is the first in what I plan on being a regular monthly column.
I thought it would be appropriate to begin with some history
and geography of the Chenier Plain region. Subsequent columns
will cover natural resources and other topics concerning
Louisiana’s coastal region. I hope you find them educational
The word “chenier” is a Cajun-French term for
“oak” or “place of oaks.” Early
Acadian settlers gave the name to the ridges of the coastal
plains region of southwestern Louisiana because of the large
oaks which grew upon these ridges.
to the 1830s, Congress had designated these huge stands
of oaks as “naval reserves” to be used for ship
building. Sometime in the mid 1800s an amendment was passed
to free these lands for private ownership. This, along with
pre-emption laws, which were similar to homestead exemption
laws, influenced settlement of the Chenier Plains.
Early settlers to the Chenier Plain region discovered what
prehistoric Indians had found long before them; a land rich
in natural resources, teeming with fish and wildlife. The
majority of the prehistory sites found in the area date
to what is known as the Coles Creek Period (A.D. 400 to
A.D. 1100). The Coles Creek settlement pattern was one of
villages and mounds on the cheniers with numerous small
fishing and hunting camps dispersed throughout the surrounding
marshes, along bayous, lakes and bays in the area.
The Chenier Plain region of the northern Gulf of Mexico
extends some 200 miles from Vermillion Bay westward to East
Bay near Galveston, Tx. Cheniers are actually ancient gulf
beach ridges stranded inland by the historic deltaic processes
of the Mississippi River and erosion.
the Mississippi shifted westward depositing its sediment
across the floodplain of what is now Louisiana’s western
coast, a delta was formed creating large shallow flats much
like the present day Atchafalaya and Mississippi deltas.
Then, when the river changed course, the delta was starved
of sediments, allowing the gulf to erode the delta and for
wave action to stack the delta’s sediments and shell
into a beach rim. Over a several thousand year period, the
process was repeated by the oscillating Mississippi River.
westward swing of the Mississippi created another delta,
followed by a river shift, then erosion, creating another
beach gulfward. This explains why, for the most part, the
cheniers run east and west, parallel to the coastline. The
northern most cheniers like Little Chenier and Little Pecan
are the oldest at around 2,800 years old. While the youngest,
Grand Chenier and Front Ridge are 1,100 to 1,300 years old
and are closest to the gulf.
Another characteristic common among the chenier ridges is
the shallow marshes gulfward of the main ridge. Most of
the ridges have a deeper area immediately south of the ridge.
This is the deepest part of the trough which, by the gulf’s
wave action, scoured the sediment and shell washing it into
a beach line, creating the ridge.
The ridges are separated by large shallow marshes interspersed
with larger bayous and a series of large lakes including
White Lake, Grand Lake, Lake Misere, Sweet Lake, Willow
Lake, Calcasieu Lake, Black Lake and Sabine Lake. The main
river watersheds draining into the Chenier Plains are the
Vermillion/Teche, Mermentau, Calcasieu and Sabine.