Heart of Louisiana: Sallier Oak
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - It’s a large, very old oak tree that’s been battered and bruised over the centuries, and it has become a symbol of survival and resilience in southwest Louisiana.
At the time, the first European settlers arrived in southwest Louisiana, it was mostly flat prairie with few trees. But this one now in downtown Lake Charles apparently caught the eye of Frenchman Charles Sallier.
“The Sallier family maintains that he was of minor nobility from savoy in France, and he fought on the wrong side in the French revolution and had to make a speedy escape from Europe,” said Adley Cormier.
Lake Charles author and historian Adley Cormier tells me that Sallier made his home here in the late 1700s. The family believes he was guided to this isolated location by privateer Jean Lafitte, who traded with settlers from New Orleans to Galveston, Texas.
“The site of a Jean Lafitte ship, it didn’t only mean that you could get news from the outside world. You could also get pots and pans and textiles and ammunition and guns and blankets and whatever else you might have needed,” said Cormier.
The local legend has it that Charles Sallier had a disturbing encounter here with Lafitte.
“Charles Sallier coming back from a hunting trip, sees off in the distance, his young, new bride, Catherine Lebleu. He sees what he thinks is an embrace, a passionate embrace by Jean Lafitte. He aims his gun at the couple and shoots and Catherine falls down seemingly dead, but Catherine is not dead. The bullet is caught by her newly installed amethyst broach,” said Cormier.
When asked how to separate fact from fiction or legend when you have a good story, Cormier says, “Well, to be quite truthful, you don’t know if they’re true or not. So you have to take family lore as part of the inference and then match it up with other family’s lore.”
For generations, this old tree has been a favorite picture spot for Lake Charles residents like Nava Jo Ford. The shade and curving limbs provide a strong background.
“I’ve always admired it because it’s old, and it’s a lot of history background for Lake Charles, and I like taking pictures on it,” said Nava Jo Ford.
The old oak has been through a lot. It was nearly split into by a lightning strike in the mid-1800s. An old chain was used to hold it together.
“The Salliers tried to wench it back together to bring it back to life,” said Cormier.
And the Sallier oak has withstood some of the strongest hurricanes to strike southwest Louisiana, including Rita and Laura.
“Despite the ups and downs of the economy, the weather change, whatever it is, this tree has been a symbol of southwest Louisiana in terms of the resiliency,” said Cormier.
This old lonely tree on the prairie has proven that it is a true survivor.
For more on the Sallier oak in Lake Charles and other great Louisiana live oaks, click HERE.
Click here to report a typo.
Copyright 2022 WAFB. All rights reserved.