Just when I think researching the Gulf Coast Islands can’t get any more interesting, I dig deep, and Horn Island has me tunneling for more. Explorers, artists, lighthouses, and more. Jump in my skiff, and let’s row over.
Juan De La Costa
Sometimes names pop up, meaning nothing until they’re connected to something. Juan De La Costa, ever heard of him? I’m thinking you’re guessing he discovered Horn Island…and you’re right. Still not a big deal, but the more significant claim to fame is his ship, The Santa Maria, and his world explorations. And you’ve probably guessed right again, he accompanied Christopher Columbus. But De La Costa was also a famous cartographer who created the first world map of Europe.
De La Costa continued exploring, without Columbus, and without the Santa Maria. It hit a reef and sunk in Haiti on the Columbus expedition. In 1500 De La Costa charted Horn Island, but apparently, he didn’t claim it. Maybe the tiny barrier reef was of no possible use to Spain, or his kind soul let it remain in its pristine beauty, undisturbed. I like that scenario. But like the story of Restored Grace and all my books, I made it up.
Jean Baptiste Le Moyne
Roughly two hundred years later, in 1699, the famous French explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville named and claimed Horn Island. Nineteen years later, in 1718, he founded New Orleans, and he eventually became the Governor of French Louisiana. He traversed the Lower Mississippi River Region, making great strides for France, but sadly creating havoc displacing the indigenous people. He is coined as the Father of Louisiana.
I read a fascinating book in that setting by Jocelyn Green, The Mark of the King.
It was New Orleans just around the 1700s, as a newly founded colony in America. France sends a ship of convicts (half women) to settle the disease-ridden swamp. The fictional story follows one wrongfully accused woman’s journey. Historically a ship of women only convicts was sent there.
Back to the Isle de Corne. Doesn’t that sound lovely? I’m not sure if the French called it that, but Horn Island was the name given by Sieur Bienville. It’s said that while he was exploring the island, one of his men lost his gun powder horn. The man was frantic and refused to board the ship, delaying their departure.
Few objects held such a personal connection to their owners as the powder horns used by soldiers, settlers, and American Indians. Understanding the magnitude of this man’s missing horn makes us understand his stubbornness to leave without it. The horns were vital in storing gunpowder necessary for their survival. Some of these horns were also carved and scrolled with maps.
And here’s the last tidbit about Horn Island History before moving on to our artist.
Lighthouses and Chemical Warfare
Horn Island lighthouses and the lightkeepers might interest you. Two were built over the waters of Horn Island, and others throughout the Gulf Islands. Their construction in the barrier reefs was remarkable in their own right. The houses were built on screw pile foundations and alarmingly, a family lived in one with the lightkeeper. Sadly they vanished in a storm.
And once again, we have the military experimenting on barrier reef islands. At one time, they built a railroad there, and Horn Island is less than a mile wide and only ten miles long! During the experiment, two hundred soldiers lived on the Horn. The U.S. government’s failed venture into chemical warfare was claimed harmless to the environment. Sadly not so to the animals subjected to it. The chemicals were insect venom.
Nature’s Bounty and The Artist
I’ve saved the best for last. The Artist. It’s hard not to expand on the life of the Mississippi artist, Walter Anderson, who made Horn Island his home. He couldn’t live there, but his son said no one made more trips by skiff to Horn Island than his dad. It’s just a short distance off the coast of Pascagoula, but sometimes he weathered his extended stays by burrowing in the sand during storms. Walter Anderson wasn’t famous in his lifetime and was known as a crazy artist. But today, he’s recognized for his artistic contribution to the creative arts and his paintings hang in the Smithsonian. I’m anxiously awaiting one of his books.
In the 40s and 50s, when he began visiting the islands he fell in love and drew thousands of sketches and watercolors. It was said that “he madly drew Mississippi coastal wilderness.” Sadly much of his art was destroyed by the elements and his lack of care for them. Others were saved and restored by his family, and they now have an excellent foundation for preserving and sharing his talent. Here’s a link that I encourage you to peruse.
Walter Anderson’s works are fascinating, but sadly, so is his life. He suffered from mental illness, and Horn Island was his solace. He found peace in God’s creation there. I discovered nothing about his faith but reading about him, I might conclude that perhaps he worshipped creation, and not necessarily the creator. Still, God gave him a gift.
“In order to realize the beauty of humanity, we must realize our relation to nature.” ~ Walter Anderson.
Whether he meant to use his gifts for God’s glory or not, his landscapes of Horn Island cause me to worship our awesome God. Such uniquely and hauntingly beautiful works of art are truly God-given.
An award-winning PBS documentary was made about him, and here’s the link. It’s endearing, informative, and lovely. Enjoy.
Restored Grace and Horn Island
Sorry, there’s no connection. Except it’s off the coast of Pascagoula, where my Restored Grace begins and somewhat ends. I loved writing this post and wish I had time to learn more. I will add that Horn Island is much like Deer Island today. No public ferry, accessible by private boats, and there is primitive camping and lots of wildlife. A pristine getaway.
If you’ve heard of Walter Anderson, please let me know. Better yet, if you have a piece of his art, I’d love to see it. Thank you for joining me on this excursion.
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