The History of the Town of Gueydan and Its Founder
For more on the history of Gueydan, please visit City Hall. You will find a written and pictorial display providing more detail on the interesting life of Jean-Pierre Gueydan, his trials in Texas before settling southwest Louisiana, the Gueydan family and the town.
Jean Pierre Gueydan, aged 19, arrived in the United States in 1848 to join his younger brother who was living with an uncle in New Orleans. His arrival in this southern port city signaled the start of a new and adventurous life for Jean Pierre.
He’d come from a prosperous French family who originated and lived in the high Alps of St. Bonnet, France. The family owned a hotel in the City Square and their father saw to it that they received a well-rounded education. When the economic situation in France worsened in the mid-1800’s, the two boys arrived in the United States looking for a brighter future.
Jean Pierre spent 3 years traveling up and down the Mississippi River by steamboat learning about the cotton trade. In 1852, he moved to Abbeville, opened a business and married a local beauty, Josephine Cecile Ducommun. Jean Pierre worked hard to support a family and make his name. By 1861, the start of the American Civil War, he became a widower. At about this time he joined the Home Guard in Vermilion Parish. This group consisted of unenlisted men who were organized to defend the local home front while American enlisted men were away fighting. As a French citizen, he was not legally required to enlist in the Civil War but, ironically, because of his refusal to do so, he was suspected of treason and arrested by the South. Somehow, he managed to escape the situation and left Abbeville. The southerners suspected his allegiance lay with the North and it probably did. Looking at things from a business perspective, he probably thought little good would come from a divided nation. Apparently, at this time, he was buying, selling and shipping cotton on his boat, the Ingomar. He suffered a heavy loss when the Union confiscated much of the cotton.
Deciding to invest in cattle as well as cotton, he bought a herd and moved them to New Orleans where his brother was waiting for him. However, the Union interceded again and confiscated his herd and arrested him for “guerilla” actions. Relying on his French citizenship, he was released but he took a heavy financial loss on the cattle venture. Later, both he and his brother sued the United States for reimbursement of their stolen property by way of the French American Claims Commission and won.
In the meantime, he moved to New Iberia in 1863 and opened another business. He also remarried a New Iberia native, Amelie Azrael Montagne, and started another family. In 1866, he sold his cotton boat and moved to New Orleans to open the Magasin Rouge with his brother and another associate. In 1873, the brothers moved to Corpus Christi, Texas and engaged in sheep farming. There, they owned a sizable ranch and opened a mercantile business. Jean Pierre is credited today with inventing an apparatus for sheering sheep, the invention of machinery to make cactus edible for sheep and introducing cotton to that particular region of Texas.
By 1882, he and his brother, Francois, began purchasing acreage in the marshes of southwest Louisiana. In 1883, both men won their claim and a large sum of reimbursement money from the French American Claims Commission in a suit that was finally being settled. They sold their Texas property and moved to southwest Louisiana where Jean Pierre bought out his brother’s holdings. Francois returned to France and Jean Pierre began his legacy: the Town of Gueydan.
By the year 1887, he decided to put all of his efforts into rice farming and leased land to local and imported families for the purpose of raising rice. He managed to maintain a comfortable economic position by this time. Along with other local community members in newly formed Gueydanburg, the canal system that you see around the town was introduced to make drainage of the area possible. Realizing the need for a school, he donated a building on his “plantation” for educational purposes. They had to import one child from a neighboring area to make bringing a teacher to the area possible, but it was accomplished.
Now called Lockwood, Jean Pierre decided to contract an actual town to be developed. At the same time, he convinced the Southern Pacific Railroad to lay track 12 miles further south than they intended. A good businessman knew that if rice was to be the economic success he intended it to be, an expedient means of shipping the grain, other than boat, would be necessary. He donated part of his own lands to the Railroad Company to make the event a reality. Because of the railroad connection that Gueydan would make to Abbeville, other towns along the railroad’s path were developed, such as Kaplan. Through his connection with the railroad, Jean Pierre was introduced to someone who planted the idea of improving on the water system that crops today depend on. A pumping plant, the development of which is attributed to Jean Pierre, was installed at Primeaux’s Landing near Gueydan and was the largest of it’s kind for many years. Because of the new method of controlling water for rice crops, rather than relying on nature, Jean Pierre was able to entice many north and central Louisiana and mid-western farmers to move to the new town. Finally, in 1899, the community of Gueydan was declared a “village”.
One year later, almost 51 years to the day that Jean Pierre Gueydan first arrived on American soil, he died in Marseilles, France while waiting for his return passage to America. What he envisioned became a jewel. We are today the effect of a spirited adventurer and a visionary man. Known for duck hunting the world over, Gueydan is also the home of some of the most beautiful farm and tract land extending as far as the eye can see. We covet our small town atmosphere, where people still know everyone by first names. We consider ourselves lucky to live in such an unhurried atmosphere in this fast-paced world yet we are self-sufficient in many of our needs and within 30 minutes of the interstate and the path to the rest of the world.