Stories From the 1927 "High Water" in St Landry Parish, Louisiana
By John A. Speyrer
ost inhabitants of the Leonville area referred to the flood of 1927
as ``La Grande Eau.'' Mildred Speyrer Olivier was 12 years old in
1927. What she and her sister, Alice Speyrer Finley, remember most
clearly was the movement of cattle from Pecanniere through Leonville
and their mournful bellowing. Her mother, Emelie Quebedeaux Speyrer,
stayed up all that night, washing and ironing clothing, assuming that
they would be leaving Leonville soon for higher ground towards the
west. Remi ``Black'' Fournet came by and picked them and brought them
to Sunset where they lived with an aunt for three weeks. By that time
the water had receeded sufficiently and they were brought back as
near to their homes as the automobile could travel. This meant that
they were brought up to the hilly area. From there they walked to
their home in Leonville through water six inches in depth. They were
happy to learn that the water had not entered their house. One of
the highest areas was their (and my) grandfather's homesite. Jules
Conrad Speyrer's house and front yard remained dry throughout the
Albert Speyrer remembers awaiting for the Leonville flood waters to
recede at the home of Cyrus Guidry (his mother's uncle) who lived on
a bluff near Grand Coteau. Then the family later lived near Grand
Coteau at his aunt's home. Albert returned to Leonville by automobile,
He stayed at David Lalonde's house on the Coteaus. The bridge at Pont
D'Wyble was washed out. The family went further upstream and crossed
by wagon. Then a wagon trip to Leonville completed the trip. The water
did not go into their house. His father, Pierre Speyrer, planted a
whole field of peas which were used to feed the stock as well as themselves.
There was no seed available for any other crop.
D. J. (Tesan) Speyrer was 10 or 11 years when the flood came. He recounted
the story that prior to the flood his father, Christophe Cuntz and
Nonc Def were examining a tree near Bayou Teche in Leonville in which
was afixed a metal spike, which showed the height of a previous flood
which had occured in the last century. They told the younger fellows
that they had no need to worry, since the approaching flood would
not surpass the older flood which had not had serious consequences.
But, D.J. remarked that the older men turned out to be wrong. He well
remembers the large amount of traffic, in front of his house, where
men on horses were herding cattle, horses and mules. He remembers
seeing wagons containing household possessions including even chicken
coops. He remembers my father, John Speyrer, catching fish between
the cotton rows with his hands on his farm. The farm was located near
the Benoit bridge between Leonville and Arnaudville. This was soon
before the flood water rose to its height and entered Leonville.
D. J. and his family went to Lafayette at his uncle's Frank Guidry's
house. Later he went to Church Point to `Nonc Alva Hargroder's house.
The uncle of his father's first family. . Later he moved back to Opelousas.
He made the final return trip to Leonville in a buggy.
Mae Boudreaux Johnson remembers that 1927 was memorable for two reasons,
only one being the flood. That was the year she graduated from High
School in Arnaudville. She had to rush back home to Leonville before
the Robin bridge was condemned. Water was almost at the back steps
of her home. Luckily, the house was on very high pillars, so flood
damage was at a minimum. But the family nonetheless moved to Opelousas
and rented an apartment from a Mrs. Dupre. At that time her father,
Regis Boudreaux, had a general merchandise store on the four corners
of Leonville and ran two hacks.
Hanley Hebert, who was born in 1907, remembers his family trying to
help those living in Pecanniere to escape the ravages of the flood.
One day the Leonville bridge was condemned. The next day, it was suggested
that everyone leave. His family went to Opelousas and for the first
night lived with Gian Lalonde. The next day was a Sunday and it rained
all day. His father, Lucien Hebert, rented a house next to a lumber
yard and they remained in Opelousas for more than a week. Horses and
cows were brought to Grand Coteau. He recalls the trips to Grand Coteau
to bring feed to the livestock. He remembers seeing a number of houses
which had floated off of their pillars. Water wells in the area had
washed in and the water was no longer drinkable. There was government
aid. His father was given a sack of peas. Thinking of the future the
peas were planted, and with the new topsoil deposited by the flood
water, an excellent crop was harvested.
J. B. Speyrer says that when the water began receding his family left
Opelousas and went to the Coteau Ridge. He remembers hitching a mule
named ``Tom'' on a wagon owned by John (`Tit Jean) Boudreaux. The
only pieces near Leonville where the land was above the water was
near Fils Fournier (near Clarence Cain's residence), Jules Speyrer's
house in Leonville, and across the road from his brother's (Elie Speyrer)
house located between the Richard and Hypolite Speyrer property. The
mule ``Tom'' was left on the high ground at Jules C. Speyrer's house
and a boat was taken to depart for home. There was about four or five
inches of water inside their homes. J. B. mentioned that the damage
was not severe in his family residence. They had lived in Opelousas
about for about eight to ten days days during the flood. He remembers
that his father, Hypolite Speyrer, did not want to leave his home
but when he saw the water level in Leonville at the bridge he changed
his mind about his family's safety. However, he did not leave his
home during the flood and went back and forth between Leonville and
his family in Opelousas.
The route he used to return to Leonville
was via Grand Coteau. There, at the property of Leonce Quebdeaux,
he used a Red Cross furnished boat to go from Grand Coteau to Leonville.
The boat was docked at J. B.'s Aunt Eva Lagrange (presently the location
of the Jules Lagrange house). J. B. recalls that about a week after
having arrived in Leonville an incident occured which was due to the
flood water washing out trenches near the Coteau Ridge. It was possible
to drive from Leonville to the ridge, however flood water had washed
out a number of trenches in that area. When we arrived at the trench,
he remembers the passengers in the car lifting the automobile (a 1924
Model T Ford) over the trenchs (which were about waist deep of water
and about 20 feet wide. Those individuals were: Arthur LaHaye, Ovide
Speryer, Jules Lagrange, Moise Stoute and Eugene Riggs.
Allan J. Speyrer says that he was eleven years old when the flood
came to visit the Leonville area. Ulgar Lanclos had a pole in Bayou
Teche which showed the water level of a previous flood. He mentioned
that it looked serious. Mr. Ulgar advised those who had gathered to
leave the area. That very night we left for Opelousas. We lived in
a tent city on the Boagni property. We tried to leave for Leonville,
but upon arriving at the Coteau we were advised that the road was
too eroded so we returned to Opelousas and the uncomfortable tent
city. Then much later we were able to return home in Leonville. The
house was full of mud. The cattle had been removed to Swords, La and
the other animals had been provided for. The furniture was all unglued
and coming apart. The water well was ruined and it had to be drained
so that fresh water could enter.
Father Jules Speyrer was 8 years old during the flood of 1927. As
the others recounted, his most vivid memory of the period immediately
before the flood was the droves of cattle on the road in front of
his house being driven to higher ground. He remembers sitting up at
night watching the procession of cattle during a night of bright moonlight.
His father, did not leave with the rest of the family, but stayed
at the family residence. His family went to Lafayette where they lived
with Uncle Frank Guidry and later went to Opelousas. In a few days
the family returned to their home Leonville where they found the remains
of a dead calf in their kitchen. He remembers an alligator in the
front yard and well as many snakes and an abundant crop of crawfish.
The Red Cross came to distribute aid, but Father Jules remarked that
his father refused to accept any assistance.