Historical Articles by W. T. Block

(click here for W. T. Block web page)

It would certainly be presumptuous of me, based on the lives of 2 men, to infer that Frenchmen with Gen. Lafayette's army in 1777, and who later lived in Southwest Louisiana, built up a greater surplus of years than others, simply because they were French. Jean Baptiste Chiasson, born in Acadia in 1745, was present at Yorktown, Virginia when British Lord Cornwallis surrendered. Later he lived on Bayou Plaquemine for 55 years before he moved to Beaumont, where he died in 1854, at age 109.

Michel Trahan of Lake Charles also came to America with Lafayette's army, and was present with Gen. Washington when Cornwallis surrendered on Oct. 19, 1781. His biography on the Internet states he was born on Aug. 21, 1764 in Malaix, France, the son of Jean Baptiste and Madeleine Trahan, and that he died at Prien Lake in Nov. 1866; however there appear to be major discrepancies with regard to his birth and death dates.

It seems probable that Trahan was closer to 115 years old when he died instead of 102. Had Trahan been born in 1764 as his biography states, he would have been only 13 years when he left France with Gen. Lafayette. At residence 282 of the 1850 Calcasieu Parish census, Michel Trahan gave his age as 101 while he was living in the household with William and James Ellender.

When Willard Richardson, owner/editor of Galveston Weekly News, wrote his letter from Lake Charles, dated May 19, 1866, he observed:

""...There was another Frenchman who died here 18 months ago on Indian Lake, named Michel Trahan, who I am told was 125 years old. He was a soldier in the French army and was at the siege and surrender of Yorktown.... Others say he died at age 118...." It now seems probable that Trahan was born in 1749 and died in 1864.

Hence the exact age and dates of Trahan will probably never be known for certain. The "Indian Lake" is probably that body of water known as Prien Lake today. Richardson also wrote about the small "Trahan's Lake, south of Lake Charles, which was simply a wide place in the stream, erased by dredging and natural channelization. Richardson also added in his letter as follows:

""...There is another remarkable character here. Michel Pithon, and old Frenchman on the lake below here, who told me he was born in 1774 (in Savoy, France), and is 92 years of age. He fought under Napoleon at the Battles of Austerlitz, Wagram, Borodino; witnessed the ocean of fire at Moscow and suffered amid the horrors of the French retreat.... He came to America, lived in the Northwest with mountain trappers among the wild Indians.... joined the Texas Army under Gen. Sam Houston... he concluded to marry at age 62..."

""...He has 5 children, 4 grown and a boy of 12... He yet goes to every dance in the parish... takes a long walk every morning before breakfast. In 1857 at age 83 he went to Europe to collect an inheritance. The present Emperor Napoleon II offered him a pension for life, provided he remained in France, but he refused..."

When Michel Pithon left the Texas army in 1836, he moved to Lake Charles, where he married Denise Sallier in 1837, who was 40 years younger than her husband. They became the parents of 5 children that reached adulthood, namely, sons Sirius, Albert and Ambrose, and daughters Iris Peeke and Doris Touchy.

On Aug. 24, 1840, Pithon was a member of the first Imperial Calcasieu police jury, representing Ward 3. Although Pithon did not arrive in Lake Charles until 16 years after Jean Lafitte disappeared from the Louisiana coast, Pithon was the source of much Calcasieu pirate legendry, as told to him by his mother-in-law, Catherine Sallier. The Calcasieu River legendry appears in a 3-column article, "Lafitte on the Calcasieu," in Galveston Daily News of April 28, 1895.

According to the Pithon family succession of June 13, 1874, both Michel and Denise Pithon died in 1873. Their son Albert was a Confederate soldier and in 1870 owned a Lake Charles saloon. Son Sirius provided the land for Lake Charles' first Catholic church and graveyard. The Michel Pithon legacy lives on still, perpetuated in Lake Charles' Pithon Street and Pithon Coulee.