October 3, 2017
The Devil's Punchbowl: History & Myth
By: Troy Bickford
When other “history nerds” 🙂 find out that I share this passion…to the extent that I got Master’s Degree “just for fun”… they usually jump right into a discussion. Sometimes they want to talk about some aspect of history they’re interested in. Or, they want to know what I’ve studied. But a lot of the time, I’ll have people discuss history itself, as a topic of study. And along these lines I’ve had several people comment that they don’t agree with the practice “revisionist history.”
“History is what it is. Don’t revise it.” Or, they’re really saying, “Don’t mess with the facts please.”
I see their point. And unless I’m feeling feisty I usually just let this go. But from my perspective, history is not merely the past. History is our understanding of the past in the here and now. And many questions about the past have never been answered because they’ve never been asked.
You’ve never lived on the edge, until you’ve live on the edge of The Devil’s Punchbowl
Clermont Bluffs B&B sits on the bluff overlooking the Devil’s Punchbowl. Well probably. You see, there’s not much about the Punchbowl that is not disputed by someone, somewhere…including it’s precise location and boundaries. There are as many stories about the Punchbowl as there are critters and reptiles that make it their home. Here’s a brief list:
Jean Lafitte buried treasure in the Devil’s Punchbowl I am from South Louisiana. Jean Lafitte seemed to bury so much treasure that had little time to do anything else.
River pirates would throw their victims over its edge, seeing which corpse would hit bottom first.
River pirates would hide out in the punchbowl, sheltered by it’s 200 ft. canyon-like walls.
And perhaps the best know story about The Devil’s Punchbowl, is the one that took best-selling author Greg Isles several hundred pages to tell.
But without doubt, the story that seems to get the most attention and controversy touches on slavery and race. The story goes that immediately following the Civil War freed slaves in the region flocked to Natchez, having no where else to go. As the population grew, authorities (Union soldiers in charge) were faced with a dilemma. And their solution would persist in local history like a dark cloud.
Recently it seems everything that touches to the Civil War causes controversy. So it’s no doubt that claims of an internment camp turned death camp would ruffle some people’s feathers. When I first heard the story (I saw the WJTV New story above on youtube), I immediately thought “what’s the sources.” It seems like a lot of legend rehashing to me. But I have encountered areas of study where documentation is poor and oral histories are found to be reliable. When it comes to the Punchbowl, I don’t know what the sources are. But I want to.
This Saturday Oct 7th, Miss Lou Heritage Tours and Jeremy Houston will perform their“Narrative of a Natchez Slave.” And as a part of this performance, Jeremy will delve into these stories and the historical documents that support them. As I told the Natchez Democrat, we need to explore all of our history. What can be verified and what must be left to legend? So many have knee jerk reactions to controversies in history. But my perspective is to let the sources speak for themselves. I am very much looking forward to hear what they say.