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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.

Pere Antoine Davion

Of all the missionaries who preached the Catholic faith in colonial Louisiana there were few who could equal the devotion of Pere Antoine Davion. A native of France Father Davion came to Canada in 1690 as a priest of the Seminary of Quebec and the Foreign Missions. The seminary was formed to supply priests for New France and missionaries to minister to the native tribes.

It was not until eight years later, however, that priests were dispatched to Lower Louisiana. Three missionaries – Father Davion, Father Fracois de Montigny and Father Jean-Francois Buisson de Saint Cosme – were chosen.

The trio departed from Lachine on July 24, 1698, with a party of 12 others, including brother Alexandre, a member of the Hospitallers of St-Joseph-de-la-Croix, three servants and eight voyageurs in four canoes. Paddling by way of the Ottawa River, Lake Nipssing and the French River, the party arrived at Fort Michillimackinac on lake Huron September 8.

Here the party had the good fortune to fall in with another party headed by Henri de Tonti, the famous "de Tonti of the Iron Hand," who agreed to be their guide as far as the Arkansas River. They reached the Arkansas on December 27. There they left di Tonti and headed south on their own.

The first half of 1699 the missionaries spent learning the geography and people of the country. By midsummer, however, Father Davion had established himself among the Tunica villages on the Yazoo River.

The Tunica culture was similar to that of the Caddos but the language was distinct. During historic times the Tunicas were said to have been able to field 400 warriors. Their principal lodges were along the Yazoo River not far north of present-day Vicksburg. Other lodges were scattered on the western side of the Mississippi around present-day Winnsboro. They hunted extensively in what is now Northeast Louisiana, which had few inhabitants at that time. The Tunicas were also competent agriculturalists, skilled hunters and fishers and they traveled well armed.

In later times, as pressures from Europeans and from tribes farther east became greater, they were not above moving their lodges to escape enemies or floods or when soil was exhausted.

Father Davion found a welcome among them but he made little progress in converting numbers to Christianity, and was able to baptize only children. Early in his ministry he endangered his life by entering their temple and knocking down and breaking their idols, which were mostly rough statues of animals. When this was discovered his life was threatened but the Great Chief refused to allow his murder.

Later he made himself more competent in their language and was able to add to their rudimentary medical treatments. It was a lonely life, however, and he complained to his superior about the lack of assistance and pleaded for more missionaries.

In the summer of 1702 Father Davion was on his way north to visit Father Nicholas Foucault who had recently been assigned to the Arkansas area. En route, however, he came across the bodies of Father Foucault and two other Frenchmen who had been murdered by their guides, Koroa Indians, as Father Foucault prepared to celebrate Mass. Father Davion reported finding hats, plates and the altar still set up and a few papers written by the dead priest. Father Davion buried the bodies and reported the murders to Governor Bienville in Mobile. It was deemed too dangerous for him to return to the Tunicas, and he settled down as a priest for the civil population of Mobile. The Bishop of Quebec made him Vicar General of the lower valley. In 1704 a delegation of the Tunica arrived to ask for Father Davion’s return. They even offered to make him their chief. Governor Bienville refused until the Tunicas had avenged the death of Father Foucault.

In 1706, feeling the pressure of the Choctaws and Chicksaws to the eastward who were under the influence of the English, the Tunicas moved their lodges south to join the Houmas in what is now West Feliciana Parish, and Father Davion decided to rejoin them there. Thereafter, as the tribe moved Father Davion moved with them. In 1716 the tribe moved up the east bank of the Mississippi to a spot two leagues above the mouth of the Red River.

In 1719 he was visited by a traveler from New Orleans, Jean Pellerin and his family. Pellerin has left us a description of Father Davion at that time:

"You will find at the villages of the Tunicas a missionary of the Foreign Missions...This holy man is for 22 years among the savages among whom he has made some Christians, but it is not without running great risks to his life...He received us very well and delighted us with everything he had to eat. He eats but one meal a day, one in every 24 hours, but he takes care to feed his guests well...We stayed there with him six days to rest. We left this good missionary who lent us some chickens and vegetables so we could sell them. He makes it a point to give nothing this way and to receive nothing, but he willingly lends and everyone religiously returns to him."

Father Davion experienced the horrors of the Natchez War, and the deaths of many, both colonists and natives, through bad crops, floods, and diseases such as smallpox and diphtheria.

He was finally recalled to France in 1725 for retirement, and died among his kinsmen on April 8, 1726.

His 28 years of service to Frenchmen and to natives was the longest of any clergyman in the history of the Louisiana frontier. He endured the rigors of wilderness life and lavished his religious ministry upon one of the disappearing native peoples of the Mississippi Valley in what was a feat of self-denial.

His kind were few.