The city of Saint Martinville is the seat of St-Martin Parish (Louisiana) along Bayou Teche, at the heart of Cajun country. In the northern part of the city, the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site tells the multicultural story of the bayou’s inhabitants and of the region. It naturally draws its inspiration from the famous epic story “Evangeline” written by American poet Henry Longfellow, who recounts the long-wandering of Acadians deported from Nova Scotia in 1755.
In the original poem, the heroine Evangeline finds Basil, the father of her fiancé Gabriel, on the banks of Bayou Teche gazing, as a ranch master, at his countless herds of cattle while sitting proudly on a Mexican horse. This short excerpt from the poem illustrates perfectly the wonderful dream whereby wild herds grazing in open prairies are for those who would raise them. Even though the Acadian farm is not a cattle ranch, in the Attakapas district in 1765, every Acadian was able to set up his own vacherie, that is a cattle enclosure. Here’s how it came to be possible.
A vacherie for everyone
The Attakapas post (today Saint Martinville) was most likely established by the French authorities in the 1750s as head office of the Attakapas district. The oversight of this vast territory, occupied by Native Americans of the same nation west of Bayou Teche and in southeastern Texas, was under the administration of the Attakapas post. Its main purpose was to control the open prairies which was well suited for raising cattle to supply New Orleans and its surroundings with beef. In early 1765, the first significant group of Acadian migrants (more than 200) arrived in Louisiana. The French authorities were still administering the colony until the appointment of a Spanish governor. The need for meat was critical for the fast growing Louisiana capital and the Acadians were renowned for cattle farming. Therefore, the Acadians were invited to settle on a farm in the community of Attakapas post. But nothing happened as planned.
At that time the area was inhabited by a handful of French and Flemish ranchers. The richest among them owned several thousand head of cattle. A proposal was made to the Acadians whereby they would raise his cattle but cultivate land for growing crops outside the community. After consideration, the proud Acadians decided to settle further south, at Fausse Pointe (now Loreauville), on lands they would farm as they saw fit, like in Acadia. Some of them did buy cattle and raise them on their farm in a cattle enclosure of their own. Their dream of a New Acadia was far from the vacherie of Basil the rancher, but it was of their choosing.