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Washington Irving at Fort Gibson, 1832

The McIntosh Creeks had been located along Arkansas River near the Verdigris on fertile timbered land which they began at once to clear, cultivate, and transform into productive farms. The treaty of 1828 with the Cherokee gave the latter a great tract of land on both sides of Arkansas River embracing that on which the Creeks were located. This was accomplished by a blunder of the Government officials, in the language of the Secretary of War,1 “when we had not a correct knowledge of the location of the Creek Indians nor of the features of the country.” This situation produced much unhappiness and contention between the people of the two tribes. The Indians had other grievances, and the Creeks took the lead in calling the attention of the officials to their needs by the preparation of a memorial in which they complained of frequent attacks upon them by bands of wild Indians from the south and west of their location. They asked the Government to appoint a commission to meet with them for the redress of their wrongs, and to call a council of the different tribes for the adoption of measures to establish peace and security in their new home. The Creek memorial and a long report by the Secretary of War on February 16, 1832, were transmitted to Congress by President Jackson,2 who recommended that three commissioners be appointed as requested in the memorial, and recommended by the Secretary. It appeared from the report of the Secretary of War that there were then west of the Mississippi twenty-five hundred Creeks, six thousand Choctaw, thirty-five hundred Cherokee and...

Brighter Skies

“Out of this nettle, danger,” says the great bard, “we pluck this flower, safety.” The dreadful scourge of 1853 roused the people of New Orleans, for the first time, to the necessity of knowing the proven truth concerning themselves and the city in which they dwelt. In the midst of the epidemic, the city council had adjourned, and a number of its members had fled. But, in response to popular demand, a board of health had appointed the foremost advocates of quarantine and municipal cleansing a commission to study and report the melancholy lessons of the plague. It labored arduously for many months. At its head was that mayor of New Orleans, Crossman by name, whose fame for wise and protracted rule is still a pleasant tradition of the city, and whose characteristic phrase-“a great deal to be said on both sides”-remains the most frequent quotation on the lips of the common people to-day. Doctors Barton, Axson, McNeil, Symonds, and Riddell,-men at the head of the medical profession,-completed the body. They were bold and faithful, and they effected a revolution. The thinking and unbiased few, who in all communities, must first receive and fructify the germ of truth, were convinced. The technical question of the fever’s contagiousness remained unsettled; but its transportability was fearfully proven in a multitude of interior towns, and its alacrity in seeking foul quarters and its malignancy there were plainly shown by its history in the city. The commission pronounced in favor of quarantine, and it was permanently established, and has ever since become, annually, more and more effective. They earnestly recommended, also, the purging...

Who are the Creoles?

Take the map of Louisiana. Draw a line from the southwestern to the northeastern corner of the State; let it turn thence down the Mississippi to the little river-side town of Baton Rouge, the State’s seat of government; there draw it eastward through lakes Maurepas, Pontchartrain, and Borgne, to the Gulf of Mexico; thence pass along the Gulf coast back to the starting-point at the month of the Sabine, and you will have compassed rudely, but accurately enough, the State’s eighteen thousand seven hundred and fifty square miles of delta lands. About half the State lies outside these bounds and is more or less hilly. Its population is mainly an Anglo-American moneyed and landed class, and the blacks and mulattoes who were once its slaves. The same is true of the population in that part of the delta lands north of Red River. The Creoles are not there. Across the southern end of the State, from Sabine Lake to Chandeleur Bay, with a north-and-south width of from ten to thirty miles and an average of about fifteen, stretch the Gulf marshes, the wild haunt of myriads of birds and water-fowl, serpents and saurians, hares, raccoons, wild-eats, deep-bellowing frogs, and clouds of insect, and by a few hunters and oystermen, whose solitary and rarely frequented huts speck the wide, green horizon at remote intervals. Neither is the home of the Creoles to be found here. North of these marshes and within the bounds already set lie still two other sorts of delta country. In these dwell most of the French-speaking people of Louisiana, both white and colored. Here the names...

From Subjects To Citizens

Little wonder that it is said the Creoles wept as they stood on the Place d’Armes and saw the standard of a people, whose national existence was a mere twenty-years’ experiment, taking the place of that tricolor on which perched the glory of a regenerated France. On that very spot some of them had taken part in the armed repudiation of the first cession. The two attitudes and the two events differed alike. The earlier transfer had come loaded with drawbacks and tyrannous exactions; the latter came freighted with long-coveted benefits and with some of the dearest rights of man. This second, therefore, might bring tears of tender regret; it might force the Creole into civil and political fellowship with the detested Américain; but it could not rouse the sense of outrage produced by the cession to Spain, or of uniform popular hatred against the young Virginian whom President Jefferson had transferred from the Governorship of the Territory of Mississippi to that of Louisiana. O’Reilly, the Spanish Captain-General, had established a government whose only excellence lay in its strength; Claiborne came to set up a power whose only strength lay in its excellence. His task was difficult; mainly because it was to be clone among a people distempered by the badness of earlier rule, and diligently wrought upon by intriguing Frenchmen and Spanish officials. His wisest measures, equally with his broadest mistakes, were wordily resented. His ignorance of the French language, his large official powers, Wilkinson’s bad habits, a scarcity of money, the introduction of the English tongue, and of a just proportion of American appointees into the new...

The Battle of New Orleans

Once more the Creoles sang the “Marseillaise.” The invaders hovering along the marshy shores of Lake Borgne were fourteen thousand strong. Sir Edward Packenham, brother-in-law to the Duke of Wellington, and a gallant captain, was destined to lead them. Gibbs, Lambert, and Kean were his generals of division. As to Jackson, thirty-seven hundred Tennesseeans under Generals Coffee and Carroll, had, when it was near Christmas, given him a total of but six thousand men. Yet confidence, animation, concord, and even gaiety, filled the hearts of the mercurial people. “The citizens,” says the eye-witness, Latour, “were preparing for battle as cheerfully as for a party of pleasure. The streets resounded with ‘Yankee Doodle,’ ‘La Marseillaise,’ ‘Le Chant du Depart,’ and other martial airs. The fair sex presented themselves at the windows and balconies to applaud the troops going through their evolutions, and to encourage their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers to protect them from their enemies.” That enemy, reconnoitring on Lake Borgne, soon found in the marshes of its extreme western end the month of a navigable stream, the Bayou Bienvenue. This water flowed into the lake directly from the west — the direction of New Orleans, close behind whose lower suburb it had its beginning in a dense cypress swamp. Within, its mouth it was over a hundred yards wide, and more than six feet deep. As they ascended its waters, everywhere, as far as the eye could reach, stretched only the unbroken quaking prairie. But soon they found and bribed a village of Spanish and Italian fishermen, and under their guidance explored the whole region. By turning into...

Why Not Bigger Than London

The great Creole city’s geographical position has always dazzled every eye except the cold, coy scrutiny of capital. “The position of New Orleans,” said President Jefferson in 1804, “certainly destines it to be the greatest city the world has ever seen.” He excepted neither Rouge nor Babylon. Put man’s most positive predictions are based upon contingencies; one unforeseen victory over nature bowls them down; the seeming certainties of tomorrow are changed to the opposite certainties of today; deserts become gardens, gardens cities, and older cities the haunts of bats and foxes. When the early Kentuckian and Ohioan accepted nature’s highway to market, and proposed the conquest of New Orleans in order to lay that highway open, they honestly believed there was no other possible outlet to the commercial world. When steam navigation came, they hailed it with joy and without question. To them it seemed an ultimate result. To the real-estate hoarding Creole, to the American merchant who was crowding and chafing him, to every superficial eye at least, it seemed a pledge of unlimited commercial empire bestowed by the laws of gravitation. Few saw in it the stepping stone from the old system of commerce by natural highways to a new system by direct and artificial lines. It is hard to understand, looking back from the present, how so extravagant a mistake could have been made by wise minds. From the first – or perhaps, we should say, from the peace of 1815 – the development of the West declined to wait on New Orleans, or even on steam. In 1825, the new principle of commercial transportation –...

The British Invasion

Paterson and Ross had struck the Baratarians just in time. The fortnight asked of the British by Lafitte expired the next day. The British themselves were far away eastward, drawing off from an engagement of the day before, badly worsted. A force of seven hundred British troops, six hundred Indians, and four vessels of war had attacked Fort Bowyer, commanding the entrances of Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound. Its small garrison had repulsed them and they retired again to Pensacola with serious loss, including a sloop-of-war grounded and burned. Now General Jackson gathered four thousand men on the Alabama River, regulars, Tennesseeans, and Mississippi dragoons, and early in November attacked Pensacola with great spirit, took the two forts – which the Spaniards had allowed the English to garrison – drove the English to their shipping and the Indians into the interior, and returned to Mobile. Here he again called on Claiborne to muster his militia. Claiborne convened the Legislature and laid the call before it. His was not the toaster-spirit to command a people so different from himself in a moment of extremity. On every side was discord, apprehension, and despondency that he could not cure. Two committees of safety engaged in miserable disputes. Credit was destroyed. Money commanded three or four percent a month. The Legislature dawdled until the Louisianian himself uttered a noble protest. “No other evidence of patriotism is to be found,” cried Louallier, of Opelousas, “than a disposition to avoid every expense, every fatigue.” It was easy to count up the resources of defence: Paterson’s feeble navy, the weak Fort St. Philip on the river,...

The Days of Pestilence

The New Orleans resident congratulates himself – and he does well – that he is not as other men are, in other great cities, as to breathing-room. The desperate fondness with which the Creole still clings to domestic isolation has passed into the sentiment of all types of the city’s life; and as the way is always open for the town, with just a little river-sand filling, to spread farther and farther, there is no huddling in New Orleans, or only very little here and there. There is assurance of plenty not only as to space, but also as to time. Time may be money, but money is not everything, and so there never has been much crowding over one another’s heads about business centres, never any living in sky-reaching strata. The lassitude which loads every warm, damp breeze that blows in across the all-surrounding marsh and swamp has always been against what an old New Orleans writer calls “knee-cracking stairways.” Few houses lift their roofs to dizzy heights, and a third-story bedroom is not near enough to be coveted by many. Shortly before the war – and the case is not materially changed in New Orleans today – the number of inmates to a dwelling was in the proportion of six and a half to one. In St. Louis, it was seven and three-quarters; in Cincinnati, it was more than eight; in Boston, nearly nine; and in New York, over thirteen and a half. The number of persons to the acre was a little more than forty-five. In Philadelphia, it was eighty; in Boston, it was eighty-two; in...

Inundations

The people of New Orleans take pride in Canal Street. It is to the modern town what the Place d’Armes was to the old. Here stretch out in long parade, in variety of height and color, the great retail stores, displaying their silken and fine linen and golden seductions; and the fair Creole and American girls, and the self-depreciating American mothers, and the majestic Creole matrons, all black lace and alabaster, swarm and hum and push in and out and flit here and there among the rich things, and fine things, the novelties and the bargains. Its eighteen-feet sidewalks are loftily roofed from edge to edge by continuous balconies that on gala-days are stayed up with extra scantlings, and yet seem ready to come splintering down under the crowd of parasolled ladies sloping upward on theta from front to back in the fashion of the amphitheatre. Its two distinct granite-paved roadways are each forty feet wide, and the tree-bordered “neutral ground” between measures fifty-four feet across. It was “neutral” when it divided between the French quarter and the American at the time when their “municipality” governments were distinct from each other. In Canal Street, well-nigh all the street-car lines in town begin and end. The Grand Opera House is here; also, the Art Union. The club-houses glitter here. If Jackson Square has one bronze statue, Canal Street has another, and it is still an open question which is the worst. At the base of Henry Clay’s pedestal, the people rally to hear the demagogues in days of political fever, and the tooth-paste orator in nights of financial hypertrophy. Here...

Later Days

Not schools only, but churches, multiplied rapidly. There was a great improvement in public order. Affrays were still common; the Know-Nothing movement came on, and a few “thugs” terrorized the city with campaign broils, beating, stabbing, and shooting. Base political leaders and spoilsmen utilized these disorders, and they reached an unexpected climax and end one morning confronted by a vigilance committee, which had, under cover of night, seized the town arsenal behind the old Cabildo and barricaded the approaches to the Place d’Armes with uptorn paving-stones. But riots were no longer a feature of the city. It was no longer required that all the night-watch within a mile’s circuit should rally at the sound of a rattle. Fire-engines were no longer needed to wet down huge mobs that threatened to demolish the Carondelet Street brokers’ shops or the Cuban cigar stores. Drunken bargemen had ceased to swarm by many hundreds against the peace and dignity of the State, and the publicity and respectability of many other vicious practices disappeared. Communication with the outside world was made much easier, prompter, and more frequent by the growth of railroads. Both the average Creole and the average American became more refined. The two types lost some of their points of difference. The American ceased to crave entrance into Creole society, having now separate circles of his own; and when they mingled it was on more equal terms, and the Creole was sometimes the proselyte. They were one on the great question that had made the American southerner the exasperated champion of ideas contrary to the ground principles of American social order. The...
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