To Ed., Galv. News-We left Galveston on the 11th inst. on board one of the largest schooners that runs to this place. Our kind, sociable, and accommodating Captain left us nothing to complain of, but 12 hours calm, 18 hours hard sea, the everlasting potato hash of our Chilean cook, and about 40 million merciless mosquitoes. It was curious to observe as an example of the commingling of races in America that, out of a crew and 14 passengers, there were 6 pure nationalities, besides natives of Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and New Hampshire.
Alligator shooting on the Calcasieu River is rare sport, and it kept us in continual excitement. Those that we saw were of various sizes, from 5 to 12 feet in length; we were seldom out of sight of them in some stretches of the river. They lay in the water with only their heads above water, and it requires an experienced eye to distinguish them from a chunk or end of a log. They can only be killed by a good rifle, and by shooting them in the head. When killed, they turn immediately on their back. In the stillness of night it is dismal to hear their croaking - you feel that there are monsters around you that are ready and willing to eat you up.
Calcasieu River is 90 miles from Galveston. There is 5 1/2 feet of water on the outer bar. From the mouth up to Calcasieu is 6 miles, and very deep but the banks are low. I am told that there were 22 persons and over 20,000 cattle drowned here by the water from the gulf in the storm last September. I met a carpenter here who lost his wife (Mrs. Thayer) and all his children in one hour. 1
Calcasieu Lake is from 15 to 18 miles across in either direction, but is very shallow; not averaging over 6 or 7 feet, and the great stumbling block to navigation is the bar at the lower end of the lake.... After passing this lake there is nothing to interrupt navigation. Calcasieu is a sluggish stream…..
This marsh has all been a sheet of water as high as Lake Charles; and what is called Calcasieu Lake, Trahan's Lake, Indian Lake, and Lake Charles are only those portions, where the bed has not yet arisen to the surface of the water. When that happens, as it will force its channel, it will be a continuous deep river all the way. (?)
From Lake Charles to the mouth of the river is near 60 miles. There are about 25 sloops and schooners running in the lumber trade here. There are 12 sawmills, either in operation or about to be started. The only other business here is the raising of cattle, and some few horses, but the winter range here is so bad here that it is not profitable. The soil along the river will do to cultivate, if the proper labor is applied to it.
The river was at one time the nest of the celebrated (Jean) Lafitte and his band of pirates. Hackberry Island in Calcasieu Lake is pointed out as their naval depot, although it must have been deeper than now. An elevation on the river is to this day called Money Hill, and is pointed out as the spot where Lafitte buried his money. For 50 years, the people of the country have been occasionally digging at it, but the present proprietor has stopped it. Contraband Bayou is pointed out as having had a depot at its head for the stowing of goods the pirates smuggled into the country—also as a depot for the African slaves they imported. I know nothing of the truth of the statement beyond the fact in history that the band of pirates did exist in the Gulf somewhere, and at the application of Lafitte, were all pardoned by the U. S. government in its last war against England, on condition that they should fight the enemy (at New Orleans).
Lake Charles is by far the prettiest lake of the four; it is almost a circle 2 1/2 miles across, surrounded by high, well-timbered banks. There is little clearing, except near the village, although there have been French settlements here nearly 80 years. In the bosom of this primeval forest, its placid waters have rested in romantic quietude for a thousand years. And perhaps on its shores, many an Indian lover has been softened by the magical spell of woman.
Lake Charles village has near 300 inhabitants, a dilapidated court house, no jail, two schools, one dram shop, six stores, two hotels; one church (Catholic), though there is preaching to another congrgation (Protestant). The Catholic priest is also the teacher in the Catholic school....
The peculiar French custom of coffee when you rise in the morning is universal. I like this as much as I dislike their style of low roofs and houses. The oil excitement still keeps up at this place. One of the companies has their machinery ready and are now boring some 12 miles from town. One of the parties told me they had bored 100 feet and were still sanguine of oil. Another company will commence boring in a week or two. 2
There is one remarkable character here; Michel Pithon, an old Frenchman on the lake a half mile below town, whom I must notice. He told me he was born in 1774, and is now 92 years old. He fought under the banners of Napoleon I, and showed me saber cuts on his head and legs, received amid the thunder and smoke of Austerlitz, Wagram and Borodino; witnessed the ocean of fire that consumed Moscow, suffered amid all the horrors of the French retreat over the snow and ice of Russia. After the fall of Napoleon, he came to America and lived in the Northwest with hunters among wild Indians. At the breaking out of the Texan War of Independence, he joined the Texan army under Gen. Houston and closed his career on the field of San Jacinto. Here at age 62, when others think only of the grave, he concluded to marry and settle himself; and 30 years ago he married his present wife. His oldest son is now 28 years old.
He has 5 children, four grown and the fifth one, a boy of 12 years old, now going to school in the village.... He yet goes to every dance in the country and loves to participate; takes a long walk every morning before breakfast, and indulges in racing with the little girls about the village. Nine years ago, at age 83, he went back to Europe alone to collect an inheritance left to him. The present emperor of France offered him a pension for life, provided he remain in France, but he refused.... 3
There was another Frenchman, who died 18 months ago on Indian Lake, named Trahan, who I am told was 125 years old. He came from France as a soldier in the French army (of Lafayette), that assisted in our first revolution, and was at the siege and surrender of Yorktown.... Others say he died at the age of 118, which would have made him 34 at the siege.... // Lucullus 4