The Myth, The Person and the Bridge Rail
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In Southwest Louisiana the legends surrounding Laffite’s life are taken so seriously that many believe them to be true. Their beliefs stem solely from the numerous stories of buried treasure unearthed around Calcasieu and Cameron parishes, tales that have been passed down for generations. One account states that about 25 years ago farmers in DeQuincy found gold coins dated to Laffite’s time. “It’s no myth; the treasure is here,” says Eddie Langley of Lake Charles.
Langley recounts an old story he heard some 30 years ago about a man from Starks who would routinely find gold coins in a swamp along his property. “When his kids were ready to go back to school in the fall and needed new shoes, he’d take a walk out into the swamp and come back with his pockets full of gold coins,” he says. “People would follow him out there, and he’d lead them around in circles until he lost them. He never told anyone where he got the coins. He had a heart attack and died and was never able to pass the story on. It’s stories like this that I know are true that actually happened that makes you believe there is something to them.”
A foreman with the Union Pacific Railroad, Langley is a member of the Lake Charles Buccaneers, a group formed by area businessmen nearly 60 years ago. The Buccaneers promote Contraband Days, a two-week pirate festival held each May along the waterfront in downtown Lake Charles to celebrate Laffite’s legend. The Buccaneers participate in the festival’s opening ceremonies, which reach a climax when the man chosen to be the Jean Laffite for Contraband Days sails to the waterfront and forces the mayors from around Calcasieu Parish to “walk the plank” (they actually stand near the stern of the boat) and jump into Lake Charles. Langley served as Jean Laffite for Contraband Days 2012.
Langley is far from alone in his belief that Laffite’s treasure is real and waiting to be found. Attempts to excavate the famed pirate’s treasure have been going on in the Lake Charles area for more than a century. To date, however, no tangible or photographic evidence exists of any doubloon unearthed anywhere in Southwest Louisiana. Still, the stories persist, their murkiness adding to the mystique that is a cornerstone of Louisiana’s pirate history.
But while many of the legends surrounding Laffite’s life are practically impossible to either confirm or refute, scholars remain united in their belief that the famed pirate never buried any treasure anywhere. “Pirates lived pretty much from hand to mouth,” says William C. Davis, professor of history at Virginia Tech and author of The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf. “If they had a lot of money, they typically didn’t keep it for very long. They also had no guarantee in their kind of work or in the kind of lives they lived that they would ever get back to pick up the treasure they had buried.”