Bayou St. John: Cured meat and monsters of the deep
This past January, I wrote a post in which I quoted Marc-Antoine Caillot, 22-year-old clerk for the Company of the Indies, from his memoir A Company Man. On Lundi Gras 1730, Caillot initiated the first-known Carnival celebration in New Orleans on the banks of Bayou St. John, having trudged down Bayou Road with his buddies, all of them dressed as women.
Earlier in the account of his time spent in New Orleans, we find another mention of our beloved bayou. This time, it involves a gigantic Monster of the Deep fiending after some paté!
One day, Caillot gathered up some of his friends and they walked along the only passable road from the present-day French Quarter to the bayou—Bayou Road. Along the way, they would have seen a brickyard and an earthenware factory, and the homes of a few wealthy planters backed by indigo plantations, and maybe some grazing livestock here and there. They may have passed a few carts heading into the city, laden with goods that had been brought down Bayou St. John on flatboats.…
I’ll let Caillot take it from here!
“We had brought as provisions some good paté, a few dozen bottles of good wine, and some cured meat from the butcher’s in order to spend the day at the home of a certain Joseph Bon…who lived on the other side of the aforementioned bayou. In order to go to his house, we got into a little pirogue with our provisions.
We were only halfway when, all of the sudden, a huge crocodile [alligator] came and put his two front feet on the edges of our little boat, which he almost turned over, to get our meat. We were in a great deal of trouble, so, in the meantime, having loaded our muskets, together all shot him in the head and blasted out his eyes. He left us, making a dreadful turbulence in the water. Not knowing where he was going anymore, he beached himself on the bank.” Some slaves from a nearby plantation, having witnessed the encounter, “ran and pulled him out of the water. We measured him and discovered that was twenty-two feet long.” 
Now, Caillot is known to exaggerate throughout his memoir, so who knows if this 22-foot measurement is totally accurate—but needless to say, that alligator was big! Given his aggressive leap for Caillot’s cured meat, we might safely characterize him as a “nuisance gator.”
For more information on gators in our current bayou (certainly not 22 feat long!) read this nola.com article from last summer.
For a parallel gator-moment from recent times, check out this video of an innocent kayaker and his daughter out in Fausse Pointe State Park, and what they discovered at the end of their line….
1. Marc-Antoine Caillot, A Company Man: The Remarkable French-Atlantic Voyage of a Clerk for the Company of the Indies, ed. Erin M. Greenwald, trans. Teri F. Chalmers (New Orleans: The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2013) 114-115.
Cassie Pruyn is a New Orleans based poet who is currently working on a narrative history of Bayou St. John in New Orleans. You can see her posts and poetry on her website.