History People People & Places Places St Landry History

Photos from the Past – Eugene Petetin Store in Grand Coteau

The featured photograph above shows the Petetin Store in Grand Coteau, photographed by Lester Jones on February 27, 1940. The photograph was taken as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) that was done across the country for many years. The above photograph copy is part of my collection, and it can also be seen on the Library of Congress website.

Interested in the Petetin store and the role it played in the history of Grand Coteau, I began researching the building and its owner. Through my research I discovered it was owned by Eugene Petetin, a resident of Grand Coteau for many years.

Eugene Petetin, born in Dauphine, France in about 1818, immigrated to the US and Louisiana as a young man. He settled in Grand Coteau in St. Landry Parish where he married Onezia Guilbeau on June 23,1845. The couple had several children including Alicia, Amelie, Hermina, Mary Ann, Eugenie, Armand, Jules and Alida. Eugene became a US citizen on December 7, 1853. During the Civil War, he served as a private in Company A, Second Louisiana Reserve Corps.

Eugene owned and operated the Eugene Petetin’s General Merchandise Store in Grand Coteau for over three decades. Following his death on November 13, 1876, his wife and children ran the store. After the death of Mrs. Onezia Petetin on October 12, 1884, her children continued to operate the Eugene Petetin Store for several years.

While continuing to conduct research on Eugene Petetin and his family, I came across an interesting story about a robbery at Petetin’s Store in 1882. Here is what I learned about that robbery from a front-page story in the Opelousas Courier on May 27, 1882.

A Robbery at Petetin’s Store in Grand Coteau: On Saturday, May 20, 1882, the Eugene Petetin Store in Grand Coteau was broken into, and an effort made to blow open the iron safe with gunpower. The Petetin family discovered the crime on Sunday morning, and immediately sent a telegram to Sheriff C. C. Duson asking that he come directly to the crime scene. Sheriff Duson along with his deputy E. McKinney immediately traveled to Grand Coteau. When they reached the store building, they found the door broken, and from the marks on the door and the facings, determined the damage had been done with an inch and a half chisel with gaps in it. In front of the safe, the sheriff found about a pound of gunpowder scattered on the floor and the remnant of a newspaper used as a fuse still sticking in the keyhole of the safe, partially consumed by fire. As the sheriff and deputy examined the paper, they discovered it was printed in a strange language that they did not understand.

Thinking that newspaper would lead to the culprit, the sheriff went around town showing it to others to see if anyone could read the language and tell where it came from. He soon discovered it was not in German, French or any other language that the local people could understand. The sheriff next went to visit the Jesuit Fathers at St. Charles College to see if they could identify the language and the paper. As soon as the president of the college looked at the newspaper he said: “Where did you get this? We received this paper just last Thursday by mail, and I do not suppose that another such newspaper has even been received in the parish. The paper is published in Russia and is printed in the Slavonic language.”  He brought the sheriff to a private apartment on the college grounds and showed him other pieces of the same newspaper.

The sheriff explained all the circumstances connected with the burnt pieces of the newspaper and asked him if any strangers had access to the private apartment where it was located. The college president replied there were no strangers on the property but that a young man named Willie Buchanan was working for them and occupied a room in the college building.

Sheriff Duson returned to downtown Grand Coteau where he found Deputy Sheriff McKinney with Willie Buchanan. Deputy McKinney said Buchanan was acting suspiciously and kept saying he did not have anything to do with the robbery. The sheriff told Buchanan that he was the man they suspected. Eventually Buchanan showed the two law officers where he hid the chisel, and where he had concealed the money that he took from the drawer in Petetin’s store. It seems there was only $1.50 in dimes and nickels taken from the drawer; while there was $6,000 in the safe that he failed to get.

The sheriff brought Buchanan to Opelousas and lodged him in jail to await his trial. With all the evidence gathered in this case, plus Buchanan’s confession, Judge Hudspeth sentenced the 22-year-old man to six years of hard labor in the penitentiary.

Who was Willie Buchanan? Buchanan was born in New Orleans and as a small child was committed to an asylum in that city. At a young age he was taken from the asylum and raised in Grand Coteau by a member of the Petetin family. He worked for the Jesuit Fathers at St. Charles College. He was well known in the community, and generally liked by everyone who knew him, so his involvement in the Petetin Store robbery was a shock to members of the Grand Coteau community.