Informer: Corps booklet recounts Bayou Chene history

By By Andrew Perzo / American Press

I would like to know about the former Bayou Chene community, which they had to abandon because of flooding. Where can I find information about it?

You can read this column, and then you can go online and read “Bayou Chene: The Life Story of an Atchafalaya Basin Community,”

from which the information below was taken.

The booklet, published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1999, outlines the history of the Bayou Chene settlement, which,

as the reader suggests, fell victim to repeated bouts of flooding.

Additionally, the booklet — based in part on interviews with two dozen or so former residents of the area — lists several

other sources of information on the settlement and on those who lived and worked elsewhere in the basin.

Bayou Chene and the area around it were, of course, first settled by Indians, in this case the Chitimacha. But their numbers

— about 3,000 in the late 1600s, the booklet says — dwindled after protracted warfare between the tribe and the French in

the early decades of the 18th century.

Whites began settling in the region in

small numbers in the late 1700s and early 1800s, thanks in part to

drover routes cattlemen

had established through the Atchafalaya Basin in the intervening


“By 1841, at least 16 planters were

homesteading along Bayou Chene, Bayou Crook Chene and Bayou de Plomb,”

the booklet reads.

“The first claims of land in the Bayou Chene area were registered

with the U.S. government in June 1848, and nearly all the

tracts in the vicinity were claimed by the end of September 1848.”

The 1850 census counted 41 households comprising 277 people in Bayou Chene — most of them free people of color and slaves.

By 1860, the settlement had a post office and a population of nearly 700 people, mostly plantation slaves.

People began deserting Bayou Chene over the next several years as flooding and raids by Union forces made life more difficult.

The post office closed in 1866 and stayed shuttered for 10 years.

By that time the settlement had

rebounded and was home to about 450 people. Over the next

quarter-century, first blacks and

then most of the Acadian families moved away, leaving the

settlement peopled mostly by whites from the North and other Southern


“The golden age of Bayou Chene may have been the period from the introduction of the internal combustion boat motor before

1907 to the disastrous 1927 flood. ...,” the booklet reads.

“The small early single-cylinder, two-horsepower engines greatly increased the range of fishermen or independent loggers.

... The inboard engines were installed in what French-speakers called a bateau and English-speakers called a ‘joe boat.’ ”

Residents made their living, in part,

by fishing, hunting, trapping and gathering Spanish moss, which was used

to stuff upholstery.

Many of them later landed jobs with the Army Corps of Engineers

during the Great Depression, helping build levees and dredge

the basin.

But despite residents’ tenacity in adapting to the ever-changing conditions — living in houseboats, girding the area with

earth, building homes atop spoil banks — eventually the floodwaters won out.

“On December 24, 1952, the Bayou Chene community symbolically came to an end with the closing of the U.S. Post Office,” the

booklet reads.

“Virtually all remaining residents left Bayou Chene soon after. Former Bayou Chene residents clustered in New Iberia and St.

Martinville to the west of the basin and Bayou Sorrel and Plaquemine to the east, as well as several other communities.”



The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098, press 5 and leave voice mail, or email