Charenton, Louisiana

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Charenton (historically French: Lieu-des-Chetimachas[1]) is a census-designated place (CDP) in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, United States. The population was 1,944 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Morgan City Micropolitan Statistical Area. According to legend, the community received its name from one of the earliest settlers of the region, Alexandre Frere. Frere, a native of Paris, France, reportedly exclaimed on his deathbed that "anyone choosing to move to that part of Louisiana belonged in Charenton!" Charenton was the name of a notorious insane asylum outside of Paris.



Charenton is home to the only remaining community of Chitimacha Indians. In 1855, the Chitimacha were seriously reduced by yellow fever that struck the region. By 1881, the eastern band had disappeared, leaving the remaining Chitimacha on Grand Lake, located near Charenton. The census of 1900 listed only six families of Chitimacha, with a total of 55 people. Of them, only three were full-blooded Chitimacha. During this period, the Chitimacha's land base had continued to decline as reservation land was divided again and again among members unable to pay the annual taxes. As a result, the land was sold. A court divided the last 505 acres (2 km²) of the reservation in 1903, but attorney's fees claimed 280 acres (1.1 km²) of it two years later. Answering a plea from the Chitimacha women, Miss Sarah Avery McIlhenney purchased the land at a sheriff's sale in 1915 and immediately ceded it to the federal government who in turn placed the land in trust for the tribe. Federal recognition followed in 1917, and the Chitimacha became the only tribe in Louisiana to achieve such status. This new recognition and the land held in trust could not have come at a better time. World War I and the pressure it placed on oil companies led to exploration in the region and purchase of land there.

With their land secure, many Chitimacha found employment in the new Louisiana oil fields as drillers and foremen. Following the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, the Chitimacha created a new tribal organization. Unfortunately, their small enrollment and success in finding work outside their reservation led to an attempt by the government to terminate their federal status in 1952. This move was ultimately defeated, and the Chitimacha, growing in number and organization, put into effect a constitution and bylaws in 1971 that remain in effect today.

The Chitimacha operate a museum, fish processing plant and school on the reservation. In addition, what began as a bingo operation grew into a lucrative casino that operates on the tribe's land in Charenton. Revenue from the Cypress Bayou casino has provided the Chitimacha with funds used to recover land historically part of the reservation. Consequently, land that had dwindled to just 260 acres (1.1 km²) has now swelled to over a thousand acres (4 km²). The Chitimacha are an important part of Charenton's history as well as a major part of the current community.

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