Historical Articles by W. T. Block

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

(This long quote from Beaumont, TX. Enterprise of July 1, 1928 is reprinted in part with oral permission of the editor. The time period occurred when the first oil exploration “dynamiters” and German seismograph crews reached Cameron Perish and the old wooden courthouse was in a wretched state of disrepair. Nevertheless, portions of the story not of general interest will be omitted.)

"“Upon reaching the beach fur camp, where the Orange-Cameron Land Co. kept 2 Mod. T Fords, the touring party of Beaumonters transferred from the speed boot Mink to the autos for a days tour of Cameron Parish. The following is a direct quote, with periodic omissions, of Dean Tevis.

"“Two 'dynamiters' with two auto loads of other 'scientists' struck the town of Cameron at 7:30 one Friday morning. The black leather cases that they carried contained their 'instruments.' Mrs. Julia Gouthier, who runs the hotel was down at the ferry landing to see the 2 motors come in and she invited the party up to have coffee. The word 'coffee' is the 'open sesame' to the head of every Cameron Parish man or woman. Mrs. Gouthier, with 20 other people from the parish seat, were there for a double purpose. The Borealis Rex, seasoned stemwheel steamer which plies every other day from Lake Charles to Cameron, was pulling out for upstream to allow the little town to bask again in utter solitude.

"'Now Cameron welcomes everyone, but Cameron has o warmer spot for all the dynamiters. The dynamiter is the man who finds oil domes in the marshes with his seismograph outfits. He represents large oil companies, who pay large sums for leasing and drilling purposes.

"“These dynamiters wear weathered boots and breeches, rare old hats and rough shirts,... and that surely puts them in the class of German dynamiters. Since the first of them came along, $25,000 has found its way into the treasury of the Cameron Parish school board... Already five domes hove been located within the parish...

"“There isn't a brick building in the town of Cameron, which is one of the oldest cities on the Louisiana coast, but they are talking of erecting a brick high school. Incidently the schools are probably the most progressive institutions in the parish, running 9 months of the year.

"“When Mrs. Gouthier was informed by Charlie Trahan, deputy sheriff in the employ of Stark's muskrat trapping industry, that the men were not dynamiters, but perfectly harmless newspaper men from Beaumont, she smiled her welcome. Mrs. Gouthier knows her okra when it comes to presenting the key to the city of Cameron. She called several of the residents who were standing around watching the Rex maneuvering out of the harbor, and there were many handshakes...

"“Very late to bed and very early to rise Friday morning, with the moaning of the gulf, induces sleep.  Breakfast by a great Cajun cook. Alcie Stutes and Dave Nelson pilot one Mod. T, while Carouthers takes the other, and away go the gasoline caravan on as beautiful a beach as the coast knows. Presently a great dredge comes in sight.  It is dredging another canal for the Orange-Cameron Company, and its chief task is building a foundation for the {Sulphur} highway, which romancers declare will spoil Cameron. Cameron is a parish without a telephone, without a highway to the outer world, without a railroad, and with no communication save that of the steamboat Rex. the Cameron marsh is one picture; the other is the Calcasieu River, the town of Cameron, the parish court house, which is propped up by two by fours, and the five ridges settled a hundred years go. Now the state is sending a highway down from Sulphur through Hackberry, and many strangers will spend Sunday in the parish seat. It will rob the town of much of its age-old quaintness.

"“Five or six miles down the beach and Trahan puts the little car on o ragged roadway above it. The party in the lead car can now see Cameron. The country to the north is a wide cow range, where 40,000 head feed on the salt gross. Just ahead is a great wooden building, which even at a distance shows it has been long abandoned. It was headquarters of a federal biological survey (see biography of ). About on old beach hotel are fields of as fine sea island cotton as anyone in the party has ever seen. The soil here is as black as the Nile.

"“Here are clumps of gorgeous oleanders, white, pink, and red. Then the smoke of the steamer Rex shows up. And very soon the boat itself. The Rex has been in service on the Calcasieu for 20 years. Prior to that she was on duty on Mississippi River. We were a little too late to interview the captain of the boat, a relic of o day almost gone, and the only one of its kind in these waters. Its only competitor was an airplane which carried newspaper copy during the days of the Ned Harvey trial. They show you a hole in the ground near the parish jail, dug hurriedly when they found the scaffold was not high enough. Instead of building it higher, they added depth to it.

"“Trahan blows the motor horn and the ferryman comes across . He has made an art of handling his old craft, propelled by on old motor boat. Going into Cameron with two cars means news in the village. The ferryman tells you of the new town excitement. There is a young Negro in jail. He killed his wife's lothario, and his wife is dying in a hospital in Lake Charles. He shot both of them the previous night. 'They will hang the black man,' the ferryman said. 'where they hung Ned Harvey.'

"“One of those who meets the party is Alvin Miller, the parish chief deputy sheriff, a most likeable chap. The Rex pulls out and the party are now the only 'strangers' in town. There ore no sidewalks and no brick buildings. Ahead a short distance up the street--the only street in town--is the old wooden courthouse, built 50 or 75 years ago. You know it is the courthouse although it looks like a settler's residence. A cow cools herself in the shadows. There are a few general merchandising stores, where you can buy odd Cameron Parish-made white oak baskets. An inspection shows the most common staples in the grocery line. Gardens are rich along the ridges. There is plenty of meat, plenty of milk, plenty of everything in this country.

"“The district court room is indeed unique. There is on old foot-pedaled organ there which come down on a boat before 1880. {Remember, religious faiths once held services in the courthouse.}  It still has a lively tune in it after all these years. The sight of on old organ anywhere is a curiosity today, considerably so in a court room.

"“The walls are plastered with first liberty loan posters, harkening back to war (World War I) days. The ceilings are propped with timbers . The building nearly fell during the Harvey trial.

"“Down a fine shell road go the 2 motor cars . The course lies over Front Ridge, Creole Ridge, Pumpkin Ridge, and Little Lost Oak Grove Ridge, where the great oaks are often as large and fine as are those on the famed Bayou Teche to the east.

"“The settlements encountered in a 15-mile circular swing about the parish included Creole, Grand Chenier, and Johnson's Bayou. The countryside appears old, very old grey cypress fences, which they say have been standing for more than a century, are about every field, and the cotton is in good stand.

"“To the right after the Creole post office, the proprietor can offer the stranger soft drinks, but with no ice to cool them. There is the great home of Dr. S. O. Carter, containing 20 rooms.  Dr. Carter is one of the two physicians in the Cameron territory. {Two of the early Cameron Parish physicians between 1880.1920 included my greet uncle, Dr. George Carter Sweeney at Grand Chenier, and my second cousin, Dr. Isaac Bonsall, Jr. of Cameron.}  Dr. Carter is said to have been penniless when he came to Creole 35 years ago.  Then he was the only doctor in the Cameron territory, and he traveled in a buggy. They say he has earned a fortune, but if he has, you would vote that he has earned it all.  He is pictured through the swamp lands on errands of mercy, sometimes swimming his horse, his buggy left behind. Now you must go and get him yourself at night for he is getting old.

"“Leaving the shell road, the motorcade strikes a dirt road. Here soon appears the quaint old home of the late Grandma Rutherford, pioneer of this country, who died recently at age 100 years. The land drops abruptly to a low, flat range, or semi-marsh, across which the memorable storms of 1865, 1879, 1881, and 1886 have swept. The old 'storm house,' where people huddled for protection, is still standing. You wonder if the old log structure will ever be used again.

"“Grandma Rutherford's sons and grandsons greet the party on a welcoming gallery and tell her story.  It will be generations before this lovable old lady is forgotten. She was the warp and woof of the ridge itself. Her old home is known as 'Oak Grove;' it is the one highest point in Cameron Parish.

"“The scene soon changes--another farm house. Many ponies and cars stand around a cattle enclosure--a cattle branding. They are injecting anti-blackleg into the calves and clipping ears. Putting the owner's mark on flanks with a hot iron gives off an odor of burning hair.

"“Presiding over the party of cowmen and ranchers towers one figure. He is John Sells, 60 years old, who has been the leader and father confessor of the Front Ridge for many years. Though he is the oldest man in the party, he is also the strongest man physically. He cannot read or write, and yet he is highly intelligent. Sells should be sketched in strong black strokes of a pen, standing beside one of the grandfather oak trees.

"“A passing note should be made of the whip-making in Cameron Parish. A bull whip, strong, beautifully and oddly fashioned, was in the hands of every man doing the branding. Whip-making is on individual art in this parish. The whips are somewhat different than those found in Texas. The leather is braided into finely fashioned and polished hands so that it forms a swivel, permitting the wielder to become highly dexterous.

"“Presently after hundreds of clumps of oleanders are passed, we entered Cameron again. Cold drinks in a store, and the ferryman is again called from his lethargy to take the parties across Calcasieu River on the way back to the beach comp. Oddly out of place and out of keeping with Cameron, one hears the morning news on the radio in one of the general stores; they hear it morning, noon, and night, but they can't talk back. All they can do is write a letter.

"“Paint the picture in pink and white oleanders, in the old frame dwellings with a touch of New Orleans about them, but done in on archeological style native to this parish.  Boys and girls? Very shy, some of them have never been out of the parish. Mrs. Rutherford, daugther in law of Grandma, said:

"'Oh, dear, I am so tired. I was up till 10 o'clock lost night attending the graduation at Grand Chenier. My boy here graduated.'

"“Her son was o great big strapper of a fellow, just like all the other boys on the ridge.  Unspoiled by the world outside.

"“Fruit trees, pears, peaches, oranges, grapefruit, vegetables, money crops, dairy cows, and you will vote that the ridges of Cameron, Creole, Little Lost Oak Grove, and Grand Chenier constitute the garden spot of Southwest Louisiana. Yet they lie in the heart of one of the greatest marshes in North America, outlandishly out of the way and cut off from the world. {Satsuma orange trees in the parish date back before the Civil War.}

(Tevis wrote a total of 9 long articles in June-July, 1928, although most of them dealt with rat-trapping and alligator-hunting in the Stark ratlands.  Nevertheless they are historically valuable in presenting Cameron Parish before the three highways brought on influx of visitors and other customs into the parish. They are valuable too for the information about an age when muskrat-trapping was king of the marsh country, and before onshore and offshore drilling had made its mark in the parish.)