From the earliest days of Plymouth Rock in 1620, the Anglo-American and the Indian learned new customs from each other. Indians learned the superiority of the Pilgrims' weapons, whereas the latter learned from the Indian to bury a fish to fertilize kernels of corn.
Many things that the Indian learned from the white pioneers were to their own detriment - for instance whiskey, which for the Indian was worse than opium. Sadly Indians also learned that by accepting the white men's blankets, they might also be accepting small pox germs, which sometimes decimated the Indian populations rapidly.
An Indian trapper at Grand Chenier taught the coastal white man a neat trick for surviving a hurricane. In 1830 a John Phillips family were the first white settlers at Grand Chenier. When the hurricane of Aug. 28, 1831 approached, the Indian begged Phillips to tie himself and his family high in a live oak tree for their safety; but Phillips refused his advice and he and his family drowned. The Indian survived by tying himself in an oak tree, using grape and rattan vines that he wrapped around his body.
The next settler at Grand Chenier was Placide Labove, who came in 1836, and the Indian taught Labove the same trick. In turn, Labove taught all the other early settlers on the chenier, namely, John Smith, William Doxey, Pierre V. Miller, John Armstrong, Milledge McCall, John Sweeney, and others.
The Indian had "storm trees" that he used, that is, big live oaks with all the upper foliage cut off to lessen resistance to the hurricane winds. During the hurricane at Leesburg (Cameron) on Sept. 13, 1865, many settlers tied themselves and families up in the oak trees and survived, whereas a Mrs. Thayer and her six children drowned.
Placide Labove taught all the Cameron Parish settlers his survival trick. He moved to Johnson's Bayou after 1865, and he was enumerated at age 80 in the 1870 census at the bayou. At age 96 during the storm of Oct. 12, 1886, Labove tied himseff for the last time in an oak tree and survived, whereas 110 others at the bayou drowned.
In a letter of my Uncle John Smith (a Johnson Bayou school teacher), published in Galveston Daily News of June 1, 1894, Smith noted that Labove, a veteran of the Battle of New Orleans, died at Johnson's Bayou, age 102, in 1892, and that Labove claimed he had never been sick a day in his life.
During the 1886 storm Bill Stafford tied himself and 2 toddlers in his care in a live oak tree, and all 3 survived the storm, although 110 other persons died at the bayou. During the same storm at Sabine Pass, Jacob H. Garner tied himself and all his children up in a live oak, and all of them survived the storm, although 86 others drowned.
In 1894 Johnson's Bayou perhaps set a state or national record in one respect. Mrs. Joseph Berwick and Mrs. Dolcie Theriot were each the mother of 24 - repeat 24 - healthy children. Mrs. Berwick had never seen a doctor in her life, was 48 years old, "is of fine figure, weighs 148 pounds, and is the picture of good health...."
It might be interesting to know how many Cameron Parish lives during the past century have been saved during hurricanes by having been tied up in the live oak trees.