Heading West
May 11, 2004
Rhea's Journal 13

From the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge we headed west through a canopy of oak trees to Grand Chenier, which in French means big oak grove. Grand Chenier today is a mix of residences, oil tank farms, pumping stations and shrimp boats. But Grand Chenier has a colorful history. At one point the Sea Island Cotton Farm grew long staple cotton here that was used to make strong canvas for airplane wings. This was the only place this type of cotton was grown. In 1908 Crowley rice farmers built a dam that caused farming and grazing lands to flood at Grand Chenier. Twelve very unhappy citizens banded together, dressed in black and one night dynamited the dam.

Originally the Attakapas Indian tribe settled this area but they completely vanished before the first white settlers arrived. Many of these first settlers came down the Mermentau River in skiffs in search of better grazing land for their cattle. Once they located the land they paddled back upstream, tore down their small frame houses, loaded up the materials from the house on a raft, and floated the raft to the Mermentau and then down to the bayou land they had chosen. They then selected a site, and with the help of one or two friends reconstructed their home. Then they brought their families to settle. It sure makes house hunting today sound easy.

Many of these early settlers had 12 and 13 children and their descendents still occupy the same land today. In many of the settlements, Grand Chenier, Chenier Perdue, Little Chenier, Creole, Oak Grove, and Pecan Island you still find the names of the original settlers. They have had to contend with hardships we can't even imagine, and isolation, diseases, flooding, hurricanes and now erosion and land loss, but they have stayed and would not want to live anywhere else.

After exploring these communities we took a detour to Rutherford Beach. I had read of rare birds being spotted there. It is remote and quiet with maybe 20 camps built up on pilings. We decided to take our morning walk on the beach. We walked about a mile down the beach without seeing another soul. At the end of the mile we encountered a barbed wire fence running across the beach and all the way to the water. We wondered who had the right to fence off a section of public beach. Heading back to the highway we saw families crabbing along the many waterways.

Back on the highway we pasted a pond with many Snowy Egrets nesting around the edges. Not a mile down the road is a huge helicopter base shuttling people back and forth to the oilrigs in the gulf. Somehow nature and industry are surviving together.