Bayou Terrebonne, about 70 kilometers long, empties into the Gulf of Mexico. It is an important waterway for Terrebonne Parish, created in 1822 from part of Lafourche Parish. In Louisiana a parish is what other American states refer to as a county. In Houma, the seat of the parish, a maker/monument commemorating the “Great Acadian Upheaval” was erected in the city center on October 11, 2011. It is capped by a replica of the Grand-Pré Deportation Cross. The pedestal reminds visitors that most Acadians received land along the Teche, Lafourche and Terrebonne bayous. This monument, the first in the United States, is an integral part of the Acadian Odyssey, which is a series of markers installed over the years in several various places linked to the deportation of Acadians. It also underlines that Louisiana has become New Acadia for many exiles. Note that in 2003 a replica of the Deportation Cross was erected in Saint Martinville, Louisiana, where Acadian refugees settled in 1765.
In the 1780s, the Acadians began to descend the bayous toward the Deep South. During almost two decades, the Spanish authorities had preferred to limit relocation. But there was insufficient space to accommodate growth and especially land distribution following the death of the head of family. Indeed, every time a patriarch died his land was divided. After a generation or two, each land ownership became increasingly small and insufficient. It was therefore necessary to find available land elsewhere either along the bayous or in more distant prairies.
This unintended state of affairs continued and intensified throughout the 1790s, pushing new settlements in the lower part of Bayou Lafourche and along other navigable bayous in the region. Four families did settle along the Attakapas Canal between 1793 and 1803. A few other families (from the 1785 group of refugees from France) took up residence on Bayou Boeuf. Around 1795 seven families populated the banks of Bayou Terrebonne.
The Houma Country
Prior to the arrival of the Acadians, the Houma First Nation people already occupied the isolated territory of the vast Mississippi Delta. In 1682, René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle was the first Whiteman to identify the Houma. Forty years after La Salle, Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix (born in Saint Quentin, France, and teacher at Quebec City’s Collège des Jésuites) witnessed in person the Louisiana Native Americans’ welcome. With reference to the Houma nation, he wrote in his travel journal on January 10, 1722, “The Mississippi begins to fork here before carrying its waters to the sea. A quarter of a league further inland is the Ouma grand village. A few French houses are among them. This nation is very affectionate” (translated from old French). Like the French before them, the Acadians rubbed shoulders with the Houma to the point that the latter people gradually adopted French as their means of communication. Over time, they lost the use of their ancestral language. Three centuries later, in 2020 in Dulac on Louisiana’s coastline, a group of equally affectionate Houma agree among themselves (see the accompanying short video) that faced with the constant rise of anglicism the survival of the French language depends on the will of the next generations. The language introduced by La Salle and Charlevoix was saved by an almost total isolation of their ancestors.
Like the Mi’kmaq of old Acadia, the Houma of New Acadia taught Acadians how to survive in the harsh conditions of the Mississippi Delta. Their peaceful relationship has been mutually beneficial. Living among alligators (cocodries in Cajun French) is not the same as living among beavers. Furthermore, the techniques learned for crayfish fishing allowed the Acadians to profit from an abundant windfall which today makes Louisiana the largest producer of crayfish in the United States.