These ridges, usually about 3 or 4 feet above sea level, are formed from old beaches left stranded in ancient times, when the marsh moved southward toward the Gulf.
The first people to come to these ridges were the Indians, and remnants of their burial mounds and middens (dumping grounds) can still be traced here and there on the ridges.
Early explorers found one shaped like a pyramid, another, near Grand Lake, was in the form of an alligator.
Acadians found the chenieres after 1755. Texans fled to them during the war for Texas independence, and Yankees began to show up after the Civil War, many of them to settle on land given them by the government. Outlaws and drifters often found the isolated ridges to their liking.
One of the most romantic of these little islands, Cheniere au Tigre, nestles on the Gulf shore in the southernmost region of Vermilion Parish, about 40 miles south of Abbeville.
It is one of the bigger ridges, stretching nearly 5 miles from east to west, 200 feet to a quarter of a mile wide.
Massive oaks tower above it, dangling wispy Spanish moss from gnarled branches. Mesquite, hackberry, yucca, oleander, wild pepper and dune grass grow everywhere. Wild grape vines wind over, under, and around all.
Each spring and fall, tens of thousands of indigo and painted buntings, warblers, sparrows and swallows nest on the cheniere, before and after a long migration across the Gulf to or from the Yucatan Peninsula.
Ducks and geese and egrets and marsh birds of every description live alongside nutria, muskrats, swamp rabbits, raccoons, 'possums, fox squirrels, deer, and alligators.
The Dyson family was the first to settle the area, coming in the mid 1840s. Other early family names were White, Sagrera, Rodrique, and Choate.
By the turn of the 20th century there were between 25 and 30 families living at Cheniere au Tigre -- cattlemen, hunters, trappers, and small farmers.
The cheniere's most famous institution appeared in 1913, when Mr. and Mrs. Raphael Semmes Sagrera opened the Sagrera Health Resort.
The hotel consisted of two wings with a screened porch facing the Gulf. Each wing held eight rooms with two double beds each. There were five cottages close to the hotel, a dance hall, and a pier extending into the Gulf.
People who could afford the hotel's $1.50 per day room and board carried suitcases. Poorer folk brought camping gear and wire coops filled with live chickens to be barbecued.
Fresh seafood was the hotel specialty. Every morning a 600-foot, ox-drawn seine hauled in the day's requirement of shrimp, fish and crabs.
On Saturday nights as many as 400 people jammed into the Sagrera dance hall to two-step and waltz to a Cajun fiddle.
People sometimes rented sleeping space on the dance floor, and had to move their bedrolls and belongings to the rafters until the dancing was done.
In 1926, the Sagrera Hotel was modernized by the purchase of a Delco generator, and all cottages and rooms had a one-bulb electric light installed.
That same year, water was piped to all cottages and a faucet was placed outside of all main entrances. A shower was put up on the front ridge next to the dance pavilion for the bathers coming in from the Gulf.
Families started moving away from Cheniere au Tigre, in search of better times, during the Depression of the 1930s. World War II brought a brief respite, when the ridge became a base for Coast Guard patrols. But the Guard left immediately after the war.
The Sagrera health resort operated until 1957 when Hurricane Audrey administered a killing blow to it and to full-time occupancy of the island.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.