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Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society

Truman Stacey

"Notable Men and Women of SWLA" is result of work compiled by SLHA member Truman Stacey.

A native of Texas,Truman Stacey served in the U.S. Army in World War II, earned bachelor and master degrees from the University of Detroit, and worked on a number of newspapers before serving as editor-in-chief of the Lake Charles American Press from 1961 to 1982, when he became chief information officer for the Catholic Diocese of Lake Charles. 

Stacey wrote the series of articles here to commemorate the Bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. These articles appear in numerous newspapers across the state, including the DeQuincy News, the Cameron Pilot, the Teche News, the Welsh Citizen, the American Press, the Ville Platte News, and the Hammond Star.

He is a past president of Southwest Louisiana Historical Association.

Andre Penicaut

Andre Penicaut, Louisiana’s first historian, was born in La Rochelle, in France, about 1680. In his teens he was apprenticed as a carpenter, and he must have been an apt student because at age 18 he was selected to accompany Pierre Le Moyne D’Iberville’s expedition that was to establish the French colony of Louisiana.

In October of 1698 he sailed aboard La Marin, a 32-gun frigate commanded by the Count de Surgeres, the second ship of D'Iberville's small squadron. After an uneventful voyage the two ships made landfall at Cat Island and Ship Island near Biloxi Bay on January 6, 1699.

As the 18-year-old stood on the deck of La Marin and gazed ashore at the little-known continent, inhabited by rare beasts and savage men, he must have felt a thrill of adventure.

 

And adventure he was to have. It was to be his lot to travel far and to witness great events during the 21 years he was to live in Louisiana. Because of his skill as a ship's carpenter he was assigned to almost all of D'Iberville's forays into the interior. Travel was by water, and there was always a boat to be repaired or a rude fort to be built. Carpenters were valuable men. He helped to build the first post at Old Biloxi as well as the new fort on the Mobile River.

Early in his stay in the colony he showed an aptitude for the languages of the Indians and thus became an interpreter for many of the pow wows the French leaders had with leaders of the native tribes living along the banks of the Mississippi River. He also was a member of a number of raiding parties launched by the French to punish tribes which had killed Frenchmen, probably at the urgings of rival English traders.

Being alert and observant he made himself familiar with the customs, way of life and folklore of the natives.

In addition to being alert and observant he began a journal to describe his adventures. This journal was to become the first published history of French Louisiana.

One of his early adventures occurred in 1700 when D'Iberville sent Charles Pierre Le Seuer to explore the upper reaches of the Mississippi River. Penicaut was a member of the party. They paddled upriver as far as the Blue Earth River in present-day Minnesota, until the river iced over in September.

The party built a rude fort where they spent the winter and almost starved, until they learned to subsist on buffalo meat. Penicaut later wrote that they killed and butchered about 500 of these big animals during the winter. "When we got used to that kind of food," he later wrote, "it made us quite fat and there were no more sick among us."

After the ice melted they moved upriver and found a large deposit of copper on a hillside. They spent 21 days digging out ore and brought it to Biloxi on their return.

When Louis Juchereau de St. Denis made his historic "invasion" of Texas in 1712, Penicaut was a member of the party that traveled to the Spanish post of San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande River. He later wrote of St. Denis' arrest and imprisonment in Mexico City, and how he talked his way out of that dilemma and returned to Louisiana with a beautiful Spanish wife.

Penicaut was married some time before 1708 to Marguerite Catherine Prevot, and their two children, Andre Rene and Jacque, were baptized by the post chaplain in 1708 and 1710, respectively. He continued his services to the various governors of the colony, assisted in settling newcomers and marking out land concessions along the Mississippi.

In 1721, however, he began to suffer from an inflammation of the eyes and as his sight deteriorated he decided to return to France for treatment. All treatments were fruitless, however, and he never regained full use of his eyes.

As a means of attracting the attention of French officialdom in the hopes of gaining a pension for his years of service to the Crown, Penicaut completed his memoirs and submitted them as evidence.

Historians have been unable to discover if he was successful in his venture, or how long he continued to live or how he died.

His memoirs live after him, however, and they form one of the most important documents concerning the early history of the colony. No other man of the times contributed so much to our present knowledge of Louisiana history.

Many subsequent historians have used the information from his memoirs. Among them have been Father Charlevoix, one of the first travel writers of the area; as well as Louisiana historian Charles Gayarre, Peter J. Hamilton, writing of early Mobile; Henry Gravier and Grace King.

Ethnologists John R. Swanton and Fredick W. Hodge gleaned much of their data on the native tribes of the Mississippi Valley from Penicaut's memoirs.

Penicaut deserves his place in the pantheon of the chroniclers of early Louisiana.