Category Archives: Oil & Gas Industry

Emerging Views: Chapter Fourteen; A relatively Humble Standard

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

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

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

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

Here is the pdf form:EmergingViewsChapterFourteenARelativelyHumbleStandard

Here is the text itself such as it currently is:

Chapter Fourteen: A relatively Humble Standard

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GAS RECYCLING PLANT IS ASKED IN ERATH FIELD

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

 

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


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

 

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

 


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That name was Rockefeller.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

   

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Here is the  Chapter in a pdf format: EmergingVIewsChapterTen

 

Here is the text itself:

Chapter Ten:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Emerging Views: Chapter Nine Cajun Works and Works in Acadiana

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

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

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

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

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

14-556_3204 IMG_20160526_084947_802-2 Continue reading

Emerging Views: Chapter Eight: Louisiana in the Story

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

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

Zachary Richard Acadian humanist rightly honored

Zachary Richard Acadian humanist rightly honored

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the text itself:

 

Chapter Eight:

The Louisiana in the Story

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Art: III

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

THE FIRST BOOK OF THE HISTORIES, CALLED CLIO

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

 

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

 

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

   

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

TREATY BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE FRENCH REPUBLIC

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

Article I

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

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

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

Art: II

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

Art: III

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

Art: IV

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

Art: V

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

Art: VI

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

Art: VII

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

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

Art: VIII

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

Art: IX

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

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

Art: X

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

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

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

Robt R Livingston [seal]

Jas. Monroe [seal]

Barbé Marbois [seal]

 

 

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

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

Here is the pdf version:EmergingViewsChapterSeven

Here is the text itself:

 

Chapter Seven:

Folklore, Symbols and the Codes of Film

 

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

Into the woods,

It’s time to go,

It may be all

In vain, you/I know.

Into the woods-

But even so,

I have to take the journey.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

^ Brouillan au Ministre, 6 Octobre, 1702.



1700-1710.] THE FISHERY QUESTION. Ill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did they set out to create a particular myth here?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emerging Views: Chapter Six, Folklore & Postwar History

 

 

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

Here is the pdf version available of this chapter: ChapterSixCajunFolkloreandPostwarHistory

Here is the text itself:

Chapter Six:

The Spirit of the People and the Community,

in Cameras and Folklore

 

Section One: Chapter Introduction

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Robert and Frances Flaherty Study Center

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

.   

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Thus the Acadian nation was being formed.   

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Section Two: The History of Alienation and Isolation

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Section Three: Folklore and Mentalities in Acadiana

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Section Three: the Folklore and Spirit of Communities and People

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

******   *******     *******    ******    *******     *******    *******   *******   ********    ******   *******

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 Chapter Five, The Write Thing

 

CHinaMombishopGO

My mother gives her memoirs to a Catholic Bishop in China.

This is one of the shortest chapters and anyone reading it has a chance to catch up on the previous chapters recently published as posts on this blog. Writing itself is a subject most writers of every description think about quite a bit.  Today with mind and eyes a bit weary I think about the writing process behind Louisiana Story.

Here is a link to the pdf version currently available here: EmergingViewsChapterFive.

Here is the actual text:

Chapter Five:

The Write Way:

Stories, Screenplays and Texts

 

In the last chapter an analysis was done of how the film which we now have as Louisiana Story compared and related in some way to the film City Lights by Charlie Chaplin. Other references were made to how the film compared and contrasted or may have been positively or negatively influenced by the films Nanook of the North and Gone With the Wind. It is hoped that each chapter in this book builds toward a more complete understanding of the whole subject. Therefore bearing in mind all that has been written about movies and moviemakers in the last chapter should continue to inform the analysis and narrative of the remaining chapters. However this chapter looks at a different reality. Here there is an examination of the film itself and of our larger subject by examining the transformation of the project Robert J. Flaherty was paid to produce from the earliest form we have of that idea in full to the final production. That is an effort to understand the transformation of the project from the screenplay The Christmas Tree written by Robert and Frances Flaherty,  which appeared shortly after that initial business meeting lubricated by Jameson Irish whiskey, into Louisiana Story.

 

The two titles are quite different. One can make too much of such changes surely but one can also make too little of them. The first title is not specific to the location and is the common name of a piece of oilfield equipment. To the average viewer or reader such a title suggests children receiving gifts from their parents, perhaps in the disguise of Santa Claus and offering little in return. In the second title it is a story and not an object and it belongs at least to the state and larger region. It does not imply the child waiting for the magic of unearned wealth but the story and whatever magic, skill or spell-binding quality it may contain and embody belongs in some way to Louisiana. If that were the only difference in isolation then it would not be very significant. However, there is a great deal more evidence to support a similar line of transition. Toward end of this chapter there is an examination of the way in which the transition was not complete. But there was a transition.

 

Virtually the only proper nouns in the early screenplay are: Cajun, Jean Latour, Avery Island, Houston, Texas and — debatably — Mon Dieu.    In the final production Alexander Napoleon Ulysses Latour is introduced in a single long name made up of four significant parts. In the original it seems that a shot of Avery Island rising 150 feet above the marshlands around it  will be central to establishing the look of the film and in the final film there is little if any visual reference to this isolated and elevated prominence.Cajun and Jean Latour exist in both and Texas finds its way into the film.  But Jean Latour is an old Cajun in the first concept and while he is certainly not a young father he is not particularly old in the final film. The boy carries magic salt and a frog with him in the final film to ward off werewolves. Werewolves and mermaids are not mentioned in the first concept. The idea of the werewolf and the mermaid will be revisited later in this chapter and again in the next but for now it suffices to say that they were added on location.

 

This plot transformation is not an entirely positive desirable on from the point of view of every Cajun.There is a humiliating  aspect to the boys use of these talismanic objects in the way he uses them for those Cajuns seeking to fit in a little better and not worse in American society and clearly they are not typical practices of Cajuns or Cajun trappers and were not in the mid 1940s or probably ever. On the other hand the magic salt seems to save the day. In the original the oilfield equipment is referred to as “the monster” and there is not great story about the giant alligator only the pet coon. In the final version the boy bravely avenges the perceived murder of his coon by hooking, landing and killing a giant gator. His inability to understand the oil industry is shifted more in the direction of his condescending to observe their odd behavior from his position as a master and being of the swamp. In this new version the boy master the blow out with magic and fights what was discussed as a giant alligator with grit and still boyish muscles. Yet he is afraid and anxious about werewolves who are not specifically said to become wolves but  are said to dance at night in his wilderness with red eyes and long noses.

 

There is an idea here that the boy is not a trifle and that some being greater or at least more dangerous than he is haunts his environs ar at least his imagined version of it. Something is or is imagined to be scarier than large alligators or drilling rigs close at hand. If one counts every time the boy touches his talismans as a reference to werewolves then there are many references to these creatures although they are scarcely noticed by most viewers. In the final version magic used against werewolves has not lost its effect when it transitions into the modern context of oil drilling. There is a mythopoeic feel to the whole which is not so odd in Flaherty’s work but is largely absent from the original concept. The magical cure-all the boy keeps with him at all time could remind one of HADACOL. That magic salt if it is a reference to HADACOL in anyone’s mind would also be a reference found on site from the real Cajun people.

 

So Robert Flaherty and Mrs. Flaherty establish contacts with Avery Island and the McIlhenny family early on. It turns out that the property is largely overseen and the operations on it largely administered by a Cajun who  does know how to trap and has done a great deal of it. He is also an experienced hand in the wetlands. They soon meet Lionel Leblanc themselves and  he is cast as the imagined Jean Latour. The struggle between the product of original imagination and the real Cajuns on the ground had begun.  Cajuns like Dudley Leblanc were sensitive to the many efforts to collect information and to communicate the Acadian tradition which in their view were openly hostile. Specifically the legislature of Nova Scotia had commissioned a sort of published archive of Acadian documents and letters related to their colony and there expulsion from it. The documents paid for were collected and edited by Thomas R, Akins between 1857 and 1869. The consensus based on the small archives preserved or supported by Acadians  made people in the ethnic community feel that his was a grossly biased and distorted collection of letter and documents intended largely to establish the claim of Nova Scotia to the land taken from the Acadians without compensation. For Cajuns this formed part of the seamless trial and horror that these Civil War years would produce in the end. In addition the years since 1915 had seen openly false, hostile and even absurd lesson plans make their way into the English only schools from time to time. All of this meant that Dudley Leblanc kept an eye out for people who  came in with a story to tell of their own in which the Cajuns were to be characters.    

 

Cajuns continued to wish for and actively seek good relationships with many different communities, However,   

 

If there was a meeting between Dudley Leblanc and Lionel Leblanc in these early days it has not yet emerged into the clear light of the kind of sources which provide the relative certainty and clarity of the best and even the average in professional academic historical writing. the next chapter deals with folklore and folkloristic evidence but it has pervaded all chapters to some degree and this one more than most. The fact is that those who know and are really part of the region can imagine numerous connections and excuses for contact between the two men and in addition there was a whole complex of cultural connections which joined them in the first place.  Leblanc had numerous contacts in the genealogical professionals and near professionals in the Cajun ethnic community. He could be pretty readily acquainted with all of the people who were are should be associated with the Grand Famille des Leblancs.   Lionel Leblanc was in a sense that would seem alien to many Americans at his time or this time Dudley Leblanc’s kinsman. In addition there were a limited number of highly visible and interesting places within his realm of greatest interest and influence in the  world which was Vermilion Parish and the rest of the Attakapas  and the Cajun prairies. One of those very interesting places was Avery Island and it was managed largely by a man he thought of as his kinsman. He had a good deal of respect for the McIlhenny operation but it was not a simplistic admiration. He saw plenty to value and admire in the mingled Avery and McIlhenny clans and their operations on the island a set of institutions and the accompanying values that sustained those institutions. That Lionel Leblanc had a good and constructive relationship with them was a fact which was worth something real to him. He had a great deal of awareness of the ways that the Cajun and Acadian identity and heritage had been contested for generations. He had spent a life working to preserve that heritage and he knew of numerous instances when there had been large and organized slander campaigns in the centuries since the expulsion and before. he had meetings and connections with people from virtually all parts of the Cajun and Acadian ethnic community.

 

While Flaherty had been working on an officially New York based film that was funded  and produced  by a French Canadian fur trading concern which became the stunning Nanook released to success and acclaim in 1922.  Leblanc was starting to organize a constituency. He had his honorable discharge and a university degree when he was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1924.  His greatest achievement in that office was that  in 1926,  the last year of that first term was that he wrote and introduced a bill to buy the land and begin the project that was at the time called Evangeline State park located near St. Martinville. Later in 1926 he was elected to the Public Service Commission and in that position he represented a third of the State of Louisiana. In 1927 he wrote his first book, The True Story of the Acadians secured his status across the larger Acadian ethnic community. In 1932 he took his First Official Visit of Louisiana Acadians to their Ancestral Homeland and on the way he and his large segment of officially uniformed women posed with President Hoover in front of the White House.   The Public Service Commission was considered a very good springboard to the governor’s mansion and in 1932 he ran and lost in the same year that saw Huey Long elected to the United States Senate and one of Long’s lieutenants in his political machine elected Governor of Louisiana. in the midst of that run and his defeat he edited, improved and published another version of his Acadians book also in 1932.  

 

He had a large network of people who were both connected with him and with other people and so he had a value to many of the enemies of the Long Machine even when his politics differed from theirs. In 1936 he took the Second Official Visit of Louisiana Acadians to their Ancestral Homeland and on the way to Grand Pre he stopped at the White House for a few photographs and some brief meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt and his administration.  In 1938 and 1939 he distributed a number of fine statues of St. Therese of Lisieux. In 1940 he was elected to the Louisiana State Senate to represent Vermilion Parish. That year the Food and Drug Administration began to investigate and harass him and he discontinued making the Dixie Dew Cough Syrup and Happy Day Headache Powders that were the principal source of his income. In 1941 while serving in the United States Senate he began to manufacture and distribute HADACOL. The commitment to innovative advertising set the product apart from the start. But at some level this writer has to address the fact that he was more than all of these things. Some time in 1943 the first Roy Stryker researchers or photographers made their first forays into Acadiana.  It is not all that improbable that Dudley Leblanc was aware of these forays before anything much had developed from those early days of the SONJ  project under Roy Stryker. Stryker was of course confronting the demands of a project that embraced not only the oil producing regions of the United States of America although that has been most often mentioned in this text  by way of comparing the work to the work done by the New Deal agencies. The truth is that they were already envisioning shooting around most of the oil producing regions of the world especially once the Allied victory that they hoped would come had come. The size of this project was vast and the commitment to Acadiana was a tiny part of it. However, the filming of Louisiana Story puts the Acadiana region in a category of its own.   Stephen Plattner’s book on Roy Stryker and this Project gives a sense of the scope of this project and the qualities and experiences that made Roy Stryker the man in charge of this vast enterprise.

 

Dudley Leblanc never met Roy Stryker but he too had many concerns of his own.  Beyond his public curriculum vitae were the countless interactions within the culture as a whole which formed the very fabric of life he was trying preserve.  The Cajun ethnic community was deeply committed to making life and culture work as Americans at this very time, There had been an impulse after World War One to both restore Acadian heritage and also become more integrated into the culture of the United States as a whole. That had been the struggle which had defined much of Dudley Leblanc’s life. He could see that the new postwar era might offer even greater opportunities.  The same year that the SONJ project got started Harnett Kane’s Bayous of Louisiana came out in its 1843 Victory  Edition which turned a nicely designed book with photographs and drawings into something that felt a little cheap because the wartime paper conservation protocols were observed. The book was not the best or the worst treatment of the Cajuns, Acadiana and the other peoples with whom they shared the region. But it was highly accessible to the people working the project. It is likely the Flaherty’s had both read the book when they were approached by Stryker and it is certain that several of the photographers had read it when they started shooting.   To a significant degree it was this book’s version of Acadiana and this book’s version of the Cajuns which the people on Standard Oil’s  payroll came to shoot.  They will still go back to it and in some ways there experience would always be in a conversation with that text.  But for example the book may not have a sufficient clarity about the Cajun house to make it clear what a Cajun house is but it has some helpful information and in some ways the understanding of the photographers who worked the region and had read the book seems clearly inferior to the understanding embodied in the book itself.

 

Harnett T. Kane was vastly more knowledgeable about rural Louisiana and about its French heritage than many or most writers of the time. He had some real Cajun friends and while that is dismissed as the catch-all excuse of all bigots today the truth is that it makes a vast difference over not having any friends in the community one describes. Kane could read and speak a bit of French and knew some educated leaders of the Cajun community. Despite all of those qualities and attributes Kane was as almost always was the case after 1915s outlawing of the French language and bilingual public schools more or less a bigot. At least he was what could only seem a bigot to many Cajuns. However, he was not nearly as intentional a bigot as many and  although there are a handful of error and falsehood in the book it is mostly a matter of confused context and misunderstanding. A lot of the controversial information is true enough but like the elements in treatment of those elements is simply confused where it would mean the most.

 

One of those cultural elements is dueling which continued to exist in Prairie Cajun communities in 1943 and perhaps afterwards.However the knife fighting duel in an unconcealed list by two men biting on different end of a single bandana  was certainly the least classy expression of a practice Americans already found objectionable. But it was an easier kind of dueling than others for a reporter and an outsider to track down because it was more in the province of those who had the least to lose by being discovered.  All duels in Acadiana’s Cajun communities are different than mere street fights in that they were developed in a system of ritual confrontation which limited fatalities however deadly they might appear to be this had been the case for centuries. There were few fatalities relative to the number of challenges in all  Southern dueling before the Civil War as is shown in Kenneth S. Greenberg’s book Masters and Statesmen.  Dueling in 1943 meant gathering a group of people for extra-legal violent activity. That has some relevance perhaps to scary beings that might or might not gather in the swamps near a trapper’s cabin at night.

 

Longfellow’s poem was part of the Cajun heritage in which Dudley Leblanc and all the other still found an attachment to both their traditions and to the United States. The folklorisitic traditions of the spoken tale in the Acadian villages before the expulsion are summarized in the following few lines:

 

Ripe in wisdom was he, but patient, and simple, and childlike.
He was beloved by all, and most of all by the children;
For he told them tales of the Loup-garou in the forest,        
And of the goblin that came in the night to water the horses,
And of the white Létiche, the ghost of a child who unchristened
Died, and was doomed to haunt unseen the chambers of children;
And how on Christmas eve the oxen talked in the stable,
And how the fever was cured by a spider shut up in a nutshell,        
And of the marvellous powers of four-leaved clover and horseshoes,
With whatsoever else was writ in the lore of the village.

The Loup-garous are werewolves, All of this folklore is coming through a lense or two of the perceptions of Longfellow who had heard the basic story from a student at Harvard and had further educated himself by collecting  a good bit of published and primary unpublished material before writing his epic poem. Here the werewolves are clearly merely a literary motif in the spoken folk tales of the village and are not intended to represent any very specific underlying reality. Although Longfellow allows for a little ambiguity. He tells of men and dogs out among the wolves in the colonies wilderness places. Depending on whether one sees the word “wolfman” or lycanthrope inits various forms as being a word related to words like cowboy, horseman and fisherman. If one sees the folklore from that point of view then Longfellow’s shepherds of Acadie have a chance to be familiar with wolves.

 

In the same poem he mentions people lurking on the edges of the colonies watching for an English invasion. In the next chapter we will discuss whether in all these disparate elements there is a suggestion of something essential to the Cajun culture. Perhaps something like dueling may have existed in the atmosphere in the 1940s which influenced the final development of Louisiana Story in its released and exhibited form.

 

The next chapter will attempt to deal with those other aspects of his life more directly but suffice it to say that Dudley Leblanc lived a life very much at the heart of the Cajun ethnic community. He was also very much at the  heart of the Leblanc family network. He definitely had many connections with Lionel Leblanc that went beyond any of his connections with these projects or with the public offices he held or businesses in which he was involved. In addition, the road between Abbeville and Avery Island ran near his Erath home and only full-fledged official residence. The chances for him to meet with Lionel were almost too numerous too count as this other Leblanc made this trip many times during the filming year.    

 

Dudley Leblanc had the opportunity to review his files, the SONJ people had not come into Vermilion Parish with great stealth.  They were not shooting any of the film at Evangeline State Park on any large scale but rather mostly at Avery Island and a few other locations. They did not make a clear public case for why they were portraying the Cajuns at all. He could go through his files on the founding of the State Park and his research files for creating a more complete living history site there in the future.  He could peruse the copies of his two versions of the book about the Acadians. He could go through his correspondence with the Herbert Hoover and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administrations when he set up the White House visits and Presidential Photo-Ops with his pilgrims from Acadiana to Acadie.  The women from each Acadiana community on the trips were lined up in front of the White House dressed in a representation of traditional Acadian costume.    He could look at the photographs and the documents associated with these and many other projects.  He could speak with those who assisted him in finding old unpublished papers.

  

The basis of any understanding of what happened in this  period of Acadiana’s interaction with the Standard Oil projects has to start with the written word. But the  right texts are not always easy to find. They are not always easy to find nor is it clear what books and texts were determinative in setting out the vision that was developed. In addition “writing with light” is the closest literal translation of the compounded words behind the word photography and it is important to remember that  the language of visual imagery somes into play on its own and in its own right. But Dudley Leblanc surely was very much aware of the legislation he had written for the Evangeline State Park, in his twice released book about the Acadians and in his  plans for various groups and organizations that he had worked with under the umbrella of his position as  President of the Association of Louisiana Acadians in the late twenties and the early thirties.

 

At the time of this writing there is a Jean Lafitte National Park near Lafayette that honors Cajun culture in amny ways at a site called Vermilionville. However his Evangeline State park Legacy has changed a bit over time here is a 2016 description on the park’s website:

 

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site explores the cultural interplay among the diverse peoples along the famed Bayou Teche. Acadians and Creoles, Indians and Africans, Frenchmen and Spaniards, slaves and free people of color-all contributed to the historical tradition of cultural diversity in the Teche region. French became the predominant language, and it remains very strong in the region today.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1847 epic poem Evangeline made people around the world more aware of the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia and their subsequent arrival in Louisiana. In this area, the story was also made popular by a local novel based on Longfellow’s poem, Acadian Reminiscences: The True Story of Evangeline, written by Judge Felix Voorhies in 1907.

Once part of the hunting grounds of the Attakapas Indians, this site became part of a royal French land grant first used as avacherie, or cattle ranch. The first Acadians to settle in Louisiana established themselves here, on the banks of Bayous Teche and Tortue, on the edges of this vacherie.

When the grant was sold and subdivided, this section was developed as an indigo plantation. In the early 1800s, Pierre Olivier Duclozel de Vezin, a wealthy Creole, acquired this property to raise cotton, cattle, and eventually, sugarcane. He built the Maison Olivier, the circa 1815 plantation house which is the central feature of Longfellow-Evangeline SHS. His son, Charles, made improvements to the home in the 1840s. The structure is an excellent example of a Raised Creole Cottage, a simple and distinctive architectural form which shows a mixture of Creole, Caribbean, and French influences.

A reproduction Acadian Farmstead is situated along the bank of Bayou Teche. The Farmstead is an example of how a typical single-family farm would have appeared around 1800. The site includes the family home with an outdoor kitchen and bread oven, slave quarters and a barn. In the pasture located adjacent to the barn, there are cattle typical of those raised by the Creoles and Acadians at that time.

In 1934, the property became the first park of the Louisiana State Parks system. In 1974, Maison Olivier was designated a National Historic Landmark.

 

One of the many facts that is simply not taught  or studied is that the Louisiana State park system was founded out of the struggle and labor of the  Acadian ethnic experience.  The other fact about the park is that its central focus on the Acadian experience has been clearly diluted. There are many different kinds of writing of course. Dudley Leblanc’s best efforts  at writing lay in the future when he would write and publish The Acadian Miracle.

 

The full story of how the screenplay was transformed is complicated at the least. It includes notes made and shared by Helen Van Dongen, correspondence  between the filmmakers and Standard Oil or Roy Stryker.It involves shared conversations about Harnett Kane’s book. But in the end the place they had chosen and the relatively powerful engines of creation for a locally acceptable understanding of the region and its people also had some influence over what ended up on the screen.

 

One of Dudley Leblanc’s  favorite passages from Longfellow’s favorite poem was:

 

Thus dwelt together in love these simple Acadian farmers,—
Dwelt in the love of God and of man. Alike were they free from
Fear, that reigns with the tyrant, and envy, the vice of republics.
Neither locks had they to their doors, nor bars to their windows;        
But their dwellings were open as day and the hearts of the owners;
There the richest was poor, and the poorest lived in abundance.

 

The next chapter will deal with some of the possible and competing ideals of Acadian culture, it was clear that Dudley Leblanc was a man with an economic and socio-economic vision informed by his Cajun heritage. In the next chapter we will get to the more contentious elements of that vision. But many Cajuns in Vermilion Parish and elsewhere  believe that the achievements of Acadie in early colonial America are not enough appreciated. Louisiana Story is not perfect  as a portrayal of Cajun culture but the evidence does suggest that there was some transformation of the presentation which Cajun culture received in the film.

 

Here in Vermilion Parish Flaherty and Stryker would come into contact with a culture deeply concerned about the endless struggle for a more honest and competent portrayal of its image. However,  they would be more likely to tolerate an account that was unduly flattering over one that was unduly embarrassing. The Boy in the film kills  the alligator out of revenge and that also developed on site. Revenge is a big theme of Cajun culture. However, forgiveness and forbearance are also part of the culture. But avenging his pet raccoon is not so absurd a motivation for a Cajun boy to espouse. But one thinks that the questions of cultural awareness and portrayal were not those of an ethnologist confronting a pristine culture. The transformation of the screenplay reflects to some degree the location of the work in a place where the culture was understood in an autonomous  and local intellectual framework and was presented in an  up to date manner  to anyone seeking information and was being promoted as such a basis for cultural identity allows a culture to be promoted…    

 mmmmm
 5

 

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.   

 

An Election in the Days of Advent and Christmas 2014

Happy Advent! Christmas is approaching and today as the final election between Bill Cassidy and Mary Landrieu takes place both politics and liturgical seasons are on my mind.  There is a lot of Christmas and Advent in this post and also some politics.  This post is mostly written and prepared before the final results are in and I predict Cassidy will win. Landrieu beat him in the primary and I voted for her, I voted for Cassidy in this election and sent him some money after first explaining in a post in a campaign site some of my concerns.  I did not want Cassidy to win in the Primary but I do want him to win now. He should do so because Maness was mostly to his right and Maness voters will vote far more for him than Landrieu. The wonder of Christmas and Advent’s time leading up to it have a place in my thinking about everything including today’s election.  I live my life in the context of these seasons of the Church, life and culture. Notwithstanding the nature of this blog, it might serve me well to devote this post solely to  the election. We all know that we elect people into office in a certain time and place but maybe we do not think religious seasons have much to do with it. Advent and its target — Christmas remind us of the importance of parts of life that do not vary as much as electoral politics. Goals like peace on Earth, Goodwill to mankind, Glory to God, Justice and truth in human affairs and charity to the needy.

Mom with a Christmas tree in a previous year. Today she is scheduled to buy a tree.

Mom with a Christmas tree in a previous year. Today she is scheduled to buy a tree.

There is so much to cover in current events today. It is not a slow news day. Today, Luke Somers whose name sounds like mine and who like me has sometimes made his living with words and photographs was killed. Long in captivity with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula he was killed during a failed rescue attempt. That story deserves attention and you can learn some facts here. This happened after his family pleaded publicly for his life in a stirring video message.  NASA has returned to real heavy lift rocketry and that is very important in this blog.  The landfall of Typhoon Hagupit in the Philippines affects a country with importance to me, my family and the United States of America.  Beyond all that there is the race itself between Cassidy and Landrieu.  This race may well deserve a book and certainly the overall election cycle could use a lot of analysis. Knowing who voted for whom and why can shape our future.  Racial demographics alone could demand several good blog posts.

The voting booth remains a powerful part of our society.

The voting booth remains a powerful part of our society.

 

With all of that to do I should probably either ignore the current events of the day or pick a few of them or certainly leave out comments on Advent. But this is another . There are riots and protests sweeping the nation over Brown, Garner and police relations with the Black community. I have dealt with the issues of this election cycle  in previous posts found here, here and here. So here I can maybe afford to take a bit of a different view.

We all have images of what leadership should look like which are not simple portrayals of reality.

We all have images of what leadership should look like which are not simple portrayals of reality.

Last night I was at a large gathering made up of mostly voters and the election was never discussed. Advent was discussed, the Philippines, China, India and many other places. But not electoral politics. It was the Family Missions Company 18th Annual Members and Donors Dinner. I took some pictures and had one taken of me in front of the venue.  I know some people in the group are active in their parties.  But last night dealt with the issues that we all must face in different terms and in a different way. It was more the spiritual than the temporal side of our lives.

Me in a shoy by one of the proprietors on my phone as I walked into the Donors Dinner.

Me in a shot by one of the proprietors on my phone as I walked into the Donors Dinner at Magdalene Place.

In the coming days there will be  more to blog about in the political world. But one notable fact about this election of the next United States Senator from Louisiana is that the election is  being held on December 6. The sixth of December fall square into Advent.  Lord Hylton my sometimes correspondent, wrote a post on Advent in the House of Lords blog and my comments on it can be found here. Lord Hylton serves in the upper house of the British legislature which is Parliament. Our election is for the upper house of our legislature which is Congress. Where is America to find the answers to the struggles it faces? I am fairly sure the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be a big part of the foundation for a useful discussion in this country even if not in every country.  But this idea is increasingly out of sync with our laws and procedures as a society. The Senate ought not be a Church but neither should it be a faith-free institution.

America faces many challenges in this its own country and in the world. It faces huge challenges over time. How will those challenges be met. In the observance of Advent we remember in abbreviated symbols each of the challenges  of the Old Covenant before the coming of Christ. We ought then to be prepared to face our own challenges better and to better celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ. One of the things that emerges in my comment on Lord Hylton’s post is the shift of power and wealth from the Eastern Mediterranean to the West. These issues and facts across history continue to affect us in many ways beyond Advent or even religion. An example of some of those issues can be seen here for those who wish to think about the issues.

But of course most of our lives are sufficiently challenged with current problems we need not look through much of a historical lens to feel that we can understand. we confront these issues in charitable ventures, private enterprises, family and in politics.  It is the same world where all these things are working and aspects of our lives connect. So it is Advent as we elect this Senator. Part of my experience this Advent was attending the Family Missions Company Donors Dinner on the evening of the fifth of December. I have discussed this briefly and could say more.

A picture I took of my table at the Donors Dinner

A picture I took of my table at the Donors Dinner

Today Family Missions had a Swamp Games Celebration. I got a few pics of that but did not participate directly. Like a lot of other things this event is a celebration which may evolve into something more in future years. It has a bouncy castle for children this year and a course laid out with available objects inspired by The experience of my brother Joseph, my brother-in-law Kevin and others in participating in the Warrior Dash this year. It seemed  like a pretty cool event. There are also barbecues and Advent prayers going on.

The course and the racers were visible from most sides of my home. This is across the back fence and some family land.

The course and the racers were visible from most sides of my home. This is across the back fence and some family land.

The home team of my brother, brother -in- law and nephew among others seem to have defended their honor and turf fairly well against all comers in this friendly competition among various parts of the company. We call an election a race and there are similarities between the two things.  How hostile should an election be?  What is the line between political conflict and civil war? This is a big shift in Congress. America’s future is not so clear in various respects. Cassidy will probably win. But whoever wins the Senator will have to face the Lame Duck  Congress in their old job and then a whole new set of challenges in the time after this Christmas.  I hope all my readers who can vote will. But I also hope we will remember that there is more to this time of the year than our politics.

The Church near the Donors Dinner last night.

The Church near the Donors Dinner last night.

We all have struggles ahead of us to keep a good Christmas. They vary from person to person.  But these lifelong concerns matter just as much as the political events of this time and this set of issues. O come Emmanuel! May you all soon have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year! But for now may you find life a bit more reflective and worth waiting for than usual. I hope the values of patience and reflection fins some good place in our Senate as well.