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    History of Lake Bistineau Reveals Interesting Facts

             (An article by John Chambers from a 1939 issue of The Shreveport Journal)

About the year 1811 all through the Mississippi Valley, there came an earthquake. The earth rose and fell in many places where the earth sank, natural reservoirs were formed, making ponds, streams and lakes. (sic)

Among the better known lakes thus formed is Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. In this case, the Mighty Mississippi River flowed backward three days and nights, filling this depression of the earth’s surface.

An old resident of Bienville, Parish, who is now 67 years old, moved from the state of Alabama in an ox cart to the shores of Bistineau at the age of seven and claims at that time, he asked Granny Richardson, who was 80 years old, how the lake was formed and she told him that when she was a little girl behind her house, about a mile, was a small stream of water, one that could be stepped across, and one night the water rose, make a stream two miles wide.

It is said that the name Bistineau is the French equivalent of an Indian name. At one time, many Indians lived around this lake and left as evidence several huge earthen mounds, which can be seen to this day. The Indians moved on with the coming of the Spanish, French and Americans.

With the invention of the steamboat in the early 1800’s people began to migrate up the Red River Valley by boat using the Red River as the main thoroughfare. These hardy pioneers were doing what so many people had done before, searching for homesites, freedom and independence which seemed to be an inherent quality of our forefathers.

Some unknown traveler in searching for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness decided that the southeastern shores of Lake Bistineau exactly suited his purpose and so settled down to tranquility. He wrote such a glowing accounts to his friends in Alabama of such a fruitful land which abounded in game and fish that soon an exodus from Alabama took place. Over a period of years many people came from Alabama to live near this original settler and to this day this area is known as Alabama Bend. It has been so many years since the advent of the first arrival that his name has been lost in antiquity.

All travel was by boat or oxcart and many days passed before a destination was reached. The faster transportation was by boat, consequently many settlements grew up around Lake Bistineau. The better known landings starting from the Red River were Thomas Landing, Cawthorn Landing, Vickers Landing, Pine Bluff Landing, Port Boliver, Lee’s Landing, and Noles’ Landing. Much merchandise was transported by boat direct from New Orleans to Minden via Lake Bistineau.

Transportation by boat ceased with the coming of the railroad. The V.S.&P. erected the first bridge near Doyline which stopped boats at that point and the building of the L.R.&N. near the mouth of the lake, stopped all large boats completely. However, at this time the channel of the lake had just about quit running in the lake, anyway.

Up until the turn of the century Bistineau was an open lake and one could stand on Yellow Bluff or Pine Bluff and see for miles up and down the lake, not a tree was in the lake as you find them today.

The last boat to steam up Bistineau was the Blue Wing which carried the mail. The last government snag boat was used in the lake about the year 1888. The channel of Bistineau cut itself so deep that finally the lake drained itself and for the last 30 years, it only contained water during the spring. In 1930 the Conservation Commission of the state built a small dam that filled the channel and in a measure restored the lake to its former usefulness with the exception of commercial travel. 

The oldest living person today who lives on the lake is an old darky named John Moore who was born July 4, 1834 and is 105 years old. He claims he was born in Chattahoochee Georgia of slave parents. He originally belonged to Daniel Rambeau, later to Mrs Henry Shehee, who drew him in a property settlement and today lives on the very spot that he came to when he was brought to Louisiana at the age of 25. He married in 1863 and was the father of nine children of which five are still living. The oldest living child was born in 1867.

To get to his place one must travel on a long dusty road with miles parallel to the lake then through the woods over no road for a mile to a tumbled-down double-pen house. One side has fallen into decay and by old John’s testimony, the other side is inhabited by him and God. His only income is the $6.00 (six dollars) provided by the state. When asked if he would ride in one of the Barksdale Field airplanes that frequently pass over his house, his reply was, "If it would take me to heaven, I’d be glad to go in it."

Many years before the beginning of the Civil War three frenchmen names Balt, Gabe and Gee Toulon, came up the lake for a homestead. They settled at the mouth of a bayou which empties into Bistineau and since that time Toulon Bayou has borne their name. These men were a very happy-go-lucky sort of folk, Gave and Gee played the violin and the mandolin and gave many dances which were attended by nearly all people in their vicinity, coming mostly by boat or horseback.

Above Noles’ Landing was located the Salt Works which played a very important part in commerce on the lake. At that time salt was very hart to obtain, in fact this was the only source of the supply. According to old-timers, pits were dug in the ground a few feet and the water that seeped out was boiled in huge iron pots, thus precipitating the salt which was bartered and sold up and down the lake. There is much evidence today of the existence of the Salt Works which was in operation over 75 years ago. One of the iron pots has been carried to a spot near Ringold and can be seen today.

Just below Pine Bluff Landing, during extremely low water, parts of an old steamboat can be seen that san, so long ago that no one remembers its name or if any lives were lost.

North of Vickers Landing is a slough named Tom’s Arm and this is how it got its name. In pre-war days there lived near this spot a negro slave named Tom who was bad about running around at night without a pass. A slave needed a pass issued by the owner and if a slave was found without a pass, he was held by whoever found him until the rightful owner could be located.

Tom continued to road without a pass, so to keep him located he was carried to the blacksmith shop and around his waist was placed an iron band and around his neck was placed an iron band. These bands were connected by a long iron bar which extended just over his head. At the top was placed a small bell so his owner would know where he was at all times. Tom immediately disappeared. Dogs followed the scent to the lake shore and out on a log that extended into the water, swimmers took to the water and located his body. From the evidence, he had dived off the log into the lake and drowned and since that time that part of the lake was known as Tom’s Arm.

Another famous spot on Lake Bisineau was known than as now as Peggy’s island, since the lake was clear of all trees and bushes in these days, steamboats could make a landing directly on the island. Captain Peas was the owner of a steamboat which traveled the lake in ordinary pursuit of commerce. To be with his wife and family more often, he establish a large camp on the island. His wife’s name was Peggy.  

Prior to that time, six renegades came up the river and up Bistineau to this island. Four were white men and two were Spaniards. (sic) It is said that in their possession was $60,000 in gold they had stolen in New Orleans. There actions on the island were so bad that the men of the lake decided to take the law into their own hands and drive them away. A party headed by Mr. Vickers came upon them on the island and during the argument a gunbattle ensued leaving the four white outlaws dead. At the beginning of the battle the two Spaniards escaped by boat and were caught and killed on Fairview Point where Tooke’s Fishing Camp is located today.

Since the Spanish bandits were caught and searched immediately upon their arrival on Fairview Point it is most possible that the gold was left in a secret spot on Peggy’s Island. Right at this moment can be found old and new excavations on the island, left by people in search of the gold. According to an ancient story one Spaniard on his last breath said that the cache was buried 300 steps toward the sun from two great cypress trees that stood side by side on the island. Since this occurrence, many forays in search of the gold have taken place, by torchlight and witchcraft, by lantern light and divining rod and with the modern electric lamp and comparatively new radio metal locators. No one has ever seen another dig for this treasure by the light of the sun and many earth diggings have been found in the early morning that had not been there the evening before.

Game was very plentiful in those days, especially around Bistineau. For small game the bow and arrow was used extensively. Old-fashioned muzzle loaders were reserved for bear, deer, turkey and ducks. Jim Hays and Mac Tipton killed about the last deer at Rock Bridge in the fall of 1900, the last turkeys were seen in 1904. Ducks were killed by the thousands, mostly for the feathers to make beds and pillows. It was not unusual for a single hunter to bring home 3000 or 400 ducks as a day’s bag. Old timers living today can remember when there were so many ducks on Bistineau that in flight the sky would be darkened and a single flock would be hours in passing. Hunters carried them home by the wagonloads to be tossed in the yard of their negro hands who sat up all night plucking the feathers. The meat would be salted down or pickled for later consumption.

Deer were plentiful, smoked deer meat being in order at every one’s house. Some-times the deer would graze right along with the cattle, so undisturbed were the wilds of Bistineau in those days. Game and fish were sought only as food, there being little of sport in hunting and fishing as we know it today.

With the coming of the fast steamers on the lake, trapping soon became a major industry, tan-yards becoming numerous.

One of Bienville parish citizens at that time, named Ike Hall, had a special gun made for his use. It was a muzzle loader and had four barrels which revolved on the stock, tow barrels up and two down, ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Great amazement was shown at the first shooting of the gun, according to living witnesses. Quail were caught in traps. Napoleon Franklin, when a small boy, in company with his father, shot and killed two eagles which were described as being very large. This took place in Bistineau near the Henry Jeff pond about 60 years ago, about the same time on great white swan was seen in the duck pond. This swan was very large, according to persons who saw it, the swan must have measured sitting on the water, five feet from the water to its head. The bird stayed around several days and then disappeared and none has seen it since.

The very first arrivals made their houses of logs and a little later they were constructed of hand-cut boards pinned with wooden pegs, roofed with handmade shingles. Many are still standing at the present time. A short time back on of these houses was moved to make room for a modern highway. The white oak blocks that supported this house were in as perfect condition as when cut 70 years ago.

All crops were planted mostly for home consumption and included tobacco and cotton. Sheds, clothes and socks were all of home creations from the raw stock to finished products.

The best known church in that section was the Rocky Mount Church located on Military road, made during the Civil war. (sic) Regular services are still held there. About the first school was the White House School, a one-room log cabin with an earth floor. Much knowledge was assimilated from "Townsend’s New Speller", Blue Back speller, McGuffey’s reader and Davie’s arithmetic. School was in session for a hsort time each year. Research reveals that nearly all were devout Christians.

A peculiar but very effective method was developed in raising hogs that would not have been a success but for the type of people that inhabited the lake section. Each man would select from his pens whatever sows he wanted to be turned in the lake bottom to forage for food. Each day for the first week, he would call his godg and feed it a a certain spot. The next week he called and fed every other day. The third week he called and fed twice a week. The fourth week he fed once a week and after that the hog was forgotten until winter killing time. All that was necessary was to call the hogs and they would arrive with numerous progeny, fat on vegetation from the natural foods found in the swamps. By this feeding process employed at first release of the animal, the hog learned his owners’ voice and would answer to no other, and there were no cases of hog stealing.

The material for this story has been supplied by many people, most of them descendants of the original pioneer, who first came to the Bistineau region at the turn of the 19th century. There is no way to substantiate their statements about their history other than to talk to numerous people scattered miles apart who have no connection with each other and yet in the main they all have the same story to tell.

I have traveled many miles in the three parishes that surround the lake and have enjoyed many conservation with people who have lived wholesome, simple and honest lives. I have search every nook and cranny on the entire lake and have enjoyed it immensely in looking over the more historical points.

There is no doubt in my mind but what Bistineau has a more colorful history that appears here, and I fear that no interest was shown in those carefree days to preserve a record of events…

Maybe ancient records of transportation companies that operated up Red River may reveal a little enlightenment on the subject, but where to find those records?

All evidence tends to prove that there was a vast amount of activity on and surrounding this lake and I hope that some real historian will capture what facts can be found today before it is too late and preserve it for future posterity to enjoy.

With final completion of a permanent dam to retain the water of the new Bistineau Lake, I feel that this body of water will have again proved to be as useful as it was in the days of yore.

With the temporary dam already built providing a large lake, many camps have sprung up on its shores and once more boats are plying the waters. Many roads lead to the lake and with the completion of a modern electric high line, under construction at the present time, which will surround the lake, its character will be changed utterly.

On the one hand we have the quiet simplicity of a slow moving era, undisturbed by any than nature’s noisiness or the occasional puff of a steamboat, 100 years ago, on the other hand we have the high-geared dizziness of a modern hectic world. For my part I will take the lake of long ago with its companion, an outboard motor and new casting tackle…

Re-typed on this date exactly as it was in 1939 by Vicky Pullig of Doyline, La.     Oct. 13th 1998,   Long live Bistineau.

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