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Around Louisiana

Regional Reports from across Louisiana

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Cause to Celebrate
The Stories Behind
the Names

Each year as Easter draws nigh, I always find myself remembering spending the season in Bordelonville as a child in the time before the house of Big Mama, my great-grandmother, was towed to the banks of Bayou des Glaises and the great old mulberry tree was cut down. I remember crawfishing in Horseshoe Lake on Good Friday morning when I was 8 with my aunt and cousin and feeling most important when I rescued my older male cousin from the grips of a crawfish claw that latched on to his finger. After what my great aunt called the Good Friday Sermon, we ate  the boiled crawfish on the picnic table under the mulberry tree for supper in an April dusk filled with soft breezes and pastel-colored light with my mother and brother who joined us from New Orleans. It didn’t seem like Easter Sunday if I didn’t sit next to my cousin and hear him making sounds like “phew!” or “bah!” or eye-rolling as he made fun of the choir and gave me a case of the agonizingly enjoyable giggles-in-church. When my brother would join in, we were lucky not to be deprived of our pews.
The winding Bayou des Glaises Road in Avoyelles Parish and the nearby Rapides Parish area runs through communities with names that always aroused a sense of curiosity in me – Big Bend, Echo, the lyrically beautiful Mansura and Lac aux Roseaux. Many, many years later, I was to learn that the stories behind the names are as homespun and rurally pertinent to the area as the cattle who low softly and the fields with rows of milo.
According to Louisiana Place Names by Clare D’Artois Leeper, published by LSU Press,  you can thank the steamboat captains who steered into the landing for Echo’s name. As they blew their steamboat horns from the river, the sound would return in an echo from the woods. The three most frequent boats to land were the H.M. Carter, a snag boat named U.S. Howell and the Valley Queen, all arriving laden with groceries from New Orleans. When emptied of the cargo from the Crescent City, the steamboats would be loaded with cottonseed and cotton that had been ginned.
Big Bend in Avoyelles Parish rests squarely on Bayou des Glaises (which has also been called Salt-lick Bayou). By 1840, it was filled with canebrakes, existing as a total wilderness, until state Sen. Pierre Couvillion (he who haunts the Old State Capitol Building in Baton Rouge) took responsibility for clearing out the area by using convict labor approved by the state Legislature. Couvillion observed that the houses along the bayou were so close together that he could send a message down the bayou for miles by relaying it from one house to the next. According to Leeper, there is some scientific belief that the bayou was once a river since it forms an oxbow nearly 30 miles long, giving Big Bend its name.
Lac aux Roseaux in Avoyelles lies a bit to the west of Big Bend. “Roseaux” is the French plural of reeds or reed-cane, a diminutive form of “ros” which translates to “weaver’s reed.” The South Louisiana French trappers named reed grass “roseau,” and the name of the lake is pronounced “ro-soe.”
But I suppose my favorite of all is Mansura, site of the old station where the train from New Orleans would pull in (if we didn’t drive to Bordelonville). My great-great-great-grandfather Merile Tassin, who was in the Confederate cavalry, was killed in 1864 at the Battle of Mansura. As explained in Leeper’s book, Mansura was supposedly named by its early settlers, transplanted French soldiers from Napoleon’s army during his Egyptian campaigns when the Great Sphinx lost his snoot to French cannon fire. The new Louisiana settlers thought the Avoyelles Prairie looked very much like Mansura, Egypt.
Leeper’s book is an excellent compendium of well-known and lesser-known places in Louisiana. Published posthumously, it is a compilation of her newspaper columns, “Louisiana Places:  Those Strange Sounding Names,” which she wrote from 1960 to 1979 and then from 2004 to 2006. As a young freelance writer, Leeper’s research involved simply driving from one spot to another to learn as much history and lore firsthand from the location to place in her column.
For more information, visit www.lsupress.org.

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