emerge and that is that clearly the Acadians who held to this Acadian identity were people who had clung to a heritage in which small towns and the farms, countryside and surrounding wilderness could be important places. The documentarians who worked for Standard Oil had a definite center of their community and it was New York City. The countryside of Nova Scotia was a place few of them had visited but was a part of the consciousness of all Cajuns.   

 

The troubles of the Acadian people and their enormous productivity and the horror of their loss has been well documented by John Mack Faragher in his book,  A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from Their American Homeland. It is important for the reader to understand that just as moral outrage is at the heart of many historical texts about the institution of slavery, women’s  civil status and the Third Reich this writer also believes that British behavior towards the Acadians in this period was a moral outrage. But it is not enough to say that it was a moral outrage. British behavior was perhaps mostly motivated by greed but the complexities of the time were greater than that single set of motivations that derive from greed for the beautifully developed dykelands and associated territories of the Acadians.  

 

The resentments of the British towards the Acadians had been marked by many instances of bloodshed. The Acadians had developed many aspects of the martial reputation which would most often typify them over those centuries which are most clearly traceable in their history, The British would use the claim or pretext of treaty violations at the Battle of Beausejour in justifying their expulsion of the Acadians. The Acadians had become known as the French Neutrals through the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Really this was a process of several minor agreements subsequent to this larger treaty. The Acadians diligently provided large agricultural surplus to the British, as a community they promoted peace between the Empires and as an asset to the British Empire they cultivated a peaceful prosperity in a secure and stable set of relationships with the MiqMaqs. But they remained Roman Catholics, insisted on their rights to trade with the French  and were never in doubt that they had long fought against the British Empire. As required they greatly reduced their arms but they continued to drill their local militia units to a substantial degree  without any flag they could fight for in a major war. The British had agreed that they not be compelled to fight against their fellow French. Finally the time came when one more British victory would end the French presence in their region. That Battle of Beausejour would certainly end their chance to survive as a buffer between empires if the British won.  This  battle was a British victory during a time of many triumphs over France and the French. The British had a major objective in a small conflict seeking to secure the Isthmus of Chignecto under British control. Control of the isthmus was crucial to the French  and its fall would be disastrous because it was the only gateway between Quebec and Louisbourg during the winter months. Acadians were already neutrals although less than before but believed securing the Isthmus in peace was vital to their future and a token force were in the area and were caught up in the conflict. The fighting began on June 3, 1755, when a British army under Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Monckton  acted on long discussed plans made across the British Empire but staged out of nearby Fort Lawrence, and attacked French, MiqMaq, Acadian and other interests by attacking a fort of emerging significance when he besieged the small French regular garrison and a handful of other forces at Fort Beauséjour.  After a fortnight under siege, Louis Du Pont Duchambon de Vergor, the fort’s French commander, capitulated on June 16. It was this disastrous defeat at Beausejour that sealed the fate of the Acadians  This fighting became an infamous treaty breach in some circles and the Battle of Beausejour was a causis bellum and provided a workable legal issue for the expulsion planners among the British. One of the combatants in that battle accompanied by a few picked men was a man known as Joseph Broussard “dit Beausoleil. “Beausoleil” means “beautiful sunlight” it is also the name of a village in Acadie where several families including the Broussards from which Joseph  lived.  Those are the accepted explanations of the  identifying handle of Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil or “called Beausoleil”. However at the level of the mermaids and werewolves at the start of Louisiana Story there is a somewhat whispered and denied tradition that Beausoleil is also a code name for Basileus which means king in Greek. The currency of the name remains might in Cajun culture at the time of this writing. That is true both of the Broussard family’s name and the handle  Beausoleil is also the name of a band led by Michael Doucet which has been a successful part of the ethnic music scene for decades.

 

Shortly after the battle of Beausejour  the horrors of the expulsion and exile began. Joseph Broussard and a number of men with the Broussard and a few other clans escaped deportation and organized disgruntled bands of MiqMaqs and attacked British forces for quite a while. Some argue that there is a tradition of twelve raids by bands led by Broussard. His son Amand who would fight in the Battle of Baton Rouge was said to have led a small squad when he was very young indeed. But in the end the Broussard led force would surrender. That first great scattering by the British forces in which so many died and so many others separated has become the central event of Cajun history and literary tradition and is known as Le Grand Derangement. These troubles also led in many ways and to a controverted extent to the creation of the forces which brought about the American Revolution. This has been written as well by Douglas Edward Leach as by anybody else in his book,  Roots of Conflict: British Armed Forces and Colonial Americans, 1677-1763.

 

The period between 1754 and 1765 saw a great deal of suffering and a struggle for security among the scattered Acadians.  During that period it is likely that at least a few of those driven from their homes made their way in small groups on an inland route into Louisiana down the Mississippi River and into the French colony of Louisiana.  Many died in the Chesapeake area and others were subjected to near slavery.  During the 1760’s nearly 3,000 went to Santo Domingo and among them Beausoleil Broussard, at the lowest point in his career.  Troubled politics still plagued the Acadians, rebellions and revolutions successful and otherwise would strike New Orleans, the Thirteen British colonies, Santo Domingo, and France itself before the end of the century and either the revolutions of the preparations for them would affect the lives of most of these Acadian refugees and immigrants, perhaps heightening their desire to carve out a place for themselves to reunite their people and to live in peace.

 

In 1763, early in the scattering, the Treaty of Paris gave possession of Louisiana to Spain.  It was into Spanish Louisiana that the first large and well organized Acadian immigrants came.  Beausoleil  brought approximately 4,000 Acadians into the territory once occupied by the Attakapas Indians.  Attakapas country consists of the present Louisiana parishes of St. Martin, St. Mary,  Lafayette, Iberia, and Vermilion.  This region combing marsh and prairie was the first area developed into a new Acadia.  The population of Attakapas spread into the prairies to the West.  Those western prairies were known as the Oppelousas country and extended to the present border of Texas.  The successful establishment of the Acadianos in these two regions attracted the attention of their remaining relatives and allies.  In 1785, Olivier Theriot brought another large group of approximately 3,000 Acadian refugees and others associated with them from France.  These Acadians settled along the Bayou LaFourche then known as “La Fourche des Chitimaches” after the aboriginal inhabitants of the area.  La Fourche and its environs, nearer New Orleans and composed almost entirely of elongated riverine villages, developed a somewhat different way of life than the “prairie Cajuns.”  The inhabitants of Bayou La Fourche are sometimes referred to as “bayou Cajuns.”  The Attakapas and Oppelousas area make up the heel of the boot which is the foot of Louisiana and the La Fourche region forms the ball of the boot.  The instep or arch, to sustain the visual metaphor, consisted of a vast swamp only lightly used by Chitmacha Indians known as the Atchafalaya Swamp.  This region was settled partly by a few adventurous families from the Attakapas region during the late eighteenth century and more significantly by Acadians from La Fourche who sold their earlier farms to American slaveholders during the early decades of the nineteenth century after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  The swamp, the ecosystem where Louisiana Story is set has always existed on the edge of Cajun residency, development and identity. Kathleen Duval in her book Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution describes the life of one of Joseph Broussard’s sons Amand during the American revolution. One fact which this book brings out is the importance of cattle for the Acadians in Spanish Louisiana.   Le Grand Derangement has had an impact so powerful that despite the acculturation of later immigrants to the Acadiana areas of settlement during the nineteenth century this tends to define Cajun identity.  Trent Angers’ book as well as countless periodicals attest to the popular perception in the area of how the people were formed in crisis  and the exiled migrations that began in Acadie and ended in  Acadiana.  Furthermore, while Longfellow’s Evangeline may not hold sway in the literary canon of the late twentieth century it did influence other Americans’ understanding of the Cajuns for a long time.  In reality the migrations were enormous within the context of North American colonial migrations of time and they did have a deep impact upon the descendants of the migrants. the upheaval also affected the world over the next many years.

 

Joseph Broussard was not to survive his arrival in Louisiana by very long. But there is an online article by Donald J. Arceneaux of the Attakapas Historical Association  which does a good job of summarizing the less controversial aspects of his life and role in Louisiana. I will quote this article at great length once and save space over most alternatives. But first it is useful to spend a few lines on the term Attakapas which applies to the region where the Louisiana Story was filmed. The Terre des Atakapas is named for the Attakapas 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 and folklore and also in the realm of folklore and semi historical rumor it is believed that a good number of Atakapas (or Attakapas or 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. 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.

 

Before the region was settled there was an experience and set of events in New Orleans that are significant. As Arceneaux points out, the Acadians arrived in New Orleans and engaged in the fulfillment of many religious duties and transactions at the Catholic Church there. they also tended to financial transactions involving problems with currency exchange. Later in this introduction in conjunction with the events of the 1880s the importance and the names of some of the women in these events will be revisited. This is considered by most Cajuns to be the start of the large sclae cattle industry in the United States. Then Arceneaux describes as well as anyone what happened next.

 

The Acadians had the experience raising crops and cattle in their old, north-temperate-climate homeland. A contingent of the Beausoleil group consisted of former residents of the Isthmus of Chignecto region, where profitable Acadian cattle ranching had been well established for decades. After only about a week in New Orleans, the new immigrants were apparently offered land in the far western Attakapas frontier. Frenchmen Antoine-Bernard Dauterive and André Masse were Attakapas land partners. On 2 March 1765 in the City, the partners relinquished title to their frontier land, presumed to have been along Bayou Teche in the vicinity of present-day St. Martinville. In exchange for this ceded tract, the partners were given a large expanse of land named La Prairie du Vermillion located well west of St. Martinville. It is written that the Acadians were to settle specifically on the partners’ ceded east-bank land opposite St. Martinville. It is also reported that the partners’ relinquished land extended from the east-bank all the way to the mouth of Bayou Portage. Dauterive had cattle in the Attakapas. On 4 April in New Orleans, he made a compact with eight Acadian “chiefs” including: Joseph dit Beausoleil Broussard, Alexandre Broussard, Joseph Guilbeau, Jean Dugas, Olivier Thibodeau, Jean-Baptiste Broussard, Pierre Arseneau and Victor Broussard. These eight leaders were possibly also acting for their comrades not present at the formal meeting attended by the governor. Dauterive agreed to furnish five cows and one bull to each willing Acadian, once the newcomers were on the western frontier. After six years, Dauterive would get half their herd’s increases. From their shares, the Acadians would also return to Dauterive his initial investments.

On 8 April in New Orleans, the governor gave Joseph Broussard a title and a responsibility. Beausoleil was named “Captain of Militia and Commandant of the Acadians going to settle on the land of the Acutapas [sic].” The governor reported on 24 April 1765 that the Beausoleil group had “departed New Orleans.” They traveled in boats with supplies bound for their new sub-tropical homeland. On that same date, possibly somewhere along the Mississippi River near present-day Plaquemine, the pastor at St. Francis Church of Pointe Coupée baptized one-day old Marguerite Broussard, daughter of Joseph [Petit Joseph] and his second wife, Marguerite Savoie. These parents were recorded as “Acadians going to establish a new settlement at Attakapas.”

 

Cajuns in the prairies are separated from the City of New Orleans and the Acadian settlements of the Eastern part of the state by one of the largest riverine estuaries in North America. This is probably still the largest riverine estuary and it is where swamp life occurs most. Marshes are more common in the trapping culture of the prairies although swamps occur. Louisiana story depicts a swamp which is a forested wetlands the marshes are prairie like wetlands. Both environments have fur-bearing animals and alligators.  The  Atchafalaya was the traditional Aboriginal American territory of the Chitimacha or Chetimache people. In the decades since the 1953 end of the years this text discusses this swamp produces a great deal of the crawfish, fur, alligator meat, fresh water fish, retting moss, sunken cured cypress, ecotourism revenues and freshwater sports fishing revenues for the State of Louisiana. It is the place where many of the most important Aboriginal American archaeological sites have been found. The area is sacred to the Chetimache traditional religion and retains a sacral character among Chitimacha, Acadian and Creoles of Color who within the context of an orthodox Catholic Christianity inculturate the Gospel into folk religious sensibilities. But in day to day life one reality is that swamp life is also very much a cash driven existence. It has long been a mix of subsistence and cash funding which is suited to the region. But there is also a sense of how much the place is beyond normal modern life. that sense of separation is not available in the same way in any of the wilderness of Vermilion and Iberia Parish.

 

The generation born to  Joseph Broussard and others is  largely a generation not born either in their Canadian homeland nor in Louisiana. Men like Amand broussard and his wife, some of his brothers and others fought in the Battle of Baton Rouge was a brief siege and attack by the Spanish Colonial  forces and regulars against the British.during the American Revolutionary War and War of Independence in which the Acadians made up part of the St. Martinville militia and were busy forging ties with Creoles and Spaniards against the British Empire. that was decided on September 21, 1779. The Acadians were still arriving over a period of time and a large group would not arrive until 1785 but they were committed to Galvez’s war.  Baton Rouge was the second British outpost in which they saw action which fell to Spanish arms during Governor and General Bernardo de Gálvez’s march into British West Florida. Spain  and its empire officially entered the American Revolutionary War on May 8, 1779, as Su Majestad Catolico Carlos III issued a formal declaration of war and another on July 8 that authorized Bernardo de Gálvez, the colonial Governor of Spanish Louisiana  and other in the Empire to open lines in this war on Britain. West Florida which would become part of the State of Louisiana later on was  thus conquered in small part by the Acadians along with others who were in the Spanish Empire’s Louisiana. With the coming together of the Attakapas region and the West Florida region there is a foreshadowing of the polity that will one day be the State of Louisiana..

 

Figure  one  in this chapter illustrates the four regions which compose what is now Acadiana, or the New Acadia.  While each region differs it remains quite sensible to write of a single Acadian or Cajun culture.  The most distinct and interesting region in terms of cultural adaption to the environment  is the Atchafalaya region.  Swamp Cajuns, bayou Cajuns and prairie Cajuns always enjoyed ties of commerce, language and history which contributed to the development of Cajun culture. Acadiana, which will henceforth serve as our term for the Acadian region of Louisiana, became a battleground, a center for trade and the focus of a variety of racial, political, social and other conflicts which shaped the region and the state.  The prairies and the bayous were much less isolated from outside influences than the Atchafalaya.In a real sense the film While it does not condemn the film as nonsense to say so it bears repeating that in documenting a culture which is really Louisiana Story which is about and is filmed in the swampy parts of the western swamps is more like life in the Atchafalaya than in any other Cajun region. As the materials and comments left by everyone  involved in the filming clearly indicate the environment is made up of real plants, real alligators a real trappers cabin, real Cajuns and so forth but it is not a real single location that is typical of the particular small region it represents. But that is for a later chapter.  The point here is that the Cajuns had helped to bring the essential regions that became the state together and they still retained a regional consciousness about the State in 1943.

 

When one considers that generation of Cajuns born in transitory exile and finally settling in Louisiana it is important to remember that one of them, Henry Schuyler Thibodaux was the Fourth Governor of the State of Louisiana before he died. It was only for a month but it came to him as the powerful holder of the office of President of the Senate, he was also a successful planter.  This was all long after that early period of settling the Acadian lands. But it is one of many indicators including the evidence which can be found in the first Louisiana State Constitution that the first Cajuns were people of remarkable status and influence when one considers all the reasons that they could have been in the most abject circumstances.

 

One of the changes that immediately occurred in the lives of the Acadians of Louisiana is that some of them began to own African imported or racially Negro slaves from the Americas almost upon arrival. Extremely few if any had ever owned slaves of African descent in their northern homeland or in the years of exile. Slavery in Louisiana was governed in large part  even under the  Spanish by French Imperial Law. It had been weakened and was evolving because of Spanish rule  but it was not entirely abrogated. The exact nature of the legal regime is a very complex question beyond the scope of this text. However, the one law which needs to be discussed here is the Code Noir promulgated in Versaille in 1685. Louis XIV, the great Sun King who had arguably been the most powerful man in Europe was also a monarch with a vision for his colonies. The Code Noir defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire, restricted the activities of free Negroes, forbade the exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholicism and so was the cause of some Huguenot migration to Spain, what became the United States and even a few families to the most autonomous people in the Empire, the tiny Acadian enclave in the North and  this same order also commanded all Jews out of France’s colonies, some if very few would come to accept Catholicism in Spain’s Conversos communities where Hebraic cultural roots were more respected than almost anywhere else. Some of these mixed families would end up in the early State of Louisiana for various reasons.

 

The Code Noir gave unapproached rights to slaves compared to the rights accorded them in the colonies of the other European empires. The rights of the slaves under the Code included the right to be fed and clothed. This was a stark contrast not so much to slavery practices which were common in the South but many of the  other forms of slavery which have existed before and after slavery as the Acadians knew it. A further legal recognition of the right to marry, to gather publicly, and to take Sundays off was part of the status of human beings assured of a place however disadvantaged within rather than outside the body politic. The Code Noir did not come from any sense of egalitarianism except that derived from the spiritual standing of humanity before Almighty God. While the people of the Court of Versailles and the people of a liberal Protestant Church in New York or Atlanta today both worship God as Christians and both seek to emulate in some way the teachings and example of Jesus Christ it is also true that Versaille particularly had a very lofty view of how God actually was and how many layers of types of people  could actually fit in underneath him before one got below people to animals.  In that sense it is not all that shocking that the same Code Noir that authorized and codified severe and brutal corporal punishment against slaves under certain conditions could also forbid slave owners to inflict mayhem, torture or death to them, and to separate families. It also forced the owners to instruct them in the Catholic faith, this did not allow for any real doubt from a French point of view that Africans of the darker races were human beings endowed with a soul which required nurture. The studies show deviation over time but clearly the Code resulted in a far higher percentage of Louisiana of all or partly black African descent  being free people of color in the early State of Louisiana than in territorial Mississippi. The difference shown in percentage differences is at least thousands of percent different. They were on average exceptionally literate, with a significant number of them owning businesses, properties and even slaves.

 

The code has been described by Tyler Stovall  in his article Tyler Stovall, “Race and the Making of the Nation: Blacks in Modern France.” which appears In the  Michael A. Gomez, edited. Diasporic Africa: A Reader makes it clear. “one of the most extensive official documents on race, slavery, and freedom ever drawn up in Europe” it is unlikely that one can compare anything to it in the period and the class of powerful courts in which it was developed. The part of the law in colonial Louisiana which was widely unobserved was the provision which forbade male masters from having sex with their female slaves.  However, even this was partly effective and even as intended slaves who bore mixed children had a bargaining chip. other provisions were more enforced and effective. The idea that the law assured that slaves could not be sold apart from spouses  at all nor could children from their parents until they were old enough for some independence when coupled with more specifically religious provisions that they were free to refuse or accept a spouse and were to be instructed and baptized correctly in the Catholic faith — those things created a profoundly different sensibility about race relations than has been treated as typical in the history of the antebellum South. This would not be entirely erased when the United States as a whole federal union assumed the role of the French Empire as the ultimate sovereign and Louisiana had many migrants into its lands from the United States and assimilated West Florida. It would not be terribly long before Louisiana in all its constituent parts would become part of the United States of America.  That state of affairs would also be tried severely early on, but the late antebellum years would see a very prosperous Acadian ethnic community with some very wealthy and prominent members.The impact of the revolutionary era atmosphere on the Cajun life and culture has not been studied in depth and not much at all before Duval and constitutes a promising area for future investigation.  This study does place a disproportionate emphasis on the wetlands within the prairies and there are issues of prairie  and bayou life which may be unduly minimized. Brasseaux’s recent book Acadiana: Louisiana’s Historic Cajun Country  with photographs by Philip Gould does a wonderful job of showing the complex peopling of Cajun Country. But in folkloric terms in Vermilion Parish it had become a truism to say The Attakapas and the Point Coupee-Lafourche regions are the original New Acadias, the Cajun culture of the wetlands is their child.

 

Despite certain signs of Acadian political power the Cajuns did not dominate Louisiana. They were one of several groups of constituents within the fabric of the State as a whole. They participated as Acadians but also as citizens of the new Territory in the great Battle of New Orleans which made Andrew Jackson one of the greatest American figures and heroes past or present.  This was the first major military engagement in a significant military campaign in which the United States beat the British Empire on its own. Much is made of the fact that a treaty had already been signed but not delivered to the theater but one could build a large hill with treaties that have been radically reinterpreted and it is clear enough Britain would at least have kept the area around New Orleans and probably the lower Mississippi Valley. The battle was won by Andrew Jackson and his Kentucky Rifles, Jean Lafiite and especially the superb artillerists among his corsairs, Acadians and Germans from outside the neighborhood, Aboriginal American Nations special troops and both white and colored Creoles of both the mostly Spanish and mostly French type who provided superior logistics. The American Revolution could not be won without the French Empire. The capital in DC had been recently destroyed and the British saw the Battle at Baltimore as a draw. It was only after the blood spilled at Chalmette, Grand Terre and other surroundings of New Orleans that the British believed they could lose to Americans alone in pitched battle. Having settled into an American identity there was  already a growing sectional tension within that identity. It would  happen that some who had seen the Battle of New Orleans were alive for the start of the War Between the United States.  But until the Civil War Louisiana would not be a tag along part of the United States but a location equal to any other in achieving American Independence.

The interest in Acadians is evident in success of the publication of Longfellow’s Poem Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie. This was a poem widely read in the 1840s and 1850s. Many learned people have read the poem and this writer is probably one of the published members of the Acadian ethnic community who is most in critical of the poem, most willing to attribute less than laudable motivations to Longfellow and most willing to note the possible contribution to bad events and trends in Cajun experience which the poem may have had. However, it is also true that I find the poem beautiful and that I think it captures and portrays well some very authentic Acadian values.  A very interesting book might be written contrasting Longfellow’s view of the Acadian character to Flaherty’s view. But that is not this book. One of the reasons this text is associated with Louisiana State University is because of the work done by Gaines M. Foster in showing the role of Protestant Christianity in defining Southern cultural identity and renewing the perspective of the national agenda. Racial identity and the religious identity and the American identity of Southerners is very relevant to the Cajun experience. While there is no room for an absolute accord with the pattern that Foster finds in the South as a whole the model of culture proposed here and his model for the South have something to say to one another and this text attempts to do just that.Two documents then, Code Noir and Evangeline — neither created by Cajuns — had a lot to do with Acadian sense of moral identity. These factors in writing from 1685 and the early 1840s may seem to have little to do with the little world which Standard Oil came to film but  throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, endogamy, distinct economic functions and the French Catholic heritage and way of life of all South Louisiana preserved the region’s cultural distinctiveness. In many ways the 1840s and 1850s came closer to the ideals of Acadian rural life than has been achieved in the United States before or since. Values not so much discussed in American public life include a well maintained environment, potential for agricultural and navigation expansion, linguistic and ethnic autonomy, and a sense of being a well represented and effective minority in politics and the military. Cajuns were happy with the law passed in this period that enshrined the right to English Only, French Only (Francaise seulement) and bilingual education as entitlements. They also preserved an attachment to the two  texts  from Versailles and Harvard written by outsiders in two different languages. However, much would happen before the first film was exposed in the Standard Oil projects that would shape the Acadian land and identity.   This period of the 1840s and 1850s saw the brief Presidency of Zachary Taylor who was the President most associated with Louisiana from the founding of the republic to  time of this writing. Cajuns felt generally very attached to Louisiana and that they were  a full and completely secure constituent part to the degree that any group of citizens is ever secure in their rights, liberties and prerogatives.

 

One cultural occurrence that has great significance in understanding the Cajun culture is the relationship between the Cajuns and the Gens Libres de Couleur or free  people of color in the State. In Vermilion Parish there was always a substantial white majority in the antebellum period. This town where Flaherty would set up a base of special importance which would be of importance to all those involved in the SONJ projects was a region within the region where it is relatively evident and is a matter of folkloric acceptance that a somewhat secretive ethnic authority maintained restrictions on unaffiliated outsiders, the free people of color and also slaves. Slaveholding the stories insist and available evidence had to be close to most of the provisions of the Code Noir, had to be secure and very large groups of slaves were discouraged.  The Cattle industry and navigation had a system of coexistence with white majorities, a set number or percentage of positions for creoles of color and a set role to be played by slaves.

 

But Cajuns participated in the communities across South Louisiana where rich WHite men kept mixed race mistresses and supported separate families in what can be honestly regarded as a kind of racially unequal polygamy. But it was not polygamy as the white wives had a separate and legally superior establishment. Thus even where out of state white Southerners joined in this process and institution they could still oppose Mormon polygamy as Foster shows that a  disproportionately large minority of Southerners did in Congress.

 

The Cajun world in microcosm to which the Standard Oil documentarians had come held in its memories a sense of how the War Between the States began which differs from any point of view which has ever been the orthodoxy among scholars of the War since it ended. This text will provide here a brief introduction to that same point of view which still prevailed in Cajun Country in the 1940s. The stories so well remembered in Vermilion Parish and also in the rest of the Attakapas prairies were the stories of the Comités de Vigilance des Attakapas. There was also a book about the same institution in French and English.The Vigilants existed before the outbreak of the war and were fully engaged in a struggle to preserve civil society. Given  the stature of the people involved in this movement and  demands made of them there was never a doubt that the War Between  the States had come to be because violence, disorder and potential civil collapse were the alternatives to War.The sense of inevitability reached its peak in 1859 near my hometown of Abbeville in Vermilion Parish as well as in the larger regional center of Lafayette or Vermilionville.. In the decades since Flaherty’s film appeared in 1948 this period  has been rather famously portrayed in the Glen Pitre 1986 film Belizaire the Cajun. Pitre is a Harvard man as well as a Cajun and chooses to emphasize the anti-vigilantes among the Cajuns. Such a faction did exist but the Comites were led and captained primarily by Cajuns. Despite some considerable outside evidence such as the pages of various newspapers there is one principal source for these accounts and the history of this organization and that source is the work of their official chronicler and historian Alexandre Barde who wrote in French for a Francophone organization . The vigilantes did persecute some Acadian outlaw folk heros close to the character of the hybrid of fiction and history which emerges as Belizaire Breaux in the Pitre film. There also were Anglos in the group and some were from the Perry family as depicted in the film. However, they hanged and rounded up people of many types and ethnicities who refused to leave and lead by the Acadian Moutons and Leblancs who were prosperous Acadian families and some criminals persecuted were Anglos. Innocent and guilty victims are hard to discern with certainty but rather than being another instance of Acadian poverty and futility in the endless litany presented to the American British readership or audience the vigilantes were a violent wing of a highly organized and somewhat secretive ethnic Community. The tensions in the region and between factions of the community reached their peak in the Battle of Bayou Queue de Tortue This was not only the greatest single conflict of the Comites de Vigilance des Attakapas in their original form before the War between the States but was an evident manifestation of the powerful tensions that had cut into the very heart of the Acadian ethnic community. This battle was fought shortly before Louisiana’s secession from the Union. The Queue de Tortue Bayou (Turtle Tail Bayou) for which the battle is named begins near Lafayette without reaching great size outside of floods it is stable and forms the natural boundary separating Lafayette Parish and Acadia Parish to the west and Acadia Parish and Vermilion Parish to the south. This vision of the War between the States adds another component that distinguishes Cajun identity from that of many other Americans. Gaines Foster has written about the Protestant Christian reforms that took hold in the South after the Civil War. The moral ascendancy of the Union is in many ways sort of conceded early on in a way that makes his argument from evidence in Moral Reconstruction easier to understand. Despite all the arguments about morality that can be made by other Confederates for the Confederacy and by Cajuns against the Confederacy there remains a single fact  for most Cajuns of influence at the time of the War and afterwards the Confederacy was less a struggle for freedom and states rights than for many Confederates. Of course in addition to that Cajuns were tied to Roman Catholicism almost exclusively until about 1945 and the reforms Foster discussed appealed less to them than to Protestants. For Cajuns it tended to be seen relatively more widely as a struggle for public order and in a real sense survival. During the War between the States it is arguable how important the role of the Acadians may have been to the totality of the Confederate struggle. It is not really debatable that the Acadians were deeply affected and even transformed by the  struggle.

 

The Acadian role in the Civil War had many facets but in the popular memory it reached its zenith in the  Battle of Mansfield. This is arguably one of the most significant battles in Acadian history it did not have significance in representing the outcome of the war in which it was fought in that it was a Confederate victory in a war the Confederacy would lose.   The battle is alternately  known as the Battle of Sabine Crossroads, occurred on April 8, 1864, in De Soto Parish, Louisiana.  Not to take anything away from the other Confederate forces commanded by Major General Richard Taylor who was responsible and boldly attacked the Union forces in this contest the role of the Martyred Acadian Hero and his units was very large. The Federals troops were commanded by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks and were set up a few miles outside the town of Mansfield, near Sabine Crossroads. The Union forces held their positions for a short time before being overwhelmed by Confederate attacks  and driven from the field.  The speed of the battle emphasizes the importance of the early actors and  when the fighting started  Taylor had approximately 9,000 troops consisting of Brigadier General Alfred Mouton’s Louisiana/Texas infantry division, Major General John G. Walker’s Texas infantry division, Brigadier General Thomas Green’s Texas Cavalry Division, and Colonel William G. Vincent’s Louisiana cavalry brigade. Of these the most important portion in many ways were under Mouton who was killed and whose command was taken by the French Prince Camille de Polignac. Taylor had reserve troops who did come into the action which were the 5,000 men in the divisions of Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill and Brigadier General Mosby M. Parsons which moved up from encampments near Keachie, between Mansfield and Shreveport. This battle stood as symbol in the Acadian mind for the next generation beyond its strategic significance.  The battle was a decisive Confederate victory although the South went on to fully lose the war and it was mostly lost already it was this battle  which stopped the Federal advance often known as the  Red River Campaign. After the fall of the Confederate States of America the Cajuns faced a new set of challenges rising from the devastation described in Yankee Autumn in Acadiana. The horrors of that war were followed by challenges of poverty and fear that made what before was a consciousness of communal identity within a more decentralized vision of society to a vision of society which did less to assure the  autonomy of constituent communities. In many ways the Cajun elite was never to reach as high after the death of Mouton on that battlefield in the eyes of common Cajun people.

 

After the Civil War the Cajuns had bet a great deal on the Confederate cause and lost. They shared many concerns and values with the broad majority of Americans and with Southerners specifically. However, the struggle for their own identity was a primary struggle which would become more acute in 1915 when French was outlawed in schools.  One of the efforts at that identity being enshrined is one my protestant readers will simply have to take on faith is quite a big deal and was a significant effort if less effective in practice than it has been in the official legalities of the Catholic Church.  The creation of an international Fete National des Acadiens was a major project of the late 19th Century. This ethnic observance and official interpretation of a Catholic Holiday is observed on  August 15 which is for Roman Catholics the Feast of the Assumption.  Both jointly and separately it is the National Day of the Acadians. It is one of the marks of someone who really wants to uphold the Acadian heritage that this day usually matters quite a bit to them. Here one comes to the revisiting of Joseph Broussard’s arrival in Louisiana. Once again quoting at length the very useful summary by Arceneaux.

 

In late February 1765, French colonial officials, awaiting the appearance of their Spanish replacements, reported the arrival by sea of a large group of about 200 Acadians in New Orleans. These Acadians, former prisoners of the British at Halifax, Nova Scotia, had been set free in accord with provisions of the Treaty of Paris. After a brief stop in Saint- Domingue (present-day Haiti), these new immigrants appeared without prior notice in Louisiana’s colonial capitol. Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil was the chief leader of the group, comprised of about fifty-eight to sixty families, many of whom were related by blood or marriage.

The Beausoleil group remained in New Orleans for about seven weeks. Nine baptisms and three marriages were performed in the city’s Catholic Church. An attempt was made to redeem outdated French Canadian card-monies, a type of promissory notes that was held by thirty-two destitute Acadians.[Discussions and agreements concerning a settlement location took place between officials, established colonists, and the newcomers. Supplies were issued to the impoverished recent immigrants.

Preparations were completed for a move to a new, southern Acadian homeland.

 

The rest of American society has many records of the Pilgrims of Plymouth, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, wagon trains galore, the Mormons and many others who settled America in families. But the twentieth century Western films showed new territory being opened up by relatively wild male cowboys with perhaps one couple in a large group and a house full of prostitutes usually happily overseeing a watering hole. Cajuns still reverenced the Dauterive Compact at the Flying Jay Ranch in Vermilion Parish (A “J” with wings is a way of describing the fleur de lis) and in their own circles considered themselves the first American cowboys. They had stories of legendary and enormous all male cattle drives and not every Cajun cowboy was a paragon of marital fidelity no r every woman that stayed home. However, marriage was a vital consideration  and was the great sexaul event in Cajun culture. the true love of Evangeline and Gabriel in Longfellow’s poem that seems absurdly unrealistic to many still seems kind of sexy to many Cajuns. Even if one might not live in complete abstinence the attraction of sexual pairing through all adversity remained strong.

 

The role of Mary, the statues of St.Therese distributed later by Dudley and other such actions of Catholics life went together with what was often seen as resistance to the lower position of women not in roles performed or positions in society but as people. A cajun woman usually aspired to be a wife and mother and a man was valued very significantly by his ability to produce a legitimate line and his descent from a legitimate line. Marian devotion was not apologized for but was seen as  vital resistance to misogyny. Protestants of course often feel similar feelings about an all male celibate priesthood running a church. But the Marian devotions and female saints were seen in part as corrective to American cultural trends. In addition of course  it was a sincere spiritual expression for many.      

 

Those of involved in Acadian ethnic consciousness after 1945 are often in the position of encouraging those in the Acadian Nation who are Jewish, Protestant, (even Anglican though today is an awkward day to be both), Freemasons with no other formal religion and adherents of other faith to join what is still the (not so large) Roman Catholic majority and not merely plurality of their countrymen in celebrating the Le Jour National des Acadiens. We also wish those Catholics who are not Acadians but live among large numbers of us would remember this is a dual holiday for us. It is a sad kind of National Holiday. We do remember all that we are but we are not principally celebrating the founding of Acadie by our ancestors which has become Nova Scotia. We are not primarily remembering the founding of the Nouvelle Acadie in Louisiana which has become Acadiana. We are primarily remembering the tragedy, time of weakness (relative to an old and established empire in its homeland) , loss and death which is the destruction of the land of Acadie and the start of Le Grand Derangement.  This holiday has roots in the past since the Acadians were French subjects and as the first came to the new World the King of France had just designated the feast as the special day of France and the French. In 1881 there was the first large public and open convention of the Acadians since the exile itself in which a few thousand gathered for real national policy and it was at that time that they declared the holiday a national feast. The reason cited by some knowledgeable sources is in part to distinguish them from the French Canadians who honored St. John the Baptist as their patron. They also honor it because it is a feminine holiday in a Christianity which has sold out to a largely woman-hating world in much of the modern era. While some parts of the world were more anti-feminist in the past and some are eager to bring that back – the feminine  half of things was prized in much of Ancient Greece, Byzantine Christianity, High Medieval France and Acadie. Acadians can remember that we stand with that always developing tradition and against its destruction. In 1938 the Pope officially recognized the Acadian celebration of the Feast of the Assumption as their national holiday. He also entrusted them to the special patronage of Our Lady that this recognizes. Of course the Assumption itself actually celebrates the raising of the body of Mary into Heaven to join her believer’s spirit. this is very hard for Protestant, Jewish or Skeptic Acadians to relate to one would think. First let us think about the celebration in Biblical terms of interest to Protestants and Jews. The Bible talks of Enoch and Elijah being taken up into heaven and so it is not without precedent in the Jewish Scriptures.  For Protestants remember that in addition to these two Old Testament precedent we have what can be taken as the prophecy of Mary that in her life God lifts up the lowly to lofty thrones in the Canticle Catholics call the Magnificat  in the early part of Luke’s Gospel.  

 

Flaherty of course was born to one Catholic and one Protestant parent. According to Helen Van Dongen none of those in the movie headquarters went to church. But she believed churches were the center of town life in Abbeville. But religion was one of the key components of Cajun identity.

We will indulge in a  bit of a jump ahead here past the ten years covered in this book. It is useful for the casual reader to have some idea of what happened after 1953.  At the moment of writing the state is in a serious crisis. That crisis will affect many institutions badly and there have been other crises. However many institutions exist now that support Cajun culture and identity which did not exist at that time. There have been many troubles and disappointments but their has been survival and persistence. Edwin Edwards, elected four times as governor of the state is one of Acadiana’s regional politicians to have enjoyed success in the state. In the sense of French Louisiana, besides CODOFIL there were other evidences that the larger Francophone roots of Louisiana had survived,  Some equating cultural persistence with political autonomy do not realize that in the 1990s Louisiana’s legal system resembles that of Scotland and Puerto Rico in that the English Common Law is grafted onto what remains basically a system descended from the Roman Civil Law.  In the case of Louisiana, the Code Napoleon was the immediate ancestor of the Louisiana Civil Code.  In recent years political signs of French Louisiana’s struggle for survival in Anglo-America include the official declaration by the legislature in 1968 that Louisiana was a bilingual state and the institution of Council of Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) to preserve the French heritage of the area.  In 1980, a federal court of Appeals found the Cajuns to be a nationally recognized minority .

 

Hopefully, a brief introduction such as the above provides some evidence that a distinct culture has existed and may still exist in Acadiana which has both assimilated outsiders into its own way of life and gradually been assimilated by the larger American culture.  The question of how that assimilation took place and how it was perceived by those on both sides of the cultural divide is not answered by showing that a unique but not isolated region developed in that part of the state which bears the name Acadiana.

 

The United States lacks a tradition within which a community of Euro-Americans who occupied their region before the establishment of Anglo-Americans in the area can be understood in a way which would really satisfy the Acadian sensibility.  America has prized its self perceptions and Acadians have prized their own. The metaphor of the melting pot is one of the least attractive to most Acadians  a gumbo is a similar metaphor in some ways and yet it is much more acceptable. Oftentimes it really does come down to the level of differences of expression that are very small indeed and which this country which is large, known for rapid change and has many other qualities that largely define a society not likely to provide some of the senses of security most prized by the Cajuns. The Standard Oil projects had a number of documentarians largely from New York  City and the larger New England region coming into this area to observe and record the people and places that they found here.

 

The documentarians had a plan and a predisposition to tell a particularly American story. This sense of what an American story was will be revisited in terms of their unique community and previous New Deal film experience but the larger context of what was an American story was equally significant. The concepts of this post Civil War America has appeared in the writing of many of its best leaders and thinkers as a country that has been  designed and can be reformed as a kind of culturally neutral political union of free men.  Foster has also pointed out in Moral Reconstruction that Christians sought to define a common christian culture that shaped policy. That is certainly true of many reformers. The documentarians came from a different largely Leftist community of reformers who believed America could be improved by the actions of the people. The Cajuns would not have disagreed fundamentally with each of these groups in their general desire to improve America, they were neither ireligious nor opposed to moral or socio-economic progress. But Cajun identity is largely a threat to many alliances of political power since the Civil War. That is because they still hold to the ideas that formed much of Medieval European, hellenic and Ancient Greek civilization. They believe in as well live a life that acknowledges the value of gradual change, federalism, jurisdictional and cultural diversity — the individual is somewhat free to move from group to group but not fee to break down group governance. The documentarians and Standard Oil were very different but neither group were likely to be able to even make a serious attempt to understand the Acadian point of view. Other visions of America had been shared with the executives and the documentarians but all had experience over a lifetime with those basic views. They had experience with those who viewed postwar America as an extension and perfection of the new Promised Land receiving its way of life from Providence.  they had experience of the influence of Communist and Nazi visions of the world in America. They had the more mainstream American view of the time however hard that is to briefly define. Most of them were old enough and experienced enough to have known the 1930s  to probably have been the first time that a large scale effort was made by artists, thinkers and political leaders to discover the uniquely American culture often called the American Way of Life without much reference to ethnicity, religion or military necessity .  Those years of the Depression and of the New Deal were also the years when the American “Documentary” exploded from obscurity to what may have been its zenith.  The documentaries made possible a more intense debate and dialogue about the relationship between culture and America.  However, these documentaries are not full of the Confederate rituals, Puritan churches, the Amish, the Hopi, the native Hawaiians or any of the other really eager cultural conservative who wanted to be  Americans and still remain something else that was large, organized, enduring and very precious to them. When the documentarians came to Acadiana they entered a dialog with a very distinctive American culture. That dialog continues in this text and has been ongoing since they arrived..

 

Acadians have developed reasons to be wary of what the documentarians were expressing. That seems reasonable, In addition historians when I was coming up in life generally did not take seriously the claim of the creator of a documentary to produce a historic study of a place. So if they are imperfect observers and the process is less than respectable  then perhaps the film mostly tells us about those behind the cameras.  The interaction between subject and artist does shape a film and all recognize the film as a valid source for the history of its makers. That is the reverse angle which the film Louisiana Story: The Reverse Angle sought to bring forth in a very measured  way and that continues here in this work begun before that retrospective film was shot. But despite all their limits these doumentarians were filming Louisiana.    Without doubt, documentary filmmakers and photographers of the 1930s and 1940s aimed at work of historical value.  Any documentary intends to record a time, a place and a people in an historic set of relationships.  Unless such claims have been tried by a careful but creative comparison with other historical sources both the documentary and the subject of the documentary are not fully understood.  When historians use documentaries as valid insights into the events they depict, the study of both the documentary and the subject changes dramatically because the historian must compare it carefully to other views of the subject filmed.

 

If Flaherty as an artist sought to create a work of his own genius; his relationship with others hold small interest.  If he collaborated in a documentary endeavor that functioned as a ferment of projects with shared artistic and technical elements, the meanings and value of his work relates to that community of vision in some way.  The few photographs which illustrate this essay may indicate to those familiar with Louisiana Story how still images produced by those surrounding Flaherty influenced him.  The sense of collaborating to record life in America typified much important work born out of the national trial of the 1930s and 1940s.  Evidence that Flaherty was working within a documentary community exists in the biographies of Helen Van Dongenen and roy Stryker  the man who hired him  andmany others down to his choice of Virgil Thompson, the composer who had done the score for many New Deal documentary films.  Outwardly focused and loosely organized in complicated ways the small army of Americans involved in documentary sought to define America, politics and the art of documentary but not themselves.  The totality of the documentary community escapes essay definition but it clearly existed.

 

The full roster of Stryker’s photographers who worked in Louisiana during Standard Oil years included Esther Bubley and Martha McMillan Roberts, who had both begun working for Stryker as darkroom technicians during his F.S.A. years.  Others with an F.S.A. past were John Collier, Edward and Louise Rosskam and Russell Lee.  Only three of the photographers working under Roy Stryker in Louisiana during the Standard Oil years had no past connection with the F.S.A.  Two of the three photographers, Todd Webb and Arnold Eagle became closely associated with Flaherty during his work on Louisiana Story. the fusion of Standard Oil’s past experience and developed point of view with the New Deal point of view caused them to see the place they had come to shoot in particular ways. But the documentary community was the dominant interpreter.  

 

The crew filming Louisiana Story was small and the photographers who came over from Stryker’s project were well informed about the area before meeting Flaherty.  Given the talkative nature of all parties in this crew it strains the belief to think that Flaherty was not influenced by these men.  Todd Webb had read about the region and photographed it.  Webb’s New England background may not have blinded him to Acadiana, but neither did it help him to see it.  Perhaps Arnold Eagle’s identity as an immigrant who spoke heavily accented English led him to a particular fascination with the real adaptations of the Acadians.  As discussed below, Flaherty did not develop Louisiana Story from the kind of interaction with those he filmed which many scholars have hypothesized as his chief method of learning about his subject.  The alternative hypothesis of this essay is that Flaherty was significantly influenced by the others working for Standard Oil in a documentary capacity.  The photographic vision, the biases and the insights of those in the Stryker photographic project had an important role to play in shaping Flaherty’s last film and his film had an influence on them. His film is much better known but the connections between the two rpojects is by no means slight or casual.

 

If Flaherty has left no direct confession that he borrowed from others rather than seeking out his own oral sources then the burden of proof lies on this writer to show such borrowing occurred.  In Louisiana Story Flaherty’s amateur anthropology did not capture as much historical detail as Eagle’s workmanlike observations of the cultural and social distinctiveness of a group of long-time American citizens.  Arnold Eagle seemed very interested in the human process of creating things.  His work generates much of the little knowledge of the degree of impact Falherty’s crew had on the  environment they filmed.  Subtler than the varied host which invades a location to produce a commercial film, the crew nonetheless affected the behavior of those it filmed.  Flaherty did not often seek out the maximum exposure to the kind of people he sought to film, but rather selected a swamp for some crucial scenes where no trapper ever went.  These things alone do not disprove the hypothesis that he relied on his own research in attempting to document the Cajun culture.  Below we will discuss the relationship between Flaherty and those around him — both the Cajuns and the photographers working in the area.

 

In arguing that Louisiana Story bears the stamp of a work made by, for and largely about the American film intellectuals of the period and that it has a largely second-hand view of the culture it depicts I am not arguing that Flaherty did not create an original story, nor that the story has nothing to offer those interested in Cajun life.  Louisiana Story offers us less variety than the photography but does preserve the sounds of Cajun speech and a few techniques of swamping where motion is required. However, the question of the speech of the people deserves several chapters in a longer book. I will briefly say here that what appeared to be Flaherty’s intention as regards Cajun speech in the start of all this seems horrifying to many Cajuns and others but I think the final process used was relatively honest, exacting and authentic.  The point is that the story was made by a man much more removed from his subject than the man who made Nanook in many ways. Robert and Frances living in the Nettles in comfort with their entourage did not extend the kind of effort some of the photographers did to understand Cajun culture. Van Dongen’s diary I believe does more to show what did not happen than it does to show all that went into the film. However Leacock, Van Dongen and  Flaherty all worked together as a community with Frances Flaherty, Arnold Eagle and the Cajun cast  to interpret individual elements of the local reality within a fictional framework. There is a lack of all out effort and risk in engaging in the Cajun experience partly because the dangers of meeting the challenges of the oil companies and the drilling dangers and also because at his age and in his state of life he may largely have felt that he was able to rely on others to forge the ties with his subject which had been so time consuming in his earlier films.  At that time I started this project I felt surprised that it was surprising that Robert Flaherty had a close relationship with another documentary project in the region where I lived and yet both had been studied almost exclusively as separate and autonomous for half a century.That has changed to some degree.

 

The still photography project does get a bit less attention in this thesis than the film if everything is weighed but it does a more complete job of really viewing Cajun country at the time. Standard Oil’s other major project in Louisiana produced many stills of swamps, trappers, oilmen and pirogues such as Flaherty filmed.  The few Stryker pictures which appear here  as included plates and illustrations merely represent a much larger body of images, some with more striking visual similarities to the film.  The still photographs however provide a much more documentary corpus of images than the film.  The Stryker images include several kinds of fishing, trapping, moss gathering, and hunting which made up the way of life in the wetlands.  The romantic images are balanced with many prosaic ones. Do they also capture a people such as the chronological narrative earlier in this chapter would indicate that the Cajuns were?

 

The treatment  and analysis of Louisiana Story in this study advances the claim  not so much that Flaherty did not learn a great deal from his Cajun natural actors nor that the film is not a “documentary” at all as has sometimes been believed. This is a bit of modest thesis as texts submitted for dissertation defense go. It asserts that one can study both the filmmaking and the subject the film was made about as one studies and   writes cultural history. The film is not irrelevant to the Acadiana of the period but is more distant from local realities than Stryker’s still photography project.  Perhaps exactly one remove more distant, based largely on the information and influence reaching him from the more historical efforts of the Stryker photographers.  Less historiographical-critical print has come forth about the “Latour” family than about the Samoans, Eskimos and folk or Aran in Flaherty’s film.  An historian’s study of any work of art, especially of a documentary film, begins with efforts to recreate the past encounter between artist and subject.  That remaking of the past constitutes much of an historian’s contribution to understanding art.  Such restoration of the creative context becomes more crucial if one wishes to evaluate the film as historical document.  The Latours were fictional in every way that Hamlet was fictional and a few others besides.

 

In the evidence these documentary photographs bring together, assimilation reveals itself as a significant social and cultural force working with other forces to shape the folkways, traditions and technologies of a group of U.S. citizens different from the mainstream. That assimilation has to be seen when in fact the visually distinctive is what was likely to attract the cameras studied here.  The value of these photographs as historical documents can be compared to the documentary value of other works.  In these pages there is a comparison between Flaherty’s Louisiana Story and the Stryker photographs, I argue that there is some greater historical value in the entire Stryker collection than in the film.  This argument relates not to the document’s artistic value nor its value to the history of film.  I merely argue that some documentary works have significant value for studying the cultural and social history they record and other documentaries have little or no value of that kind. The choice of subjects to be addressed in this study grew from three desires:  to use an untapped wealth of photographic evidence, to do a cultural history of Acadiana and to offer an experience of Acadian life to the reader.  Those sources subsist primarily in the Roy Stryker – Standard Oil of New Jersey photographs–including thousands of images of Louisiana in the 1940s.  These photographs serve as the principal primary source for this study. Despite the significant references in the earlier paragraphs of this   chapter. In addition though I did not create them and they have no value in demostrating my skill as a historian from my point of view the  photographs appearing in this text have no less importance than the writing itself.

 

I have attempted a careful and purposeful study details in the photographs, paying the same meticulous attention  that historians have paid to countless other forms of documentation.  That analyses occurs throughout but it is centered in the next all too brief chapter titles “Inside the lenses” With photographs, the reader has an instantaneous access to many of the same sources from which the historian’s writing has grown.  This immediacy of sharing an unaltered primary source directly with the reaer mandates that the historian move through his work as clearly and deliberately as possible.  This applies to the use of documentary photography as source for the study of the folk or society they record, that attempt is quite distinct from a study of the photographs only as a subject of historical study.

 

Yet the photographers did not fabricate the world they photographed.  Their vision expressed some of the same perceptions which Harnett T. Kane wrote about only a few years earlier.

“Changes have come with the advance of the train

     and bus and schoolhouse; and each passing year

     and each war…bring nearer the eventual

     amalgamation into the American mass.  Yet

     today, to an extent that may seem incredible,

     there still flourishes the tradition of a

     France-in-America.  A man may be a fifth-

     generation citizen but unable to speak English.

     On the streets of many villages, in the

     bayou front yards, at the stores, the

     national tongue is the exotic one.”

 

The photographic project has many treatments of towns and villages. In that collection of photos the national nature of American commerce is evident on walls, in windows and elsewhere. To the degree that advertised products were most often Anglo-American or advertised in English, these picture, unable to capture spoken French, actually Anglicize the realities of their subjects’ lives by showing English words.  Language alone makes up a very complex area of inquiry.  During the World Wars many Cajuns served as French Interpreters for U.S. forces. I am going to defy all conventions here and quote my earlier version of this text which was written by someone living a different life than I live today. The quote shows  how language is or is not perceived by even the careful observer. I cannot write these things in the present tense and cannot dismiss their value to this  chapter and thesis.

:

Jane Vidrine, a long time researcher of Acadian culture insists that a resurgence of French occurred in the 1940s.  French persists at this writing, in 1993.  French disc jockeys and music on Saturdays and Sundays appeal to various radio formats, the French Rosary is prayed on commercial television.  Near and in the bars, offices and fields of the larger towns profanities, endearments and adages in the older speech can be heard often by the careful ear.  Complete ignorance of French remains a handicap in buying and selling crabs, crawfish, furs and alligators from the hundreds of bilingual producers who constitute the plurality of suppliers in that vast fishing, trapping and aquaculture industrial complex.  

 

The photographers struggled to comprehend persistence and change in Acadiana just as scholars struggle today.  Todd Webb, one of the two Stryker photographers whose work most often appears in these pages, wrote to Roy Stryker the following contrast between Harnett Kane’s book and the realities surveyed.  “I was disappointed in La Fourche, where I went last Saturday and Sunday.”  Webb wrote from his hotel room in Baton Rouge, “I had read Harnett Kane’s  “The Bayous of Louisiana” (sic) and he neglected to say that a highway ran along the Bayou and that houses were really quite some distance away.  The people have turned almost completely away from the Bayou and the highway has taken its place.”  Webb would later discover that La Fourche had became famous as “the world’s longest street” and that in other communities the waterway still held ascendancy over graded right of way.  Kane, eager to see distinctiveness survive, had made La Fourche appear as riverine and unique in structure as it had been years ago.

 

Acadiana during the 1940s offered much appeal to the photographers working there.  “Some day this week we are going to Abbeville to see Flaherty.”  Wrote Webb of the man producing Louisiana Story.  Robert Flaherty, recognized as the father of the documentary film, had received critical attention and some financial wealth for previous portrayals of remote cultures and places.  The man who had directed Nanook of the North, Man of Aran and Moana now brought his gifts to a Cajun subject.  His vision of a pristine culture would influence many.  The excitement of working with Flaherty in later days and Webb’s declaration that “Gross Tete and the Teche are both much better…(because they showed more cultural persistence than Bayou La Fourche)” all show that Webb and his boss never saw themselves as dispassionate scientists.  Yet, all parties to this project had ambivalent feelings about the ways this region differed from others in America.

 

The last and best introduction to set of imperatives that directed the collectors of these images comes from Stryker’s advice to all photographers in and out of Acadiana.  “Look for the significant detail, the kinds of things a scholar a hundred years from now is going to wonder about,” He wrote, “You’re not just photographing for Standard Oil.  You’re photographing America.  You’re recording history.  Everything is in flux.  You will see things that won’t be around again.”  Stryker’s audience included Todd Webb, Russell Lee, Arnold Eagle and others whose work appears here.  The historian may or may not choose to take the claims of a documentary seriously.  The creator of documentary seldom worked without a thought for the historian.

 

Scholars who, in this writer’s view, have pride of place in understanding this subject  are  Carl A. Brasseaux, (The Founding of the New Acadia  and Acadian to Cajun especially)  and James H. Dorman (best essays in Holtman and Conrad see Bibliography).  For a casual reader in English Lauren C. Post’s Cajun Sketches  are an introduction of some merit.  Scholars to watch in the future and whose extant work does not appear in these covers are Brad Pollack, Patricia Rickels and Vaughn Baker–all at the University of Southwestern Louisiana .  The bibliography included here includes much of the best work published. While this thesis does not attempt to create a narrative chronology as fully as Brasseaux’s Founding of the New Acadia  it is not merely an ethnography seeking to capture the experience of a thin slice of time within the culture.  In places it may be ethnographic writing in a historical context. ( See “Origins of Ethnicity” in Holtman and Conrad.)

 

The Cajun sense of identity is treated very differently by two books written by non-historians.  Comeaux’s Atchafalaya and Anger’s Truth perhaps  show some of the ways in which a certain perspective may have developed.  This study seeks to capture that ideology in its own way.  Efforts by outsiders such as Robert Flaherty to capture that spirit have enjoyed varying levels of success and various perspectives  are addressed later in these covers.

Among the best treatments of the documentary collections, and especially of the Stryker photography of the Farm Security Administration and the Standard Oil of New Jersey collections is Frank de Caro’s Folklife in Louisiana Photography:  Images of Tradition, Louisiana State University Press 1990, Baton Rouge and London.  De Caro’s stance is critical and his interests differ with mine.  However, the title of his third  chapter, which is devoted to documentary photographs,  indicates the conviction to which his research led him: “A Pretty Good picture of Louisiana: The Great Documentary Projects.” For a succinct political history of the Cajuns there is no substitute for reading Brasseaux’s Founding.

 

Notes (currently not numbered or attached)

 

Roach v. Dresser  Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pare Lorentz’s recent book F.D.R.’s Moviemaker  posthumously displays firsthand some of what the people involved in discovering America were looking for and what they were likely to find.  I believe that the documentary movement has not yet been tested on the claims it made despite the numerous solid political and artistic studies of their work.  Work is beginning to come forth which places new demands on the material. The scholarly bibliography collected in connection with Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story  includes a few essential volumes Richard Barsam and William T. Murphy have done as much to collect the sources as is necessary.  The best introduction may still be Calder-Marshall’s Innocent Eye.  There are some good books which include the  Standard Oil of New Jersey (S.O.N.J.) books in the study of something else, few of quality that give the photographs great attention.

 

The staff of the Ekstrom Photographic Archives opened early and did a marvelous job in meeting all my needs and granting troublesome requests.  For researchers interested in further study of these issues and subject folios L 66, 661, 6611, 662, 663, 6636, 6637, 6638, 665, 6656, 6658, 666, 5553, 6665 and 667 as well as folios P 48 and 482 deal mainly with Acadiana.  However, pagination does not exist and errors in filing occur.

August 1945 letter, the Rosskam files, unprocessed correspondence attached to the SONJ photographic collection at the University of Louisville Photographic Archives.

Letter dated May 20 1947, entered into SONJ files May 22, 1947,  Webb File, unprocessed correspondence associated with SONJ Collection, University of Louisville Photographic Archives.

My own interviews on record with J.C. Boudreaux, who played the central character in Louisiana Story, affirm that Flaherty did not have the kind of rapport with the Cajuns in the film which he was reported to have shared with the Eskimos and others.  Furthermore, Cajun life is fairly documented in the S.O.N.J. photographs of the same period and the letters in Stryker papers show that photographers worked for both men.

Letter dated June 18, 1947, entered into SONJ files June 20, 1947, Webb File, unprocessed papers associated with the SONJ Collection at the University of Louisville Photographic Archives.

University of Louisville Photographic Archives, Standard Oil (New Jersey) Collection Subject Vertical File: Folder F49 “Flaherty Pictures”

The concepts we have of Flaherty’s method were promoted by Flaherty and believed by his best known biographer Arthur Calder-Marshall.  The Innocent Eye even argues that far from using stills and the like, Flaherty combined the instincts of an anthropologist, the gifts of the artist and the techniques of a traditional Eskimo carver.

For a record of this comper’s involvement in New Deal documentary see Pare Lorentz’s posthumous biography F.D.R.’s Moviemaker.

Some resumes exist in E.P.A.’s Stryker Collection under Stryker’s S.O.N.J. Correspondence.  Other data available from curators and International Center of Photography in New York.

The diverse mix of photographers and the variety of images from the prairies and bayous compliment the interest in recording the way people earned their living.  Good photography reflects life as much as journalism, art and history  reflect life.  They are accurate within their canons.

This writer can uncover little firsthand evidence which suggest that Flaherty tried to closely observe the Cajun lifestyle he sought to portray on the screen.  Interviews with Boudreaux positively deny it and letters in the Stryker file seldom allude to anything resembling that type of research.

Page 76 of De Caro’s Folklife in Louisiana Photography: Images of Tradition

Discussing the way they function serves as a focus of this introduction.  It is essential to remember the approach taken here if the thesis is to be tested against its own claims.

Collected in Corinne L. Saucier’s Folk Tales from French Louisiana, 82.

Kane, The Bayous of Louisiana, 13.

  1. Webb to Roy Stryker, May 9, 1947; Box 1: S.C.S.O.N.J. at E.P.A..

Ibid.

Roy Stryker to Todd Webb, May 3, 1947; Box 1 : S.C.S.O.N.J. at E.P.A.

This quote appeared in a “letter” without any date or address in the S.C.S.O.N.J., Box 1. at E.P.A.   The same quote apeared in a press release for the International Center for Photography (ICP) about their exhibit of Stryker’s S.O.N.J. images. I.C.P. materials found at Lafayette Natural History Museum.

comfortable expressing physical affection for their children than did some other ethnic groups

 

 

 

A Few Reflections on the Passing of Days

I have been working a lot on a novel about the life of Jesus Christ. You can see parts of that novel here, here and here.  I have also struggled with the vast wear and tear on my body and have lost a friend who was my most continuous non familial relationship since childhood. Dr. David Link Silar’s funeral was the Saturday before my Monday birthday. In addition I buried another friend that day. We will get to some prosaic concerns I had that day and every other day and yet politics matter enough that I made it to the Acadiana Press Club Forum that birthday when I turned fifty-one. The issues of the last legislative session matter a great deal to me.

Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills leafs through the budget...

Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills leafs through the budget…

But amid my fully preoccupied and not very smooth and easy life the shooting of a pastor who was also a state senator in South Carolina and many members of his Bible study. Nine people have died of the incident so far. Dylan Roof may be executed for it in time.  I did an earlier post linking to material relevant to this tragic outcome of an act of racial and political violence. But this is a post about my own since of things in the world being filled with reports of this man’s acts. It is about my life at the same time.

The truth of the last few months has been comparable to the years that have preceded those months in as much as I have almost always been very much on the side of things which notes and declares how wrongly the world was arranged on a variety of matters. But I think real change has also occurred in my life. That change is connected to change in the larger world but not so very directly and intensely as in the lives of some people.

I’m in the mode of just falling apart this month it seems. I’m not at all surprised as that is a kind of predictable and more or less cyclical consequence of the life I have lived as well as the world in which I have lived it. I have had many times when I was under the limits of my body or of other resources and was required to step back and slow down.

The truth is that there are reasons as diverse as my returning foot problems, the loss of an old friend Dr. David Link Silar and the assault on my life by a relatively large number of relatively minor physical and financial stresses. I’m blogging now after letting my blog slip or not.

I have been dealing with a large fallen tree limb in the lawn tthat I take care of normally. It has been an evolving process with lots of ancillary problems. Generally my life is always plagued with ancillary problems.

The orange tree panted and nurtured on the new house site on old family land.

The orange tree panted and nurtured on the new house site on old family land.

There are lots of stresses on the plants but it is my own life which is most stressed by the relationships and interpersonal situations that form the context of even my own now very limited life and work. I have dealt with the fallen tree in the context of wearing ankle and foot braces. I have done it in the context of a damaged chainsaw that I have not yet used at all and an axe that I have used. I have dealt with it in the context of having a trailer driver start driving off while the twenty five foot spread branch system was still hooked both into the trailer and into my hands — the jolt strained my back for a while. I took some of the pictures of the main limb and the branches I had cut in a driving rain that interfered with my schedule.

Fallen limb cleared of branches by me with my axe.

Fallen limb cleared of branches by me with my axe.

I struggled to move the cleared branches across the lawn at the time when they would damage the lawn the least. The rain poured down again just after I got the branches into a pile beside the driveway. As I have stated earlier this picture was taken in the pouring rain.

Pile of cleared branches in a heavy rain lit by the sun.

Pile of cleared branches in a heavy rain lit by the sun.

In addition the lawn has a fairly large wildlife population. I protect in one way or another the toads, non-venomous snakes, squirrels and other creatures. But I have had to kill a lot of pit vipers at close range with blades while I worked. That has also been a source of stress. I mind it less than most would but it affects me.

 

Vipers jaws protrude from the smooth and even sides...

Vipers jaws protrude from the smooth and even sides…

In addition to all of this I have been distracted from the Louisiana budget and marijuana issues of the last legislative session which mattered to me a great deal. I did attend an Acadiana Press Club Forum on my birthday. I was glad I did but Dylann Roof’s fatal shooting of nine people in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church in South Carolina overshadowed those political issues. I still think that those issues matter a great deal.

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

picture taken on my camera by Richard Mergist Congratulating Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills on reforming Marijuana law…

What comes next in the gubernatorial and senatorial elections matters and should be covered in this blog. The terrorist attack by a young man claiming that he is inspired by the Confederate ideals clearly demands that I confront his interpretation of a symbol that I respect. I did so briefly in my last post and will do so again. I have also stated that this tragedy occurred in a context of widespread racial political violence in contemporary American life.

Sad and troubled days will be the norm for a while at least….

The seal of the Confederacy ties the Lost Cause to the Revolution and the past long before that war.

The seal of the Confederacy ties the Lost Cause to the Revolution and the past long before that war.