Fact vs. Fiction in Under the Cajun Moon
DON'T READ THIS PAGE UNTIL YOU HAVE READ UNDER THE CAJUN MOON!
Otherwise, you'll learn some important plot points that might spoil the story for you.
Have you read Under the Cajun Moon yet?
If not, read it first and then be sure to come back here for this info.
If so, then feel free to proceed now.
Following is a list of the fact vs. fiction in this book:
In the story, Jacques Soliel and his father fall victim to a devious plot (solid gold statues switched with brass gilded statues) masterminded by a man named John Law. Though this particular scheme is fictional and no gold or gilded fleur de lis were ever commissioned by the French crown, the storyline was based on other, similar schemes that really were perpetrated by Law at that time.
John Law lived in France during the historical period depicted in this novel. A brilliant economist from Scotland, Law was also a scoundrel and a swindler. With the economy of France in a slump, Law convinced the French Regent to try a system of paper moneyan idea that was revolutionary for the era. This worked well for a time as the economy revived and then flourished, creating mass wealth, inflation, and a frenzied stock market.
Part of Law's moneymaking schemes involved the settlement of the Mississippi Territory for France, something that grew more and more difficult to do as word spread throughout Europe that the region was dangerous, miserable, and nothing at all as described in Law's propaganda. He circulated posters showing a land of plenty, one where diamonds and gold could be scooped off of the ground at will, when in fact much of the Mississippi Territory was swampy, ridden with pestilence, and virtually uninhabitable, with neither gold nor diamonds anywhere to be found.
For the territory to succeed, most of all Law needed to establish the city of New Orleans, and he sent numerous ships to the region in an attempt to populate it. Unfortunately, the transatlantic crossings were deadly, and many ships that left France with 200 passengers or more made it there with fewer than 50! Even many of those who made it soon died of starvation or disease.
Still, France needed a port city in New Orleans, so the crown allowed Law to use more and more radical schemes to populate it. Soon, France was shipping out its homeless, insane, criminals, prostitutes, and more, all in an effort to populate New Orleans and the rest of the Mississippi Territory.
Believe it or not, weddings like the one that poor Jacques is subjected to in the story (random, forced matches between prisoners and the insane) actually did take place! For a brief period, there was even a law in France that anyone who could not show gainful employment for 4 days in a row was deported.
Greedy and ambitious, Law ultimately printed more paper money than there were gold stores to back it up, and an inevitable run on the bank almost singlehandedly destroyed the economy of France. In the end, he fled the country in shame, despised throughout Europe and up and down the Mississippi River.
The National Film Board of Canada's website features a very clever, very-well-done animated history lesson this topic. Click here to watch: www.nfb.ca.
The city itself is depicted in numerous historical documents much as Jacques describes it in the story. It really was a difficult place in the beginning, populated by the dregs of society, ridden with pestilence, and constantly flooding. With no middle classes to do the skilled labor, the settlement was nearly doomed. If not for the German farmers who settled upriver and began cultivating fields and growing crops, New Orleans may well have starved out of existence.
The city also owes much credit for its survival to the Catholic church and in particular to the Ursuline nuns. Over and over, historical documents show how tirelessly they met the needs of the poor and downtrodden. Personal correspondences from that era also show how fervently they prayed for God's blessings on the place despite it's shocking lack of morality. In Mindy's opinion, though New Orleans is still a complicated city (with plenty of immorality to go around) it also somehow continues to maintain a sense of reverence and a spirit of God's grace, one she sees as a testament to those prayers in the beginning and all that have come from a variety of denominations ever since.
One more historical note: In the story, the mob scene takes place at the "Place d'Arms". That was the name of what is now known as Jackson Square.
Ask a Chitimacha where their tribe originated, and they will tell you "We have always been here." Indeed, the Chitimacha can trace their earliest settlements back to approximately 500 AD. Through the years, the Chitimacha thrived so much that at one point their population numbered more than 20,000.
In the 1700's, as France attempted to colonize the region, the Chitimacha came under attack and suffered much persecution and hardship. In the ensuing years, encroached upon by France, Spain, and the US, their numbers drastically decreased. Though deeply decimated, they managed to survive as a people and even retained some of their original tribal lands.
These days, things are looking up for the Chitimacha. There are approximately 950 members of the Chitimacha Tribe, and of those, approximately one third live on the reservation in and around the picturesque town of Charenton, LA. Their tribal government is impressive, overseeing programs and facilities that include a Trading Post, Tribal Museum, Multi-Purpose Office building, Health Department, Tribal Courts, Police & Fire, Senior/Youth Center and Tribal School. Their largest commercial development is the highly successful Cypress Bayou Casino.
The last surviving speaker of the Chitimacha language died in 1940, making the language extinct. Fortunately, archived recordings survived, and these days Chitimachan is being revived both as a verbal and written language. A visit to the reservation, particularly the museum, is a fascinating experience, one that communicates a deep sense of pride and dignity, strong ties with the past, and great hope for the future.
To read about the language, visit www.bigorrin.org.
To see recipes for Macque Choux and other regional favorites, visit www.chitimacha.gov.
As shown in the story, the town of Charenton, LA, really does seem to have been named after the mental institution in Charenton, France. According to legend, the name "Charenton" seemed like a logical choice because it was often said that the region was so isolated from the rest of civilization that one would have to be crazy to live there.
The coordinates used in the story to pinpoint the treasure do not reflect accurate coordinates for the fictional land mass known as Paradise. In fact, using Google earth or similar to view those particular coordinates reveals a region directly in the middle of the Atchafalaya River just north of Patterson, LA. This was intentional on the part of the author. Because the story deals with a fictional hidden treasure, and thanks to the numerous satellite images that are now easily available via the internet, Mindy did not feel comfortable directing curious readers to anyone's private property. To her mind, the fictional island known as Paradise was actually located somewhere north and east of the coordinates given, but not too far.
The story of the Lake Peigneur disaster is true and was one of the most fascinating elements of Mindy's research. Click here to see an excellent video from the History Channel about the topic.