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On the Gulf of Mexico
LEAVE NEW ORLEANS.-- THE ROUGHS AT WORK.-- DETAINED AT NEW BASIN.-- SADDLES INTRODUCES HIMSELF.-- CAMPING AT LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN.-- THE LIGHT-HOUSE OF POINT AUX HERBES.-- THE RIGOLETS.-- MARSHES AND MOSQUITOES.-- IMPORTANT USE OF THE MOSQUITO AND BLOW-FLY.-- ST. JOSEPH'S LIGHT.-- AN EXCITING PULL TO BAY ST. LOUIS.-- A LIGHT-KEEPER LOST IN THE SEA.-- BATTLE OF THE SHARKS.-- BILOXI.-- THE WATER-CRESS GARDEN.-- LITTLE JENNIE.
ONE of the chief charms in a boatman's life is its freedom, and what that freedom is no one knows until he throws aside the chains of every-day life, steps out of the worn ruts, and, with his kit beside him, his oar in his hand, feels himself master of his time, and FREE. There is one duty incumbent on the voyager, however, and that is to keep his face set upon his goal. Remembering this, I turned my back upon the beguiling city of New Orleans, with its orange groves and sweet flowers, its old buildings and modern civilization, its French cafés and bewitching oddities of every nature, taking away with me among my most pleasant memories the recollection of the kind hospitality of the gentlemen of the "Southern Boat
Club," who presented me with a duplicate of the beautiful silk pennant of their club.
My shortest route to the Gulf of Mexico was through New Basin Canal, six miles in length, into Lake Pontchartrain, and from there to the Gulf. If I had disembarked upon the levee, at the foot of Julia Street, when I arrived in New Orleans, there would have been only a short portage of three-quarters of a mile, in a direct line, to the canal; but my little craft had been left in the keeping of the Southern Boat Club, and the position of their boat-house made a portage of two miles a necessity. An express-wagon was procured, and, accompanied by Mr. Charles Deckbar, a member of the club, the little boat was safely carried through the city streets, and once more shot into her native element in the waters of New Basin Canal. The first part of this canal runs through the city proper, and then through a low swampy region out into the shallow lake Pontchartrain. At the terminus of New Basin Canal I found a small light-house, two or three hotels, and a few houses, making a little village.
A small fleet of schooners, which had brought lumber and firewood from Shieldsboro and other Gulf ports, was lying idly along the sides of the canal, awaiting a fair wind to assist them in making the return trip.
I rowed out of the canal on to the lake; but
finding that the strong wind and rough waves were too much for my boat, I beat a hasty retreat into the port of refuge, and, securing my bow-line to a pile, and my stern-line to the bob-stay of a wood-schooner, the "Felicité," I prepared to ride out the gale under her bow. The skippers of the little fleet were very civil men. Some of them were of French and some of Spanish origin, while one or two were Germans. My charts interested them greatly; for though they had navigated their vessels for years upon the Gulf of Mexico, they had never seen a chart; and their astonishment was unbounded when I described to them the bottom of the sea for five hundred miles to the eastward, over a route I had never travelled.
Night settled down upon us, and, as the wind lulled, the evening became lovely. Soon the quiet hamlet changed to a scene of merriment, as the gay people of the city drove out in their carriages to have a "lark," as the sailors expressed it; and which seemed to begin at the hotels with card-playing, dancing, drinking, and swearing, and to end in a general carousal. Men and women joined alike in the disreputable scene, though I was informed that this was a respectable circle of society, compared with some which at times enlivened the neighborhood of Lake Pontchartrain. Thinking of the wonderful grades of society, I tried to sleep in
my boat, not imagining that my peace was soon to be invaded by the lowest layer of that social strata.
In spite of all my precautions an article had appeared that day in a New Orleans paper giving a somewhat incorrect account of my voyage from Pittsburgh. The betting circles hearing that there was no bet upon my rowing feat,--if such a modest and unadventurous voyage could be called a feat,--decided that there must be some mystery connected with it; and political strife being uppermost in all men's minds, strangers were looked upon with suspicion, while rumors of my being a national government spy found ready belief with the ignorant. Such a man would be an unwelcome visitor in the troubled districts where the "bull-dozing" system was compelling the enfranchised negro to vote the "right ticket." I had received an intimation of this feeling in the city, and had exerted myself to leave the neighborhood that day; but the treacherous east wind had left me in a most unprotected locality, floating in a narrow canal, at the mercy of a lot of strange sailors. The sailor, though, has a generous heart, and usually demands FAIR PLAY, while there is a natural antagonism between him and a landsman. I was, so to speak, one of them, and felt pretty sure that in case of any demonstration, honest "Jack Tar" would prove himself my friend.
It seemed at one time as though such an occasion was imminent.
First came the sound of voices in the distance; then, as they came nearer, I heard such questions as, "Where is the feller?" "Show us his boat, and we'll soon tell if he's a humbug!"
"We'll put a head on him!" &c. All these expressions being interlarded with oaths and foul language, gave any but a pleasant prospect of what was to be looked for at the hands of these city roughs, who clambered nimbly on to the deck of the Felicité to inquire for my whereabouts.
[New Orleans roughs amusing themselves]...214. . [80KB]
The darkness seemed to shield me from their sight, and my good friend, the skipper of the wood-schooner, did not volunteer much information as they stood upon his forecastle only a few feet above my head. He told them they were on a fool's errand, if they came there to ask questions about a man who was minding his own business. The sailors all backed him, and the cook grew so bold as to consign the whole crowd, without mercy, to a place too hot for ears polite.
Swaggering and swearing, the roughs went ashore to refresh their thirsty throats at a low grog-shop. Having fired up, they soon returned to the bank of the canal, and, as ill luck would have it, in the darkness of the night caught a gleam of my little white boat resting so
peacefully upon the foul water of the canal, made dark and heavy by the city's drainage. Then followed verbal shots, with various demonstrations, for half an hour.
The worst fellow in the crowd was a member of a fire-company, and being a city policeman was supposed to be a protector of the peace. He was very insulting; but I turned his questions and suspicions into ridicule, and, fortunately for me, he so often fell back upon the groggery for strength to fire away, that he was finally overpowered, and was given into the care of his bosom-friend, another blackguard, who dragged him tenderly from the scene. All this time the cook of the schooner had his hot water in readiness, threatening to scald the roughs if they succeeded in getting down to my boat.
At last, much to my relief, the whole party went off to "make a night of it," leaving me in the care of my protectors on the schooner, who had been busy deciding what they should do in case of any assault being made on me by the roughs, and showing their brawny arms in a menacing manner when the worst threats reached their ears.
I did not know this at the time, but as I looked cautiously around after the unwelcome guests had left, I saw a watchman standing on the forecastle of the Felicité, looking anxiously to the safety of the little white craft that by a
slender cord held on to his vessel. All through the hours of that long night the kind-hearted master paced his deck; and then, as the sun arose, and the damp vapors settled to the earth, he hailed me with a pleasant "good morning;" and added, "if those devils had jumped on you last night I was to give ONE yell, and the whole fleet would have been on top o' 'em, and we would have backed every man's head down his own throat." This wou1d have been, I thought, a singular but most effective way of settling the difficulty, and a novel mode of thinning out the city police and fire department.
During the day I was visited by a young northerner who had been for some time in New Orleans, but was very anxious to return to his home in Massachusetts. He had no money, but thought if I would allow him to accompany me as far as Florida he could ship as sailor from some port on a vessel bound for New York or Boston. Feeling sorry for the man who was homeless in a strange city, and finding he possessed some experience in salt-water navigation, I acceded to his request. Having purchased of the harbor-master, Captain M. H. Riddle, a light boat, which was sharp at both ends, and possessed the degree of sheer necessary for seaworthiness, the next thing in order was to make some important alterations in her, such as changing the thwarts, putting on half-decks, &c. As this labor would
detain me in the unpleasant neighborhood, I determined to secrete my own boat from the public gaze. To accomplish this, while favored by the darkness of night, I ran it into a side canal, where the watchman of the New Lake End Protection Levee lived in a floating house. The duck-boat was drawn out of the water on to a low bank of the levee, and was then covered with reeds. So perfectly was my little craft secreted, that when a party of roughs came out to interview the "government spy," they actually stood beside the boat while inquiring of the watchman for its locality without discovering it.
I now slept in peace at night; but during the day, while working upon the new boat in another locality, was much annoyed by curious persons, who hovered around, hoping to discover the meaning of my movements. On Saturday evening, January 22, I completed the joining and provisioning of the new skiff, which was called, in honor of the harbor-master, the "Riddle." The small local population about the mouth of the canal was in a great state of excitement. The fitting out of the "Riddle" by the supposed "government spy" furnished much food for reflection, and new rumors were set afloat. I passed the first day of the week as quietly as possible amid the gala scenes of that section which knows no Sunday. All day long carriages rolled out from New Orleans, bringing
rollicking men and women to the lake, where, free from all restraint, the daily robe of hypocrisy was thrown aside, and poor humanity appeared at its worst. Little squads of roughs came also at intervals, but their attempts to find me or my boat proved fruitless.
The next day my shipmate, whom, for convenience, I will call Saddles, was not prepared to leave, as previously agreed upon, so I turned over to him the "Riddle," her outfit, provisions, &c., and instructed him to follow the west shore of Lake Pontchartrain until he found me, preferring to trust myself to the tender mercies of the Chinese fishermen--whom the reader will remember had been "CIVILIZED"--rather than to linger longer in the neighborhood of the New Orleans firemen and police corps. Saddles had hunted and fished upon the lake, and therefore felt confident he could easily find me the next day at Irish Bayou, two miles beyond the low "Point aux Herbes" Light-house.
An hour before noon, on Monday, January 24, I rowed out of the canal, and most heartily congratulated myself upon escaping the trammels of too much civilization. A heavy fog covered the lake while I felt my way along the shore, passing the Pontchartrain railroad pier. The shoal bottom was covered with stumps of trees, and the coast was low and swampy, with occasional short, sandy beaches. My progress was slow on
account of the fog; and at five P. M. I went into camp, having first hauled the boat on to the land by means of a small watch-tackle. The low country was covered in places with coarse grass, and, as I ate my supper by the camp-fire, swarms of mosquitoes attacked me with such impetuosity and bloodthirstiness that I was glad to seek refuge in my boat. This proved, however, only a temporary relief, for the tormentors soon entered at the ventilating space between the combing and hatch, and annoyed me so persistently that I was driven to believe there was something worse than New Orleans roughs. During this night of torture I heard in the distance the sound of oars moving in the oar-locks, and paused for an instant in the battle with the phlebotomists, thinking the "Riddle" might be coming, but all sound seemed hushed, and I returned to my dreary warfare.
Not waiting to prepare breakfast the next morning, I left the prairie shore, and rowed rapidly towards Point aux Herbes. At the lighthouse landing I found Saddles, with his boat drawn up on shore. He had followed me at four and a half P. M., and the evening being clear, he had easily reached the light-house at eleven P. M. on the same night. Mr. Belton, the light-keeper, kept bachelor's hall in his quarters, and at once went to work with hearty good-will to prepare a breakfast for us, to which we did full justice.
At eleven A. M., though a fog shut out all objects from our sight, I set a boat compass before me on the floor of my craft, and saying good-bye to our host, we struck across the lake in a course which took us to a point below the "Rigolets," a name given to the passages in the marshes through which a large portion of the water of Lake Pontchartrain flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The marshes, or low prairies, which confine the waters of Lake Pontchartrain, are extensive. The coarse grass grows to four or five feet in height, and in it coons, wildcats, minks, hogs, and even rabbits, find a home. In the bayous wild-fowl abound.
The region is a favorite one with hunters and fishermen; but during the summer months alligators and moccasin-snakes are abundant, when it behooves one to be wary. Upon some of the marshy islands of the Gulf, outside of Lake Pontchartrain, wild hogs are to be found. In 1853 it became known that an immense wild boar lived upon the Chandeleur Islands. He was frequently hunted, and though struck by the balls shot at him, escaped uninjured, his tough hide proving an impenetrable barrier to all assaults. There is always, however, some vulnerable point to be found, and in 1874 some Spanish fisherman, taking an undue advantage of his boarship, shot him in the eye, and then clubbed him to death.
The Rigolets are at the eastern end of Lake
Pontchartrain. Their northern side skirts the main land, while their south side is bounded by marshy islands. As we rowed through this outlet of the lake, Fort Pike, with its grassy banks, arose picturesquely on our right from its site on a knoll of high ground. Outside of the Rigolets we entered an arm of the Gulf of Mexico, called Lake Borgne, the shores of which were desolate, and formed extensive marshes cut up by creeks and bayous into many small islands.
As it was late in the day, we ran our two boats into a bayou near the mouth of the Rigolets, and prepared, under the most trying circumstances, to rest for the night. The atmosphere was soft and mild, the evening was perfect. The great sheet of water extended far to the east. On the south it was bounded by marshes. A long, low prairie coast stretched away on the north; it was the southern end of the state of Mississippi. The light-houses flashed their bright beacon-lights over the water. All was tranquil save the ever-pervading, persistent mosquito. Thousands of these insects, of the largest size and of the most pertinacious character, came out of the high grass and "made night hideous."
We had not provided ourselves with a tent, and no artifice on our part could protect us from these torments; so, vainly dealing blows right and left, we discussed the oft-mooted point of the mosquito's usefulness to mankind. We lords of
creation believe that everything is made for the gratification of man, even thinking at one time, in our ignorance, that the beautiful colors of flowers served no other end, than to gratify the sense of sight. But this fancy, made beautiful by the songs of our poets, has been dealt with as the man of science must ever deal with stubborn facts, and the utility as well as the beauty of these exquisite hues have been discovered. The colors in the petals of the flowers attract certain insects, whose duty it is to fertilize the flowers by dusting the pistils with the pollen of the ripe anthers, some being attracted by one color, some by another.
Flowery thoughts were not, however, in keeping with the miserable state of mental and physical restlessness induced by the irritating mosquito, and its usefulness seemed to be a necessary thought to make me patient as I lay like a mummy, enveloped in my blankets. The coons were fighting and squealing around my boat, which lay snugly ensconced in a bayou among the reeds, for, once under my hatch-cover, the presence of man was unheeded by these animals, and they sportively turned my deck into a species of amphitheatre.
The vices and virtues of the mosquito may be summed up in a few words, always remembering that it is the FEMALE, and not the MALE, to whom humanity is indebted for lessons of patience. The female mosquito deposits about
three hundred eggs, nearly the shape of a grain of wheat, arranging and gluing them perpendicularly side by side, until the whole resembles a solid, canoe-like body, which floats about on the surface of the water. Press this little boat of eggs deep into the water, and its buoyancy causes it to rise immediately to the surface, where it maintains its true position of a well-ballasted craft, right side up. The warmth of the sun, tempered with the moisture of the water, soon hatches the eggs, and the larva, as wigglers or wrigglers, descend to the bottom of the quiet pool, and feed upon the decaying vegetable matter. It moves actively through the stagnant water in its passage to the surface, aerifying it, and at the same time doing faithfully its work as scavenger by consuming vegetable germs and putrefying matter. Professor G. F. Sanborn, and other leading American entomologists, assert that the mosquito saves from twenty-five to forty per cent. in our death-list among those who are exposed to malarial influences.
With malaria, the curse of large districts in the United States, sowing its evil seeds broadcast in our land, and daily closing its iron grasp upon its victims, who could wish for the extermination of so useful an insect as the mosquito?
When the larva reaches the surface of the water, it inhales, through a delicate tube at the
lower end of its body, all the air necessary for its respiration. Having lived three or four weeks in the water, during which time it has entered the pupa state, the original skin is cast oft; and the insect is transformed into a different and more perfect state. A few days later the epidermis of the pupa falls oft; and floats upon the water, and upon this light raft the insect dries its body in the warm rays of the sun; its damp and heavy form grows lighter and more ethereal; it slowly spreads its delicate wings to dry, and soon rises into the clear ether a perfected being.
The male mosquitoes retire to the woods, and lead an indolent, harmless life among the flowers and damp leaves. They are not provided with a lancet, and consequently do not feed upon blood, but suck up moisture through the little tubes nature has given them for that purpose. They are a quiet, well-behaved race, and do not even sing; both the music and the sting being reserved for the other sex. They rarely enter the abodes of man, and may be easily identified by their heavy, feathery antennæ and long maxillary palpi.
Unfortunately for mankind, the female mosquito possesses a most elaborate instrument of torture. She first warns us of her presence by the buzzing sound we know so well, and then settling upon her victim, thrusts into the quivering flesh five sharp organs, one of which is a delicate lancet. These organs, taken in one mass,
are called the beak, or bill of the insect. A writer says: "The bill has a blunt fork at the end, and is apparently grooved. Working through the groove, and projecting from the centre of the angle of the fork, is a lance of perfect form, sharpened with a fine bevel. Beside it the most perfect lance looks like a handsaw. On either side of this lance two saws are arranged, with the points fine and sharp, and the teeth well-defined and keen. The backs of these saws play against the lance. When the mosquito alights, with its peculiar hum, it thrusts in its keen lance, and then enlarges the aperture with the two saws, which play beside the lance, until the forked bill, with its capillary arrangement for pumping blood, can be inserted. The sawing process is what grates upon the nerves of the victim, and causes him to strike wildly at the sawyer. The irritation of a mosquito's bite is undoubtedly owing to these saws. It is to be hoped that the mosquito keeps her surgical instruments clean, otherwise it might be a means of propagating blood diseases."
While the mosquito is a sort of parasite, Professor Sanborn, the "Consulting Naturalist" of Andover, Massachusetts, informs me that he has discovered as many as four or five parasitical worms preying upon the inside tissues of the minute beak of the insect.
When the young female mosquito emerges from the water, she lays her eggs in the way
described, and her offspring following in time her example, several broods are raised in a single season. Many of the old ones die off; but a sufficient number hybernate under the bark of trees and in dwelling-houses, to perpetuate the species in the early spring months of the following year.
Another insect scavenger, found along the low shores of the Gulf, is the blow-fly, and one very useful to man. Of one species of this insect the distinguished naturalist Reaumur has asserted that the progeny of a single female will consume the carcass of a horse in the same time that it will require a lion to devour it. This singular statement may be explained in the following way. The female fly discovers the body of a dead horse, and deposits (as one species does) her six hundred eggs upon it. In twenty-four hours these eggs will hatch, producing about three hundred female larva, which feed upon the flesh of the horse for about three days, when they attain the perfected state of flies. The three hundred female flies will in their turn deposit some hundred and eighty thousand eggs, which become in four days an army of devourers, and thus in about twelve days, under favorable circumstances, the flesh is consumed by the progeny of one pair of flies in the same time that a lion would devour the carcass.
Our sleepless night coming at last to an end,
we rowed, at dawn, along the prairie shores of the northern coast towards the open Gulf of Mexico. Back of the prairies the forests rose like a green wall in the distance. A heavy fog settled down upon the water and drove us into camp upon the prairie, where we endured again the torture caused by the myriads of bloodthirsty mosquitoes, and were only too glad to make an early start the next morning. A steady pull at the oars brought us to the end of a long cape in the marshes. About a mile and a half east of the land's end we saw a marshy island, of three or four acres in extent, out of the grass of which arose a small wooden light-house, resting securely upon its bed of piles. There was a broad gallery around the low tower, and seeing the light-keeper seated under the shadow of its roof, we pulled out to sea, hoping to obtain information from him as to the "lay of the land." It was the Light of St. Joseph, and here, isolated from their fellow-men, lived Mr. H. G. Plunkett and his assistant light-keeper.
They were completely surrounded by water, which at high tide submerged their entire island. Mr. Butler, the assistant light-keeper, was absent at the village of Bay St. Louis, on the northern shore. The principal keeper begged us to wait until he could cook us a dinner, but the rising south-east wind threatened a rough sea, and warned us to hasten back to the land. The keeper, standing on his gallery, pointed out the
village of Shieldsboro, nine miles distant, on the north coast, and we plainly saw its white cottages glimmering among the green trees.
Mr. Plunkett advised us not to return to the coast which we had just left, as it would necessitate following a long contour of the shore to reach Shieldsboro, but assured us that we could row nine miles in a straight course across the open Gulf to the north coast without difficulty. He argued that the rising wind was a fair one for our boats; and that a two hours' strong pull at the oars would enable us to reach a good camping-place on high ground, while if we took the safer but more roundabout route, it would be impossible to arrive at the desired port that night, and we would again be compelled to camp upon the low prairies. We knew what that meant; and to escape another sleepless night in the mosquito lowland, we were ready to take almost any risk.
Having critically examined our oar-locks, and carefully ballasted our boats, we pulled into the rough water. The light-keeper shouted encouragingly to us from his high porch, "You'll get across all right, and will have a good camp to-night!" For a long time we worked carefully at our oars, our little shells now rising on the high crest of a combing sea, now sinking deep into the trough, when one of us could catch only a glimpse of his companion's head. As the wind
increased, and the sea became white with caps, it required the greatest care to keep our boats from filling. The light-keeper continued to watch us through his telescope, fearing his counsel had been ill-advised. At times we glanced over our shoulders at the white sandbanks and forest-crowned coasts of Shieldsboro and Bay St. Louis, which were gradually rising to our view, higher and higher above the tide. The piers of the summer watering-places, some of them one thousand feet in length, ran out into shoal water. Against these the waves beat in fury, enveloping the abutments in clouds of white spray. When within a mile of Shieldsboro the ominous thundering of the surf, pounding upon the shelving beach of hard sand, warned us of the difficulty to be experienced in passing through the breakers to the land.
It was a very shoal coast, and the sea broke in long swashy waves upon it. If we succeeded in getting through the deeper surf, we would stick fast in six inches of water on the bottom, and would not be able to get much nearer than a quarter of a mile to the dry land. Then, if we grounded only for a moment, the breaking waves would wash completely over our boats.
Having no idea of being wrecked upon the shoals, I put the duck-boat's bow, with apron set, towards the combing waves, and let her
drift in shore stern foremost. The instant the heel of the boat touched the bottom, I pulled rapidly seaward, and in this way felt the approaches to land in various channels many times without shipping a sea.
Saddles kept in the offing, in readiness to come to my assistance if needed. It became evident that we could not land without filling our boats with water, so we hauled off to sea, and took the trough easterly, until we had passed the villages of Shieldsboro and Bay St. Louis, when, like a port of refuge, the bay of St. Louis opened its wide portals, which we entered with alacrity, and were soon snugly camped in a heavy grove of oaks and yellow pines. Here we found an ample supply of dry wood and fresh water, with wood ducks feeding within easy gunshot of our quarters. There were no mosquitoes, and that fact alone rewarded us for our exertions and anxieties.
It was after five o'clock in the afternoon, and, sitting over our cheerful camp-fire, we had little thought of the scene being enacted on the ground we had just gone over. The light-keeper was still at his post, not anxious now about our little craft; but, peering through the fast gathering gloom, he turned his telescope in the direction where he expected to find the boat of his assistant. He soon saw a tiny speck, which grew more and more distinct each
moment as it rose and fell upon the waves, beating against a head wind, with sails set, and coming from Bay St. Louis to St. Joseph's Light. It was the boat he expected; and, adjusting his glass, he awaited her arrival.
The cheery light shot its pellucid rays over the dark water, inviting the little sail-boat to a safe harbor, while the mariner hopefully wrestled with the wind and sea, thinking it would soon be over, and his precious cargo (for his wife, her friend, and his three children were on board) safely landed upon the island, where they could look calmly back upon the perils of the deep.
Bravely the boat breasted the sea. It was within three miles of the light, though hardly visible in the gloom to the watchful eye of the light-keeper on his gallery, when Butler attempted to go upon another tack. Twice he tried, twice he failed, when, making a third attempt, the boom of the sail jibed, and instantly the boat capsized. The disappearance of the sail from his horizon told the man upon the gallery of the peril of his friends, and quickly launching a boat, he proceeded rapidly to the scene of disaster.
He found the two women clinging to the boat, and rescued them; but the man and his three children were drowned. A week later, the body of the assistant keeper with that of his
oldest child were washed up upon the beach; the others were doubtless thrown up on some lonely coast and devoured by wild hogs or buzzards.
Four months later, some fishermen, while hauling their seine, found the boat imbedded in the sand, in about eight feet of water. Thus the treacherous sea is ever ready to swallow in its insatiable maw those who love it and trust to its ever varying moods.
The gale confined us to our camp for three days, during which time we roamed through the beautiful semi-tropical woods, cooked savory meals, and, lying idly near our fire, watched the fish leap from the water. While in our retreat, Dame Nature favored us with one sharp frost, but it was not sufficiently severe to injure vegetation.
On Monday, January 31, we left the beautiful bay, and rounding Henderson's Point, pulled an easterly course on the open Gulf, along the shores of the village of Pass Christian, which, like the other summer watering-places of this part of the Gulf coast, was made conspicuous from the water by the many long light piers, built of rough pine poles, which extended, in some cases, several hundred feet into the shoal water. Upon the end of almost every pier was the bath-house of the owner of some cottage. The bathers descended a ladder placed under
the bath-house to the salt water below. The area beneath each house was enclosed by slats, or poles, nailed to the piling, to secure the bathers from the sharks, which are numerous in these waters.
Two of these ferocious creatures were having a fierce combat, in about four feet depth of water, as we rowed off Pass Christian. This coast is destitute of marshes, and has long sandy beaches, with heavy pine and oak forests in the background. The bathing is excellent, and is appreciated by the people of Louisiana and Mississippi, who resort here in large numbers during the summer months. All the hotels and cottages of these sea-girt villages are, however, closed during the winter, just the time of the year when the climate is delightful, and shooting and fishing at their best.
From Lake Pontchartrain to Mobile Bay, a distance of more than one hundred statute miles in a straight line, there extends a chain of islands, situated from seven to ten miles south of the main coast, and known respectively as Cat Island, Sloop Island, Horn Island, Petit Bois Island, and Dauphine Island. The vast watery area between the mainland and these islands is known as Mississippi Sound, because the southern end of the large state of Mississippi forms its principal northern boundary. The Chandeleur and many other low
marshy islands lie to the south of the above-named chain.
Northern yachtmen can pass a pleasant winter in these waters. The fishing along the Gulf coast is excellent. Not having had an opportunity to identify their scientific nomenclature, I can give only the common names by which many species of these fish are known to the native fishermen. Among those found are red-fish, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, black trout, blue-fish, mullet, sheep's-head, croakers, flounders, and the aristocratic pompano. Crabs and eels are taken round the piers in large numbers, while delicious shrimps are captured in nets by the bushel, and oysters are daily brought in from their natural beds. The fish are kept alive in floating wells until the cook is ready to receive them.
Venison is sold in the markets at a very low price, while the neighboring gardens supply all our summer vegetables during the winter months. I thought, while we rowed along this attractive coast in the balmy atmosphere, with everything brightened and beautified by the early moon, how many were suffering in our northern cities from various forms of pulmonary troubles induced by the severe winter weather, while here, in a delightful climate, with everything to make man comfortable, private houses and hotels were closed, and the life-giving air blowing upon the
sandy coast, from the open Gulf of Mexico, dying softly away unheeded by those who so much needed its healing influences. This region, being entirely free from the dampness of the inland rivers of Florida, and having excellent communication by rail with the North and New Orleans, offers every advantage as a winter resort, and will doubtless become popular in that way as its merits are better known.
About nine o'clock in the evening we passed the Biloxi light-house, and decided, as the night was serene and the waters of the Gulf tranquil, to run under one of the bath-houses, and there enjoy our rest, not caring to enter a strange village at that hour. The piling of some of the piers was destitute of the usual shark barricade, and selecting two of these inviting retreats, we pushed in our boats, moored them to the piles, and were soon fast asleep.
About daybreak the weather changed, and the sea came rolling in, pitching us about in the narrow enclosure in a fearful manner. The water had risen so high that we could not get out of our pens; so, climbing into the bath-rooms above, we held on to the bow and stern lines of our boats, endeavoring to keep them from being dashed to pieces against the pilings of the pier. While in this mortifying predicament, expecting each moment to see our faithful little skiffs wrecked most ingloriously in a
bath-house, sounds were heard and some men appeared, who, coming to our assistance, proved themselves friends in need. We fished the boats out of the pen with my watch-tackle, and hoisted each one at a time into the bath-house that had covered it.
Two gentlemen then approached, one claiming Saddles as his guest, while the other, Mr. J. P. Montross, conducted me to his attractive tree-embowered home; and with the soft and winning accent of an educated gentleman of Yucatan, the country of his birth, placed his house and belongings at my disposal. "I was in New Orleans when you went through that city," he said, "and learning that you would pass through Biloxi, I at once telegraphed to my agent here to detain you if possible as my guest until I should arrive."
We remained a week in Biloxi, where I became daily more and more impressed with the great natural advantages of these Gulf towns as winter watering-places for northern invalids or sportsmen. During one of my rambles about Biloxi, I stumbled upon a curious little plantation, the lessee of which was entirely absorbed in the occupation of raising water-cresses. In Mr. Scheffer's garden, which was about half an acre in extent, I found fifteen little springs flowing out of a substratum of chalk. The water was very warm and clear, while the springs
varied in character. There was a chalk-spring, a sulphur-spring, and an iron-spring, all within a few feet of each other. The main spring flowed out of the ground near the head, or highest part of the garden, while ditches of about two feet in width, with boarded sides to prevent their caving in, carried the water of the various springs to where it was needed.
The depth of water in these ditches was not over eighteen inches. Their preparation is very simple, sand to the depth of an inch or two being placed at the bottom, and the roots, cuttings, &c., of the cresses dropped into them. This prolific plant begins at once to multiply, sending up thousands of hair-like shoots, with green leaves floating upon the surface of the running water. Mr. Scheffer informed me that he marketed his stock three times a week, cutting above water the matured plants, and putting them into bundles, or bunches, of about six inches in diameter, and then packing them with the tops downward in barrels and baskets. These bunches of cresses sell for fifteen cents apiece on the ground where they are grown. New Orleans consumes most of the stock; but invalids in various places are fast becoming customers, as the virtues of this plant are better understood. It is of great benefit in all diseases of the liver, in pulmonary complaints, and in dyspepsia with its thousand ills.
The ditches in this little half-acre garden, if placed in a continuous line, would reach six hundred feet, and the crop increases so fast that one hundred bunches a week can be cut throughout the year. The hot suns of summer injure the tender cresses; hence butter-beans are planted along the ditches to shade them. The bean soon covers the light trellis which is built for it to run upon, and forms an airy screen for the tender plants. During the autumn and winter months the light frame-work is removed, and sunlight freely admitted.
Cresses can be grown with little trouble in pure water of the proper temperature; and as each bed is replanted but once a year, in the month of October, the yield is large and profitable.
The intelligent cultivator of this water-cress garden frequently has boarders from a distance, who reside with him that they may receive the full benefit of a diet of tender cresses fresh from the running water. Few, indeed, know the benefit to be derived from such a diet, or the water-cress garden would not be such a novelty to Americans. We, as a nation, take fewer salads with our meals than the people of any of the older sister-lands, perhaps, because in the rush of every-day life we have not time to eat them. We are, at the same time, adding largely each year to the list of confirmed dyspeptics,
many of whom might be saved from this worst of all ills by a persistent use of the fresh water-cress, crisp lettuce, and other green and wholesome articles of food. Such advice is, however, of little use, since many would say, like a gentleman I once met, "Why, I would rather die than diet!" Three hundred feet from the garden the water of its springs flows into the Gulf of Mexico, the waves of which beat against the clean sandy shore.
Among other things in this interesting town, I discovered in the boat-house belonging to the summer residence of Mr. C. T. Howard, of New Orleans, John C. Cloud's little boat, the "Jennie." Strange emotions filled my mind as I gazed upon the light Delaware River skiff which had been the home for so many days of that unfortunate actor, whose disastrous end I have already related to my reader.
The boat had been brought from Plaquemine Plantation on the Mississippi River to this distant point. It was about fifteen feet in length, and four feet wide amidships. She was sharp at both bow and stern, and was almost destitute of sheer. There was a little deck at each end, and the usual galvanized-iron oar-locks, without out-riggers, while upon her quarters were painted very small national flags. She was built of white pine, and was very light.
Each summer, when guests are at Bi1oxi,
sympathizing groups crowd round this little skift; and listen to the oft-repeated story of the poor northerner who sacrificed his own life while engaged in the attempt to win a bet to support his large and destitute family.
Here by the restless sea, which seems ever to be moaning a requiem for the dead, I left the little "Jennie," a monument of American pluck, but, at the same time, a mortifying instance of the fruitlessness of our national spirit of adventure when there is no principle to back it.
[Arrival at the Gulf of Mexico--Camp Mosquito.] [24KB]