SOME NOTES ABOUT EARLY GRAND CHENIER, LOUISIANA
© By W. T. Block
(click here for W. T. Block web page)
Chenier, La. is located in extreme eastern Cameron Parish on the Mermentau River,
and it was at first home to the Attakapas Indians. Probably the first Western
Europeans to visit there were French fur traders, but unfortunately history
leaves little or no record of them. The first known Western European to live
there for two years was Charles Cronea of Marseilles, France, who jumped ship
there from the Hotspur in Nov., 1820. The Hotspur was one of Lafitte's prize
schooners, captained by James Campbell; the ship was loaded with doubloons and
booty when it took refuge at Grand Chenier to replenish water tanks and repair
sails. Cronea is credited with being the "last of Lafitte's pirates to be
keelhauled into eternity," when he died at High Island, Tx. in March,
next known white settler there was Placide LaBove, who arrived there in 1831,
but later moved away. LaBove served with with the 16th Louisiana Regiment at
the Battle of New Orleans, and he died at Johnson's Bayou in 1892 at age 102. The
next settlers were the John M. Smith family. An Attakapas Indian tried to
explain to Smith how to survive in a storm by attaching family members to big
branches high in a live oak tree, and wrapping them with grape vines. Smith,
however, refused to believe him, and all of Smith's family drowned in the
hurricane of 1831.
first permanent settler was Milledge McCall (1803-1880), who came from
Mississippi in 1839, followed by John Armstrong and John W. Sweeney in 1840. William
Doxey (1816-1912) and Pierre Grand Miller both arrived about 1848, the latter
residing in the last house on the the Grand Chenier ridge, 20 miles from Mermentau
River. Two others, Laurents (Lorenzo) Sturlese and Paul Jones also arrived
during the late 1840s. Sturlese was an Italian ship captain, whereas Jones was
the first merchant in Grand Chenier. He also was captain of the Jubilee, the
first ship known by name to trade in Southwest Louisiana Jones bought the
cotton, furs, hides and other commodities of the setters and traded them in New
Orleans for the staples needed to sustain the frontier economy.
addition to Sturlese and Jones, the following early Grand Chenier residents
were enumerated in the 1850 Vermillion Parish census, namely: Isaac Bonsall,
John W. Sweeney, Milledge McCall Sr.; Albert Stafford, Edmond Vaughan, Alladin
Vincent, Valsin Vincent, John Weatherill, and Lucien Bertrand.
of the residences between 377 and 410 of 1860 Vermilion Parish census resided
on the Chenier. They included Paul Jones, merchant; Abel Alexander, John
Armstrong, James Hill, James Hickok, Geo. Root, William Doxey, Benj. Root,
Albert Stafford, John Weatherill; John Dick, whose real and personal estate equaled
$25,000; Alex. McDonald, Geo. Moyne, Archie Gordy, M. McCall, Charles Hulten,
M. D.; John W. Sweeney, James Vaughan, M. Hill, Henry Sweeney, John Miller,
Michel Miller, Sr.; Michel Miller, Jr.; Valsin Montie, Lucien Bertrand, John
Miller, Jr.; Edmond Vaughan, Belisare LaSye, J. Sturlese, Pierre Valcour
Miller, and Isaac Bonsall. It appears likely that at the Grand Chenier
population numbered about 200 by 1860.
month of April, 1861 altered all affairs with the outbreak of the Civil War. In
1863 the Confederate Army sent "conscripting vessels" to Leesburg and
Grand Chenier, which one writer likened to the "British press gangs"
of 1812, whereby one "volunteered at gun point." Very quickly most
younger Chenier men volunteered or were conscripted into the Calcasieu Regiment
and sent to Camp Pratt. John Dick became hated because of efforts to enforce
the conscription laws, and eventually he moved away. Of the writers great
uncles who became Confederate soldiers, they included Hugh W. Hickok, John W.
Sweeney, Jr.; William H. McCall, and Isaac Bonsai], the latter two having been
slain at the Battle of Mansfield. (McCall died of pneumonia the day before the
the Chenier men were away in service, the 200-men band of Mermentau Jayhawkers rode
up and down the Grand Chenier ridge, often at night, plundering corn and
hogs at will. My grandmother Sweeney told me that her family barred all window
shutters at night to keep out both the panthers, which frequented the front
marsh, and also the Jayhawkers. Milledge Byrd McCall, Jr. was killed during a
fight with the bushwhackers.
Oct. 1863, Capt. Matt Nolan wrote that: "...There are two blockade-runners
docked at Grand Chenier, each loaded with gunpowder. It is feared that the
Mermentau Jayhawkers might seize them, for they can muster 200 men..." In
March, 1864, Capt. Howerton wrote that: "...Dr. McCall is dawn from the
Chenier. He reports that Col. Vincent's and Louisiana Cavalry are attacking the
Mermentau Jayhawkers. So far, 9 have been killed, many more captured, and they
are still fighting in Tousand's Cove..."
the end of the war, an African slave ship, unaware that all slaves had been
freed, abandoned its cargo of 20o slaves, and left them shackled to starve and
await death on Negro Island in Mermentau River.
the war, bands of armed men called Regulators ran rampant over the Chenier
ridge, also killing and pillaging. They executed Ralph Stewart for some unknown
reason. They captured Each Yokum and hanged him to a hackberry tree. When they
came after "Doc" Addison, he was waiting for them with 2 double-barreled
shotgun muskets, and he had some one to reload them for him. When the smoke
lifted, 4 Regulators lay dead in his yard and 3 were mortally-wounded.
the Regulators were destroyed, life returned somewhat to normal at Grand
Chenier. One mystery still survives to this writer concerning the 7 native-born
Italians. Capt. Lorenzo Sturlese arrived first about 185o. The others included
Joe Sturlese, J. Cimio, Raphael Barbi, Frank DeMarco; Emmanuel Sturlese, who
was captain of the schooner Two Brothers; and Capt. Charlie Sturlese, whose
schooner Two Sisters sank near Galveston with a load of cotton in Oct. 1881. My
Uncle Andrew Sweeney drowned on that trip. According to a descendent,
Bartolomeo Baccigalopi jumped ship in Lake Arthur and later made his way to
Grand Chenier. The writer has often pondered if an Italian ship wrecked on the
front beach, leaving its castaways to seek refuge in the nearest settlement; I
suppose I will never know for certain.