The swamp people

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By Sidney Cann


Sid's Outdoors

Most of my articles are about Grayson County, but this one is going to be a little different. A couple of weeks ago we took a trip to New Orleans. It was a good trip — we got to do a lot of different things.
I always have wanted to do a swamp tour, and we did. The Jean Lafayette National Park is about 10 miles outside New Orleans; this is where we did our tour. The National Park covers thousands of acres of swamps, canals and bayous. It is like stepping into a lost world that has been forgotten.
I will do a brief history of the Cajun people who settled there and still live there to this day. The Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico and creates a vast wetland of thousands and thousands of acres. It creates a haven for wildlife and a diverse fishery for the creatures that can survive in this environment. The Cajuns, or Acadians, came from Nova Scotia after they were banished from their homeland. They struggled southward for three decades looking for what Longfellow called the Eden of Louisiana. About 50,000 started out; today they are about 400,000 living in the swamps and bayous.
Why they went south in that direction I have no idea. I guess they had heard about it from some source. Before the Cajuns, American Indians had long known about the bounty that existed there. Before the city of New Orleans was started, settlers asked the Indians where to build. They were told to build on high ground — this is where the French Quarter is today.
When the Cajuns first got to Louisiana, the bayous and wetlands were a wilderness to behold. These resourceful people adapted to the surroundings fast. They learned how to be shrimpers, set crab traps, make oyster beds and crawfish traps. They hunted the alligator, deer, ducks and a vast assortment of small game. They trapped muskrat, mink, nutria, beaver and an assortment of fur-bearing animals. Redfish, sea trout, flounder, even catfish was on their menu. They loved frog legs and it was like a social event when whole families would go frog hunting.
From the time their children were big enough to get around they were taught to be hunters, trappers and fishermen. Muskrats and nutria were thick — they controlled the fur market around New Orleans with these and others fur-bearing animals for a while. They sold shrimp, oysters, crab and crawfish on the open market. Alligators were sold for their meat and skin, fish and other game as well.
Some became quite good businessmen and they flourished. Now let me take you on a swamp tour and we’ll see what we can see.
We left the hotel and rode about 10 miles to the Jean Lafayette National Park, to a small canal that would wind into a bigger body of water. We got on a small pontoon boat and started down the channel. We had just got started when the guide spotted a deer swimming across the channel. This is a common thing for them to do. The fields surrounding the swamp had all kinds of tall grasses and small trees at the edge. The guide said when Hurricane Katrina hit it took about two weeks to get all the debris cleaned out so a boat could even get through. Katrina must have been something to behold — the locals still talk about it.
As we went down the channel, we spotted some wild pigs in the field to our left. Two of them fighting. These pigs came from domesticated pigs, but they’ve reverted to their wild state.
They have become quite a nuisance in the South. They would weigh about 100 pounds — that’s as big as they get in the swamp.
Birds of different colors were out. Some were after fish. The swamp in full of different species. Soon we began to see the alligators — this was what most of us had come to see. Some would let us get pretty close, some would not; some were small, others were pretty big.
Our guide knew where a mother alligator hung out, and as we got closer we could see baby alligators on the bank. It was quite a sight to see the babies.
We even saw an old shack where an episode of “NCIS: New Orleans” was filmed.
The swamp and bayous are a strange place. They seem to have an eerie feeling.
Hope you enjoyed the trip through the swamp.