The Gueydan Museum, although small, contains an in-depth historical account of the history of the small Louisiana town of Gueydan as well as a look into classic Cajun Louisiana culture. The museum features a rotating art exhibit of modern paintings from artists all over the state. It also has a permanent exhibit containing donated artifacts found around the state, including a preserved albino nutria rat as well as an alligator skin from an alligator shot in Vermillion Parish. As for the history of the town, the museum displays the original deed presented to Jean Pierre Gueydan, the founder of the town, from 1882. There are artifacts from throughout the years relating to the history of Gueydan, including authentic furniture from the French home of Jean Pierre Gueydan as well as items from businesses such as a barbershop during the 1950s. The museum also takes a look at famous historical events that shaped the town, including the liquor beverage raid of 1930, World War II, and the Flood of 1940.
Backstory and Context
Jean Pierre Gueydan was born in 1829 in the high Alps of France, moving to America in 1848 at the age of 19. He moved to Texas with his brother to attempt to make a fortune in the merchandising business. He founded Gueydan six years after he purchased the Louisiana land on which he planned to begin his settlement. The introduction of the Southern Pacific Railroad, an 11-mile branch from the nearby town of Midland, helped speed up settlement and bring business to the small town. Before his death in 1900, Jean Pierre became an official American citizen and had one son. That son, Henri L. Gueydan, was elected to the Louisiana State Senate as a Democrat during the mid-1900s and also served as the first Town Clerk. He had several children, and one son who served in World War II.1 Several artifacts from World War II history are displayed in the museum, including a German officer’s uniform and original articles documenting the history of the war and its effect on Gueydan.
Two citizens of Gueydan, Joseph Bougard and J.C. Hungerford, give accounts in the Gueydan Journal, found in Town of Gueydan: Centennial Souvineer Edition on the iconic Liquor Beverage Raid of Gueydan in 1930 during the years of prohibition, 1920 to 1933. During this time period, the manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcohol was prohibited by the 18th Amendment in an effort to reduce alcohol abuse. 2 This was overall unsuccessful; the illegal liquor industry became hugely profitable. In 1930, a train running along the Southern Pacific Railroad through Gueydan was inspected by one of the station workers and found to contain a car filled with alcoholic liquor. This was reported and news spread. Many people came to witness what was supposed to be the destruction of the liquor. However, the workers did not completely destroy the bottles, placing them aside where civilians could salvage the good remaining bottles. Some people waited by the trash dump for garbage trucks to arrive with the bottles. Rumor spread that an agent would arrest anyone in possession of the liquor, but this never happened.3 In the Gueydan Museum, artifacts from this event can be found, including original liquor bottles from 1930.
Later in the 20th century, tragedy struck the small southern town of Gueydan. What is known as “The Flood of 1940” was caused by a tropical depression off the coast of Florida. This storm moved westward across the Gulf of Mexico, devastating southern Louisiana. The flood was estimated to have caused roughly 10 million dollars in damage, a hefty sum for 1940. As noted in her article “Remembering the Flood of 1940,” 4 Earline Massey recounts the large amount of rain the town received, trapping many people in their homes and destroying their wooden foundations. The flood was very destructive and many citizens had to completely remodel their homes. During the flood, however, Pete Guidry from the Pete Guidry Store was generous in giving canned goods to flood victims who were greatly affected by this tragic event.5
2 "Prohibition." History.com. October 29, 2009. Accessed February 11, 2019. https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/prohibition#section_1.
3 “Town of Gueydan: Centennial Souvenir Edition,” page 107.
4 "Louisiana Flooding Worst Since Epic Flood Of 1940 #louisianaflood." 99.9 KTDY. August 14, 2016.http://999ktdy.com/louisiana-flooding-worst-since-epic-flood-of-1940/.
5 “Town of Gueydan: Centennial Souvenir Edition,” page 78.