Bayou Lafourche Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Indians
1. 2. 3.
Faces of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw People
1. Francis Billiot Verdun 1907-2000 2. Harris J. Verdun 1929-1984 3. Michel Billiot
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The Governing Body
The governing body of the Bayou Lafourche Band is the Tribal Council and the Council of Elders. The Tribal Council is comprised of five members and the Council of Elders is comprised of five members each.
Tribal Council: (Left to right, standing)
Chief - Randy P. Verdun
Deputy Chief - Curtis L. Verdun
Secretary - Sharon V. LeBouef
Treasurer - Cathy B. Collins
Warden - Aaron D. Verdun
Council of Elders: (Left to right, seated)
Clovis J. Billiot
Clovis J. Billiot, Jr.
John A. Dupre
Hazel N. Hearty
Gloria V. Jarreau (not in picture)
Marguerite Darda LeBouef
Ulyssee J. Verdin
Settlement of Lower Bayou Lafourche
The earliest record of any ancestor of the Biloxi-Chitimacha Indians on Bayou Lafourche is contained in the land purchase of Genevieve Magnon (Magneau, Mayon) on 16 April 1827 when she bought the land of Paulin Verret, which was bounded above by Antoine Besse and below by Girod Brothers. This land was on the east bank (left descending side) of Bayou Lafourche just below the community of Rita, across the bayou from today's Lockport, three sections below Louisiana Hwy. 654, which goes to the Gheens community. Genevieve was not an Indian but she had two children by Jean Charles Billiot, son of Jean-Baptiste Louis Billiot and Marianne Iris (who was Chitimacha). It is not known if she ever inhabited this land. This section of land is shown on the Jean Baptiste Bourgiugnon D'Anville map dated 1732, as an "anciens village."
By the 1850 census of Lafourche Parish, some of the children of Adelaide Billiot, who had married (1) Michel Dardart and (2) Auguste Crepelle, appeared on Bayou Lafourche. Adelaide was the sister of Jean Charles Billiot. Auguste Crepelle was listed with his two sons by Adelaide, Auguste Crepelle (Jr.) and Charles Faustin Crepelle, but Adelaide was not listed. It is known she was still alive in 1855. Her children of the marriage with Michel Dardart were living next to Auguste: Marcelin Dardar (given as Crepule) with his wife, Marie Elizabeth Billiot, and their three children; and Rosalie Dardar with her husband Jean Baptiste Roubion (given as Robichaux), no children named, but in their house was Joseph Severin Billiot also called "Crepel" - the brother of Rosalie. Just below them was Jean Plaisance.
The Crepelles were not listed on the 1860 census of
Lafourche, but Paulin Dardar was listed in Ward 5 between Gregoire Serigner and
Pierre Lee, below Golden Meadow but somewhere above Leeville, on the west side
of Bayou Lafourche.
In 1870 Marcelin Dardar (called Marcelin Crepelle on the 1850 census) was listed as an oyster dealer in Ward 5 of Lafourche Parish, all Dardars in the house given as "mulatto." His first wife had died by then, and in his house was Henriette, a 14 year old, given as keeping house, mother of Drauzin Dardar, then a 7 month old baby.
In 1880 the Augustin Crepel Jr. family #79 appeared again on the census, in Ward 10 near #83 Gregoire Serigny; all the Crepels were given as "mulatto." By now 6 other families of the Indian forefathers were listed as head of the households: #82 Abel Billiot (white), #92 Charles Dardar (mulatto), #93 Marcelin Dardar (mulatto), #108 Clement Dardar (white), #109 Paulin Verdin (mulatto), and #204 Joseph Rene Billiot (mulatto). Families #1 through #87 were given on the left bank of Bayou Lafourche. With the exception of Clement Dardar, who had no occupation listed, all the others were given as farmers.
The next census, 1900 Ward 10 of Lafourche Parish, showed 11 families, 59 people, in a clustered community below Golden Meadow but above Leeville, all appearing to be on the east side of Bayou Lafourche, race given as "Indian": #345 Alexander Dardare with wife and 2 children; #346 Etienne Verdin with wife and 3 children; #347 Polin Dardare with wife and 6 children; #348 Neville Beoie (Billiot) with wife and 7 children; #349 Charles Beoie with wife and 3 children and Roman Verdin his son-in-law; #350 Ernest Dardar with wife and 2 children; Omer Bieie with wife and 6 children; #352 Clement Dardar with wife and 7 children; #353 Josaide Dardare with wife; #354 Joseph Dardare with wife and 2 children. Occupations were fisherman, day laborers, and hunters. Theophile Dardar #393, given as "white", with wife and 3 children were living in Ward 10, but not near this community.
According to the family, Charles Alexander Billiot went to Bayou Lafourche before 1900 from Pointe-aux-Chene to trap on a share basis - his share was 35%, with 65% going to the land owner. Charles was interviewed by John R. Swanton in 1907 and two photographs of Charles (called "Chalo") with his family in front of their home on Bayou Lafourche, made of rough hewn wood siding with a palmetto roof, appear in Swanton's The Indians of the Southeastern United States. This must have been one of the better houses because most of the Indian houses were one room, made of mud and moss bousillier (chinking) between small tree branches with palmetto roofing and a "stick and mud" fireplace for cooking. Swanton quoted Charles as saying he knew of the Ouacha, Biloxi, Colapissa, Pascagoula, Atakapa, and Chitimacha Indians. Charles was 69 years old when Swanton visited him. Charles' father, Alexandre Billiot, was named several times in the Swanton notes as "Chief of the Chitimachas" and Charles was looked upon as the leader of his community as evidenced by Swanton's visit to see him on Bayou Lafourche for information.
In 1909 there was a hurricane which was devastating to the Indians of lower Pointe-aux-Chene. Many lost all of their belongings and some even their lives. The family of Bernard Verdin was wiped with the exception of one person. Some who survived moved to Bayou Lafourche, settling in such places as Fala, l'Eskine (chenieres between Bayou Pointe-aux-Chene and Bayou Lafourche), and what sounds like Perriaque, one of the chenieres below where the Fourchon Road now is. None of these places are inhabited today. Subsequent hurricanes and flooding caused the Indians to move farther up Bayou Lafourche for protection, to the "settlement" area just below Golden Meadow.
Periods of time are measured according to flooding and hurricanes and how devastating they were to the Indians. From 1962 to 1965 they suffered intense hurricanes, such as Hurricane Hilda (with tornadoes that killed many in 1964), Hurricane Betsy (in 1965) and others more recent (Hurricane Juan and Hurricane Andrew). As a result, Indians moved farther inland to Larose and Lockport, where many of them remain today, still a vital part of the community because of family relationships. As recently as Hurricane Juan this writer's daughter worked with FEMA and cried along with the Indians as they related their losses to her in filling out forms for Federal assistance, some left only with the clothing on their backs and their lives, no shelter, no food and no way to earn a living..
Octave Thomas Verdin went from Point-aux-Chene to L'Eskine with his family after the 1909 hurricane. Three of his sons are known to have lived at Fala: Lawrence, Forest, and Mayfield Verdin.
Inhabited by Lawrence Verdin, Forest Verdin and Mayfield Verdin. As the daughters married, they moved to Bayou Lafourche. At one time it was reported the Indians could go by land from Fala to Bayou Lafourche, then a canal was dug from Fala to Bayou Lafourche so the Indians could transport their products to market by water. Today L'Eskine and Fala can only be reached by boat.
Privat Alexandre "Alexson" Billiot and his family also lived on Fala. When Alexson was plowing his garden on Fala he found so many human bones, he gathered them up and buried them in one common grave. The Indians were told these were the remains of the Indians killed when the "French made war on the Indians" (possibly the Chitimachas during Bienville's time).
The only resident of Perriaque within memory of the Indians who could be named was Matilda Billiot, a daughter of Alexson, but it is said that several families lived there.
The houses were one room, some of rough lumber siding, others of palmettos over the mud and moss bousillier between branches, with palmetto roofs. The "stick and mud" (same as bousillier) fireplaces were in use into the 1940's. Bousillier was made by digging a round hole about 10 feet across and removing all the top soil, then loosening and chopping the "black jack" (underlying clay) with a shovel, filling that hole with water and green moss, then the women and children stomped and worked this mixture with their feet until it was well mixed and pliable. Batches were taken out and worked with the hands until it was semi-firm and then placed on top of the tree branches on the walls or chimney, one by one, to the needed height. Two people worked at the chinking, one on each side, packing the mixture firmly between the limbs in layers, as the height was continued.
Green palmetto fronds were also used for siding on some of the houses, and for roofs. Food was cooked in these "mud and stick" fireplaces in iron pots and pans, and they were also a source for heating in cold weather. Once dried the bousillier became as hard as concrete and could be covered over with a smoother mixture that looked like stucco. All the neighborhood participated in house and chimney building, even the children.
Outdoor ovens were made of the "mud and stick" method in a beehive shape, and were the place where the family's bread was baked.
Employment and Food
Cash income was derived from working at swamping, moss picking, shrimping, oystering and trapping. In winter most of the families trapped and in summer the men seined for fish. Before the days of refrigeration and freezers, Indian hunters provided the New Orleans area with fresh game, fowl and seafood. Traps yielded nutria, muskrat, mink, otter and sometimes coons. The skins were stretched over wooden frames and sun dried, then sorted by kind and quality, for sale to fur buyers. The whole family participated in skinning the trapped animals.
Most of the Indians leased about 4 acres of land to serve their needs; few owned the land.
Gardens yielded vegetables - such as corn, potatoes, beans, cucumbers, and pumpkins - but these were not sold. Corn, beans and pumpkins could be dried in the sun and preserved for later use. Potatoes were kept by building a mound of earth, then covering the mound with green palmetto fronds, stacking the potatoes (sweet potatoes or Irish potatoes) in a pyramid on the mound, then covering the pyramid with more green palmetto fronds. About a foot of dirt was placed over the second layer of palmetto and the potatoes were preserved until they were needed, high out of the water level and moisture.
Chicken, hogs, and cattle were also raised as a food source. Meat was preserved in crocks, each layer covered with salt. Excess eggs from the chickens were used in trade for staples that could not be produced at home, such as sugar, coffee, flour, some beans and rice. Shrimp were boiled and then sun-dried and kept for later use. In addition to this diet, wild game and fowl, and sea foods could be easily obtained. Garfish were sun-dried (called "tasso") and would keep for months; tasso making was a community affair and a celebration for get-togethers. Everyone helped each other, whether harvesting, building or fishing.
Inside the houses
Even in the early days sleeping comfort was of concern to the Indians. They had the corn shuck mattress (bottom layer over a rope base, equivalent to bed springs of today), a moss mattress and a feather mattress which alternated depending on the season. In summer the cooler moss mattress was uppermost; in winter the heat-holding feather mattress was on the top. Quilts of cotton batting were made but in some rare cases comforters made of feathers were known.
The furniture was simple and serviceable. A table, benches and a few chairs, in addition to bedding, was all that was needed and easily made at home.
Clothing was homemade for all the family. Utility baskets and hats were woven from new palmetto fronds, and is becoming a lost art. Blow guns were made and used for hunting and were still being made as late as the 1940's. David Billiot was one of the last men who made blow guns.
There were no early schools for these Indians. David Billiot carried on a campaign with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. for schooling for Indian children. And eventually he and others were successful and the "Settlement School" had its beginning.
Once the "Settlement School" for Indian children was opened below Golden Meadow, it only went through the sixth grade. This was the only Indian school ever in Lafourche Parish. Many people living today, born in the 1930's, went to that school beginning in 1940, finishing at ages as young as 11 and 12 years old. Some had to drop out before then because they had to go to work to help their family, shrimp trawling and trapping. Only those children born since the late 1950's and early 1960's have attended the integrated public schools in Lafourche Parish.
Jack Billiot (still living) threatened to sue the Lafourche Parish School Board, through his attorney Wollen Falgout, to have Indian children permitted to go to public school in Golden Meadow. The "separate but equal" law did not include Indian children, it only recognized two races, Negro and White, but even the public "Negro" schools did not begin until after the Civil War and did not go above the Junior High level, at the most. There are many "donations" of land in the court house in Thibodaux, where land was to be used for a school for white children only. If not used for that purpose, ownership would revert to the donor.
Dugouts were made as late as the 1940's and still in common use in the 1950's. They were made by cutting down cypress trees, then laying them on the ground to dry for a season. In this modern time, it was possible to use iron tools to fashion them. Today the dugout has been replaced by the lighter, and more easily made, pirogues and are still used to travel through the marshes and on bayous by Indian hunters and fishermen.
Discrimination and "Sabines"
It is unknown just when or why the term "Sabine" came into use as an insult to the Indians. It indicated a worthless person of mixed racial heritage - like "half-breed" was used with contempt in other states and times. Possibly this was during the early days of the oil boom. But the term was commonly used well into the end of the twentieth century. Indians could not go into dance halls, restaurants, barber shops or any other public place, other than to work - if they could get such jobs. Their surname and place of residence served to identify and isolate them.
Once Indians were allowed to vote, however, candidates for public office courted them for their votes, making promises, but once in office, promptly get a case of amnesia - forgetting the promises of representation to the Indians. This is even true today. From the local level to the national level, nothing has been done to alleviate the low social and economic status of these Indians.
During WW II many Indians from Bayou Lafourche went to the west bank of Jefferson Parish and the general New Orleans area, where they found employment and non-segregated schooling for their children, and their descendants have remained there. To escape the stigma, some parents never told their children they were Indian. Some of these children and grandchildren, learning of the discrimination and hard times and their true ancestry, are now coming back to the bayou country to assist in the quest for federal recognition, which is long overdue. Many are shocked to see the poverty that still exists and sub-standard living conditions of most of the elders.
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