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Bayou/Human History

Bayou-Diversity (1 November 2020) When I am prowling about local rivers and bayous I often contemplate those who came before me and wonder about their life experiences. Some Louisiana history books tend to begin serious discussion of this region with the arrival of European explorers and later settlers. Starting with Hernando de Soto's rampage across the southeast in the mid-16th century, the first two hundred years of European presence was mostly just flickers of occurrences by Spaniards and Frenchmen looking for treasure in the form of gold or animal pelts. Gold was not to be found but furbearers were abundant enough to eventually attract a growing contingent of French Canadian trappers. Of their race, they were the first to embrace the 400+ bayous in Louisiana as major transportation arteries. On the surface they were low impact visitors leaving behind few visible signs on the landscape to mark their passing. Their invisible traces though in the form of Old World pathogens were not so innocuous. Settlers with shifting allegiances according to the politics of the day followed them to sink foreign roots into native soils along the sinuous bayou banks. With their steel plows and domestic livestock, widespread environmental alteration began at an unprecedented pace. For the next 250 years until today the newcomers continued to change the natural world forever. The newcomers are us – descendants of Europeans and Africans who migrated, many involuntarily, to what has become the Bayou State.

It would be easy to consider this information an appropriate summary of humans and bayous.Textbook writers have done so and created an historical distortion.Europeans and Africans were latecomers on this landscape.Very late.To portray the scale of imbalance, consider that native people lived along the bayous for 400 generations before the Johnnies-come-lately arrived.After contact, the waters of our cultures roiled with conflict for four generations until the natives of this region evaporated as a distinct race.As late arrivals we have now been present about nine generations.Think about that:400 generations of Native American occupation versus nine generations for us immigrants.Along the bayous we are as newborns.What history has been lost?


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