The Attakapas district included what is now Lafayette, St. Martin, Iberia, St. Mary and Vermilion parishes. The Opelousas district included present day St. Landry, Evangeline, Acadia, Cameron, Calcasieu, Allen, Jefferson Davis and Beauregard parishes.
On the prairies in the Opelousas district, Darby wrote, "You behold those vast herds of cattle which afford subsistence to the natives, and the inhabitants of the city of New Orleans. It is certainly one of the most agreeable views in nature, to behold from a point of elevation thousands of horses and cows, of all sizes, scattered over the interminable mead, intermingled in wild confusion. The mind feels a glow of correspondingly innocent enjoyment, with those useful and inoffensive animals grazing in a sea of plenty. If the active horsemen that guard them would keep their distance, fancy would transport us backwards into pastoral ages."
He called this "ground that must forever remain covered with grass" one of the "great meadows of America."
"Allowing ten animals to be produced annually from each five acres," he said, "more than two hundred and twenty thousand can be reared and transported from this prairie alone, which at an average of ten dollars per head would exceed two million four hundred thousand dollars."
That was a lot of money in 1816, but he said it was no exaggeration.
"This calculation will, I know, appear extravagant," Darby wrote, "but it is certainly not exaggerated beyond practicability, so much has nature done for a country where even sterile lands are the source of wealth, ease, and human happiness. The time is not remote when the bacon and flour of the western states will be repaid by the sugar, cotton, beef, and hides of Louisiana."
Just as important, according to Henry Brackenridge, who traveled through the countryside a few years before Darby, the prairies could bring health as well as wealth.
"Free from stagnant waters, with the exception of a few ponds," he wrote, "the atmosphere [on the prairies] is not poisoned by noxious vapors, and open to the breezes from the gulf." They "enjoy a cool and refreshing temperature, while the rest of the state is suffering from the effects of a close and sultry air. Without fear of contradiction, I may pronounce [this] to be by far the most healthy part of the state."
Brackenridge found a subtle beauty to the wide expanse of prairie.
"There is nothing wild or savage, yet the scenery is not tame or monotonous; there is sufficient variety and succession of ... scenes, which may soothe the mind, or inspire it with lively and pleasing emotions."
As he rode across the prairieland on a late spring day, he said, "the distance of my journey was forgotten while I gazed with delight upon the waving surface of these meadows now covered with deep green ... in some places bounded only by the horizon, in others by skirts of wood, dimly appearing as ... some distant isle of the sea; while a thousand brilliant ... flowers shed their perfume upon the air."
Sounds like home to me.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.