George Washington Cable.

Strange True Stories of Louisiana online

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[Illustration: "TONTON."
(From a portrait now in the possession of Mme. Veuve Alcibiade De



I. The Two Sisters 34
II. Making Up The Expedition 37
III. The Embarkation 43
IV. Alix Carpentier 51
V. Down Bayou Plaquemine. - the Fight With Wild Nature 55
VI. The Twice-married Countess 61
VII. Odd Partners In The Bolero Dance 65
VIII. A Bad Storm In A Bad Place 69
IX. Maggie And The Robbers 73
X. Alix Puts Away The Past 80
XI. Alix Plays Fairy. - parting Tears. 84
XII. Little Paris 90
XIII. The Countess Madelaine 94
XIV. "Poor Little Alix!" 99
XV. The Discovery Of The Hat 104
XVI. The Ball 108
XVII. Picnic And Farewell 116


I. Salome and her Kindred 145
II. Six Months at Anchor 148
III. Famine at Sea 150
IV. Sold into Bondage 155
V. The Lost Orphans 159
VI. Christian Roselius 162
VII. Miller Versus Belmonti 163
VIII. The Trial 169
IX. The Evidence 173
X. The Crowning Proof 178
XI. Judgment 180
XII. Before the Supreme Court 185

I. As It Stands Now 192
II. Madame Lalaurie 200
III. A Terrible Revelation 204
IV. The Lady's Flight 212
V. A New Use 219
VI. Evictions 223

I. Furnished Rooms 233
II. John Bull 236
III. Ducour's Meditations 239
IV. Proxy 243
V. The Nuncupative Will 248
VI. Men can be Better than their Laws 257

I. Secession 262
II. The Volunteers. - Fort Sumter 266
III. Tribulation 269
IV. A Beleaguered City 274
V. Married 279
VI. How it was in Arkansas 281
VII. The Fight for Food and Clothing 285
VIII. Drowned out and starved out 289
IX. Homeless and Shelterless 296
X. Frights and Perils in Steele's Bayou 302
XI. Wild Times in Mississippi 308
XII. Vicksburg 320
XIII. Preparations for the Siege 326
XIV. The Siege itself 334
XV. Gibraltar falls 343


From photographs of the originals, in possession of Mr. George W. Cable.

"Tonton" Frontispiece
Some of the Manuscripts 1
Part of François's First Page 34
Part of First Page, "Alix Manuscript" 121
The Court Papers 168
The Entrance of the "Haunted House" 194
Printed on Wall Paper in the Siege of Vicksburg 339
Fac-simile of a Letter from Adj.-Gen. Thomas L. Snead 349

Court papers in Miller vs. Belmonti. Letter from Suzanne. The "Alix MS."
Louisa Cheval's letter. Francois's Pages. The War Diary (underneath).]




True stories are not often good art. The relations and experiences of real
men and women rarely fall in such symmetrical order as to make an artistic
whole. Until they have had such treatment as we give stone in the quarry
or gems in the rough they seldom group themselves with that harmony of
values and brilliant unity of interest that result when art comes in - not
so much to transcend nature as to make nature transcend herself.

Yet I have learned to believe that good stories happen oftener than once I
thought they did. Within the last few years there have dropped into my
hands by one accident or another a number of these natural crystals, whose
charms, never the same in any two, are in each and all enough at least to
warn off all tampering of the fictionist. Happily, moreover, without being
necessary one to another, they yet have a coherent sequence, and follow
one another like the days of a week. They are mine only by right of
discovery. From various necessities of the case I am sometimes the
story-teller, and sometimes, in the reader's interest, have to abridge;
but I add no fact and trim naught of value away. Here are no unconfessed
"restorations," not one. In time, place, circumstance, in every essential
feature, I give them as I got them - strange stories that truly happened,
all partly, some wholly, in Louisiana.

In the spring of 1883, being one night the guest of my friend Dr. Francis
Bacon, in New Haven, Connecticut, and the conversation turning, at the
close of the evening, upon wonderful and romantic true happenings, he

"You are from New Orleans; did you never hear of Salome Müller?"


Thereupon he told the story, and a few weeks later sent me by mail, to my
home in New Orleans, whither I had returned, a transcription, which he had
most generously made, of a brief summary of the case - it would be right to
say tragedy instead of case - as printed in "The Law Reporter" some forty
years ago. That transcription lies before me now, beginning, "The Supreme
Court of the State of Louisiana has lately been called upon to investigate
and decide one of the most interesting cases which has ever come under the
cognizance of a judicial tribunal." This episode, which had been the cause
of public excitement within the memory of men still living on the scene,
I, a native resident of New Orleans and student of its history, stumbled
upon for the first time nearly two thousand miles from home.

I mentioned it to a number of lawyers of New Orleans, one after another.
None remembered ever having heard of it. I appealed to a former
chief-justice of the State, who had a lively personal remembrance of every
member of the bench and the bar concerned in the case; but of the case he
had no recollection. One of the medical experts called in by the court for
evidence upon which the whole merits of the case seemed to hang was still
living - the distinguished Creole physician, Dr. Armand Mercier. He could
not recall the matter until I recounted the story, and then only in the
vaguest way. Yet when my friend the former chief-justice kindly took down
from his shelves and beat free of dust the right volume of supreme court
decisions, there was the terse, cold record, No. 5623. I went to the old
newspaper files under the roof of the city hall, and had the pleasure
speedily to find, under the dates of 1818 and 1844, such passing allusions
to the strange facts of which I was in search as one might hope to find in
those days when a serious riot was likely to receive no mention, and a
steamboat explosion dangerously near the editorial rooms would be recorded
in ten lines of colorless statement. I went to the courts, and, after
following and abandoning several false trails through two days' search,
found that the books of record containing the object of my quest had been
lost, having unaccountably disappeared in - if I remember aright - 1870.

There was one chance left: it was to find the original papers. I employed
an intelligent gentleman at so much a day to search till he should find
them. In the dusty garret of one of the court buildings - the old Spanish
Cabildo, that faces Jackson Square - he rummaged for ten days, finding now
one desired document and now another, until he had gathered all but one.
Several he drew out of a great heap of papers lying in the middle of the
floor, as if it were a pile of rubbish; but this one he never found. Yet I
was content. Through the perseverance of this gentleman and the
intervention of a friend in the legal profession, and by the courtesy of
the court, I held in my hand the whole forgotten story of the poor lost
and found Salome Müller. How through the courtesy of some of the
reportorial staff of the "New Orleans Picayune" I found and conversed with
three of Salome's still surviving relatives and friends, I shall not stop
to tell.

While I was still in search of these things, the editor of the "New
Orleans Times-Democrat" handed me a thick manuscript, asking me to examine
and pronounce upon its merits. It was written wholly in French, in a
small, cramped, feminine hand. I replied, when I could, that it seemed to
me unfit for the purposes of transient newspaper publication, yet if he
declined it I should probably buy it myself. He replied that he had
already examined it and decided to decline it, and it was only to know
whether I, not he, could use it that I had been asked to read it.

I took it to an attorney, and requested him, under certain strict
conditions, to obtain it for me with all its rights.

"What is it?"

"It is the minute account, written by one of the travelers, a pretty
little Creole maiden of seventeen, of an adventurous journey made, in
1795, from New Orleans through the wilds of Louisiana, taking six weeks to
complete a tour that could now be made in less than two days."

But this is written by some one else; see, it says

[Handwriting: Voyage de ma grand'mere]

"Yes," I rejoined, "it purports to be a copy. We must have the little
grandmother's original manuscript, written in 1822; that or nothing."

So a correspondence sprang up with a gentle and refined old Creole lady
with whom I later had the honor to become acquainted and now count among
my esteemed friends - grand-daughter of the grandmother who, after
innumerable recountings by word of mouth to mother, sisters, brothers,
friends, husband, children, and children's children through twenty-seven
years of advancing life, sat down at last and wrote the oft-told tale for
her little grand-children, one of whom, inheriting her literary instinct
and herself become an aged grandmother, discovers the manuscript among
some old family papers and recognizes its value. The first exchange of
letters disclosed the fact that the "New Orleans Bee" ("L'Abeille") had
bought the right to publish the manuscript in French; but the moment its
editors had proper assurance that there was impending another arrangement
more profitable to her, they chivalrously yielded all they had bought, on
merely being reimbursed.

The condition that required the delivery of the original manuscript,
written over sixty years before, was not so easily met. First came the
assurance that its spelling was hideous, its writing bad and dimmed by
time, and the sheets tattered and torn. Later followed the disclosure that
an aged and infirm mother of the grandmother owned it, and that she had
some time before compelled its return to the private drawer from which the
relic-loving daughter had abstracted it. Still later came a letter saying
that since the attorney was so relentlessly exacting, she had written to
her mother praying her to part with the manuscript. Then followed another
communication, - six large, closely written pages of despair, - inclosing a
letter from the mother. The wad of papers, always more and more in the way
and always "smelling bad," had been put into the fire. But a telegram
followed on the heels of the mail, crying joy! An old letter had been
found and forwarded which would prove that such a manuscript had existed.
But it was not in time to intercept the attorney's letter saying that, the
original manuscript being destroyed, there could be no purchase or any
need of further correspondence. The old letter came. It was genuine beyond
a doubt, had been written by one of the party making the journey, and was
itself forty-seven years old. The paper was poor and sallow, the
hand-writing large, and the orthography - !

[Handwriting: Ma bien chair niaice je ressoit ta lette ce mattin]

But let us translate:

st. john baptist[1] 10 august 1836

My very dear Niece. I received your letter this morning in which you ask
me to tell you what I remember of the journey to Attakapas made in 1795 by
papa, M. - - -, [and] my younger sister Françoise afterward your
grandmother. If it were with my tongue I could answer more favorably; but
writing is not my forte; I was never calculated for a public writer, as
your grandmother was. By the way, she wrote the journey, and very
prettily; what have you done with it? It is a pity to lose so pretty a
piece of writing.... We left New Orleans to go to the Attakapas in the
month of May, 1795, and in an old barge ["vieux chalant qui senté le rat
mord a plien nez"]. We were Françoise and I Suzanne, pearl of the family,
and Papa, who went to buy lands; and one Joseph Charpentier and his dear
and pretty little wife Alix [whom] I love so much; 3 Irish, father mother
and son [fice]; lastly Mario, whom you knew, with Celeste, formerly lady's
maid to Marianne - who is now my sister-in-law.... If I knew better how to
write I would tell you our adventures the alligators tried to devour us.
We barely escaped perishing in Lake Chicot and many other things.... At
last we arrived at a pretty village St. Martinville called also little
Paris and full of barons, marquises, counts and countesses[2] that were an
offense to my nose and my stomach. Your grandmother was in raptures. It
was there we met the beautiful Tonton, your aunt by marriage. I have a bad
finger and must stop.... Your loving aunty [ta tantine qui temme]

Suzanne - - née - -

The kind of letter to expect from one who, as a girl of eighteen, could
shoot and swim and was called by her father "my son"; the antipode of her
sister Françoise. My attorney wrote that the evidence was sufficient.

His letter had hardly got into the mail-bag when another telegram cried
hold! That a few pages of the original manuscript had been found and
forwarded by post. They came. They were only nine in all - old, yellow,
ragged, torn, leaves of a plantation account-book whose red-ruled columns
had long ago faded to a faint brown, one side of two or three of them
preoccupied with charges in bad French of yards of cottonade, "mouslin à
dames," "jaconad," dozens of soap, pounds of tobacco, pairs of stockings,
lace, etc.; but to our great pleasure each page corresponding closely,
save in orthography and syntax, with a page of the new manuscript, and the
page numbers of the old running higher than those of the new! Here was
evidence which one could lay before a skeptical world that the transcriber
had not expanded the work of the original memoirist. The manuscript passed
into my possession, our Creole lady-correspondent reiterating to the end
her inability to divine what could be wanted with "an almost illegible
scrawl" (griffonage), full of bad spelling and of rather inelegant
diction. But if old manuscript was the object of desire, why, here was
something else; the very document alluded to by Françoise in her memoir of
travel - the autobiography of the dear little countess, her beloved Alix de
Morainville, made fatherless and a widow by the guillotine in the Reign of

"Was that all?" inquired my agent, craftily, his suspicions aroused by the
promptness with which the supply met the demand. "Had she not other old
and valuable manuscripts?"

"No, alas! Only that one."

Thus reassured, he became its purchaser. It lies before me now, in an
inner wrapper of queer old black paper, beside its little tight-fitting
bag, or case of a kind of bright, large-flowered silken stuff not made in
these days, and its outer wrapper of discolored brief-paper; a pretty
little document of sixty-eight small pages in a feminine hand, perfect in
its slightly archaic grammar, gracefully composed, and, in spite of its
flimsy yellowed paper, as legible as print: "Histoire d'Alix de
Morainville écrite à la Louisiane ce 22 Aout 1795. Pour mes chères amies,
Suzanne et Françoise Bossier."

One day I told the story to Professor Charles Eliot Norton of Harvard
University. He generously offered to see if he could find the name of the
Count de Morainville on any of the lists of persons guillotined during the
French Revolution. He made the search, but wrote, "I am sorry to say that
I have not been able to find it either in Prudhomme, 'Dictionnaire des
Individues envoyés à la Mort judiciairement, 1789-1796,' or in the list
given by Wallon in the sixth volume of his very interesting 'Histoire du
Tribunal Revolutionnaire de Paris.' Possibly he was not put to death in
Paris," etc. And later he kindly wrote again that he had made some hours'
further search, but in vain.

Here was distress. I turned to the little manuscript roll of which I had
become so fond, and searched its pages anew for evidence of either
genuineness or its opposite. The wrapper of black paper and the
close-fitting silken bag had not been sufficient to keep it from taking on
the yellowness of age. It was at least no modern counterfeit. Presently I
noticed the total absence of quotation marks from its passages of
conversation. Now, at the close of the last century, the use of quotation
marks was becoming general, but had not become universal and imperative.
Their entire absence from this manuscript of sixty-eight pages, abounding
in conversations, meant either age or cunning pretense. But would a
pretender carry his or her cunning to the extreme of fortifying the
manuscript in every possible way against the sallowing touch of time, lay
it away in a trunk of old papers, lie down and die without mentioning it,
and leave it for some one in the second or third generation afterward to
find? I turned the leaves once more, and lo! one leaf that had had a large
corner torn off had lost that much of its text; it had been written upon
before it was torn; while on another torn leaf, for there are two, the
writing reads - as you shall see - uninterruptedly around the torn edge; the
writing has been done after the corner was torn off. The two rents,
therefore, must have occurred at different times; for the one which
mutilates the text is on the earlier page and surely would not have been
left so by the author at the time of writing it, but only by some one
careless of it, and at some time between its completion and the manifestly
later date, when it was so carefully bestowed in its old-fashioned silken
case and its inner wrapper of black paper. The manuscript seemed genuine.
Maybe the name De Morainville is not, but was a convenient fiction of Alix
herself, well understood as such by Françoise and Suzanne. Everything
points that way, as was suggested at once by Madame Sidonie de la Houssaye
- There! I have let slip the name of my Creole friend, and can only pray
her to forgive me! "Tout porte à le croire" (Everything helps that
belief), she writes; although she also doubts, with reason, I should say,
the exhaustive completeness of those lists of the guillotined. "I recall,"
she writes in French, "that my husband has often told me the two uncles of
his father, or grandfather, were guillotined in the Revolution; but though
search was made by an advocate, no trace of them was found in any

An assumed name need not vitiate the truth of the story; but discoveries
made since, which I am still investigating, offer probabilities that,
after all, the name is genuine.

We see, however, that an intention to deceive, were it supposable, would
have to be of recent date.

Now let me show that an intention to deceive could not be of recent date,
and at the same time we shall see the need of this minuteness of
explanation. Notice, then, that the manuscript comes directly from the
lady who says she found it in a trunk of her family's private papers. A
prominent paper-maker in Boston has examined it and says that, while its
age cannot be certified to from its texture, its leaves are of three
different kinds of paper, each of which might be a hundred years old. But,
bluntly, this lady, though a person of literary tastes and talent, who
recognized the literary value of Alix's _history_, esteemed original
_documents_ so lightly as, for example, to put no value upon Louisa
Cheval's thrilling letter to her brother. She prized this Alix manuscript
only because, being a simple, succinct, unadorned narrative, she could use
it, as she could not Françoise's long, pretty story, for the foundation of
a nearly threefold expanded romance. And this, in fact, she had written,
copyrighted, and arranged to publish when our joint experience concerning
Françoise's manuscript at length readjusted her sense of values. She sold
me the little Alix manuscript at a price still out of all proportion below
her valuation of her own writing, and counting it a mistake that the
expanded romance should go unpreferred and unpublished.

But who, then, wrote the smaller manuscript? Madame found it, she says, in
the possession of her very aged mother, the daughter and namesake of
Françoise. Surely she was not its author; it is she who said she burned
almost the whole original draft of Françoise's "Voyage," because it was
"in the way and smelt bad." Neither could Françoise have written it. Her
awkward handwriting, her sparkling flood of words and details, and her
ignorance of the simplest rules of spelling, make it impossible. Nor could
Suzanne have done it. She wrote and spelled no better at fifty-nine than
Françoise at forty-three. Nor could any one have imposed it on either of
the sisters. So, then, we find no intention to deceive, either early or
recent. I translated the manuscript, it went to the magazine, and I sat
down to eat, drink, and revel, never dreaming that the brazen water-gates
of my Babylon were standing wide open.

For all this time two huge, glaring anachronisms were staring me, and half
a dozen other persons, squarely in the face, and actually escaping our
notice by their serene audacity. But hardly was the pie - I mean the
magazine - opened when these two birds began to sing. Wasn't
that - interesting? Of course Louis de la Houssaye, who in 1786 "had lately
come from San Domingo," had _not_ "been fighting the insurgents" - who did
not revolt until four or five years afterward! And of course the old
count, who so kindly left the family group that was bidding Madelaine de
Livilier good-bye, was not the Prime Minister Maurepas, who was _not_
"only a few months returned from exile," and who was _not_ then "at the
pinnacle of royal favor"; for these matters were of earlier date, and this

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Online LibraryGeorge Washington CableStrange True Stories of Louisiana → online text (page 1 of 21)