Thursday, August 13, 2020

History's Hidden Highlights

Forty-four years ago, Lacombe area feature writer Polly Morris never failed to brighten the pages of the St. Tammany News-Banner with interesting human interest feature articles. She often turned up the lesser known, quite fascinating historical tidbits about the area and its inhabitants.

For instance, here are some excerpts from her article entitled "Bit and pieces of the Past," published in 1976. In it, she shared the following philosophy about historical research:

"In turning faded and frayed pages of old newspapers, books, and ledgers, important events loom large, but are somewhat lack-luster. On a definite date a famous or infamous individual had done something quite specific, and history is rather ho-hum. But often a single word, a short phrase, or a brief notation makes history become human and heart-warming. And often humourous... or whimsical."

She goes on to recount a long list of odd and interesting facts:

"Several dreary details about St. Tammany are added together and total a surprising fact. In 1819, the population of St. Tammany was slightly over 4,000. The area was 1800 square miles. All of those people could be comfortably be housed in one fourth of the present day Slidell."

Two Man Showdown

"St. Tammany's last boundary was decided upon by only two men: the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi took it upon themselves to settle the dispute over refreshments," she explains. "One wonders how they arrived at their agreement, and whether it was really legal. They were either very brash, very self-confident or quite assured that the legislature would not care one way or another."

Over on the financial front, she remarks that the "stupendous" salary of $900 per year was the amount that an old sea captain received for taking the U.S. Mail across the Lake from Madisonville to New Orleans.

Cows Lead The Way

"The West Florida Rebellion was aided and abetted by cattle. It would not have been a success if the rebels had not waited until the cows came home. The animals sought shelter for the night inside the thick walls of the Spanish fort. A sleepy rebel noticed that they entered through a break in the wall, and he and his companions followed in their hoofprints. The fort was taken by surprise and was the first important step in squelching Spanish rule."

Well Founded

"In an old report on the water situation in the Parish is a notation about a remarkable 1200 foot well in LaCombe. It flowed for 16 years, and its output was 450 gallons per minute. This gusher was known as the Davis well, and supplied the entire town with water.

"In old Slidell during a drenching rain, a Boy Scout gave his umbrella to a man and refused to accept money for his kind deed of the day. A grateful Fritz Salmen set aside 100 acres of beautiful wooded land for Boy Scout camp.

Bee Business

Then, over in Covington news of the early 20th century, Polly notes that "In the business world, E. J. Frederick and M. P. Planche of Covington were dealing with royalty on a staggering scale. They were shipping 15,000 Queen bees annually from their hives."

"In the agricultural field, it was noted that clearing a field with dynamite was costing $25 per acre. Handclearing and burning saved money at a mere $15 per acre."

"Cows again entered into the scene when Developer E. B. Ellis was building the West Beach Parkway subdivision in Mandeville. Irked by roaming cattle, he enclosed his subdivision in a sturdy fence and erected a cattleproof entrance gate."

Polly also reported that as late as 1952 E. V. Oulliber complained that he had to clean up the premises around the U.S. Post Office in Slidell each and every morning. Roaming cows loved to sleep overnight under the protection of Uncle Sam.

"A newspaper of 1926 tells of what would now be a startling declaration. Spanish mackeral were biting in Lake Pontchartrain off Mandeville, weighing up to 125 pounds. They were also in the surrounding waters."

Bears and Booze

"A man in the Covington area had solved the problem of brown bears raiding his bee hives. As the wary animals were too quick on the getaway, he spiked the hives with whiskey. The unsteady staggering bears, drunk on laced honey, made easier targets than bruins that were not ruined by the evils of alcohol."

Courthouse Building Budget

"The police jury made an important decision about the first St. Tammany courthouse. It must not cost over $800. But then was was when butter was 10 cents a pound, a live rooster sold for one silver dime, and "piece goods" were a nickle a yard."


The first courthouse built in St. Tammany at Claiborne Hill

Morris goes on to tell about the 1920 Mandeville law about the new "scandalous one-piece bathing suit" and the "near-nude swimming trunks." A city ordinance was passed to protect public morals and said that "no one over 14 years of age would be permitted to wear one in public."

Train Disputes

"In the early 1900's the railroad ticket agents were busy selling tickets to record Saturday crowds that crammed into coaches and baggage cars and hung precariously to the outside rails." When fighting broke out between those passengers, the railroad agents suddenly realized what was going on.

It turned out that "Mississippi men had rode the train to Slidell and Pearl River saloons, returning in the afternoon loaded with mysterious packages. Or merely loaded."

"So the little hidden bits of history are well worth finding," she concluded her article.