Cat Island, its raccoons, its fort and its gold

Cat Island (photo Sonny Schindler)

The Isle of Cats (Cat Island today) in the Gulf of Mexico has a rich French heritage that is by and large overlooked.

André-Joseph Penicaut, born in La Rochelle, France, was the master ship builder of Iberville’s expedition team for the colonization of Louisiana. He reported in his travel diary that on February 7, 1699, in front of St. Louis Bay, the crew camped on an island where there were many strange big cats capable of opening oysters. Raccoons being unknown to them, the island was simply named the Isle of Cats. An amazing story among many. Apparently, cats never inhabited this T-shaped woodland island lost at sea.

It is said that the Isle of Cats, at the time of Colonial French Louisiana and its coastal colonies, served as a food basket for the early settlers. In bayous and ponds, alligators, fish and crustaceans were plentiful. Under the shade of trees game, including deer and raccoons, were also abundant. Moreover, the island was a refuge for several species of migratory birds.

In the 19th century the site of a modest fort on a small cove was discovered as well as some rifles and rectangular bricks “à la française” next to a concrete floor tainted by calcined oyster lime. According to local history, this was most likely an unpalisaded warehouse with a fireplace and a chimney used occasionally by fishermen and hunters. All forts of New France were not enclosed by a stockade.

In addition, it is probable that French pirates, such as Jean Lafitte, did bury on the Isle of Cats gold and jewelry captured from Spanish galleons in the Gulf of Mexico.