The years immediately preceding the War between the States aka The Civil War, saw a similar battle in some of the Southwest Louisiana parishes, principally St. Martin, St. Landry and Acadia, albeit on a much smaller scale.
The activities pertaining to those activities, entitled The Vigilante Committees of the Attakapas, written by Alexandre Barde, is probably the most reviled book in the state. Readers were so enraged at the contents that some purchased every copy they could get their hands on and destroyed them.
The book provides an insight into the conflicts among citizens of the Attakapas, and although David C. Edmonds and Dennis Gibson reprinted it in 1981 (The Acadiana Press by) from a translation by Henrietta Guilbeau Rogers, the book is still hard to find.
I’ve been particularly interested in the book since it highlights some of my family as represented by Emilien LaGrange, described by the author as “a criminal.”
I was recently able to get my hands on the book one more time so that I could include this information here.
Please bear in mind that the book is by a not-so-objective wandering Frenchman who was a member of one of the groups involved in the conflict. Whether or not Emilien (short for Maximilien) was as bad as Barde make out is relative.
Emilien was allegedly the leader of a bunch of men who were, if you will, anti-vigilantes at war with anti-vigilantes. The second group, of which Barde was a group, was formed after men of reputation banded together against what they considered a grievous situation in the justice systems in the parishes. These persons were of the opinion that criminal were being set loose on society because the system was unable to convict anyone due to the buying off of juries and crooked cops and lawyers.
Emilien LaGrange was the owner of a palisaded home and store, which, according to David Edmonds in the Preface of the book, provided the meeting place for what would ultimately become known as ÒThe Day at Queue de Tortue.”
Edmonds places the homestead off of Highway 90 “near the eastern approach to the city of Rayne.....Here, surrounded by one of those magnificent Louisiana prairies so vividly described in this book and set amid a backdrop of enormous oak and gum trees along the waterline....”
He continues. “And yet here, or very near here, was enacted one of the most notable incidents in the long and sometimes bloody history of southwestern Louisiana, the 1859 "day at Queue de Tortue," when the Vigilante Committees of the Attakapas confronted their adversaries in the final chapter of a tragi-comedy movement which polarized society and came very close to precipitating class warfare in south Louisiana.”
”For the proponents of the vigilante movement, that hot September day at Queue de Tortue became a source of great pride, a day when the forces of goodness and justice triumphed over all that was evil. Not only had an insurgent criminal element been crushed, defeated, humiliated and banished, but all the lenient judges, corrupt jurors and smooth-tongued defense lawyers had been served with an ominous warning: that when the judicial system fails, and permits bandits to prey upon society, the citizens could, would and should rise up and take the law into their own hands. Certainly Alexandre Barde, the chronicler of this virile episode, shared that view,” Edmonds remarks.
Edmonds comments that ÒIndeed, his defense of vigilante movements as a noble instrument to protect society and crush banditry is most persuasive, especially when viewed in the context of a modern society with crime and justice problems not unlike those of the 1850s.”
He does write, however, that the fiasco at Queue Tortue had another side, one in which many of the honest and law-abiding residents of Louisiana saw the insurgents as other than bandits and thieves--as "...a backlash to a reactionary and narrow-minded vigilante movement. In other words, the Committees had initially be established to deal with rampant banditry, but their overzealous and self-righteous pursuit if justice, coupled with brutal tactics, fell heaviest on the poor. So appalled were friends and relatives of the latter that there was created a group of self-styled “moderates” whose objective was to crush the Committees of Vigilance. Thus, the social disorders of the time, according to these people, was a clash between two societies, between two cultures: that of the relatively wealthy planter and merchants class against the poor of the swamps and prairies. Inevitably, these divisions led to that fateful day at Queue de Tortue.”
Edmonds opines that the main reason for the rarity of this book is that “Many of the original copies were purchased and destroyed by irate relatives, friends and descendants of the people identified as bandits.”
The two contemporary editors explain that BardeÕs descriptions were so thorough that they (the editors) were able to use extant census, church or courthouse records to identify the participants in their annotations. They also note, however, that they were unable to identify some since there were so many citizens who bore the same name.
The late Harriet Guilbeau Rogers Clinton, translator of BardeÕs French, wrote in 1936, “While the descendants of the protagonists mentioned in this translation may feel a passing warmth of feeling for their ancestors who played an heroic part in the events portrayed in this work, the translator feels that those descended from the antagonists will feel inclined to rebuke her for trespassing in this neglected region of history. To those who feel that this period of history should have been left among the forgotten records of a moulding past, let me quote Hamlet:
"Let my disclaiming from a purposed evil
Free me so far in your most generous thoughts,
That I have shot my arrow o'er the house,
And hurt my brother."
So having laid the background for this essay, let me now bring in Emilien and his band of followers, as well as his family.
On February 1, 1859, according to Barde, society was divided into two spheres: honest men and bandits. He wrote that the honest men had preserved their former virtues were became resigned to the activities of the bandits, so, they washed their hands of it (the situation) as Pilate had washed his."
It was Barde’s opinion that the honest members of society would do nothing, and the bandits had shown “an admirable expedience” by forming themselves into a unity “which would have been worthy of admiration had it taken on the task of defending society. That society, said the Frenchman, had its generals, its officers and its soldiers.”
The generals, he proclaimed, had made their fortunes by making raids on Attakapas herds and who had “themselves and the members of their association acquitted when they were brought before the courts.”
The officers, he said, were the lawyers to whom fell the duty of setting traps, planning raids and “conveying necessary soldiers to the projected campaign. The generals and officers were the aristocrats of the association--the highest rung of the ladder.”
The soldiers were “the scum, the most foul, the most abject, whose who were loathsome of soul as well as of body, those who did not know even by tradition that there is a God, and that morality exists; those who swore falsely with a smile on their lips; those who caused one to doubt that God could have condemned souls to such impure prisons; those who had the instinct of a crime as the beast has the instinct of hunger.”
He further described them as those who lied before tribunals because they were ignorant of meaning of probity, honor, and morality, and those who could kill in cold-blood “because they did not know the meaning and significance of the word conscience.”
This association’s desire was for everything was that worthy of being stolen, even including the vestments and altar cloths and vases of the church.
The public knew these brigandes, said Barde, and the latter should have been branded so that all would know them. Instead, when they were called to court it became a comedy. The Grand jury reported to the court, the district attorney called the accused to the stand and the selection of a jury began.
It was Barde’s contention that “when the affair was a mere trifle as assault and battery, or a man spurned at a ball, or an exchange of insults in the street, or as in a gathering as the heroes of Homer, who insulted one another before battle, the defendant always was an honest man and of an easy-going disposition. In this way the pure and honest man had little chance to exercise the mandates of the jury. Were it a question of a serious theft, of robbery with firearms, or of murder embellished with a dozen dagger thrusts, and as many bullet holes or other arabesques of that order-the defense became greatly virtuous, but with the virtuousness of a straightlaced Englishman. Then in vain, he was presented to jurors who were the pride of the population, the most honest, the most educated, the most patient and the mildest?
”No, no,” answered the defense, “I want neither honesty, education, mildness or conscientiousness. I am suspicious of all virtues. What I need a shallow souls, paralyzed consciences, and defective sight. No man who could see clearly into my affairs is wanted, but the interests of my single client demand a mole.”
The writer saw the clients as guilty but with no recourse since the supply of honest men had been utilized, and the accused was released from prison, “whitewashed by a verdict of nonculpability.”
He said false witnesses abounded, especially in the cases where the defendant was accused of such as theft or murder. He cites the example of a man who surprised another stealing his cow, and said to the thief that at last he had caught him in the act. The alleged thief said he had not caught him because we could produce ten witnesses to his purchase of the cow.
Barde, in discussing the formation of the Vigilante Committees, describes their members as good farmers who would give up their plow to rid the area of criminals. He admits that vigilante committees were not legal, but the members with consciences asked if crime was not preferable to virtue. There was nothing illegal about the groups because it would then be necessary to call the illegal the revolt of the Thirteen English Colonies against the motherland, the French Revolutions of 1789 and 1792.
There was no choice except two, he explained: theft, or war on theft, and the Vigilantes took the latter. The punishments would be exile for the first penalty, the whip for the second, and the rope fro the third.
Barde named Amadee Martel and Adolph Olivier, both of the Attackpas "magistray" as the principal adversaries of the Committee. But emphasized that although Martel had only a very basic education he had served with dignity in the District Court. He had served well, and despite all of the problems he seemed to have occupied, “his judgments had not been reversed any more before the Supreme Court than those of certain district judges of my acquaintance.”
Judge Martel was of the opinion that the Committees of Vigilance had been formed as a consequence of the Òcriminal weakness that the jury had often displayed in its acquittals.
For this opinion, says Barde, the judge had really defined the problem, and he, Martel approached the governor to deal with the Committees. The governor, however saw the Committees as the will of the people. Bitter about the lack of support from the head of state, Martel also allegedly lost the respect of the people and announced he would not seek re-election.
Olivier is described as young, fine and eloquent representative and he was well capable of expression. He was tall, had a supple and richly tempered voice, and “clothed his thoughts with notes of infinite sweetness; at other times, it was strident with ironic tones and outbursts, thundering with anger outrageous explosions of indignation.” He had blue eyes, fine lips, with feminine hands, a large forehead and his head was covered with fine and silken blond hair which “he liked to shake like a mane when he spoke.” He had been named district attorney and he became a dictator since justice no long existed. He threw himself into the struggle.
The Governor answered by issuing the following proclamation:
Considering that, on the official information given by the District Attorney of the Fourteenth Judicial District of the State, that a certain number of persons of the parishes of Vermilion and St. Martin, organized under the name of the Committees of Vigilance, have, in violation of the law, committed outrages on persons and depredations on property of citizens of these parishes, and have offered resistance to the officers of the law who have tried to stop the illegal proceedings of the said organization;
And considering that it seems that the officers of justice have found that it was impossible to bring the said violators of the law before the Court, with the ordinary means that the law gives them;
In consequence, I have thought it suitable to issue my proclamation commanding the said Committee to dissolve and begging all the good citizens of this State to lend their aid in order to stop and transfer before the Court the violators of the law.
Given under my signature and the seal of this State at Baton Rouge, this 28 day of May, 1859, A. D. and the eighty-third year of the Independence of the United States of America.
By Governor R. C. Wickliffel¡
Andrew S. Herron
Secretary of State
Then, Barde claims, some of the states took the pattern of the Committees of Vigilance and formed the Confederate States.
The heated struggle in the parishes was fast coming to a head
Barde was nothing if not a keen observer of his surroundings and he describes with great eloquence the Bayou Tortue in Southwestern Louisiana, neither very long nor deep, but because of the islets and cypress trees, shaded on both sides by full-grown trees made it “verdure sufficient to make the Park of Versailles blush with shame.” As one can see, he also tended to enlarge his descriptions with a certain grandiosity. The parishes of St. Martin and Lafayette intersect there, and Barde said the land had first been settled by the St. Julien, the head of the family having been born near Bordeaux. The bridge over the bayou was named St. Julien as well.
To the north of the property he said, was an immense swamp; to the South, prairies whose end could not be seen; to the West the prairies followed Bayou Vermilion. Numerous homes had been erected, there were huge flocks of birds, and in the summer, white cotton and the blond silk of corn added a different color. There were also chinaball trees, supposedly brought to the area after a Negro named Baptiste who belonged to C. Comeau, went to Opelousas and saw a chinaberry tree whose beautiful and fragrant purple flowers captivated him. He brought one home and planted it on land which at that time belonged to Governor Mouton.
The author describes the homes as being scrupulously clean, the women as having dark hair and laughing faces while bending over their looms, their hands crowned with nail, “polished and shining like ivory.”
The habitants were welcoming to those who came.
From Saturday noon, however, the women left their looms and prepared for a ball given at Leon Billeauds. He does not say whether the Saturday night dance was always held in the same place.
But also living in this sublime countryside, said Barde, were homes inhabited by bohemians who were innocent of work but guilty of thefts, murders and arson. These were inferior people long recognized by public opinion. Leaving the ball, many celebrants returned outdoors to find their saddle and carriages either stolen or ripped with knives. They mistreated the younger males who were still adolescents and used foul language in front of the women. He alleges that following sustaining a crushing blow to the head from a father whose daughter he had insulted, one of the band later stabbed an 80-year-old man.
The catalyst for a confrontation between Barde’s group and its opponents, however,seemed to have been the robbery of Dupre Guidry and Valsin Broussard, merchants at Cote Gelee. The thieves made off with four hundred piastres of dry goods at Guidry’s and about 100 at Broussard’s. The value was mostly in dry goods.
The Vigilance Committee stepped into the furor and chose Major St. Julien, a Louisiana Creole born in Lafayette in 1805 on the bank of Bayou Tortue, to head the Vigilante Committee. He was educated in Europe. And, according to Barde he was a “true farmer of the South, (he) held the Negro for what he was worth and never thought to poetize him as did Mrs. Store; hence his vigilance was incessant.” After reflecting on the Committee’s appeal to lead them, St. Julien accepted.
Alexandre Moss was chosen to be first assistant to St. Julien. Barde says they were relatives. Moss, a short time later, resigned--Barde does not say why -- and a Colonel Creighton, the son of a doctor who cared for the rich and poor alike, was chosen to fill the vacancy. When he died, leaving two children, he left a scant inheritance, no doubt because of his charity in treating those who could not pay.
Secretaries to the committee were Desire Roy and Dupre Guidry.
The signers were Charles-Duclize Comeau, Alexandre Bernard, Don Louis Broussard, Aurelin Saint Julien, Eloi Guidry, Paul-Leon St. Julien, Raphael Lachaussee, Cesaire LÕAbbee, Joseph Guidry, Martial Billaut and D. Guidry.
The Committee decided it should make known its activities to the general population, and to assure the people that it was not a band of rebels or insurgents, looking only to “reform and not destroy.” In a proclamation disseminated widely, it enumerated all of the virtues on which it had been founded. It also detailed the method of accomplishing their purposes: they would use the whip and rope.
What follows below is an account of the manner in which matters were sometimes handled:
"The moon, veiled by the clouds, spread over the prairie only a vague gleam. Soon after, a man came out from behind a bush and went toward the Negro. That man, tall of stature, seemed colossal, standing in bold relief against the darkness of the horizon. The Major smiled; he had recognized him.”
Meanwhile the Negro and the white man had approached each other, had exchanged a few words in a low voice, then the cotton and jingle of money was heard. The Negro was receiving the price for his theft and the thief and the receiver of the stolen goods parted.
The Major had seen all. Other men might have rushed at the miserable scoundrel who had led his Negroes to steal from him, but instead the Major let him go in peace. But the day of reckoning had to come. The Negro was questioned, admitted his thefts, and made known the nights when he had carried the produce to the receiver of stolen goods. He talked so much and so well that not a detail was lost.
A few nights later the Negro left again with the ordinary quantity of stolen cotton. The Major followed him at a distance of a few feet, after having placed two friends near the scene of the interview between the Negro and the white man. The gentlemen had been placed there to witness the flagrant offense, but they were forbidden to take part in what was going to happen. The Major wanted to administer justice and he wanted the help of no one.
The white man had arrived on time at the rendezvous, but hardly had he exchanged the money for the cotton than the Major came out of his hiding place, threw himself in fury on the receiver of stolen property and overwhelmed him in a few seconds, even though he was of gigantic stature and strength. After having soundly thrashed the bandit, the Major called the Negro.
"That man has placed himself on your level of crime, " he said to him, "it is just that he be chastised by his equal." Saying this he handed the Negro a whip. The Negro struck again and again for he was under the severe gaze of his master. The bloody whip remained on the ground. A few days later it disappeared.
The preceding has been just an indication of the climate of the times.
According to Barde, the committees had been “perfectly informed day by day and hour by hour of the march” they intended to make. They knew of the “instigators, those enlisted and approximately the number of combatants which would number about 250 to 300 men.” They had planned to bring all things to a head at a “vast house with walls made of tree trunks, crenelated for battlement on all four sides. It contained a store constructed in the fashion of a log cabin.”
The owner of the house was Emilien Lagrange, a “man of very bad reputation,” wrote Barde. Living with him were the widow of a Frenchman named Eugene Valette and her “tall and beautiful girl....who was living under the same roof and became aware day by day of the dishonor of her mother,” and who, herself would become a “victim” of that “mythical minotaur called debauchery.”
The house faced the Coulee Queue Tortue and the forest. There was also a forest so holly and zigzag roads which would be useful in case of combat. The Committees were scouting out the location before the day of September 3, 1859 when they intended to force the hands of those they regarded as criminals.
The location of the house Barde attributed to an “ex-noncommissioned officer of the French army” who would be arrested on the second of September by the Committees of Mermentau River. He fled to Galveston, escaping the punishment he was to face. Barde identified the man as “Gautier” one of those who had sold his services to the Queue de Tortue bandits.
Plans were made to raid a barbecue which had been planned for the Lagrange house, something which was strange according to Barde because “there was no political question.” Barde apparently believed that the only possible reason for a “barbecue” was a political campaign. How little he knew the area people and their propensity to gather for any reason.
The author felt that it would be easy to plan a campaign on the information given to the Committees, and the campaign was to begin when the Committees would arrive at the Lagrange home before the beginning of the barbecue, “that is to say, before the orgy of wine had excited the heads of the enemy and had given them the transient bravado of drunkenness.” The arrival at the Lagrange home was set for some time between nine and ten in the morning. The Committees were coming to the fray from Vermilion, Calcasieu, St. Landry, St. Martin and Lafayette parishes, and their plans were to close all possible escape routes. Not only were they going to assault the house if those present resisted, but they planned to take as prisoners any armed persons unknown to them. Those people were to be given the choice of giving up their weapons and taken as prisoners, or to be killed “like dogs,” if they resisted.
At Queue de Tortue, the Vigilantes examined their options, and formulated a plan which would include using a field gun to open a breach into the resistance. They considered that the plan was simple, the fight would take place in the open, and would shorten the assault, while at the same time allowing the Vigilantes to come within “an armÕs length of the enemy.”
According to Barde, the Vigilante organizer of the day was John Jones, also known as Jean Baptiste Chiasson, a man who was of ordinary stature with dark hair, a sunburned complexion, nervous temperament and wiry built. The man was of Spanish and Portuguese blood, as well as Gallic blood. Chiasson owned a plantation near that of Emilien Lagrange and worked it with a few slaves. His counsel was listened to by his neighbors, but he read little and hardly knew how to write. Barde said that without education or courage, he had interpreted the governor’s proclamation against the Committees. He had bought powder, lead and provisions, everything necessary for war, Barde wrote. It was he who transformed the house into a war camp.
His lieutenants in the coming battle were Dede Istre, “the Goliath of these prairies.” Istre was tall and had spent his youth on horseback in Texas before it had become “a nation.” Barde reported that Istre “was a part of the guerillas which had molested our neighbors beyond the Sabine, pillaging, killing, burning.” He had been brought before Texas justice, one of his brothers having gone to prison, and he a likely candidate to do so as well. He had fled to Louisiana.
Another of the members was Jenkins “of that race of Kentuckians, strong like all other men of the American race.” He had been to Mexico, the Sandwich Isles, and California and had gone with Walker on the expedition to Sonora, where he was wounded in the arm by a poison-tipped arrow shot by an Apache. He had already made his reputation in Louisiana.
Emilien Lagrange was a young man of 34 years. Barde described him as dark as a Spaniard, having the look a Castilian race. He and his “concubine” and her 16-year-old daughter had fashioned a flag for the insurrection. On the night of September 3, Governor Mouton was reported to have said to John Jones (Jean Baptiste Chiasson), “John I am astonished and pained to see you here,” then looking at Lagrange with scorn, he said, “So I find you side by side with these miserable dogs. I am neither astonished nor grieved.”
Barde refers to “other characters of second and third degree of importance” on the bandit side. He describes Eugene Alloue as “a regular vagabond who had been forced to leave Cote Gelee, having been brought to court for theft.” Although Barde thought the testimony had shown clearly the guilt of the man, he was acquitted. Balthazar Plaisance is also painted as one who participated in the affair.
On September 3, Major St. Julien and his band of 120 armed men crossed the Vermilion Bridge at 4 a.m. By five o’clock, they had left Crowley and had passed through Vermilionville with stopping, but banding up with the Committee of Vermilionville, moving towards the plantation of Terence Beguenaud (probably Benaug). There, the forces from Lafayette and St. Martin joined them. Alfred Mouton, an ex-west Pointer would be in charge for the day’s activities.
Heading each of their committees were Mayor St. Julien, captain of the forces form Cote Gelee; Alfred Mouton, Vermilionville; D. Beraud Saint Martin; L. Savoie, Pointe; Beguenaud, Pont Breaux; Louis Domingeau, Grande-Pointe; and Dupre Patin, Anse-a-la-Butte. The committees from St. Martin and Vermilion were joined, and a cannon was placed between the center and the right, and “was enclosed immediately in a double row of bayonets. Astride the cannon was George Reiner, an Englishman who had been taken prisoner on January 8, and had for eight years been gunner for all public celebrations in Lafayette Parish.”
Advancing under a stormy sky and intense heat, the group made their way across the rare “Louisiana savanes which are fast disappearing under the pitiless blow of the plow and agriculturists,” said Barde. They paused at nine o’clock, but marching resumed under a scorching sun. The vermilion committee with Captain Sarracin Broussard at its head, rallied with the Foreman horsemen and formed a column to the extreme left. Marching northwest, they were met by the St. Landry and Calcasieu Committees.
The houses they rode past were empty save for the women and children because the men were with John Jones.
”In that prairie, large, level like a Saharian zone, a few armed horsemen were noticed going, isolated or in groups of threes or fours to the Lagrange home,” Barde wrote. “The Vigilantes chased them ardently and desperately.” Finally two of them had fallen into the power of two Vigilantes of Cote Gelee, Lachaussee and Charles Comeau, who at the moment of the capture had cried to them, “Give yourself up or we'll shoot!” Whereupon the two men had thrown down their weapons indicating that they wished to live.Ó
Soon, the advancing party noticed a hundred men who seemed camped the length of the fence of a field. Scouts were sent ahead to determine whether those were friend or foe. The men were said to be from Prairie Robert and Fakataique (Eunice). Those two groups had already taken seven prisoners whom they had found armed with revolvers and guns, as well as “enormous loads and pockets stuffed with shots and cartridges. The seven, when questioned, had answered that they were hunting woodcocks.”
By that time, there were about six hundred horsemen in the large body.
Seen under “the copper colored clouds which veiled the sun,” the Lagrange house was yet plainly visible as were those of its kitchen and store. Men walked back and forth, and talked with sentries posted on the roofs. “Its battlements could plainly be seen from the ground floor to the attics. There were reinforcements on all four sides to the height of a man's waist, and the other buildings also displayed their battlements like so many gaping mouths. In the yard, a few chinaberry trees spread out the green canopy of their branches. In a corner was a line of stakes on which had climbed an individual who, beating himself with his arms, had imitated the crow of a cock, and had then lost himself in the disappearing mob. He had hidden under the same stakes from where he was taken and whipped several hours later.
”The house was surrounded with remarkable rapidity. Fakataique and Prairie Robert received orders to go to the west of the entry of the woods, which would offer easy means of right to the bandits if they suffered defeat. The six-inch field piece was placed about 200 meters away, pointing at the house. Then, George Reiner approached the bonfire that had been lit, then retraced his steps, making semi-circles of fire in the air with the wick. Barde says that when this occurred “A cry of terror” emanated from the Lagrange yard and some of the men disappeared behind the building or ran to the woods across the Coulee of Queue Tortue, pursued by the vigilantes. Firing could be heard in the woods. The main part of the John Jones army was entrenched in the fortifications of the house. Gov. Mouton called St. Julien and Valmont Richard, a member of the St. Martin Committee, and instructed them to follow him, but to avoid bloodshed if possible.
Jones and Lagrange showed themselves and enquired as to what the Vigilantes wanted. The governor replied that he wanted to know what was going on. Lagrange said it was a political meeting.
"A political meeting," said the Governor incredulously. "But we are not on the eve of any election, either general or local, and guns are not brought to political meetings and you have guns, and even cannons perhaps. Haven't you somewhere friends who would have promised you one or two for this celebration? You are denying it with a shake of the head and I would like to believe you, but our records say otherwise."
Jones commented that he and his compatriots were not wealthy enough to have any cannons, at which point the governor remarked on the number of guns, cartridges and munitions of war of all sorts. Jones admitted that they had four or five guns, and then Lagrange interrupted to say that the right to assemble was sacred and that the men of the group were white and free. The governor then advised Lagrange that he had come to question and even challenge the presence of Olivier Guidry (or “Nain Canada”) and his two sons, Ernest and Geneus Guidry. He noted that Onezime Guidry who had been banished by the Committee which wanted to recapture and punish. On being asked if the assembly wanted to give up those men or defend themselves, Jones said they did not know the men. The major replied that he and his men would find them and arrest them themselves. He again asked if they wished to fight or do give up the men.
St. Julien said to the governor that they had come to exchange shots and not idle words. Since Jones refused to give up the exiled men and their weapons, they should return to their posts and begin to fight. The governor spotted Lagrange’s “concubine” standing by with a baby in her arms. Mouton informed Jones and Lagrange that they did not wish to wage war “against women and children.” If Jones and Lagrange wanted to remove them from the house they would be given a Vigilante escort who would “respect them and take them to such a place which you may designate, and I shall answer for them with my head.”
Jones then entered the house and came out with a half dozen guns which he placed upright against the fence. Gov. Mouton insisted that there must be more. One of the exiles had already fired three shots, according to Barde. As soon as Jones had given up his guns, 24 vigilantes were charged with overseeing the general disarmament.
Men were found in the attic of the house, seven were dragged from under the bed. Between the mattresses of another bed the flag made by Lagrange’s woman and her daughter, Miss Valette, was discovered by Raphael Lachaussee. Bowie knives, revolvers, shot, shells, wedges, and other implements of war were confiscated. Geneus Guidry, who had fired the three shots, had taken refuge behind the store in an angle of the fence was protected by hay bales. L.F. Treville Bernard, a vigilante of Lafayette, took it upon himself to arrest Guidry. As Bernard prepared to jump over the fence, Geneus Guidry allegedly shot himself in the head. “Fallen, but still master of himself, he stabbed himself several times in the throat with his dagger,” wrote Barde. A few minutes later, the man was dead, and a bottle of poison was found in his pocket.
Then one who had hidden under the briars all day heard “perhaps the noise of the whip which was succeeding the tumult,” and later that night, he allegedly mounted a horse and rode off in the direction of the Sabine River, “that refuge of so many social wrecks.”
Adolphe Comeau of the Cote Gelee committee and Lebleu de Comarsac, a member of the Prairie Robert group, captured several prisoners. A Negro ran at full speed into the midst of the Committees saying that he represented his mistress who wanted words of his master, Maximilien LeBlanc. Bound and guarded, the man was then whipped. Barde said the Vigilantes had the right to doubt the man because, after the fact, it was learned that he had come to get news in the name of about one hundred men of the Mermentau River, led by Jean Baptiste Istre, who had stopped to refresh themselves and their horses at the plantation of Maximilian LeBlanc.
Back at the Lagrange house, a square of Vigilantes enclosed 24 prisoners. Fifty-seven guns were given up voluntarily or taken by force, and a quantity of weapons were strewn in the woods. Barde commented that “this insertion gotten up on so vast a scale had ended by the most miserable abortion ever recorded.”
The prisoners were taken about 200 meters from the house to the “big trees” where three beeves were suspended on iron bars above a “smoking furnace.” While the prisoners were held at bayonet point, the soldiers sat to eat. The author said the only water there was to quench the thirst of the exhausted vigilantes was from the Lagrange well, “an immense well which perhaps contained poison and death. According to him, Lagrange’s “concubine” saw the looks of the thirsty men and sent her daughter to the well to drink so that the expedition understood. The men drank and exhausted the well in less than a quarter of an hour. Those who had not gone to the well in time drank the muddy water of Queue Tortue.
Each committee was represented by two men and charged with judging the men and the causes of the insurrection. “There were confessions, horrible confessions. No one had the courage of discretion. All gave up their mysteries,” he wrote. “There seemed to be a fever of denunciations which took possession of these very unheroic and uninteresting victims.”
Barde asked and answered a question for himself: “Why didn’t the Committees publish these revelations after September third? In condensing all the declarations of the prisoners, we can state: That the movement which had just ended so miserably had a triple aim: the invasion of the parish, pillage, and a revolt of the Negroes.”
Allegedly, the prisoners confessed that they had expected only the Committee of Vermilion, and if they had triumphed over that group, they would have raised their flag on the church of that village and raided the safes of Alexandre and Emile Mouton, V.A. Martin, Gerassin Bernard, Latiolais, Camille Doucet and Francois D’Aigle among others. Then they would have sounded the bell which would signal “all the Negroes to revolt and burn the plantations; that the shells found in the Lagrange house had been made by a former soldier in the African army, a peddler, named Klein, who each day ate the bread of the inhabitants of Lafayette Parish.”
A Dr. Wagner, “the principal actor of that day,” received, along with Lagrange, Jenkins, Istre and two other men, one hundred lashes of the whip. Another group received forty, and a third, twenty.
Then the Committeemen, 500 of them, remounted their horses and left after setting the prisoners free. One body, that of Geneus Canada, the suicide, was left behind, and Barde reported that “the voracious Banniere des Planteurs of Franklin stated that Canada had died at the hands of the Committees, but he denied it.
Other people were discussed in Barde’s account but my principal interest was in my own family.
Eugene Valette’s succession, No. 1573 of the Acadia Parish Courthouse records, transferred from St. Landry, was filed 5 June 1851, It shows that he died in 1851. His widow was Marguerite Quebedeaux. Their marriage had resulted in two daughters, according to one source. His succession shows that his estate consisted of dry goods, groceries and other merchandise in the Valette store. Maximilien (Emilien) Lagrange was named to inventory the estate, the said inventory being taken at “the last residence of the deceased on Queue Tortue, located about 30 miles from the St. Landry Parish courthouse in Opelousas.” He left 156 acres of land. This property was bounded north by vacant land, went by Joachim Provost, south by Coulee Tortue and east by vacant land.
In her book, Acadia Parish, Louisiana, a History to 1900, Volume 1, Mary Alice Fontenot writes: “The description of the given of the Valette property does not define its location -- the land could have been almost anywhere along the length of Bayou Queue de Tortue -- except for the Joachim Provost land on the West. Provost owned 68.59 acres in the Southwest quarter of the Northwest quarter of section 34 and the Southeast quarter of the Northwest quarter of section 33, in Township 9 South Range east. These two section lie in the Southeast portion of the present city of Rayne, placing Eugene ValetteÕs property approximately two miles southeast of the present Rayne post office. Maximilien and his wife, Marguerite Quebedeaux, sold 98 acres of this land to Portalis Doucet in 1870. Thus it can be determined that the erstwhile voting precinct of old St. Landry, the house and store of Eugene Valette Queue de Tortue, was the site of the Vigilante battle.”
Fontenot explains that “Barde’s account of the Vigilante activities is of course biased, since he himself was a member of one of the committees. All members of the anti-Vigilantes were not outlaws; many were law abiding citizen s who believe that the controversy was a class struggle between the rice and the poor. These were men who were also interested in preserving law and order, but were opposed by those who took the law into their own hands.”
The records show that Marguerite Quebedeaux, daughter of Nicolas Quebedeaux and Marguerite Landry, married Eugene Valette on June 28, 1843, St. Landry Parish Courthouse Marriage No. 58.
When Marguerite Quebedeaux died, she was identified as the legal wife of Maximilien Lagrange, and indeed a marriage certificate can be found in the Acadia Parish Courthouse. Her succession is recorded as No. 146, Acadia Parish, and as #3425, St. Landry. It was filed Oct. 27, 1870. According to her succession, she left two daughters named Valette and six children named Lagrange; however I find record of eight Lagrange children. I could find only one Valette child documented, the daughter, Eugenie, who was born to (Jean) Eugene Valette and Marguerite Quebedo 6 Sept. 1848, as shown by the records at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Grand Coteau, v. 1, p. 318. She could not have been the 16-year-old that Barde mentions in his work. Eugenie would only have been 11 years old. Where the older daughter was born is something I have not been able to document. My records show eight children, rather than seven, born to Emilien and Marguerite.
1. On Aug. 2, 1842, a daughter, Marie Laurine, of Maximilien and Marguerite Quebedeaux, was born Aug. 2, 1852 and baptized in Grand Coteau, v2 p148.
Another daughter, Noemi, was born March 15, 1854 and baptized in Grand Coteau, v2 p148.
A daughter, Marguerite, was born Jan. 17, 1855, according to the records of the church in Grand Coteau, v2 p148.
Another daughter, Marie Arsene, was born Sept. 3, 1858, GC records, v2 p262.
A daughter, Celestine, was born Dec. 21, 1861 as shown by the church records at Grand Coteau, v. 2, p. 162.
A son, Gautier, born April 9, 1861, GC c2 p262
A son, Etienne, b. Nov, 28, 1868, baptized at Church Point, v1 p132.
A daughter, Josephine, b, July 13, 1866, C.P. v1 p96
The records of the Church Point reveal that Maximilien, son of Louis Lagrange and Lovine Quebedeaux, married Marguerite Quebedeaux at the Church Point church, on May 20, 1868, v. 1 p. 51. She was the daughter of Nicolas Quebedeaux and Marguerite Landry.
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