an IBERIA PARISH article
Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser, November 25, 1997
The district was named for the Attakapas Indians who could be found in the western part of what is now Iberia Parish. An old Indian trail ran from what is now Lake Charles, to present-day New Iberia, and then to today's Morgan City.
In 1778, about 500 French people were sent into the Attakapas District by Gov. Bernardo de Galvez. They first settled primarily in what would become St. Martin Parish. But they were soon followed by Spaniards who would found Nueva Iberia and would move out into the countryside from there.
Most of those first Spanish settlers came from Malaga and the Mediterranean region around it just west of the Strait of Gibraltar. The first family names included Romero, Villatoro (Viator now), de Aponte, Ortiz, Balderas, Lagos, Segura, and Porras.
They arrived in Louisiana in January 1779, along with other recruits from the Canary Islands, which were then Spanish possessions. The Canary Islanders (Islaños) would be sent to Terre-aux-Boeufs, south of New Orleans in what is now St. Bernard Parish.
The Malagueños would cross the Atchafalaya Basin and come to the Teche country. Their leader was Franciso Bouligny, who had pushed the idea of bringing settlers from Spain to Louisiana. He settled them first in a place on Bayou Teche 12 leagues distant from "the church town where Monsieur de Clouet lives," about where Charenton is now. (Chevalier Alexandre de Clouet had received a grant for land where the St. John-Levert Plantation stands today in St. Martin Parish.) Flood waters forced them to move farther up the Teche before they got settled, and it was a struggle to get things going even though, in addition to land grants, some of the immigrant families received rations, cattle, money, and other aids, amounting to as much as $4,000.
The Spanish colonists who settled in New Iberia and Terre-aux-Boeufs were assigned their land by Thomas Berwick, an English public surveyor hired to help get the nascent Nueva Iberia started. Berwick brought with him William Henderson, who, on Nov. 18, 1779, acquired nearly 500 acres on Bayou Teche just upstream from the Spanish settlement, even though the Spanish crown disliked the idea of selling lands to Americans and had, in fact, forbidden it.
By 1788, the Iberia settlement numbered 190 people, most of whom were Spanish, although there were some French and Acadian families, including Decuir, Dugas, LeBlanc, Martin, Broussard, Breaux, Derouen, Trahan, Guilbeaux, Bernard, Granger, Thibodeaux, Arceneaux, Babineaux, Hebert, Landry, Melancon, and Mouton.
Some time after the Louisiana Purchase, Americans began to come to the Attakapa's country. Early family names included Riggs, Wilkins, Peebles, and Marsh.
The early colonists usually built their homes with material that was easy and inexpensive to find. Most of the country houses were built with an adobe-like mixture of mud and moss. Loamy soil was mixed with water to approximately the thickness of brick mortar. Green moss was spread over the mortar and tramped by men to the bottom of the mixture. This was repeated until no more moss could be forced into the mixture.
This "adobe" was then placed between the studs and held in place by horizontal sticks driven between the studding at every 6 inches. When the mixture was half dry, it was scraped to make a flat surface that would finally dry hard.
The Iberia settlement had begun to prosper by the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Many farms were located on the west bank of the Teche. The land on the east bank was used for pasturage, because the annual overflow of the waters made farming impractical. Although crops were an important mount of making a living, raising cattle was still the most important occupation in the Teche country.
In 1807, 19 parishes were created in Louisiana and the Attakapas District became the parish of St. Martin. St. Mary Parish was split from it in 1811, and Lafayette in 1823. The area that would become Iberia Parish remained a part of St. Martin until Oct. 3, 1868, when it was made a separate parish by the legislature. New Iberia was named the parish seat. Daniel D. Avery was the first president of the police jury.
A historical sketch by Dr. Alfred Duperier in the New Iberia Enterprise in 1899 described life in the area in the early 1800s:
"The frugality with which the people of the country lived in those days--the result of nomadic pursuits, copied from their ancestors--rendered their wants limited," Duperier wrote. "Their herds of cattle grazing upon the public domain, all free from taxation, relieved them of almost every burden. They indulged in no extravagance. The men rode on horseback; the wives and daughters used the calèche, a homemade gig suspended by means of rawhide straps from arms projecting from the shafts; the wheels were often without tires, the axles were of wood and the cushions consisted of feather pillows. Among the more prosperous, these vehicles were painted. The harness was either all of rawhide or leather tanned at home.
"The principal luxury of the people, to which they still adhere," Duperier's 1899 article continued, "was coffee. Their clothing consisted of homespun good known as 'Attakapas cottonade.' They indulged in the purchase of only a few articles, principally calicoes, domestic cotton goods and shoes brought from the East or imported from England and France. Shoes were a luxury, men and women often went barefooted; the men wore moccasins made of rawhide or buckskin. Girls going to church, or to a ball, would often carry their shoes in hand, to be worn only when they reached their destination. At home the shoes were faithfully hung from the ceiling.
"The principal industry of the country was grazing large herds of cattle that ranged from the Cypremort to the Mermentau and Calcasieu," Duperier continued. "The entire Opelousas country, including Lafayette and St. Landry parishes, was used for grazing purposes. The Pellerins, the Dupres, and Moutons branded thousands of calves annually. The cattle trade of the early days supplied the Mississippi River plantation with beef. The use of Western pork and cured meats was unknown at this period. Francois Duplessis, a refugee from Santo Domingo, a civil engineer by education who subsequently owned a sugar plantation immediately fronting Morbihan plantation in consideration of some engineering work executed by him at the mouth of Bayou Plaquemine, secured an exclusive privilege for transporting cattle and livestock from Bayou Portage, in the rear of Loreauville, to Plaquemine. This proved a valuable franchise over a short route and has often suggested itself to me as a proper line for the building of a railroad from the east bank of the Teche of the Mississippi. Immense herds of cattle were constantly driven to the point of embarkation on the Duplessis Steamers, which after a few hours was landed on Bayou Plaquemine to be driven thence up and down the Mississippi coast. Many of our old inhabitants were engaged in this cattle traffic. Antoine and Michel Romero and Athanase Hebert were among my earliest recollection. The latter, 'Tanasse,' as he was universally known, was a descendant of the earliest Acadian emigrants who had settled Fausse Pointe. A large progeny, reputed for their frugality and honesty, still inhabit that section of Fausse Pointe."
By 1835, most of the plantations of the Teche had turned to sugarcane as the main crop, and the appearance of the countryside changed with the coming of the sugar plantations. Sugar houses were, at first, small and cheap buildings. Any kind of long, low building able to house four kettles was used. The grinding machinery was often outside without cover.
On March 21, 1850, the Louisiana Legislature directed the state engineer, "to ascertain from actual surveys made by the United States surveyor or otherwise, the territory or land contained within the proposed Parish of Iberia, according to the limits prescribed in a resolution reported to the Senate by the Hon. G. W. Scranton on the fifteenth day of March, eighteen hundred and forty-eight, per journal pages one hundred and forty-seven and one hundred and forty-eight, indicating the area therein and the area (that) will remain in each of the Parishes of St. Mary and St. Martin, after deducting the said quantity contained in the said contemplated Parish of Iberia, and to report the result together with a map of all, and with such other information as may be deemed proper to enable this General Assembly to decide whether or not a new parish can be created in conformity to article eighth (sic) of the constitution at the next regular session of the General Assembly. "
That survey was done, and on Oct. 30, 1868, the legislature approved the act forming Iberia from "a portion of the south part of the Parish of St. Martin and from a portion of the north part of the Parish of St. Mary."
It established the parish boundaries: "Beginning at the Gulf of Mexico at the entrance to the Southwest or Vermilion pass; thence along the middle of the main channel of said pass to the entrance into Vermilion Bay; thence in a direct line to the mouth of Petite Anse Bayou; thence in a direct line to the western shore of Lake Peigneur; thence along the western shore of said lake, and along the line dividing the Parishes of St. Martin, Vermilion and Lafayette to its point intersected by a line running east and west two and one half miles north of the township line between townships eleven and twelve south, in range five east; thence due east to the township line between ranges five and six east, then southeast to the upper line of lands now belonging to S. M. Darby (originally confirmed to J. Fontenette, commonly represented number fifty-nine), thence northeastwardly along said upper line to Lake Yasse; thence southwestwardly through the middle of said lake in a direct line to the upper line of lands now owned by John F. Wyche; thence along said upper line to the Bayou Teche, thence crossing said bayou to the upper line of lands belonging to J. F. Wyche; following said upper line to the depth of forty arpents, thence following the rear concession of lands lying south of J. F. Wyche, and fronting Bayou Teche at a distance of forty arpents from said Bayou to the south line of Onezephore Delahoussaye; thence circumscribing the lands of said Onezephore Delahoussaye to Coulie (sic) Portage following said Coulie to Bayou Portage; thence along the middle of said bayou to Lake Fausse Pointe, and through the middle of said lake to a point intersected by the township line between townships eleven and twelve south; thence east along said line to the eastern limits of the Parish of St. Martin, on Grand River; thence southwardly with said limits to the line between townships twelve and thirteen south; thence westwardly in a direct line to the northwest corner of the lands of Charles Grevemberg; thence southeastwardly across the Bayou Teche along the upper line of said lands of Charles Grevemberg and in a direct line to the sea marsh, thence through said sea marsh midway between the highlands of Cypremort and Crande Côte to Vermilion Bay, thence through said bay to the southeast pass of Côte Blanche Bay, and thence along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to the point of beginning, including Petite Anse Island."
A Mr. Dennett wrote of the glories of Iberia just after the Civil War: "It is a lovely and wonderful country," he said. "Its bayous, lakes, prairies and woodlands are all beautiful. Its soil is rich, deep and inexhaustible. Sea breezes roll over it, and give health and long life to its inhabitants. Its climate is a medium between the tropical and the north temperate (sic), combining most of the advantages of both and the evils of neither. Steamers from New Orleans and vessels from the ocean penetrate to its very center, and the cars of the Southern Pacific Railroad, connecting New Orleans and the Pacific Ocean, in a few years will pass over it."
Later, in 1887, Charles Dudley Warner offered this description in Harper's magazine: "From New Iberia southward toward Vermilion Bay stretches a vast prairie; if it is not absolutely flat, it resembles the ocean; it is the ocean when its long swells have settled nearly to a calm. This prairie would be monotonous were it not dotted with small round ponds, like hand-mirrors for the flitting birds and sailing clouds, were its expanse not spotted with herds of cattle scattered or clustered like fishing boats on a green sea, were it not for a cabin here and there, a field of cane or cotton, a garden plot, and were it not for the forests which break the horizon line and send out dark capes into the verdant plains. On a gray day, or when storm fogs roll in from the gulf, it might be a gloomy region, but under the sunlight and in the spring it is full of life and color; it has an air of refinement and repose that is very welcome. Besides the uplift of the spirit that a wide horizon is apt to give, one is conscious here of the neighborhood of the sea, and the possibilities of romantic adventure in a coast intersected by bayous and the presence of novel forms of animal and vegetable life, and of a people with habits foreign and strange."
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