I'm a Louisiana girl who's lived all over our beautiful state. My grandmother got me hooked on genealogy. Since she'd taken care of my father's side of the family tree, I tackled my mother's side. My mother's family came to Louisiana via France via Acadia.
I spent Easter weekend in Shreveport, where I saw the Oscar-winning Coda, visited the auditorium where a young Elvis Presley forged his musical career, met my youngest nephew (he screamed every time I tried to hold him), drove through a historic cemetery and ate pastries, ham, turkey, fish and chips, a shrimpbuster (it’s a Shreveport thing), salmon, loaded potatoes, hot cross buns and God’s knows what else. I’m never eating again as soon as I finish this bag of Skinny Pop.
But back to the cemetery … I love visiting cemeteries, and Oakland Cemetery in downtown Shreveport is a must for history buffs. It’s the oldest, existing cemetery in Shreveport and sits on the outskirts of downtown. It’s not in the best part of town -although it’s directly across from Municipal Auditorium – so it’s best to bring a friend with you and visit during broad daylight. Just be aware of your surroundings.
Oakland is the final resting place of multiple mayors, at least four congressmen, an ambassador, yellow fever victims, a madam, Martha Washington’s great-great granddaughter and the first Shreveport police officer killed in the line of duty. You’ll also find members of Shreveport’s founding families here. The cemetery is no longer in the business of burying people so it’s very much a tribute to the past.
The Smith family’s plot caught my eye on a recent visit. I decided to find out who they were.
The patriarch of this plot was Joseph B. Smith, who died in 1889 at age 58. Known as J.B. Smith, he was born in Kentucky but moved to Shreveport as a young man. He went into the pharmacy business under his brother. Eventually, he and a partner opened their own hardware store in downtown Shreveport.
Smith prospered in Shreveport. The business flourished and he built a handsome home to accommodate his wife and their five sons. His death was sudden and relatively unexpected. He’d been feeling poorly for a few weeks but had seemed to rally until he suddenly came down with congestion and died minutes later. This is according to The Shreveport Times, which described him as clear-headed, cautious and painstaking.
It appears that Smith’s wife, Mary, took over the family business. She hastened to assure the good people of Shreveport that the hardware business would continue.
Mary, who was 15 years younger than J.B., would outlive him by more than three decades. She is also buried at Oakland although her marker is much more modest. Instead of a monument reaching toward the sky, she’s remembered with a simple marker set in the ground. It seems fitting that the headline for her news obit simply summarized her as the widow of a prominent businessman (who had been dead for 43 years).
Near Mary is her son Leon Rutherford, who was just 14 when his father died. Leon got a grand marker with a wreath and tribute in stone, perhaps because he died rather tragically.
Remember on Downton Abbey when Lavinia rather conveniently died from the Spanish flu, paving the way for Mary to wed her true love and stay in her childhood home? There was nothing convenient about Leon’s death, but he did die from the Spanish flu that was sweeping Shreveport at the time. In fact, the flu was so feared that the family skipped a church funeral and just did services at the grave.
Like I said, Leon was just 14 when his father died. He’d been away at school but he came home to help with the family business. Leon explored a lot of interests before landing on a career. He worked for a jeweler and a bank and ultimately decided to go to law school. He went into practice with a former governor.
From the law, it was a natural move into politics. Leon first served on the School Board before winning election to the Louisiana Legislature. It was at a speech that he likely caught the Spanish flu. He developed pneumonia and died two weeks later at his home on Fairfield Avenue.
Leon is one of two of J.B. and Mary Smith’s children who is buried at Oakland (the rest of their sons are at another Shreveport cemetery). The other is Joseph Bruce Smith, who died in 1942. It appears that Joseph, who was a real estate agent, never married.
When I saw this grave at St. Patrick’s in Gibson last weekend, the vase was empty. I studied the name on the marker – Father Tayler Clement – and thought he must have been a priest. I imagined he’d come to this little bayou town from a far-flung place, ministered to the largely Catholic population, died and was buried here goodness only knows how many miles from home. So I gifted his grave with a bouquet of Dollar Tree flowers.
Someone tell me to stop making assumptions.
It turns out that “Father” Clement was a married man whose news obit focused more heavily on his widow’s insurance payment than on his actual death. Still, the newspaper characterized him as popular.
Mr. Clement married Orsena Faucheux in 1895, just five years before his death. They had a summer wedding.
And that’s all I know about Mr. Clement. At least I now know that he wasn’t a priest.
Get out your poodle skirts and hula hoops! The 1950 Census is here!!!
I’ve yet to find my Hebert grandparents on the bayou in Assumption Parish, but I did find my Texas-born grandfather at Tarleton State College in Erath, Texas. They even spelled his last name right, which is a small miracle.
After writing a blog entry about Highland Cemetery in Baton Rouge, I discovered a hiccup in the research. It’s unclear which cemetery resident met his end when he came home from the Civil War, tossed his cap on the bedpost and was killed by a stray bullet that ricocheted off his cap while he napped.
There are two candidates: Charles Daniel Comeaux and Albert Florestan Aucoin. A newspaper article cites Comeaux as the unfortunate napper. A history website says it was Aucoin. Since Aucoin died in 1863 and Comeaux in 1850, all signs point to Aucoin. However, I was curious as to the origin of this story. Could it be proven with source material from the era? Let’s dive in.
Albert was the eldest child of Florentin and Elizabeth Verdeau Aucoin. According to a story posted to Ancestry, he was killed during the siege of Port Hudson in 1863 and buried at Highland Cemetery.
A newspaper account from 1863 backs up the battlefield death.
Now, I suppose it’s possible that he carried a four post bed with him to the battlefield and was taking a nap in his comfortably furnished tent – and not charging into battle – when he died. However, that seems a tad unlikely.
I’ll keep digging. File this one under “unsolved.”
Highland Cemetery isn’t one of those flashy graveyards with giant mausoleums or serene statues. The graves here are crumbling and lie tucked away in a neighborhood near the roar of Tiger Stadium. The veterans buried here tend to have fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. By the time the Civil War swept into Louisiana, Highland Cemetery had been forgotten.
Today, the cemetery soldiers on with the help of history enthusiasts who are giving it the due it deserves as Baton Rouge’s oldest cemetery. The cemetery sits on the Highland Ridge, an area settled by Germans and Acadians through Spanish land grants (according to a helpful sign in the cemetery). The settlers’ surnames included Adams, Anglehart, Babin (related!), Daigre (related!), Garig, Hillen, Landry (related!), Kleinpeter (as in the dairy people, I assume) and Sharp (as in Sharp Road, I assume).
The cemetery dates to 1813, when a landowner named George Garig gave a piece of his property to the community. This was common for settlers with an abundance of land. People had to be buried somewhere, and George had all that property and he wasn’t even farming all of it (which is how I’d imagine the gentle prodding went). The fact that it wasn’t consecrated must have weighed on George’s mind because less than a decade later he asked the Catholic Church to take ownership of the cemetery. In 1825, George would be laid to rest in the now consecrated cemetery that he carved out for the community.
Although technically owned by the Catholic Church, the little cemetery was always too far from the nearest place of worship to be tended to or even used much by the church. The cemetery was a family affair with relatives and friends attending to the loved ones buried there.
The cemetery’s religious issues didn’t end with Garig’s death. Half of his plantation was purchased by a Protestant named Robert Penny. Penny took a piece of land adjacent to the cemetery and turned it into a Protestant cemetery since it wouldn’t do to get buried in land consecrated for Catholics. Now a corner of the cemetery is known as the Protestant section.
Newspaper articles reveal other notables buried in the cemetery:
Josephine Favrot, whose sweetheart, Louis de Grand Pre, who was the only casualty when the Fort of Baton Rouge fell in 1810. Josephine never married and became a poet.
Jean Baptiste Kleinpeter, who served with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.
Charles Daniel Comeaux, who had the great misfortune of flinging his cap onto his bedpost after coming home from the battle at Port Hudson. A stray bullet hit the cap, ricocheted and killed him while he slept.
A huge change for the cemetery came in the 1920s, when the College Town neighborhood was built. Someone conveniently forgot to include the cemetery on the subdivision plans. Of the 280 people buried in the cemetery, 100 are underneath a sprawling house.
A 1940 survey map shows the cemetery is half the size it was nearly a century ago. The cemetery once stretched all the way to Amherst Avenue. Oops.
Today, the cemetery is a pleasant place to spend a spring afternoon. There are benches for sitting, trees for shade and a gazebo for an impromptu concert. You can be Catholic or Protestant to enjoy the peace before venturing back into the insanity that is Baton Rouge traffic.
Here’s a list of burials and possible burials from the History Highland Cemetery Inc.:
Aubin, Aurelius Victorin, s/o Victorin, 1850 – 1885, no marker Aubin, Elizabeth, w/o Victorin, 1825 – 1858, no marker Aubin, Victorin, s/o Francois, 1825 – 1880, no marker Aucoin, Albert Florestin, C.S.A., s/o J. Florentin, 1821 – 1863, no marker Aucoin, J. Florentin, s/o Pierre Firmin, 1798 – 1847, no marker Aucoin, Julia Zeolide Doiron, w/o A.F., 1831 – ___, no marker Babin, Balthazar, s/o Gregoire, 1814 – 1884, no marker Babin, Martha Buckner, 1824 – 1884, w/o Balthazar, no marker Brackin, “Nettie” Brunetta Stokes, w/o Albert D., 1868 – 1894, no marker Buckner, George W., s/o Lewis, h/o Margaret Phillips, 1822 – 1855, no marker Buckner, Susannah, d/o Margaret Buckner, ? – 1857, no marker Comeaux, Charles Daniel, 1817 – 1892, no marker Comeaux, Charles Daniel, War of 1812, 1787 – 1850, no marker Daigre, Alfred Huguet, s/o Denis Daigre, Junior, 1880 -1891, no marker Daigre, Benjamin M., hsb/o Pauline Daigre, 1836 -1914, no marker Daigre, Carmelite Daigre, d/o Paul, w/o Olivier Francois, 1796 – 1855, no marker Daigre, Denis Olivier, s/o Olivier Francis, 1820 – 1875, no marker Daigre, Denis Olivier, Jr., 1853 – c1917, no marker Daigre, Genevieve Buckner, w/o Denis O., Sr. 1821 – ?, no marker Daigre, Gordon, s/o Benjamin M., ? – 1912, no marker Daigre, Josie Huguet, d/o John S. Huguet, 1860 – 1884, no marker Daigre, Mary Martha, d/o Denis & Genevieve, 1855 – 1858, no marker Daigre, Olivier Francois, s/o Francois, 1793 – 1843, no marker Daigre, Pauline Daigre, w/o Benjamin M., ? – 1886, no marker Daigre, Victor Templet, s/o Denis O. Sr., 1857 – ?, no marker Davis, Elizabeth Sharp, w/o Ersin Slaughter & Wm. Davis, ? – 1825, no marker Doiron, Henrietta Malvina, d/o J.V., 1847 – 1887, no marker Doiron, John Villeneuve, s/o John Remi, 1821 – 1879, no marker Duke, William Ensley, infant of Wiley, 7 mo., 1921 – 1921, no marker Duplantier, Armand Allard, Continental Army, War of 1812, 1753 – 1827, marker Duplantier, Augustin, s/o Armand, 1806 – 1860, no marker Duplantier, Constance Rochon, w/o John Joyce & Armand Duplantier, 1766 – 1841, marker Duplantier, Didier, s/o Armand, 1809 – 1834, marker Duplantier, Fergus, War of 1812, s/o Armand, 1783 – 1844, marker Duplantier, Guy, War of 1812, s/o Armand, 1790 – 1835, no marker Duplantier, Joseph, s/o of Alberic, 1844 – 1884, no marker Duplantier, Josephine Joyce, w/o Fergus, 1791 – 1859, marker Duplantier, Matilda Brown, 2nd w/o Alberic, 1844 – ?, no marker Duplantier, Nicholas Alberic, s/o Armand, 1806 – 1891, no marker Edmonston, Lillie E. Aucoin, w/o J. Walter, 1861 – 1893, no marker Favrot, (unnamed), s/o Louis, 1824 -1824, marker Favrot, Augustine Eulalie Duplantier, w/o Louis, 1799 – 1864, marker Favrot, Aurore, d/o Bouvier & Aurora, 1832 – 1911, marker Favrot, Eulalie Pulcherie, d/o Pierre, 1803 – 1846, no marker Favrot, Francoise Gerard, w/o Pierre, 1763 – 1842, marker Favrot, Henri Bouvier, s/o Pierre, War of 1812, 1799 – 1881, marker Favrot, Henry Neuville, s/o Bouvier, 1835 – 1847, marker Favrot, Josephine, d/o Bouvier, 1840 – 1913, marker Favrot, Josephine, d/o Pierre, 1785 – 1836, marker Favrot, Louis Stephen, s/o Pierre, War of 1812, 1788 – 1872, marker Favrot, Marie Aurora Villers, w/o Bouvier, 1809 – 1877, marker Favrot, Octavine, d/o Bouvier, 1848 – 1939, marker Favrot, Octavine C., d/o Pierre, 1795 – 1868, marker Favrot, Philogene Bernard, s/o Bouvier, 1845 – 1852, marker Favrot, Philogene Joseph, s/o Pierre, USA: War of 1812. 1791 – 1822 ( His government marker is mislabeled “T.R. Favrot”), marker Favrot, Pierre Joseph, Galvez Expedition of 1779, LA Legislature, 1749 – 1824, marker Foreman, John C., hsb/o Nancy Garig, 1806 – 1870, marker Foreman, John M., infant s/o Oscar H., 1862 – 1870, marker Foreman, John M., s/o John C. & Nancy, C.S.A., 1838 – 1905, no marker Foreman, Linda F., d/o Oscar H., 1863 – 1866, marker Foreman, Nancy Garig, d/o George Garig, w/o John C., 1812 – ?, no marker Foreman, Oscar Heady, Jr., 1868 – 1872, marker Foreman, Oscar Heady, Sr., 1833 – 1905, no marker Foreman, Therese Addie Rowley, w/o Oscar H., 1840 – 1913, no marker Fortin, Adele Duplantier, w/o Joseph J.G. George Fortin, no dates, no marker Garig, George, s/o Adam, h/o Mary Barbara Thomas, ? – 1825, no marker Garig, Guilliame, s/o George, 1815 – ?, no marker Garig, Henrique, s/o George, 1798 – ?, no marker Garig, Juan, s/o George, 1795 – ?, no marker Garig, Maria, d/o George, 1801 – ?, no marker Germany, Aurelia Ann Foreman, w/o Henry James, 1833 – 1898, marker Hodges, Aurelius B., s/o I.B.A. Hodges, 1832 – 1854, marker Huguet, John Stephen, M.D., s/o Juan, C.S.A., 1825 – 1891, no marker Huguet, Mary Elvira Kleinpeter, w/o John S., 1832 – 1899, no marker Huguet, William Pike, s/o John S., 1852 – 1853, no marker Joyce, William, s/o John, c 1790 – 1846, marker fragment Kleinpeter, Andrew, s/o Joseph, 1801 – 1853, marker Kleinpeter, Benjamin Franklin, s/o John Bapt. & Rose, 1845 – 1858, memorial marker Kleinpeter, John Baptiste, s/o George, 1797 – 1861, no marker Kleinpeter, John J., infant s/o Andrew, 1847 -1847, marker Kleinpeter, John L., s/o Joseph, c 1797 – 1837, no marker Kleinpeter, Mary Rose Bouillion, w/o John Baptist, 1805 – 1878, no marker Kleinpeter, Oscar Andrew, s/o Andrew, 1844 – 1858, marker Kleinpeter, Zachary Pinckney, s/o Andrew, 1849 – 1857, no marker Lener, Mary, 1887 – 1888, no marker Lopez, Anna Euphemie, d/o Joseph Onieda, 1879 – 1884, no marker Lopez, Henri, s/o Joseph Onieda, 1875 – 1876, no marker Lopez, Joseph Onieda, s/o Joseph Adonis, 1845 – 1896, no marker Lundquest, William, no dates, no marker Lundquest, John, no dates, no marker Maurison, Mary V., 1871 – 1885, no marker McGehee, Ann Scott, d/o Abraham & Mary C., 1831 – 1836, marker McGehee, Mary C., 1809 – 1836, marker Neilson, Capt. John James, s/o James, U.S.A., ? -1813 at Baton Rouge Fort, no marker (1st husband of Pauline Gras) Neilson, James, h/o Elizabeth, f/o Capt. John, ? – 1831, no marker Parker, Nan Pecue, d/o John Pecue, w/o Mack Parker, no dates, no marker Pecue, (Picou, Picaud), John Baptiste Jr., h/o Odile & Victoria Aucoin, 1829 – 1905, no marker Pecue, Odile Elizabeth Aucoin, w/o John, 1835 – 1865, no marker Peniston, Anthony, hsb/o Euphemie Duplantier, c 1800 – 1826, marker Peniston, Euphemie Duplantier, w/o Anthony, 1804 – 1826, marker Penny, Matilda G., w/o Burns & Robert Penny, ? – 1846, no marker Penny, Robert H., s/o James, ? – 1849, no marker Phillips, Isabella Foreman, w/o Albert, no dates, no marker Phillips, Plaisant, Jr., 1838 – 1859, no marker Phillips, Plaisant, Sr., husb/o Elizabeth Babin, ? – 1845, no marker Phillips, Theodore, s/o Plaisant Sr., 1845 – 1861, no marker Piker, Fluvia, d/o John F., c 1864 – ?, no marker Piker, John F., s/o Frederick, 1817 – 1869, partial marker Piker, Mary C. Foreman, w/o John F., 1830 – 1903, memorial marker Pilant, George Zitzman, s/o Wm. Jr., 1912 – ca 1920, no marker Pilant, Sarah Clair, d/o Wm. Jr., 1909 – ca 1920, no marker Pilant, Marie Julia LeBlanc, w/o Wm. Sr., 1837 – 1920, no marker Pilant, William Sr., ? – 1899, no marker Randolph, Catherine Kleinpeter, w/o John, 1786 – 1847, marker Randolph, Ellen M. Smith, w/o George, 1834 – 1856, marker Randolph, John, s/o John, 1818 – 1856, marker Randolph, John, War of 1812, 1777 – 1837, marker Riviere, Anne Marie Renee Aime Douezan, w/o Jean Baptiste Riviere, 1766 – 1849, marker Roberts, Constance Kleinpeter, w/o Gilbert Comeaux & Stephen Roberts, d/o George Kleinpeter, ? – 1851, no marker Kleinpeter, George, ? – 1851, no marker Smith, Jacob, 1814 – 1857, no marker Smith, Mary Barbara Thomas, w/o Jacob, 1813 – 1872, no marker Staring, Kathryn J. Hillman, 1st w/o George H. Staring, 1870 – 1898, memorial marker Stokes, James, s/o William & Nettie, 1872 – 1903, marker Stokes, Sidney, s/o William & Nettie, 1878 – 1896, marker Stokes, William, s/o Alexander & Virginia, 1873 – 1912, C.S.A., marker Stokes, Willie F., s/o William & Nettie, 1870 – 1896, marker Thomas, Antoinette Caroline, d/o Jefferson P., ? – 1857, marker Thomas, Buffington J., s/o Jefferson P., no date, marker Thomas, Elizabeth, widow/o Benj. Parker Thomas, d/o Gen. Philemon Thomas, mother/o Jefferson P., ? – 1841, no marker Thomas, Florence, d/o Jefferson P., ? – 1857, marker Thomas, William E., s/o Jefferson P., no dates, marker Trousdale, Kleinpeter, Randolph, Mary Catherine, w/o Andrew Kleinpeter, 1822 – abt. 1874
Unconfirmed And Possible Burials
Aucoin, Elizabeth Verdon, w/o J. Florentin, no dates Bills, John A., husb/o Mary Garig, ? – 1841 Bills, Mary Garig, w/o John A., c. 1812 – 1860 Comeaux, Florestine Sylvannie Tullier, w/o Chas. D. Jr., 1825 – ? Comeaux, Mary Carmelite Hebert, w/o Chas. D. Sr. Daigre, Francis Paul, s/o Denis O. Daigre, Sr., 1850 – 1892 Daigre, Jean Baptiste Bouvier, s/o Olivier, c 1810 – 1840 Daigre, Mrs. Mary C., w/o Gilbert, ? – 1879 Davis, William, War of 1812, h/o Elizabeth Sharp, ? – c.1825 Doiron, Alzie Daigle, w/o Francis G., ? – c.1910 Duplantier, Marguerite Mary Lopez, w/o Augustin, 1815 – ? Edmonston, J. Walter, C.S.A., husb/o Lillie E. Aucoin Fulton, Helene de Grand Pre, d/o Gov. Carlos de Grand Pre, 1782 – 1855 Fulton, Col. Samuel, husb/o Helene, ? – c.1827 Garig, Elizabeth, d/o George & Mary B., c.1809 – ? Garig, George, s/o George & Mary B., 1807 – 1868, C.S.A. McDonald, Mary Barbara Thomas, w/o Joshua McDonald & Geo. Garig, 1777 – 1852 Neilson, Elizabeth, widow of James Neilson who d. 1831 Neilson, William, s/o James & Elizabeth, ? – c.1833, bachelor Parker, Mack, husb/o Nan Pecue Pecue, Victoria Coralie Aucoin, w/o John Pecue, 1842 – 1921 Penny, Marian A., d/o Robert & Matilda, c. 1840 – 1846 Penny, Ann W., d/o Robert & Matilda, 1835 – 1850 Penny, Lucy Ann, d/o Robert & Matilda, c 1839 – c 1846 Phillips, Elizabeth Babin, w/o Plaisant, Sr. Randolph, George, husb/o Ellen M. Smith, (m. 5-13-1852) Randolph, John, 17?? – 1822, father of John (1777 – 1837 ) Sharp, Joseph, husb/o Pauline Gras, Widow Neilson, ? – 1820 Sheppers, Pauline Gras, widow of Neilson & Joseph Sharp, w/o Louis Sheppers who survived her and m. Her sister, Olympia, 1796 – 1822 Thomas, Benjamin Parker, husb/o Elizabeth Thomas, son-in-law of General Philemon Thomas, 1782 – 1835 Thomas, Caroline E. Trager, w/o Jefferson Plummer Thomas, d/o John Trager & Julia Kleinpeter, c 1827 – c.1871 Thomas, Jefferson Plummer, grandson of General Philemon Thomas, s/o Benjamin Parker Thomas, father of 4 children buried in Highland
In 1717, Captain De Lauze died just a year after being commissioned for service in Louisiana, which belonged to France at the time. De Lauze didn’t die without setting his affairs in order. He left a will, bequeathing a pot of butter to the Jesuits. The rest of his estate was to go to his sister in France, which meant debts had to be settled and possessions sold.
Fortunately for his sister in France, there was a plan in place to drum up attention for the liquidation. Literally. A man named La Croix was hired to beat his drum and advertise the estate sale. Think of La Croix as a walking, beating billboard.
We know about La Croix the Drummer because he filed a receipt with De Lauze’s estate to be compensated for his labor. The request is part of a treasure trove of colonial documents scanned and put online by the Louisiana State Museum.
Wondering how much it cost to hire a drummer in colonial Louisiana? The answer is 10 livres. A livre was the equivalent of a pound of silver.
The museum holds the records for New Orleans’s French Superior Council (1714-1769) and Spanish Judicial Records (1769-1803). They tell the story of New Orleans’ infancy. And they’re helpfully indexed in English in case you don’t read Spanish and French.
You’ll find deaths, murders, slavery and pirates in these records.
Ah, the 1970s and 1980s. TG&Y still was in business with a never-ending stock of sea monkeys. K&B sold the best ice cream ever in rectangular boxes (or huge tubs if you were having a birthday party). TV stations signed off the air with the National Anthem. And newspapers weren’t the thin leaflet they are today. They had miles of pages to fill, my friend.
I wasn’t reading newspapers in the 1970s and 1980s, but I go back and look at them now. They contain a wealth of family research.
Newspapers had space for genealogy columns and long, meandering family history stories. If you wanted to share a story about Great Uncle Edgar, the local newspaper would find a home for it. If you wanted to share photos from the family album, all you had to do was drive your Pinto to the newspaper office. If you wanted to sell a family history that you’d typed up at the kitchen table while downing a Tab, well, the newspaper could oblige with free publicity.
Here’s the story of the Augeron family of Lockport courtesy of Monsieur Gros.
New Orleans’ mayor is in a bit of trouble for partying at Mardi Gras without a mask. That’s a no-no when you’re the person who put a citywide mask mandate in place.
In the 1800s, the mayor of New Orleans had different problems: Orphans.
It was the mayor’s job to keep track of the city’s orphans and dispose of them. Fortunately, there were plenty of orphanages because there were countless children, from day-old babies to delinquent adolescents, to place. I do wonder: Did people bring babies in baskets to the Mayor’s Office? Were misbehaving children marched into the Mayor’s Office?
You have to wonder what happened to 14-year-old Bertha Guth, who got herself sent to the House of Good Shepherd for robbing a house and trying to set fire to it in 1875. She’s one of the entries in a transcription of the mayor’s records published on the New Orleans Public Library’s website.
Children ended up in orphanages because their mothers died, their fathers disappeared – or in the case of a 2-month-old with no name referenced in the above image – they were left at a stranger’s house for a short span of time that stretched into weeks.
This is a story that starts with lunch on an October day and quickly turns sad. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Like a lot of Cajuns who tired of living hand to mouth, half brothers Joseph and Louis Bernard didn’t stay on the bayou where they were born. They found work as carpenters for the railroad in New Orleans.
On Oct. 2, 1928, they found a comfortable ledge in the yard of the railroad shed and tucked into their lunches. A switch engine backing a string of nine empty rail cars disrupted their meal. The brothers’ tools were on the tracks in the path of the switch engine.
It’s not clear which brother jumped down to retrieve the tools. All that’s known is the one who did slipped and fell – and his brother jumped onto the tracks to pull him to safety. The train was on top of them in a flash.
Joseph, who was 70, died immediately. Little brother Louis, who was 59, died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Their bodies were taken to the Catholic cemetery in Chacahoula for burial. Their markers are still there in the little bayou town.
Alas, I’ve been busy with work and home remodeling (don’t remodel … just take my advice blindly on this; it will mean working with men of few words who will silently judge you while you laboriously debate monumental decisions such as grout color) so I haven’t had much time for blogging.
However, since my husband keeps telling me the remodeling project is somehow “my thing,” I thought I’d shamelessly share a recent post making the Facebook history group rounds.
In 1930 a New Orleans newspaper proclaimed Blanche Leathers the “only woman licensed river pilot.” I think they meant she was the only woman licensed to be a river pilot, an elite group of people entrusted with guiding ships through Louisiana’s tricky waters.
Blanche wasn’t the only female river pilot of her day. But she was the only one who piloted a veritable floating mansion with plate glass windows, a piano and pretty drapery.
The story goes that Blanche was the daughter of a Tensas Parish cotton planter. In 1879, she was 16 and ready to party for Mardi Gras. She boarded a steamer for New Orleans, fell in love with the captain and married him. They honeymooned aboard the steamer, which also became their marital home.
Blanche’s husband, Captain Boling Leathers, would leave his wife in charge of the boat when he left to go ashore because he didn’t trust his crew. Eventually, she got a river pilot’s license. She would bring steamers down the sugar coast – as the stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans was called – with bales of cotton piled so high that you couldn’t see the lower decks.
Life on the river suited Blanche. Passengers included planters, politicians, gamblers and professional opera companies. The price of cabin passage included meals, which for lunch alone meant soup, chicken, roast, chops, vegetables by the dozen, salad, hot rolls, ice cream, cake and pies. It’s a wonder the passengers didn’t roll off the boat.
After 18 years on the river, Captain Blanche retired to New Orleans. A life of movies and shopping and motoring and bridge wasn’t for her. Soon she was back on the river for another stint as captain.
She piloted for a few more years and died in 1940 at age 79.