Founded in the late 1880s, the Jefferson City Buzzards are the oldest Carnival marching club in New Orleans. The all-male club was founded by brothers Lee, Sidney, and Wilbur Simpson along with William Markel. As a loosely formed group of merrymakers guided only by their rules of mirth and pleasure, they called themselves the Muddy Graws until they officially received their charter in 1890 and became the more organized but still fun-loving Jefferson City Buzzards.
Over the years, the Buzzards have hosted many social events that did double-duty as fundraisers for the club and outside charities. In the earliest decades, they held annual trolley rides, picnics and masquerade balls. Once their clubhouse, The Roost, was built on Annunciation Street in 1907, they hosted countless dances and banquets. Through the 1920s-30s, euchre and lotto parties at the clubhouse and moonlight cruise dances on steamboats were all the rage. The 1950s-60s brought dances back to the clubhouse. In 1961, they opened up Friday nights as a teenage nightclub, serving soda and live music to the underage crowd.
But what they are really known for are their Mardi Gras marches, full of music and humor, which has made them one of the most popular features of Carnival. Beginning with their first parade appearance, they started out early Uptown, accompanied by jazz and brass bands, and paraded along their meandering path, stopping for (mostly liquid) refreshments at neighborhood bars, timing their arrival at St. Charles and Louisiana Aves. before the arrival of Rex. They would lead Rex down to the business district and then work their way home.
While a few significant improvements have occurred, not much has changed for the Buzzards in the last 132 years. They still follow the same general route on Mardi Gras, but now they rely on chartered buses to get them home at the end of the parade instead of drudging home by foot. While they no longer have their own brass band and drum corps like they did in the 1900s, they still bring music and humor to their march, and are still beloved by the crowds.
The Jefferson City Buzzards with retired NOPD Superintendent Henry M. Morris and his wife, circa 1990. The club is known for handing out beads and doubloons during their marches and will exchange paper flowers (as seen here) for kisses. According to newspaper reports, there have been some deviations from the norm: in 1954 a member threw out live chickens from a sack tossed over his shoulder, and in 1964, a few onlookers received baby alligators. See what you can catch on Mardi Gras or during the St. Patrick’s Day parades.
Image provided courtesy of the City Archives and Special Collections, New Orleans Public Library.