May 6, 2014

Land Of 'Beautiful Water'


October 24, 1957
By Dick White
(Staff Correspondent)

JONESVILLE (Special) -- The name "Catahoula" bestowed upon that large area embraced within the original limits of Catahoula Parish is believed to have been derived from the Choctaw Indian word "Okkattahoula" which means "beautiful clear water."

It is thought by some that this has reference to what is now known as Catahoula Lake and by others it is believed that the name was conferred on that area because of the many beautiful clear creeks that traverse the hill section of it.

The Parish of Catahoula was created in the year 1808, four years before the State of Louisiana was admitted into the Union by act of the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Orleans.

In 1813, the year after Louisiana was admitted to the Union, the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly passed an act entitled "To Define the Limits of the Parish of Catahoula."

This act did not fully accomplish its purposes as declared in the title, but it was made clear that the southern boundary of the parish was extended far below Little River, the southern boundary as fixed in the act of creating the parish.  At that time, the parish of Caldwell had not been created.  The southern boundary of the then existing Ouachita Parish and the northern boundary of Catahoula Parish was a common line, although the exact location of it was somewhat indefinite.

Clarify Uncertainties
The legislature recognized the existence of this situation by passage of an act, approved by the governor on March 4, 1930, that undertook to clarify these uncertainties by declaring the line between the two parishes to be as follows:

"Beginning at the point where the dividing line between Ranges 14 and 15 crosses the Bayou Macon, thence west on side line to Big Creek, thence down said creek to the dividing line between Ranges 13 and 14, thence west on said line to Little River."  Evidently township lines and not range lines were intended.

The legislature of 1834 tried again to clarify the boundary line between Ouachita and Catahoula parishes but did not accomplish much.

Still in 1835, better results were obtained by the legislature in its endeavor to fix the common boundary between the two parishes.  The act passed that year fixed the township line between townships 13 and 14 as the common boundary between them.  The act of 1834, on the same subject, was expressly repealed.  This 1835 act also fixed the upper western boundary of Catahoula Parish as being the "Duckdemonia" (Dugdemona) and Little River.  It is evident that that part of Little River above Catahoula Lake was intended, as the Dugdemona is a branch of that part of the river.

By Act 43 of 1842, the legislature defined the southern and southwesterly boundaries of the parish of Catahoula in very clear language.  The act declared that all territory forming part of the parish of Avoyelles enclosed within the following bounds.

"Commencing at the head of Saline Bayou where it leaves Catahoula Lake, thence down the said Bayou to its juncture with Red River, thence down Red River to the mouth of Black River, thence up Black River to the present line of Catahoula Parish, be and the same is hereby annexed to the Parish of Catahoula and shall thereafter for all purposes constitute a part of that parish, etc."

The boundary lines described in the last act have never been changed, except insofar as the creation of the Parish of LaSalle did so.  But the northern and western boundary lines of the parish were destined for material changes through the creation of new parishes.

Act 48 of 1838 created the parish of Caldwell from the territory of the parishes of Catahoula and Ouachita.  The parish of Franklin was created by Act 41 of 1843.  Its boundaries were fixed by Act 42 of 1844.

Act 39 of 1878 partially rearranged the boundary between Catahoula, Franklin and fixed this line as it is today.  This new line affected only the northeast corner of Catahoula Parish.  It took from the parish a small area and annexed it to the parish of Franklin.

The parish of Winn was established by Act 59 of 1852.  It incorporated a large area from the west side of Catahoula Parish and the common boundary between the two parishes, as fixed by this act, remained unchanged until the creation of the parish of LaSalle from the western half of Catahoula Parish.

Designated Parish Seat
The legislature of 1890 created from Catahoula Parish the parish of Troy and designated Jonesville as the seat of government.  The line severing the old parish and creating the new one placed practically all the alluvial land, including the Sicily Island area, in the new parish.

The Ouachita River from the Caldwell Parish line to Bayou Bushley, two miles south of Harrisonburg, formed part of the common line between the two parishes; and from the confluence of the Bushley and the river, the line ran southwesterly, in a general way, to the west line of the old parish, so as to include Catahoula Lake in the new one.  This act, however, never became effective as it was declared unconstitutional by the supreme court.

The effort to incorporate into a new parish the alluvial section of the old one was largely due to the fact that the greater part of all parish taxes, as well as state, was then paid by property owners within the bounds of the new one.

At that time the large area of primeval pine timber which would have constituted 95 per cent of the remaining old parish, had very small value, and, in addition, a large part of it belonged to the public domain and was not taxable.

But as time passed the economic situation slowly underwent changes.  With the building of a north and south railway line through the western part of the parish in the early nineties, new communities sprang up and sawmills to convert the pine timber into lumber were erected on the line.

The value of pine timber increased so much that the hill section of the parish began to contribute in taxes as much, or nearly so, as the alluvial section.  In 1903, the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway was extended into Jena, then near the heart of the immense virgin pine forest of the parish.

Concurrently with this progress and these developments, the cry arose for the creation of a new parish from the western part of the old one.  The people of the alluvial section were strongly opposed to the proposed division, but after some years of agitation and much controversy, the parish of LaSalle was brought into life, subject to referendum.  The first election on the question resulted unfavorably to the division.  A second one carried, after the proposed dividing line had been moved two miles farther west (east line of Range 4).  The new parish went into effect on January 1, 1910.

Since the creation of the parish of LaSalle no effort has been made to disturb the status of the old parish, save that on the part of the people of Jonesville to have the seat of government transferred there, but efforts in this direction failed.  With the building of the stately new courthouse in Harrisonburg, this issue appears to have been settled.  All sections of the parish are now at peace with each other.

Knowledge of early settlements in what is now Catahoula Parish is very meager, but it is fairly well established that the influx of people from the south were French or of French descent.  To the present time families of French names, such as Chevallier, Sanson, LaCroix, LaPrairie, Charrier, etc., are to be found on Black River and upper Little River.  One branch of Little River is commonly referred to as "French Fork."  The upper part of the parish seems to have been settled early by English speaking people from other states.  The many Spanish grants in that section were made almost invariably to persons having English names.

The "Town of Trinity" was incorporated by Act No. 50 of the Legislature of 1850.  It was declared in this act that the town shall embrace all of the lots represented on a map prepared by J. M. Martin, and provisions for organization of the town are made therein.  This map was never registered in the parish records.  Whether or not the town was organized, there is nothing at this date to show, but this probably took place, because by Act No. 115 of 1860 the town was exempted from payment of parish licenses (occupational).

It was authorized to levy and collect licenses and to use the proceeds to construct a levee to protect it from floods.  The town was so named because it was located at the confluence of three rivers, the Tensas, Ouachita and Little.  The rivers flow together to form the Black River, which empties into the Red River at the southern tip of the parish.

Trinity continued to be a thriving river town until Jonesville, on the opposite side of Little River, supplanted it in business, population and industry.  At the present time, in a business sense, very little remains of what was once a center of unusual commercial activity in that section of the state.

John Harrison, in the early part of the nineteenth century, owned the tract of land where the present town of Harrisonburg is located; hence the name.  Not a great deal is known of the village's early history, but it is likely that it antedated Trinity because the Harrison tract was part of a Spanish riquet (request) that had been acquired by one John Hamberlain from either the French or Spanish government prior to 1800.  Like Trinity, from the beginning, it assumed commercial importance as a river town.  People from all directions and as far as 40 miles away traded there.  Steamboats from New Orleans and other cities plied the Ouachita and Black Rivers regularly and brought cargoes of goods, wares and merchandise needed for human subsistence and comfort.

Not one of the early acts of the Legislature dealing with the creation, defining the limits of, or in other respects having reference to the Parish of Catahoula, had anything to say regarding the parish seat.  It is not known how Harrisonburg was selected as such.  It was only incorporated in the year 1872.  There is a tradition to the effect that at one time the parish seat was fixed at a site on Bushley Creek, about a mile east of the present village of Manifest, but evidently it was soon transferred to Harrisonburg, as no public buildings were erected on this site.

Within the corporate limits of Harrisonburg, and forming part of its western boundary, is a long, narrow, high ridge now called Fort Beauregard in honor of the distinguished Confederate general.  This elevated strip is perhaps 100 feet higher than the average elevation of the village.  During the Civil War, the fort was garrisoned by Confederate soldiers who threw up breastworks on all sides of it.  These are evident today, although 84 years have passed since their erection.

A memorial park, honoring veterans of Wold War II and the Korean conflict now stands atop the historic hill.  The park sports a concrete amphitheater and a tall flag pole with a bronze plaque at the base with the names of veterans who died in the two wars.

Jonesville, situated in the angle between Little and Black Rivers, the latter being really an extension of the Ouachita River, is the largest town in the parish and has several industries.  It is situated in the heart of a rich agricultural district.  Few places in the state derive more benefit and profit from commercial fishing than does this town.  Measured in dollars, this industry runs into many thousand annually.

Jonesville is located upon a Spanish grant or riquet containing 1,000 acres.  The town was platted and laid off into lots in 1871 by Mrs. Laura Stewart Jones, who at the time, owned the entire tract.  Due to its location the town grew and developed rapidly at the expense of its older sister, Trinity.  Recurrent overflows, in a measure prevented the town from developing and expanding as rapidly as it deserved.  But in 1946 a ring levee was constructed around it that will provide protection from devastating floods like those of the past.  The construction of the levee instantly increased property values to a great degree.  Flood protection of the rich agricultural land surrounding the town and largely supporting it is still greatly needed, however.

In the center of the town of Jonesville as originally laid out, stood an Indian mound, the second highest in the United States.  A few years ago this mound was cut down and the dirt forming it used in constructing the approach to the magnificent bridge that spans Black River at that point.  While the mound was being cut down, representatives of the Smithsonian Institution were present and took notes of what the interior of the mound revealed.  Later the Institution issued a booklet disclosing this information and containimg conclusions regarding the age of the mound and its builders.

In 1852, a few miles below Jonesville on the front of the Elmly plantation began what evolved into the bloody Jones-Liddell feud that ultimately cost the lives of at least five prominent citizens of the parish, and in a measure, put an end to two of the most cultured and outstanding families of that part of the state.  The last chapter of this bloody vendetta was enacted in Harrisonburg on February 7, 1870.  Colonel Jones and his son William (who, with another son, had recently killed General John R. Liddell aboard the steamer, St. Mary, a few miles below Jonesville) were surrounded and murdered in a little hotel by a band of the friends of the Liddells.  The Jones' were in the custody of the sheriff at the time of the murders.  The other son, Cuthbert, miraculously escaped with his life.

Sicily Island is the name conferred upon that valuable area surround at times by the waters of various streams.  It is said that this area is so called from being similar in shape to the Island of Sicily, just off the toe of the boot-shaped Italian Peninsula.  Its eastern side ends in a bluff that borders on the Bayou Falcon and Lake Lovelace.  This front line and the adjoining area to the west are not subject to inundation from levee breaks on the Mississippi River.  The lands constituting this bluff line, because of their freedom from overflow, were acquired and settled during the Spanish and French regimes prior to 1800.  Some of these lands are yet owned by descendants of the original grantees.

Catahoula Parish is traversed by several navigable streams, including the rivers heretofore named, and in addition, the Bayou Louie, three miles northeast of Harrisonburg, and Bayou Bushley, two miles south of it.

While cotton perhaps remains king of the crops in the Catahoula area, the cattle industry is making rapid inroads.  More and more land is being turned to pasture each year for the beef stock.  Current efforts of civic groups in the area are toward a livestock auction barn in Jonesville.

The raising of grain is also rapidly increasing and only last year two large capacity grain elevators were erected in Jonesville.  Soybean is the leader in this field.

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