THREE FRENCHMEN HAD GREAT SURPLUS OF YEARS
© By W. T. Block
(click here for W. T. Block web page)
It would certainly be presumptuous of me, based on
the lives of 2 men, to infer that Frenchmen with Gen. Lafayette's army in 1777,
and who later lived in Southwest Louisiana, built up a greater surplus of years
than others, simply because they were French. Jean Baptiste Chiasson, born in
Acadia in 1745, was present at Yorktown, Virginia when British Lord Cornwallis
surrendered. Later he lived on Bayou Plaquemine for 55 years before he moved to
Beaumont, where he died in 1854, at age 109.
Michel Trahan of Lake Charles also came to America
with Lafayette's army, and was present with Gen. Washington when Cornwallis
surrendered on Oct. 19, 1781. His biography on the Internet states he was born
on Aug. 21, 1764 in Malaix, France, the son of Jean Baptiste and Madeleine
Trahan, and that he died at Prien Lake in Nov. 1866; however there appear to be
major discrepancies with regard to his birth and death dates.
It seems probable that Trahan was closer to 115 years
old when he died instead of 102. Had Trahan been born in 1764 as his biography
states, he would have been only 13 years when he left France with Gen.
Lafayette. At residence 282 of the 1850 Calcasieu Parish census, Michel Trahan
gave his age as 101 while he was living in the household with William and James
When Willard Richardson, owner/editor of Galveston
Weekly News, wrote his letter from Lake Charles, dated May 19, 1866, he
"...There was another Frenchman who died here 18
months ago on Indian Lake, named Michel Trahan, who I am told was 125 years
old. He was a soldier in the French army and was at the siege and surrender of
Yorktown.... Others say he died at age 118...." It now seems probable that
Trahan was born in 1749 and died in 1864.
Hence the exact age and dates of Trahan will probably
never be known for certain. The "Indian Lake" is probably that body
of water known as Prien Lake today. Richardson also wrote about the small
"Trahan's Lake, south of Lake Charles, which was simply a wide place in
the stream, erased by dredging and natural channelization. Richardson also
added in his letter as follows:
"...There is another remarkable character here.
Michel Pithon, and old Frenchman on the lake below here, who told me he was
born in 1774 (in Savoy, France), and is 92 years of age. He fought under
Napoleon at the Battles of Austerlitz, Wagram, Borodino; witnessed the ocean of
fire at Moscow and suffered amid the horrors of the French retreat.... He came
to America, lived in the Northwest with mountain trappers among the wild
Indians.... joined the Texas Army under Gen. Sam Houston... he concluded to
marry at age 62..."
"...He has 5 children, 4 grown and a boy of
12... He yet goes to every dance in the parish... takes a long walk every
morning before breakfast. In 1857 at age 83 he went to Europe to collect an
inheritance. The present Emperor Napoleon II offered him a pension for life,
provided he remained in France, but he refused..."
When Michel Pithon left the Texas army in 1836, he
moved to Lake Charles, where he married Denise Sallier in 1837, who was 40
years younger than her husband. They became the parents of 5 children that
reached adulthood, namely, sons Sirius, Albert and Ambrose, and daughters Iris
Peeke and Doris Touchy.
On Aug. 24, 1840, Pithon was a member of the first
Imperial Calcasieu police jury, representing Ward 3. Although Pithon did not
arrive in Lake Charles until 16 years after Jean Lafitte disappeared from the
Louisiana coast, Pithon was the source of much Calcasieu pirate legendry, as
told to him by his mother-in-law, Catherine Sallier. The Calcasieu River
legendry appears in a 3-column article, "Lafitte on the Calcasieu,"
in Galveston Daily News of April 28, 1895.
According to the Pithon family succession of June 13,
1874, both Michel and Denise Pithon died in 1873. Their son Albert was a
Confederate soldier and in 1870 owned a Lake Charles saloon. Son Sirius
provided the land for Lake Charles' first Catholic church and graveyard. The
Michel Pithon legacy lives on still, perpetuated in Lake Charles' Pithon Street
and Pithon Coulee.