The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) Sept. 8, 1879
IN ARCADIA. The Loveliest Land in All the South. Scenes that Tlnshrine Memories of "Evangeline." A Gallcp Across Iberian Prairie3 to the Pe.tit Anse. History and Legend. DeEcription of the Wonderful Salt Mine. ew Iberia. Sept - 6. li".1. TLe moiDing suu was just glinting ta; stfci'le of tbe church in New lleriu as our truide, a en'ilii - g fated ne'rro loy, called ar - ri - jn, ltd tbe. boises out iroiii the stable. Already tbe store's were ojieu. and the main i - ircc - t ltiokcd quite animated as little cavalcades i rem the surrounding: country passed by. Tbe spirit od lnui - tau' inluoed alon i:i companionship with tbe more demure mule. Mid wetber - woui country cart labored u behind tbe more pretentious bu.y. In iiout. the watcia of the Terhe. iu a silent, somnolent current, stole on their meandering way to tbe Atfbafa - laya, fiincl Midi a deep lwrder of primeval live oaks, bearded to the foot with the swaying moss. A gentle southeast wind r - 'strd little clouds of . dust about the foot - fails of the herses and made fla.rs of the ...iioe3 bin - sin: out in front of th trade v ie - n's stores as samples of the wealth of fabrics to be touud lnide. A perfume as of new ruov n bay dtiit:d in from over the prairies, and, listening, one could catch the lowliij of d - stant matronly cows at festl on the limitless Atttikap - s pastures. It was a morning to be out of doors, and even the hordes snuffed the it'agraut air and grew fiisky In ant'.cipat.ou of a gallop. The Mecca of orr day's p.il;;mage wai the Pe'!t An;e, or, as It is bettor known, Avery s Island, so remarkable for its inexhaustible salt minei and great natural beauty. Tbrouh the haze to the southward, just lilting Its head above the dark skirting of the far o3T forest, could be seen the dim outline or the highest bill on Petit Anse, ten miles distant. Between Kewlbei ia and it lay siretchei the smooth floor of the praiiie, dotted here and there by clust;n of trees and now and then by specks of habitat on. The blood tingled in our veins, au exhilaration almost intoxicating played with the nerve stiiugs of sen - iibility, as at a gentle trot we tamed down a side street, ro3e out of the town and reached the soft turf of the praii'e. We could appreciate for toe.fir.it t?me old Culcb Pluinmcr's feelings when his boy. from " the golden South Americas returned." We did feel, a John Owens so well renders it, "just like a jumping jack ith somebody piuliug the tiring." Giving the horse bis head wa plunged the spurs into him and pallopt'd out into space, and theu, forgetiol of all proprieties, greeted The Wondering Cattle with a refrain from some old minstrel ballad. We had for tbe nonce shaken tbe epidermis of twenty years from us and were a boy aain. One or two cuue fieuls were passed near New Iberia, the stalks twisted and broken by the late storm, and the leaves frayed as as if coinled into a louf fringe, tbcu we left tbe laboring world behind. As we rode along, flocks of white cranes would rise from the cattle boles and coulees in the prairie fly a short distance and then gravely survey us from off their stilted legs. To the west the sky and plain met. the eye ranging almost to the - Vermilion Kiver; to tbe left lay a long stretch towards Jeuimer - ette and Bayou ' Cppreniort, with islauds of trees datting the Eea. of green, and behind us the Teche and its oaks. It is over a century n go that the high - spirited Acadians sought these pleasant pastures, away from the turmoil and strife of political rancor, and whether it was by some mysterious intuition or from the romantic talcs of some voyaeury certain it is they could not have selected a . more beautiful spot where Peace with her wings seems so to shield the fertile fields and ' sylvan shades. " Bo3s, you'd better look out hyar," said our ebony guide, calling us down to muudaue things, - 'this hyar ctrulet is mijrbty deep wid'de water of ue last rain," as the horses plashed tbrouth a minature lakelet iu one ol the depressions of the prairie. His warning was none too early, for it was only with sundry plunges and most artistic cuvertings that the animals succeeded iu reaching tne oiher side after arefreshin? but unwilling bath i.i the cool flood. As we approached Averys Island the hills began to grow in heigut and to separate, the individuality of each being distinctly diseernable. "That tiiere hill on de ri.ht is where de Averys lib," said G. rriison, " au behind dat 'big one is de salt mine. I knows de place, you liet." The hills were covered with a thick forsit of walnut, gum, .cypress, magnolia, oak, elm and hickory, save here and there where openings showed that clearings had been uiade. When we reached a point one mile and an eighth from the edge oi the island, we eaine to a Corduroy Camtewaj, built over the sea ma - sh which surrounds the place, and which was then three feet under water, the planking being afloat. Now commenced the dangerous part of our ride. As the horses put their foet on the planks they w ould slip iroin under them side wise, and it was only by a display of considerable acrobatic skill that they could keep from fallin?. It look nearly an hour to make the mill, and required all the half - forgotten equestrian skill to sit the horses. At last we crossed the bridge of the - Bayou Petit Anse, running by tbe island, and found a broad road leading up a steep hill before us. A few minutes' lope over the hard, reddish clay and we entered a large inclosure, and in lront of the Avery usidence dismounted beneath a shady tree. On the gallery we were greeted by Major r.inl Leeds, looking rejuvenated, notwithstanding a severe sitll of sickness lately at the North, and soon was the recipient of the ever bounteous hospitality of one of the fairest households in our sun - kitsed South. The recent storm, tbe fatigues of travel' and the cares of the world, that seemed so far away from this wonderful isle, were .all forgotten in the entertaining conversation of tbe ladies, whose reading and observation seemed to be almost a limitless as the broad prairies surrounding their island home. Petit Anse, orAverp's Island, is one of the finest in Southwestern Louisiana, rising abrubtly out of the sea marsh, a seeming contradiction to nature's ordinary routine of formation in the extensive sea marsh border of the State lying on the Gulf of Mexico. - Its hills, ami they are many, have none of the characteristics of alluvial bottoms, but are bold elevations, reaching one hundred sixty foet in height. Tbe rapid growth and decay of vegetation w bich has built up the marsh in the progress of years into tbe dry prairie, seems to have hva no bund in the creation of this peculiar island. The great forces through whoso jHwei ful agency it was born came from bet - low, and it was In tbe agony of a Tit tide labor that it first reared its head aiwuc the bug, low level of the surrounding stretches of reedy pr - fries Ireuiblante, It contains . bout 2500 acres of almost every variety of soil, and is connected with the Gulf by tbe Bayou Petit Anse, a deep siuuous water course, and bounded on the west side by the marshes of Vermilion Bay. and on the east by those running off to the shore of Bayou Cypremort. Its geological character evidences that it was clevuted above tbe laud level one hundred miles around by a great upheaval in which Orange Island, now the proierty of Joe Jefferson, Cote Blanche and threa others likewise participated. The hills are covered with a yellowish red clay, iu which sandstone, coral, flint, jasper, agates, aud car - ncliau fire clay and iron ore iu veins running thiongh the sandstone caa be found. The l'bbles show that they were once in a semi - iqucsccnt state, as the imi rint of shells c tn be seen on most of them, which would seem o indicate voeanic action. That the inland i t prehistoric is certain, for in the excavations made the bones of a huge ma - . - t iden have been unearthed, as also many excellent specimens of Indian pottsry and s.now - hf ads. In digging the shaft of the salt mine, which has given tbe island so much celebrity, at the depth of fourteen feet oi clay, and resting on the solid led of salt, was found a pupoose's basket, mad of split cjne, in perfect - oditio!i. Above It, iu the m ii, wciv coral anil sflints, rliowiog that sinee its deposit there change in be snr - lace had taken place: It rpeaks in tin e'.o - queuce of silence of centuries suae - and tlie existence - of a people lie - fore tbe grc.i ui - beava!, for the omnia : - : - rio;i ol 'Le elements tends to diminish rutucrtaaii aavnii' - wt tbe jfil on the 1 - iilside? and tuns. About tt:ree - tjurer ol a mile liviu the Avery bemesterd is The f'n'i Mine n I.ush Xatara. in our State... When the existence - of s ilt nu "le island .was first discovered is not del - iiitHy known, bm iu lSin and '12 it was manu - lacmitd iri.ni the waters - of springs rising' out of tbe hills. I.iit e attention was gi veu - tl:e euljcit for many years, aud it was only when thescarcity of salt iu th Confederacy made that article of great value tbt tbe old iutttistiy was re iveil. In lf.Ui one ot the 1'i - e.seiit cwuers. iit;iiii that the water from the spii:g was diminished in volume, ordered the well to dug out to free an outlet of tbe water'. Aitcr digidiig a short distance a bard mb'it.tiiee wa itirck wliifli was th4;iirbt to 1m' the trunk of a tree. MrlAvcry called for a oj: mid ait - r cut ting for . mt t:me bio:it.'ht to li!;t a lump of pare transparent fcait. At once the ui'iie was t oiu - n c.ieed, and ut to the time of it olnmpatioa i'V the I" d.erJl toll - es the f'onft derate Gov - ermt'eiit drew its supply 1.01a this source. At preeht the ni'.ie is Im iiit worketl by tae American Iloc - k h.dt M'ltiug Company of G.d - ctou. M bc c iiii!d :rr mUis have a cap.w.ty ot lit.tv"J pouuds per ilieui vl waits pure table s - 't. 'I be woiVuif - n bcl just finished dinner w in ii we reaehed'tbe mine and. the ears were tii . eiclmt ;iim ux - ending the shatt. The Mijifiin;' - rdei:T. Mr. M. Hi' - s - ii. poiiTi - Iy e. - l!.uin tl the svfiurc " (pe'iuloiis, and we pre - p.ii - i d for the tit cut. The sLaU was alxjut mi'c ft ct by live, in w hich two e'ev.iiors were iscl in cai ry iu r iii tlie salt laden c.ir. - .pping on the i'ittoi in, we took a seat in an empty dr and the i - ;.ial was given. In a mt incut dayiight. the "lovely st enery and the uppi - r woiiu were left lchind aud we wcix ushered 1MO TITER DARKSE'. Tbe suddeu cbauge made the; abseite of li'iht a!mot as pai.lrl as won'd t - much ol it, and it was a second or two before ths ye could bctome u - rd to seeing not Jii Light j' - lLr e Jctt dow n tbe car stopped ar;d we stepped tint.' A few nre - flies t tmed t J be moving alont'iu these nether regioiis aud on' citner side could be heard the blows ol pickax and crowbar. Alter a few moments tLe forms of the ui'uers could le distinguished with their little lamps iu their .hat i and abovfc the . arched roof of the long galleries which ran nearly due east ami we" - t. laijSn - down tho eastern ualleiy our iiiiit were reflected from myriads ot suU ciyt..ls above aud o - i either sitle. Overhead round stalactites hung iu rape - like clusters where the breath of the miners bad inotstem - d the suit, aud on either band the cold, hard surf rice of tbe salt rtK - k could Ik: felt. Toe galleries are 3 feet wide, 10 feet high and 210 iu leiigtu, and through tueui runs a tramway on which the cars are pushed. It is not yet known how deep this huge saline led extends, but exploration has already found that at its known thickness . it contaius enough salt to supply tlds country's consumption for hall a cntury. The temperature of the mine is much lielow that of the surface aud aided by a large air pump th.e ciiculation ol air down tbere is kept up. making severe exertion not exhausting. New there are employed ouly fifteen niiaers and twenty - two men above, but when the ' projected brauoii of Morgan's Texas Railroad coniii cts the island with the main land the iutmlH - r will le largely increased. After ehipping off a few cubes of salt as souvenirs of our visit, we ascended, dazed when we alighted by the sunlight. Just at the mouth ot the shaft is t powerful crusher, which reduces the large lumps to about the size of a thimble, theuce it is carried by an elevator to the mill where it is ground to a tine powder ready for table use. We bad done tht mines. There still remained, however, a strange idea that it could not Ik? por.sible we were still in our loved Louisiana. It seemed incredible that while iu New Orians four ftet llow tbe soil we strike water, here should exist a bona fide mine with Shalt, real ininer.3. blati - ig iowder, etc. It took sometime for the iniud to rcttlc its account with the senses, to strange were the inipre. - sious formed. Tbe Land of Evangeline. L"p hill and down valley brought us back to the Avery house, aud a right royal gallop it was. Siring water run in tingitigibminuen - dos over pe bbly beds, vagrant mucking birds gave to the wiud a shower of pearl uot;s, iirodlgal of his jewels as the masker i in lotne s carnival are of bou - bous,and like the sudden flashes of half - remembered glances flitted In tbe sunlight the evanescent butterflies. As we took our seats ou the broad gallery the wind lrc - .hcacil somewhat and the awnings were rait cd, dhclc ing a landscape never to le forgotten, aud worthy the pen of a St. Pierre anu the brush of a turner. Son - tag or Claire. For a moment it 6eemed as though the beauty of the picture enforced silence for comment ou wnut lay at our feet wouid be eacrile.ge. The village of Graud Pre, the sad sweet song ot Evangeline, aud tbe softening influences of Lougfellow's ver." e came back tc us, and for the uouc e we wcie loot iu the mazes of imagination's fancy (lomaiu. Far off to the westward some thirty miles distant a dark, narrow baud showed the woods of Veimiliou Bay on tae hoiizon and between them aud where we steod lay the broad prairie. A thin haze Miitened the outlines of distant objects, aud the shadows threw about them a rich sepia tint that contrasted exquisitely with tbe Men o the gnu - j and rushes. Silvery in the sunlight little loops of tbe Petite Anse and other bayous corld be discerned mitt ; away, veins of light on Au Emerald Field. A little to the right could be sesn. nestling behind a covert o" magnolia - 1 - , the reiideuce of Joe Jefl'enoti, on Ocnge Islaud, about (even miles oil'. Throuta afield glass the bouses were distinctly tceu. as well as the orange prove aud fence Behind us crawied awjfty over the plain tbe road to New Iberi, we had traveled w ith its herds of cattle and oui.es of shade. In irout, looking s jaward, tbe marsh ran out for mile;, until the waterj of Vermillion Bay were reached, where both seemed to blend into a line of haze. Looking eastward. Grand Cote, with its hills and forests could be distinguished on the sea of marsh grass and nearer the Au Serge prairie bathes iu a flood of sunsldue. If the landscape was of superb loveliness when gazed upou directly, its iMjautie lecaiue more defined when one saw it reflected iu the Claude Lorraine mirror, which the ladies of the hou. - e banded us. It was difficult to lay it aside and from it drinking in the scenery only created a thirst for larger draughts. Henceforth one need not travel beyouu our State boundary to view the delicious masterpieces ot nature's "canny hand." Old Tradition!. About the year 1790, tbere came to the inviting shores of Petite Ante a woman from the State of Pennsylvania with a large family of children. Thej were pioneers in this comparatively unknown laud, and subsisted entirely ou their rifles and traps for support. Beavers were plentiful in this region, aud as there was always a re.wly market for their peltries enough was obtained to keep body nud soul together. John Hay, oue of the sons, lived to tbe ripe old age of 2, dying ouly in 18C9, and lrom his hps the present generation learned the bfstory of those days so lull of adventure auddau"er. The Indian tribe liviug ou the main land near tbe island wcie the Attakapas, or man eatets. Hay f aid that it was impossible for him, no init - tcr what inducements were held out, to entice any of tbe tribe even to put foot en Petiie Anse. Their only ui.swer to bis invitations was that centuries ii - io tittle peoples bad suffered great misfor - tiinc tl lie iiiiti they dared not visit the place. AMiat v as liiis inherited fear and the event reieiicd to Jnsve never leeu discovered. The testimony oi ibe hills shows that it once was thickly inhabited by Indians, for their pot'ery, basket aud anvils have bten founa, but sinte lfcCJ all Indians have shown a great aversion to the place. These old stories throw about the island that peculiar interest tdways coucommitaut with legends, and the visitor cauuot but look upon the valleys and Lilltops there with an innocent zest. Probably there is uo siot in our country so peculiarly situated as Avery's Island, and certainly there is no such microcosm as is t litre found. The household is exemplary ia its'arrangemcnts and there rests about the domestic "circle there so pure au atmosphere t Jat it would be profane to open to the world even a hasty glimp:e of it. It is troly a repreeentutive Southern home as it ex - i. - ted before the war, and neither the wild alarums of eontesti nor the results of political strife EC nied to have affected the gentle ii. l'rencn there exeiicd, aud made hnpres - si e even in a hurried visit. We bad the pleasure of greeting our con - fii - rt s of the press, the Masters 1. D. Avery j - no J. A. Mcllueiiuy, the editors and proprietors .f the Petit j Atte Monthly Amateur, ti e r - msllcst ncwspaiH - r in the world. Tuee cm t.s write the articles, set up the tj pe ;:i:d print their little bijou of a paper iu a lm st commendable mithocr and already L - ave secured a circulatbjn t liry might well be proud o.