CAMERON'S GOLD:
GAS, OIL AND WILDLIFE

 

(transcribed by Leora White, 2008) 

  

Presented to

Dr. D. J. Millet

McNeese State University

 

 

In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for

History 504

 

by

 

Ann W. Diamond

 

May, 1973

 

 

        Take the “G” from gas, the “O” from oil and the “LD” from wildlife and they spell a form of gold which has made Cameron Parish Louisiana’s real “Gold Coast.”  Together they form the basis of a healthy, lively economy which thrives and improves with each passing year.  Few areas of comparable size in the world have been blessed with the variety and quantity of natural resources as that of Cameron Parish.   Abundant fish and wildlife constitute renewables that can be sustained indefinitely with proper management.  Oil and gas on the other hand have proven to be resources of immense value in the Parish, but are, of course, subject to eventual depletion. 

 

        Cameron Parish, formed in 1870, was named in honor of Robert Alexander Cameron, a soldier of the Confederate Army who took part in Bank’s Red River campaign.  He was prominent in Louisiana politics during the immediate post-war period.  The name Cameron itself is of Scottish origin, and in the old Gaelic tongue it meant “Crook Nose.”  It is derived from the words kam, meaning crocked or bent, and ieron, meaning nose. (1)

 

        The first settlers in Cameron Parish were mostly men from Mississippi and from the older eastern states, and by their names, they were largely of Scotch-Irish descent.  Early records bear such names as McCall, Armstrong, Smith, Lindstrom, Harrison, Carter, Wetherill, Root, Howe, Hall, Sweeney, Bonsall, Tanner, Graves, Broussard, Miller, Durr, Doxey, Henry, Stafford, MacDonald, Rutherford, Wakefield, Donahoe, Nunez, Erbelding, Eagleson, Welch, Griffith, Gordon, Stewart, Calhoun, and others, names by and large of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon origin.  Later arrivals came mostly from the French of Louisiana, and they were the LaBauves, Baudoins, Dupres, Vincents, Dysons, Swires, Richards, Mhires, Landrys, Trahans, Billeauds, Boudreaux, LeBoeufs, Monties and others. (2)

 

        Actual figures are of course not available but it seems safe to that the Scotch-Irish were the dominant element in the population of the cheniers a century ago.  They remained for a generation or two longer, then moved on again, seeking better opportunities elsewhere.  The first white settlers – not explorers or travelers – but people who seriously intended to build homes and farms and permanent residences, came into the chenier country during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, and within a generation practically all of the available farming land was fenced and plowed.  It is generally believed that one of the first white families in the area was that of a man named Phillips who built a home near the western end of Grand Chenier.  A severe hurricane in 1824 demolished his home and drowned his family. The story of this family was transmitted by a homeless Indian who had attached himself to the Phillips’ family and survived the hurricane. (3)

 

        It would seem that Lower Cameron was settled somewhat earlier than the upper section.  This is understandable when we take into consideration that the prairies were largely treeless, while the cheniers were heavily wooded, and an abundance of wood was essential to the economy of the pioneer.  The northern communities of the parish seemed to have more emphasis on the French element in their early population and less on the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon.

 

        Cameron Parish is located at the extreme western edge of what is called Cajun County in Louisiana. Dr. Thomas Arceneaux, of the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette, researches the saga of his Acadian ancestors as a scholarly hobby and his thoughts about the origins of this Gallic enclave in Southwest Louisiana are interesting.

 

        “According to historians,” he said, “Cajun is a corruption of Acadian.  The original Cajuns were peaceable French farmers whose ancestors had lived since 1604 in the French colony of Acadia, in what is now the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia.  Nobody knows for sure what Acadia means.  One guess is that it’s a corruption of Arcadia.  Another is that it comes from a Micmac Indian word.  In either case, the connotation seems to have been ‘place of plenty.'  The flesh-and-blood Cajuns arrived in Louisiana with a terrible nostalgia for their Acadian meadows.  They shunned the city life of New Orleans, and settled the empty lands west of the Mississippi.  Their descendants have remained a rural people. Today they still hunt, trap, raise sugar and rice and tend 380,000 head of cattle – some of which seem almost aquatic.  Acadians have remained true to their ancestors, those devout people who suffered the intruder to burn their homes and drive then into penniless exile rather than swear allegiance to Great Britain.  So powerfully does Acadian nostalgia for the old ways work that even outsiders who have married Cajun girls have blended completely into the community.  The once-Anglo-Saxon Bradberries and the Germanic Hoffpauirs and Shexnayders speak French as merrily as the Boudreaux and LeBlancs.”

 

        Toward the edges of Acadiana the Cajun culture blends into the Anglo-Saxon culture that surrounds it.  In western most Cameron Parish, cattle ranches dot the squashy coastal strip. Hereford steers happily splash about in knee-deep water; prickly-pear cactus grows on the occasional low ridges; French-speaking cowboys fasten hidalgo spurs to rubber boots and swing whips behind their herds, giving a Wild West look to the landscape.  Nobody has to tell the visitor that Texas lies just across the Sabine River.  But Cameron is not Texas; it is French Louisiana, and the people’s accents show it. (4)

 

        This ridge or chenier country of Southwest Louisiana is a land unique, often lovely, and little known to the world at large.  Here vast sea marshes stretch away to the limits of sight, and sluggish rivers wind their way to the Gulf of Mexico through terrain that slopes so gently that only the precision instrument of the surveyor can determine any change in elevation.  To the eye of the observer the surface, from horizon to horizon, is as flat as an inland lake on the stillest day of the year - with one exception - and that exception is of extreme significance.  Rising abruptly from the marshes, long parallel ridges of upland stand boldly forth as the most dominant features of the landscape.  These are the cheniers, the ancient and stranded sea-beaches that furnish the stable foundation for the building of homes and farms.  The word derives from the French chene, meaning oak, and in that language chenier is literally “oak grove.”  It is applied loosely to any grove of trees, predominantly oak in character.  Scientifically, the word chenier is applied to certain land formations, whose origin and character are quite distinctive, and unlike most land formations in general.  They begin at the Sabine River and may be found as far east as Lafourche Parish, although they are at their best in the area lying between Sabine Lake and Vermilion Bay.  Grand Chenier in Cameron Parish is a classic example.  In brief it may be said that they are former beaches that through the activities of natural forces have become isolated from the sea by a broad expanse of marsh. (5)

        We will probably never know definitely just who was the first white man to enter the region now known as Cameron Parish.  For that matter we have little specific knowledge of the Indian tribes who lived here before the white man came.  It would appear that the chenier country was the home of a large and thriving Indian population at one time; numerous shell mounds erected by them testify to this fact.  Comparatively large concentrations of Indians were found around the shores of Grand Lake, and particularly on Little Pecan, if we may judge by the burial mounds and refuse heaps which they left.  Burial mounds are also found on Little Chenier, and potsherds and arrowheads are found on all the cheniers, indicating that the Indian population must have been widespread. 

 

        It has been established that these Indians were of the Attakapas tribe, and that name derives from an Indian word meaning man eaters.  The first white settlers must have met only remnants of these tribes, since no accounts of Indian wars and raids have come down to us.  Perhaps intertribal warfare or more likely epidemic diseases such as smallpox may have almost exterminated them shortly before the advent of the white man. (6)

 

        It is possible that the Spanish under Cabeza de Vaca touched at points along the Cameron coast and De Soto’s survivors almost certainly landed on its shores on their voyage from the mouth of the Mississippi to the Spanish colonies in Mexico.  Doubtless the Lafittes were on the rivers and bayous and may have gone inland and built temporary camps on the wooded cheniers.  A large brick vault uncovered at Grand Chenier in 1930 may have been a hiding place for their loot.  A huge oak once stood on Mortis Island with a square-cut hole through its trunk, that may served as a guide in the location of buried treasure.  This chenier derived its name from the mortis, or hole, in this oak.  It is thought that one of  Lafitte’s vessels sank in the mouth of a small bayou running into the Gulf of Mexico just west of Pecan Island, thereby stopping the flow of the water and allowing a thick turf to form on its surface.  Today, this turf is strong enough to support automobiles in seasons of long drouth.  On another small, uninhabited island, pieces of broken chinaware were found.  One legend has it that Lafitte there held captive a young woman of the royal house of Spain.  Still another small island bears the name of Money Island, and even though money-hunters have honeycombed the ridge with their diggings, no trace of treasure has ever been found. (7)

 

        The Cameron area must have been a beautiful country to the eyes of the first comers.  The only entrance was by boat down the rivers, or by schooner up from the Gulf.  The blue cheniers shimmered above the marsh; the rivers ran sluggishly and calm; innumerable wild fowl filled the marshes; the rivers and lakes were teeming with fish; deer and bear and many smaller animals abounded, and a quiet peace lay over all the land.  Against these charms were set the fiercely destructive hurricanes and the still fiercer mosquitoes that in summer might arise in dense clouds over the marsh at the approach of night.  Malaria lurked everywhere, and huge alligators, much more frightful and dangerous in appearance than in reality, were encountered frequently. 

 

        Prior to the latter decades of the nineteenth century it must be admitted that life on the cheniers was hard and primitive and amounted to a subsistence economy.  These are the attributes of the frontier, and nothing else was expected.   There were no roads, and little need of them.  Before the Civil War, slides drawn by oxen were the principal means of transportation.  Wagons were almost non-existent, a two-wheeled cart was a novelty, and only the more fortunate owned them.  Practically all of the luxuries and many of the things that are now considered necessities were lacking.  Money was seldom seen, and most of the trade was on a barter basis.  Wheat bread was seldom available and refined sugar was reserved for the sick, or for special occasions.  Even rice was rare, and not to be cooked except when company came visiting.  If one used tobacco - and nearly all of them did, women as well as men - the supply must be grown at home.  There was an abundance of fruit in season, as well as a wide variety of food, so that no one need go hungry.  If the life he lived was rugged, so was the pioneer.  It was the general and accepted opinion that life on the cheniers for them, was better than life almost anywhere else in the nation. (8)

 

        With the passing of the Reconstruction Period came happier times and considerable advancement, both culturally and materially.  Cotton came into prominence, there was a ready market in Galveston and New Orleans for syrup and oranges, and the schooners were busy.  Cattle buyers appeared and large herds were driven out each spring to start the long trek to northern markets.

 

        Through the years such enterprises as livestock, orange groves, sugar cane and cotton rose to prominence and played important roles in the economic development of Cameron Parish.  The area continued to thrive and in 1870 Cameron Parish, as we know it today, became a separate political unit made up of a portion of Vermilion and a portion of Calcasieu Parish.  In the early 1900s the established economic activities began to decline but beginning is the 1920s with the discovery of oil  at Hackberry, mineral exploitation brought new wealth to the parish and profoundly affected the lives and thinking of its inhabitants. (9)

 

        The town of Hackberry, named many years ago for the groves of trees that thrive in the vicinity, is located in Cameron Parish, deep in the marsh country of Southwest Louisiana.  The amazing figures of just one of the oil companies in that area, Pan American Petroleum Corporation, plus the unusual topography of the area, shows the contribution in a small way, that the Parish makes to the economy of the entire state and nation.  Nearby is Hackberry oil field, one of many such ancient salt dome structures located along the Gulf Coast.  Despite its age of more than 40 years, Pan Am’s current net production there - nearly 12,000 barrels of oil per day - approaches an all-time record and is almost double the production level of the early sixties.  The field is Pan Am’s largest producer in the New Orleans division, their largest producer in the State of Louisiana and the fifth-largest producer of Pan American’s 1,000-plus fields in North America.

 

        Hackberry has been the stomping grounds for explorers since the late 1800s.  The first mineral lease in the area was granted in 1886.  In 1924, the prolific Miocene oil sands were discovered, and by 1928 the field’s oil output reached 1,000 barrels daily.  Hackberry is a unique operation both above and below the earth’s surface.  Above the surface it is water bound.  Transportation is carried out by boats which use an elaborate canal system.  Three-fourths of the field lies beneath shallow Black Lake and the marshland - little more floating turf - surrounding it.  There is a bayou to the north, and farther north is the Intracoastal Canal. Calcasieu Lake, often called Big Lake, is on the east.  Marshland prevails west to the Sabine River and south to the Gulf.  An inland water operation in every sense, the Hackberry field is called the “Venice of the oil patch.” 

 

        Below the surface of the earth, Hackberry is a salt dome field, one of many that extend some 750 miles along the Gulf Coast from Alabama to southern Mexico.  These underground domes represent the highest mountains in the world, in fact three times higher than the Swiss Alps.  Typical domes shoot upward in shapes resembling umbrellas:  solid salt columns half a mile in diameter and 40,000 feet tall.

 

        At Hackberry there are three main producing zones.  None is produced in the same way.  Some of the newer wells are located in isolated fault blocks near wells that have been producing from different traps for over 30 years.  So difficult are these elusive traps to find that Pan Am people at Hackberry have coined a word to describe the drilling of a new development well.  Because all such wells, are far as they are concerned, are part wildcat, they are referred to as “develocats.”

 

        The drill bit is a familiar tool at Hackberry, where the vast majority of locations are situated in shallow water. Throughout its lifetime, there have been more than 1,000 holes punched into its surface.  Pan Am’s leap forward in both drilling and production got underway in the early sixties.  At that time, their net output was about 7,000 barrels a day.  What followed was a flood of activity that put to use the latest drilling technology available.  During 1968 they drilled 25 wells and came up with 19 new producers, giving them a total of 105 net wells in the field. Despite its relatively small aerial extent -  roughly about 12 ½ square miles - Hackberry’s contribution has been great.  So far in its lifetime, it has accounted for about 160 million barrels of produced oil. 

 

        Its subsurface is still puzzling.  As one geologist put it, “The more we look at Hackberry, the more complex it becomes and the more we realize how much yet there is to learn bout it.”  But one thing is certain.  By applying technical know-how and ecological safeguards, they are finding more oil and improving production.  For now and in times to come, Hackberry and its sister salt dome fields will continue to yield production and challenge the oilman. (10)

 

        The first oil well to become a producer in Cameron Parish was the Pure Oil Company’s Fount Lee No. 3 of the Sweet Lake Field.  The well was completed on October 12, 1926.  In recent years Cameron Parish has ranked sixth in the state in total value of mineral production.  Natural gas production increased 36% to a total of 252 billion cubic feet, making the parish the highest in the state production and crude petroleum recovery increased 16% in 1972 over the preceding year.  Petroleum, by definition, is an oily, inflammable liquid, almost colorless to black, consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons with small quantities of other materials.  In combination with natural gas, petroleum (oil) is by far the most important of the mineral resources of Cameron Parish, as well as the State of Louisiana. (11)

 

        The marshes not only help produce the liquid “gold” in the form of oil but are just as busy producing and housing wildlife in various forms.  For centuries Cameron marshes have served as a winter home for countless numbers of water-fowl that move southward each fall down the Mississippi and Central Flyways.  Fur bearers in the form of mink, otter, muskrat, raccoon and, more recently, nutria have thrived in large numbers.  The salt and brackish water lakes, bayous, and ponds in the Parish have served as nursery and production areas for tremendous quantities of shrimp, blue crabs, menhaden, speckled trout, redfish, and other important forms of marine life.  Freshwater marshes have high yields of sport fishes, such as, black bass and bream, as well as the commercially-important catfish and crawfish.  Alligators have abounded in large numbers, and for the bird watchers, Cameron Parish has been and is, a mecca for a wide variety and large number of shorebirds, and is wading birds, and others. The productiveness of the land and water areas in the Parish, which comprises 1,073,000 acres, has been geared to the ideal ecological conditions that have prevailed. Plant communities, of the type needed to feed and shelter a wide variety of the marsh wildlife, grow annually across approximately 740,000 acres.  Water areas occupy approximately 195,000 acres of lakes, rivers, and bayous; splendid conditions exist for the production of marine life.  Salinity conditions, rainfall, water depths, water quality, temperature, and climatic conditions contribute ideally to making both the marsh and the water areas rich in fish and wildlife.  While the marshes are highly productive, they are at the same time most unstable, thereby making it easy to upset ecological conditions through the construction of levees, channels, or other similar activities that may change the factors controlling types and quantities of plant and animal life.  Most forms of marsh life have limited tolerances under which they can thrive and grow.  Radical changes by man can quickly alter the types of animal and plant life that can exist in a given area. (12)

 

        In recent decades, the oil and gas industry has developed many productive fields in Cameron Parish.  The development of these has involved the dredging of access canals, construction of roads, the building of spoil areas along and around channels, seismic activities, and the widespread laying of pipelines.  Those operations, which have been super-imposed over parts of Cameron Parish surface, have in some instances resulted in changes in plant communities and fish and wildlife populations.  Nevertheless, most forms of fish and wildlife have proven to be adaptive to changing conditions in Cameron – brought about by man’s works – and the Parish continues to be one of the most productive areas of similar size on the entire North American continent. 

 

        As a result of better understanding of marshland ecology, adjustments in mineral development operations have been made in parts of the Parish by the oil and gas industry to reduce problems resulting fish and wildlife.   Roads are far less disruptive in marshlands than are dredged access canals.  In recent years many drilling sites have been reached by the industry through road construction.  While the roads are more expensive initially using proper construction methods, they do not drain marshes, increase salinity conditions, alter water depths, or in any other way radically change the ecology of a marsh in a fashion similar to that of a dredged access canal.

 

        Neither does a road result in a serious erosion problem as is the case with a heavily-used canal.  While pipelines are widely used in the Parish for the transportation of mineral products, most of these have been installed using construction procedures having little adverse effect on marshland ecology.  The lines that have had little effect were originally installed in narrow ditches and backfilled allowing the marsh to revegetate without altering water conditions.  This has not proven to be the case in many other areas along the Louisiana coast where giant canals have been dredged for pipeline construction, thereby creating all sorts of highly adverse fish and wildlife management problems. 

 

        Despite the many changes that have been made on the surface of Cameron Parish, it continues to be of tremendous significance in the production of fish and wildlife resources.  Because of its international importance to migratory water fowl, two major Federal refuges and one major State refuge, occupying approximately 230,000 acres, are located in the Parish.  Cameron normally winters about 2 million puddle ducks and serves as a transient area for additional millions that move through in the early fall enroute to more southerly wintering grounds in southern Mexico and the northern reaches of South America.  Immediately offshore from Cameron Parish, about 150,000 scaup, or pull do, winter in the area where there are numerous oil rigs.  In addition, the Parish usually winters about one-half of the State’s blue and snow geese population, as well as virtually all the Mississippi Flyway’s white fronted goose flock.  This usually totals over 150,000 blue and snow geese and about 40,000 white-fronted geese.

 

        As a result of ideal habitat conditions and excellent protection by the people and courts of Cameron Parish, the Parish has the highest population of American alligators to be found in any other area of corresponding size in the world.  This animal has been on the endangered species list; but, as a result of sound management in Cameron Parish, population levels have increased to the point where it can lend itself to utilization.  Fur bearers remain in abundance, and off shore fishing for red snapper, cobia, king mackerel, and many others continues to be classed as excellent. (13)

 

        In glancing over the past, the first offshore petroleum field, the Creole Field of the Superior Oil Company, was discovered in April, 1938.  As of now there are 11,576 wells offshore Louisiana, a substantially proportionate number of which are located south of Cameron Parish in the Gulf of Mexico.  At the present time in those areas that can be considered coastal marshes of the state, including Cameron Parish, there are:  8,026 producing oil wells, 1,341 gas condensate wells and a few dry gas wells. (14)

 

        The total impact of all coastal activities is ecologically almost overwhelming.  This has been termed by some as the invasion of the marine environment, drastic alteration of the environmental characteristics of coastal marshes, and the regulation of the principal flow of fresh water into those marshes. For these reasons, offshore gas and oil production should not be considered singularly in evaluating the status of marine resources which are present also in production areas.  There are many other environmental factors which should be considered.  During the past 30 years which brought an almost staggering expansion of the petroleum industry, both offshore and in Cameron Parish, fish, shellfish, possibly some furbearers and wintering waterfowl, in and adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico have been exposed to intermittent and varying amounts of oil in the marine and estuarine environment.  Considering this, as related to petroleum exploration and production in addition to all other forms of human and economic activity in Cameron Parish and the Gulf, one would expect a substantial change, essentially of a negative nature, in the overall production of economically and aesthetically valuable species.  In fact, such changes are what an increasingly growing number of protectionists-environmentalists predict will happen and should have happened several decades ago.

 

        Contrarily, the Gulf area led all regions of the United States in the volume and value of fish and shellfish harvest in recent years, accounting for 38 percent and 29 percent, respectively, of the total U.S. catch and value of fish and shellfish.  Also, fishery statistics for the Gulf area for the years 1939 to the present reveal a rather consistent growth in the harvest of fish and shellfish from these waters.  Estuarine-dependent species such as shrimp, menhaden and oysters, the future of which has been charged as endangered in some sections of the country, dominate the Cameron fishery and account for approximately 90 percent of the annual fisheries value. (15)

 

        For a substantial portion of the period during which there was tremendous acceleration of petroleum activities both in Cameron Parish and in the gulf, the number of people and vessels occupied in commercial fishing remained reasonably constant.  The gross tonnage of the vessels has increased substantially.  However, the harvesting operations have been altered materially with changes in fishing gear. 

 

        In recent years there has been a marked increase in the harvest of sport and commercial fish.  The production and harvest of oysters from the late 1800s to the present has shown remarkable stability throughout the production areas despite changes in the various estuarine environments. All indications are that oyster production has been fairly consistent since 1938, the year the first offshore petroleum well came into being. Brown and white shrimp breed in off-shore waters. From early spring to late fall, depending upon the species, the larva forms move into shallow bays and inlets. In Cameron Parish they grow at a prodigious rate, attaining sub-adult state in a matter of a very few months. Subsequently, they return to more saline waters to complete the cycle. The notable decline in the shrimp harvest in the late 1950s and mid 1960s was due in part to Hurricane Audrey in June, 1957, and Hurricane Carla in September, 1961. Data for the Cameron area indicates substantial stability in the shrimp resources since about 1940, with some remarkably productive years in the mid 50s which corresponds with a period of accelerated petroleum activity in the Gulf.

 

        Although there have been significant changes in the fur industry over the past two and a half decades, most of these changes have little relation to the petroleum industry. They are due in most part to a decline in muskrat production that occurred in the mid to late 1940s and to a tremendous increase in the catch of nutria. Prices have fluctuated during the years. Present efforts to promote the Louisiana fur industry, including the annual Fur and Wildlife Festival, appear to be producing visible results which will benefit trappers. Nutria and muskrat are by far the most important pelts. In the 1970-71 season, total production of muskrat pelts brought trappers approximately $1,230,246 compared to $2,980,217 for nutria pelts. (16)

 

        Recovered from the 1957 hurricane and virtually untouched by Hurricane Betsy, the western marshes of Louisiana grow the biggest and glossiest muskrat and nutria on the fur-rich coast.  From the time the first Canadian exile moved into the bogs west of New Orleans until this century, pelts of fur-bearing swamp animals provided a steady portion of the Cajun’s income.  During the 20th century, however, the proliferation of two animals new to the marsh boosted trapping to a major industry. 

 

        The muskrat probably did not arrive until just before the turn of the century.  He sneaked in while everybody was busy elsewhere, but these immigrants from northern stream banks found a cushy home in the coastal marsh.  For many years, Louisiana produced more muskrat pelts than all other states combined.  Just before World War II, the nutria from Argentina invaded the marsh.  The heavy-bodied rodent multiplied so wildly that Cajun trappers have fabricated an elaborate mythology about the creatures. Among other tall tales, the Cajuns say that the female nutria has her teats beside her backbone so that her young can suckle as she swims, and strange as this folk tale sounds, it is absolutely true.

 

        During a storm about 35 years ago a dozen of the 18-pound beaver-like nutria escaped private pens on Avery Island.  With no important disease and no enemies, the nutria have increased until you can hardly put your foot down in the marsh without stepping on a nutria footprint, or sometimes even on a nutria himself.  Since the nutria is fearless and sublimely stupid, the trappers do not have to even bait their traps.  They just put them where he obligingly steps on them.  The nutria grows a durable fur, one of the most easily dyed, and so prized that a coat of finest pelts and craftsmanship sells for around $1,500.  Besides, each carcass yields about eight pounds of red meat to feed ranch mink in the north.  So, as a pelt or as mink food, the nutria ends up as a fur coat.  The nutria must be trapped constantly to keep them thinned out as the marsh teems with them.  The trappers feel that if they are not trapped frequently they would eat all the grass in the marsh and turn it into naked mud which would result not only in their death but also the raccoon, muskrat, otter, rabbits and other creatures of the swamp would be doomed. (17)

 

        Trapping is one of the oldest occupations of man.  It is older than agriculture and parallels the pursuits of hunting and fishing.  These early American settlers, wanting to stimulate the fur industry, held an annual fur fair in Canada sponsored by King Louis XIV.  These were conducted by Frenchmen who established trading booths to induce the Indians to trade fur with the French.  Ironically, some two hundred and twenty-five years later descendants of these early Frenchmen initiated the Louisiana Fur and Wildlife Festival in Cameron,  Louisiana, with the objectives of creating an interest in the fur industry.   This has now developed into Cameron’s number one gala festivity, attracting multitudes of visitors and participants in the various events.

 

        Trapping is no easy chore, though much of the equipment and procedures are far improved over those of yesteryear.  The basic fundamentals remain the same with a trapper. His day usually begins about 3:30 a.m. turning or packing hides, clearing stretchers, and cleaning the fur shed, and then to the marsh buggies or marsh boats and into the Cameron mashes before sun-up.  Then begins the adventuresome ordeal of visiting each trap, removing all captured prey, resetting traps and moving then to more alluring trails.   His “run” usually ends about 2:30 p.m. when he returns home with his day’s catch usually about two or three hundred rats except on frosty mornings or when fresh chilling northers blow in, then the trapper’s report the catch will sometimes soar to five hundred. 

 

        Upon arriving home the trapper’s entire family begins to skin the animals processing about one hundred pelts an hour.  Once they are skinned, they are then washed, passed through a wringer and dried in a commercial gas dryer then place on molds to dry in a heated shed.  It takes approximately twenty-four hours to dry these pelts, then they are ready for the “sale.”  The duration of the trapping season is usually 60 days which means two months of very strenuous work, as many people in Cameron Parish depend solely upon this income for their subsistence.  Added to the long hours of hard work is the most inclement and disagreeable type of weather in which one has to work.  However, the price of the furs is compensation for the short time of such terrific work.  Last year the trappers averaged $1.50 each for their muskrat pelts and considered it a good year.  They take price in furnishing good choice pelts to be made into luxuriant fur coats, which have become such an important item on the fashion scene.  These furs are carefully graded and the best ones end up at the huge auction houses in London, New York, Montreal, Leningrad, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Winnipeg, Seattle, and countless other metropolitan areas.  Southern Louisiana produces approximately 75% of the entire muskrat each of North America.  Thus we can appropriately label Cameron Parish as one of the Fur Capitals of the Continent. (18)

 

        The fur industry in the state relies greatly on the muskrat, nutria, mink, otter and raccoon, and with these and other fur-bearing animals to be found in the state, Louisiana ranks first in the nation in the trapping of marketable pelts.  Louisiana is also noted for its fresh and salt water fisheries.   The thousands of miles of coast lines, including bays and bayous, enable the state to take a leading role in supplying the nation with vast quantities of shrimp, oysters, crabs, clams, trout, redfish, flounders, red snappers and the like.   The value of Louisiana’s seafood industry amounts to between $35 and $40 million annually, with shrimp, oysters, fish, crabs, and menhaden (used for oil and fertilizer) accounting in large measure for the importance of this industry to the state and the nation.  Shells, which are important both for construction purposes and for cement, are a valuable by-product of the seafood industry. (19)

 

        The wildlife and fisheries of Cameron Parish directly and indirectly have a great influence on the lives of Louisiana residents.  As food and clothing, as protectors of crops, and as aids to recreation and outdoor life, these resources bring millions of dollars into the state each year.  The conservation and regulation of the wildlife and fisheries of the state are the major responsibilities of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission.

 

        The Wildlife and Fisheries Commission is governed by a seven-member board appointed by the Governor, one for a term concurrent with his own and six for six-year overlapping terms.  Three of the members serving six-year terms must be electors of the coastal Parishes and representatives of the commercial fishing and fur industries, and the other three must be electors from the state at large.  For the purposes of protecting, conserving and replenishing wildlife, the commission has jurisdiction over wildlife, including wild game and non-game quadrupeds, game, oysters, fish and other aquatic life.  Some of the major functions exercised by the commission in accomplishing its purposes are:

1.  Employment of wildlife agents and armed patrols to enforce all wildlife laws and enforce stream pollution laws.  
2.  Regulation of hunting, trapping, sport and commercial fishing, and the oyster and shrimp industries.
3.  Issuance of licenses for hunting, trapping, fishing, shrimping and taking oysters; issuance of certain licenses for selling wild game or birds, fish , oysters and shrimp, and issuance of certificates for shipping fish, shrimp, frogs and crabs out of the state.
4.  Licensing of nets and boats used in commercial fishing, shrimping  and taking oysters.   
5.  Leasing of oyster bedding grounds in water of the state and controlling the natural oyster reefs for conservation of the oysters.  
6.  Operating hatcheries, sanctuaries, breeding places, and issuing licenses to operators of private breeding grounds.
7.  Conducting scientific studies of wildlife and participating in the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Compact.
8.  Cooperating with the federal government in research and in wildlife restoration projects.  
9.  Exercise of jurisdiction with and general supervision over game and fish preserves and the collection of the state severance tax on skins and hides, oysters and salt water shrimp.  (20)

        No parish in Louisiana compares with the provisions made in Cameron Parish for the protection of migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds and alligators.  In the west half of the parish lies the 149,000-acre Sabine National Wildlife Refuge and in the northeast corner the 30,000-acre Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, both managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  Under management by Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission is the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, of which 62,000 of the total 83,000 acres are located in the southeast corner of Cameron Parish. (21)

 

        Cameron Parish achieved prominence in 1946, a few years after the petroleum industry erected its first drilling rig in the Gulf – which sport fishermen called a million dollar “artificial reef.” As the number of drilling and production platforms spread along the coast, the state developed a sport fisheries that is unexcelled anywhere along the Atlantic, Pacific and other states bordering the northern Gulf of Mexico, State anglers and non-resident tourist-fishermen are lucky in that the offshore oil operations have provided thousands of “reefs” to attract fish.  In many coastal states, attempts have been made to create similar structures with old automobiles and other debris.  Such reefs are costly, present hazards to navigation and are detrimental to shrimp trawling operations.  With its entire coastline flanked by rigs, resembling steel spiders marching even farther into the Gulf, it is only natural that Cameron Parish, and, in fact, all Louisiana fishermen, have a far-flung bonanza along the coast.

 

        During the Fourth of July holidays each year there is a fishing rodeo staged out of Cameron.  It is considered one of the coastal angling classics and approximately 25 species of fish are eligible for trophies.  They range from mighty tarpon to the always popular speckled trout.  In the gamut of eligible fish that attract anglers who are competing for the trophies are species that were never heard of prior to the accelerated offshore petroleum operations.  These include barracuda, jewfish, grouper, spadefish and amber jack, as well as others.  They were attracted to the Louisiana coast by the “artificial reefs” provided by petroleum operations. (22)

 

        When it comes to waterfowl, Louisiana is one of the most important states in the country, and by far the most important wintering state in the vast Mississippi Flyway.  Between six and seven million ducks, approximately a million coots, and upwards of a half-million geese winter in the state, principally in Cameron Parish.  The coastal marshes are estimated to winter two-thirds of the ducks in the Mississippi Flyway, and that flyway contains about one-third of the wintering waterfowl on the continent.  Wintering populations are concentrated or dispersed from year to year, depending on distribution of food and both over-abundance or shortage of water in the marshes.  There has never been a major threat to wintering winter fowl in the history of Louisiana’s inshore and offshore petroleum activities. 

 

        There are many prime examples of the compatibility of the petroleum industry with wildlife and fisheries.  While it is true that statistics on production of petroleum products, fisheries products and wildlife of all types speak for themselves, it would be even more convincing to mention one of the oldest and perhaps obvious examples of multiple use of resources without detriment to any.  This can be seen in Shell Oil Company’s Black Bayou Field, located in lower Cameron Parish, in part of a general area known as Gum Cove.  The first well was drilled more than four decades ago, at a time when words like ecology and environment were found only in the dictionary.  By some standards, perhaps it should be one of the oldest and dirtiest of production fields.  On the contrary, it stands as a symbol that the compatibility mentioned is far from impossible and in many cases reality.  Wildlife is abundant in the Black Bayou Field, ranging from alligators to birdlife, with a good measure of excellent fresh water and salt water fishing tossed in for good measure.

 

        Fish, wildlife and industry have learned to coexist in Cameron Parish.  If information now available is applied to future operations in the marshes of Cameron Parish, there is no reason why a wide variety and quantity of fish and wildlife cannot be sustained in the years ahead.  Facts show that the overall petroleum industry has proved compatible with the fisheries and wildlife resources upon which Cameron Parish and the community of Cameron has been dependent for more than a century.  Careful study of statistics indicates in the distant but certainly foreseeable future when a great portion of petroleum-associated operations may shift to other areas, the fisheries and wildlife resources of Cameron Parish will remain renewable ones for future generations, continuing to make substantial contributions to the economy of the parish and the state.  (23)

 

        Even though petroleum is not a renewable resource, because of the concern of the industry, both wildlife and fisheries will flourish and renew themselves and be abundant in the distant future when the petroleum industry has moved to more productive areas.  It is this compatibility of industries and mutual respect and understanding in the harvesting of resources - mineral as well as fisheries and fur - that has made Cameron Parish the Gold Coast of Louisiana!

 

 

FOOTNOTES

 

1.  Wilmer Smith, History of Public Education in Cameron Parish (Baton Rouge: L. S. U. Press, 1966), p.27.

 

2.  Cameron Parish, Louisiana Development Board, Cameron Parish Resources and Facilities, (Baton Rouge: L. S. U. Press, 1960), p. 34.

 

3.  Francis and John Love, Here Is South Louisiana, (Lafayette, Louisiana:  Tribune Printing Plant, 1965), p.108.

 

4.  Bern Keating, “Louisiana’s French-Speaking Cajunland”, National Geographic, (March, 1966), pp.89-90.

 

5.  John Berton Gremillion, Cameron Parish, Louisiana, (L. S. U. Library:  Unpublished manuscript, 1963), p.11.

 

6.  William B. McIntire, Prehistoric Indian Settlements of the Changing Mississippi Delta (Baton Rouge: L. S. U. Press, 1958) p. 15.

 

7.  Bona Arsenault, History of the Acadians,  (Quebec, Canada: Council of French in America, 1966) p.112.

 

8.  C. E. A. Gayarre, Louisiana:  It’s Colonial History and Romance, (Baton Rouge: L. S. U. Press, 1963) p.204.

 

9.   John Berton Gremillion, Cameron Parish, Louisiana, (L. S. U. Library:  Unpublished manuscript, 1963), p.21.

 

10. Samuel E. Standford,  “Hackberry:  Venice of the Oil Patch”, Horizons Magazine (Pan American Oil Corporation) (February, 1969) p. 89.

 

11. Cameron Parish, Louisiana Development Board, Cameron Parish Resources and Facilities, (Baton Rouge:  L. S. U. Press, 1960) p.24.

 

12. Ibid., p. 49.

 

13. Richard Yancey, Wildlife and Mineral Development in Cameron Parish, (Baton Rouge:  Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, 1971) p. 17.

 

14. Mrs. Hadley Fontenot, “Cameron Parish Growth”, Louisiana Enterprise, February 17, 1873, p. 4-L, Col. 2.

 

15. Duffy McFadden, “Marsh Ecology”, Cameron Pilot, November 18, 1972, p. 6, Col. 1.

 

16. Ibid.

 

17. Bern Keating, “Louisiana French-Speaking Cajunland”, National Geographic, (March, 1966), pp. 94-95.

 

18. Cameron Parish 16th Annual Fur and Wildlife Festival Booklet,  Cameron, Louisiana, 1972, pp.16-17.

 

19. Louisiana Legislative Council, The Government of Louisiana, (Baton Rouge:  L. S. U. Press, 1959), p. 27.

 

20. Ibid., p. 248.

 

21. Cameron Parish Development Board, Cameron Parish Resources and Facilities, (Baton Rouge:  L. S. U. Press, 1960.

 

22. Richard Yancey, Wildlife and Mineral Development in Cameron Parish,  (Baton Rouge:  Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission 1971),

 

      pp. 28-29.

 

23. Duffy McFadden, “Marsh Ecology”, Cameron Pilot,  November 18, 1972, p. 6, Col. 2.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Books:

 

Arsenault, Bona, History of the Acadians, (Quebec, Canada:  Council of French in America, 1966).

 

Cameron Parish Development Board, Cameron Parish Resources and Facilities, (Baton Rouge, La.:  L. S. U. Press, 1960).

 

Dunn, Gordon, Atlantic Hurricanes, Baton Rouge, La.:  L. S. U. Press, 1964).

 

Gayarre, C. E. A., Louisiana:  It’s Colonial History and Romance, (Baton Rouge, La.:  L. S. U. Press, 1963).

 

Gremillion, John Berton, Cameron Parish, Louisiana, (L. S. U. Library:  n.p., 1963).

 

Hansen, Harvey, (ed.), Louisiana, A Guide to the State Writers’ Program, (New York:  Hastings House, 1941, 1971).

 

Hollister, Archie, Geography of Cameron Parish, (Baton Rouge, La.: L. S. U. Press, 1952).

 

Kane, Harnett T.  Golden Coast, Garden City, N.Y.:  Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1959).

 

Lockett, Samuel H. (ed.:  Lauren Post), Louisiana As It Is, (Baton Rouge, La.:  L. S. U. Press, 1969 (orig. manuscript 1869, n. p.).

 

Louisiana Legislative Council, The Government of Louisiana, (Baton Rouge, La.: L. S. U. Press, 1959).

 

Love, Francis & Love, John, Here Is South Louisiana, (Lafayette, La.:  Tribune Printing Plant, 1965).

 

McCracken, Harry, Trapping, New Orleans, La.:  Barnes Publishing Company, 1947).

 

McIntire, William G., Prehistoric Indian Settlements of the Changing Mississippi River Delta, Baton Rouge, La.:  L. S. U. Press 1958).

 

Ormerod, Leonard, Curving Shore, (New York, N.Y.:  Harpers, 1957).

 

Perrin, William H., Southwest Louisiana Biographical and Historical, (New Orleans, La.:  Gulf Publishing Company,1891), (Baton Rouge, La.: Claitor’s Publishing Company, 1969).

 

Reid, Maude, Early Calcasieu Doctors 1850-1912, Lake Charles, La.:  First National Bank, 1969).

 

Smith, Wilmer, History of Public Education In Cameron Parish, (Baton Rouge, La.:  L. S. U. Press: 1966).

 

Teurlings, William J., One Mile An Hour, (New York, N.Y.: Exposition Press, 1959).

 

Vincent, J. J., Streak O’ Lean and a Streak O’ Fat,  (New York, N. Y.:  Vantage Press, Inc., 1964).

 

Waldo, Edward, The Louisiana Nutria Story, (New Orleans, La.:  Gulf Publishing Company, 1966).

 

Yancey, Richard, Wildlife and Mineral Development in Cameron Parish, (Baton Rouge, La.:  L. S. U. Press: 1971).

  

Periodicals:

 

Cameron Parish 10th Annual Fur & Wildlife Festival Booklet, Cameron, Louisiana, 1972, pp. 16-18.

 

Fontenot, Mrs. Hadley, “Cameron Parish Growth”, Louisiana Enterprise, February 17, 1973, page 4-L, Col. 2.

 

Keating, Bern, “Louisiana’s French-Speaking Cajunland”, National Geographic,  Vol. 129, No. 3, March, 1966 pp. 89-95.

 

McFadden, Duffy, “Marsh Ecology”, Cameron Pilot, November 18, 1972, p.6, cols. 1 and 2.

 

Standford, Samuel E., “Hackberry:  Venice of the Oil Patch”, Horizons Magazine, Pan Am Petroleum Corp., February 1969, pp. 89-91.

 

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