The centerpiece of Camp Salmen is its frontage on the atmospheric Bayou Liberty and our historic Salmen Lodge, one of the oldest buildings in St. Tammany Parish. Let’s contemplate the long human history here.
The Paleo-Indians were the first to arrive, about 10-13,000 years ago. Eventually, they were followed by the more advanced Mississippian mound builders, and then the recent modern tribes like Colapissa, Tangipahoa and Choctaw identified by the early European explorers and colonists. This continent’s original peoples traveled in dugout pirogues on the bayou as well as to far-away places up and down the Mississippi River Valley for trade. Then the French arrived.
Among the first to escape Bienville's 1720s civic experiment on the muddy banks of the Mississippi and cross over to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain were Claude Vignon, nicknamed “Lacombe,” and Bartram Jaffery, nicknamed “La Liberte” — gentlemen for whom their respective bayous were named. They lived among the Indians in relative freedom and made a living from the area’s natural resources.
More Frenchmen, then Africans, Spanish, English and Americans, eventually arrived to join with the remaining natives. They created a melting-pot community that came to be known as Bonfouca, a Choctaw word meaning river residence. The Spanish, who governed Louisiana right after the French called people born and raised in their far-flung empire Creole and many in the Bonfouca community today call themselves by this name.
These earlier Bonfoucans farmed, fished, hunted and produced building products, from the abundant natural resources in the area. They dug up sand and gravel, made bricks from clay and lime, for mortar by burning clam-shells. There were many more things to be made from the native Longleaf pine trees including tar and pitch from the tree’s resin (for making canvas and rope waterproof and rot resistant), barrel staves, lumber, shingles, charcoal and, especially, beautiful wooden boats from which Bayou Liberty gained a significant maritime heritage. Roads and railroads gradually took over these duties and now the bayou stays mostly quiet.
A boat that once lived at Camp Salmen was the “Marguerite,” a forty-eight foot schooner owned by Joseph Laurent, the man who built the Old Trading Post in the early 1800s. The post is now called the Salmen Lodge, and is one of the oldest buildings in St. Tammany Parish. The boat was built on the nearby Tchefuncte River in 1811 and Laurent was recorded sailing her several times to the Port of New Orleans on Bayou St. John, to deliver north shore products and return with goods and people from the city. The bayou in front of his trading post happened to be wide enough to turn this boat around so it could be docked and loaded for the next voyage.
The old trading post remained a community store and operated a ferry crossing the bayou until shortly after 1901 when Fritz Salmen turned it into a commissary for his loggers and clay diggers. After their work was done the property was given to the Boy Scouts, and the rest is history.