Hogs and alligators didn’t mix well
As I poke around among stories and recollections of times gone by, I am continually reminded of how isolated much of south Louisiana was before highways began to connect us, and that our isolation lasted for a good deal longer than we might expect.
That especially applies to places like Cheniere au Tiger, which still has no road, and Pecan Island, which wasn’t connected with the rest of the world by even a shell road until the 1950s. That separation created situations we can hardly imagine today.
For folks on the cheniers, for example, just getting animals to market presented a major challenge. Hogs should have been one of the most important animals raised for sale, but most of them were grown for home consumption. They didn’t do well on boats, and besides losing a lot of weight when they were herded through the marsh, they were just the right size for a good meal for an alligator.
That was one of Leonora Vaughn’s recollections of life on Pecan Island in the late 1800s, published in the Abbeville Meridional in early 1931.
“A few drives had been made to Grand Cheniere,” Vaughn recounted, “but hogs that were fat enough for market did not hold up well under a three day’s drive and a boat trip from Grand Cheniere to Galveston on a sailing vessel.”
Cattle did a little better. They were driven to Southwest Pass through the Belle Isle and Cheniere au Tigre marshes and shipped by steamboat to Morgan City.
“It was a hard drive but was the only way to get to market,” according to the account. Even then they didn’t bring a lot of hard money to the island. Cattle sold for ten dollars a head; hogs fetched four to five dollars.
“Chickens were not considered marketable and neither were eggs. Geese, turkeys, and ducks were never thought of as being salable,” Vaughn recalled. “In fact, cattle, cotton and sugar or syrup were the only saleable commodities raised on the island.”
It was just as hard to get anything from the outside to the island and islanders “raised nearly everything we needed at home,” Vaughn wrote. “In those days we were not putting up much meat for the family supply if we didn’t butcher from a dozen to twenty or more big hogs.” Several head of cattle were also butchered for the family meat supply.
Islanders did what they could for cash and “somewhere about this time [1890s] found out that mink and coon hides were saleable,” Vaughn’ recalled.
At first, the pelts sold for a nickel or a dime, sometimes as much as fifteen cents, but, “when they got from twenty-five to fifty cents, our boys went wild and what they didn’t do for furbearers was just what they couldn’t do.”
The best part was that the pelts didn’t have to be hauled to market; “men in little sloops” came to the island to buy the furs, and in a few years also began to buy alligator hides.
It sounds from the account that the islanders would have given away the gator skins.
“Those creatures were so troublesome that we were very glad when their hides began to be of value,” Vaughn wrote.
“They caught hogs, ducks, and geese … besides being a menace to riders or pedestrians who traveled in the marshes or crossed the ‘coups’ as the water-drains across the ridge were called.”
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.