By John C. Fontenot
There are few communities in south Louisiana of less significance than Chataignier. The community was originally formed about a mile further east of what is indicated upon the maps of to-day, having established mainly in irregular Sections 33 and 51 of Township 5 South, Range 2 East of the Louisiana Meridian. When the railroad from Alexandria to Eunice, Louisiana was laid in the year 1906 Chataignier moved to the railroad stop while the original community became known as Upper Chataignier. The new railroad did not change the financial outlook for the community; it was destined to remain a town without a future, and each succeeding generation found it prudent to move elsewhere for a livelihood.
However, before the advent of the railroad, certain parties did their best to benefit the area. A small school was built; land was donated for a Catholic Church. A few wealthy families moved in the area, and gave rise to a two-tiered class society. Inter-marriage between these classes was frowned upon.
From its formation before the year 1800 until the advent of the cotton combine, and solidification of the welfare system, the main revenue crop was cotton. The growing of cotton ceased in the mid-nineteen hundred fifties to be replaced by rice and soybeans.
Regardless of its insignificance Chataignier, Louisiana was the site of a most rare occasion, and some of its residents were shown appreciation and recognition in a most unusual manner, i.e., by portraying an abbreviated version of the Miracle that occurred in Pont Main in France in the year 1871.
THE REWARD OF INNOCENCE
On January 7, 1871 a starry winter evening confronted Martel Miller, aged 11 years, when his father, Antoine Miller, sent him to look for a strayed heifer in the pasture lying westward of the ancestral home of Jean Pierre Lafleur. The latter inheriting from his own father what was then a magnificent fortune, moved to Chataignier, Louisiana in 1854 with wife, Felonise Auguste Fontenot, his sons, daughters, and several slaves. Jean Pierre Lafleur with the labor of his slaves built a two (2) storied triple double veranda home. The first floor of homemade brick, the top story of cypress.
As the Civil War progressed in adversity for the Confederates Jean Pierre Lafleur was moved to donate his gold reserves in exchange for Confederate scrip. The loss of the Civil War resulted in the lost of his large plantation to Antoine Miller by the year 1868.
Until the early eighteen hundred and eighties in the area Chataignier was the gateway to the wild west as pioneering had not yet spread out further westward than a day's travel by ox cart from the ancient Spanish Fort at Opelousas, Louisiana.
Thus it was that Martel Miller, exiting from the immense plantation home now owned by his father, clothed in homespun cotton garments, and bare-footed, sought to carry out his errand on that night. He had but recently taken instructions for his first communion, and as he walked by the old slave quarters situated north of the main house reciting his Hail Marys, glanced skyward occasionally for the chance sighting of a falling star suddenly beheld an amazing phenomenon; the stars in the eastern skies were leaving their appointed place and began forming words. The unusual sight lasted several minutes, and awakening to the singular event forgot about his errand, and rushed to tell his father, and mother, Augustine Manuel, of what he was seeing. They, of course, saw nothing, and while they were aware of their son's truthfulness did not make too much of the matter.
Years passed, Martel Miller grew to manhood six feet tall, heavy boned, and powerful. He married Melecia Bertrand recently widowed with two (2) children, Adam and Eva McCauley. Of that union Martel Miller begot two (2) children, Martin and Martha Miller. Martin died at the age of fifteen (15) of internal injuries being thrown off wild horses. Martha Miller died at the age of fifty-five (55) in 1938 on December 20th.
In the years since my infancy the above unusual sighting of travelling stars forming words across the eastern sky was often mentioned by my grandfather, Martel Miller. In his old age reminiscing with a playmate he had not seen since they were children they both became aware that, unknown to each other, they had both witnessed the same sight.
As a hundred (100) years elapsed of the unusual happening I grew to manhood, and as I approached old age came into possession of the Catholic pamphlet entitled "What happened at Pont Main." I only then knew the significance of what my grandfather had been privileged to witness as had his playmate; an abbreviated version of the vision shown to the Barbedette children at Pont Main.
As for said Barbedette children only the young and innocent were allowed the special privilege. Doubtless other innocents have witnessed the same phenomenon around the world, and the telling of it has remained legend amongst the families affected. I have been privileged to ascertain the meaning of the event, and I regret that my grandfather died without ever knowing of the larger event, and its connection with his viewing.
My grandfather and his playmate must have qualified in a most singular manner to merit the partial vision. As a beloved grandson intimately associated with him from my earliest memories to his death in the mid-forties I can vouch for his moral integrity, his concern for doing what was right. His indignation at what was wrong. He was always a peacemaker, a helping hand where needed, and I can understand why the Holy Mother graced him with the partial vision.