Jim Bradshaw: Cattle feud had big impact on Louisiana history
The St. Martin Parish Courthouse sits on land that was once part of a big plantation owned by Jean-Baptiste Berard, who built what became the Castillo Hotel as his home, and who was one of the leaders in a dispute that helped set the way many of the area’s early settlers regarded each other.
Berard was a native of France, ran a business in St. Louis for a while, and came to the Attakapas country about 1760. He became a prominent planter and man of some influence, and was a leader in a confrontation in the early 1770s, most notably with early cattle barons Louis and Barthélémy Grevemberg, who are sometimes referred to as the Flammand brothers because of their Flemish ancestry.
They were the sons of Jean-Baptiste Grevemberg, was one of the first settlers of the area, who had himself had a little run-in with new settlers.
When the Acadians first arrived in the Attakapas region in 1765, he was happy to sell cattle to them, but he got upset when the Acadians tried to claim land at Fausse Pointe that he regarded as his.
Shane Bernard points out that “Grevemberg himself had no clear title to the land,” (Teche: A History of Louisiana’s Most Famous Bayou, University Press of Mississippi, 2016).
He got a ruling in his favor when he wrote to the government in New Orleans asking for confirmation of his ownership, but the colonial officials, who had sent the Acadians to the Teche country in the first place, did nothing to force the them to move. Grevemberg eventually had to be content with just 20 square miles of land
His dispute set the stage for further confrontation over property rights in the Attakapas country, where, as historian Carl Brasseaux points out (The Founding of New Acadia, LSU Press, 1987), four or five “French-born and Creole cattle barons, the original settlers, considered the exiles trespassers, though they had been settled in the area by virtue of a gubernatorial decree.”
The later dispute arose because the Flammand brothers, as had their father, let a huge herd of cattle roam the prairie unattended. As the Acadian herds began to grow, some of the Flammand’s wild cattle inevitably got mixed up with Cajin domesticated cattle. Things came to a head when the brothers began to claim some of the Acadian cattle as part of their herd.
Upset Acadians protested to Gov. Alexandre O’Reilly, and he said fences had to be put up to separate the wild and domestic cattle — and, adding salt to the wound, said some of the wild cattle had to be slaughtered to cut down the size of the herd (and incidentally help bring cheaper beef to New Orleans).
That upset the Flammand brothers, who immediately protested to Gabriel Fuselier de la Claire, the man in charge at the Attakapas post.
He postponed the slaughter. That upset the Acadians and also upset their allies Jean-Baptiste Berard (who was married to an Acadian, Ann Broussard) and Andre Claude Boutte, who were apparently rivals of the Grevembergs.
Berard and Boutte defied de la Clare and began butchering wild cattle.
That upset the Grevembergs. They wanted de ls Claire to arrest Berard and Boutte. He refused.
This particular feud eventually calmed down from a boil to a simmer, but it helped form a lasting sentiment among some of the earliest French settlers here that the Acadians were interlopers, and helped to reinforce the idea among Acadians that they were better off keeping to themselves as much as they could.
That friction between the old settlers and the new arrivals didn’t always evolve into open clashes like the cattle feud of the 1770s, but it remained as a not always subtle undertone that influenced the history of French Louisiana well into modern times.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.