Lake Pontchartrain (Images of America)

The Beginning

Historic markers near Lake Pontchartrain offer terse commentaries but pay homage to Native Americans who first inhabited the land surrounding the lake. They include:

“Lake Pontchartrain -- …Indians called it Okwa-ta, wide water…”

“New Orleans -- First sited as Indian portage to Lake Pontchartrain and Gulf…”

“The Old Portage -- Short trail from Lake Pontchartrain to river shown by Indians to Iberville and Bienville, 1699…”

“Mandeville -- … Near this site Bienville met, in 1699, Acolapissas who reported that, two days before, their village had been attacked by two Englishmen and 200 Chicasaws.”

“Tangipahoa -- …Town named for Indian tribe.”

The “Indian tribe” mentioned above, the Tangipahoa people, are best remembered now for the parish as well as the river named for them (Tangipahoa comes from an Acolapissa word meaning "those who gather corn”). The Tchefuncte tribe was likewise recognized; the river which enters Lake Pontchartrain at Madisonville bears their name.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, a Choctaw village of the Houmas tribe (who viewed the crawfish as a sign of bravery) settled along Bayou St. John where it met Lake Pontchartrain. They named the lake Okwa-ta. Bayou St. John was called Bayouk Choupic for the "mud fish" which lined its edges. The word bayou comes from the Chocktaw word for "minor streams".

The bayou was used for transportation and trade. Native Americans discovered that by using it and a natural elevated earthen path (now Bayou Road), they could travel from the Mississippi River at present day New Orleans to the lake, through the Rigolets Pass, and into the Gulf of Mexico.

When the French arrived, they sought a shorter route from their small settlement to the gulf -- shorter than the plodding meandering upriver passage from the river delta. It was the Biloxi tribe who showed them the way. One could say that had the Native people not so generously shared their knowledge, the history of Lake Pontchartrain and the surrounding communities might be quite different.

The French built Fort St. Jean at the mouth of the bayou to protect their settlement from attack via the lake. Spanish Governor Carondelet constructed a canal to connect the city to the bayou. It would be the fist of many plans to engineer a direct route to the lake. By 1818 a lighthouse guided sailors there and two more forts, Pike and Macomb, were constructed on the eastern shore.


Other books
by Catherine Campanella:

Excerpts from New Orleans City Park (Images of America)

The Beginning
West End
Back to the Bayou
War and Peaceful Pursuits
Life on the Lake
Photo Gallery
More Lake Pontchartrain History

Pages Recommended by Your Friends:

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book is dedicated to the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation's efforts to rebuild the historic New Canal Lighthouse.

Contact Catherine Campanella