Monday, April 8, 2019

Carl the Roving Ram Cuts Up in St. Francisville, LA

Carl the Roving Ram Cuts Up in St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler
carl
Sometimes in the country you’ve got to make your own fun, and little St. Francisville, full as it is of creative souls, sure knows how to do that.

Take Carl. Poor Carl. He was a regal Dall Sheep, inhabitant of the alpine ridges and steep slopes of the frozen Yukon Territory and Alaska, cavorting among the rocky crags in death-defying feats of agility. Carl had thick curling horns and must have presented a tempting target for the trophy hunter who apparently took him down and then took him to a taxidermist to be stuffed. A fine trophy, indeed.

So how did Carl end up climbing mountains of junk instead of Northwest Territory mountainsides? Even Bubba, the proprietor of the popular flea market on Commerce St. in St. Francisville, can’t remember where Carl came from or who brought him in, although you’d think he’d have made an impression (not every day do you get a stuffed goat). But Bubba has such a passion for used treasures that his wares overflow his crowded house and spill out into the yard; he can’t possibly remember everything.

carl lightsSo Carl happened to be out there sunning in full view of passersby, and that’s when he entered the twilight zone known as the Court of Three Sisters. Sister One sped by one morning and spotted Carl. Sister One immediately saw possibilities and called Sister Two, who enthusiastically hired the local plant nursery’s van to pick up Carl, who was too big to fit in her car. Sister Two remembers paying Bubba $15 to relieve him of something he never thought he’d sell. And poor Sister Three, the more serious and particular one of the family, soon freaked out to find Carl in her front yard on Ferdinand Street for all the world to see, decked out in a big red velvet bow and magically transformed into Carl the Christmas Ram.

That third sister, the practical one, not wanting Carl to greet guests at her own house forever, hung a list of instructions around Carl’s neck regarding length of stay (just a night), location (in town, or close by), and the requirement to post images, and then she quickly deposited him in someone else’s front yard. And thus Carl acquired a life of his own, honored guest at Christmas parties and family reunions and all manner of gatherings.

carl houseSometimes he was decorated with shining Christmas lights, sometimes with a glowing red nose like Rudolph. There were Mardi Gras beads and mistletoe. At one home he wore red plaid flannel pajamas, and when it rained he often had an umbrella to protect him from the downpour, although he seemed to have less of his own hair after every soaking. And that wet-dog smell every pet owner knows and loves…imagine wet mountain goat!

 One image shows Carl stretched out on the local veterinarian’s examining table, the vet sorrowfully declaring there was no help for Carl. A modest hostess even suggested knitting a pouch to hold Carl’s family jewels, the ram being what vets call “intact” and hardly a Hallmark moment.

Everybody in St. Francisville delighted in being able to boast, “We’ve been rammed!” And it was fun. Carl the Christmas Ram confined his perambulations to the period around the Christmas holidays; now he awaits his next appearance in that third sister’s storage unit.

magnolia pigThere had been precedents, of course, and not so seasonally dependent. Magnolia CafĂ©, everybody’s favorite little local casual place, has for years had a lifesize painted pig, named Gustav for the hurricane, greeting folks dropping by for pita-bread sandwiches and homemade soups and sensation salads. Periodically Gustav the pig would wander. This was not on its own, of course, being made of aluminum; there were nefarious kidnappers who carted him off to different locations, not only private homes but even the Louisiana Marathon. He has also been known to ride atop a float in St. Francisville’s popular Christmas parade.

grannyAnd then there was grey-haired Granny Francis, resurrected from a garbage pile a few years back. Some three feet tall and plump with a winsome grandmotherly grin, Granny Francis was a real social butterfly. She visited around to all the local stores and tourist attractions, properly attired and escorted by town employees or Main Street staff, played the drums with the local dance band, participated in popular events like the Audubon Pilgrimage and Polos & Pearls (yes, she wore pearls and was pictured beforehand in spa robe getting a beauty treatment with debatable success), went Trick-or-Treating in her witch costume, and attended the local elementary school where she was confined mostly to the principal’s office. Granny Francis was a favorite both in person and on Facebook during her active social life, but now she seems to have retired to a spot in the town mayor’s office where she can try to keep him in line.

drumsObviously St. Francisville, which is a Main Street community as well as a National Register Historic District, has a well-established sense of place, preserving significant elements of its 19th-century history and architecture along its two main streets that run down to the Mississippi River; they call it the little town that’s two miles long and two yards wide, without much exaggeration. It is full of restored tour homes and gardens, great restaurants and shops, beautiful historic churches, great B&Bs, and unsurpassed recreation in the surrounding Tunica Hills. Tourists love to visit. But St. Francisville residents love living there as well, for the little town also has an appreciation for creative characters and a well-honed sense of fun.

April of course brings the ever-popular annual Angola Prison Spring Rodeo on April 27 and 28, pitting determined inmates against ferocious Brahman bulls and bucking broncos; grounds open at 9 a.m. for the Craft Show and rodeo starts at 2. For tickets and information, telephone 225-655-2060 or www.angolaprisonrodeo.com. Also on April 27 the LSU Ag Center sponsors its fascinating Spring Stroll Garden Tour (for information, contact jhoover@agcenter.lsu.edu).

Earlier in the month, on April 13, Audubon State Historic Site presents a fun and educational return to the Regency Period, with dance and etiquette lessons, a duel and an explanation of the intricate language of fans, plus a glimpse into the life of a soldier in the War of 1812 (225-635-3739 or 888-677-2838).

boy with grannyLocated on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Colorful Azaleas and Costumes of the 1820s Welcome Spring in St. Francisville, LA

Colorful Azaleas and Costumes of the 1820s Welcome Spring in St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler

Pilgrimage 17 61The forty-eighth annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 15, 16 and 17, 2019, celebrates a southern spring in St. Francisville, the glorious garden spot of Louisiana’s English Plantation Country. For nearly half a century the sponsoring West Feliciana Historical Society has thrown open the doors of significant historic structures to commemorate artist-naturalist John James Audubon’s stay as he painted a number of his famous bird studies and tutored the daughter of Oakley Plantation’s Pirrie family, beautiful young Eliza. A year’s worth of planning and preparation precedes each pilgrimage, and with nearly half a century of experience under their belt, society members put on one of the South’s most professional and enjoyable pilgrimage presentations.

Featured this year are three historic plantation homes in the countryside and two townhouses, plus lots of extras.

Sunnyside, built in 1838 in Pointe Coupee Parish, was disassembled, trucked across the Mississippi River bridge in 1997, then meticulously reassembled on the Tunica Trace, retaining its original footprint. A fine example of vernacular architecture, its bluffland design is eminently suite to the historic Weyanoke community and its period landscaping anchors house to site as if it’s been there for centuries. Historian David Floyd and wife Marla have raised two children there.

Brasseaux House 2Laurel Hill Plantation was purchased in the 1830s by Judge Edward McGehee, founder of the early standard-gauge West Feliciana Railroad that hauled cotton through this plantation country to the Mississippi River port at Bayou Sara. In the 1870s daughter Caroline and her husband Duncan Stewart enlarged the original small Carolina-I structure to accommodate their growing family. Beautifully restored, it is now the property of Jimmy and Mary Farrar Hatchette.

Puente Largo, built in the 1850s in Tangipahoa Parish and moved to West Feliciana in 1997, is a handsome raised Creole cottage with four large rooms and spacious hallway on the upper premier etage, above what had been an unfinished ground-floor storage for wagons and buggies but is now closed in. Broad front stairs access the upper gallery. Used as a field hospital during the Civil War, Puente Largo has been beautifully furnished and landscaped by owners Mike and Krista Dumas.

In St. Francisville’s downtown National Register-listed Historic District is the Brasseaux House, quintessentially charming cottage complete with Victorian gallery trim, picket fence and climbing roses. It was built in 1895 by Albert Sydney Brasseaux, who was named for his father’s commanding general in the Civil War. Its architectural style is called southern dogtrot, and its extensive sloping back yard shows why St. Francisville is called the little town that’s two miles long and two yards wide. It is now home to a vibrant young family, the Magruder Hazlips.

Coffin House sideAnd then there’s the Coffin House, tiny stepped-roof structure built around 1903 right on St. Francisville’s main thoroughfare, proving history is nothing if not dynamic and showing the amazing adaptability of even the most unassuming of historic structures. Previously used for strictly utilitarian purposes including the storage of coffins, it is now a delightfully cozy pied-a-terre for visiting doting grandparents, Don and Harriet Ayres.
In addition to the featured homes, pilgrimage visitors are also welcomed to Afton Villa Gardens, Audubon (Oakley) and Rosedown State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches and Temple Sinai in town and beautiful St. John’s and St. Mary’s in the country, plus the Rural Homestead with lively demonstrations of the rustic skills of daily pioneer life.

Audubon Market Hall hosts an exhibit of the West Feliciana works of the late Charles Reinike (1906-1983), one of New Orleans’ most respected landscape artists. Passionately in love with South Louisiana from New Orleans through the wetlands and the hills of rural plantation country, Reinike and wife Vera opened an art school in the French Quarter in the 1930s-1940s and brought their students to summer art camp on their West Feliciana property where their daughter lives today. Reinike’s paintings are nostalgic but not saccharine, his son Charles III explains; “he liked the grittier side of things...depicting rural Louisiana and chronicling the early African-American cabins and lifestyle for their honesty and simplicity, as well as the residential and industrial scenes of New Orleans and the Mississippi River, and the beauty of the bayous and shrimp boats.”
Pilgrimage 17An impressive exhibit of Audubon’s Birds of Feliciana hangs at Oakley Plantation (Audubon State Historic Site). Other special events called Exploring Nature and Birding remind of continued ties to the birdlife so beloved by the artist: Friday bird walk is led by local artist Murrell Butler at his Oak Hill property; Saturday the Wildlife Hospital of Louisiana offers a glimpse of live-and-in-person rehab survivors (Red-Winged Scarlett, Red-Tailed Hawk, Mississippi Kite, Broad Winged Hawk, Eastern Screech Owl); Sunday’s bird walk is led by LSU avian vet Dr. Tom Tully at Oakley.
Daytime features are open 9:30 to 5; Friday evening activities are scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday soiree begins at 7 p.m.

The Historic District around Royal Street is filled during the day with the happy sounds of costumed children singing and dancing the Maypole; in the evening as candles flicker and fireflies flit among the ancient moss-draped live oaks, there is no place more inviting for a leisurely stroll. Friday evening features old-time Hymn Singing at the United Methodist Church, Graveyard Tours at Grace Episcopal cemetery (last tour begins at 8:15 p.m.), and a wine and cheese reception at the newly restored St. Francisville Inn showing off the exquisitely detailed 1820’s evening costumes, nationally recognized for their authenticity. Light Up The Night, the fun Saturday evening soiree, features live music and dancing, dinner and drinks.

Village PilgrimageFor tickets and tour information, contact West Feliciana Historical Society, Box 338, St. Francisville, LA 70775; phone 225-635-6330 or 225-635-4224; online www.audubonpilgrimage.info, email sf@audubonpilgrimage.info . New this year is a package including daytime tours, all evening entertainment Friday and Saturday, and a Saturday picnic lunch. Tickets can be purchased at the Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand Street. For information on St. Francisville overnight accommodations, shops, restaurants, and recreation in the Tunica Hills, see www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisville.net, or www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com.

Beautiful oak-shaded Parker Park in the midst of St. Francisville’s National Register-listed Historic District is the scene for two other special activities in March. A Walk In The Park on Saturday, March 2nd, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. will feature live music plus vendors offering varied crafts, art and culinary specialties, while March 30th from 10 to 10 the Tunica Hills Music Festival and Jam has professional musicians performing on stages but also dispersed throughout the park to encourage pop-up jams everywhere. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own instruments and join in the free fun.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Post-Bellum Sanctuary and Salvation: the Old Benevolent Society in St. Francisville By Anne Butler

front with markerPost-Bellum Sanctuary and Salvation: the Old Benevolent Society in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler

February is Black History Month, so it’s only right that a little neglected structure in the middle of St. Francisville should be getting increased attention.

The St. Francisville area has been fortunate to retain a number of restored plantation homes that welcome visitors with an impressive picture of life as it was for the upper echelon of antebellum society in the South. But other structures---smaller, simpler---speak in quieter tones to teach a history lesson no less significant.

One such structure is the tiny Old Benevolent Society. Its small green historic marker designates this unassuming wood-frame shotgun house as the oldest black burial lodge in the parish. It was founded in 1883 by a gentleman of color whose grandson would more than a century later become president of the parish police jury.

The sign gives just the merest hint of the importance of benevolent societies in the turbulent aftermath of the Civil War, when slaves feed from bondage found few resources to fill needs hitherto addressed by masters of the plantations where they labored.

historic marker signThe most important institution for freedmen in those days was the church, which struggled to provide not just spiritual but temporal comfort as well in the absence of social service organizations or insurance companies open to persons of color. The church offered sanctuary and socialization in addition to salvation.

From tiny black churches sprang the soulful gospel music spiced by the cadences of African chants, the church suppers, shouting with the spirit, and all the other traditional rituals treasured by black congregants, practices that served to set them apart from the staid Protestant worship of their former owners.

And nearly every church had its benevolent society, officially incorporated under the direction of respected elders of the congregation. Preserved documents reveal that, while some of these church leaders laboriously wrote their names on deeds in the fanciful flowing script of the times, others, unlearned, simply signed with an X.
But they all took their responsibilities seriously, for the benevolent societies they formed filled direct and pressing needs. With few other outside resources, these societies offered significant services to their members---sitting with the sick, caring for the infirm, feeding the weak, funding medical care, and finally covering the modest expenses of a decent burial as well.

By July 1911 when the Union Reform Society applied for a charter, the corporation’s purposes had been embellished beyond these basics to include: “To better the condition of its members by shaping their manners, and framing their characters by the promotion of honesty, good morals and the diffusion of knowledge among them; and to care for the sick members of the organization; to aid them in distress, to bury their dead, and generally to promote and foster Friendship, Love and Good Fellowship.”

An 1877 issue of the West Feliciana Sentinel described the annual meeting of the Union Benevolent Society as involving a 75-foot table groaning under the weight of “turkey, chicken, sugar-cured hams, deliciously barbecued beef, mutton and pig, flanked with vegetables, fruits, desserts and wines. It was the finest ‘spread’ we have seen in many a long day, and reflected great credit upon our friends of the ‘Benevolents.’ We have frequently had occasion to mark the perfect order and decorum of the society when paying the last sad tribute to the dead, and the spontaneous manner in which they turn out upon such occasions.”

Ms. Sara and Louise WhitakerOnly a few churches maintain their societies in this day of equal access to medical and life insurance coverage, and the Old Benevolent Society building has seen better days. No longer housed there is the horse-drawn black hearse that transported the deceased to burial grounds, mourners walking behind, women in white, carrying candles. But the structure deserves to be preserved as a reminder of the significant role benevolent societies played in southern black society of the late 19th and early 29th centuries.
Now an Old Benevolent Society Restoration Committee has formed, made up of representatives of the local historical society, town of St. Francisville, parish school system, members of the local Order of the Eastern Star, and other avid preservationists. Already overhanging tree branches have been removed and some short-term stabilization work undertaken to minimize further deterioration, though the structure in its present condition remains unsafe for use.

The Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation included the site as one of fifteen on its 2018 list of Most Endangered, bringing much needed attention statewide with hopes of generating funding assistance. Said Brian Davis, executive director of the Louisiana Trust, “Historic buildings and sites are the fingerprints of our communities and it takes creative measures to preserve and protect them for future generations. Strategic partnerships, tax credits, and programs like revolving funds can save buildings many people may consider too far gone.”

Plans include applying for an individual listing on the National Register of Historic Places; the structure is already included in the Register’s St. Francisville Historic District. Social media and grant opportunities are being identified, and the committee hopes to enlist a preservation consultant to assess the building’s condition in anticipation of establishing a restoration scope and budget.Preserve Louisiana award
Once restored, the committee envisions a small museum telling the story of benevolent societies and their significant role in African American history. In addition, it may be open to the public for special local events and festivals, educational children’s programs, and other activities. For information on restoration efforts, email obsrestoration@gmail.com.
February is also the month for the much-anticipated Writers and Readers Symposium, sponsored annually by The Celebration of Literature and Art at Hemingbough conference center just south of St. Francisville on Highway 965. Every year the selection committee brings in accomplished published writers of every genre to present their works and creative processes, and avid readers have a chance to visit with these authors, purchase autographed books and enjoy lunch. This year’s presentation, on Saturday, February 16, from 9 to 3:30, features an amazing lineup of six award-winning writers.

Jason Berry, New Orleans author and film director, is best known for his pioneering investigative reporting on clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church, but his most recent book, City of a Million Dreams, covers the 300-year history of New Orleans. His other books, Up From the Cradle of Jazz, Render Unto Rome, Vows of Silence, and Lead Us Not into Temptation, have been called the perfect balance of scholarship, compassion, and the ability to write with the poetic power of Robert Penn Warren. Dr. Jack Bedell, Louisiana’s 2017-2019 Poet Laureate, is a professor of English at Southeastern Louisiana University and longtime editor of the college literary magazine; he is the author of nine books.
Erica Spindler, another featured presenter, is a prolific New York Times best-selling author whose books have been published in 25 countries and are called thrill-packed page-turners, white-knuckle rides and edge-of-your-seat whodunits. Among her most popular books are The Other Girl, The First Wife, All Fall Down, and Bone Cold. C.H. Lawler’s books, including The Saints of Lost Things and Living Among the Dead, tell moving stories of flawed characters from a place of compassion...a 1965 hurricane awakening a forbidden love, or an old man in 1925 on Prytania St. in New Orleans recording his memories of the aftermath of the Civil War.

Dima Ghawi is a motivational speaker and author of Breaking Vases, her memoir of a Middle Eastern woman’s struggles to escape the subservient culture to pursue her passion of helping others find the courage to overcome hardships and forge their own paths. A special addition to this symposium will be a presentation by Alysson Foti Bourque, the author of several award-winning children’s books: the Rhyme or Reason Travel series and the Alycat series, emphasizing techniques for book promotion.

Tickets for the 2019 Writers and Readers Symposium, $45 including lunch, are available from bontempstix.com/even...writers-readers-symposium.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Old-Time Medications...weird but they worked!

Old-Time Medications...weird but they worked!
By Anne Butler

There’s a wonderful new full-service hospital and a number of physicians practicing medicine in St. Francisville now, but back in the days when money was scarce and doctors were even scarcer in rural areas, folks doctored themselves with a wide assortment of home remedies.
Of course every early plantation had its kitchen garden, where herbs and culinary additives were supplemented by treasured medicinal plants, with every housewife worth her salt knowing the value of each. But well into the 20th century, isolated country folk continued to rely on time-honored traditions of home remedies passed down through the generations. And current doctors admit there was something to be said for at least some of these folk cures.

The late Reverend H.S. Pate, pastor to a rural flock, always insisted, “Those old sayings and remedies held true in the old days, and they hold true today. Used to be, you had to ride horseback through the woods to get to a doctor, if you could get to one at all, so folks did their own doctoring.” And it wasn’t simply a matter of money; they really believed that the folk cures worked.
jc metz
JC Metz and Amy having a tea party
Now in his 90s, J.C. Metz, one of many sons of a pioneering logging family which during the Depression got their sustenance as well as their remedies from the swampy areas bordering the Mississippi River, remembers many cures his mother utilized. Pepper tea, made of hot water and black pepper, would sweat the fever out of anybody, coughs were cured with a syrup made by boiling wild plum bark with sugar and lemon, while whiskey and honey remedied the worst sore throats. Sinus problems were cleared up with a mixture of honey, whiskey and apple cider, and an application of catfish fat rendered into oil was used to treat the common cold. For cuts, turpentine and iodine reduced the danger of infection, and bleeding was stopped by applying spider webs to the affected area. Tobacco juice took the sting out of insect bites, and for thorns or boils, a poultice of okra blossoms or salt meat would draw out the offending article. Warm honey in the ear was used to soften wax and cure ear aches. And each spring, the blood was purified with a tonic of sassafras root or vine boiled into a tea.

Other elderly folks swore by other practices, especially teas made of various ingredients. The white leaves of the sassafras bush cured fevers and colds, while tea made from ordinary cornshucks was said to cure measles. Tea made from life-everlasting weed or bitterweed helped reduce fever, and another cure for colds was tea made from scrapings from hogs’ hooves, also said to be effective for pneumonia.

Sardine oil rubbed on the jaws, which should then be bound with a scarf, would reduce the pain from mumps. Aching limbs could be soothed by application of hot Epsom salts and turpentine or boiled cedar, which could also unstop the most stuffed-up nose. Palm of Christian leaves, applied directly to the affected area straight off the bush, drew out headache pain, while tea made from the leaves of the Jerusalem bush cured worms. Lighter fluid was another recommended rub for arthritis pain, as were poultices of boiled mullin leaves to reduce swelling and pain, and could cure dropsy as well. For rheumatism, a bottle of table salt mixed with red pepper could be rubbed onto the limbs, while coal oil and turpentine was applied under the throat and on the chest to cure colds.

Bit by a snake? Old folks would kill a chicken and extract the gall bladder, then apply it to the bitten area. No chickens available? They could draw out the snake poison with coal oil or kerosene and soda.

For small infants and children, there was a whole list of do’s and don’t’s to be observed. To stop hiccups, cross two broomstraws in the crown of the baby’s head. To cure whooping cough, ride a stud horse until he gets real hot, then let him breathe in the baby’s face. Cutting a baby’s fingernails with scissors meant he would steal, while putting his dirty diapers on the floor would give stomach pains. Colic could be cured by blowing smoke from a pipe into the baby’s diapers and onto the soft spot on top of the head. But if the top of the head was covered, the baby wouldn’t get colic in the first place.
bitter weed
Bitterweed
For chest colds, heat tallow and camphorated oil and rub onto chest and bottom of feet, or brown a piece of flannel to put on chest. For worms, hang a sack of garlic around the baby’s neck; to cure hernia, tape a quarter or 50-cent piece over navel. To ease the pains of teething, bore a hole in a silver dime and tie around neck with string. Bitterweed, boiled and steeped, was used to bathe a child with malaria. For diarrhea, tea made from white planton leaves was said to be effective, as well as a scorched spoonful of whiskey.
Besides the curatives, there were many practices and prohibitions to be kept in mind before and just after birth. A baby born with a veil (membrane) over its face would always see ghosts, it was thought. And don’t attract the baby’s attention from behind or above; looking back and up could cause crossed eyes. Strange sights, seen by a pregnant mother, might mark a baby, as could a mother’s strong cravings during pregnancy. If a child-bearing-age woman in her menses held a baby, it might cause bowel strain, to be cured by putting a piece of that lady’s silk underdrawers on the baby.

The baby was said to turn out to be just like the first person to take it outside and walk all the way around the house. And the nicest tradition of all was the belief that when a baby smiled in his sleep, you knew the angels were playing with him.

Even with more modern medical facilities available today, there are some elderly people in the rural reaches of West Feliciana who turn to the time-honored maxims and cures practiced through the generations. They know they can count on them to work, and they are as close as the nearest wooded field or forest or barnyard. They don’t have office hours, and they’re free. But in this wintry month, in the midst of colds and flu season, if you don’t have any hogs or hard-breathing stud horses and can’t identify bitterweed or Palm of Christian leaves, feel free to avail yourself of more modern medical facilities.
horsekellen22
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).