It was called Ile Fourchue, in the 1880s, when the first families came to settle the ridge that in those days was broken only by trails made by the herds of cattle that roamed the marsh.
Jules Schexnayder and his family were the first pioneers to settle in the area but they settled it good, rearing 22 children at their old homestead south of the Intracoastal Canal. Other early families included those of Onezime Gaspard, Theodore Rung, Helire Broussard, Remy Hebert, Lodias Stelly Sr., Columbus Dartez, Anatole Touchet, Arville Suire, and Oneal Sicily.
The old stories say black bears roamed the area in those pioneering days, and children couldn't go outside in the afternoons unless Momma was standing nearby with a loaded musket.
Forked Island was truly an island then, and log rafts were used to ferry families to it. The first road to the island was built about 1917 by men using little more than shovels and wheelbarrows. A new and better road was built in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration under Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.
That WPA road was the main road to and through Forked Island until the Louisiana Legislature demanded in 1970 that the state build improved hurricane evacuation routes for low-lying areas of south Louisiana. Ground was broken in December 1973 for the Forked Island Bridge, the tall fixed span that now cross the Intracoastal Canal. It replaces an old swing span bridge that had to be constantly opened and closed when both cars and boats were trying to get out of harm's way.
Harrington's store was the first on Forked Island, opening northwest of the Intracoastal Canal in the early 1900s. The Ducre Prejean Store and the Keno Nunez Store opened in the same general area. Martin Primeaux opened the first store south of the Intracoastal Canal in the early 1920s.
Most of the early settlers raised cattle in the marsh, but about 1920 they also began to plant rice. The low land was made for the crop, but it also made harvesting it a problem.
For years it had to be cut by hand with sickles because reapers could not get into the marshy fields. After drying, it was taken to a threshing machine placed on higher ground. The threshed rice was bagged and sent on barges to Abbeville by way of a small canal that in those days connected with the Vermilion River but has now been dredged to form part of the Intracoastal Waterway.
My favorite souvenir of Forked Island (I don't really have that many) is a T-shirt I bought some years ago at Stelly's store, right at the foot of the bridge, proclaiming: "I Vacation in the Islands - Forked Island, Cow Island, Pecan Island."
It's a funny shirt, but has a grain of truth attached to it, too. Fishermen and hunters have known about Forked Island and its environs for years; more recently, bird watchers have found it a good place to visit. The surrounding marshes and those to the west provide habitat for more bird species than practically any place else in the nation, especially during the spring and fall migration periods.
The Creole Nature Trail that runs through a good part of the marsh is home to more than 300 bird species making it one of the top ten bird-watching locations in the country.
You can also see plenty of alligators, too. They will usually leave you alone, but I wouldn't bring a little dog with me.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.