In 1890, he traveled through south Louisiana and four years later wrote at some length about what he found, including in “the Attakapas country made classic by the genius of Longfellow.” The scenery and the people charmed him and the lyrical language and names given Acadian children intrigued him.
One of his first observations, more than 120 years ago was that “ the wide and turbid Atchafalaya … threatens, if not curbed by artificial means, to divert the waters of the [Mississippi] river from its present channel.” But it was under “the tranquil waters of the Teche, its banks covered with moss-grown live-oaks,” that he began to “imagine what must have been the feelings of the Acadians when they saw for the first time ... the beautiful Attakapas country.“
In St. Martinville he found that “French is essentially the language of the inhabitants and it is well spoken by the educated class.“
“There is but one hotel in St. Martinville,” he said. “It is a large house with a wide gallery and massive brick columns. Everything is as in antebellum days; no register awaits the names of the guests, and the owner seems to have implicit confidence in the honesty of his boarders. As the criminal court was in session, the members of the jury were taking their dinners at the hotel when I arrived. There being no place at the table for me, I was given a comfortable rocking chair and I sat in the dining room during the dinner of the jurors. As several of them were Acadians, I listened very attentively to their conversation and took notes while they were speaking.
“There being such vast prairies in the Attakapas the Acadians settlers compared them with the wide expanse of the ocean and applied to them many nautical terms. They say aller au large (to go to sea), or mettre à la voile (to set sail) when they start to cross the prairie, and an island is, in their language, a piece of wooded ground on the prairie.”
On Saturday, Fortier went to a bal de maison, a house dance, near St.
“The ball room was a huge hall with galleries all around it. When we entered it was crowded with persons dancing to the music of three fiddles. … My friend, a wealthy young planter, born in the neighborhood, introduced me to many persons and I had a good chance to hear the Acadian dialect. … Most of the men appeared uncouth and awkward, but the young girls were really charming. They were elegant well-dressed, and exceedingly handsome. They had large and soft black eyes and beautiful hair.”
The visitor was intrigued by the gambling room next to the ballroom. “There were about a dozen men at a table playing cards,” he wrote. “One lamp suspended from the ceiling threw a dim light upon the players, who appeared at first very wild, with their broad-brimmed felt hats on their heads and their long untrimmed sun-burnt faces. There was, however, a kindly expression on every face, and everything was so quiet that I saw that the men were not professional gamblers.”
But another room was more intriguing still.
“After supper my friend asked me if I wanted to see le parc aux petits. I followed him without knowing what he meant and he took me to a room adjoining the dancing hall, where I saw a number of little children thrown on a bed and sleeping.
“The names of the children in Acadian families are quite as strange as the old Biblical names among the early Puritans, but much more harmonious. For instance, in one family the boy was called Duradon, and his five sisters answered to the names Elfige, Enyone, Meridie, Ozeina and Fronie. A father who had a musical ear called his sons Valmir, Valmore, Valsin, Valcour and Valerien, while another, with a tincture of the classics, called his boy Deus, and his daughter Deussa.”
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.