Courtesy of L’Observateur
First Published in ‘River Current’ magazine, January 2000
Boutte was named for Tisaphane Boutte and his son, J.L, who resided near Boutte Station prior to the Civil War. Boutte Station indeed was the site of a few skirmishes, which took place in the parish in 1862.
In the spring of that year, Union troops captured this vital station, as well as the station at Bayou Des Allemands, building a small army post there manned with 150 men.
In late August 1862, Union troops learned of a Confederate plan to rustle cattle for the cause on the parish’s East Bank.
Under Colonel Thomas, Union troops, consisting of a force of 200 men arrived by rail at Boutte, then marched on to the parish courthouse in present-day Hahnville and camped there overnight.
At daybreak, they scoured the countryside, heading as far as Bonnet Carre Point (present-day Lucy in St. John the Baptist Parish) before doubling back and heading all the way back to Algiers, plundering all the way and on the way destroying Confederate General Richard Taylor’s home downriver of the courthouse.
A few weeks later, in early September, a Confederate force set out of Terrebonne Parish, led by General John C. Pratt. Aided by a newly formed St. Charles Militia, the force was determined to recapture Boutte and Des Allemands stations and resecure the West Bank of St. Charles Parish.
Arriving in Boutte, they found the rail station deserted. They camped and waited until a flatcar happened by, led by Captain Edward Hall, which was transporting 75 union soldiers from Des Allemands headed for Algiers to intercept a Confederate supply train.
The Confederates ambushed and wrecked the train, killing several Union soldiers. At that point, the Algiers train blundered onto the scene and retreated back to Algiers, and Hall surrendered the post to the Confederates. They were later lured into an ambush of their own by more troops landing at the river.
Following the Civil War, the tiny community of Boutte began to acquire its first permanent settlers, mostly farmers and trappers.
Boutte itself gained its first post office on June 29, 1866, with Edward B. Tinney the first postmaster. The Tinney family still remains in Boutte in the house still standing near the corner of Magnolia Ridge Road and U.S. Highway 90.
The town grew from a couple of small grocery stores and a handful of houses to its present size with supermarkets, subdivisions, strip malls and fast-food restaurants.
However, the Rev. John Dorsey, from the vantage point of this rocking chair on his front porch facing Paul Maillard Road, has seen all this growth as it happened.
Dorsey, 84 at the time of this publication, was born Jan. 3, 1915. He has been pastor at Mt. Airy Baptist Church for several decades and remains as a pillar of the community, black and white.
“It was mostly farming, trapping and picking moss,” he recalled of his early childhood memories. “We did play in the woods a lot.”
His father, Sam Dorsey, migrated to the area from St. Louis, Mo., following the railroad tie-camps, cutting lumber by hand for construction of the railroads into the area. He met Pricilla Smith, of Boutte, they married, and he continued working in the tie-camps until his death.
The couple eventually had 10 children, including the Rev. Dorsey, but only four of the 10 are alive at this writing. Two of his brothers and one sister were born in Boutte. Sam Dorsey died in 1931 and his wife in 1954.
“Back then, we lived on the (Magnolia) Ridge and farmed for 60 cents a day. You could count the houses. There may have been 10 or 15 houses,” Dorsey said.
Two general stores also served the tiny population, the Tinney Store near the present intersection of U.S. Highway 90 and the Donnaud Store, which still stands, now vacant on Paul Maillard Road.
When Dorsey was born, U.S. 90 didn’t exist as such. When U.S. 90 was first designated, it came out of New Orleans along the River Road though Luling and up Paul Maillard to the present Old Spanish Trail to Des Allemands and beyond. Paul Maillard Road itself was built in the late 1800s, accounting for its narrow size.
Early days for Dorsey and his siblings were filled with hard work, including picking moss in the marshes, which they would sell at three cents a pound to the Landry moss gin in Paradis, making upwards on $50 at a time.
“That was big money then,” he recalled, while it also brings to mind how much moss had to be gathered for that amount of money.
The back-breaking labor of picking and hauling the moss with a mule-drawn slide paid off, however, and he and his family thrived.
“We raised chickens and pigs and we had a milk cow. We had a garden with corn and sweet potatoes, and daddy and I would go out trapping for raccoons and mink,” he said.
The present U.S. 90 was built in the 1930s, at about the same time that Dorsey found his calling and began with his church.
When he first joined the church, “there were about seven or eight in the group.” At present, after more than 50 years of pasturing, the church has a new building and more than 400 in the congregation.
“It’s a good job, teaching and preaching and getting people to change their lives and attitudes,” he said.
Also, in 1935, he married his wife, Lillian Davis Dorsey, whose father, Ben David, taught school for black children in Paradis. Asked how they got together, the Rev. Dorsey replied, ”We just grew up together.”
His formal education stopped after third grade, but that never help back Dorsey, who worked at the lumber camp near Cousins Canal, then did construction work with companies including T.L. James. He then worked 33 years at Avondale Shipyard as a painter, sandblaster and tank-tester. He retired in 1980.
The town, meanwhile, continued to grow. In 1953, it gained an elementary school for blacks, now the headquarters for the Arc of St. Charles. In 1983, Dorsey had another crisis, when the Mt. Airy Baptist Church was forced to move out from its old home, behind the railroad tracks off Old Spanish Trail. With construction of Interstate 310 in 1983, the site was bought out by the state highway department. The church relocated in larger, more modern surroundings on Magnolia Ridge Road.
Now he and his wife enjoy their quiet life in a home filled with living plants, watching what comes next.