Prien Lake Named for Cyprien Duhon
by Nola Mae Wittler Ross
In 1820, Cyprien Duhon made his way by ox cart from St. Martinville to Calcasieu Parish, taking several weeks to complete the journey.
Arriving in Calcasieu Parish, he followed the Calcasieu River to Charlie's Lake, then continued south to what was then called Little Lake.
On the spot where the clubhouse of the Lake Charles Country Club now stands, Cyrprien Duhon settled and built his home.
Little lake thus became Cyprien's Lake, and the name was later shortened to Prien Lake, using the last two syllables of Cyprien's first name.
First Duhons in Louisiana
The first Duhons in Louisiana came from Bele-Isle-en-mer, France. Their name was spelled "Duon." The "h" was added when they arrived in America.
The Duhons settled in St. Martinville, and the first of the family to venture into Calcasieu Parish was Cyprien.
Marriage to Julie Granger
Cyprien Duhon had been married in 1820 to Julie Granger, daughter of Jean Baptist Granger, whose family lived in St. Martin Parish but also owned land near Little Lake in Calcasieu Parish.
Cyprien and Julie were married in St. Martin Parish, and almost immediately began their journey to Calcasieu to settle on land owned by the bride's family.
The tract of land where Cyprien Duhon built his cabin was surrounded by pine trees, with prairie land further south where he could run his herd of cattle.
Written accounts of Cyprien Duhon
The first written account of Cyprien Duhon is found in Thomas Rigmaiden's diary. In May, 1837, Rigmaiden wrote, "Went to Prien's [Duhon] to the sale of Francois goods."
Rigmaiden was apparently describing a trip to the Duhon residence to purchase French handcraft. The entry also indicates the reason that the name of the lake was eventually shortened. Apparently, many people in the area -- including Ridmaiden -- had begun to refer to Duhon himself as "Prien" rather than Cyprien.
The theory is strengthened by another entry in the diary. In 1839, Rigmaiden wrote, "Prien's daughter Azalie married Joe Folk's son [Cormillian Farque]. Joe LeDoux went to the wedding."
Land patent records in 1841 showed that Cyprien Duhon acquired several additional sections of land, including nearly all of the east side of Prien Lake from what is now the I-210 Bridge south to Country Club Road, continuing south along Big Lake Road.
The Duhons had at least three children. Some accounts said four, but the fourth child is now thought to have been a grandchild, the son of Azelie Duhon, who married Carmillion Farque. After Farque died, Azelie married Narcisse Ogea.
Following Azelie, Cyprien and Julie Duhon's second child was a boy, Clairville, who later married margaret Amelie Ellender. Another son, John Sarazin Duhon, later married Marie Selanie Farque.
Their fourth child was said to be Joseph Villeor Duhon, who is now believed to have been the grandson they adopted. When Cyrpien Duhon died, his direct heirs were listed as Azelie, Clairville and John Sarazin Duhon, and Joseph Villeor's name was not included. Nine years later, when Cyprien's widow Julie died, her listed heirs included her grandchildren, and Joseph Villeor Duhon was among them.
Joseph Villeor Duhon
Joseph Villeor, the grandson who had been adopted by Cyprien and Julie Duhon, was well known in the Lake Charles area. He married Elize Benoit, who had been blind since she was 12 years old. Despite her handicap, Elize reared 11 children, plus several grandchildren and relatives who needed a home.
Mitchell Duhon, owner of Enterprise Pharmacy, is a grandson of Joseph Villeor Duhon. He recalls, "Joseph Villeor Duhon was the owner, at first with Cyprien, then later with his brothers, of three sawmills."
The first sawmill was on Prien Lake where the old Boy Scout Camp was later located. it burned down and a seond sawmill was built in the general Country Club area. It also burned.
The third mill was also built on what is now the Country Club site.
By this time the two brothers, Charlie and George Burleson, had married Joseph Viulleor Duhon's daughters, Dolly and Agilia, and the brothers went into partnership with Joseph Villeor on the sawmills. A man named Granger was also a sawmill partner.
Another of Joseph Villeor's descendants, Mrs. Viva de Synek, recalls that the corner south of the Country Club on the west side of Big Lake and Country Club Road, which is now part of the golf course, was the home of her great-uncle, Joseph Villeor Duhon, and his wife elize. It was a one-story home with a long front porch.
"Many of Cyrpien's children and grandchildren continued to live in the Prien Lake area," says Mrs. de Synek. "My grandmother - Clemice - used to tell me about swimming in Prien Lake when she was young. There were many alligators then, so someone had to stand guard on the bank to warn the swimmers when alligators came near."
Selling the Land
Through the years, each generation of Duhons divided and sold the land until it was reduced to roughly one-fourth of its original size.
The Burleson brothers who married into the Duhon family also owned land of their own in the Prien Lake area. Later, they built a sawmill of their own, called the Burleson Brothers Mill, near the present I-210 highway.
Garner Burleson of Sulphur, grandson of Moses Bunyan Burleson, recalls the arrival of the Burlesons from Mississippi, "The first to arrive was an uncle - Rufus Burleson. He was a circuit rider and had been instrumental in establishing Baylor College."
Joseph Villeor Duhon was my grandfather, and I remember hearing that he was wounded in the Civil War, in the Battlee of Mansfield. He had pneumonia, but when the war ended, he walked home from Mansfield to Lake Charles." "He told about the Civil War troops in his unit getting so hungry that they'd kill the first beef they'd find, and it was a job holding the soldiers back until it was cooked because of their hunger."
Deputy Sam Duhon
Among Joseph Villeor Duhon's children was Samuel Duhon, who was a deputy sheriff in the 1920s, when bootlegging was common in the area.
One day, Deputy Sam Duhon and the Rev. W.E. Collins, a minister who supported prohibition, went to investigate a bootlegging operation at Starks. Both men were shot and killed and thrown into the trunk of a car, where they were found two days later. One man went to prison and another was hanged for the murders.
Another son of Joseph Villeor was Gedeon Duhon. Gedeon and his family lived just across the road from where the Country Club is now located. By this time, most of Cyprien Duhon's acreage had been sold.
When Gedeon Duhon died, he left his widow - Yiolen - and eight sons. During World War II, seven of the sons were in service at the same time. One of them - Almond Duhon - was killed during the war.
Three of Gedeon Duhon's sons still live in Lake Charles - Mitchell, Shannon and DeLos Duhon.
With hundreds of descendants of Cyprien Duhon still in the area, it's possible that some of them may not know that Prien Lake, which has had such an impact on the business and the social life of Lake Charles, was named for their ancestor and that some of Cyprien's original land remains in the family, 168 years later.