Thursday, July 7, 2016

What is a Cajun?, by Rita Monette

Louisiana Tidbits

This old film from the 1970s shows the Cajun lifestyle and traditions, and a little history of the Cajun people in Louisiana. 

Laissez les bons temps ruler! (let the good times roll!)

Cajuns in Louisiana

by Rita Monette

Want to spend more time in the bayous? My book series, The Nikki Landry Swamp Legends, is set in Cajun country in the 1950s.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Plantation Called Angola, by Rita Monette

Louisiana Tidbit

A Plantation Called Angola
by Rita Monette

I haven’t done a Louisiana Tidbit in a while, so I decided to do something about Angola, since it turns up in my third book, The Secret in Mossy Swamp, from the Nikki Landry Swamp Legend Series.

The Farm

Angola Prison, officially titled The Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP), and nicknamed “The Farm,” was originally a plantation, purchased and run by the slave trade of the 1800s. 

Today it is the largest maximum security prison in the United States, with 6,300 prisoners, and located on 18,000 acres of property. It is set in Louisiana’s West Feliciana Parish and is bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River.

From Plantation to Prison

Barracks 1901
When a Civil War Major, Samuel Lawrence James purchased the plantation property In 1880, he leased prisoners from the state of Louisiana to work the fields, which began the cruelty and abuse that ravaged the prison throughout the years.

In 1901 The Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections acquired the property and opened the facilities as a prison.

As the years progressed at Angola, change came very slowly indeed. For many years, the state appropriated very few funds for the operation of Angola, and reported horrible conditions there went ignored by authorities.

Angola was designed to be as self-sufficient as possible; it functioned as a miniature community with a canning factory, a dairy, a mail system, a small ranch, repair shops, and a sugar mill. Prisoners raised food staples and cash crops. In the 1930s prisoners worked from dawn until dusk.

Crops produced at LSP include cabbage, corn, cotton, strawberry, okra, onions, peppers, soybeans, squash, tomatoes, and wheat. It is reported that each year the prison produces approximately four million pounds of vegetable crops, and In 2010 the prison had 2,000 head of cattle on the premises.

Angola Inspires Books and Movies

Angola 1934, Lead Belly in foreground
 Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell, authors of The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, said that Angola was "probably as close to slavery as any person could come in 1930." Hardened criminals broke down upon being notified that they were being sent to Angola.

In Stephen King's book The Green Mile, and the adapted movie of the same name, the fictional setting of the Louisiana Cold Mountain Penitentiary was loosely based on life on death row at Angola in the 1930s.

The documentary, The Farm, and films such as Dead Man Walking, Monster's Ball, and I Love You Phillip Morris,  were partly filmed in Angola. 

Big Events Push Small Changes

Since it appeared no one was listening to their plight,  In 1952, 31 inmates at Angola took matters into their own hands. In protest of the prison's conditions, they cut their Achilles' tendons (referred to as the Heel String Gang.) This caused national news agencies to write stories about Angola. In its November 22, 1952 issue, Collier's Magazine referred to Angola as "the worst prison in America.”

Then, on December 5, 1956, five men escaped by digging out of the prison grounds and swimming across the Mississippi River. The Hope Star newspaper reported only one body was pulled from the river. One man was recaptured later in Texas, after returning to the United States from Mexico. He stated that two of his fellow escapees drowned, but this was disputed by then warden Maurice Sigler, who stated that he believed no more than one inmate drowned.

A Lasting Legacy

Folks raised in Louisiana have been imprinted with the legacy of Angola. Akin to hell itself, it was a place no one wanted to go. 

As evidence of how notorious the prison still was despite efforts to reform it,  on August 31, 2008, New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin warned in a press conference that anybody who was caught looting in the city of New Orleans  during a hurricane evacuation would go directly to Angola Prison, stating  “...and God bless you when you go there.”

Angola Today

Angola after 2000
Today,  Angola still operates as a working farm. However, the prison has garnered some attention for it’s inmate rodeo and It’s semiannual Arts and Crafts Festival.

On one weekend in April and on every Sunday in October, Angola holds the Angola Prison Rodeo. On each occasion, thousands of visitors enter the prison complex. The idea of the rodeo was born in 1964, and it began in 1965. The 10,000-person stadium used for the rodeo opened in 2000. As part of the prison rodeo, the prison holds an Arts and Crafts Festival.

Information obtained from Wikipedia article. For more information and citations, see:

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Atchafalaya Swamp, by Rita Monette

The Atchafalaya Swamp

by Rita Monette

If you read any of my swamp legend books, you will almost certainly come across this long word. Atchafalaya comes from the Choctaw term hacha falaia meaning “long river,” and it’s pronounced pretty much like they said it. 

The Atchafalaya Swamp or basin is the largest wetland and swamp in the United States, with an area of 1,400,000 acres, including the swamps outside of the levees that historically were connected to the basin. It surrounds the plain of the Atchafalaya River, which flows through parts of eight parishes in Louisiana, ending in Morgan City, then into the gulf. 

The basin is filled with bayous, bald cypress swamps, and marshes, and being susceptible to long periods of deep flooding, is sparsely inhabited.

The few roads that cross it follow the tops of levees, except for Interstate 10, which crosses the basin on an 18-mile bridge.

For more beautiful photos of this awesome swamp:

In my new release, The Curse at Pirate’s Cove, Nikki Landry and her friends find out just how big that swamp is!

Here's an excerpt from the chapter where Nikki and her friends are making their way through the swamp after escaping from a ghostly pirates ship.

  Our longboat didn’t take the twists and turns as easy as a pirogue, but it kept us out of the water. Thank God for that.

  As the boat crept along, we got quiet and watched the bank. It even seemed like the critters in the swamp went silent along with us. Snooper, who was against my leg, growled real low. I rubbed his ears. I had the creepy feeling someone was watching us, and so did Snoop. The dark closed in to almost total blackness. The moon made tiny lights on the water. They blinked and flickered like fireflies as the oars slid us slowly along. I listened for anything that didn’t sound like normal swamp sounds. A mosquito whined loudly around my ear. I slapped my face. Nothing unusual…except for my stomach grumbling.

  Then, a loud barking and snarling pierced the night like a sharp knife. Snooper stood up and returned the racket, only his wasn’t quite as fierce.

  Spikes and Tommy dug the oars in and pulled as hard as they could. The boat moved fast—too fast for a place we didn’t know and in the dark.

  “Okay, guys, slow down,” Patti said. “I think we’re past the dog…or whatever that was.”

  “Yeah,” I said. “We can’t see where we’re go—” My body came out of my seat and tumbled across the boat. My arm hit one of the oar locks as I flipped over the edge and into the water.

  “We hit something,” Spikes shouted. “I dropped my oar in the water.”

  “Forget the oar!” Patti hollered. “Nikki’s overboard.”

  I tried to grab onto the side of the boat, but it slipped from my hand. I couldn’t see anything to grab onto or which way to swim. I began to worry about what was in the water with me. Papa said gators look for food at night, but didn’t mess with people unless they got real hungry or they got too close to their nest. I prayed none of ’em around here were hungry enough to eat a girl. Something caught hold of my overalls strap and pulled me away from the boat.

  “Nikki, where are you?” Patti’s voice shook.

  “I forgot,” Spikes said. “I still have my flashlight. I hope it still works…it’s supposed to be waterproof.” The light came on. “We’ll find her.”

  I heard my friends talking in the darkness, but whatever had my clothes hung on tight. The beam from Spike’s flashlight moved farther away. I kicked at the water and screamed, “I’m over here.” I couldn’t imagine what had hold of me and what it might do to me. “Hurry.” I felt teeth digging into the back of my shirt. It’s over.

If you enjoyed Nikki's adventure in The Legend of Ghost Dog Island, you'll love, The Curse at  Pirate's Cove. Available at Mirror World Publishing, Amazon, or anywhere books are sold. Watch for the third swamp adventure, The Secret in Mossy Swamp (Legend of the Rougou) later this year.

If you'd prefer a signed copy of either book, email me at