Reading can ease the tedium of quarantine time

‘Cajuns of Louisiana Bayous’ is a collection of historic black-and-white photos published in 1985 by Authentic American Art of Metairie, La.

By some strange coincidence that I hope isn’t prophetic, several people have loaned or given me lots of books and other reading material lately.

If I get sick or have to be quarantined for coronavirus — heaven forbid — at least I’m set when it comes to reading.

The sheer variety of interesting stuff is a good reminder that staying at home doesn’t have to mean being a slave to TV, smart phone or computer screen.

Here’s a look:

Cajun life tough in early 20th century

Jewel Watts of Amite County dropped off three books about south Louisiana. “St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History” is about Watts’ home parish. “The Ragin’ Cajun” is the autobiography of fiddler Doug Kershaw,

“Cajuns of Louisiana Bayous ... the People and the Legends” is an incredible collection of historic black-and-white photos published in 1985 by Authentic American Art of Metairie, La. The author-photographer simply identifies himself as “Josef.”

Most of the photos come from the first half of the 20th century. They show people building and paddling pirogues, skinning nutria, heading out in shrimp boats, mending boats and camps, catching alligators, bringing in oysters, and enjoying life with friends and family.

One photo shows a hard-bitten couple with six boys and three girls standing in the mud at the water’s edge. Their clothes are ragged. A couple of boys hold freshly trapped muskrats. “You can see from the picture on the left that raising a big family by carving a living from the marsh is tough going,” the text reads.

Magazine reminder of great-grandpa

Malcolm Allen loaned me a bound collection of the old “Roadways of Mississippi” magazine from 1977-78. Articles include a profile of the town of Liberty, which mentions the “Herndon School” in the 1800s.

That led me to my family genealogy book, where I read some colorful details about my great-grandfather, Thomas Luther Herndon, 1829-1898.

He was a Confederate veteran who fought at Shiloh, rode with Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Raiders, was captured near the end of the war and released in Alabama. Back in Amite County he established the Herndon School and later taught in the Nunnery School. He was the first Sunday school superintendent at Liberty Baptist Church.

“He was also granted a license to preach and exhort on the 15th of May 1870,” the genealogy reports. “He tendered his license back to the church on 15 April 1871. He was before the conference of the church more than once for drinking and finally dismissed for the same offense.”

Nevertheless, he was remembered as “a kindhearted, honest man and an excellent teacher, a good disciplinarian and was a very popular teacher.”

Pistol-packing tent revivalist

Fellow Enterprise-Journal employee Raymond Pepper gave me a three-part newspaper series from the Jena, La., Times about traveling evangelist B.B. “Cyclone” Crimm, a colorful  character from the 1920s who alternated between holding tent revivals and hosting fox hunts.

“Cyclone loved to fox hunt. He would preach and then offer to hunt till daylight if anyone would like to do so,” said one of the installments.

“Rev. Crimm was an imposing figure, six feet-three inches tall, rawboned, wearing cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat most of the time. He preached about hell as though he was born and reared there. ...

“He often laid a pistol on the pulpit prior to his preaching. After the introductory formalities and song service, he was known to grab the gun, fire a few shots into the air right through the top of the tent, and by this act let the folks know that what was to follow was serious business.”

Follow-up on slaves of Prospect Hill

After reading my recent series on the Prospect Hill Plantation, whose slaves moved to Liberia, Africa, in the 1800s, Lendon Robertson passed along an excerpt from “The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter” by W.D.M. Bell, who visited Liberia in 1911. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the aftermath of a difficult attempt at re-colonization in a hostile environment. Robertson, incidentally, has a collection of books on big-game hunting.

Excerpts from Bell’s account:

“In the year 1911 the search for new hunting grounds took me to Liberia, the Black Republic. I secured a passage by tramp steamer to Sinoe Town, Greenwood County, some few hundred miles south of the capital Monrovia. Here I landed with my little camp outfit and a decent battery, comprising a .318 Mauser and a .22 rook rifle. ...

“My host, whom I will call Mr. B., was much interested in my expedition into the interior. He told me frankly that I would have a devil of a time. He said that the jurisdiction of the Liberians extended inland for about 10 miles only, and beyond that the country was in the hands of the original natives. These were all armed with guns and a few rifles, and were constantly at war with each other. ...

“I had to engage servants, and B. said I could either buy them or hire them. He explained that slavery was rampant. Whenever a tribe in the interior brought off a successful raid on their neighbours, the captives were generally brought to the coast and there sold to the Liberians, themselves liberated slaves from the United States of America. Alcoholism was so prevalent and widespread and had reached such a pitch that scarcely any children are born to the Liberians proper, in which case they buy bush children and adopt them as their own. ...

“It must not be thought that they are unfriendly towards whites. If treated politely they are very nice people indeed; they will do anything to help. But they must be treated just as if they were ordinary white foreigners. I liked them immensely, and regretted having to leave their country.”

More trees than we may imagine

Retired forester Darryl Hunkapillar, after seeing recent articles I did on giant oak trees in the area, gave me a copy of “Mississippi Trees” by the Mississippi Forestry Commission. This ring-backed, laminated guidebook is obviously made for field use and is very detailed.

For instance, how well do you know your oaks? I thought I knew them pretty well. But consider all these Mississippi oak trees that are listed in the guidebook:

White, Arkansas, bluff, swamp white, scarlet, Durand, southern red, sand live, laurel, bluejack, turkey, swamp laurel, overcup, bur, sand post, blackjack, swamp chestnut, dwarf live, chestnut, chinkapin, myrtle, water, Oglethorpe, cherrybark, pin, willow, dwarf chinkapin, runner, northern red, Shumard, swamp post, post, Nuttall, black and live.

Granted, some of those only grow in a few counties. Nevertheless, I may be afraid ever to guess at a tree again. Fortunately I can tote this book along to help.

Long canoe trip

a great escape

When a friend donated a pile of books to David Yarborough of Summit, he ran across one that he thought I might like: “Ultimate North: Canoeing Mackenzie’s Great River — 1,700 miles from the Athabasca Country to the Arctic Ocean” written in 1976 by Robert Douglas Mead.  

I do like canoe trip narratives. I’ve read countless ones and even wrote one myself, on the Pascagoula.

Yarborough asked if I’d ever canoed the Mackenzie. I have paddled in the North — Alaska, Adirondacks. Boundary Waters — but not the Arctic Circle. I tend to prefer more southerly waters, and somewhat shorter trips.

“Ultimate North” sounds like a great escape from a quarantine I hope I never have to experience!

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