Cat Island Remembered
This is from the web site www.PassChristianHistory.com it is a good site for those interested in the history of the coast.
Gulf Coast Reminiscences of James A. Cuevas of Days Before Sixties
submitted by Mrs. William McGinnis, Jr.
appearing from Vol 13 Number 1 June 1977 of the Mississippi Genealogical Connections (written and printed by Ronnie Margaret Farris McGinnis)
(The following article was printed in the Sunday Magazine Section of the Times-Picayune on May 7, 1922 (New Orleans, Louisiana)
If the poet who wrote "A sorrow's crown of sorrows is remembering happier days" had known James A. Cuevas, the "Sage of Beauvoir," we might have had a different meaning to the lines; for memory of the time when "life was one glad, sweet 11 does not embitter but serves as a treasure-house when in the evening of his life he sees with eyes that see no more the wonderful drama ended in the old days of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, its islands and its waters. His grandfather was one of Jackson's veterans of the Battle of New Orleans. Cat Island, on the Mississippi coast, was given to him for his services to his country. He lived there and reared a large family there. "You want to know about my grandfather? Well, he was a brave man and was not afraid of anybody or anything that lived. He died at Cat Island in 1849, when nearly a hundred years old, and was buried there. Later a tomb was built and his body was taken to the Biloxi Cemetery where his family are buried," thus started James A. Cuevas in telling me of recollections the Mississippi past in the years before the Civil War.
"My grandfather was the father of eleven children, all of whom lived to be grown and had families of their own, Their names were: Francois, ____uta, Euphrasine, Hypolite, Juanite, and Raymond, the last being my father. They were all born at Cat Island."
Mr. Cuevas then continues as follows:
"The first thing I can remember -- and I heard of it so often afterwards, was a great party which my grandfather gave at Cat Island. ,'his was in 1844 and people came from "Old Chimney," Bay St. Louis, Pass; Christian and Rotten Bayou -- about six boatloads -- big boats too. Well, great preparations were made. Dr. Guardia, who knew more about cooking than anybody in all that country, supervised the cooking of all the meats. The chickens were bled and stuffed with oysters and baked as were the geese, ducks, pigs -- everything was stuffed with fine seasoning. Two tables were always ready; one with heavy food and with all kinds of liquors, cakes, candies and fine things. There was hundred pounds of candy, gum drops filled with liquor, rock candy -- these were the only candies made then; pound cake, tea cakes, cakes covered with chocolate, all fine, fine. Well they danced and danced. Back step, front step, fandango, reel, cotillion, waltz, polka, two-step. They danced by fiddle and when one set of musicians were tired others took their places. There was everything to drink -- yes, whiskey, too -- of it, but nobody got drunk; they were used to it. The party lasted eight days -- and nights too -- for they danced sometimes all night. The did not sleep much, for they were having a grand time. They ate and ate, and it could have lasted for eight days more for there was enough food for it.
Expensive? Why no. Sugar cost 1 ¼ cents a pound; meat all kinds 2 ½ cent; flour $2.50 and $2.75 a barrel – there were two grades, fine and superfine, and this last cost more.. Candy was 2 1/3 cents a pound, and we had everything on the island, so there was little to buy.
Besides, my grandfather was rich -- rich -- not what people call rich now, maybe, but very rich for that day. He raised stock -- cows, horses, everything on the island. Butchers came to the island from New Orleans and bought cattle by the boatload. He raised all kinds of vegetables, especially potatoes, which he sent to the city, as well as fish and oysters. Oh, yet [yes?], he made a great deal of money.
One day in July, 1820 my grandfather saw a barge run ashore at Goose Point one end of the island. He waded out and saw two men shoveling sand in order that the boat might get off. They refused assistance or advice. Strange sounds were heard aboard. My grandfather came ashore and got Mr. Ferris, a man who had participated in the Battle of New Orleans, and who had come to the island to visit my grandfather to whom he was greatly attached. They boarded the vessel and found the captain chained hand and foot to the cabin floor. He could not speak for weakness. They tied up the two man in the boat, took the captain ashore -and put him in a warm, nice bed, and my :-grandmother fed him weak soup -- a tablespoon at a time. They took the men to Bay St. Louis where they were put in the calaboose from which one escaped, and the other was hanged after trial by military law. My grandfather and Mr. Ferris continued on to New Orleans and informed the insurance company of- the occurrence. The insurance people sent over and brought the captain and the boat's cargo of silk to the city. The boat was from France en route to New Orleans, laden with silk goods of the greatest value.
My grandfather had a brother living on Deer Island, John Joseph Cuevas, and I liked to visit him. Deer Island then was only about a quarter of a mile from. Biloxi. It looked just like a channel, the water between; now it is much wider, both the Biloxi side and the island having gone gradually into the water. I was a bad little boy and with my cousins we would run the cows and deer into the water to watch them swim over. Drowned? No, it was not far, and they always came back.
There were only two priests on the coast then, Father Garin at Biloxi, and Father Bierot at Bay St. Louis. They would coma to the islands about once a month; the former had Deer Island and the latter Cat Island.
My father moved to Shieldsborough (now Bay St. Louis) in 1849, and I can remember every house there at that time. Yes, I can see them now. There was first, beginning at the West End the Jackson house, Maximillian and Bernard Bourgeois and Victor Ladner's old place. What is now called "Waveland" then was known as "Grand Bend," and there were the homes of Captain Woods John Merchant and Colone1 J. F. T. Claiborne. The latter raised sea island cotton, and his plantation was called "Sea Glen." He had another plantation farther down the coast too, what is now Baldwin's Lodge, on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. The Jackson place also was a cotton plantation. Each place 'had its own gin. The cotton was shipped to New Orleans. It was a fine grade, and bought a good price. The next house was Mr. Peters, -- he was collector of customs in New Orleans and lighthouse inspector, and this was his summer home. Next came Pollock, the former's son-in-law, then the Lockett place. Emile O'Brien -- Fink, ha was a bank cashier in New Orleans -- Parsley and the Nixon Hotel. This was a nice place and always full in summer. Then came the homes of Carson, Napoleon Fayard, Eugene Ladner, Carver, Spotorno, Arnold, Luke Mitchell, Lafitte, Auguste -- later known as the Stockton House the homes of Nicaise, Judge John Graves -- who was sheriff of Hancock County – later this was bought by Ramogasa, then by Dr.
Hale and later by Julian Swoop of New Orleans, whose heirs now own it, I believe. Our place was next -- the Raymond Cuevas place -- then came Bookter, Clennan, Henry Saucier, Casanova and the Catholic Church, Edouard Saucier, Manuel, who kept a store; Tom Murphy, clerk of court; Edgar Combel, who made cigars and kept a store; Walker, Mendes Toulme.
Reaching Main Street we find the store of Toulme and Carver; another house of Toulme; George Weinberg, who kept a shore store; Lassabe, a druggist, whose home and store were together, and it was the only drug store there; Gillam and Relloir. The latter was the name of a very well-to-do colored woman who made and sold "sarsaparilla," a topic, for which she found a ready sale at a dollar a gallon. I remember my father bought five gallons for me at one time. Then came the homes of Bell, John B. Toulme, Carroll, Celome, then a barroom; Louis and Bob Carr's hotel, Captain Wlkinson, a veteran of the Battle of New Orleans, whose widow married my father November 3, 1850. She [Desiree Irma Marie Monet] was good to me, and I was fond of her. Next came John Martin's home. He owned the Hancock wharf, in front of his place, and the Louisiana wharf in front of the Spotorno place. Then came the Lawrence barroom and grocery; Dr. Pairo, who -was rich and lived alone except for his brother's children, who lived with him; Bayard, Pieci, Dumont Fayard, Boulanger, Lanata, Judge Monette, Dimitry Canna, Arnoitte, Carriere, Rosaville, Sauciar, Jean Baptiste Favre, George Johnson, another veteran of the Battle of New Orleans; Bienville, Tildon, Guardia, Labatte, Cowand. This was the last place, and was called Cedar Point. Then came almost a forast of cedar trees. This Cowand home was of brick and very stately and the showplace of the town. It is still standing, and is owned, I believe, by the Saenger Amusement Company of New Orleans. Mr. Cowand was a wealthy cotton planter and made sugar and molasses as well.
Coming back to Main street, beginning at the north side was the home of Evariste Saucier and the Masonic Lodge. This lodge was known as Lodge 141, and among its members were Judge Monette, John B. and his son John V. Toulme, my father, Raymond Cuevas; Leo Carver and William Johnston, Then came the home of Vonau and a blacksmith shop; Titot and his bakery and Dave Bontemps.
Across the street were Guarnio, Albert Fayard, Jules Fayard, the schoolhouse., calaboose (jail), Sadler, Pieri and his baker shop, and Dr. Dupre's office.
On what is now known as Washington street there was one house, that of Casper Carco. There was one house on Union street, but I do not remember the name of its owner.
This was Bay St. Louis, or Shieldsborouugh, in 1849.
There were fine steamboats in that day. The Creole ran from New Orleans to Ocean Springs, making daily trips. She reached the bay about half past seven every morning, on its return trip arriving in the city about 11 o'clock. It was,called a local boat. The Oregon ran from New Orleans to Mobile, only stopping at the bay in the summer months. Later on there was the California and the Florida.
I remember a lot of us boys used to swim out to the Creole and hang on to the rudder as she came in, and thought it was great fun, but when Captain Martin found it out he reported it to our parents and -- well,
we never did it again. Of course it was very dangerous, and we could easily have been sucked under, and it is a miracle that we were not.
A Catholic church was built about 1844, and rather Bierot was the first pastor. He died and was succeeded by Father Henry Leduc, in about 1852. Father Leduc was a very good man, kind and charitable and did much for the poor.
The Christian Brothers College was opened about 1853, 1 believe, and Brother Lazier was director. Brothers Stephan and Joseph were teachers and Brother Adam was the cook. There may have been others too. There was a fine attendance the first year, about a hundred and seventy-five boarders and some day pupils. An epidemic of yellow fever, however, the same year took off Brothers Lazier, Joseph and Adam. Strange to say not a single boarding pupil died, in fact, I do not believe any had the fever. Naturally the school broke up. A new building was erected and the school was reopened January 1, 1855, with Brother Basil as director. Brothers Lucien, Leo and Florimond were the teachers. Nearly all the boys came from Louisiana. Among there were Emile and Ned O’Brien, Lockett, Bennett, Jules and Victor Gachet – it would take hours to call them all.
There were two physicians in town, Doctors Eger and Oliver. They did not have much to do for people were not sick as they are now; they knew how to take care of themselves, but when yellow fever came then the doctors were busy!
Indians? Sure there were Indians all over Hancock county. Devil’s Swamp was there big settlement. The chief had a name that sounded like Ticklay. When an Indian died the buried him and there was no mourning or moaning, no noise of any kind at the time, but four weeks later they all went to the grave and set up a wail, and they cried and wailed and wailed and cried. This lasted nearly all day. At night the went back to the grave and a line was formed – men in front, women next and then the children. All danced and sang around the grave. I can hear them now in their high pitched voices singing "He-Hey-ha-he-hey-ha" over and over again. In 1852 an number of the Indians were sent to Arkansas from Bayou Lacroiz. These were half-civilized and wore feathers and beads. There were many Indians at Bayou Goula too. They were good people, hones and truthful, and friends always if you treated them right, but look out if you offended one – they never forgave and sometimes would kill.
The Indians of the coast made there own laws, If one killed another and ran away the Indians could take some member of his family and shoot him, for to them it was "a life for a life." But they never ran away always giving themselves up to their chief. When an Indian was to be shot, a grave was dug and he was draped in his blanket and put in the grave and then shot. With him was placed a jug of whiskey, some tobacco, pipe and flint, and other things that belonged to him. The grave was
Filled in with earth, each Indian throwing in dirt and singing. There was no disgrace about such a death – it was simply the law.
As I said, the Indians were good people, and there was never any trouble, but they liked whiskey and sometimes when they got drunk they killed. When sober they ware sorry and were ready to pay the penalty die for it. whiskey was very cheap then -- 18 cents a gallon at wholesale and. 25 cents at retail. It was fine whiskey, too, made of corn and rye.
The white people had laws of their own also. My father used to tell of them. Each community had its own whipping post. .When one was to be punished he was tied to the post, and he was given so many lashes on his bare back with a cat-o-nine-tails. If one stole a hog, its head, or another, was placed on the culprit's head, and he was walked around in order that all might see.
The oldest child was always recognized as head of the family when the Father died; his word was law. This was before the coming into general use of wills in that country, and every thing was divided, share and share alike -- money, cattle, etc., and everyone was satisfied. There was honor and never any cheating. Fair division of the estate was considered a sacred trust.
Freed slaves could not buy whisky. Everybody drank wine at table; there was annisette, parfait d1amour, claret -- all cheap.
What is now Long Beach was first known as "Old Chimney"this because there was the ruin of a bigh brick chimney. It was later named Rosalie, then Scott Station, for Andrew Scott, and then came its, present name. The early families there were the John Ladner, .Scott, Smith, Celestin Fayard; Numa, Celestin, John and Lovince Ladner had their homes there.
At Pass Christian were the homes of Peter Saucier, Finley Hiern, Prado, Joe Taylor, Merchant, Montgomery, who kept the Montgomery Hotel. This hotel later was sold to McDonid [McDonald?], then to the Christian Brothers for their college, which prospered several years, when it was burned and never: rebuilt. Then there were the homes of Vairo, Theodore Dedeaux, John Cronier, Dubuisson, Adam, Charlot, Anderson, who was a lawyer; Edouard Saucier, Nice(?), Holley and John Coffee.
At Cat Island was a fine shipyard. My father had a sloop built there of about forty-five foot keel. it cost $3,000, and the cabin, deck, etc. were of hardwood, highly polished and very pretty. It was called the Creole of Cat Island. Today it would cost ten times that amount to build, for at that time building materials and labor were cheap.
Yes, these were good old days. People were not so jealous and ambitious to make money as they are today. Everybody had a good time, but -- well, this was a fine old world any way you take it."
With that James A. Cuevas concluded the telling of his story to me. He has seen his Carcassonne.