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Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children

(I had known John since I was a child and had even mentioned his inspiration in my work, A Living Cemetery, which is also on this site.
"Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children & Other Streets Of New Orleans" is an awesome book. Please note: this is only a sample for research; for complete versions, visit your library or click here...this is a MUST READ! - Sean
P.S. Yes, they did name a street in New Orleans for him after he passed away...and I'm sure  he dropped his pipe from laughing so hard.)



Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children & Other Streets Of New Orleans

By John Churchill Chase (1905 - 1986)

Excerpts from Chapter One...

The Romans designated their fine highways as strata, because they had prepared them with stratums, or layers, of surfacing. The Latin strata became the Anglo-Saxon street, and thence the English street. In the early cities of England all the roads were surfaced or paved, and came to be called streets.

So the name for a road in a city became street. In this accepted sense, it no longer matters whether it is surfaced or not. This is especially true of New Orleans, were it costs many times more than any other American city to pave and maintain a paved street. As late as 1949 only 580 of 1,148 miles of streets were paved.

In the city's early days, city blocks were called islands, and they were islands with little banks around them. Logically, the French called the footpaths on the banks banquettes; and sidewalks are still so called in New Orleans.

The streets, however, were always called streets - or the French equivalent, rue; and the Spanish, calle.

But in its larger sense, a street is an established, maintained way of intercommunication for the means of transportation available. The Mississippi River in North America, when the first Europeans discovered it, became from the start what it has remained: an established route of continental intercommunication, or a street.

In the lower valley of this river, in the region where New Orleans was set, countless lesser streams (called by the indians bayuks, and by the white men bayous), together with lakes and the big river itself, all formed a useful and well-used system of intercommunication. To the Indians, the explorers, voyageurs and the intrepid coureurs de bois, these were streets.

But when we think of a street, something more substantial comes to mind. Something drier, ever for New Orleans. Here in the wilderness there was such an established and maintained public way, an ancient overland portage between the river and one of the bayous. At it's junction with the river Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, set his city of New Orleans. Bienville named the bayou, St. John, for his patron saint, but the street he gave no name.

Paradoxically, it has never been called a street, although it is now one in both definitions of the word. This portage, this established and maintained way of the intercommunication, this dean of all New Orleans streets, older than them all and older than the city itself, is listed in the nomenclature - literally translated from the French as Bayou Road!

De Soto, Conquistodoro of Spain, discovered the Mississippi river in 1541. One hundred and thirty two years later, starting from New France, or Canada, Marquette and Joliet descended from the river to the mouth of Arkansas. Nine years after that, in April of 1682, LaSalle floated an expedition down the Mississippi all the way to the mouth. There he raised a cross, unfurled the lily flag of Bourbon France, and claimed all the valley of the river for his king, Louis XIV. He named it Louisiane. (You learned all this in the fifth grade. However, in New Orleans today there is a De Soto street and a Spain street there is also a Canada street, France street, named for the Marquette, Joliet and Lasalle. There is a Louis XIV street in Lakeview, and a Bourbon Street in the Vieux Carre.)

* The present name, Louisiana, is a curious mingling of the French, Louisiane, and the Spanish, Luisiana. Somewhat similarly, Mississippi stems from the Algonquin language, in whose tribal domain the river started. These Indians called it miss for "big" and sipi  for "river". The big river picked up the meaningless remainder of its name as it flowed southward.

But Louis XIV wasn't much interested in this new land. He was more interested in Madame de Montespan (you don't learn that in the fifth grade).

In 1682 Louis was at the height of his power; the France he ruled was the most influential nation in Europe. His wife was Marie Therese, Infanta of Spain; her half brother was Charles II of the Hispanic kingdom, and he was without heir. Upon her marriage to Louis, she had renounced all claims to Charles' throne; that royal perch should be Bourbon. All that was needed was the defeat of his Spanish brother-in-law who was in poor health.

So when LaSalle returned to France to tell of his accomplishment, it was into this atmosphere of court intrigue and shady politics that he entered when he was granted audience with his king.

One can picture Louis sitting there reading the latest report of the waning health of the Spanish king, as LaSalle breathlessly begins his great story. Enthusiastically he begs for ships, men, and the provisions to begin a colonial empire for France in the New World. Louis, bored eyes stared at the map spread before him, still wondered why the pulse of Charles II isn't weaker than it was last week. His gaze comes to rest on Mexico. Mexico, the rich Spanish possession! Why, it is adjacent to the new territory which this LaSalle is jabbering about. Here is something!

So LaSalle is granted an expedition of four ships, with an admiral in command to sail him back to Louisiana to establish a settlement. But not at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Such nonsense. Put the settlement as close to the border of mexico as he could squeeze. what Louis XIV wanted was an advance base to raid golden Mexico when the time was ripe.

Lasalle set off on his last ill fated journey to America. Stubbornly he was determined to place the settlement on the Mississippi king or no king. but he was uncertain of the location of the rivers mouth and he never found it. the vessels sighted land far to the westward. Actually closer to Mexico than the mouth of the Mississippi.

Here LaSalle left the ships and set out overland to find the river. But he never did; he got lost. Then, desperately, he sought to lead his band northward to Canada, but he got lost again. At this point his exasperated men murdered him.

For ten years France did nothing more about Louisiana.

Then, in the closing years of the 17th century, Spain proclaimed to the world that all the territory bordering on the Gulf of Mexico was Spanish by reason of the original discovery of  Pinedo in 1519. The king of Spain was still in poor health, but he wasn't dead neither was he asleep.

France and England disputed this ruling of Spain in her own favor. They contended that claim without occupation was not binding. All three nations hustled expeditions off to the Gulf Coast.

Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur de Iberville, a Canadian by birth and a distinguished officer of the French Navy, headed the French party. He was the older brother of Bienville, who was one of his band. Like LaSalle before them, these two Le Moyne brothers were ambitious to carve an empire for France in the wilderness of Louisiana.

After a pause at Santo Domingo, where they learned no news of British or Spanish expeditions had been heard, Iberville led into the gulf. He sighted land and found a party of Spaniards building a settlment to be named Pensacola. Santo Domingo's news sources were hardly reliable. Nevertheless, the stronger French fleet left the Spaniards unmolested, and continued westward along the coast.

After two days sailing an island was sighted which appeared to screen a large bay. A landing party put ashore the island strewn with human bones, Iberville thought that a fitting name for the place would be Massacre island, and he so wrote into his journal. The water behind this island was Mobile Bay. After the futile efforts to make contact with the timid indians on the mainland, the squadron pushed westward.

Iberville's journal reports sighting other islands, and the reasons for the names he gave them. Horn island was so called becouse a sailor dropped a horn overboard as the vessels passed; the ships anchored at the second island, and so it was named Ship island. A highly imaginative lookout, peering though his glass, sang out that another island ahead was over run with cats, so Cat Island got its name - although the "cats" were raccoons, creatures unknown to the Europeans.

From the Ship Island base, small boats were dispatched to investigate westward and northward. It was then that the Chandeleurs were discovered and so named, because it happened on the Feast of Chandeleur, or the Candlemas. Meanwhile another boat found Deer Island and the snug harbor behind it. At least a base for operations to locate the Mississippi was aquired.

Efforts to make friends with the Indians became the first order of business. Any information about the location of the Mississippi River would be helpful, but the Indians were illusive. Finally an old man, too lame to run, was caught. He was treated royally and lavished with gifts. On the beach in plain sight of savage eyes, which they knew were following their every move, the French built him a cozy shelter, and a roaring fire to warm him. Then they withdrew, leaving this example of generosity and friendly intentions for the Indians to inspect. Unfortunately the roaring fire ignited the grass and burned the old man to a crisp.

The Indians withdrew another mile into the woods. The Indians were the Biloxi, and the bay was named for them.

The region of the lower valley of the Mississippi was the ancient domain of the Choctaw Indians, once a proud and powerful tribe of the Muskogian clan of North America, a people whose tribal legends boasted that they came from a hole in the ground. Villages of the Choctaws include such familiar place names in Louisiana and Mississippi (and such street names in New Orleans) as: Houma, Tangipahoa, Colapissa, Bayougoulas, Pascagoula, Avoyel, Taensas, Chinchuba, Pontchatoula, and perhaps Tchoupitoulas.

As the expedition labored upstream it encountered a spot where the Indians declared an overland portage led to a small bayou, which emptyed into a lake called Okwata. And by the Okwata, The Indians explained they could return to their ships at Biloxi. This interested Iberville. Especially it interested Bienville, who would one day establish a city here.

A few days further upstream, another entry into the Okwata was pointed out by the guides. This was a pass - or manchac, as the Indians termed it - by which boats could easily enter the Okwata. Iberville resolved to return to the ships by this route when he became convinced that he had located the Mississippi; and he signaled the expedition to push on.

LaSalle, when he first met the Houmas on the Mississippi at the junction of the Red river, called them the chouchouma indians. A red stick ( Baton Rouge) on the river bank separated the hunting ground of the Houmas from that of Bayougoulas downstream.

The Houmas are properly called Chakciuma, or in Choctaw, Saktce Homa, which means red crawfish. A crawfish was their tribal emblem. It is evident that had the Houmas not already intended moving from the portage; they would have once they learned how their name was being spelled and pronounced  in French. They ended up fifty miles southwest of New Orleans where the town of Houma now is.

Iberville returned from France with provisions and promises, but the latter were badly kept by the goverment of Louis XIV. Iberville died a few years later and for six or seven years the colony and the colonists who peopled the tiny settlements of Mobil and Biloxi were virtually abandoned. A procession of the governors was sent out, each of whom appeared to exceed the other in inefficiency and lack of what it takes to run a colony. To Bienville who remained all the time they were more trouble than the Indians.

In 1712 Antoine Crozat, called the richest man in Paris, was granted a fifteen year charter to operate Louisiana. Crozat's scheme was build up settlments to trade with the Spaniards. Because he sought to make the settlement a finacial succsess without raising a hand to make it self supporting, Crozat's scheme was doomed to failure. It wasn't helped by the sort of men he sent out to administer its affairs either. Probably the most astonishing among them was Sieur Antoine de Lamothe-Cadillac -
whose principle contribution to Louisiana history appears to have been the reporting of Bienville, Major Boisbriant, Captain Châteauguay, and Lieutenant Seigny for failure to make their Easter duties.

Soon the street in the wilderness would have a city built upon it, a city which would become the capital of Louisiana and, oh yes, one other thing happened to bring this about; a French Sergeant in the first capital of Louisiana fell asleep with his pipe in his mouth and burned down Biloxi...

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