(Note: Earlier history via written documentation is not available. Founding information and earlier history is from verbal accountings from those that participated.) Cameron, Louisiana
The idea for the Louisiana Fur and Wildlife Festival in Cameron was originated in 1955 by the late Congressman T. A. Thompson who represented the area. On a challenge from the Congressman in Cambridge, Maryland, Representative Thompson sent fifty-two year old Leon Hebert, a 25 year trapper, from Cameron to the National Outdoor Show to compete in the National Fur Skinning Contest. Mr. Hebert placed fifth in the nation that year. (Leon Hebert won the Louisiana title at the first annual Fur and Wildlife Festival on December 2-3, 1955 by skinning five muskrats in 53 3/5 seconds, nosing out John Broussard by five seconds.)
A small group of people met during the summer of 1955 in the old Police Jury meeting room in the Cameron Courthouse Building to make plans for the first festival. Whitney Stine was the chairman of the meeting and enthusiastically endorsed having the festival. Many community organizations were represented at this meeting. Those attending included: Whitney Stine - Cameron Lion's Club, Edward Swindell, Sr. - Cameron Lion's Club, Hadley Fontenot - County Agent, Alvin Dyson - State Representative, Ray Burleigh - Cameron Lion's Club, Joe O'Donnell -Cameron Lion's Club, Mrs. Iva Free - Home Demonstration Agent, Roberta Rogers - Home Demonstration Club, Geneva Griffith - Home Demonstration Club (retired from festival duties in January 2004, after 48 years of volunteer service) and Sam Tarlton - Lake Charles Television and Radio Station. From this grassroots group of organizers came one of the oldest, most successful festivals, the Louisiana Fur &Wildlife Festival.
In spite of the bitter cold weather in December of 1955, and operating on a "shoestring" budget the festival was a huge success. Funding was provided by the Cameron Parish Police Jury and private donations. J. B. Jones, Jr. served as master of ceremonies for the program which was the festival climax. The program was presided over by Hadley Fontenot, Festival President 1955. Miss Vida Bess Brown, a seventeen year old beauty from Abbeville, was crowned "Miss Outdoor of Louisiana" by Ted O'Neal, Chief of the Fur and Bottoms Division of the Louisiana Wildlife Commission. She was presented with a nutria stole, a bouquet of roses by the Cameron Service Garage, and an expense paid trip to the National Outdoors Show in Cambridge, Maryland.
The Cambridge, Maryland National Outdoor Show became a "Sister Festival" with the Cameron Festival and the two exchanged fur skinners and festival queens each year. The tradition of exchanging festival representatives continues to the present time. Miss Meredith Giles (Montie) was named "Cameron Parish Queen" and won the title from a field of 34 contestants. She was crowned by Hadley Fontenot. Ted O'Neal told the audience (a Cameron Elementary full house) that night, that "Nutria skins are saving what would have been a vanishing fur industry for this area." He also pointed out that in the previous year Cameron Parish trappers netted $400,000. Eleven year old J. A. Miller captured the Louisiana Junior Duck Calling contest that year. In years to come he grew to become the World Champion Fur Skinner, following in the footsteps of his father Fletcher, and teaching his daughter Selika the art with her becoming the Women's Champion. His wife, Mary Jane Miller, held the Local and National Women's title many times.
The second annual festival was held on January 11-12, 1957 and $5000.00 in cash and trips were awarded along with fur coats to the Fur Queen contestants. Nancy Precht (Nunez) was crowned Fur Queen by Louisiana Representative Alvin Dyson. She represented the festival at the Mardi Gras Ball in Washington, D.C. where she was presented to Vice-President and Mrs. Nixon. This tradition continues to the present time. Her crown bearer was Lurchell Fontenot (Whittler) and her flower girl was Cheri Kay Griffith (Giblin). In a report by visiting news media that year it stated, "Little in size, about 2500, Cameron likes to do things in a big way -- Fur fashion, shows, parades, water carnival, pirogue races, trap and trap shooting, duck calling, skinning, a parade and Miss Fur Queen contest, and the town was filled up, and estimated 7000 people.
The annual Fur Festival Parade was always a high point of the festival, always held at 2:00 P.M. on Saturday, starting from the west end and traveling through town to the east, on Highway La. 27-82. Each civic organization would spend days and many hours planning and making the beautiful floats and competing for the honor of winning in the various categories. They were usually constructed in the warehouses of the local menhaden plants, mud houses, garages, or anywhere workers could get out of the cold. Roland "Bolo" Trosclair was in charge of the parade at that time. A long line of civic minded citizens were to follow him over the years in charge of the parade including Deil LaLande, Roland Trosclair, Jr., Hayes "Pete" Picou, Jr., Oscar Reyes, II and Freddie Richard. Fontonet continued to serve the festival as President until he was transferred from Cameron Parish in 1966. A concerted effort was made to find someone to assume the leadership position. J. B. Jones14, Jr. agreed to take it with the condition that each phase and contest of the festival be taken over by various community members. Jones revamped the Board of Directors, bringing in people from all over the parish to help out and the festival grew even larger. He held the Presidential post until he chose to give it up in 1980.