History of Bayou Manchac, also called the Iberville River, Akankia, Ascantia, Manchacque, or Massiac
First, the name... "Bayou" is derived from the Choctaw word bayuk, which means "river." "Manchac" is derived from the Choctaw term imashaka, which means "back entrance." Other sources have "Manchac" being derived from the language of the Bayougoula Tribe.
- The Arrival of Native Americans
Early hunter-gatherers appear in the rich Bluff Swamp area near Alligator Bayou, Spanish Lake, andBayou Manchac.
500 BC - 1500 AD
- Native American Seat of Power
The area where Alligator Bayou joins Bayou Manchac served as a Native American seat of power and trade between 500 BC and 1500 AD. The Native Americans named this place Anatamaha or "fish place."
- European Discovery
Pierre le Moyne, Sieur de Iberville made the first recorded European use of the Bayou Manchac and Amite River route to the Gulf after learning of it from the Bayogoula Indians.
They entered Bayou Manchac from the Mississippi in Canadian bark canoes on March 24, 1699 and spent their first night on the banks of Bayou Manchac in the area of Alligator Bayou. Iberville wrote in his journal, "This place where I am is one of the prettiest spots I have seen, fine level ground, beautiful woods, clear and bare of canes..." Fallen logs and floating debris required the Frenchmen to make over 50 portages along Bayou Manchac before reaching the Amite River.
The fact that Iberville's journey took place during the spring flooding of the Mississippi misled him into thinking that the Bayou could easily support commercial navigation. They would later discover that the 9 miles between the Mississippi and Alligator Bayou were only navigable during the Spring floods when the Mississippi was high enough to flow through a notch in its natural levee.
- Iberville River The first map to include the Bayou Manchac-Amite River route is published in France in 1702 by Guillaume de L'Isle and calls the entire route from the Mississippi to Lake Maurepas "River d'Iberville."
- Commercial Trade Route
The Iberville River (Manchac-Amite) utilized in the French fur trade by 1705. "10,000 deer and 5,000 bear skins" are transported from from the Indian country around the Wabash (now the States of Indiana and Ohio) down the Mississippi, to the Iberville River, and out through Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain to Biloxi, with final destination in France.
A painting of the first cargo.
- First Settlers
The first settlers of Louisiana to be recruited by John Law's Company of the West (called the"Company of the Indies" after 1719) utilized the well traveled Iberville River route to reach Paris Duvernay's granted land, opposite the Iberville River, on the Mississippi in 1719.
A site for the location of a city to be named New Orleans needed to be selected. French officials and the Directors of the Company of the West selected a location near the junction of the Iberville River and the Mississippi in 1719. They gave these instructions to Louisiana's Chief Engineer, who died in Havana en route to Louisiana. Bienville and others then choose the site of New Orleans to be where the French Quarter is today.
A different version is presented in a paper titled "D.F. Boesch: Serious
Errors of Fact and Logic. Reply: New Orleans is Sinking" by Timothy M. Kusky
A bit of history is noteworthy here. The following is
provided by Mattie Coxe of Baton
Rouge--- (summarized from her Master’s thesis)
Louis XIV commissioned explorer Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville to
establish a colony near the mouth
of the Mississippi River to control the Mississippi Valley. The initial sites
at Biloxi on the Mississippi
Sound and Mobile proved too vulnerable to hurricanes and too shallow for
shipping. I’berville’s younger
brother, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, departed Mobile in 1718
to establish New Orleans in a
bend of the river. It was situated to control the portage between the
Mississippi River and Lake
Pontchartrain along Bayou St. John. The site of New Orleans was scarcely
better than the sites it replaced.
The Isle of Orleans is surrounded by water on all sides. Bayou Manchac, the
Amite River, and Lakes
Maurepas and Ponchartrain divide it from higher land on the north, and the
Mississippi River wraps around
its other sides. The site selected for New Orleans on the natural levee of the
Mississippi on the Isle of
Orleans has always been precarious.
In 1720 the Duke of Orleans sent Chief King’s Engineer
Pierre LeBlond de La Tour, and his assistants
Adrien de Pauger, Chevalier de Boispinel, and Charles Franquet de Chaville to
design the settlements on
the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River. Baton Rouge was proposed as an
alternative site for New
Orleans. The proposal called for clearing the I’berville River (Bayou Manchac)
and using it as a shipping
channel between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. The city would
overlook the channel from
the highlands. However, Bienville refused to change sites. A plan for the City
of New Orleans was drawn
up in Biloxi in 1721 under the direction of La Tour, and the following year,
de Pauger arrived in New
Orleans to implement the plan. The construction of levees was already underway
because of floods.
InternationalBoundary between French and Spanish Territories
France saw its New World Empire threatened by the potential loss of the Seven Years (French and Indian) War to Great Britain and signed over Louisiana west of the Mississippi plus the Isle of Orleans (a triangular "Island" bounded by the Bayou Manchac-Amite-Maurepas-Potchartrain corridor on one side, the Mississippi on one side, and the Gulf of Mexico on the other) to Spain in exchange for military support through the secret Treaty of Fountainbleau in 1762.
The Isle of Orleans was also referred to as Manchac Island.
International Boundary between British and Spanish Territories
The Seven Years (French and Indian) War ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed February 16, 1763. France ceded Canada and Louisiana east of the Mississippi (exclusive of the Isle of Orleans) to Britain. Spain signed over Florida to Britain in exchange for regaining Cuba. Louisiana west of the Mississippi and the Isle of Orleans remained under Spanish control.
- The British Advantage
The British established a trading post called "Manchac" and Fort Bute to protect it at the confluence of the Iberville River and the Mississippi. Traders and cargo boats travelling down the Mississippi could save 10 days by trading with the British at Manchac instead of the Spanish at New Orleans. The value of trade at this point in 1764 was estimated at 100,000 pounds sterling.
The Iberville Canal Project
The British discovered problems with year-round navigation along the Iberville River. Their engineers determined that the Iberville River isn't really a true distributary of the Mississippi, but rather a channel carved out where the Mississippi had overflowed a low spot in its natural levee had found and joined the "old" river near Alligator Bayou. They attempted to remove trees and deepen the stream bed in the nine-mile stretch between the Mississippi and Alligator Bayou, but a poor understanding of the Mississippi's annual cycle led to the reclogging of the Iberville Canal and the eventual abandonment of the project. Instead the British constructed a carriage trail to move goods from the Mississippi to Alligator Bayou where they could be reloaded onto boats for the remainder of the journey down the Iberville River.
In August of 1764 Manchac and Fort Bute were raided by a party of about 50 Indians. The Indians broke into the stores and stole all of the Indian Gifts stored there, broke into the powder magazine, took or destroyed all of the weapons, and killed the livestock. The British fled to New Orleans but re-established the post in October.
- The Acadian Arrival and St. Gabriel de Manchac (Manchak) or Fort San Gabriel.
It was on September 28,1766, that an English ship arrived in New Orleans from Maryland, carrying 224 exiled Acadians, including 150 women and children. They were penniless, starving, and scared. Ulloa, the Spanish Governor of the Isle of Orleans, immediately gave them what aid he could.
Spain recognized the value of the Acadian settlers. She needed warm bodies to populate the Louisiana colony. The exiles were also good soldiers, as they had shown "against the British as well as the type of warfare conducted against the Indians." Such citizens were important to Ulloa, "in this colony which must always depend upon the settlers for its defense." In July 1767, Ulloa sent 210 of these Acadians (about 50 families) to present-day St. James Parish and up the river to its intersection with Bayou Manchac, where they helped the Spanish establish a new fort called St. Gabriel de Manchac (Manchak).
- St. Gabriel Church
The oldest church in Louisiana, St. Gabriel Catholic Church was built in 1769 near Bayou Manchac's juncture with the Mississippi River by Acadian settlers.
- Bayou Manchac
A 1770 British survey revealed that the Iberville River was a tributary of the Amite River and not the other way around. Some maps of this time period also begin referring to the Iberville River by its present name "Bayou Manchac."
- William Bartram
The famous naturalist and botanist on his historic trek through the Southeast traveled Bayou Manchac on his way up to Point Coupee and again on his way out in 1775. Bartram described the area along Bayou Manchac as a "grand forest; the trees of first order in magnitude and beauty" and listied species that still line the banks of the bayou: magnolias, sycamores, green ash, red mulberry and others. Some States have turned the route traveled by Bartram during is 1770's expedition into historic trails. Although not well know in American history, Bartram explored more of America than any other scientist of his time.
- St. Gabriel Church Moved
Partly to escape Bayou Manchac and Mississippi floodwaters, the St. Gabriel Catholic Church was moved in 1772 or 1773 to its present location further south. The whole town of St. Gabriel is today located further south and away from Bayou Manchac.
- The Revolutionary War in Louisiana
From Natchez to Manchac Captain James Willing, USN, pillaged and burned plantations, killed livestock, stole slaves, and forced the inhabitants to flee. On February 3, 1777, he and his men attacked Manchac, seized a British Ship, and took its crew as prisoners. The Americans then proceeded to destroy most of the settlements between Manchac and the Amite and back up the Mississippi to Point Coupee. They succeeded in practically clearing the British side of Bayou Manchac of all of its inhabitants, forcing many to flee into the Spanish Territory taking all of their possessions and slaves with them.
On March 14, 1777, the British sent a small detachment of fifteen soldiers up Bayou Manchac from Pensacola. In the only land clash between British and American forces to take place in Louisiana, the British killed and wounded five soldiers and took thirteen hostages. The Americans withdrew with their prisoners and offered the fort up to the Spanish at San Gabriel.
- The Establishment of Galveztown
The Spanish were not pleased with the amount of commerce that was bypassing New Orleans via Bayou Manchac. The Spanish Governor of the Isle of Orleans, Don Bernardo de Galvez, allowed Americans fleeing the hostilities in the colonies to establish a village on high ground they discovered just below the juncture of Bayou Manchac and the Amite River. The grateful villagers named their settlement "Galveztown."
- More Revolutionary War Battles on
The British brought troop strength at Fort Bute up to 300 men in 1779 and brought in two galleys to protect British navigation on the Mississippi. Plans were again made to clear Bayou Manchac.
Galvez realized the strategic importance of Galveztown and began bringing in Spanish Settlers from the Canary Islands. He also had troops move in a garrison constructed around the town. On August 19, 1779, Galvez officially recognized America's independence from England and decided to help the Americans. Between August 28 and September 10, men from Galveztown captured 7 British Ships and 110 prisoners on Bayou Manchac. Galvez went on to take Fort Bute on Bayou Manchac, the Fort at Baton Rouge, and finally the Fort at Mobile. This brought West Florida back under Spanish rule. He continued battling the British until he ultimately recaptured all of Florida.
On a side note, shortly after these battles on Bayou Manchac, Galveztown was abandoned and the settlers moved to Baton Rouge. The area they settled there became known as "Spanish Town" and is where the Pentagon Barracks now stand. Many moved back to the Galvez Town area after the West Florida Revolution of 1810 and were assimilated into the French culture. Galvez was later stationed in Texas where the city of Galveston still bears his name. He ultimately became the Spanish Govenor of Mexico. The present day community of Galvez, Louisiana is located just west of the original Galveztown.
- International Boundary between French and Spanish Territories (again)
In 1800 Spain retroceded Louisiana including the Isle of Orleans to Napoleonic France. Bayou Manchac becomes an International Boundary between French and Spanish Territories.
- Louisiana Purchase and the Pirate Jean Lafitte
In 1803, Louisiana West of the Mississippi and the Isle of Orleans were sold by France to the United States. Bayou Manchac continued to be an important trade route. Despite the fact that the citizens of New Orleans considered Jean Lafitte a hero for robbing Spanish ships and selling the booty at bargain prices, Governor Claiborne declared war on Lafitte. The Governor had the mouth of the Mississippi so locked up against him that Lafitte began running his ships along the Bayou Manchac - Amite River - Maurepas - Pontchartrain route.
- The War of 1812
In 1814 Lafitte pointed out to General Andrew Jackson that the British could sneak in through Bayou Manchac and attack New Orleans. Jackson then ordered Bayou Manchac closed where it joins the Mississippi in such a way that it would be impossible for the enemy to navigate it.
- The "Kleinpeter Closure"
After Bayou Manchac was cut off from the Mississippi in 1814, the area experienced fewer floods and was settled. Legislation passed in 1826 allowed James Neilson, John Kleinpeter, and W. Webb of East Baton Rouge, and Charles De Armas and P. Winfree of Iberville to permanently close Bayou Manchac in order to reduce flooding into their fields. The earthen dam was completed in 1828.
- Plan to Construct First Intercoastal Canal
The first portion of the present Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to receive the attention of the federal government lay east of the Mississippi River. Almost twenty years before Florida and Texas were admitted to the Union, legislation of March 3, 1826 authorized a survey of a canal route between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. In 1829, Brigadier General Simon Bernard, a member of the Board of Internal Improvements, and Army Engineer Captain William Tell Poussin, functioning as an assistant to the board, reported their survey findings. The last stretch of the Intercoastal Canal wouuld be the re-connection of New Orleans to the Mississippi via Bayou Manchac. Congress failed to appropriate funds for the project.
- Another Plan to Reopen to the River
In 1835 the Louisiana Legislature instructed the Board of Public Works to perform a feasibility study on reopening Bayou Manchac for navigation to the Mississippi.
- Civil War
The Confederates regained Baton Rouge in 1862, but not before the Yankees looted the city, burned large portions of it, and released all of the convicts from the state penitentiary. Some of these convicts headed down into the Amite River and Bayou Manchac swamplands, which had attracted a criminal element who exploited the absence of civil authority. Although it had gotten so bad that Union troops would no longer visit (Butler's troops regularly forayed into the countryside to rape, steal, and pillage) Confederate authorities dispatched their scarce troops to the region to bring relief to citizens from the bands of desperados.
After the Civil War, the War Department Engineers prepared a detailed engineering report, complete with maps, diagrams, and cross-sections, for the straightening and improving of the Bayou Manchac - Amite River route for "First Class Steamboat Traffic." The project was never realized.
In October 1868 the 118th Illinois Infantry made an expedition to Bayou Manchac.
- Congress Falls Short
The U.S. Congress appropriated funds to undertake navigational improvements along the Bayou Manchac - Amite River route in 1879-1880. The project went unfulfilled.
- The Corps of Engineers' first real work on the Bayou
Between 1891 and 1893, the Corps removed snags, logs, and trees along Bayou Manchac.
- Ward's Creek Turning Basin
In 1895 a turning basin for small steam boats travelling Bayou Manchac was dredged out of Ward's Creek.
- The Delatour
In 1909 the Corps of Engineers constructed the Delatour, a combination dredge and snag boat built specifically for the Bayou Manchac - Amite River route.
- Beginning of theEnd for Steamer, Schooner, and Packet Boat Commercial Delivery Traffic
The arrival of the automobile and the 1914 erection of a bridge over Bayou Manchac for the gravel road to New Orleans brought a sharp decrease in the amount of commercial water traffic bringing supplies to the plantations and businesses along Bayou Manchac from New Orleans. Raw materials continued to be shipped out via Bayou Manchac and the Amite River for some time while the supply deliveries slowly dried up. The bridge was a drawbridge and was opened and closed to let the steamboats through by John L. Dixon, manager of the Hope Villa Mercantile Store.
- Height of Raw Materials Export
Raw material transport to New Orleans along Bayou Manchac and the Amite River hit an all time high in 1916 (although data from the intense logging of the 1920's is not complete and could have been much greater). Traffic including cotton and logs was estimated at 109,117 tons for 1916.
- Cypress Logging
During the 1920's, the Lyon Cypress Lumbering Company of Garyville logged the Amite River - Bayou Manchac (mainly Spanish Lake and the Amite River Basin) corridor to exhaustion. Deep scars did not occur with the aerial (overhead-cableway) skidders of the time.
- Obstruction Removal
The dredge, Grosse Tete, removed 1,354 obstructions from the Amite River - Bayou Manchacroute in 1926. The project only went as far as Ward's Creek.
- The Great Mississippi River Flood
The Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927 forever changed the nation and led to the construction of the continuous Mississippi River levee system.
- The Flood Control Act of 1928
Following the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927, congress enacts legislation in 1928 directing the Corps of Engineers to contain the Mississippi with levees below Cairo, Illinois. This gives Federal control over the isolation of Bayou Manchac from the Mississippi.
- Plan for Barge Traffic
It was the dream of Louis U. Babin, that Bayou Manchac would once again be joined to the Mississippi through the use of locks so that barges could save 125 miles by taking this short cut to New Orleans. Luckily this was before oil was discovered in the area and he had little popular support. He did leave a "monument" though. He was so positive that the Bayou would one day be opened that he was instrumental in having the Hwy. 73 bridge built so that barges could pass under it. The bridge still exists today on the "Old Jefferson Highway."
- Beginning of the End for Raw Materials Transport
Trucks began to take over as the primary raw materials transport vehicle in 1932. The Amite River - Bayou Manchacroute traffic dropped from nearly 22,000 tons in 1931 to approximately 6,000 tons in 1932.
- Mastodon Jaw Discovered
In 1936 a Mastodon jaw was discovered on the bank of Bayou Manchac behind the summer home of Mrs. S.G. Cooper in Sec 15, T. 85., R. 2E. "C. Cooper Place" (Howe et al., 1938).
The "C. Cooper Place" was identified as the first house on the south bank downstream from the railroad bridge on the 1953 7.5 minute Quadrangle Map.
Mastodons arrived in North America about 20 million years ago, while mammoths, a relative of mastodons, didn't appear until about 1 1/2 million years ago. They both lived throughout the United States. They, along with many other species, disappeared about 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.
- Camps Begin to Appear
Louisiana Department of Highways 1951 "Traffic and Planning Maps" show only 7 camps along the Amite River - Bayou Manchac corridor. Two in Ascension, two in Livingston, and three in East Baton Rouge Parish.
- Flood Control
Two severe floods occurred in May of 1953 causing an estimated 1/2 million dollars in damage along the Amite River - Bayou Manchacroute. During the 1950's Alligator Bayou and the Spanish Lake basin were isolated from Bayou Manchac by flood gates meant to protect Iberville Parish from Amite River - Bayou Manchac backwater flooding (Alligator Bayou is the border between Ascension and Iberville Parishes).
- Camps Increase
By 1954 there were seventy-two camps along the Amite River - Bayou Manchac corridor.
- Dredging Wards Creek
Sometime in here Wards Creek was dredged, widened, and straightened. The lower section of Wards Creek is identified on maps today as "Diversion Canal," not to be confused with the Amite River Diversion Canal. Wards Creek is a tributary to Bayou Manchac on the maps, but geologically speaking, Wards Creek is the main channel that becomes Bayou Manchac.
1957 - 1964
- Amite River Diversion Canal
Amite River Diversion Canal project was initiated in 1957 and completed in 1964. The area below French Settlement benefited the most, however some flood relief occurs upstream.
- The Prince William Sound, Alaskan Earthquake of 1964
Longtime residents claim that the Amite River and Bayou Manchac were "sucked dry for several minutes" by the world-wide wave generated by the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964. Though we have yet to verify that the waterways were "sucked-dry," several reports do state that seiche action from the 1964 Alaskan Earthquake traveled up tidal bayous and streams all along the Gulf Coast. Please contact us if you have any knowledge of this event.
- Plan for Barge Traffic
L. D. Kelleher's graduate work at LSU in 1969 included a feasibility study on opening Bayou Manchac to barge traffic. He got the attention and support of State Senator A. L. Stewart of Livingston Parish.
- Camp Explosion
By 1972 the number of camps along the Amite River - Bayou Manchac corridor had exploded to over 600 and was climbing at a rate of 50 to 60 per year.
- Major Flood
A major flood occurred along the Amite River causing backwater flooding on Bayou Manchacin late March 1973.
- Trapping Wanes
Nutria, some mink, and an occasional bobcat were still trapped along Bayou Manchac in 1975 but were of little commercial value.
- Major Flood
A major flood occurred along the Amite River causing backwater flooding on Bayou Manchacin April 1977.
- Major Flood
A major flood occurred along the Amite River causing backwater flooding on Bayou Manchacin April 1979.
- The Big Flood
The biggest flood on record occurred along the Amite River causing backwater flooding on Bayou Manchac in April 1983.
- Bluff Swamp Wildlife Refuge & Botanical Gardens
In 1993, the co-owners of Alligator Bayou Tours learned that hundreds of acres of bottomland hardwoods in the Spanish Lake Basin adjacent toBayou Manchac would be cut for lumber. This valuable habitat was saved by Frank Bonifay, Jim Ragland and community members working in cooperation with local, state and federal government.
The body of Eugenie Boisfontaine, 34, was found dead in Bayou Manchac in Iberville Parish in August 1997. She lived on the same street as one of the Baton Rouge Serial Killer confirmed victims and was thought to have been abducted from her home while jogging around the University Lakes. Her death was very similar to the 1999 Hardee Schmidt murder. Hardee Schmidt was 52 and disappeared while jogging in Pollard Estates off Perkins Road in 1999. Both had skull fractures and both were dumped in waterways. There was speculation that both womens' murders were committed by
one of the the Baton Rouge Serial Killers.
Tropical Storm Allison caused major flooding along the Bayou Manchac - Amite River Corridor in 2001. On June 11, 2001 Bayou Manchac crested at 16.5 ft. Property damage claims from Tropical Storm Allison in through June 2001 cost insurance companies $1.2 billion, including $65 million in Louisiana. These preliminary estimates did not include flood insurance, which is handled through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program.
Bayou Manchac Watershed Flood Damage Reduction and Ecosystem Restoration
Feasibility Study On November 29, 2001 Senator Louis Lambert joined federal, state and local
officials at the State Capitol to mark the signing of a $100,000 feasibility
cost sharing agreement between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the
Pontchartrain Levee District, which is working with Ascension, Iberville and
East Baton Rouge parishes on the project.
The first phase of the feasibility study will evaluate any and all reasonable
measures to provide for increased flood damage reduction and improved
environmental conditions. The Corps will coordinate the work of a study team
comprised of federal, state and local agencies as well as representatives of the
interested public. Ascension, Iberville and East Baton Rouge parishes have each
pledged $12,500 for the first phase of the feasibility study and the
Pontchartrain Levee District, as the non-federal project sponsor, has committed
a like amount. See
- Ascension Parish Clearing and Snagging 2003
The Ascension Parish Drainage Board cancelled the planned Clearing & Snagging Project with the Corps of Engineers that would have removed fallen and severely leaning trees. Instead, they hired a private contractor to remove obstacles in the channel, partailly submerged boats, discarded appliances, and any other trash they can reach. The project began in July 2003 and continued through October.
2003 Clearing & Snagging Operation.
On April 26, 2005, State Senate Resolution No. 4 by
Senator Amedee was signed. The resolution called for the establishment of a committee to study flooding
along Bayou Manchac and Bayou Fountain, consider pumping water upstream into the
Mississippi River, and to report by March 1, 2006.