A Thrilling Experience

William Thibodeaux

By William Thibodeaux, History columnist

According to The Weekly Messenger of St. Martinville dated December 27, 1913, a party of young people boarded a boat for a pleasant ride down the Teche. The group left St. Martinville at 2:00 o’clock Sunday afternoon. All was fine; everyone enjoyed the cool and agreeable weather of late December until the boat was about two miles from Loreauville. That was when the party decided it was late and time to return home. At about that precise moment, the engine quit and would not start. The engine needed priming and when that was being done, no one had noticed an apparent leak—gasoline covered the floor. When the engine finally started a jet of fire shot out and ignited the boat, which by this time was sitting in the middle of the bayou. One of the boys, Martial Bienvenu realized the seriousness that threatened the party. The boy took the rope of the boat and jumped in the frigid waters of the Teche.
Miraculously he somehow managed to pull the boat toward shore. Meanwhile the other boys held off the fire with their wet overcoats. The girls rushed forward escaping the fire, others jumped into the water avoiding the flames. The boat burned completely as the group stood shivering on the bayou bank. An elderly black couple, Theodore Vital and his wife, came to the rescue and took the group to their nearby house. They were given hot tea and dry clothes. They also made a nice fire and cooked supper for the distressed group.
The boating incident happened two miles from Adrian Gonsoulin’s Mariah sugar mill where some of the boys walked to telephone St. Martinville for help. According to the paper, it was 11:30 p.m. when carriages arrived to take them home. The party’s ordeal finally ended at three o’clock in the morning. Those in the group were: Mrs. Martin J. Voorhies the chaperone, Anna Ferran, Goldie and Collette Resweber, Jeanne Davenport, Claudia Gary, Beatrice Durand, Octavia and Louise Bienvenu, Lorena Labbe, Gladys Broussard, James and George Simon, Clifford Durand, Olympe Pavia, Elmer Duchamp, Milton Voorhies, Martial Bienvenu, Tom Martin, Edmond Guidry and Harry Labbe.
Two days later a self-propelled motorcar loaded with twenty-one rail passengers entered St. Martinville from the railroad branch line. As the motorcar rolled towards the bayou to allow its passengers to disembark, the brakes were applied but the motorcar refused to stop. By the time the motorman and the conductor realized the railcar wasn’t going to stop, they encouraged everyone to jump. The motorcar was on “the high trestle work that was built to unload material for the locks” a height of about twenty-five or thirty feet, when the passengers realized they were in a dangerous predicament but could do nothing. The motorcar was about to plunge into the Teche as passengers rushed to the narrow doors to get out. Suddenly the motorcar slammed into the high bumper which brought the car to an abrupt halt, knocking the passengers to the floor. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt only minor bruises. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Martin and Miss De la Loire
were the only locals from St. Martinville. The others were strangers from outside the area who had come down for a Christmas holiday visit on the bayou.
Thanks to historian James Akers who knew most of the above named individuals. He also said Ms. De la Loire later owned Lady of the Lake Plantation, south of St. Martinville.

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