Long before meteorologists and satellites, before television and radio or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there were hurricanes. They came and went with the same scatter-bang ferocity, capricious tempests hurled from the Gulf and the Atlantic. They didn’t get names until 1950, but they were no less deadly, no less pernicious. What the pre-20th century storms had going for them was an element of surprise.
A century before Category 3 Hurricane Betsy wrecked Grand Isle and swamped New Orleans, an even deadlier storm minced Isle Derniere, also known as Last Island — another of Louisiana’s barrier islands and a popular antebellum resort destination for south Louisiana’s planter class. More than 300 people on the island and in nearby ships perished in the unnamed Category 4 storm, according to a new account by Bill Dixon. Last Days of Last Island: The Hurricane of 1856, Louisiana’s First Great Storm (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press) is an engrossing account of the tumult — the gathering clouds, the increasing wind, the sinking feeling, the crashing waves and rising water — and its aftermath. Among the survivors of the catastrophe was state House Speaker Col. William Whitmell Hill Pugh, who lost several family members.
Dixon was drawn to the story of Isle Deniere by a case of mistaken genealogy. “I was working on a family tree on my mother’s side — my mom was born in Gueydan and her mom was born on Bayou Lafourche,” he recalls, pronouncing the bayou like the locals — L’foosh, “I ran across a couple of references to the 1856 storm, and because my ancestors were from Assumption Parish, maybe there were some relatives on the island during the storm. As it turned out, that wasn’t the case.” But Dixon was hooked; the island reeled him in.
The hurricane of 1856 claimed 331 lives on land and at sea, according to Dixon’s tab. The tragedy became the basis for Lafcadio Hearns’ 1889 novella, Chita — part of the genesis for Dixon’s interest in the story — and was long the Gulf Coast’s benchmark by which other storms were judged.
Last Days is also a first of sorts: Although the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has been publishing books since the 1970s through the Center for Louisiana Studies, this is only the second title and first full-length book published with the UL imprint, according to Greg Mouton, marketing director for the UL Press. “A lot of university presses are going through some dire straits with all the budget cut-backs in higher education, a lot of people are feeling the effects,” Mouton says, “but we’re moving ahead and we’re showing some profits, which a lot of university presses out there right now are having a hard time doing.” ULL Press is set to embark on a second, strictly paperback printing of Last Days of Last Island. Mouton says the book is selling particularly well in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes where many residents are descendants of Derniere survivors and victims. “To me it’s an honor,” Dixon says of the research and writing. “One of the things that I’m going to tell people at every place I stop is that, my name may be on the book ... but this is really y’all’s story, and I just hope I did justice to it.”
Casual cool for Thanksgiving
Shop Lafayette goes strong
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
A divided 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a Lafayette district judge’s ruling absolving the co-owner of a New Iberia accounting firm of liability in an embezzlement case.
Our View: It’s reasonable, temporary and invests in Lafayette’s future.
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By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
Three bedroom in Port Barre or two bedroom in Opelousas
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
“I am only getting a little nervous about two projects — the proposed Sasol GTL facility [not the new ethylene plant] and the proposed G2X facility — both in Lake Charles. They need a hefty difference between oil and natural gas prices to make sense.”
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Lower oil prices also might slow the growth of oil production in parts of the U.S., Canada and elsewhere because it will no longer be so profitable.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
A Lafayette woman faces up to 20 years in prison for running up more than $1 million in unauthorized charges to her company credit card.
Signs that our state’s banking industry is undergoing a downsizing in 2014 were further confirmed today with the FDIC’s latest figures showing a third straight quarter in which Louisiana lost more banks and earned less money.
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State police say a 47-year-old Lafayette man, who collected more than $83,000 in disability benefits, is accused of operating two businesses out of his home at a time when he claimed he had no income.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
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