Mad Stone of Vacherie

There is nothing unusual about the house of Ernest G. Gravois, Box 200, Vacherie, La. It is off the back Vacherie road on a green lawn clipped close by grazing cows and a plodding horse. Its weathered boards, its picket fence look like any other of a dozen houses along the oyster shell road.

But the house of Ernest Gravois is perhaps the best known building in Vacherie. It is the house of the "Mad Stone of Vacherie."

Come back into legend some 150 years ago when only two white families struggled against the forests and floods of that rugged country, when Indians _ and their mystic methods, customs, and tribal remedies were the "law and the prophets" thereabouts.

The Gravois and the Weber families were the sturdy pioneers, Louisiana style, who began hacking out a farm ~ back from the river. The Indians were friendly, especially a neighboring tribe which lived on what is today called Lake Des Allemands.

One day Madame Gravols went to her vegetable garden for a cabbage Suddenly she jumped back in fright as a deadly snake struck at her hand. Two tell-tale fang pricks, and the serpent was gone. Mme. Gravois ran into the log cabin house, calling for her husband.

The hand began to swell. The Webers and the Gravoises made her as comfortable as they could, but she grew steadily worse. Suddenly, into the small clearing around the house walked an Indian clutching a small piece of black stone. In sign language, he indicated that if they would take him to the woman, he would cure her.

Inside the cabin they watched as the native applied the small stone to the marks left by the snake's fangs. The stone remained there as if securely fastened. Seconds passed, minutes, 7 hours. All sat as if hypnotized. Finally, Mme. Gravois' eyes opened. She became noticeably better. At last she sat up. The stone fell from her hand. The Indian picked it up, asked for clear water in a basin and dropped the stone gently into it. It bubbled for a minute. Then he removed it and departed.

So the legend goes, Mme. Gravois' cure was complete. The story continues one year later. This time the Indian came down with a malady, some kind of internal illness not connected with a snake or animal bite, evidently. Now it was the turn of the French people to help him. The cure was not so quick. He remained with the Gravoises and the Webers for a long period until he was well. Beforw departing , however, he gave them as a token of his gratitude the shiny, black stone, about 3 inches long, as big around as a man's thumb, they say. He told them to keep it as a treasure, never to sell it. It would always work for them and theirs.

Through the years, the story has come down with the usual embroidery. The stone is from the heart of a white deer, one version says. It Is porous and sucks poison from a wound. It has supernatural powers. But does it still work? Has anybody seen it effect a cure?

The evidence is on the side of the Mad Stone of Vacherie. No records have been kept, but Ernest Gravois, great grandson of the original recipient, estimates over 4000 actual cases in which the application of the Mad Stone has brought about immediate relief and final cure of snake bites, black widow spider stings, bee stings, mad dog bites (from which it probably gets Its name), and ailments resulting from poison infection In the blood stream.

Ernest can't do much talking today, but his affable wife will tell you all about the Mad Stone - in French only.. She speaks no English. She it is who applies the black stone, now broken into two small pieces, well worn from 150 years of its therapeutic work. She opens a tiny round tin box, curiously labeled "Dr. William's Indian Ointment." On a pad of cotton are the two tiny pieces of what appear to be black agate. She places them in her hand for closer observation.

At any hour, Mine. Gravois is ready to apply the stone. She first bathes the wound carefully, removing any salves, medicines or ointments already applied. Then she places the stone next to the wound. It clings, eyewitnesses state, until the poison is all out. If on a hand, for instance, it can be turned over while poison remains and the stone will not fall off. Sometimes people have to remain overnight while the stone does its work. The Gravotses cheerfully provide a comfortable room for them. There is no charge for the use of the mysterious heirloom. But people always leave "whatever the doctor would have charged them. I guess," says madame.

The woods and cane fields of Vacherie are full of folk who will readily attest to the curative power of the Mad Stone.

Mne. Gravois and her relatives will describe in all the gory details the ugly cases which come to the humble door on the back Vacherle road. They all go away cured, It seems.

Most doctors are quick to scoff at the Mad Stone's properties. Some who have witnessed its performance, like Dr. Joseph Brierre, 4769 St. Roch, insist that it has real merit. Dr. Brierre lived at Vacherle for a period, saw the stone used and even applied it once himself. Says he:

"There is nothing supernatural about the Mad Stone. I know these people intimately. I believe the stone is an enterolith, a small, hard formation from a deer's intestine which has osmotic property. That is, it will cause certain fluids to pass from one thing to another. It has a pull like a leech and will stay on the wound until the poison is gone, sometimes 24 to 36 hours. Then It falls off.

"An analysis of the water in which the stone is washed after an application might prove interesting, but I've never been able to get any. But it's definitely not a superstition."

Dr. Rudolph Matas, celebrated New Orleans surgeon, had also heard about the Mad Stone, and offers this explanation:

"Certain substances have absorption power and no doubt can cause moisture to flow. The Mad Stone, being dry, perhaps very porous, can, If applied immediately after the bite, cause the poison to flow out just as If sucked by the mouth.

"There is nothing new about Mad Stones. There have been reports of them over the world throughout history. They are legendary. It is always difficult to say exactly what type of bite or the extent of the poison one had suffered before the stone was applied."

With those who find the story too incredible, Mne. Gravois finds no fault. "I do not blame those who cannot believe," she says with a wave of the hand "because you've got to see. And even then you don't believe. There is something mysterious in the stone that we don't understand."

Dixie Roto Magazine June 19, 1949