restricted access 16. A Quiet Stream and Modern Development
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23  6 A Quiet Stream and Modern Development ALTHOUGH MASTODON FOSSILS lurked in the bed of the bayou, by the 930s Manchac had grown quiet. Steamboats and barges stacked high with cypress logs no longer plied the channel, and the dream of the back route was effectively lost. A 935 newspaper article reported that“slow moving houseboats and fishing skiffs are now about the only craft that move along the bayou.” It was a peaceful place where little had changed. In 948, another journalist noted that“Manchac is little more than a lagoon which supplies some commercial fish, some game fish and some spots for relaxation and recreation.” The onetime international boundary had come to be appreciated for its natural bounty by boys with bamboo poles and commercial fishermen. The latter pulled great schools of buffalo fish, catfish, gaspergou, bass, freshwater carp, sacalait, bream, and gar- fish from its waters. And according to some old-timers who no doubt indulged in the usual hyperbole of fishermen, the garfish could measure seven or eight feet in length. But the most commercially prized were buffalo fish, which swam up Manchac to Alligator Bayou and into Spanish Lake to spawn. Their run was a spring phenomenon that often occurred WINDING THROUGH TIME 24 after a big rain,giving such downpours the local name“Buffalo rains.” Bentley McKay lived on Bayou Manchac in the 930s and 940s and remembered them. He also watched expert fishermen gig buffalo fish with iron spears, deftly launching the points at the end of a thirty-foot rope.“The best of them could pierce a forty-pound fish swimming twenty or thirty feet away,” McKay reminisced. One especially legendary fisherman was said to be able to handnet or gig almost a ton of fish in a day. However the buffalo fish were caught, when they were not sold commercially, fishermen hauled them home to be cleaned, cut into chunky fillets that were heavily salted, and carefully laid outdoors on wire lines to dry. If the smell of this local food staple made no lasting impression, its taste lingered in McKay’s memory.“Considerably like dried codfish,” he recalled. Les Broussard was one of the commercial fishermen. He and his father trolled in a thirty-foot cypress skiff that they launched near the Hope Villa bridge, dragging a large homemade hoop net. They fashioned their nets during the quiet winter months, painstakingly knotting one-eighth-inch cotton twine with needles, then strengthening the homemade webwork by dipping it in a tank of boiling tar—a necessary precaution, explained Broussard, because a flopping, fighting mess of large buffalo fish or freshwater carp ensnared together could cut their way out of weaker threads.“We filled the boat twice with eighteen nets-full each time.” The Broussard men sold their catch to a wholesale market on the Amite River, where it was cleaned and sent to St. Louis.“People around St. Louis apparently ate a lot of buffalo fish,” mused Broussard, which made their diet very similar to those who lived around Bayou Manchac. The levee and flood-control gates erected along Manchac at Alligator and Frog bayous in the 950s effectively curtailed the mi- 25 gration of buffalo fish, beginning the demise of commercial fishing along the bayou. But recreational fishing continued, even as pollution began to infect the water. Hunters and trappers were also common along the bayou, as Ben Kleinpeter has indicated. One of them, Raymond Babin, lived along Bayou Fountain and went to“the dry part of Manchac,” the first segment above the Convergence, to hunt and trap. There he bagged his limit in small game and sometimes encountered a trio of local women moss pickers. They were called the Three Maggies, he remembered, who collected the gray beardlike growths from tree limbs and sold it to area moss gins.* Cleaned moss, black and wiry like horsehair, was historically used as padding and stuffing in furniture, saddle pads, and packing material. The Three Maggies pursued moss collecting until the 960s, Babin believed, when polyurethane and other synthetics universally replaced moss as a filler and put them out of business. Even today, however, Manchac’s remaining natural bounty attracts a few enterprising locals. There are scattered fishermen and a few frog giggers who come with their lights to prowl the bayou on chilly March nights. And at least one local entrepreneur has developed a small business...


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