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"Man-Eater: The Life and Legend of an American Cannibal" Harold Schechter delivers the definitive story of a legendary crime—a gripping tale of unspeakable suffering, the desperate struggle for survival, and the fight to uncover the truth. Learn more | See related books
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It is quite difficult to reconstruct many details of Louisiana's history in the 19th century because of the scarcity of documents. Brasseaux, however, gives a very good sketch of what went on. He takes us to the time of the transfer of Louisiana from France to the United States and how little the Acadians cared about the politics of the time. He illustrates the differences between the prarie Acadians and the river Acadians. During the War Between the states, the river Acadians were mainly Confederates while the prarie Acadians were mainly seen as Unionists. He showed how slavery affected these two groups differently; the prarie Acadians were mainly ranchers and owned few if any slaves while the river parish Acadians were more in sync with the rest of the plantation society and usually had many slaves. He also gets into the differences between the Creoles and the Acadians and how both societies merged by the end of the 19th century. He shows how negative stereotypes about Acadians were spread by travelers who only took a passing glance at the society that appeared foreign to them. My most interesting impression about the book was the transformation of the Acadian people from a very peaceful society to a more violent society with the introduction of "vigilante" groups of extralegal law enforcers. These groups were the result of rising crime and banditry in some areas where people took justice into their own hands. Finally, the most telling part is how the War Between the States destroyed the economy that did not recover until the second world war. The federal forces destroyed many of the levees around the wetlands and rivers that caused much flooding and destruction so that the agricultural output was decimated. This is an interesting read for anyone interested in the sketchy history of the Acadians of the 19th century.
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Being a descendant of Cajun blood, I'm always looking for any and every resource available to learn about my people. Carl A. Brasseaux has done an excellent job at attempting to give myself and other readers an introspective look at the life of the Acadians living in southern Louisiana before, during, and after the Civil War. Unfortunately, very little is known about this colorful and oft misunderstood cultural group during this time. Therefore, Brasseaux had to rely heavily on records, tables, charts, etc. that range from loosely reliable census reports to agricultural records. Considering what Brasseaux had to work with, I believe that he did an excellent job of organizing this information and putting it into a readable text.
After reading the book, I've realized that my cultural group was not only looked down upon during the modern era covered in Shane K. Bernard's "The Cajuns: Americanization of a People," but we were also outcasts during the time covered in Brasseaux's book. In short, the life and times of the Cajun people have often been scarred by oppression, hate, and an unhealthy ignorance of the culture that has lead many to believe we are all dumb, lazy idiots whose only goal in life is to have a good time with as little physical labor as possible.
Brasseaux's book, being primarily based on numbers, often gets weighed down by the records and charts that can sometimes lose the reader. Other than that, this book is worth the time to read. It isn't a very happy read, but it is full of information and an exhaustive list of references that lead the reader to further study.
Also, after reading this book, anyone with an ounce of Cajun blood in them will likely have a sour taste in their mouth for one A.W. Waud. You'll have to read the book to know what I'm talking about.
Brasseaux's examination of the development of the Cajun identity during the 1800s is an interesting social history, but its format leaves a little to be desired. Instead of following things chronologically, he examines changes in different aspects of Cajun society -- economic life, social class/status, political participation, crime/justice/vigilantism, folklife, etc. -- in isolation. While this does lead to an interesting, in-depth analysis of these aspects of society, it also makes for jarring reading. This focus shifts, however, in the chapter on Cajun reaction to the U.S. Civil War. According to the introduction, this was Brasseaux's original area of interest, and it shows. He does an excellent job of illuminating the general indifference to the Confederate government and the government's many attempts to draft Cajuns into gray uniforms.
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