Houma was named after the Native American tribe who settled here, the Houmas Indians. The word houma or ouma means "red" in the tribe's language, which referred to the sun or possibly to their war emblem, the crawfish.
Most of the pioneers who came to Terrebonne migrated from the Mississippi River, down Bayou Lafourche and Bayou Terrebonne. There was an influx of French settlers from New Orleans to Houma after the Spanish domination in 1762. Other pioneers were exiled French colonists, known as Acadians from Nova Scotia, who searched for a new settlement for 10 years before arriving in Terrebonne Parish.
One of the most southern of all Louisiana parishes, Terrebonne was established on March 22, 1822, when it was annexed from Lafourche Parish. The French settlers to this area christened it terre bonne meaning "good earth" because of the abundance of wildlife, seafood and fertile land. They chose this area because of its isolated geographic location, minimal government control and fertile land. Though the primary settlers were of French origin, over the years many Spanish, English, Italian, German and West Caribbean cultures have made Terrebonne Parish their home.
Old Southern plantation life was dominant in Terrebonne Parish. Sugarcane cultivation was the principle agricultural industry in the parish. The first plantation was established in 1828. Twenty-three years later, Terrebonne had 110 plantations.
The people of Terrebonne lived in seclusion for generations and continued family traditions, including their unique dialect of French language, music, dance and cooking. It wasn't until the debut of oil and natural gas in 1929 that many portions of Terrebonne Parish were introduced to the outside world. Today, our heritage is still celebrated through the area's many festivals.
Take 300 years of history, add in 2,500 square miles of moss-draped wetlands, and throw in a few pirate kings, werewolves, swamp monsters, voodoo priestesses, indians and faith healers and you will begin to see the rich tapestry of legends that have woven themselves around and through Houma, Louisiana. However, Houma is so much more than just a collection of old stories and lore. Here you can also learn about the life of famed naturalist and reptile handler Alligator Annie; the devastation of the resort on Last Island; and the history of our unique brand of Cajun music.
TRAITEURS, also known as Treatures, are healers that use faith and folk medicine to treat a wide range of illnesses and conditions. Prayer is a key element to Traiteur healing, which also includes faith healing and “laying on of hands.” Traiteurs consider their skills to be a gift from God and do not charge for their services, although gifts are sometimes given to them. Historically, traditional medicine was scarce in rural parts of southern Louisiana and a luxury only a few people could afford. For many generations, Traiteurs were an important component of health in those areas. Traiteurism is a very old tradition that is dying out, and very few traiteurs now exist. Traditionally, the rituals of the traiteur are passed down to the opposite gender (a male must pass it down to a female and vice versa).
LAST ISLAND is a series of barrier islands along Terrebonne Parish’s Gulf coast. It was originally one island approximately twenty-five miles long and one mile wide. Over the past two centuries, storms and erosion have greatly altered its size and configuration. One of the earlier recorded accounts of the island came from James Cathcart, who landed there with several other men in 1819. He was surveying the land for Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and searching for good lumber to build ships for the Navy. According to Legend, pirate Jean Lafitte and his men also frequented the island.
As the years passed and southern Louisiana grew in population, Last Island became a popular vacation spot for fishing, swimming and other leisure activities. Visitors could escape the humidity, mosquitos and illnesses of the mainland with shallow waters, white beaches, sea breezes, and delicious seafood.
As the numbers of tourists to Last Island grew, so did the amenities. By the 1850s there was a fine hotel, dining hall, and bar along with billiards, bowling, and other entertainment, including a band to play for dances. Wealthy planters found it to be an ideal spot for building summer homes.
While the island withstood many hurricanes over the years, the storm that hit in August of 1856 was the most devastating, due to the number of vacationers there at the time. After hours of terror, tragedy and heroism, survivors and rescuers beheld scenes of great destruction and death. It was estimated that 200 people died in the storm; nearly half of those who perished were believed to be on Last Island at the time. The resort oasis was never rebuilt.
VOODOO came to Louisiana from Africa via Haiti and the West Indies. It is considered a form of religion, and its practitioners use it to communicate with ancestors and animal-type gods. Voodoo holds a strong reverence for the spirit world, where ancestors dwell, and incorporates healing to treat both body and spirit. In Louisiana, it has been blended with Catholicism, which the Arcadians and Spaniards introduced.
In Voodoo, there is only one God, called “Bondye,” who is very similar to the God of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Healing people from illnesses is the core objective of Voodoo. Healers use herbs and practice faith healing, which invokes the assistance of spirits. In particular, the spirits of one’s ancestors are viewed as important by practitioners, as well as the major forces in the universe, such as good, evil, health, reproduction, etc.
HOUMA INDIANS The earliest written account of the Houma Indians of Louisiana was in 1682, when a French explorer mentioned passing through a fog near the village of the “Oumas.” In 1700, hostilities developed between the tribe and neighboring Bayougoula Indians over hunting grounds. The conflict was peacefully settled by mediation. The French and Indian War in the 1750s had a lasting impact on the Indians of southern Louisiana, as it prompted various tribes to merge into protective alliances. Although many others joined the Houma tribe, it retained its predominately Houma roots.
While the tribe survived several changes in imposed European authority between the Spanish, French and Americans, its numbers dwindled over time. A small scattering of tribal members still live in the coastal areas of Louisiana, but the lack of federal recognition, hurricanes and coastal erosion continue to threaten their survival.
ALLIGATOR ANNIE was a real, larger-than-life character straight out of the bayou. She lived hard, worked hard and loved with all her might. Born in 1915, Annie Billiot began hunting alligators and trapping with her parents when she was a small child. Her father had a job at a sugarcane plantation where he was in charge of hunting and fishing and keeping important transportation canals clear. When Annie was eight, she received a shotgun for her birthday, and by the age of nine, she was quite skilled at hunting. During the Great Depression, her father lost his job when the sugarcane plantation had to be sold. Because Alligators were precious for their skins and as live specimens, the Billiot family began hunting them for much-needed cash. Annie was a civic-minded citizen and became a special deputy to enforce gaming and wildlife laws.
Eventually, Annie and her second husband, Eddie, began a charter fishing business and also tried their hands at commercial crabbing. Their final business venture was guiding swamp tours to promote tourism in the area. The couple gained television exposure and national fame as they shared the beauty of the swamps. Eddie and Annie died in 2002 and 2004 respectively, but the swamp tours have been carried on by their sons.
THE LOUP GAROU is a Cajun legend of a human who changes into a wolf at his/her own will. The French word loup means “wolf” and garou means “man who turns into animal.” The legend says that when a person comes into contact with the Loup Garou and sheds the blood of the beast, the Loup Garou will then be changed back to its human form and reveal its secret. The victim becomes a Loup Garou for 101 days. In the legends, the Loup Garou is said to be someone the victim knows, such as a jealous former lover. The Loup Garou is extremely dangerous because it is completely aware and as intelligent as it is in its human form.