THE INDIAN SUMMER of flowers of which you have ofttimes dreamed is just any day along Catahoula Lake. Boughs are always leafy there, and blossoms are ever fragrant.Just east of the Teche, famed in Longfellow’s immortal “Evangeline” this section of Louisiana known as the Attakapas country, was the original home of the Indians so-named. In the earliest days of the white settlers, the redskins of that locality were feared as man eaters. Later, during the eighteenth century, that brilliant and dashing young Spanish General Bernardo de Galvez termed them the Romans of the New World.
The history of the Attakapas is the history of Louisiana. They assisted General Galvez and his Spanish followers in ridding Fort Manchat of the British. In 1977 they participated in the Battle of Baton Rouge. From the man-eating tribe they were at first, they gradually became the staunchest friends of the white settlers.
Along the picturesque banks of Catahoula Lake they bided — just nine miles from St. Martinville, which prior to its incorporation in 1811, was known as the trading Poste des Attakapas.
Cata-oulou is the Indian word for sacrifice. And a colorful legend is attached to this verdant spot.
According to the earliest stories of the first Americans, this body of water was the sacred lake of the Indians. The beauty of its scenery and its poetic landscape made the spot the outstanding site of the countryside; and the Indians chose it for their religious rites. Here they cane from distant fields to pray and to make sacrifice. Their offerings were made to the Great Spirit, the powerful Manitou. Their moral and physical impurities were cleansed in the sacred waters. There they dipped their amulets and their arrows to avert approaching calamities. This was their armor against the Evil Spirit.
The believer unable to worship on the banks of the Catahoula was despondent and unhappy. He feared that his inability to follow his fellow-men bode him no good fortune. Without the immersion in the lake he was doomed to sorrow and disaster.
Should one of the self-appointed sinners happen to drown in the lake while on his sacred pilgrimage, the tribes considered his death the judgment of the Great Manitou in atonement for the discrepancies of the unfortunate one.
Today the lake is still called Catahoula, the lake of sacrifice. But the great Manitou, like his Indian worshipper, is just a memory of the long ago. Though it is no more the scenes of sacrificial religious ceremony, it is still one of the most beautiful and alluring resorts in Louisiana; and one at which the visitor marvels in the natural glory of these surroundings.A lake, with water as transparent as crystal, with an average depth of ninety feet, having steep banks and a width never greater than five hundred yards, a long time ago might have been a part of the mighty Mississippi. This, of course, is problematical. But that great body of water, ever changing and never ceasing, has done queer things to Louisiana — and it might have left a part of its former self intact in that particular garden spot of the Southland.
April 1, 1933
Agathine H. Goldstein