It seems there was a big group of Cajuns heading west, and they had in fact reached the Sabine River. They were just about to cross the big bridge at Port Arthur when one of them noticed the sign: DO NOT PASS ON BRIDGE.
The Cajuns who could read turned around and came home. The ones who couldn't read went on across to Texas.
However they got there, today there are enough people of Cajun heritage in the so-called Golden Triangle of Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange, that some folk consider it, if not actually part of Acadiana, at least a near neighbor. (An uncle of mine claimed that Lake Charles is the geographical center of Acadiana because it is midway between Lafayette and Port Arthur.)
There might be a small bit of merit to the claim. A tombstone in Port Arthur marks in French and English the grave of Harry Choates, the "Parrain De La Musique Cajun -- The Godfather of Cajun Music." Clifton Chenier worked at a Texas refinery before he became king of zydeco, and a whole lot of Louisiana French music was produced in studios on the other side of the Sabine and played at some legendary nightspots in Orange and Port Arthur.
The first Acadians in Texas arrived by mistake in the spring of 1770. The group of 30 refugees was trying to get to Louisiana from Maryland when a storm caused them to miss the mouth of the Mississippi River. They ended up at Matagorda Bay, where the Spanish threw them into jail as suspected smugglers. The Acadians spent the summer doing hard labor, but were eventually released and made their way to Natchitoches and then down to Opelousas.
The first Cajuns who meant to stay in Texas began moving across the Sabine River about 1840. The U.S. census in Texas in 1850 found 600 "Franco-Louisianans" between Orange and Houston. Historians say most of these were probably French Creoles, but that some of them were Cajuns.
More moved to Texas after the Civil War because there was less destruction there and work was easier to find. A good number of Cajuns moved into Texas in the late 1800s to work on southeast Texas rice farms or on the Southern Pacific railroad that ran from the Sabine River to Houston. Many of these Cajun railroad workers settled in Houston, where Southern Pacific had its district headquarters.
Then there was Spindletop in 1901. The discovery of the massive oil field in southeast Texas forever changed the ethnic makeup of the area as Louisiana Cajuns streamed into Texas to work in the oil industry.
In 1915, destruction by a severe hurricane on the upper Texas coast provided jobs for construction workers and more Cajuns crossed the Sabine. America's entry into World War I in 1917 brought growth in the oil refineries and shipyards in the Golden Triangle and created more jobs for Cajuns.
World War II had an even greater effect on the Texas oil and shipbuilding industries and, after the war, a growing shrimping industry brought Cajuns to the better fishing grounds off the Texas coast.
Today, the census-takers tell us, there are probably at least 375,000 Cajuns who call Texas home. Most of them--like most of us--no longer speak French (if they ever did), and some of them do exhibit a bit of cultural confusion, offering such things in their restaurants as crawfish tamales and crawfish etouffee enchiladas.
But not all of it is gone. You can find a good gumbo and dance a lively two-step with folks from the other side of river--even if they have forgotten how to pronounce their own names.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.