Introduction to Delta Pieces: Northeast Louisiana Folklife

Introduction to Delta Pieces: Northeast Louisiana Folklife – Susan Roach

Map: Cultural Micro-Regions of the Delta, Northeast Louisiana

Working in the Delta

Making Music in the Delta

Telling Stories in the Delta

Delta Archival Materials

Introduction to Delta Pieces: Northeast Louisiana Folklife

By Susan Roach


Featuring multiple visions and voices, Delta Pieces: Northeast Louisiana Folklife presents a patchwork of 68 pieces on the state's Delta region. These essays include research commissioned for the Delta Folklife Project and research by the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program from 1999-2009, as well as other research previously published on the Delta. This "virtual anthology" may be best thought of as a quilt pieced by many hands and loosely stitched together, awaiting the finishing touches of a final border and binding. The mission of this publication was to make Delta regional folklife scholarship accessible to the public, not to provide a cohesive, comprehensive ethnography of the Delta. The essays are organized into sections, or collapsible blocks; each block contains pieces on the Delta region, specific folk groups, or genres. These blocks include regional ethnographic descriptions and history, ethnic groups, and various folklore genres centered on working, homemaking, worshiping, making music, playing, and telling stories in the Delta. Special pieces in each block present "Delta Folks"—biographical profiles of Delta tradition bearers. These folk heroes are only some of the many interesting tradition bearers who were documented. Ideally, we would have included profiles of all the major figures interviewed for the project. Some of these pieces are small, and other pieces are missing because of limited time and resources; hence this is only a partial Delta ethnography. Perhaps other pieces will be added to this quilt, but it is now substantial, covering much of this previously little documented Northeast Louisiana region.

Crop dusters fly low. Art Woolson said that he would try to “get down to where the wheels touch the tops of the cotton” to mnimize chemical drift, lessening the chance that the chemicals will fall on the wrong crops. Photo: Maida Owens.

While a publication on the Delta was the long-term goal for the Delta Folklife Project, the impetus to proceed at this time with this publication began at the August 2010 Delta Symposium, which was organized by H. F. "Pete" Gregory at Northwestern State University with funding from the Delta Initiative of the National Park Service. During this scholarly discussion involving Delta researchers, tradition bearers, and community members, the immediate need for the publication was highlighted, and the National Park Service (NPS) was suggested as a potential funding agency. All there agreed that now was time to publish the research from the Delta Folklife Project. Debate over whether the publication should be online or in a coffee table book format resulted in the decision to produce an online "virtual book" first since it would be available free to the public both locally in the Delta and globally, would handle multi-media presentations, and would allow for more material than a print book. Maida Owens successfully coordinated the NPS grant application to fund the publication.

Navigating Delta Pieces

The sign for Peckerwood Deadening Plantation operated by Lasley and LeAnn Thomason, owned by Big D Farms is set in the flat land best suited for soybeans. Photo: Stefan Keydel.

Because the online format offers some distinct advantages for different media, we have been able to include special features which would not be feasible in print. These include digital audio excerpts that I transferred from the analog taped interviews and documented performances of music and rituals, video excerpts from performances, and many documentary photographs, as well as navigational tools to move around this large document. Audio clips from interviews are typically under five minutes, but they give the reader the immediacy of the voices of the interviewees; these clips take one to many places such as the farm, replete with its sounds of chickens and dogs, and to the oxbow lake with the sound of boats and old Dr. Watts hymns. They also reveal the variety of Delta accents. The audio clips of music performances in some cases have been limited to brief segments of less than one minute because of copyright issues. The clips are located throughout the essays. Menus located on the right of each essay allow the reader to navigate to the audio clips and the different sections of the document, but playing the audio and video requires the reader to click the play button. Photographs are also located throughout the articles, with some photographs in slide show formats and others individually presented. The photographs made during the Delta Folklife Project fieldwork were in film format, so these had to be digitally transferred. At the top of each essay, one can easily navigate the collapsible Table of Contents to another section or essay by clicking on the up and down arrows on each section heading bar. Clicking on any section heading bar will produce a drop-down list of the essays in that section. The top of the "Delta Folks" essays shows a map of the Delta parishes with the location of the current tradition bearer. Hovering the cursor over the "i" emblem (for information) preceding the title of each essay reveals a brief abstract of the article.

Sunset at a cypress-bordered pier on Lake Providence, a horseshoe lake, made when the Mississippi River shifted course. Photo: Susan Roach.

Delta Pieces includes both original and new essays based on Delta Folklife Project research, along with research on the Delta region conducted during my ten years as regional folklorist for Northeast Louisiana, and Delta research articles written for folklife publications such as the Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, Louisiana Folklife Journal, and the Louisiana Folklife Festival Program Book. Another group of past publications in this work consists of the essays written for the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklife Program Book to accompany the 1997 festival which featured the Mississippi Delta region of the U. S. Because these articles came from various scholarly print journals, they use different style sheets. We have republished these articles in their original format and style rather than changing their bibliographies and notes to comply with MLA style of the new pieces written specifically for this publication. We hope these variations will not be a distraction. Credits and attributions for each article are provided at the end of each essay.

Fieldworkers for the Delta Folklife Project had various backgrounds: public sector folklorists, academic folklorists and anthropologists, their graduate students in various disciplines, and community scholars, some of whom had college undergraduate and graduate degrees and some without higher education. These fieldworkers wrote many of the essays, which were then edited and sometimes expanded for this work. Information on each author is provided at the end of each article. In some cases, Delta researchers had not written essays for the project, but had submitted recorded interviews and photographs, which other writers drew from to write essays for this work. We hope that this dialogic, multi-vocal approach will provide a broader ethnographic perspective on the Delta region.

The Delta Region

At the Mississippi River bridge in Vicksburg, the flat Louisiana Delta sprawls on the other side of the river. Photo: Susan Roach.

Given the complexity of the region, the scope of the research and the variety of fieldworkers, a more in-depth look at the Delta region and the Delta Folklife Project can provide background on the region and the development of this anthology. Initially, we academics on the project agreed on the boundaries of the region and used the region's residents' idea of the Delta. The Mississippi River, the largest river in the country, marks the eastern border of the Delta of northeast Louisiana, and is the raison d'etre for its designation as a cultural region. Without the river, this Delta region would not exist. While the term "Delta" in geographic contexts typically refers to the area around the mouth of a river, the term here refers to the land in the state's northeast corner that lies over 150 miles north of the actual mouth of the Mississippi River. The topography of these Delta parishes along the river features the rich fertile "buckshot" soil, so named because of its rich dark pellets; however, the Delta is more of a cultural region than a coherent topographic region. This region is bounded by the Ouachita and Black Rivers, Catahoula Lake, and the "hills" on the west; loessial bluffs and the Mississippi on the east; the Red-Old River on the south; and the Arkansas line and hills to the north. The Northeast Louisiana Delta parishes include Morehouse, Ouachita, West Carroll, East Carroll, Caldwell, Tensas, Catahoula, Richland, Madison, Franklin, LaSalle, and Concordia.

The region is predominantly Anglo-American and African-American with smaller Choctaw, Mexican, Italian, French, and Chinese communities within its borders. Retaining the traditional occupations of farming, logging, and fishing with only a little industrial development, the area is predominantly rural with Monroe being the only community with a population of more than 25,000. Three cultural complexes are found in the Delta: (1) Plantation culture dominates along the Mississippi, Black and Ouachita Rivers, and is the main location of rural blacks; hunting camps are located in nearby swamps, (2) Upland South hill culture found between the rivers includes both black and white yeoman farmers, and (3) Fishing communities dot the banks of the Mississippi and Ouachita Rivers, and on Catahoula Lake to the south. Here communities show evidence of French and Choctaw Indian influence.

Many of the traditions presented in this work are not peculiar to the Louisiana Delta; some such as shaped-note gospel singing and domestic traditions reflect the traditions of the deep South. However, many of the traditions such as Easter Rock, and Mississippi river lore and tales are specific to the region, as are the rockabilly music of Kenny Bill Stinson and the Delta blues of Po' Henry and Tookie.

The Delta Folklife Project

Most of these Delta Pieces originated in the Delta Folklife Project, a long-term research project coordinated by the Folklife Program in the Louisiana Division of the Arts. Louisiana folklife program directors in this state agency—Maida Owens, director from 1988 to the present, and her predecessor Bob Gates—actually initiated folklife research for the Delta Folklife Project in the little documented region in 1988. The mission of this project was to document, preserve, and present the folk traditions of twelve northeast Louisiana parishes, known by many in the area as the "Delta. " For the next 20 years the project developed with a phased emergent structure including (1) an ethnographic overview, (2) a field school for community scholars, and (3) fieldwork and festival presentations.

Ethnographic Overview

Welcome to Ferriday. Photo: Nicholas R. Spitzer.

In 1988 the Louisiana Folklife Program began phase one of the Delta Folklife Project by initiating research for an ethnographic overview of the Delta region by H. F. "Pete" Gregory, Northwestern State University anthropologist, and me. During this phase, I discovered that Gregory and I used different field methodology—differences that are evident in pieces of this anthology. Trained as a cultural anthropologist and working as an anthropology professor, Gregory preferred long-term investigation of a region. He taped interviews rarely, doing so after many preliminary, more informal, less invasive interviews. If he needed photographs, he usually took a trained photographer with him, sometimes on a separate trip. His phase one ethnographic descriptions of the Delta, included here, are poignant pieces about the region based on his native knowledge gained from growing up in Ferriday and working in the area for many years. These essays in his Delta musings and reflections share his deep insights into the geological, archeological, and sociological forces that shaped and changed the Delta region.

Wyly Brown's Panola Plantation and Pepper Sauce sign near Lake Providenece. Photo: Susan Roach.

Having grown up in Lincoln Parish among the small farms, in the hill country of north central Louisiana, I was unfamiliar with the Delta and found its flat, open, seemingly unending landscape beautiful, but somewhat lonely and unsettling. I have to thank Pete Gregory for giving me my first insights into the Delta. My own research methods employed the public sector folklorist's usual mode of fieldwork because of my training as a folklorist and my working on an earlier 1984 project funded by a state folklife grant which called for identifying, documenting, and presenting regional folk traditions, all in one-year time span. With the Delta project's limited funds and my limited time as an academic, coupled with the two-to-three hour one-way trips involved, I opted to use the most efficient strategies. With little time to cultivate long-term community relationships, I made my way into the region through community leaders, store owners, and serendipitous contacts I found through intense networking. To identify traditions for documentation, I often shared with contacts my brief written project description with a list of potential folklife genres. I usually documented my initial interviews with photographs and audio tapes. Thanks to my community contact Gayle Brown, my first exciting field trip to Lake Providence in the farthest northeast corner of the Delta yielded a variety of traditions, including fishing stories from Whitey Shockley, a commercial fisherman on the Mississippi, and a baptism just off the cypress-shaded banks of Lake Providence—a seminal experience for me.

Baptism, Lake Providence

In addition to Gregory's and my work, we also contracted Ben Sandmel, a New Orleans-based freelance folklorist/writer/musician, for fieldwork on blues musicians and river lore. While he did not do photography, he did furnish taped audio interviews with blues and country musicians, such as Henry Dorsey, Wayne "Tookie" Collom, Rip Wimberly, and Gray Montgomery. Sandmel's fieldwork forms the base for several music essays. Phase one also identified ethnic groups and folk traditions and included selective documentation of African American barbecue, and religious traditions such as preaching, and gospel radio shows, and Anglo-American traditions such as auctioneering, country music benefits, farming, and quilting.

Mel Brooks, Rev. A. L. Thomas, Dave Moore

The Delta Folklife Field School and Follow-up Documentation

The second phase of the project was designed to do more intensive fieldwork, based on the leads obtained in phase one, to assess previous material collected on the Delta, and to publicly present some of the findings. Since we wanted the communities to continue to profit from folklore research, Maida Owens decided we should have a folklife field school to train people in basic fieldwork. Recruited student backgrounds varied from college professors and graduate students in fields such as history, library science, folklore, and photography; to elementary school teachers and librarians; college graduates in liberal arts; to tourism and city employees; to retired citizens with experiences ranging from newspaper columnist to housewife.

Held in summer 1993 and partially funded by a grant from the Lila Wallace Readers Digest Foundation Fund for Folk Culture, the field school provided training in basic folklife documentation techniques for fifty community scholars. Although some students did not attend every session, about fifty per cent of the students conducted an initial field project and then reported on that to the class at the last meeting. Owens, Gregory, and I conducted the three-weekend sessions for the school; it was a first-time team teaching experience for all of us, and offered the varied experience and methods of the three teachers. Owens provided the organization, handouts, and public sector considerations; Gregory gave the overview of the Delta's geography, people, and traditions; and I discussed folklore theory; we all contributed to the ethnographic methods discussion, with strategies and techniques for identifying and documenting folk traditions.

After the field school, students who completed a field project had the opportunity to do additional fieldwork for which they were paid. After the state folklorist, academics, and students negotiated the research topics, Owens contracted with fieldworkers, detailing the specific genre and folk group, the methodology, and the materials to be turned in including audio taped interviews, photographs (both black and white prints and color slides using specific films, etc.), tape index, photo log, artist biographies, and a 5-page essay on the tradition; many of these essays have been included in this work. To facilitate the long-term storage, retrieval, and identification of tapes and photographs, we required fieldworkers to submit specific documents for their project, including a Louisiana Folklife Survey Form, a photo log, and tape index—items which had not been required in previous field contracts. Given the detail of the task, it is not surprising that some field school participants decided not to do follow up research.

The Delta folklife field school students and a few other folklife researchers were contracted to research a variety of folk traditions, ranging from cotton press calling to crop dusting, from Easter Rock to Mennonite and African American shaped note and quartet singing, from St. Joseph's Day altars to Italian sausage making, and from river lore to flood stories and hunting tales.

Also in this second phase of research, I inventoried the region's prior documentation of the Delta. The majority of this work was fieldwork by faculty and students in association with the Louisiana Folklife Center at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. Some of this work was done to support the Delta Folk Festival held in Ferriday in 1987 and 1988. Another state project which had become a repository of narratives of Delta residents was the Louisiana Storytelling Project, which lasted through the 1990s. Housed with the state folklife program, the storytelling project included 38 participants' stories of life and traditions in the communities across the Delta.

State and National Folklife Festival Presentations and Exhibits

Hop and Winnie Kilby with Maida Owens at the 1985 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. Photo: Susan Roach.

As a result of the expanded Delta research, we were able to include a sampling of Delta folklife in the programs of the 1994 and 1995 Louisiana Folklife Festival, which were co-sponsored by the City of Monroe and the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. Modeled on the Festival of American Folklife, this festival showcased Louisiana folk traditions, with the mission of celebrating and honoring the diverse folk traditions of Louisiana, by presenting individuals, ethnic groups, and communities in an appropriate and authentic manner, based on documentation by folklorists and other cultural specialists. Delta traditions presented at the festival and also included in this work are Easter Rock, Po' Henry and Tookie, Penola Caesar, and Col. Ike Hamilton. As early as 1985, a few folk artists from the Delta were featured at the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife; these included "Hop" and Winnie Kilby; Brownie Ford, cowboy and balladeer, from Caldwell Parish; and Vernie Gibson, Delta net maker and fisherman from the Catahoula Lake.

Vernie Gibson demonstrating net making the at the 1985 Festival of 13 American Folklife. Photo: Susan Roach.

In 1996 as part of an exhibition Folklife in the Creole State, the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe presented a series of photographs from the Delta field work that I curated as a special exhibit. The exhibition, still available from the Masur Museum, featured 25 black and white photographs of Delta folklife traditions with explanatory text labels. Photographers include Ellen Blue, Marcy Frantom, Sylvia Frantom, Peter Jones, Stefan Keydel, Mike Luster, Maida Owens, Stephanie Pierrotti, and Susan Roach. Also the folklife exhibit in the Louisiana State Capitol, The Creole State: An Exhibition of Louisiana Folkife presented selected photographs from this research. The 1997 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D. C., which featured the Louisiana-Mississippi-Arkansas-Tennessee Delta region, included numerous tradition bearers documented during this project, including Easter Rock, Penola Caesar's shaped note gospel, Bubba Brown's stories of farming and crop dusting, Po' Henry and Tookie Blues Duo, Captain Oren Russell's river lore, and Whitey Shockley's fishing stories. Essays in the Smithsonian festival's program book regarding working, playing, worshiping, and homelife in the Delta are also included here.

Delta Research in the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program

Morning Glory Quilt variation by Wanda and Camilla Parker, Jonesville, La., 1986. Photo: Kerry Davis.

From December 1998 to June 2009, I had the privilege of serving as the folklorist for the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program at Louisiana Tech University, where my designated parishes include both the north central Louisiana parishes along with all those of the Louisiana Delta Folklife Project. While this program focused mainly on special research projects, many of the folk artists documented in these projects were from the Delta. For example, the Louisiana Quilt Documentation Project held many quilt documentations in the Delta parishes including East Carroll, West Carroll, Tensas, Franklin, and Concordia.

In fact, the late Kerry Davis Byargeon, who served as a graduate assistant and then research associate for the regional program, worked with her cousin Katrina Parker, also a former regional folklife program assistant, to document the different generations of the Parker family quilts made in Jonesville in Catahoula Parish. Then for one of the feature essays on the quilt project website, Byargeon wrote an essay about this family tradition, which is also included in this collection.

Another research focus for our program, Music Gatherings, documented artists such as instrument builder, Hilton Lytle; pedal steel and Dobro musician, Laymon Godwin; and rockabilly musician and songwriter Kenny Bill Stinson. The statewide New Populations Project uncovered gospel singing by Mexican immigrants in Monroe. The Great Depression Project, a cooperative project coordinated by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council and the last research project of the Louisiana Tech regional program, also produced interviews with elders from the twelve Delta parishes on subjects such as the 1927 flood.

The 1927 Flood in Tallulah

Piecing the Delta Quilt: An Overview of the Contents

Given the disparate topics of the essays, Delta Pieces opens with essays describing the river-dependent region and its history followed by a section on its ethnic groups. Subsequent sections feature various genres of Delta folklife grouped under working, playing, homemaking, telling stories, worshiping, and playing music in the Delta.

Louisiana Delta: Land of Rivers

Four rivers meet. Photo: Marilyn Campbell.

The majority of the essays on Delta history and geography, which provide contextualization for the pieces on the Delta groups and folk traditions, are by H. F. "Pete" Gregory, a native of Ferriday, Louisiana, with editorial assistance from Dayna Lee, the former folklorist for the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program branch at Northwestern State University. Written as part of an ethnographic overview of the region, Gregory's essays are presented in various blocks, but are titled as "Reflections on the Delta," with various subtitles to indicate their content. Gregory's memoir, "Musings," provides further background on the region in his description of growing up in the Delta. Other essays included in this section from the Louisiana Folklife Festival Program Book are by Lori Tucker on the mysterious Ouachita River mounds which provided respite from floods, and by Kelby Ouchley on French place names in the Delta.An important contribution on the impact of the river, Betty Jo Harris's article on the flood of 1927 draws from her fieldwork for the Delta Folklife Project for her master's thesis to present a historic view of the region and its flooding. Tom Rankin's eloquent essay written for the Smithsonian's folklife festival places the Louisiana Delta in the context of the larger river Delta region encompassing the rich alluvial lands adjacent to the river in the other Delta states of west Tennessee, east Arkansas, and west Mississippi.

Ethnic Groups

Bread wreath on St. Joseph's Day altar in Monroe. Photo: Stephanie Pierrotti.

Following the section on the Delta and the river, the section on ethnic groups presents minority populations who have lived in the Delta, where the majority groups are African American and British Americans. The groups included here—Native American, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, and Jewish peoples—have had populations which have ebbed and flowed over the years. H. F. Gregory writes about the older Indian mounds and the importance of the Native American heritage in the Delta. Both he and Deborah Boykin, a folklorist who worked with the Mississippi Choctaw, discuss the Choctaw, the main group of Native Americans who moved to Louisiana from Mississippi after 1830; this group settled in Catahoula Parish and finally in LaSalle Parish, became what is now called the Jena Band of Choctaw. The other ethnic groups mainly came to the Delta in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in search of work and economic opportunities. The largest city of the region, Monroe, was home to many minorities, especially Italians whose stories and traditions are discussed by April Honaker, using fieldwork of other Delta researchers. Italian St. Joseph's Day celebrations and sausage making are described by Delta project researchers Stephanie Pierrotti and Madelyn Boudreaux. An overview of Mexican immigrants in the area is provided by Lisa Abney, and features of remaining Jewish folklore are discussed by folklorist Ben Sandmel, who was a contract field worker for the Delta project. Roach provides a look at the Chinese paper folding craft of a new Chinese immigrant in Ferriday.

Working in the Delta

Buie Cotton Gin in Fort Necessity in Franklin Parish. Photo: Maida Owens.

The working section explores a variety of occupational traditions, ranging from fishing and river piloting to auctioneering and crop dusting. Water-related occupations and crafts involving net-making and boats come to the forefront of Delta traditional work. Sheila Richmond revisits her Delta fieldwork with the Champlain Net-Making company in Jonesville, while Dayna Lee and Pete Gregory present details of traditional boat types in the Delta, and Sandmel discusses the Mississippi river lore. Roach and Ryland examine the lore of crop dusting, and Junior Doughty documents the travelling store on a bus, an important resource in the sparsely populated Delta. Sylvia Frantom presents stories from a subsistence fisherman and hog hunter, Kenneth Hebert of Jena.

Four special Delta folks who represented their occupations at state and national folklife festivals—Oren Russell, river boat pilot; Whitey Shockley, river fisherman; Ike Hamilton, auctioneer; and Grady "Bubba" Brown, farmer—are represented in these essays by Roach. Another Delta native, Alwine Mulhearn Ragland, who served as the first woman judge in the state, is celebrated here for her determination to succeed in a non-traditional career for Delta women. Betty Jo Harris presents stories ranging from her adventures as a young lawyer to her service as judge.

Homemaking in the Delta

Ice cold melons. Photo: Nicholas R. Spitzer.

The homemaking section focuses on women carrying on domestic work and arts in the region. Boykin's essay from the Smithsonian festival program book provides an overview of Delta homelife, and Sylvia Frantom's interviews with Delta women focus on the details of making jelly, woodcarving, needlework, and home remedies. Gregory's essay gives insights into Christmas celebrations in the Delta of his youth. Kerry Davis Byargeon's illustrated essay describes a Jonesville family's quilt making tradition spanning five generations.

Worshiping in the Delta

At the 2013 Easter Rock, Hattie Addison Burkhalter, leader of the Winnsboro Easter Rock group, guides the banner carried by Rev. Lionel Wilson. Photo: Susan Roach.

Religious traditions in the Delta range from quartet and shaped-note sacred music traditions to river baptism and Easter Rock. Folklorist and ethnomusicologist Joyce Jackson's article, written for the Smithsonian 1997 festival, gives an overview and context for religious folk traditions in the Delta: the folk sermon, sacred music, folk rituals such as river baptism and Easter Rock, and folk church architecture. Roach profiles the late Penola Caesar, Monroe gospel singer—one of the Delta Folks, and also gives an overview of the sacred music traditions with audio and photographic examples from the documentation in the Delta folklife collection. Staten and Roach's "Take Me to the Water" describes outdoor baptisms that still occur in the Delta in Lake Providence and Monroe. A Delta Folks profile, also written by Roach, features Annie Staten's mother, Lucille Stewart, who made the baptismal robes for such services. Two in-depth essays by Roach and Sturman explore the Easter eve vigil ceremony of Easter Rock. Because the ceremony appears to have originated in the pre-Civil war days, and has been identified and located only in the Louisiana Delta, it has special significance as regional ritual. Sturman's article focuses on the Springfield Baptist Church's Easter Rock in Clayton, and Roach examines the Easter Rock in Winnsboro.

Making Music in the Delta

Ward 5 Jamboree sign near Hebert. Photo: Nicholas R. Spitzer.

While Delta secular music traditions include the usual blues, ballads, cowboy songs, and country music found across the South, some peculiar regional takes emerge here, especially in the genre of rockabilly since rockabilly sensation Jerry Lee Lewis is from Ferriday. Written for the 1997 Smithsonian festival, Luster's "At Play in the Delta" focuses on music as a major leisure activity in the Delta, along with other genres, and contextualizes Delta music. The other pieces in this section focus on various regional music stars. Roach gives a Delta Folks profile of cowboy and ballad singer, T. E. "Brownie" Ford, who spent the last 24 years of his life in the Delta. Folklorist Nick Spitzer's liner notes from the Brownie Ford album provides a more in-depth look at Ford's life and music, ranging from traditional British ballads learned from his mother to cowboy songs learned on the job. Folklorist and blues scholar Dave Evans, provides a major piece written for the album Since Ole Gabriel's Time, by the amazing blues band, Hezekiah and the House Rockers from the Ferriday-Natchez area, which boasted the region's largest night club—Haney's Big House. Ben Sandmel profiles Gray Montgomery, Vidalia's one-man band, who plays country, blues, rockabilly, and cowboy songs on guitar, drums, and harmonica. Drawing from her fieldwork for the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program, Roach's contributes four Delta Folks profiles of well-known music figures: Rayville's blues duo of Po' Henry and Tookie on guitar and harmonica; West Monroe's rockabilly, rock n' roll, and blues performer/songwriter Kenny Bill Stinson who plays guitar and piano; West Monroe's instrument builder Hilton Lytle; and West Monroe's country/bluegrass musician Laymon Godwin, a former Ouachita parish sheriff and master on the pedal steel and Dobro.

Playing in the Delta

Bayou Boeuf at LA 4 and Smitty's Three Rivers Landing Lounge. Photo: Maida Owens.

The leisure activities of hunting, fishing, and gambling, traditionally practiced by men in the Delta and in the South, are presented in Playing in the Delta section. H. F. Gregory and sisters Marcy and Sylvia Frantom, who participated in the Delta Folklife Project, provide in-depth information on hunting camps, hunting with dogs and horns, and making horns. Practitioners of the sports of hunting and fishing often consider their pastimes to be serious, rather than play, and some hunting is done for a livelihood. When farmers play cards for high stakes, they too are serious and are in what anthropologist Clifford Geertz would call "deep play," as Don Hatley's essay on gambling explains. Gregory also provides a brief overview of the changing nightclub scene in the Delta.

Telling Stories in the Delta

Lost Creek Hunting Club in Caldwell. Photo: Maida Owens.

Being part of the deep South, stories abound in the Delta. In fact, stories are embedded in each of the other sections of this work. This section featuring articles from the Louisiana Folklife Journal, however, focuses on works that analyze different categories of stories and explore one specific story in depth. Talking about the "big one" is a common theme in both fishing and hunting stories; Janery Wylie explores this theme in stories told by deer hunters. Stories of treasure hunting, another common Southern story theme, become local legends such as the Hub Lake gold, which fascinates Delta researcher, Junior Doughty. Community stories about the origin of the Colewa for various waterways in West Carroll Parish inspire Sam Dickinson's essay on how this name originated with the Koroa Indians who had hunting grounds in the state up through the 18th century.

Delta Archival Materials and Bibliography

In addition to these articles, Delta Pieces presents an inventory of the archived Delta fieldwork done over the years, as well as a selected bibliography of resources on the region and its folklife. The inventory, categorized by the institutions holding the materials, lists details of each documented tradition and tradition bearer and the fieldworker who conducted the research. The selected bibliography does not include all of the references used in each article in this anthology. Instead it provides additional information relevant to the Delta region.


In 2012 the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve supported publication of this work with Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative grant funds from the National Park Service. Without this assistance, Delta Pieces would not have become a reality at this time. In conjunction with this grant, special thanks are due to Allison Peña, cultural anthropologist with Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve and New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park for her role in administering this grant and for working closely with the editors and proofreading.

Poppyseed bread, fresh out of the oven, awaits packaging at the Mennonite Olde Dutch Bakery in Lake Providence. Photo: Susan Roach.

This work would not have come to be without the major role of Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklorist, Maida Owens, who wrote and administered the National Park Service grant and worked with Nalini Raghavan, the designer of Delta Pieces. Because of the work required from me to get the existing materials into shape and to write the new pieces for online publication, I asked her to share the editing responsibilities by serving as co-editor. She worked untiringly with the designer to group the materials and kept the project on track. She also secured the rights to the previously published works for their inclusion here. In addition to working with me to edit all the articles and actually entering the articles in HTML, she developed the key words, metatags (the 156 character descriptions which appear in an online search), the keywords, and the abstracts that are essential for an online publication of this length. I also want to thank the Louisiana Division of the Arts for allowing her to devote a significant portion of her time to Delta Pieces.

I am grateful to H. F. "Pete" Gregory for his native insights into the Delta region and his "Musings" and "Reflections" essays, which provide much needed contextualization for this project. Thanks especially go to Dayna Lee for working with Pete Gregory and providing valuable editing for his essays and photographs. She also did the initial digital transfer for Gregory's photographs.

Without the fieldwork of all the other researchers of the Delta Folklife Project and the essay writers, we would have no book. For fieldwork in African American religious traditions, we are greatly indebted to Annie Staten, one of our Delta Folklife community scholars, who made amazing discoveries of sacred music, river baptism, and Easter Rock, and worked diligently to document and present them. My appreciation goes to Betty Jo Harris, who interviewed and wrote about Judge Ragland and worked with her own and others' research for her article on the Flood of 1927 and the Depression. Delta folklife scholars Marcia Frantom and Sylvia Frantom, Shelia Richmond, Stephanie Pierrotti, Madelyn Boudreaux, and Junior Doughty provided many essays and photographs for this work. I want to thank the following folklorists for their essays and/or photographs: Lisa Abney, Dave Evans, Don Hatley, Ben Sandmel, and Nick Spitzer. I am grateful to the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage for permitting use of the essays from the 1997 festival program book and to the following for allowing their essays to be included: Tom Rankin, Deborah Boykin, Joyce Jackson, and Mike Luster. Thanks also go to the authors of the Louisiana Folklife Festival Program Book articles—Deborah Boykin, Lori Tucker, Kelby Ouchley, Janet Ryland, and Ben Sandmel-and the authors of Louisiana Folklife Journal articles—Sam Dickenson, Dayna Lee, Janet Sturman, and Janery Wylie. Researchers from the Delta project who contributed interviews, photographs, and other materials include Janet Ryland, Gayle Brown, Gene Cloninger, Mary Bert Arnold, Marilyn Campbell, and Stefan Keydel.

I want to express my deep appreciation to Louisiana Tech University for supporting the Louisiana Tech branch of the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program. The Louisiana Division of the Arts provided grant funds to the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program branch at Louisiana Tech from December 1998-June 2009. This grant allowed me, as regional folklorist, time over those years to add to the Delta research, including major work on regional music, quilts, festival presentations, and other Delta traditions. The grant also provided for funds for assistants, including the late Kerry Davis Byargeon, who served the regional program as a graduate assistant and later as a research associate. She transferred many of the Delta film photographs to digital format, processed interviews and documentation, and interviewed the Parker family, from Jonesville, on their quilts. A native of Jonesville, Louisiana, Kerry also gave me insights into Delta culture. Thanks also go to graduate assistant Kay Gandy for her documentation of Italian families in Monroe and to April Honaker for her essay drawing on these and other interviews for her essay on the Italian immigrant experience. I want to thank Louisiana Tech English majors Brienna Gilbert and Jessica Weiser for assisting with proofreading and interview transcriptions. More recently, the efficiency and organization of the School of Literature and Language administrative coordinator, Donna Bancks, has been invaluable in helping me accomplish my Delta project goals, in the midst of my current administrative duties as director of the School of Literature and Language.

My deepest thanks and appreciation go to Peter Jones for his dedication to transferring the film photographs to produce the finest digital photographs possible, sometimes from old, deteriorating film. He also provided documentary photography of Easter Rock and festivals, photo editing, textual editing, graphic design assistance, as well as words of encouragement when I was mired in the Delta swamps.

Most of all, I want to acknowledge the great contribution of the tradition bearers documented and presented in this work and the field researchers who worked with them. Without them, this anthology would not be possible. Over the years of the project, we lost many of our Delta treasures, including Ellen Addison, James Baker, Kerry Davis Byargeon, Penola Caesar, Brownie Ford, Vernie Gibson, Nalda Gilmore, Ike Hamilton, Joe Hazlip, Mose Jones, Mary Jones, Oren Russell, Whitey Shockley, Miles Smith, Lucille Stewart, A. L. Thomas, Percy Thomas, M. J. Varino, Peewee Whitaker, Rip Wimberly, and others whose passings are untold. Fire destroyed one of the region's favorite traditional businesses, the Marvin Wedel family's Olde Dutch Bakery, as well as the quilts of Jonesville quilter, Camille Parker. It is my hope that this work will honor their memories and help keep their traditions alive. I dedicate this work to them and to the living Delta tradition bearers who gave us the pieces to digitally stitch together for our Delta quilt.

Susan Roach is a folklorist at Louisiana Tech University and was Regional Folklorist for the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program at Louisiana Tech University. She is now director of the School of Literature and Language. She wrote this article for Delta Pieces: Northeast Louisiana Folklife in 2013.