Wild and Woolly
in Winn Parish
Perhaps the biggest claim to fame for Winn Parish is that it was home to the Long family, especially Huey, considered a political rogue of sorts who nevertheless propelled Louisiana into the 20th century. Huey’s son Russell, born in Shreveport, is someone I associate with a childhood experience. The summer I was to turn 9 in the early 1960s, I was spending those hot months in Avoyelles Parish. There was a fierce political campaign being waged for a seat in the Senate, and I only knew that Central Louisiana was afire with Russell Long fever. So therefore was I. One evening he came to speak to a crowd outside of my Cousin Tit’s (swear to God, that was her name) grocery store across from Bayou des Glaises. I had no idea what his platform meant, but I became such a Russell Long crusader that I would pull opposing campaign posters off telephone poles. One day two young men caught me doing this, and I saw they had an armful of Long posters. “Little girl,” one of them said, “are you going to tear down our poster?” “Whoa, no!” I replied. “I’m going to vote for Russell Long!” To my immense surprise they both broke into belly laughs and gave me half a box of candy canes they were handing out as part of the campaign.
But I digress.
There once was a time in Winn Parish’s history when it was ruled by outlaws. On what is today Highway 34, just 11 miles south of Winnfield (the Longs’ hometown) there once existed a spot called Atlanta Village in Winn Parish. In the early 1850s, some Georgia natives were given land grants by the United States in Louisiana, and by 1858 many settled in Winn Parish along the El Camino Real where the Atlanta Male and Female Institute was established along with one grocery store and a saddle shop. The Georgia natives supposedly named the town for its state capital. In addition to the establishment of a farming community, the creation of Atlanta Village likewise established the wild reign of terror that was John West and his followers. West and his cretins rode the El Camino Real from Natchez to the Sabine River, growing rich from the blood money he gleaned from his victims. For a time he was king of the highway and unstoppable in his murdering and marauding. West and his clan once held some of the village’s citizens hostage overnight. Finally, the village citizens formed a committee to end the bloodletting. West and his motley crew were tried in an old Masonic building where they were also convicted and executed before a firing squad.
To thank the town for their bravery, Gov. Henry Clay Warmoth influenced the state Legislature to approve logging in Atlanta Village, and the citizens erected a turpentine still.
By the early 1900s, because it was located near the center of the Kisatchie National Forest, a company from Saginaw, Mich., started a sawmill and Atlanta Village’s population swelled to more than 15,000. But by 1929, the sawmill was moved from Atlanta Village, and mass unemployment ensued. A December hurricane in 1916 all but wiped out the town that lay so close to the home of the Long family.
When my book, Louisianians All, was published, I was asked how I could include a chapter on Huey Long with his questionable, corrupt political practices. I simply replied, “How can you write about Louisiana history and not include Huey Long?” And I was surprised to experience a little déjà vu somehow connected again to the Longs – because of Louisianians All, I was invited to speak to a charming group of teachers in Breaux Bridge. Afterward, my mother, brother and I stopped for lunch at Henderson’s, and our waitress bore a nameplate that said “Tit.” My mother told me that “Tit” is a pet name, a diminutive of “petite,” meaning “little,” while her eyes dared me to make a comment.
Cause to Celebrate
The Stories Behind
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.
Brewing in Broussard
Half a decade ago, Andrew Godley was in the company of the woman who would become his wife, drinking rather indifferent beer from a limited beer menu in what was one link in a long restaurant chain. Describing what he calls “the epiphany at Olive Garden,” Godley, now 32, followed his star and eventually opened Parish Brewing Co. According to a report by Timothy Boone in the New Orleans edition of the Advocate, Godley, a chemical engineering graduate from LSU, developed what became the flagship brew of the microbrewery, Canebrake, a velvety smooth wheat ale made with Steen’s cane syrup.
Canebrake’s popularity ignited like fires in a sugar field with Louisiana’s brewskie devotees, and now the company brews 2,000 to 4,000 gallons weekly to be sold on tap at bars and restaurants. The six members that comprise the total brewery staff make their magic beer potions in a metal building in Broussard, replete with microscopes to study microbes in Belgian ales and other concoctions to help create their own unique blends.
The emphasis is on quality not quantity, and Godley’s reputation of being true to this credo is already legend after only a few short years of brewing. Brenton Day, who runs a beer blog called “The Ale Runner,” extols Godley’s dedication to quality. Indeed, the brewery can hardly keep up with the huge demand for its sudsy creation, but Godley refuses to cut any corners and sell himself into mass production.
After his Olive Garden epiphany, Godley threw himself into learning the art of brewing beer, something with which he had no experience. He set up shop in a 1,200-square-foot room and bought beer brewing supplies from the Internet, reshaping and refitting them to his own purpose. He had to think out of the box because it was the cheap way to go.
By 2009, he had hit upon and perfected the nectar of Canebrake. Still working as a chemical engineer and in spite of the hand-rigged brewing equipment, Godley managed to produce 16 kegs of beer and peddle his product to the bars, working 70 and 80 hours a week.
According to Vanessa Gomes, who is the marketing director at a Mandeville draught house called The Barley Oak, the sales of Canebrake are on par with such European biggies as Guinness and Stella Artois.
Godley’s sense of quality also extends to the caliber of the people he employs. Will Gallaspy, who worked as a commercial brewer before joining Parish Brewing Co., usually mans the microscope analyzing the mix of microbes – the company is planning to make a sour Belgian beer – and has already expanded its repertoire of refreshment by creating Grand Reserve. Described as a smooth, bottle-aged barley wine that is more complex than Canebrake, it also has an alcohol content of 11 percent. To Godley’s surprise, bottles were snatched from store shelves.
Due to be released this April, the next offering will be Farmhouse IPA, a light summery beer made with Belgian yeast and more delicate hops, perfect for warmer weather. Godley can’t make enough beer to meet the high demand for his product although he has moved to a larger brewery and his revenue is growing.
“Our problem is not selling beer; our problem is making beer,” Godley told the Advocate. “We just need to make more in a high-quality way.”
Mass expansion is not necessarily the goal or the key
BATON ROUGE/ PLANTATION COUNTRY
Judas the Apostle
It briefly begins at Masada in a blood-red sunset. While Romans batter the wall, about to gain entrance, Elazar ben Yair, the last man alive, falls upon his own sword amid the many bodies of those who chose to die free and untouched by Rome. In what proved to be a hard-to-put-down page-turner, Judas the Apostle, written by Baton Rouge resident and attorney Van R. Mayhall Jr., neatly transitions the story to present-day Louisiana when Dr. Clotile Lejeune, an ancient language expert, returns home to Madisonville with her son because of the murder of her elderly father. It becomes apparent to everyone that Thibodeaux Lejeune was murdered because of an ancient oil jar inscribed with Judas Iscariot’s name that he found in an underground cavern fighting the African campaign in World War II. For Clotile, estranged from her father and her Louisiana roots for years because of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the return to Louisiana opens old wounds she tried to bury. As she begins to unravel the mystery of her father’s murder, she likewise begins to suspect with good reason the oil jar may be a religious relic important enough to shatter Christian beliefs. Unbeknownst to all, on the other side of the world, an evil billionaire who deals in arms is leaving a scorched earth pathway strewn with corpses as he searches for the oil jar bearing Judas Iscariot’s name, aided by his own empty-eyed goon squad.
Mayhall has spun a highly original, suspenseful and atmospheric thriller. It’s a savvy story of academia, archaeology and theology, but you can also taste the warm Louisiana thread that runs through it like a good flavor – the Tchefuncte River, the LSU campus, the elements of close family ties and the influence of religion. The story also takes place in present-day Jerusalem and France. Exploring the true motives of Judas Iscariot, it leaves you with a perhaps controversial but plausible impression of the betrayer of Christ – but not in the same almost sacrilegious sense of The Da Vinci Code. The story weaves a mystical spell in the timeless story of good against evil that’s hard to resist; Judas the Apostle joins my personal rank of books that I call one-sitting reads.
Mayhall, a Louisiana native, has done extensive research on Judas Iscariot, exploring loose ends and inconsistencies.
“The book examines controversial claims involving Judas Iscariot,” Mayhall says. “But more than that, I wanted people to think about the Bible, its meaning and the battle between good and evil.” Mayhall claims he wrote the book as a thriller that also celebrated Louisiana’s culture.
“The book is about the main character’s rediscovery of family roots and the importance of her Louisiana upbringing and faith,” Mayhall says.
Published by iUniverse, Judas the Apostle has been featured in the Barnes & Noble Rising Star Special Collection.
Mayhall is a senior partner in a Baton Rouge law firm. A Baton Rouge native, he attended both LSU and Georgetown University.
If you’d like to know more about this highly readable book, visit www.vanrmayhalljr.com.
GREATER NEW ORLEANS
Cause to Celebrate
My great-aunt Dessa (aka Tut) lived for a time in the Avoyelles Parish farmhouse of her parents. She never failed to end her day of housework, yardwork and cooking with a hot bath and an evening of retiring to her bedroom with Baton Rouge’s daily newspaper, then called the Morning Advocate, which, she often stated, she read “from cover to cover.” She swore by it.
My family in New Orleans revered the Times-Picayune. As a child, I took a lot of delight in checking on the weather frog’s forecast with my father. I can hear Daddy now: “Well, Zsa-Ree [his nickname for me], the frog says it’s going to be cold.” Then he’d show me the drawing of the shivering weather frog with the huge eyes. I can’t remember a breakfast table at which someone, including my brother, wasn’t sitting before its spread pages. The daily smell of fresh coffee and newsprint just seemed a natural fit. My mother was a crossword puzzle-hogger of sorts; years later, in the last year of her life, she had to spend hours on a radiology table while a dye slowly inched its way through her system. I stayed with her the entire time, and, under the circumstances, we actually had fun working the crossword puzzle together as I read the clues and wrote her answers. The newspaper was my daily companion during lunch breaks, causing woe and chagrin if I forgot it at home before leaving for work. When the Times-Picayune announced it would no longer be a daily but would go completely digital except for three days of the week when it would issue a printed copy, I felt like the end of days must be near. For someone who spends all day at a computer, the idea of collapsing into a chair with a printed newspaper is near-nirvana. I felt that our newspaper was the second Judas.
Coming to the rescue was Tut’s beloved paper, now simply called the Advocate. Expanding its Baton Rouge base to open a New Orleans office, it rescued lovers of the printed word from the lack of a daily. The first Saturday I received it, I, like Tut, read it from cover to cover and found I enjoyed it. I found its somewhat conservative bent refreshing. It ran columns that had disappeared from the Times-Picayune such as “Miss Manners” and “Hints from Heloise”; it also boasted a very concise daily column of what happened this day in history that was enthralling. The crossword puzzles weren’t bad either. It might be petty of me, but every time I receive a phone call from the Times-Picayune asking me to renew my subscription to its three-day deal, I politely say I can’t forgive it for no longer being a daily and will not renew. New Orleans deserves more, and thankfully, the Advocate stepped up to fill the gap.
Fork in the Road
Death by Gumbo
Chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto recently forged a culinary partnership that has given the New Orleans area Restaurant R’evolution in the French Quarter. This eatery will let you enjoy dishes like Death by Gumbo, in which an entire semi-boneless quail stuffed with oysters, andouille and rice rests in a rich gumbo filled with oysters, quail, andouille and tasso. Louisiana’s rich German heritage is represented by Bird in a Cage: smoked guinea fowl, homemade sauerkraut, Creole mustard spaetzle and a sauce made from caramelized onions in a caraway “cage.”
Anyone who may remember the divinity of the stuffed flounder at Bruning’s on the lakefront will probably enjoy the upscale Flounder Napoleon – stuffed with shrimp mousse and crawfish and served with a Gulf oyster-and-artichoke stew and one crunchy crawfish ball for luck. In this very complete and innovative menu, Folse and Tramonto make liberal use of Louisiana’s natural bounty, using the seafood, fowl, alligator, frog, sassafras, persimmons and kumquats that comprise its “swamp floor pantry.”
Restaurant R’evolution in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, 777 Bienville St., New Orleans, (504) 553-2277