When Joseph Laurent built his sturdy little trading post on the banks of Bayou Liberty in the early 1800s it became something of a general store serving the community of Bonfouca until the end of the century. In 1901 Fritz Salmen bought it and the surrounding land, eventually turned it over to the Boy Scouts of America and finally St. Tammany Parish Government acquired it in the early 2000s. The old building now stands as the Salmen Lodge in Camp Salmen Nature Park.
One of the store’s neighbors down the bayou was Fracois Sidone Pichon (b. 1818, d. 1896) who kept a journal of his routines from 1848 to 1886. Keeping such a diary was common at this time and was not necessarily about the writer’s innermost thoughts or observations on the issues of the day but could be simply be a dry record of the happenings of day-to-day life. Keeping any diary is always a good discipline and once discovered by posterity it becomes a welcome window to the past. Pichon’s decedents, of which many remain in the neighborhood, were nice enough to have shared the account.
It’s not hard to imagine that the routines in Pichon’s life were not unlike those of many of his Bayou Liberty neighbors. So how did the people of Bonfouca get by in the days before internal combustion engines, satellites, labor saving electric appliances, inflation- adjusted cost of living estimates, computers and nuclear weapons?
Francois’ two main preoccupations were providing food for his family; he had a wife and nine (!) children and the other was his cash business working on the many wooden boats he hauled up onto his bank to caulk and repair. He used his journal to track his almost constant schedule of working on hundreds of the boats that served the bayou and lake trade.
Most of the of the journal’s entries were about tending to the details of farming: maintaining fencing, out buildings, livestock and crop rows and the steady regimen of planting and harvesting demanded by the march of the seasons. Like virtually everyone else in the neighborhood, in these days before Winn-Dixie, he was, first and foremost, a hard working farmer, feeding his family from the land.
The rest of the time he was a hunter. His journal refers to the hundreds of times he went down the bayou into the marshes to shoot ducks, fish or hunt in nearby woods. He proudly kept scrupulous records of what he bagged and who went along with him. These trips were, no doubt, a source of great relaxation to him plus they helped put food on the table.
Other entries throughout a journal are densely packed with details and record the pageant of life and death among the citizens of the bayou including, sadly, those of his own family. His pen usually stayed silent during the times tragedy struck this close. His visits with neighbors, his trading, his occasional trips to the big city across the lake and other north shore communities were also noted and seem to be a relief from the relentlessness of the homestead.
A photo in the frontispiece of the journal shows both Francois and his wife Adele posed before the camera, sitting comfortably and contentedly side-by-side in their middle age and seems to speak across time of “a life well lived.”