I am on vacation this week from the newspaper.
As you read this, I am hopefully fishing my
For the past two years, my two weeks of vacation
from the Banner-Tribune have been with my first
cousin from Ft. Worth, Texas. I usually take a
week in the spring and one in the fall.
Jim Ray Stouff is my father's brother's son.
Uncle Ray died when I was about thirteen years
old of cancer. He was 51. It was a tragedy in
my life to lose him. Uncle Ray meant the world
See, Jean Pierre Stouff came to American from
France in 1845 to work as overseer for one of
the largest plantation owners in this area,
Martial Sorrell. His wife, Catherine, ran a
general store outside of the Reservation that
was sacked by the Union troops. I have a copy
of her deposition before the U.S. courts claiming
recompense after the Civil War, and I can tell
you, she must have been a fiery woman because
she gave Gen. Banks hell as his men took
everything from the store. It was one of their
sons, Octave Pierre, who married a Chitimacha
princess named Delphine Arnis, my great-grandmother.
There were four brothers in my grandfather's
family. He was Emile Anatole, and his brothers
were Nicholas Leonard Stouff Sr., Octave Pierre
Stouff Jr. and Frederick Stouff. There was a
younger brother, David, who died at an early
age, and a sister, Constance, who also died
before she was a teen, of a fever.
Coming of age during the Depression, all the
brothers left the Reservation in search of
opportunity and freedom from oppression and
prejudice. Three ended up in Ft. Worth, and
one in California.
My true grandfather was Nicholas, evident of
course because my father was Nicholas Jr. Here's
why I consider Emile my grandfather: Emile and
Nick, who were of course brothers, married two
sisters, Oral and Faye Rogers. Oral and Nick
had two boys, my dad and Uncle Ray. Emile and
Faye had no children, probably due to him
contracting polio as a child.
Nick and Oral were dead by the time I was born.
Having no legal heir, Emile and Faye adopted my
dad in court. Thus, they were the only
grandparents I ever knew, though they were
by blood my great-aunt and great-uncle.
Of the brothers, only Emile returned to the
reservation. He was a general contractor,
and did work on the Panama Canal. He came
home to take over the family homestead,
which is where I live now.
My father was born in Ft. Worth, and didn't
come to the Rez until he was a young teen.
He so fell in love with it that, after serving
during World War II, he came back to Chitimacha
and made it his home.
Emile was chief of the tribe, by blood. My
father was the last bloodline chief and our
first elected Tribal Chairman after he and
four other tribal members wrote and adopted
our Constitution and By-laws to obtain
I have always believed that Emile came back to
the Rez because he was moved, almost coerced,
to do so. Sacred fires are hard to resist, to
My people came from Natchez. We were a branch
of the Natchez Nation that split off from the
main group due to some sort of division. But
French writer L. Simone Du Pratz, while living
with the Natchez in the early 1700s, noted that
the Chitimacha and the Taensa were the only
other tribes the Natchez considered brothers.
At Grand Village in the Natchez world, a flame
was always kept burning. It was said that if the
flame would be allowed to go cold, great doom
would befall the tribe. Du Pratz writes that
at one time the flame did go out, and such an
uproar rose among the Natchez people that he
himself feared the world was ending.
From Natchez we took our kinship, heirship
and social customs. The leaders of our people
were the Suns. My grandfather and my father
were Suns. I make no such personal claim,
because those days are past now.
I have always believed Emile and, later, my
father, came back to Chitimacha because they
knew, in their hearts, in their spirits, that
the flame must be tended. In this they were
forever dedicated and true. Sometimes, when
the night is quiet and the sounds of the
Reservation creep to me like spirits on fall
breezes, I think that the fire out there
somewhere keeps me here as well.
Jim Ray and his son, Christopher, will be
joining me this week. Time was, the Texas
Stouffs would make one pilgrimage to the
Rez each year, and the Louisiana Stouffs w
ould in turn visit Ft. Worth. After Uncle
Ray died, and my grandfather, those visits
slackened. Not long ago, though, Jim and I
made the commitment to each other that we
won't let that happen anymore.
Jim is about eighteen years my senior. I
was born late, and an only child. When he
comes here, and we fish together, he tells
me stories from times before I was born,
stories I can put on the pallet of the world
I know and have yet to recall. He tells me
he wants his children (he also has two
daughters) to experience the Rez and the
Atchafalaya Basin. Chris has already fallen
in love with the basin after his first visit
in the spring.
We are going to chase bass, sac-au-lait and
bluegill. We are also going to head for the
marsh in search of redfish and speckled trout.
I am hopeful we will have a grand time this
week. Jim fishes the fly rod along with spin
tackle. When he was a boy and the Texas Stouffs
were visiting, my father handed Jim a fiberglass
"See what you can do with that, boy," my dad said.
After a few minutes of sparse lawn casting instruction,
they took off fishing. Jim learned to cast and caught
a few fish with the borrowed rod.
When it was time for them to go, as they were
packing the car, dad handed Jim the rod. "Take
that home and see what you can do with it over
there, boy," he said. Jim still fishes that rod
Uncle Ray gave me my first pocketknife. I wish
I still had it, but I lost it somewhere decades
There's going to be a lot of fishing this week.
But most of all, there's going to be a reunion
of the Stouffs, yet again. It's good to come
back to where it all began, in that little
cottage by the bayou where generations fanned
out in search of freedom. That their descendants
will come back, fish with me in my – in our – native
waters, gives me hope that the fire out there
somewhere still burns hot and brilliant. ~ Roger