Down Bayou Liberty from Camp Salmen, the waterway joins with its twin Bayou Bonfouca from Old Town Slidell to flow together through the marshes to Lake Pontchartrain. On both banks of lower Bayou Liberty is an ancient rural community also called Bonfouca. It was settled long before the upstart rail worker’s camp next door blew up to tremendous proportions with the help of a modern transportation corridor, and became the beast that is Slidell today. Things remained much quieter in Bonfouca.
Researcher Codman Parkerson, in his compendium of Louisiana’s Native American place names, states that Bonfouca is Choctaw for river residence. Indeed, archaeology, history and oral tradition prove Native Americans have a great claim to their people living on these banks for thousands of years.
European occupancy on the bayou began shortly after New Orleans was founded 1722 and Frenchmen began to migrate to the north shore of the lake. The rascal Bartram Jaffery (who called himself la Liberte’ because he liked his freedom and for whom the bayou was named) and Pierre “Lacombe” Brou (who got the bayou next door named after himself) and others, left the constraints of the struggling new city to live on the lake’s north shore to enjoy the opportunities here. An agglomeration of dwellings and farms gradually arose along the banks of the bayou. Once the Spanish took over the colony they began to formally grant the lands in the area — never mind the natives.
Early on, without good roads, residents and their goods used area waterways almost exclusively for movement up and down the bayou and to brave Lake Pontchartrain to sail to other north shore rivers, Gulf Coast ports and the city across the lake. For over two centuries thousands of wooden boats were built and sailed in the Lake Trade, and Bonfouca had its share of this maritime tradition of building, repairing and navigating boats. In contrast, today’s use of the bayou is now relegated to only canoeists and pleasure boats.
Around 1800 the building that became Camp Salmen’s Salmen Lodge, was built by Joseph Laurent as a trading post for European and Native Americans. As it was located on a wide spot on the bayou where larger vessels could turn around, the location became something like the head on navigation at the northern end of the Bonfouca settlement.
A 1935 U.S. Geological Survey map places the central street grid of old Bonfouca squarely on the west bank of the bayou, just above St. Genevieve Church. This is also at the southern end of Thompson Rd., once the community's link to the now long-discontinued trans-St. Tammany railroad, the present Tammany Trace bicycle path.
After almost three centuries, many of the people living here can tell you family histories and relationships that go back lifetimes. There is a strong sense of community and they are justly proud of their French/Spanish/American/Creole/African/Indian heritage. Best be advised to properly satisfy their preference by pronouncing the name with emphasis on the last syllable –bon-foo-KAH!