The Richard family possesses a sort of dynastic quality in the world of Cajun bush tracks. Maurice Richard and his wife, Celestine, bought the property in 1902 in present-day Church Point, an area once known locally as Marais des Buller.
The Richard family's involvement with horse racing goes back to the early nineteenth century. A sharecropper by trade, Maurice loved racing his horses against those of his neighbors. He considered opening an unsanctioned quarter horse track, but with eleven children, life was hectic, and he needed the land to grow crops. However, as the great New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra once said, “When you get to a fork in the road, take it.” That is exactly what Maurice did. Choosing both routes, he divided his time—and land— between the farm and the track, which he aptly named Tee Maurice. Tee Maurice grew to be a bastion of quarter horse racing in Acadiana and a major entertainment hotspot.
In the 1930s, Maurice’s son Ellis opened a dance hall that the locals named “Richard’s Casino.” Food and music became an inseparable part of the landscape. Renowned musicians such as Happy Fats, Johnnie Allan, and Blackie Forestier played at the dance hall at Tee Maurice. One night could see as many as 700 people waltzing to the music of “Doc” Guidry.
In addition to the original ten arpent straight quarter horse track, the Richards eventually built a one-half-mile thoroughbred track behind the dance hall. A stock car track was later added. Tee Maurice became known as the grandest and most renowned bush track in the area, with the ability to attract thousands of visitors in one weekend.
The family owned several trucks and would drive to Opelousas, Lewisburg, Lawtell, Sunset, and Carencro to pick racegoers up and bring them to watch the races and dance. Others would walk or arrive in their wagons. Tee Maurice and Richard's Club closed in 1983 when Ellis Richard passed away.
A visit to the property to speak to Ellis’ son, Winston, daughter-in-law, Kathy, and daughter, Guinn, was an enjoyable experience. They knew the stories well. They sat around the kitchen table, reliving the glory days of Tee Maurice. The track and dance hall are as much a part of them as the family who came before them. They remembered people who are long gone, and exchanged stories with each other as if they were trading baseball cards.
A stroll around the property was meaningful. I saw the old dance hall, which Winston converted into a barn for his horses. Walking into the shaded entrance on that bright April afternoon, I could not help feeling the excitement of a new day meeting old history. Mrs. Kathy must have been thinking the same thing. “I wonder how many feet danced right here,” she thought aloud.
120 years have come and gone since the first horses stepped onto the track at Tee Maurice. A slab foundation at the road serves as proof that a dance hall once existed. The dance hall is now a barn for the Richard’s horses. Its walls, which recently sustained hurricane damage, are a memorial to our ancestors who contributed so greatly to the music and horse culture of Cajun country— A perfect example of how the landscape is always changing and of how we live alongside our history.