The swamp dwellers were left mainly to their own, spiritually, until the arrival of Evangelist Ishim Gird. The population, an amalgamation of French, freed slaves, Germans, Haitians, Irish, and Spanish, had brought with them their own religions and customs. In addition to this, the community was already served by the presence of two churches, though one of which was a ruin.
Gird was a committed evangelical, who came to know Port Reeker through his travels to minister at Fort Carmick towards the end of the Civil War. He became curiously enamored with the people he found, finding them lacking in the basic and essential spirituality he considered taken for granted elsewhere in the United States. Several trips to the area made him resolute in his endeavor: to save the souls of those who would otherwise be damned.
Gird was a gifted and charismatic preacher and had soon built a large following amongst the local people, but he needed a church to house the congregation. An account from the time conflates him with a sense of “hope," said to be “as foreign a sentimentality amongst the men here as literacy." He inspired acts of alms; people gave him what they had. Fundraising missions in New Orleans raised more capital, once city folk were made aware of the deplorable conditions endured by their southern neighbors.
Gird purchased land from the dwindling Blanchett estate, but ran into opposition from the Widow once she understood his intentions. Despite this, in 1870 Gird's Church was built, named Healing-Waters for the bayous it stood amongst. Gird became renowned as a minister. The populace spoke of Gird as having overcome the Widow's “curse." Gird, in private, dismissed any such notion, but declared publically that “God's will was strong than an old crone's curse." There was a newfound sense of community amongst the townspeople in their weekly congregation. This feeling did not last.
While Gird had an initial momentum, by the end of the decade this tapered to a trickle. As he entered old age, he became a shadow of his former self. Over time, his sermons turned to external dangers facing the community: industry as it devastated once serene forests, hurricanes as they deluged the lands. Then, he turned to the sins of his congregation: greed, pride, gluttony, and other cardinal sins. He became obsessed with sin, the demons that lurked within, and the fire and brimstone awaiting everyone.
His following dwindled to only the most devout and loyal. He sealed himself away from the outside world. Many speculated as to what had caused his decline, suggesting that he had come to regret the money he had invested and the isolation of the swamp. Some wondered if he had made a move to escape a dark past, one that had caught up with him. Others believed that the Crone's curse had gotten the better of him, in some unseen and invisible way. A few put it down to just being something in the water…