A Kansas City Interlude

Last week I had the opportunity to be in Kansas City, and devoted some time to researching Louisiana’s colonial presence in “the heartland” during the 18th century. Even before there was a Louisiana, the French presence at the mouth of the Arkansas was well established by LaSalle and Tonty (more on this in the future). And by 1716 (300 years ago), Upper Louisiana aka the Illinois Country aka the western end of New France had several active settlements. But it is the Missouri Valley, believed in 1716 to be the passage west to the Pacific, that is being considered today. A century before Lewis & Clark, the explorers of Louisiana were making their way up the great river to the Rockies. Even earlier, throughout the 17th century, the coureurs des bois (runners of the woods) from New France were trapping and trading the furs that formed the basis of much of the wealth which provided the Bourbon North American empire with its raison d’etre. There is a myth in Louisiana history that these coureurs des bois were the romantic nomads of Upper Louisiana who finally settled the mid Mississippi valley and became the economic basis of river trade through the mid 18th century. But the truth is, by the heyday of French Louisiana, the coureurs des bois were already fading into history. New France and Louisiana began to exert more control over the lucrative fur trade by licensing the formerly free trappers. Almost simultaneously with the establishment of New Orleans the coureurs were steadily being replaced by voyageurs (often the same individuals carrying official licenses). Regardless of what we moderns call these folks, the fur trade continued well into the twentieth century as an essential part of the Louisiana and New Orleans economies.One such individual who lived through these changes and went on to be rightly called the Discoverer of the Missouri Valley was Etienne V. De Bourgmont.
Like many European explorers in this timeframe, De Bourgmont travelled up the Missouri looking for the northwest passage to the Pacific. He lived among the Missouri Indians near the mouth of the Grand River from 1712-1719. (Dictionary of Missouri Biography, p. 108) Working under the aegis of the governor of New France and out of New Orleans under Bienville himself, he travelled up the Missouri to the Yellowstone and provided the data to DeLisle in New Orleans to create the first reasonably accurate map of the region. Later traveling back to France he wrote his journal and “opened the eyes of the Europeans to a new world within the New World: the 433,000 fertile square miles of the Missouri River basin, twice as large as France, and readily accessible via navigable rivers. ” (p. 109 DOMB)

Later, during Louisiana’s Spanish period, Bourgmont was followed into the Missouri valley by James Mackay and John Thomas Evans. Their travels provided much of the more contemporary information that Lewis and Clark used on the opening stages of their expedition. They made it to Three Forks, Montana but were forced to turn around due to resistance from the Sioux.One fun fact we can draw from their expedition was that Evans, a Welshman, was searching for descendants of a medieval legend which told of Welshmen arriving in North America in the 12th century. There were tales of an Indian group up the Missouri who exhibited Welsh racial coloring, and whose language contained words and sounds akin to Welsh. Sadly though, Evans found no evidence of this on the wide Missouri.

More info on all of this may be found in:

Frank Norall. Etienne V. De Bourgmont. (1988, U. Of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.) ISBN: 0803233167

Wood, W. Raymond. Prologue to Lewis & Clark. (Norman, OK: U. Of Oklahoma Press,2003.) ISBN 0806134917

And a very good website at:

Finally, I must note a sad fact about all of this European activity in the Missouri Valley. The Mandan Indians, the first significant nation up the river and the trading partners to all of the above mentioned explorers, had disappeared from the West by 1840 due to the European diseases that followed the explorers upstream. Of course, more description and info can be found in George Caitlin’s book, the great painter and chronicler of the Western Indians before “manifest destiny” brought about its terrible effects.

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300 Years Ago: 1716: Les Soldats:

My source for much of the information presented in these entries is the “standard” academic history of French Louisiana by Marcel Giraud. I have also mentioned frequently in this series that while OFFICIALLY Louisiana was often in dire straights economically, it nevertheless continued to struggle on and survive basically through a thriving illegal trade network which provided food and supplies from many sources. Let it be said though that while the smuggling economy was effective, it really did not become a major game changer until the 1720’s and 30’s. In 1716, things were pretty bad. And nowhere was this more apparent than in Louisiana’s colonial military. Monsieur Giraud’s chapter on the military during the years of “transition” 1715-17, titled “The Defense Of the Colony” is a bit of a misnomer. There was no defense to speak of. Louisiana’s military establishment is the perfect example of what the official historical sources for French Colonial Louisiana have chronicled regarding the “starvation and woe” of French Louisiana.

In Louisiana the regime of Antoine Crozat was fizzling out like a shoo-shoo on New Year’s Eve. Having lost a fortune and all interest in his Louisiana proprietorship, he basically walked away from a bad deal. This along with the death of Louis XIV and the establishment of the Regency under Phillipe, Duc d’Orleans left Louisiana in transition between control by the Council of the Navy and the upcoming Company of the West. The Council wanted to increase the Louisiana garrison by four companies, but only succeeded in raising 114 of the 200 men needed. Furthermore, they could not recruit the necessary tradesmen to complement the soldiers. As with most Early Modern armies, pay was sporadic, uniforms were rarely replaced, the food supply was intermittent, and desertion was rampant. The only bright spot in the military setup was a decent officer corps. But even they could only do so much. Louisiana forts slowly fell into ruin and the soldiers were often kept alive by letting the Natives feed them.

300 years ago, there was not much good news about the Louisiana garrison. Giraud’s entire chapter on the military makes no mention of any actual “military” operations during 1716. The French were certainly lucky that the local Indians were probably looking upon the situation without too much worry about what the silly white men were up to. At least at this juncture, they were pretty harmless.

And now for something completely different . . .

Since there are no French cookbooks written in the colony of Louisiana in the 18th century (or at least none yet discovered), compiling a study of the birth of Creole Cuisine has been an exercise in extracting bits and pieces of information from many, many documents, both primary and secondary, and making some logical connections as well as (frankly) launching some educated guesses. Therefore, it was most welcome to come across the following:

“Shannon Dawdy refers to these Louisiana “memoires, letters, and travel accounts’ as ‘a useful kit of knowledge called histoire.’ A combination of ‘both story’ and ‘history,’ histoires ‘were often a mixed bag of natural and administrative history, astronomy, fashion and culinary critique, and good old-fashioned storytelling in which the tall tales spun by the writer were at times self-serving aggrandizements, or worse, gross distortions of reality.’
From the “Devil’s Empire”
Quoted in:
Greenwald, Erin M. Marc-Antoine Caillot and the Company of the Indies in Louisiana: Trade in the French Atlantic World. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 2016. Page 5


It is a Histoire on the origin of Creole cuisine. Although, in this Histoire, all efforts have been made to minimize the “gross distortions of reality”.

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300 Years Ago: Starvation & Woe

The French colony of Louisiana has, for three hundred years, had the reputation of being poor, ill-managed, and essentially a failure as a colonial enterprise. This picture – of what would become one third of the United States, one of the biggest seaports in the world (New Orleans and New York continually trade back and forth the honor of the biggest port in North America), and the heart and soul of the greatest, some say the only truly unique, culinary tradition of America – Creole/Cajun cuisine of course – was locked into place 300 years ago in 1716. 

In those days Louisiana government was divided between two chief offices, those being governor and ordonnateur. The governor was primarily the military, legal, and political official, but the ordonnateur held the purse strings and was in charge of the economic development of the colony. In 1716, the ordonnateur was Marc-Antoine Hubert (pronounced oo-bear). Hubert arrived in Louisiana in late 1716 and immediately noted that the population took no interest in agriculture and lived essentially by trade with the Indians. As of 1716, hardly any Africans had been brought to Louisiana and the “peculiar institution” of slave-based plantation agriculture had yet to be established. The proprietor (Crozat) and his governor (LaMothe de Cadillac) continued the foolish quest for mineral resources instead of building up Louisiana’s true sources of wealth, an international trade infrastructure, agriculture, and the exploitation of the country’s vast natural resources of field, forest, and waterway. The development of these economies would be tapped as the French colony expanded in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. But in 1716, Louisiana was indeed a picture of starvation and woe. 
Things began to change after the founding of New Orleans, although I do not think that it was BECAUSE New Orleans was established. As the colony grew through the first half of the century after 1718 the above mentioned tripartite economic forces (trade, agriculture, and natural (non-mineral) wealth) came more and more into play. New Orleans served as the focus for this cultural and economic growth. As Bienville’s “founding father” role came to it’s natural conclusion in the early 40’s and with the coming of Vaudreiul’s influential regime through the 40’s, New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s French culture came into full flower. Had it not been truncated so soon by the French defeat in the Seven Years or French and Indian War (1756-1763), Louisiana’s French culture may have blossomed into one as influential as Canada’s French heritage. In fact, despite of 1763, Louisiana’s Creole culture, nourished by Spain’s effective but not overpowering rule, is as influential as any heritage in the United States – perhaps even more-so.
The guiding light of the culinary history, The Petticoat Rebellion, is the idea that “They Had To Eat”. And even though it was true that “officially” there was much starvation and woe in the colony, as least early on; it was also true that one of the hallmarks of Creole cuisine, using what was (and is) available and making it into a truly marvelous experience, was a natural outcome of such a situation. Before 1718, and more extensively after, gardens were being grown behind most houses, chickens and pigs and native foods (venison, seafood, the three sisters) were regularly available, and even a few “habitations” or farms had been established. In fact, one of the anniversaries to be celebrated in 2016 is the first importation of rice into Louisiana in 1716. Who knows, perhaps in 1716, some French settler and an Indian friend sat down to the first pot of Red Beans and Rice along the Mississippi. (see page 29 of The Petticoat Rebellion for the recipe).

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Primum est Edare


August, 2016. 65 years of age.

This month, eating is covered. Clothing and shelter as well ~ barring any unforeseen major catastrophes.

As I drove “down south” today to the Northshore of New Orleans, I was thinking about where had the joy gone?; the “joie de vivre” of a happy 42 year marriage, of the ‘golden years’ spread out before me. Well, as it turns out the joy hasn’t gone anywhere. I just could not see clearly enough. An overriding concern as I drove south was what had happened to my spirituality, my sense of place in the universe. What DO I believe in? Who am I? What am I? Is there a point to anything?

So now, “Philosopharii”.

Another old saw states that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. during the course of this day, among the grocery shopping, the bookish errands of disposing old books, and seeking for some clue as to my existence, three weirdly odd and assorted volumes found their way into my possession. A philosophy professor writing in the “popular” style on the topic of learning how to die thereby learning how to live. A religious studies professor writing on the spirituality and mysticism of the Jesuit biologist/paleontolgist Teilhard de Chardin occasioned by his encounters with Eastern religions. And a historian’s account of the “moral character” of America’s founding fathers.

“There is no such thing as coincidence”, the love of life is fond of saying. A philosophy book on the end of life. A study in spirituality occasioned by a leading theologian’s real life encounter with comparative religions. A history book on American moral character as Hillary politics her way to a historical presidency and goofy Trump states openly that he wants to physically beat up his competition. De universe sure do work in mysterious ways – or does it?

Stay with this blog and see how these readings turn out.

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Roast Buffalo on the Fourth of July

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine blogging about buffalo. So here goes nothing !!!!

This entry will be the first of many installments wherein recipes, meal planning, and cooking will take center stage. Volume Two of the Petticoat Rebellion; A French Colonial Culinary History has been in preparation for some time now. This 1718NewOrleans2018 blog is now the venue for the cooking and recipe information that will be included in the book. And what better day to begin than Independence Day, 2016, and what better dish to serve up on America’s birthday than a Buffalo Roast. For the past many years my family has usually served a roasted then smoked turkey. This year we decided on something different, but still uniquely American.

The context of the recipe and meal is the Natchitoches chapter of Volume Two. Natchitoches, in the words of one historian, “the most important frontier post in the Atlantic World” (of the 1700’s) was also the most western outpost of French Louisiana. Additionally, it was the point of contact between the Spanish and French empires in North America. Natchitoches was the channel – as the eighteenth century progressed – through which flowed much of Louisiana’s livestock trade. Although technically illegal, Spanish cattle and horses, and Native American “wild cattle” or American Bison came into the colonial economy. Thus to showcase this chapter of Louisiana’s culinary development . . .

Acquire a buffalo roast of your choice (we chose an eye of round roast), about 2 or 3 pounds will feed a family of four. Prep for roasting as you would any beef or pork roast.

Tricentennial Method:

Prepare a traditional Louisiana mirepoix or Holy Trinity plus Pope =
One medium bell pepper
One medium onion
1 or 2 stalks of celery
+ 3 or 4 toes of garlic (i.e. The Pope)
Finely chop the vegetables

Into a large iron pot (with cover), coat the bottom with olive oil, and sauté the mirepoix until soft, add some beef stock and slowly warm it all up.

Rub the buffalo roast with an herbal rub of your choice.

Place the roast fat side up into the pot, cover, and put it into an extremely slow oven (280 to 300 degrees) OR an electric slow cooker for several
( 3 or 4) hours.

When the roast it done, for the gravy move the pot to the stove and remove the roast, set aside to rest. The sauce is now essentially a beefy vegetable stew. Add some more stock and cooking flour, bring to a boil, season to taste (salt, pepper, Creole seasoning, etc.) and let boil for 15 to 30 minutes. If desired, slice the roast and add the meat to the gravy.

Serve with potatoes or rice, green beans, and hot bread.

Colonial Method:

Much stays the same, except the cooking. In place of an oven or slow cooker, the Native or colonial cook would be at a fire – either enclosed in a large fireplace or outdoors in a fire pit. The iron pot containing the meat and vegetables would be placed among the hot coals at first for a half-hour to an hour, then moved to a cooler area at the edge of the coals for the remaining several hours. If the inside fireplace had the luxury of an built in brick oven, the pot would have been placed there much like in our modern ovens.

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300 Years Ago: May, 1716

1716 was not especially a good one in Louisiana. That year may, perhaps, be taken as a “poster year” for the economic stagnation of the colony and for establishing Louisiana’s reputation which would stain the colony for the rest of the French regime through the 1760’s. Even though by 1730 and through the late twenties, the thirties, and the forties Louisiana would begin to produce enough to feed itself as well as produce the occasional surplus. The mid-18th century saw the emergence of the first Creole generation, the establishment and growth of cities and towns, of plantations, farms, and fisheries, and of the culture that would define the region down to the present day. But whatever success may be found in the future French Louisiana, 1716 would always overshadow the view of the colony in the eyes of the outside world. 
As the Crozat regime crumbled, the Regency government in Paris took some steps to reorganize the colony. But it was an uphill battle all the way. There were several underlying problems which seemed unsurmountable. First, the French colonists and soldiers were bound to the coast. Since the fishing industry was hardly begun, this staple of today’s Creole economy and culture was, for all intents and purposes, non-existent in 1716. Nothing much, except vegetables, would grow well along the sandy pine forests of the coast so agriculture – again an anchor of future growth remained largely undeveloped. The only firm economic activity was the Indian trade and this was never to be a major economic engine. Second, land tenure was a hit and miss proposition. It wasn’t really settled for a decade or so, and thus French farms were slow in development. Third, both the Crozat monopoly and the attitudes of New Spain were totally opposite the encouragement of any sort of trading systems which would benefit any and all along the Gulf coast. Official trade was expensive and restrictive to all concerned. So it is no wonder that most people ignored it and unofficial trade (smuggling and piracy) found a ready market for its goods and services. 

In spite of all of this some positive or, at least, encouraging steps forward occurred in 1716. Natchitoches was established the previous year and would grow to be “the most important European post on the edge of the Atlantic world”. There Spanish trade goods and cattle would enter the Louisiana colony – both as contraband and as legitimate trade goods or as Louisiana produce. Natchez, or rather Fort Rosalie, was established in the the early spring of 1716 and would eventually become another success story of French Louisiana. In France, the Council of the Navy became the political headquarters of the Louisiana colony, eventually giving Bienville the virtual command of Louisiana under various titles – usually governor. This Council would soon establish the new capital of Louisiana at New Orleans. “In May 1716, the Banque Générale Privée (“General Private Bank”), which developed the use of paper money, was set up by convicted murderer and millionaire gambler John Law. It was a private bank, but three quarters of the capital consisted of government bills and government-accepted notes.” Wikipedia. John Law and his bank would eventually become the Company of the West and run Louisiana through the decade of the twenties. 

1716 would not be any major turning point in Louisiana history, but it helped set the tone for the next decade of so of the growth of French Louisiana. 

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A Bohemian among the WASPs

At the turn of the century, my wife and I decided it was time to leave our beloved New Orleans and move to the country. The “country” surrounding New Orleans is either the River Parishes or “across the lake” – Pontchartrain, that is. Now the River Parishes lay between the river and the lakes or between the river and Bayou LaFourche. This essentially translates to swamp. having lived in a swamp all of my life, as New Orleans is on average 3 to 5 feet below sea level, I decided that “across the lake” was a better choice. Here there are actually rolling lands, which, with some imagination, can be regarded as hilly terrain. Between the towns can be found these small hills covered with hardwood and/or pine forests divided by dozens of steams, a few even amounting to rivers.

Culturally, the population here is a mixed bag. Also known as the Florida Parishes, “across the lake” was never part of the Louisiana Purchase. Rather, it was the western part of the Fourteenth Colony. From 1763 to 1783, it was part to the British colony of West Florida, acquired by Britain, as a result of the Seven Year’s or French & Indian War. West Florida’s major settlements, Pensacola, Mobile, and Baton Rouge were captured by America’s Spanish ally, Governor Bernardo de Gálvez of Spanish Louisiana, during the American Revolution. From 1783 through 1803, West Florida was a separate Spanish possession along with East Florida (today’s state). In 1803, when Spain gave Louisiana back to Napoleon, West Florida was not included. The upshot of all of this is that, except for a fringe along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, there wasn’t a Frenchman in sight. West Florida was primarily settled by anglophones (some fleeing from the newly independent American states). These White Anglo-Saxon Protestants cleared the land, built churches, primarily Baptist or Methodist, and established towns with names like Hammond, Franklinton, Folsom, Independence, Covington, etc. Some Indian town names were included, like Ponchatoula and Bogalusa.

The result of all of this is, once past today’s great east-west thoroughfare of Interstate -12, a traveler no longer finds himself in the South Louisiana of seafood, French Bread, jambalaya, Cajun music, Mardi Gras, gumbo, French and Cajun patois, Jazz clubs, The Times-Picayune, Catholic Churches every few blocks, roast beef or oyster po-boys, parades for every occasion. In other words, once north of Folsom, you are back in rural America, with all that entails.

As a writer and retired teacher, I now have a part-time retirement job as a gas station cashier. Once I told a customer, merci beaucoup, after he made his purchase. He didn’t know what I was talking about ! On another occasion, I made some oyster patties one year at Thanksgiving. I brought some to share with my co-workers. They had no idea what they were ! My wife brought up pain Perdue or lost bread one day in a culinary conversation at her job. her co-workers did not realize she was talking about what they call French Toast ! More than once, I have been asked – not where I went to school – but what church did I belong to ! I replied that I was heathen Catholic. And may the gods and goddesses forbid, that the WASPs I associate with ever find out that we follow the old religion. And let’s not even get into politics. Suffice it to say that I was one of the 230 voters in Washington parish who voted democratic (for Bernie Sanders) in the recent primary.

There are many other examples of this cultural divide a scant 30 miles north of New Orleans. maybe I will chronicle them further in future writings. But as Beth and I carve out a bohemian haven here among the WASPs, include us in your prayers and good hopes for the future of democratic and cultural diversity in America.

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