Saturday, October 13, 2018

Lacombe History Highlights

by Anita R. Campeau1 & Donald J. Sharp2

            Lacombe, Louisiana, located in the Parish of St. Tammany, lies halfway between Mandeville and Slidell. From Highway 190, it is about four miles directly south on Highway 434 to Lake Pontchartrain. From the end of the road you can see the tall buildings of New Orleans (including the Superdome). The view is gorgeous as you look back on Lacombe. One finds an open space for about two miles to the trees to the north, and the turns in the bayou that come right to the road. The bayou leads into the Lake and ten miles to the east is the Rigolets and the Gulf. The population of Lacombe was estimated at 8,000 in 2005 and growing since the area is being developed from both directions, Mandeville and Slidell.

            In 1976, the people of Lacombe celebrated their bicentennial with a festival in which the local schools, churches, clubs, organizations and dignitaries participated. A commemorative booklet giving information about Lacombe, past and present, was published. The cover illustrates the "Bayou Lacombe, Louisiana" crest that reflected the community's crabbing, logging and recreational industries and showed flags of the various nations that have flown over the area.3 The John Henry Davis, a two-room schoolhouse, built in 1912, was dedicated as a museum during the celebration of 1976, and opened to the public in 1981.4

            This is an attempt to put together, with as much accuracy as possible, information about the families who lived at Bayou Lacombe in the area of what is now St. Tammany Parish. Along with the lumber, fur pelts, meat, the pitch and tar industry, bricks, the area furnished New Orleans with valuable exports while the Choctaws brought herbs and colorful baskets to sell at the French Market.

            Vital to the history is that no story of Lacombe would be complete without details of Pere Adrien Rouquette. Reared as a youth in his Creole parents' home on Bayou St. John (near Bayou Sauvage), this missionary priest, naturalist, poet and romanticist, crossed the lake from New Orleans in the late 1850s to work among his Choctaws whom he considered as his blood brothers. He became their Chahta-Ima, "like a Choctaw," by living with them and ministering to them from his hermitage on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

            Numerous tribes originally inhabited St. Tammany parish, but our interest lies with the Choctaw and the Acolapissa. The first direct contact recorded between the Choctaw and the French was with Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville in 1699. They came early into friendly relations with the French and were their allies in their wars against other tribes. In the French war on the Natchez, a large group of Choctaw warriors served under a French officer. Bayou Castin, whose word "caste" meant fleas, was once the home of Choctaw Indians, (thus Bayou Castin was originally the Bayou of Fleas.) The Choctaws were the most numerous and kept their identity the longest. They lived in palmetto-hut villages and hunted wild game for their daily food. They were nomadic, following hunting and fishing seasons parish-wide. By 1903, the Choctaws were displaced to Oklahoma.

            The Acolapissa, whose name in the Choctaw language means guardian or sentinels, were a border tribe and probably served as watchers for hostile parties about Lake Pontchartrain and the coasted lagoons.5 They lived along the Pearl River to the mouth, but after 1700 they moved to Lake Pontchartrain on Bayou Castin and Chinchuba Creek (Alligator Creek) to escape British backed Chickasaw. After 1718, disease forced them to relocate just above New Orleans on the Mississippi River. Father Charlevoix visited them in 1722. By 1725, they returned to the north shore and the Bayou Castin area. This ties in with the handful of settlers like Pierre Brou dit Belledot whose petition to the Superior Council dated August 2, 1725, states that he is "at present residing at the Colapissa, and he asks for justice in the case of La Liberte who rented his pirogue to carry lumber for the Company."   Constant warfare by the Chickasaw against the French and their Indian allies took its toll on the once powerful tribe. Later the Acolapissa faded away, mixing into the Houma tribe.

            As we take a trip back in time to the early eighteenth century, the area that is now known as Lacombe was sparsely settled, if at all. The French entrepreneurs shortly after the settling of New Orleans were eager to promote trade with the Indians who lived on the north shore wilderness, referred to as "as the other side of the lake" ( 'autre cote du lac).

            Claude Vignon dit Lacombe frequented the rivers and the bayous, especially the central one that now bears his name. He visited the several Indian villages there, such as the Tangiphoa, twenty-five miles up the river of that name. He traded with the Indians across the Lake and Gulf Coast bringing in seventeen hundred or more deerskins from the Choctraw trade to New Orleans. In 1725, Bienville attested to the supply of fresh meat that the Acolapissa Indians were supplying.6 Other hunters listed in the 1726 Census were: Reboul, Thomas Anulin, Gilles, Grace, and Etienne Beaucour.

A Statue of Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville (1680-1768) located in downtown Bay St. Louis, MS. He explored the Bay of Saint Louis on August 25, 1699, and named it for Louis IX of France

            François Rillieux was born 1698 in Lyon, France and died in 1760 in a hunting accident. Rillieux purchased from the Biloxi Indians a large area around present day Bayou Bonfouca. It possibly took in the headwaters (west to east) of Bonfouca and then down to their mouths at Lake Pontchartrain. He extended his domain through the swamps and forests, as far as the Pearl River. In later years it was estimated in Court Cases as over 100,000 acres.

Beginning of Tar Factories

            The present day area of Lacombe was once covered with huge long-leaf pine trees. From the pines and firs emerged a flourishing industry, the production of tar and pitch. Tar, a dark brown or black odorous viscous liquid is obtained by the destructive distillation of organic material such as wood, coal or peat. Pitch is obtained as a residue of organic materials, especially tars from various conifers. As described by Le Page du Pratz, "the best tar is obtained from trees that are old and are beginning to decay, because the older they are the greater quantities they contain of that fat bituminous substance which yields tar. It is even proper that the trees should be felled a long time before they use them for that purpose. It is usually towards the mouth of the river and along the sea-coasts that they made tar, because it is in those places that the pines usually grow."

            It was the decision of Pontchartrain, the Minister of the Marine, who gave preference to Gulf Coast pitch and tar, turpentine and resin from the forests, which helped to develop the north shore for an ample supply of tar was an important factor in maritime growth. Tar was used in large quantities on the wooden sailing ships of the time to make them watertight and it also protected their ropes from deterioration. Claude Vignon dit Lacombe, an entrepreneur circa 1734, started an enterprise in the pitch industry with the help of slaves and indentured servants supplied by the Company.

Claude Vignon dit Lacombe and his Factory at Bayou Lacombe

            Claude Vignon dit Lacombe originated from St. Alban des Roches, diocese of Vienne in Dauphinė, France. He arrived in Louisiana on the ship Marie, on May 23, 1718. His first status was that of a concessionaire with the company. New Orleans was his base of operations, but he was busy on the North Shore trading with the Indians from the first mention in 1724 until his death at the Surgeon's house in 1747.

            Lacombe, interested in the production of tar and pitch, began to operate on a site located along the waterway west of Bonfouca on high land near the head of the bayou.7 He encountered the presence of small bands of Choctaws, and used their labor in his operation.8

.           The business enterprise was successful indicated by another trade agreement in October, 1739, when Lacombe ceded to his partner Chavannes the "sum total of his interest in the output of a certain tar pit (or oven) in process of construction." In return Chavannes ceded to Lacombe the like output of tar and pitch from the second oven in course of construction." 9

Lacombe, at 611 livres, purchased the boat whose dimensions were 100 by 7 and a half by 3 and a half feet, capable of holding ten tons.10 His business thrived and his schooner was seen plying up and down bayou Buchuwaw, the Indian name for "squeezing bayou with its turns." The Indians thought it had the shape of a snake near its mouth. One understands, if you take a drive down Lake Road near its mouth. Lacombe used it so many times that people began to refer to it "le bayou de Monsieur Lacombe" (the bayou used by Monsieur Lacombe). In 1742, Lacombe varied his business interests, and put cattle on Pearl Island, much to the displeasure of one Chauvin and Carriere (tar workers at Bayou Bonfouca) who had received a grant for the island for the shells.

            Lacombe made a Nuncupative Testament, on August 16, 1747, at the Surgeon's house on Bourbon Street, in New Orleans. He died there a few weeks later and was buried in the original St. Louis Cemetery near the present French Quarter. The Will mentions no immediate family either in New Orleans or on the north shore.

            By 1748, the name of Lacombe's Bayou remained as reported by slaves, Indians, and travelers. Surveyors and mapmakers called the area Bayou Lacombe, and it was later named the Village of Lacombe. It became known as a refuge for runaway slaves. The Gilberto Guillemard map of 1797/98 shows Bayou Lacombe included and named.

The Hertel de Rouville-Soumande Land Grant at Bayou Lacombe

     Jacques-Michel Hertel de Rouville probably received the earliest land grant on the North Shore that we know of, and it appears to be the largest given in what is now the Lacombe area. The exact date and the description of the grant recorded by the French government are not known. It was described, in a sales document after his death, as "A tract of land lying and being on the Bayou Lacombe, alias Bayou Rouville, on the right hand, or easternmost side going up from Lake Pontchartrain, commencing by estimation about half a league from the said lake, containing fourteen square leagues fronting on the said bayou by a straight line of the distances of seven leagues with two leagues in depth, making in all the above named quantity fourteen square leagues. The land was in the shape of a rectangle as pictured in the Tobin map. Francis Cousin later laid claim to this land in 1806 and 1813.

The Rouquette-Cousin family

            Dominique Rouquette (1772-1819), son of Bernard and Marie St. Antonina, (the French name reads "St. Antoine" and "St. Antonina" in Spanish records), was born at Fleurance on the Gers, a river that flows into the Garonne a little north of Toulouse. Rouquette arrived in New Orleans circa 1800, set up a wine-importing business and acquired considerable wealth.11 He married Louise Cousin, a native of Bayou Bonfouca, the daughter of François Cousin, Sr., and Catherine Peche (Peuche) Carriere.12 The maternal relatives owned large tracts of land from Bayou Lacombe to Bonfouca. The first Carriere came to Mobile with the Baudreau dit Graveline expedition in 1708.13

Francois-Dominique Rouquette was born on January 2, 1810, at Bayou Lacombe. Because of their literary activities, he and his brother, Adrien, and their uncle Anatole Cousin were called "The Bards of Bonfouca." He died on May 10, 1890, at the age of 80 years. He is best known as a master of lyric poetry and for his narrative history of the Choctaws, followed with a history of the Chickasaws. 14

Felix Rouquette was born on November 29, 1814, in New Orleans, and baptized on August 24, 1815. In 1836, he married his Indian cousin, Delphine Cousin, and they had five children. On February 1, 1847, Felix Rouquette decided to sell his one-half interest in the land he had acquired from his wife, Delphine. The borders of this land were Bayou Melon on the north running east to Bayou Lacombe. To the south was Barry Branch or Squirrel Branch running from the Bayou Lacombe to Hwy 434. On the north border running along Bayou Melon was the favorite area of Pere Rouquette. Across Bayou Melon, Pere Rouquette established his "Nook", where he lived and said Mass, and also a gathering place for the Choctaws. Felix died in 1873.

Adrien-Emmanuel Rouquette was born on February 13, 1813 in the family residence on Royal Street, in New Orleans. After his father's death, the family moved to the banks of Bayou St. John. He was sent north in 1824 "to divert his mind from his savage associates" and in 1829 he was sent to France where he completed his collegiate studies in Paris, Nantes, and Rennes, and obtained his baccalaureate in 1833. He returned to New Orleans and spent much time alone or among his Indian friends. Later he returned to Paris to study law, but preferred literature and returned to Louisiana where he led a "desultory life," marked by no definite plans for his future until 1842. On a third voyage to Paris, he published his first poetic essay "Les Savannes," a literary work well received. He returned to Louisiana to become editor of "Le Propagateur Catholique."

            Eventually, Rouquette found his true vocation, entered the Seminary at Plattenville, Louisiana, in 1842 to prepare for the priesthood. He was ordained on July 2, 1845, by Monseigneur Antoine Blanc. Of particular interest, he was the first Creole to have embraced the ecclesiastical state since the cession of Louisiana to the federal union. When Rouquette refers to himself as "Creole," he meant "American"15 and he distinguishes Creole from French, meaning "native, of the soil, not foreign." 16

            Père Rouquette was assigned to duty at the Cathedral of St. Louis, at New Orleans, where his eloquence crowded the pews and "his holy life commanded the love and respect of all denominations." After serving the community for fourteen years, he severed his connections with the diocese and made his home among the Choctaw Indians on the banks of Bayou Lacombe.

 Missal and Altar Cards of Father Rouquette

            Between the years 1845-1887, Père Rouquette's life was woven around the five hermitage chapels that he built in St. Tammany Parish. The great passion beginning with his youth had been the devotion to his Choctaw whom he served in a small chapel built of pine logs near the Tom Spell memorial family cemetery on the east banks of the Chinchuba Creek, a thousand feet south of Highway 190. Spell was the owner of 500 acres in 1790 that included present day Chinchuba Gardens as well as the church property. Père Rouquette's log cabin was located on the present "Little Terry" or "Little Tory" property off Highway 190.

            As a result of his patient labors, Père Rouquette converted many Choctaws to the Faith. He was known as their "Chahta-Ima" and when dressed in his usual Indian garb a stranger could mistakenly have taken him as one. As their "Ima" Père Rouquette gave them twenty-nine years of faithful services. In regard to the dead Christian Indians under his care, oral tradition is that he buried his dead on high knolls on both sides of the creek. According to Edgar Sharp, in an article written under the pseudonym of "The Old Pelican" no markers have ever been found to show their last resting place.17

Cabin Chapels built by Père Rouquette

            These included (1) Our Lady of Solitude on Ravinne aux Cannes (Cane Bayou) overlooking Lake Pontchartrain; (2) The Nook on Bayou Lacombe; (3) Buchawa Village chapel at the headwaters of Bayou Lacombe; (4) Chuka-chaba or The Night Cabin on Bayou Castine near the lake. (5) He built his fifth and last Chapel on the north side of Bayou Chinchuba and called it Kildara or The Cabin in the Oak on Chinchuba Creek.84

            Donald Sharp, co-author of this article, in his quest for knowledge, met Edgar Sharp in the 1960s. They continued their friendship and association for many years. On one visit, Edgar took him to his garage where the old altar of Kildara Chapel was stored.

            Edgar's daughter, Marilyn Sharp, said recently that she was a young girl when her father obtained the altar, years ago; at a time the people were breaking up the little wooden building. When her father visited the area in the late 1940s, the Chapel had fallen into disrepair and there were sheep inside the small building. The door was hanging by its hinges, and the land was used as a grazing area. Edgar Sharp called the Archbishop in New Orleans and told him of the situation. The reply was that Father Rouquette was dead, done his thing and, no, they were not interested in the old Chapel. So he and his son, Daryl, brought the altar to their garage.

            Marilyn remembers the altar being in their home for a long, long time, and that her father used it as a wood saw table and work bench for many years. "Ah! So that is why the altar has saw marks and drill holes in it," exclaimed Father Dominic Braud when Donald Sharp recently told him the story. [Father Braud, a monk of St. Joseph Abbey, wrote the introduction to Blaise C. D'Antoni's Chahta-Ima]. About 1985, Edgar Sharp donated the altar to the monks at St. Joseph's Abbey, in Covington, where it remains today in display in the Rouquette Library. 17

            Due to progress, today the large oaks are gone and the small wooden chapel has disappeared (along with the Chinchuba Deaf Institute). Marilyn remembers from her childhood Rouquette's old oak tree where he preached. She said that "as a child, she would hide from schoolmates behind that tree and it was where she took the school bus. A fruit and vegetable stand stood there for many years." About thirty years ago, Marilyn related that it was decided to run a modern highway through the area due to the rapid development of Mandeville.

The Mardi Gras Day Massacre

            There was a public outcry but when everyone was off guard, the State Department of Transportation came to the area with chain saws and bulldozers, cut down Rouquette's oak and cleared the land one Mardi Gras Day when everyone was gone across the lake. No word was given and there was a public outcry but, the damage being complete, nothing could be done. It was called the Mardi Gras Day Massacre, in a published article by her father. Modem Highway 190, with all the traffic and business runs today through the land where Père Rouquette had his Chapel and close by is the Sharp, Spell, Strain Cemetery enclosed by a fence because of encroaching new homes.

            Père Adrien-Emmanuel Rouquette died on July 15, 1887 at Hotel-Dieu Hospital in New Orleans. Newspaper headlines announced the priest's demise: "Chahta-Ima No More." 19 He "died of general debility.. . due to a violent fever which prostrated him about two years ago...caused by his having drunk impure water while within the forest." He was buried on July 16, 1887 in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. His beloved Choctaws mourned his death. His wish had been to die in his chapel in the woods, and to be buried there. His wish was not granted!


1 Anita R. Campeau, M.A., historian, author, lecturer. Graduated from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
2 Donald J. Sharp graduated from Loyola U. of the South (New Orleans) with an M.A., also known as a colonial historian and lecturer on Maritime history.
3 In 1975, Mr.Tom Aicklen served as Heritage Chairman for the Bayou Lacombe Bicentennial Community project with Gloria LeFrere as secretary. Since that time to the present day, Mr. Aicklen has collaborated on several historical and cultural projects concerning the Choctaws and the Creoles. His aim is to preserve the unique Lacombe historical and cultural heritage through the Lacombe Heritage Center.
4 At first the St. Tammany School Board had no connection with this school, but later took over. I.W. Harper was the first principal and Lucille Dubourg, his assistant, was later named principal. Thanks to Tom Aicklen who obtained the information for us.
5 Crouse, Nellis, Lemoine d'Iberville: Soldier of New France, The Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1954,178.
6 Ellis, Steven F., St. Tammany Parish: L 'Autre Cote du Lac, Gretna Pelican Press, 1981, 31.
7 D'Antoni, Blaise C, Chahta-Ima and St. Tammany's Choctaws, The St. Tammany Historical Society, 1986,2, 10, 12.
8 LHQ, Volume 3, No. 4, October 1920, 567-568.
9 LHQ, Volume 11,494.
10 Records of the Superior Council of Louisiana: Petition to Sell Longboat, October 17, 1739, and Sale of Longboat, October 20,1739.
11 Lebreton, Dagmar-Renshaw, Chahta-Ima, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1947, 1.
12 There is no marriage record listed in the SLC Sacramental Records.
13 ANQM, 19 February 1708.
14 D'Antoni, Blaise, Chahta-Ima and St. Tammany's Choctaws, Covington, Louisiana, 1986, 20
15 Sharp, Edgar, "On Chinchuba history," published in News-Banner, Mandeville.
16 Lebreton, Dagmar-Renshaw, Chahta-Ima, 71.
17 Sharp, Edgar, News-Banner, Sunday, July 28, 1991.
18 Oral interview by Donald Sharp with Marilyn, daughter of Edgar Sharp, Mandeville, Louisiana, 17 May 2007.

19 "Chahta-Ima No More," The Daily States, edition of July 15, 1887, 1. Cited by D'Antoni, Chahta-Ima, 27.