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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.

Francois Simar de Bellisle

Francois Simar de Bellisle was one of the early explorers of Southwest Louisiana, but under quite tragic circumstances.

Bellisle was a young French ensign who sailed from Lorient in 1719 aboard the ship Marechal d’Estries, bound for Louisiana with troops aboard to reinforce the garrison and convicts being sent as colonists. The ship was under the command of Gervais de la Gaudelle, and his subsequent actions make one wonder how he ever qualified as a mariner. His first landfall was to be the French colony of Saint-Domingue, now Haiti. The ship sailed past the island without the captain realizing it. It was stopped by pirates who thought it was an English vessel. Upon learning their mistake, they corrected the captain’s course and pointed him toward the Gulf of Mexico.

The captain sailed past Mobile and the mouth of the Mississippi River, running into shoal waters west of Terrebonne Bay. Following the coast, the vessel repeatedly struck bottom, but it was not seriously damaged until it went aground in what is now Galveston Bay. The captain went into his cabin and locked the door. Five of the soldiers, including Bellisle, asked to be put ashore so they could return to Ship Island, the French anchorage in Biloxi, which was thought to be no more than five days’ march. The five were put ashore with guns, swords, and five days’ supply of ship’s biscuit and began to walk toward the east. They soon ran into a wide stretch of food plain and mud and decided to turn back to the ship.

Meanwhile the ship’s mate had asked all passengers to attempt to free the ship by running from one side to the other. Finally the ship was freed. The captain emerged from his cabin, ordered the anchor weighed, and sailed away, leaving the five soldiers as castaways.

The castaways again to the east, seeking a way around the flood plain. As days passed, their rations were consumed. They were able to kill a deer for food, but game was scarce. Finally, two of the five succumbed to starvation. The surviving three found a canoe along a stream and paddled out to sea, still seeking a way east. After 10 to 15 days, the two other men died.

Bellisle was about to give up hope when he was discovered by a band of Indians looking for birds’ eggs. The Indians handled him roughly, taking his canoe and tearing off his clothes. They made him a cross between a slave and a jester, but at least they fed him, and took him with them on their wanderings.

The band had no permanent home but wandered about living on deer and buffalo and "wild potatoes" dug by the women. Bellisle was forced to run, still naked and barefoot, ahead of the horses, and he was beaten if he did not run fast enough.

On the occasion the band happened upon a native of their tribe, whom they killed and cannibalized. One man cut off the head, others the arms and legs, and then the torso was skinned. The savages ate the flesh raw, down to the bones.

Bellisle later wrote that he would have been killed and eaten except for and old widow asking for him as a husband. His lot was no different. He was still a slave, but at least he alive.

He constantly asked his savage captors to free him, but this simply caused them to laugh hugely. During one period of their wanderings, Bellisle heard that they were near the place with the white chief. In despair he wrote a letter on a piece of smooth bark with charcoal ink, asking to be rescued. He asked his captors to deliver the letter to the white chief, but they simply regarded it as a curiosity, passing it from individual to individual and even showing it to other savages of their ilk when they met.

In this way the message found its way to a tribe which was in was communication with the French fort at Natchitoches, and the letter was delivered to the commandant, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis.

St. Denis sent two warriors to bring the captive to him. Bellisle was found and eventually, after some delay, arrived at Natchitoches, bearded and in tattered garments. The date was February 10, 1721. He had survived in the wilderness for two years.

After recuperating at Natchitoches, Bellisle returned to New Orleans, where he took service under Governer Bienville. He participated in a number of expeditions and excursions and finally developed a plantation near New Orleans. He was even elected to the Superior Council. When Louisiana was ceded to Spain, however, he returned to France, where he died in 1763 at the age of 68.

After his return to civilization Bellisle wrote a "Relation," describing his adventures in the wilderness. Unfortunately, he never had any clear idea of where these adventures took place. The Indian band which captured him has been identified as the Attakapas, although that is far from certain. During Bellisle’s time the Attakapas nation centered around three river valleys: the Vermilion, the Mermentau, and the Calcasieu. Smaller bands were centered on Bayou Choupique, Bayou Nezpique, and Eagle Creek.