I am not a paranormal investigator. I do not use light meters, heat sensors, or digital recorders to capture a message from the netherworld. I am a television producer, director, writer, and author. I seek out stories about previous inhabitants who may still wander about.
All that being said, I do occasionally hear from the dead. There is no pre-planning when this occurs. And for me the event itself is inexplicable. I have come to accept that sometimes things happen, and I just go with it.
During the Q&A at a few of my speaking engagements, I have shared the following true story as it unfolded. And I will preface it by stating that on this day, ghosts were not on the agenda.
The television crew and myself were in the final days of shooting a PBS documentary titled Hidden Nation. It was to be the story of the Houma people, a Native American tribal group living among the swamps and bayous of southeast Louisiana. It was a late summer afternoon; hot, humid, and the mosquitoes were swarming. We were in search of a gravesite.
During the course of the previous weeks’ interviews numerous tribal members spoke of Rosalie Courteaux, the last great female chief of the Houma Nation. Rosalie is the central figure of genealogical significance with multiple “greats,” “great-greats,” and “great-great-greats” to everyone alive in the tribe today. Unfortunately, there are no sketches, paintings, photos or known artifacts linked to Rosalie. We were working in a television medium that requires visuals. So, when tribal members referred to Rosalie’s grave it became a top priority to get footage of her final resting place. And we were sent to various remote cemeteries scattered in lower Terrebonne Parish. Everyone it seemed had a different memory of where we might find this illusive grave.
As a crew we were exhausted and frustrated driving for miles up and down dirt and shell roads along Bayou Dulac, Bayou Dularge, Golden Meadow. We even traveled by boat to a cemetery in Pointe Aux Chene that is fast slipping into a trevasse, a canal cut by an oil company to reach their rigs deep in the marsh. We saw simple crosses but none inscribed with the name of Rosalie.
The sun was beginning its downward descent but the rays still burned; there was no shade in this flat terrain, only dead and dying cypress trees and lots of muddy water. We were in lower Montegut when we caught a glimpse of what we knew would be our final stop of the day; we were losing light.
I was excited when we spotted a group of headstones with the family name of Courteaux. We went up and down the aisles, cameraman, audio tech, and myself. We wiped sweat from our dripping faces. We squinted at names worn by time and the elements. No Rosalie. My crewing was grunting from hauling equipment from grave to grave. It appeared that once again we had been sent to the wrong cemetery or, as I was beginning to concede, Rosalie’s grave no longer existed, it had fallen into some lost bayou never to be seen again.
We packed up the gear and climbed into the van ready to head back to the station in New Orleans. My cameraman was driving. I was riding shotgun. We had just pulled a few feet past the edge of the cemetery when I screamed, “STOP THE CAR.”
My cameraman slammed on the brakes, scanning the road for whatever might be in front of us. “What? What?” he yelled back. “I don’t see anything, not even an armadillo crossing the road.” He was furious.
“Everybody get out and grab the gear,” was my response. “I know where she is.”
The crew must have been a little shell-shocked from the long day. They moved like robots unpacking the camera and tripod. I marched ahead to the left side of the graveyard with my back to the water’s edge. I stepped around a large, recently white-washed tomb, and there, leaning behind it was a small, simple curved headstone.
It wasn’t much to look at, but it was the exact image I needed for the documentary. I mouthed a silent “Thank you.” As we repacked and climbed back into the van, my cameraman turned to me and asked “How? How did you know it was there and why didn’t you say something before?”
I hadn’t even thought about how when I yelled out STOP THE CAR. My answer startled not just my crew, but stunned me the most. I hesitantly answered, “She called to me. Rosalie called to me.”
It was that simple and that inexplicable. Rosalie Courteaux got inside my head. “Here I am,” is what I must have heard, and I reacted.
I’ve thought about that call from the beyond on and off since then. Did I really hear her voice? Where those her exact words? Replaying that moment over and over hasn’t helped. We’d been searching all day for her gravesite with no luck. We ended up in a cemetery below Montegut alongside a nameless bayou with little expectations. We’d given up. We were headed out, and suddenly I KNOW. It just pops into my head. With no hesitation, with no thought process, I led the crew to her grave.
Then again, it is unreasonable to expect that messages from the dearly departed are delivered and received in generally accepted modes of communication. Sometimes the inner voice we hear is really telling us something. And if we are smart, we listen. This producer remains enormously grateful. Rosalie’s story became an integral part of the documentary Hidden Nation.
Thank you, Rosalie, for leading me to you.
As always, thoughts, comments, and questions are always welcome. Click on REPLIES, and I’ll get back to you.
I am Norman Paul Billiot , youngest son of CHIEF WILLIAM LOVINCE BILLIOT ,THE FIRST CHIEF OF THE UNITED HOUMA TRIBE 1964.THIS IS THE SADDEST STORY OF ANY PEOPLE…..I BROUGHT WITH MY PARTNER KIETH CRESSIONNIE ( THE DIRTY DEEDS STORY AIRED BY LEE ZURIK , who won the Edward R. Marrow, Peabody award,Dupont Award).
The saga of the Houma people is a story filled with heartache, frustration, and great loss. When I first met Grayhawk and Joe Dardard and they began to share some of the history of the tribe for my documentary HIDDEN NATION, I was shocked, but at the same time so moved by the resilience of the tribe and their on-going battle for Federal recognition. I was privileged to meet so many incredible individuals and their families. You come from a proud line and your father Chief William Lovince Billiot was a great man.
OK – that story gave me goosebumps! What skillful storytelling. Happy Halloween to you and your readers.
The day at the cemetery that Rosalie Courteaux “spoke” to me will remain imbedded in my memory. It is one of those incidents I have been unable to rationalize away so I’ve stopped trying. Life is full of complex situations and you often just have to roll with them. In this case, we got the shot we needed for the documentary so Rosalie’s story lives on. And the people of the United Houma Nation continue their fight for Federal Recognition.
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Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed reading it.
Thanks for the excellent content. Wish to see even more shortly. Thanks again and keep up the great work!
I found out Rosalie Courteaux is my 5th great grandmother an I don’t know much about her except what I have read an it sounds like she’s was a great leader. I would love to learn more about her
I agree. During my research for the Documentary “Hidden Nation, which I produced and wrote for a PBS station, I had the privilege of interviewing many tribal members. Many proudly claimed kinship with Rosalie who lead the Houma tribe to safety. They moved “down the bayou” to Houma, Louisiana. When Rosalie’s house was burned down, she lead tribal members further south to present-day towns of Golden Meadow, Dulac, Bayou Dularge, and Isle a Jean Charles. She is buried in a small cemetery along the bayou. I still stay in touch with Houma members. Congratulations for being able to claim such wonderful lineage.