Stories From the 1927
"High Water" in St Landry Parish, Louisiana

By John A. Speyrer


Most 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 flooding.


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.


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