It seems like folks in south Louisiana cannot get enough of anniversaries. The 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase was commemorated in 2003. The 200th anniversary of statehood was celebrated in 2012. This January, the Battle of New Orleans bicentennial was the subject of much activity.
But Rex celebrated the granddaddy of all Louisiana anniversaries in 1999, when it commemorated an event that happened 300 years earlier, long before the Louisiana Purchase and nearly two decades before New Orleans would be founded.
Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, a 38-year-old French Canadian, had been commissioned to explore the Mississippi River. According to his journal, on Tuesday, March 3, 1699, Iberville and his men camped for the night at a large bend near the river’s mouth: “I came to sleep on a turn that the river makes on the west, 2 leagues from the mouth on a point to the right of the river.”
In tribute to the festive holiday being celebrated that day in France, Iberville named the spot Pointe du Mardi Gras and the adjoining channel Bayou du Mardi Gras. These are the oldest place names of non-Native American origin in the whole Mississippi River valley.
Plaquemines Parish officials erected a commemorative marker in 1971 that reads, in part, “Across the Mississippi River from this marker is historic Bayou Mardi Gras. … Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, with his companions camped on the bayou — then 135 feet wide.”
The name “Bayou Mardi Gras” ultimately disappeared from maps, but on Jan. 28, 1971, the Plaquemines Parish Commission Council restored the designation.
On March 3, 1999, Rex officials and a few selected guests traveled by bus to Fort Jackson, across the river from Iberville’s landing spot. A small boat then ferried the group across the river to the spot on the east bank where it is believed Iberville landed.
Back on the west bank, Rex unveiled a large plaque that commemorated the occasion and the name, Bayou Mardi Gras. The plaque has since been damaged, and it now lies flat on a platform next to Fort Jackson.
It’s a 90-minute drive down La. 23 to Fort Jackson, where the plaque can be viewed on the west bank. Looking across the river, visitors can see the spot that Iberville dubbed Pointe du Mardi Gras in 1699.