Thursday, July 2, 2015

Young 'Petit Jean' rests (perhaps) on top of Arkansas mountain

High atop a mountain in central Arkansas lies a grave with a most unusual legend.
Adrienne Dumont was in love with a French nobleman named Chavet, who was scheduled to travel to the New World to explore lands for the King of France. In the 1700s the region that’s now the state of Arkansas was under French rule.
Chavet refused to let Adrienne accompany him so she dressed as a cabin boy, called herself Jean and followed him anyway. Because of her small size, she was nicknamed by the ships crew “Petit Jean,” which means Little John in English.
According to the legend, neither the ship’s crew nor Chavet recognized Adrienne. When she became ill with a fever, the crew discovered her identity. She asked them to bury her atop the mountain she came to love and they complied. That mountain about an hour outside of Little Rock is now called Petit Jean and the neighboring state park with its gorgeous waterfalls carries her name as well.
How accurate is this legend? According to the “Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture” there are various details to the story.
“Her fiance or sweetheart is referred to variously as Cheves, Chavet, or Jean-Jacques Chavez. His departure for the New World is generally attributed to his being part of an exploratory expedition. One source, however, states that his departure was precipitated after he was forced to kill in self-defense another admirer of Adrienne’s, Albert “Bertie” Marshand, a favorite nephew of King Louis XVI.”
Another version of her coming to America is to inflict revenge on Chavet.
“The discovery of her identity is also a point of contention,” the Encyclopedia states. “One source has her voluntarily revealing her identity to her lover just before her death; a second source says that her identity was discovered due to her illness, at which time she begged her beloved’s forgiveness before she died. A third source deviates from this significantly. In this source, it is her lover who became ill with swamp fever. As he leaned on Petit Jean for support, he recognized her distinctive green eyes. She and some friendly natives nursed him back to health. Unfortunately, she then fell ill and remained so for several months, nursed by the natives while her fiancé traveled to an unnamed French settlement to build their home.”
            Whatever the details, the legend remains and the grave on the east point of the mountain is visited by tourists every year.
             Some say the spirit of Petit Jean exists there as well.


Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is the author of "Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History," "Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana" and "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" and co-author of "Magic's in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets." She also writes Louisiana romances under Cherie Claire, including "A Cajun Dream" and "The Letter." Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

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