Stephen F. Austin State University




There are many great and wonderful stories and legends of the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941 still out there that have never been fully told. Everyone who lived through this great event had some type of story because over 470,000 men swarmed this part of Louisiana during these massive maneuvers. During the maneuvers new weapons, vehicles, and most of all new tactics came about. Instead of World War I tactics of straight forward infantry assaults, new scout vehicles and armored vehicles were being introduced, tried, and tested. And one such armored unit was about to be tested to the fullest at little known Bermuda Bridge located on Cane River in Natchitoches Parish. The story of this strange battle is best described as unbelievable, amazing, and very humorous.

Bermuda Bridge is located on Cane River south east of Natchitoches, La. During the 1800's Cane River was once the channel for the Red River but over the years the river channel changed, leaving Cane River Lake. Bermuda Bridge was a bridge completed in 1912 located near the Oakland Plantation and the plantation store known as the P. Phanor Prudhomme store. This area is filled with the history of the early French settlers, the plantations, the many buildings and structures, and the heritage and culture of the region. But in the summer of 1941 this area became part of the Great Louisiana Maneuvers, with military units of all types coming into the area, with many, such as the mounted cavalry units, bivouacking in the area around Oakland Plantation and Bermuda Bridge. This was a time of great excitement for all the young boys throughout the maneuver area. They were able to visit the camps filled with soldiers and made friends with them, and they saw trucks, jeeps, and tanks moving up and down all the roads. Here at Bermuda , Mr. Alphonse Prudhomme Sr. ran the store and his three sons, Alphonse, Mayo, and Ken sold candy, cold drinks, and cookies to the troops. But one day these three boys, ages 14, 12, and 9 engaged in one of the great unknown battles of the Louisiana Maneuvers.

The three boys were sitting on the front porch of their father's store one morning and on the east side of the river they saw a military vehicle approaching and it slowly stopped with a soldier getting out scouting the area. The river bank was covered in thick vegetation, but the boys saw the soldier sneaking around trying to peer through the vegetation. The boys could see the soldier had a pair of binoculars and he was attempting to climb a tree for better viewing of the area. At this time, the Bermuda Bridge had been declared "knocked out" due to having been flour bombed. Umpires had declared that it had been bombed and troops could not use the bridge. As they watched the soldier looking around the area with his binoculars, they decided to have some fun. The boys had a small carbide cannon, known as a "Big Bang Cannon" that operated off of carbide. The boys loaded up the cannon and fired at the soldier just to see what would happen. And when they fired the soldier jumped out of the tree and got in his vehicle and drove off in a big cloud of dust! The battle had begun!

Shortly, the advancing army approached and they began to fire in the direction of the boys. And when fired upon the boys returned fire with their cannon! As the firing began to pick up, the boys' father came out of the store and gave a young black man who worked around the store some strings of firecrackers. He told "Chippy" Williams to go and shoot the fireworks along the river bank. So now the boys and their friend were firing and reloading their cannon and throwing firecrackers continuously. The advancing army just knew they had made contact with a sizeable enemy force and rifles and machine guns began blazing away at the boys and then they even brought forward a 75mm artillery piece which they set it up at the end of the bridge and fired it several times in the direction of the "enemy" cannon fire coming from the Prudhomme boy's big bang cannon. The battle raged for around fifteen minutes according to the boys when all of a sudden they saw a jeep with a long radio antenna and a white flag on top of the antenna come driving up. The umpires sat there for a few minutes as they contemplated what was going on. When they figured out what had happened, the umpires drove up to the store and began talking with Mr. Prudhomme. "Would you mind calling your boys off so we could get on with our war?" the umpires asked. So Mr. Prudhomme called off his sons from firing their big bang cannon and the Regular Army called off its firing.

Al, Mayo, and Ken, after the battle, didn't tell or share the story of their battle with the army. But several months or possibly even after World War II their story came out in the local Natchitoches Times newspaper. Then in the November 2, 1947 edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper there came out a story titled "Deep in Dixie: When a Popgun Stopped an Army." This was the re-print of information from the Natchitoches newspaper in this nationally syndicated paper. Three boys with a popgun had stopped the advance of an army!

For many years this story had almost been forgotten but to local folks and the Prudhomme family. One day in 1989 Ken was contacted by a local radio station that he needed to listen to Paul Harvey's story that day because it was about Al, Mayo, and Ken and how they had defeated General George Patton's army at Bermuda Bridge! Ken listened to Paul Harvey's "Rest of the Story" and was surprised that they had defeated General Patton's army with their big bang cannon! They never knew till that day that they were up against the armored cavalry forces commanded by General Patton as they battled at Bermuda Bridge. Ken was so happy he said, "That's our claim to fame. We defeated General Patton and we got our name on Paul Harvey!" Wow! What an achievement for three young boys with a popgun! The boys had stopped an armored cavalry unit of over 500 vehicles!

I was blessed recently, along with Fred Worthington and Dr. Patsy Barber, to visit with Vivian Prudhomme Duggan who is the sister of the three boys, her husband Ted, Kathy Prudhomme Guin, Sandra "Sam" Prudhomme Haynie, and Kenneth Andrew "Drew" Prudhomme as we researched for the upcoming documentary about the Louisiana Maneuvers named "10 Days In September: The Untold Story of the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers." On the porch of the Duggan Home at Bermuda we sat on the porch and had the best visit with them as they all shared the story of the Battle of Bermuda Bridge as told them by their family members the late Al, Mayo, and Kenneth Prudhomme. And remember the cannon involved in the battle? Yes, it is still in the possession of the family! And Drew, Kenneth's son, keeps this family treasure and brought it and let us look at it. And believe it or not the little cannon will still fire! He showed us the simple firing mechanism of the cannon and how it was loaded, primed, and fired. The three boys made a great gun crew! Mrs. Vivian doesn't know exactly if the big bang cannon was a birthday or possibly a Christmas gift to one of the brothers but they played with it and fired it often. And from her home on Cane River we could see the historic Bermuda Bridge. Fred and I were taken by Kathy and Drew to the historic bridge and to the restored Prudhomme Store location, both located and part of the Cane River Creole National Historical Park as of 1997. While standing in front of the store you can almost picture the three boys loading and firing their cannon as they battled the U.S. Army in 1941. And as you look around you can see the beauty of the plantation and all the many buildings associated with it. And Sandra Prudhomme Haynie has also written the genealogy and history of her family in the book Legends of Oakland Plantation: The Prud'hommes of Natchitoches Parish. Many thanks go to these family members of the three Prudhomme brothers and for their true Southern hospitality.

Another legend of both the Louisiana Maneuvers and General George Patton that has again been brought forth along with the history that it holds. And we remember and will not forget the three heroes of the Battle of Bermuda Bridge! So now you know "The Rest of the Story!"

Bermuda Bridge as it looks today in 2018. This bridge was built in 1912 and was used for local traffic. This is the site of the Battle of Bermuda Bridge in 1941. (Robertson Collection)

Looking at Bermuda Bridge where it spans Cane River near the Oakland Plantation near Natchitoches, Louisiana. (Robertson Collection)

Current photograph of the P. Phanor Prudhomme store located on Oakland Plantation and at Bermuda Bridge. The 3 Prudhomme boys engaged the armored column of The U.S. Army from this location in 1941. (Robertson Collection)

The author pictured with Vivian Prudhomme Duggan, sister of the 3 Prudhomme boys who were involved in the Battle of Bermuda Bridge in 1941. (Robertson Collection)

The Big Bang Cannon used by the 3 Prudhomme Brothers during the Battle of Bermuda Bridge in 1941. (Robertson Collection)

Kenneth "Drew" Prudhomme with the family's treasured Big Bang Cannon used by his father and uncle's during the Battle of Bermuda Bridge in 1941. (Robertson Collection)

Headlines of the Times-Picayune newspaper article dated November 2, 1947 about the Prudhomme boys and the battle at Bermuda Bridge. (Prudhomme Archives-Times Picayune)

General George Patton pictured next to his lite tank during the Louisiana Maneuvers. General Patton's armored units battled the 3 Prudhomme Brothers during the Battle of Bermuda Bridge in 1941. (Robertson Collection)

Lite tank stuck in the mud during the Louisiana Maneuvers. This is one of the types of armored vehicles involved in the Battle of Bermuda Bridge in 1941. (Robertson Collection)