…..Visit with Ernest “Bully” Ladner – October 13, 2007
An article about Cadet LaFontaine has already been posted in this category, based on information given by Bert Nicaise. Since then I have had the pleasure of being given a personal tour of the area.
My interest in the family was more than a passing one. Bert’s relatives included our beloved childhood nursemaid Lydia. It was to her that my mother would often entrust care of me and my siblings when we were very young. I think it was Bert who put my brother Wilfred and me in touch for a visit with Lydia before she died.
My grasscutter and general contractor for various repairs for all the years I had Paw Paw’s beach, was Russell LaFontaine, also a cousin.
On a visit to the Bayou Caddy cemetery, while I was taking photos of the grave of Cadet LaFontaine and others, a pickup truck drove up.
The cemetery is an enclosure in a wooded area, reached by a winding road not marked with directions to the site. I knew that someone was coming to check me out. A large man alighted from the cab of the truck, asking me politely what in hell I was doing there. I explained my purpose, even showing him my notebook and camera. I introduced myself by name, which seemed to confuse him. I then offered that around Clermont Harbor and Lakeshore the name was pronounced Ga ran’, which caused him to immediately reflect. He then got friendly and recalled that I have a brother named Roland, and that we used to catch flounders during the day. He said that he was never able to see them at night, and so was amazed that we could catch them in daylight.
When I offered that I had another brother named Wilfred, he interjected that he must have been named after our father. Bully even knew my father, and remembered that he had the old Clermont Harbor Hotel before it burned.
He went on to recall our sister Gloria, who had died at age 41, and how she dated one of the Moran boys – Tommy, I believe – and that they and their country music band had really made it big for awhile, traveling around the country. All self taught, I asked, and he confirmed that they were. (My previous article does not mention the Morans, but their name is another from the earliest days. Originally spelled “Morin,” we have copies of letters involving one of the Morins during the Spanish period; the letters, written in Spanish, recite numerous encounters with “corsairs” along the coast. The land that included the Pirate House had been granted to the Mary Paris – also “Parish” – and the Widow Morin.)
He gave his name as Ernest “Bully” Ladner, and I then connected him to a tomb of Bud Ladner nearby. I asked if that had been his father, and when he said “yes” I realized that he must be Bert’s brother.
Thinking of Gloria, he then said that at home he had a picture of her, and he had shown it to his wife, saying that she was the most beautiful girl he ever knew. He also said she was a “beautiful person.”
Bully and family have been the keepers of the Bayou Caddy cemetery, donated many years ago by his ancestor, Celeste LaFontaine. She was the widow of Cadet LaFontaine, whose name was corrupted to “Caddy”; thus, Bayou Caddy.
The cemetery is a nicely kept four acres reached by Bud Ladner Road, which intersects at Lower Bay Road by the former home of “Poss” LaFrance, now deceased. Bully’s home and that of his son Ernest are at the entrance to the cemetery.
Other than Native Americans, Cadet was the first to settle the area, having come from Biloxi and finding his way up the bayou as far as he could take his schooner. The site is roughly where the bayou narrows, shown clearly on maps. I believe that the mouth of the bayou was noted in the Iberville logs, but not explored. Iberville was told by an Indian guide that a stream led to a lake, but he had doubts and did not ascend it.
The closely knit folks of the LaFontaine family are all believed to be descended from another historical character of Hancock County, in the personage of Simon Favre.
It is fairly well accepted that he had children by three women, the last being Celeste Rochon of Mobile. It was she whom he recognized in his will. She seems to have been his only legitimate wife, but before that union, Favre may have married the daughter of the great Choctaw warrior Pushmataha, a close friend. She was named Pistiklokonay, by whom four children were born.
The last was also named Celeste; thus the source of some confusion of the women so named.
According to the above speculation, it was to the latter Celeste that Cadet LaFontaine was married. His children were thus part Choctaw.
Another version, seemingly the one preferred by Bully and family, claims Cadet’s mother-in-law was Madame Charlot, thus making her descendants heirs to a huge claim. Favre genealogy chart shows two marriages of Jean Claude Favre, the eventual father of Simon.
His first spouse is listed as an “Unknown Indian,” and by this union a son named Charles “Charlot” Favre was born. It was later when Jean Claude’s marriage to Marguerite Wiltz produced Simon.
In neither case does the descendancy chart show evidence of the Celeste who married Cadet. At best, the record is confusing. Perhaps additional study of other documents, including The Ladner Odyssey, will be helpful. But, for the moment, more information about the cemetery is in order.
The tomb of Cadet LaFontaine is a small brick tomb with two stones. One gives his date of birth in French as March 17, 1790, and his date of death as April 20, 1852. The stone is marked at the bottom as having been made in New Orleans. Another stone, in front of the tomb, reflects Cadet’s service in the 18th Mississippi Militia during the War of 1812. It may be that he participated in the battle of New Orleans, but this has not been confirmed.
Bully remembers when the original mortar was crumbling so badly that the tomb had to be rebuilt. At that time, he reports, he picked up a number of bones (the skeleton was not complete) and large buttons, and placed them in a cement bag. Before they were reinterred, he compared a femur to his own, finding that it was substantially longer than Bully’s own femur. As Bully is a large man, Cadet must have been exceptionally tall.
Next to Cadet’s tomb is a handsome granite marker reciting the deed by which Celeste LaFontaine donated the four acres to be a cemetery. Documents show that land owned by Cadet and Celeste was formally deeded as part of the “Military Bounty Land Act of 1850” and recorded at the Registrar’s office in Mississippi on February 17, 1854.
Other tombs of interest include that of the wife of Poss LaFrance. She was Mabel, after whom he named his schooner. She was born in 1904 and died in 1997. (An article about Poss also has been previously posted.)
Another is that of Antoine “Coon” LaFontaine, born 1839 and died 1909. Poss has identified this person to have been his ancestor, and the son of Cadet.
Behind the homes of Bully and son Ernest is perhaps the oldest house in the area. Its age is unknown, but Poss knows that his grandmother lived in it many years ago. It has the appearance of a Louisiana-type slave quarter, but is actually the remaining half of what was once a “dog-trot” house. Now it is in disrepair, indeed the home of several contented goats, but Ernest plans to restore it.
Restoration would return it to its place as a valuable landmark. It is constructed of squared-off, hand-hewn logs. Poss had explained that his grandmother kept the spaces between logs sealed off by packing them with a particular kind of clay that she found near Cadet’s home, by the bayou. After applying the clay and allowing it to dry, she would then whitewash the logs.
Bully owns in excess of 40 acres adjacent to his home site. Graciously, he offered to give me a tour on his “mule,” a two-seater device designed for travel in such an area. On his land, Bully raises horses and cattle, but in previous years it was planted in sugar cane by his uncle. Much of it is a beautiful wilderness, although somewhat spoiled by the ravages of Katrina. Several derelict boats still lie unclaimed near the bayou; one identifies its port as being in Florida.
Most impressive was the site of the house of Cadet LaFontaine. Nothing remains of it, as it was torn down years ago and some of the timber was used to build a house in Bay St. Louis. To get there, we had to crawl through barbed wire as we neared the marshland prairie of the bayou, an ancient oak being our destination. It stands just off the marsh, where once a foot bridge led to the bayou. Just to the west, the land rises, and it is easy to assume that Cadet built on the elevated area, overlooking the bayou to which he gave his name.
Back at the cemetery, Bully talked long and animatedly about his family history, pointing out various tombs of his relatives. Included were two tombs, side by side, of a father and son who had donated the grounds for the little white church on Lower Bay Road, and in fact had built the church. It was the son, I believe, who donated the organ for the church. Recalling that, he recalled Father Costello of Waveland, who, he said, came down to Bayou Caddy and took the organ for his church at Waveland.
About this time, I was reminded of Fr. Victor. Roland and I often served as altar boys for him when we were kids. I recall that he would sometimes tell about having to say four masses on a Sunday. Once he said – at the Lakeshore church – that he needed the support of the New Orleans people, because the collections were not high in the other areas. I recall distinctly that he said he had just come from the Bayou Caddy church, where “there were four people in church and the collection amounted to forty cents.”
Somehow the subject of Indian blood came up, and here too Bully showed some disagreement with Bert. While she mentions often in her notes that this ancestor or that was part Choctaw, or that someone married an “unknown Choctaw woman,” he expressed displeasure with the subject. It was not that he disagreed, but that he felt that some people were trying to cash in on the Indian ancestry. I have heard a few speaking of who among them are “on the roll.” I have not established what qualifications must be met, but there is a money payment made to those who are on the roll.
Bully told me that he helped to rebuild Cadet’s tomb years ago. It had been made of brick, but the mortar did not contain lime and therefore disintegrated. He personally picked up the bones and stored them in a paper cement bag until the new tomb was finished. He commented that the skull was enormous, and that the femur was much longer than his own. Being over six feet himself, he believes that Cadet must have been seven feet tall.
Since writing the above, I have been informed that Bully has died.
I have a good feeling about the man whom I knew for only a few hours in our adult lives. He was generous with his time, protective of his family’s sacred burial place, and proud of his lineage.
Cadet, he said, was a big man. So was Bully Ladner.