May 1, 1911
The first “over water” or “offshore” oil well was drilled in Caddo Lake this week in
1911. After months of hard work and battles with mosquitoes, alligators and
moccasins, the Ferry Lake No. 1 oil well was drilled to a depth of 2,185 in Caddo
Lake near Mooringsport and began producing 450 barrels of oil a day. It was the first
"over water" or "offshore" oil well ever dug. A crew felled cypress trees on the shore
and drove the trunks into the lake for pilings for the platform to support the well. A
slush pit was also made of wood.
May 2, 1803
Agreement to the terms of the Louisiana Purchase had been reached on April 30th,
and the document was signed today in Paris in 1803. At the request of President
Thomas Jefferson, French nobleman Pierre Pont de Nemours opened back-channel
negotiations to determine Napoleon’s interest in a purchase as a way to defuse
potential conflict between the United States and France. The resulting purchase
exchanged 828,000 square miles for cash and debt forgiveness totaling sixty-eight
million francs, or $15,000,000. The territory included land from fifteen present states
and two Canadian provinces. Congress would ratify the purchase on October 19th,
1803, and the handover would be held in New Orleans in December.
May 3, 1862
A rich vein of pure rock salt was founded on Avery Island this week in May 1861. Salt
extraction had been conducted on the island for at least several hundred years, but
the 1861 discovery would be an unusually rich vein just below the surface, more than
three miles long and two miles wide. The mine would produce more than twenty-two
million pounds of salt for the Confederacy before Union Colonel W. K. Kimball would
seize the island in 1863, burn eighteen buildings, smash the mining equipment and
scatter six hundred barrels of salt awaiting shipment. Now operated by the Cargill
Corporation, the mine is the oldest in Western hemisphere.
May 4, 1943
Mike the Tiger went off to war today in 1943. LSU officials had decided that Mike
would be better off at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans for the duration of the war,
and a going away party was held for him on the Baton Rouge campus. Student body
president Hugh O’Connor gave the farewell address and Malide Cross, co-ed vice
president presented Mike with a purple and gold bouquet. A special lunch box was
packed for him by Walter Gorinski and Willie Hill of the L Club, and members of the
student council accompanied him on the train ride to New Orleans. Mike would return
to campus in 1945.
May 5, 1987
Pistol Pete was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame today in 1987. At
the time of his death, Peter Press Maravich still held sixteen NCAA records
established during his LSU career between 1968-1970. He was the all-time college
basketball scoring leader with 3,667 points in 83 games. After his spectacular college
career, he played ten seasons in the NBA, earning five trips to the NBA All-Star
Game and one league scoring title. As a professional, he had one of the top-ten
career scoring averages, 24.2 points per game, in NBA history while playing with the
Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Jazz, Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics.
May 6, 1889
Louisiana legend Zatarain's was founded as a grocery by Émile A. Zatarain, in 1886.
At the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition this week in 1889, Papoose
Root Beer, Zatarain’s trademarked formulation for the popular drink became a
regional favorite across the South. Seasonings with a Creole or Cajun flair were
among the first of Papoose Pure's products expansions. Next they moved into Creole
Mustard and pickled products. In 1963 the family sold the business to James G.
Viavant, founder and former owner of the Avondale Shipyards, who took moved
Zatarain’s to Gretna and updated the company’s outdated, inefficient packaging
May 7, 1971
Today in 1971, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
announced today that it was considering seventy sites in nineteen states for
assembling, testing and launching the proposed space shuttle vehicle that was
scheduled to begin space flights in 1981. Eventually, NASA would announce that the
shuttle’s external tanks would be manufactured at the Michoud Assembly Center in
eastern New Orleans. On June 29, 1979, ET (External Tank) 1 which flew on the first
shuttle flight on April 12, 1981, rolled out of the facility. By the end of the shuttle
program in 2011, 136 tanks would be produced, ending with the flight-ready tank ET-
122, which flew on STS-134.
May 8, 1956
Today in 1956, Cincinnati cowboy Roy Rogers visited with fans at the foot of
Convention Street in Baton Rouge, one of the last stops on his power boat cruise of
the Red and Mississippi Rivers from Denison, Texas to New Orleans. The Yellow
Jacket Boat Company of Denison, partially owned by Rogers, sponsored the trip.
Along the way, Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans, stopped in Shreveport, where
Evans visited children at the Confederate Memorial Hospital, and Alexandria, where
they enjoyed an evening at the Hotel Bentley. The tour would conclude in New
Orleans on May 9th, where five thousand fans waited in the rain to greet the star.
May 9, 1944
Jimmie Davis was inaugurated as Louisiana’s 47th governor today in 1944. James
Houston Davis had been born near Beech Springs in Jackson Parish in 1899. He
received his bachelor's degree in history at Louisiana College and his master's
degree from LSU in 1927. His master's thesis, was titled “Comparative Intelligence of
Whites, Blacks and Mulattoes.” Davis was elected in 1938 as Shreveport's public
safety commissioner and in 1942 to the Louisiana Public Service Commission. He
had recorded “You Are My Sunshine” in Shreveport in 1940 and enjoyed nation-wide
popularity as he prepared to run for governor in 1944. In that election, he defeated
Long candidate Lewis L. Morgan of Covington.
May 10, 1978
This week in 1978, the New York Apples and the New Orleans Sun Belt Nets of the
World Tennis Association but on a show at the Louisiana Superdome. Before a
disappointing crowd of 1400, the match featured a near upset of Billie Jean King by
transgender pioneer Renee Richards. When the Nets had been playing in Cleveland,
Arthur Ashe had been a member of the team and played mixed doubles matches with
Richards. When asked about the experience later, Richards said, "You couldn't get
any more mixed than we were!" The 1978 season would be the first and last season
for the Nets in New Orleans.
May 11, 1819
This week in 1819, the shallow-draft steamboat James Monroe, captained by James
A. Paulfrey, reached the Ouachita Parish seat of Miro on the Ouachita River. Two
weeks later, the town would change its name to Monroe to honor the feat. Fort Miro
had been established in 1782, when the Spanish Governor at New Orleans sent Don
Juan Filhiol to establish a post along the Ouachita River. By 1790, this trading post,
called Ft. Miro, had evolved into a community of forty-nine families. After the
Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Ouachita Parish was established March 31, 1807, with
Ft. Miro as the parish seat.
May 12, 1984
The 1984 Louisiana World Exposition opened to the public today in 1984. One
hundred years after New Orleans had hosted its first world’s fair, the fair opened in
downtown New Orleans with the theme, "The World of Rivers—Fresh Waters as a
Source of Life". Although seven million guests would visit the fair, it was not enough
to recoup the $350 million investment, giving the fair the distinction of being the only
exposition to declare bankruptcy during its run. But visitors who attended the fair
would not be disappointed as they flocked to the Aquacade, the Jazz and Gospel
Tent, the Fulton Street Market and other attractions.
May 13, 1864
Ninety percent of the city of Alexandria was burned by Union forces today in 1864.
The Union army had occupied the city in the spring of 1863 and decided to torch the
city before abandoning it. When soldiers approached the Catholic church, Father J.
B. Bellier stood at the front door, rapier in hand, and told them grimly that he’d kill the
first soldier who should attempt to apply the torch. Bellier had been trained in the
French army before entering the priesthood and when the soldiers saw that they
would have to kill the priest in order to set fire to the church, they left.
May 14, 1845
Louisiana’s first revised constitution since achieving statehood in 1812 went into
effect this week in 1845. In an era when the Jacksonian concept of the ascendancy
of the common man was prevalent, the new constitution would include the creation of
the office of superintendent of public education and efforts to encourage the
legislature to establish free public schools. Alexander Dimitry is first to hold the
position of superintendent of education, and the first free public school in the state
had opened in New Orleans in 1842. Only twenty-six students were enrolled at the
beginning of the term, but that number would swell to over a thousand before a year
May 15, 1898
Fifty-three years and three constitutions after the Constitution of 1845 went into
effect (see May 14), the Constitution of 1898 would go into effect this week in 1898 in
a very different time. The new constitution included the infamous "Grandfather
Clause" which allowed those who were able to vote before 1867 and those whose
father or grandfather could vote before 1867 to skip the literacy tests and poll taxes
that were also part of the new constitution. No blacks could vote in Louisiana before
1867, so the intent of the law was clear. The Supreme Court would rule the clause
unconstitutional in 1915.