LEGEND HAS IT that about two centuries ago, before the arrival of the Acadian exiles, a peaceful Indian village in what is now St. Martin Parish completely disappeared when the earth opened up and swallowed the entire camp.
The warriors of the village, who had been attending a powwow near Opelousas when the quake occurred, returned to find their village gone and water rapidly filling the gaping hole.
The bewildered survivors, thinking the catastrophe an act of God, thereafter worshipped the lake and named it Catahoula, “lake of sacrifice.” Indians from miles around would come to the mysterious lake and throw valuables into the water to appease their obviously angry god. Some even say nubile maidens were sometimes sacrificed.
The savages believed that if they bathed in the lake the water would wash away their sins. The unfortunate Indians who could not swim and who drowned were believed to have been evil and were required to pay the supreme sacrifice. Their memories were thereafter vilified.
Southern end of Catahoula Lake is accessible only by boat but many private homes border the lake elsewhere. This is the lake view from the rear of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Russel Theriot of Catahoula community. Their daughter, Miss Priscilla Theriot, is enjoying the scene.
LENDING SOME CREDENCE to the legend, James Akers, curator of the historical museum of the St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church, related that the lake, which was not known to exist when the first white men entered the area, seemed to be a bottomless pit with a subterranean connection to the Gulf of Mexico. Area residents, even in recent times, have reported a rise and fall of the lake water resembling a tide, although the lake had no outlets until recent spillway construction changed its topography.
Fisherman have also pointed out that when Catahoula apparently was isolated from all other streams and lakes, some of the finest salt water crabs in the world were fished from its steep banks. Crabs thrive in salty or brackish water.
With its almost straight down banks, depths of one hundred feet, and its elongated shape, Catahoula differs remarkably from practically all other Louisiana lakes, which tend to be mostly shallow depressions.
The lake and its environments, which is studded with handsome and majestic live oaks, is reported by Mrs. James Guirard, Catahoula resident and community leader of St. Martin Parish, to have a sylphish beauty where the narrow and long lake narrows still further at its southern end and forms into numerous finger-like bayous.
Peculiar shape of Catahoula Lake is another of its unusual features. Once isolated, it now has connections with several bodies of water. At its north end it joins Bayou Berard drainage canal and one of its southern “fingers” and Bayou Mercier on its east side flows into a canal on the west side off the West Atchafalaya Floodway levee, connecting it with Lake Dauterive.
THE MOTION PICTURE Evangeline starring Dolores del Rio was largely filmed in this naturally beautiful area in the 20’s. Some older residents of St. Martinville who served as extras in the film fondly remember the beautiful streams and islands formed by the lake at this point.
“It’s like a paradise,” Mrs. Guirard said. “The little islands formed there are covered with beautiful trees — live oaks, gums, willow, cypress, vines and wild fern. The islands are five to twenty feet above the water level and look like a dreamland.”
Mrs. Guirard said the island and the streams should be preserved in their natural beauty and the public permitted to view them in their unspoiled state. She has recommended to the St. Martin Parish Police Jury that it acquire rights to the area and make its beauty accessible and available to the public.
THERE ARE NO ROADS and bridges to the site and sight-seers could only approach the islands by boat. Except for some main channels, the numerous streams forming the islands would have to be . . .
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