Jerry Major’s Curious Louisiana question is more than an inquiry about a pronunciation.
“Why is the town of Lecompte pronounced Lecount?” he asks.
Major, of Baton Rouge, worked several months at LSU at Alexandria immediately after graduating from LSU in Baton Rouge. Lecompte, which is near LSUA, and its pronunciation has always vexed him.
His question is a bugle signaling the beginning of a horse race that led to the renaming of the Rapides Parish town and whose pronunciation is based on a child’s mispronunciation.
Confused? Well, admittedly, there are a lot of pieces to this puzzle, all of which begin with a horse named Lecomte, bred by Smith’s Landing’s Thomas Jefferson Wells at Dentley Plantation, a few miles south of Alexandria.
Lecomte, a thoroughbred with a chestnut coat and a single white hind leg, was named in honor of Wells’ friend, Ambrose Lecomte, a plantation owner on the Cane River near Natchitoches.
“I’ve talked with several people around town, and they’re all telling me the same story about the pronunciation of Lecomte’s name,” said Sophia Pierre, librarian at Rapides Parish Libraries’ Johnson Branch located in Old Lecompte High School.
The old high school also serves as a museum documenting the town’s history.
“I’m told one of the Wells’ young daughters couldn’t pronounce Lecomte,” Pierre continued. “She said ‘Lecount’ — and it stuck.”
This horse with the mispronounced name would make its mark on history when Wells entered him in the Great State Post Stakes on April 1, 1854, at Metairie Race Course in Metairie, a race that would feature the best horses from four states.
Among them, the undefeated Lexington, was the best in the country. Dignitaries from throughout the country attended, including President Millard Fillmore.
Lexington won the race in two heats on a wet track, but “Lecomte’s partisans remained unconvinced that Lexington was a better horse, because Lecomte ran for the first time on a muddy track,” states the 1982 book, “Lecompte: A Plantation Town in Transition.”
So, the owners of Lexington and Lecomte arranged a rematch a week later. On that day, Lecomte won the race by a clear length head of Lexington in the second heat. His time was seven minutes, 26 seconds.
Even today, the Lecomte Stakes is a Kentucky Derby prep race run in mid-January at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans. Today the race has a $200,000 purse.
Back home after the big race in 1854, Smith’s Landing residents were so proud of their champion that they renamed the town for him. When a sign painter accidentally added a “p” to “Lecomte” at the railroad depot, no one bothered to change it.
Which is how Lecomte became Lecompte pronounced Lecount.
Curious Louisiana connects readers with our newsroom’s reporting. If you’ve got a question about something Louisiana-centric, ask us. You can reach the Curious Louisiana team at CuriousLouisiana@theadvocate.com.