Wednesday, October 2, 2013

the evangeline country & historic st. martinville

The Evangeline Oak, right; Attakapas trading post, center;
spire of Catholic Church, background; Bayou Teche, foreground
Since the Rousseau Catahoula Inn is located "in the heart of the Evangeline counutry," the following pages are devoted to a brief history of the Teche Country, St. Martinville, and the local version of the true story of Evangeline, which appears in "Acadian Reminiscences," by Judge Felix Voorhies, a direct Acadian descendant.
The multifarious changes that have come to the Teche Country since that far distant day when Evangeline roamed its banks, seeking her lover of the north, serve but to enhance its peculiar natural beauty. Broad pastures and fields of green with wavering harvests of cane and corn, set in relief the diminished forests of live oak, magnolia and the flowering tangle of her day, while the sky and water and delicacy of land contour remain ever and immutably the same.

It is an ideal vacation land; the atmosphere seems laden with story and tradition; the landscape is a slice of fairyland. Looking past the corner of the old church manse, in the city of St. Martinville, one can get a glimpse of the oak under which the Acadian maiden is reputed to have rested, and the gleam of the waters of Bayou Teche, a stream of enthralling beauty.

Closing the eyes one can visualize the succession of people who have looked upon this land and found it ever, as now, entrancing: first, perhaps, the Toltecs pilgrimaging up in the winter from the hot Mexican plateaus; later the Indians, who have left to the district, with many curios and interesting mounds – a name, Attakapas. Then came the first white visitors. DeSoto, crossing the Mississippi in the quest for the waters of youth, penetrated the then wilderness, and the conquistadores of the Spanish Main. Some settlements were attempted and the remains of the old forts are scattered about from the Atchafalaya to the Mermentau rivers.

An Acadian descendant, posing as Evangeline,
at the Spinning Wheel on the banks of the Bayou Teche

The first permanent settlements were made about the year 1700 at St. Martinville and Opelousas, and records of the succeeding years are fairly complete. But the making of history, place to the lilies of France, whose voyageurs with difficulty had won the romance did not here, as otherwhere, take wing. The flag of Spain gave land from the Red Men. After a few years the exiled Acadians came straggling down to live once again under their native flag. And here today dwell the descendants of that noble race, a people who delight in the history and traditions handed down by their ancients.

Just as every nation clings tenaciously to the history of its ancients and stories and legends handed down, in like manner certain localities settled early, and where several generations have flourished and passed away, accept and cherish old stories and legends pertaining their early settlement and beautiful, oft-told reminiscences of the dear old fire side story-tellers, the most refined and exclusive of the French settlers of Louisiana, is cherished as ancient lore one of the most beautiful stories, the same that has immortalized Longfellow, that is the story of Evangeline, believed and held to be true by the inhabitants of this fertile valley of the Teche.

The romance of Evangeline handed down since the Acadians first treaded upon the banks of the historic Bayou Teche was the story of an Acadian maiden and her lover, who were separated during the troublous times which attended England’s dispersement of the Acadians from Nova Scotia. Evangeline, one of the many fair maidens who were snatched away from their lovers despite their protests and entreaties to the British, finally drifted from Nova Scotia along the Atlantic coast to Louisiana and the Poste des Attakapas, now St. Martinville, ever to remain.

In later years her lost lover, Gabriel, also drifted to Louisiana and up the Teche with many other refugees to live with their many former friends and relatives, whom they learned had settled in the Attakapas region. They landed at St. Martinville under the spreading branches of a beautiful live oak tree, where their old friends and relatives upon learning of their arrival assembled to greet them. Evangeline hastened along later wondering if Louis Arceneaux might perchance be still alive, and that he might be somewhere in that vast throng. Suddenly she stopped and with silvery tones of voice vibrating with the joy of the highest king, cried aloud, “Look, look, there is Louis.”

She was right. The man she saw was Louis Arceneaux (Gabriel). With the rapidity of lightning she flew to his side, and in ecstasy of joy she cried, “Louis, Louis, I am here your long lost Emmeline. Have you forgotten me?” Louis turned deathly pale and hung his head without uttering a word. She spoke to him of her love, and of how she had kept pure and unsullied her plighted faith to him. She asked him how could he so easily have forgotten her when he knew she had been so faithful and so true all that long trying period of waiting and hoping for the best.


“Tell me,” she implored, “as the tears started to her eyes, “that you still love me, and that the joy of meeting me has overcome you so you cannot speak.” Then Louis Arceneaux, with quivering lips and tremulous voice, answered,” Emmeline, (Evangeline) Emmeline, do not speak kindly to me. I am unworthy of your love. Blot out from your heart the remembrance of the past. I can love you no more, for I have pledged my faith and affections to another. Please forget and forgive.” With a heart bowed down with shame and grief, Louis Arceneaux turned with a quick step, and walking rapidly away he was soon lost to view in the forest. Thus ended the romance of Evangeline.

But Evangeline still remained at her post, and the story of her self-sacrifice and noble life will ever remain fresh and green in the memories of the inhabitants of St. Martinville and vicinity, as the oak consecrated to her will ever remain a monument to the moral courage, faithfulness and fortitude of a noble woman. It is said that for many years Evangeline used to sit in the evenings surrounded by little children, relating to them stories of the exiled and outraged Acadians. And today anyone living in this poetic spot will assure one that Evangeline was buried in a tomb which can be seen right back of the left wing of the present Catholic Church.

Followed years of comparative peace and quiet for the Attakapas country with only occasional disturbance by the buccaneers of the Gulf, who in smaller boats threaded the maze of lakes and bayous in escaping the stronger forces sent against them by the successive government. Legend has it that both they and their notorious Lafitte made this section the store house of their illgotten treasure, and almost any old-time negro can point out places where tradition tells of untold wealth visible in the soil. The fact remains that occasional finds of bullion and jewels have been made, and to this late day organized parties still make occasional expeditions looking for these caches.

Through the years came refugees from the Revolution in France, and the Napoleonic wars. From the section went many to assist Jackson in his defense of New Orleans, and with them later returned adventurers from Georgia and Virginia. Many other followed straggling down from all parts of the north and foreign countries, France in particular. The war of ’63 and the reconstruction period followed, left deep their impress on the country and it people. The original French blood of the people of the Teche country has been much modified by the infusion of other strains without noticeably changing those qualities courtesy, hospitality, imagination and optimism, the heritage of the Latin races. The social charm and native honesty of the French provinces is still a characteristic here, and has won for the residents of this territory the love of all who have come for a short or lengthy sojourn.

“They who dwell there have named it the Eden of Louisiana.”

This text is taken from a brochure announcing the grand opening of Rousseau's Catahoula Inn at Catahoula Lake on Easter Sunday, April 8, 1928.