Handout for Dramatization of the Discovery of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin activity.

Discovering The Lake Pontchartrain Basin

photograph of a Native American

It is the spring of 1699. You are a member of an expedition led by Pierre LeMoyne Sieur d'Iberville, a famous French-Canadian explorer working for the King of France to establish a French colony in the wild, wet, and swampy country we now call Louisiana. Several Native American tribes live in this area. They help the explorers to find their way through the unmapped wilderness.

Your expedition party has found the Mississippi River or "Father of Waters" after a difficult and wet search. You have sailed up the river and have met with leaders from the Bayougoula, Mougoulacha, Ouma, and Quinipissa tribes who prove to Monsieur d'Iberville that the river is the one previously discovered by LaSalle several years earlier. The evidence is a Canadian coat and a letter to LaSalle from Tonty, another explorer.

Now Monsieur d'Iberville is ready to make a discovery of his own. He agrees to go along with a Native American guide to explore a short cut back to the "Great Water" (which we now call the Gulf of Mexico). Monsieur d'Iberville chooses you to go on this treacherous expedition, with two other men, himself and the Native American guide. The others sail back down the "Father of Waters".

Your journey is difficult and exhausting. It takes you along a narrow "bayouque" as the Indians call these slow moving streams. Your guide calls it "Akankia." The neighboring Choctaws call it "Manchac." The second name means "back entrance." Back entrance to where? you wonder, as you struggle to make progress. At least fifty times you have to get out of your canoe and carry it over obstacles. After a while the guide leaves because the going is too tough, but Monsieur d'Iberville has no intention of giving up.

At last! Progress becomes easier as the waterway gets wider. Suddenly, you find yourselves in a lake! You paddle across this lake and find a wide, straight waterway which you follow. It leads to another, even bigger lake! Imagine the beauty of the wide expanse of water after fighting your way through the swamps.

On your journey you have seen many flocks of wild turkey, as well as many unfamiliar animals such as alligators. You have been plagued by swarms of mosquitoes that made you wish you had never left France. But now the expedition party is in good spirits. Monsieur d'Iberville names the two lakes you have discovered. The larger one he names "Pontchartrain" for the French Count of Pontchartrain. The smaller one he names "Maurepas" for the Count of Maurepas, Pontchartrain's son. Both these important men belong to a prominent French family who helped to make your voyage possible. He names the narrow river that brought you from the Father of Waters to the lake Monsieur d'Iberville for himself: Iberville's River (today it is called Bayou Manchac).

Monsieur d'Iberville orders you to build a bonfire on the bank of Lake Pontchartrain to attract the attention of your fellow explorers, including his brother Monsieur Bienville. The plan works! You are able to rendezvous with the ships as you exit out of Lake Pontchartrain through the Rigolets into Lake Borgne, and then to the Mississipp Sound in the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, you return to Fort Biloxi, excited about being the member of Monsieur d'Iberville's expedition that discovered the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

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