It was a handy little tree with tough, light wood that made excellent fence posts. In the fall, the nuts that fell from it made great fodder for hogs. You may remember that the setting for the film "Steel Magnolias" was a fictional town named Chinquapin. It was actually filmed in Natchitoches which, ironically, gets its name from one of the Caddo Indian tribes. The name Natchitoches supposedly can be translated as "chinquapin eaters."
The Chataignier settlement, about midway between Eunice and Mamou, has been around since the days when George Washington was president. Old records suggest that Chataignier's first settler was Ursiana Manuel who came from Mexico by way of New Orleans about 1793, when Louisiana was a Spanish colony. Other early settlers were Jacques Fontenot, probably a grandson of Jean-Louis Fontenot who came to the Louisiana from Mobile; Louis Redan, about whom I could find nothing; the Napoleonic exile Garigues de Flaugeac; Artemon Lafleur, also a mystery to me; and Valentine Savoy, who operated a large plantation, a cotton gin, and a sawmill and is said to be the first manufacturer of spinning wheels in this part of the country.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Chataignier is one of the oldest church parishes in the area. It was established by New Orleans Archbishop John Odin as a mission of the Opelousas church in 1856 and in 1869 was made a separate parish. A church was built with Father Jean Baptiste Bre as its first pastor.
Father Bre, who was also in charge of Bois Mallet, served Chataignier until 1880 and was followed by Father Blaise Branche, who served until 1891. He was followed by Father Charles Clark, and he was followed by Father A. L. Bacciochi, who became pastor in 1896.
Father Bacciochi moved the rectory to the new town of Eunice at the end of 1901 and Chataignier again became a mission church for a short while. Our Lady of Mount Carmel was re-established in 1902 under a resident pastor, Father Gerald Bosch, who served until 1909. He was followed by Father Charles Devirat, who was pastor into the 1930s.
The first known school, the Onezine Lafleur School, opened its doors in Chataignier in 1858, but it was forced to close during the Civil War. In 1879, Mrs. P. H. Marueney was appointed to teach and the school reopened. She and her students spoke French.
The Chataignier post office was established on November 20, 1879, and in the early 1900s had a population of 250, according to historian Alcee Fortier. He described Chataignier as "a post village... on the Louisiana East & West Railroad, about 12 miles west of Opelousas." The Louisiana East & West, once a part of the Texas & Pacific Railroad, operated from 1904 to 1907.
The village of Chataignier was incorporated in January 1973 with a population of 375. The 2000 census listed 383 people in the village.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.