A History of Louisiana's Most Famous Bayou
An extraordinary engagement with the colorful history of a storied inland waterway
Recipient of a 2017 Book of the Year Award presented by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities
Shane K. Bernard's Teche examines this legendary waterway of the American Deep South. Bernard delves into the bayou's geologic formation as a vestige of the Mississippi and Red Rivers, its prehistoric Native American occupation, and its colonial settlement by French, Spanish, and, eventually, Anglo-American pioneers. He surveys the coming of indigo, cotton, and sugar; steam-powered sugar mills and riverboats; and the brutal institution of slavery. He also examines the impact of the Civil War on the Teche, depicting the running battles up and down the bayou and the sporadic gunboat duels, when ironclads clashed in the narrow confines of the dark, sluggish river.
Describing the misery of the postbellum era, Bernard reveals how epic floods, yellow fever, racial violence, and widespread poverty disrupted the lives of those who resided under the sprawling, moss-draped live oaks lining the Teche's banks. Further, he chronicles the slow decline of the bayou, as the coming of the railroad, automobiles, and highways reduced its value as a means of travel. Finally, he considers modern efforts to redesign the Teche using dams, locks, levees, and other water-control measures. He examines the recent push to clean and revitalize the bayou after years of desecration by litter, pollutants, and invasive species. Illustrated with historic images and numerous maps, this book will be required reading for anyone seeking the colorful history of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.
As a bonus, the second part of the book describes Bernard's own canoe journey down the Teche's 125-mile course. This modern personal account from the field reveals the current state of the bayou and the remarkable people who still live along its banks.
Aided by the vividness of the history he describes, Bernard tells a gripping story, centered on the narrative of the people who live along the Teche. A colonial flood is so bad it swamps the dwellings of the Chitimacha; a Union commander describes the battles for the Teche as the back-alley brawl needed to secure the main-street Mississippi; Jim Crow and successive natural and financial disasters so blight the area’s future that its poor residents don’t notice the onset of the Depression. . . . The final third or so of the book recounts Bernard’s canoe trips covering the whole length of the bayou; this is an extra treat, combining the historian’s love of on-this-spot anecdotes with the appreciation of nature that can only come from a self-described ‘avid indoorsman’ stepping out of his natural habitat.- Country Roads Magazine, November 2017
Bernard has invited his readers to know the Teche better, and in that he very much succeeds. . . . [A]n enjoyable and well-written book that introduces readers to a waterway whose history is ‘much more significant than its size would at first suggest. ’ The maps and images are well chosen and well placed, and the text is well written, well researched, and peppered with interesting anecdotes. Readers with an interest in local history or Louisiana history will certainly welcome this book, but there is a place for it as well on the shelves of readers with a broader interest in southern history or riparian history.- Louisiana History, Spring 2018
An important book about a uniquely interesting place, Teche showcases Shane Bernard's many talents--passionate student of Louisiana culture, dedicated historian, and gifted storyteller. They all mesh here to produce a book that you need to read now and preserve for generations to come.- Ken Wells, author of Meely LaBauve: A Novel and The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous: Fighting to Save a Way of Life in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina
Teche: A History of Louisiana's Most Famous Bayou by Shane K. Bernard is a very well-written and exquisitely researched exploration of one of Louisiana's most important watercourses. Containing a vast wealth of entertaining historical information of every facet of the bayou's explorers, inhabitants, agricultural developers, and geography, Bernard shows tremendous love for an area of the state he knows like the back of his hand. The book is an amazing and much-needed treatise on a fascinating region.- Tim Gautreaux, author of Signals: New and Selected Stories, published by Knopf