Alcée Fortier noted in his Louisiana Studies in 1894, that “all the Acadians are great riders and they and their little ponies never seem to be tired. They often have exciting races.”
And Ed McNamara in his later book, Cajun Racing, reminds us that by the late 19th century, church and the race track divided the attention of a lot of people in south Louisiana on Sunday.
“Cajuns were waiting until after Mass to let the horses loose at the tracks scattered around the countryside,” McNamara writes. “When services ended in small towns such as Carencro, Breaux Bridge, and Erath, the fun would start.”
In St. Martin Parish, the Domengeaux family had a considerable amount of sway in the horse racing industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
A Turf Association was organized in Breaux Bridge in 1889 with F. A. Domengeaux as its first president, but a racetrack had been opened in Breaux Bridge by the Domgeneauxs well before that. The first one was on what is now Courville Street near the railroad.
The Domengeaux track was later moved to Anse la Butte, but Armand Broussard opened a straight track that ran along what is now Park Avenue in Breaux Bridge. That track was closed when Dr. H.P. Guilbeau opened a racing oval in town.
The Weekly Messenger of Feb. 22, 1890, said the Guilbeau track was one of the best in the country and that “the stand and other buildings in the park are … said to be elegant and comfortable.”
In April, the newspaper reported, “The races in Breaux Bridge Sunday last proved a great success. They were exciting and very interesting. It is estimated that 2,000 persons were on the grounds. The results financially [were] no doubt beyond the expectation of the promoters.”
Possibly because of the track, the newspaper reported three years later that “the citizens of Breaux Bridge and vicinity seem to take a serious interest in raising good stock. They also are interested in raising fine horses, racers, and trotters. That section has already furnished horses that command quite fancy prices.”
Trotting seemed to be one of the more popular types of racing in the area at the time. The Surrey Park in Lafayette, for example, regularly advertised raises such as “a pacing event” matching a horse named Joe with one named Eula Lee, in the best three of five races over a one-half mile track for a $500 purse – a lot of money in those days.
A second set of three-out-of-five trotting races was open to anyone who could put up a $25 entry fee, “winner take all.”
One of the favorite trotters in Breaux Bridge was a dark bay named Jay Leonard that was seven years old in 1895, when J.L. Roy of Arnaudville wrote to the Valley of the Teche newspaper saying that his four-year-old horse, Uhlan, “will trot at any time with Jay Leonard” and urging the bay’s owner, J. Amilcar Martin, to simply name the day.
I can’t find anything to tell me whether they actually raced or who won, but I do get the idea that rivalries such as this sometimes became heated, maybe overheated.
The Surrey Park track advertised in 1904, for example, that “the services of Baxter Clegg have been secured to manage the grand stand … and … the best of order will be maintained at the track.”
It doesn’t say so specifically, but I’ll bet Baxter Clegg was a lawman or bouncer, or both.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.