"Texas, by God"
and the
Martha Fanning
Sat Dec 22, 2018 10:44

By W. T. Block
As early as 1777, a British Admiralty map identified the Calcasieu River as the "Calcatchouk," the domain of the Attakapas Indian chieftain, Calcasieu or "Crying Eagle." The region won special notoriety in 1806 when General Simon Herrerra of Spanish Texas and American General James Wilkinson of Louisiana designated that frontier sector as the "Neutral Strip," an area to remain free by mutual consent of the military occupation or law enforcement of either nation. And very quickly, the social outcasts of both nations, particularly the survivors of the old John Murrell gang of Natchez Trace bandits, sought a refuge from justice there. It was to such dregs of humanity that piracy appealed most and among whom the Barataria Bay and Galveston Island corsair, Jean Lafitte, would enlist most of his buccaneers. Lafitte was to leave a tremendous legacy of legendry and, supposedly, treasure sites as well along the Calcasieu River, Contraband Bayou, and the Barb Shellbank (also known as "Money Hill"). In fact, as late as Civil War days, many of his ex-pirates, among them Capt. Arsene LeBleu, Henry Perry, Pierre Guilotte, Henri Nunez, and Jean Baptiste Callistre were still living in that region.
The "Strip's" southern extremeity is marked by endless miles of seemingly impassable marsh, which in Civil War days, were filled with high sea cane. The swamp region is interspersed by two rivers, three tidal lagoons (Calcasieu, Grand, and White Lakes), many moss-draped, cypress-lined bayous, and numerous live oak-studded "cheniers," or long marsh ridges, noted for the extreme richness of their alluvial soils. (In fact, the writer's uncle often jested that the Johnson's Bayou cheniers would make good fertilizer for the entire state of Texas). The principal Civil War settlements built along the coastal ridges were Johnson's Bayou, a notorious hotbed of Union sympathizers near Sabine Lake; Leesburg (now Cameron), where other Unionists resided at the mouth of the Calcasieu; and Grand Chenier, located near the mouth of the Mermentau (but until 1870 a part of Vermilion Parish). And this region near Grand Chenier was to become the lair of the Mermentau "Jayhawkers," a band of 200 mounted draft dodgers, bushwhackers, cattle thieves, runaway slaves, and Confederate deserters from Texas and Louisiana. Texas deserters soon learned they could hide out quite easily in the Calcasieu marshes and forests.

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