March 30, 2015

Flooding of the Mighty Mississippi, Part Two - The 1880s

Mississippi River at Natchez - 2014

Catahoula Parish experienced flooding at least two times during the 1880s.  In its efforts to reach the Gulf of Mexico, the mighty Mississippi River carried its overflow from the north into the Lower Mississippi River Valley in 1882 and in 1884.

The Flood of 1882

In one of the early reports of flooding, the Daily Globe of St. Paul, MN posted the following on February 15, 1882:

Daily Globe - 2/15/1882

The Evening Critic of Washington, D.C. reported the following on March 1, 1882:

Evening Critic - 3/1/1882
Salt Lake Herald - 3/30/1882
Vermont Phoenix - 3/10/1882

"There is also some trouble, and prospect of more, in Louisiana.  The river does not yet seem to have reached its height there, but the levees are overflowed in some places, and the backing up of water in the Red river and its tributaries is causing the overflow of a good deal of land in the western part of the state." - Vermont Phoenix of Brattleboro, VT on March 10, 1882

The Salt Lake Herald of Salt Lake City, UT reported on March 30, 1882, "The hills of Catahoula parish are crowded with people and cattle."

The Indianapolis State Sentinnel of Indianapolis, IN posted the following report from The Times-Democrat's Troy, LA on April 5, 1882:
Indianapolis St Sentinnel - 4/5/1882
"The water here is three feet, ten inches above the 1874 flood. The boat rescuing cattle is supposed to have gone down in the storm of Monday on Catahoula Lake with 100 head.  The hills in Catahoula Parish are crowded with people and cattle.  The people dwell in pine pole huts.  The water continues rising at the rate of three-quarter inches per day, and in many places has reached the eaves of the houses, compelling the people to move out.  
At Lindell Place, on Black River, the high wind on Monday partly unroofed a gin house in which were twelve families, and nearly overtunred the building, greatly alarming the occupants. A man named McAdam asked to be taken from his house with his family and forty hogs, the wind threatening its destrucktion, but refused to leave without the stock. The waves raised by the winds shook the houses to the foundation.
The Times-Democrat steamer left the Black River and steamed down lanes, over fields and through quarters of several plantations, exciting the wonderment of the people who crowded the lofts of gin houses.  The boat ran two miles and a half inland, the waves of the boat splashing through rooms of deserted houses."  
On February 23, 1987, John McPhee described the 1882 flood in the New Yorker Magazine:
"In 1882 came the most destructive flood of the nineteenth century.  After breaking the levees in two hundred and eighty-four crevasses, the water spread out as much as seventy miles.  In the fertile lands on the two sides of Old River [Louisiana], plantations were deeply submerged, and livestock survived in flatboats." 

The Flood of 1884

The River Press of Ft. Benton, MT reported on March 5, 1884:
"For hundreds of miles above and below the country [Shreveport area] is reported under water, and great damage has been done."
River Press - 3/5/1884

 S. B. Walters reports on conditions at Troyville, "The country is submerged.  People and stock need relief." - Albuquerque Morning Journal of Albuquerque, NM on March 26, 1884

Albuquerque Morning Journal - 3/26/1884

From the National Tribune in Washington, D.C. on May 22, 1884:
Appeals for relief continue to pour in upon the Secretary of War and upon General J. Lloyd King from residents of the flooded districts of North Louisiana.  Almost the entire congressional district represented by General King, an area larger than the entire state of New Jersey, is under water, and the condition of affairs there is most distressing.  
A letter from Mrs. H. E. Bowman, postmistress at Wild Wood, Catahoula parish, says that the nearest dry land is thirty miles distant.
National Tribune Washington DC - 5/22/1884

*This post is part two in a series of posts in which an attempt will be made to document the history of flooding in Catahoula Parish caused by the overflow of the Mighty Mississippi River.  Occurrences will be presented using maps, newspaper articles, photographs and reports from the State Library of Louisiana and other collections from the sources linked below each post. 

Part One

New Yorker Magazine

March 29, 2015

Sunday's Obituary - Bill Gambrell

Monroe News Star - 12/19/1957

Emmett William "Bill" Gambrell

Born on September 25, 1944

Son of
Emmett West Gambrell and Annie Rogers

Brother to
Emmett Donald, Ann, Betty and Sarah

Died on December 18, 1957
Buried in the Highland Park Cemetery
Sicily Island, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana

Tombstone photograph was taken by FindAGrave member, Karen Klemm Pinckard.

March 28, 2015

Sports Center Saturday - Sicily Island Girls Basketball Team, 1947-48

Sicily Island High School Girls Basketball Team, 1947-1948

Front Row (LtoR):  Coach C. B. Coney, Bernice Bruce, Virginia Pearson, Mattie Bullock?, Barbara Jean Pearson, Patsy Seal, Mary Lou Mount, Maurice Cupit

Back Row (LtoR):  Betty Gambrell, Virginia Dent, Mickey Salter, Margie Evans, ?, Adele Vaught

Note that none of the girls are wearing basketball shoes.

Mickey Salter Thurman was kind enough to help with identifying her teammates.  When asked why they were wearing their dress shoes, she replied, "We didn't know they were taking that picture that day!"  I think the dress shoes add a nice touch and make this one of my favorite photographs.

Photograph is courtesy of Pam Twiner Thompson.  Thank you, Pam!

March 23, 2015

Flooding of the Mighty Mississippi, Part One - The Great Overflow of 1874

Mississippi River Flooding of 1874

The above map shows the entire area of flooding in the Mississippi Valley in 1874.

Below is a zoomed in portion of the Mississippi Valley which shows Catahoula Parish and the flooding which occurred in the northern and southeastern sections of the parish.

Flooded Portions of Catahoula Parish in 1874

News reports of the 1874 Mississippi River flood began as early as February 21 as seen in this article from the Highland Weekly out of Hillsboro, North Carolina.

Highland Weekly - 2/21/1874

The following notice by the Office of Commission of Engineers appeared in the March 21, 1874 edition of the Donaldsonville Chief:

Donaldsonville Chief - 3/21/1874

From an article appearing in the Ouachita Telegraph in Monroe on May 1, 1874:
Ouachita Telegraph - 5/1/1874
At a mass meeting of the citizens of the parish of Catahoula, La., assembled at Trinity, La., on the 15th April, 1874, for the purpose of taking into consideration the wretched and deplorable state of affairs existing on Ouachita, Black, Tensas and Little rivers, and the lands contiguous thereto, caused by the unprecendented and ruinous high waters which are now overflowing the whole country, and subjecting the citizens to near starvation, it was
Resolved, That it is a solemn and sad fact that the extreme high water which now covers our entire rich alluvial lands, is bringing with it great distress among the people, who have no money, no credit, and not more than ten days rations.  This want of money and provisions in this district, arises from the fact that crops were almost a total failure last year; the people are in debt, and no one will advance them money, credit or provisions.
Resolved, That it is a fact, that the few mules and cattle now remaining in the overflowed district, on a few small ridges of land, are poor and starving for want of provender, and the people are in no better situation.
Be it further resolved, That the Governor of the State, and the President of the United States, be notified of and made acquainted with the hunger, destitution and want of this section of country, and that they be requested to furnish the poor, destitute people of the district with meat, meal and corn. 

On April 18, 1874, the New Orleans Republican printed correspondence between General W. H. Emory, a committee, Governor William P. Kellogg, New Orleans Mayor Wiltz and President Ulysses S. Grant. This correspondence began with a committee's appeal to General Emory for relief for sufferers in North Louisiana which included Catahoula Parish.
Dear Sir:  We respectfully request your favorable endorsement of the foregoing printed resolutions and accompanying statement of facts relative to the sufferers in the overflowed districts, in the parishes of Ouachita, Richland, Franklin, Caldwell and Catahoula, and respectfully ask that you solicit the War Department to furnish 50,000 rations to the sufferers from the overflow immediately.

Part One
Part Two

Part Three

Part Four
Part Five - New Orleans Republican - 4/18/1874

Several days later an article appeared in the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer out of Wheeling, West Virginia. The article reports that no supplies were able to be spared from military stations in the region. Therefore, the Secretary of War instructed the Commissary Subsistance to purchase rations for an estimated 20,000 persons for twenty-five days.

Wheeling Daily Intelligencer - 4/27/1874

The following article appeared in the May 16, 1874 edition of The Caucasian out of Shreveport, Louisiana.  The extent and consequences of the Mississippi River flood are described in detail.  In summary, the article states:
To sum up the flood from Memphis to the Passes, the crevases are fifty miles in width. Through them flow streams greater and more powerful than the mighty Mississippi itself, and which pour out on this devoted country 2,000,000,000 cubic feet of water every hour.  Not only is this water thrown on the land, but it must find its way to the sea through six hundred miles of low alluvial lands.  It is not hyperbole, then, to say that the Mississippi is wider now than the far-famed Amazon, whose mouth is two hundred and fifty miles in width.
Part One
Part Two

Part Three
Part Four - The Caucasian - 5/16/1874

*This post is part one in a series of posts in which an attempt will be made to document the history of flooding in Catahoula Parish caused by the overflow of the Mighty Mississippi River.  Occurrences will be presented using maps, newspaper articles, photographs and reports from the State Library of Louisiana and other collections from the sources linked below each post. 


March 22, 2015

Sunday's Obituary - Cora Slade

Monroe News Star - 4/28/1959

Cora Elizabeth Anderson Slade

Born on March 6, 1883

Daughter of
John and Elizabeth Anderson

Wife of
Ralph Deming Slade

Mother to
Emmett, I.V., Dorothy, Jake, Faye and Mae

Died on April 26, 1959
Buried in the New Pine Hill Cemetery
Sicily Island, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana

Tombstone photograph was taken by FindAGrave member, Karen Klemm Pinckard.

March 21, 2015

Proposal to Create Beauregard Parish out of Catahoula Parish in 1908

Central Louisiana - 1907

The 1907 map above shows Catahoula Parish surrounded by the parishes of Caldwell and Franklin to the north, Tensas and Concordia to the east, Avoyelles to the south and Rapides and Winn to the west.

Following the failed proposal to annex a portion of Catahoula Parish to Caldwell Parish in 1904, the voters of Catahoula Parish would go to the polls to vote on further annexations in 1908.

In January of 1908, a proposal to create the parish of Beauregard from a portion of Catahoula Parish was put before the voters.

The Tensas Gazette of St. Joseph, Louisiana reported the following on January 17, 1908:

Tensas Gazette - 1/17/1908
Initial election returns indicated the passage of the proposal to create the parish of Beauregard from a portion of Catahoula Parish.  Official election returns stated otherwise.

From a January 31, 1908 article in The Rice Belt of Welsh, Louisiana:

The Rice Belt - 1/31/1908

The Southern Sentinnel of Winnfield, Louisiana reported the following on January 31, 1908:

The Southern Sentinnel - 1/31/1908

Thus ended the annexation and changing of the political boundaries in Catahoula Parish.

Earlier boundary changes (and attempted changes) since the creation of Catahoula Parish in 1804:
1814 and 1828
1838 and 1843


Sports Center Saturday - Sicily Island Boys Basketbell, 1949-1950

Sicily Island High School Boys Basketball Team - 1949-1950

First Row (LtoR):  Mahaffey, Taylor, Garrison, Stephens, Roberts

Second Row (LtoR):  Thurman, Smith, Cole, Barron, Punchard, Coach Peace

Yearbook photograph is courtesy of Karen Barron Egloff.

March 20, 2015

Pine Hill Plantation House - History and Renovation

The above photograph and the following article written by staff writer, Max Hill appeared in the November 28, 1982 edition of the News-Star World.


It's been a persistent legend in Catahoula Parish for 75 years.

Pine Hill Plantation house - long abandoned and all but forgotten but said to be filled with spirits too restless to accept death.

As far back as 75 years ago, Pine Hill was referred to by local children as the "Haunted House."  Even then, it was abandoned and in a state of disrepair.  

No one lived there as a reminder it had once been the center of a social life with ties to New Orleans and Natchez culture.

No one was there to tell of the days when guests to elegant balls and dinners filled its rooms.
There was only mute evidence that a prestigious family had once called it home, or once filled it with the trappings of Southern aristocracy.

The once-elegant structure was suffering from neglect and the ravages of time.  A tree fell through the dining room windows around the turn of the century, forming a ladder by which vandals and sightseers could enter and pilfer any remaining possessions.

Will Peck, the man who knows more about Pine Hill than any other person in the area - on the basis of family ties and a life-long interest in the house - has taken up residence there.

Peck says he has always heard stories of mysterious phenomena at the house, but reports few unexplainable occurrences have taken place during the five years he has been living there.

Today, there is new life in the house with restoration work in progress.  But still an aura envelops the house, keeping alive the mystery which may have been a key factor in its preservation.

If there had not been rumors of ghosts, the structure may well have been destroyed by scavengers or arsonists.

Lucky for historians that the house still stands, because in addition to the myths surrounding it, Pine Hill played an historic role based on fact.

Norris Springs - 2011
The house is located near one of the most historic spots in Catahoula Parish and northeastern Louisiana--Norris Springs. The natural springs have been mentioned in almost every history of the state as a water source for Indians and local residents.

For unknown centuries, the springs were the center of life for indigenous Indians.  As white men entered the area in the mid-1700s, they were quick to realize the importance of the springs.

Peck says the road which runs directly beside the springs and Pine Hill was an extension of the El Camino Real during periods of high water.

Norris Springs - 2011
The El Camino Real was the main Spanish road that ran from the Mississippi River to Santa Fe, NM. A variety of wayfarers must have stopped to refresh themselves with the icy water as they marched westward.

One of those early adventurers who decided to settle in the area was John Bowie.  He was the original inhabitant of Pine Hill plantation, named it and began the first house there.

Bowie was the uncle of Jim Bowie -- inventor of the Bowie knife -- who met death at the hands of Santa Anna's troops in 1836 at the Alamo Mission in San Antonio.

The younger Bowie was a resident of Catahoula Parish and a frequent visitor to Pine Hill Plantation.

John Bowie sold the plantation in 1822 to Zachariah Kirkland, who completed the current structure in 1825.  The house was built on a portion of an original Spanish land grant.

Pine Hill house is built in a style known primarily in the West Indies, the most important of a number of reasons the house is noteworthy in Louisiana architectural circles.

It was constructed high on a hill which overlooked the entire farm.  Main floor rooms are elevated over two brick basements.  There are five rooms and an enclosed porch upstairs.

The unusual basements were utilized mainly for storage in the days when a plantation had to be completely self-sufficient.  Still intact are bars over the windows to prevent animals from entering the food supply rooms.

Peck says the West Indies architecture was unusual in this part of the state; however, he adds, there was a rational explanation for its utilization at Pine Hill.

"These people were closely akin to the Spanish in New Orleans.  Governor Gayosa was responsible for many of the land grants here and on Sicily Island," he says.

Kirkland lived at Pine Hill until his death a decade later.  His widow, Harriet Perry Kirkland, lived there until her death past the age of 90.

Following the death of Mrs. Kirkland's first husband, she married a "Dr. Norris," who bequeathed his name to the house, springs and community.

Mrs. Norris was well known throughout the state as one of the wealthiest women of her day.  She was also acquainted and related to many prominent people throughout the state.

The house was refined with imported millwork and conveniences during the time Dr. and Mrs. Norris lived there.  A brick-paved circular driveway, complete with carriage landing, was constructed.  The original brick walk has been unearthed during recent renovations.

There also was a continuous stream of interesting people visiting there during Dr. Norris' lifetime. Stephen F. Austin stopped on his way to Texas long enough to borrow money to finance the remainder of the journey.  He left his desk with the family as collateral, Peck says.

Mrs. Norris was considered the matriarch of many Catahoula Parish families.  She was a staunch supporter of the Confederacy during the Civil War and on occasion hid Rebel troops in her brick storerooms.

Confederate agents, scouting out the countryside following the fall of Louisiana, camped on her property, Peck said.

"She was really taking a chance in allowing this.  If the Federals had found out, she could have been ruined," Peck says.

During Reconstruction, the house was used as a relay station in a most unusual spy network.
Federal officials, anxious to arrest pro-Southern sympathizers, made several fruitless trips to Catahoula Parish.

"They never could figure out why the prominent men always eluded capture," Peck says.

According to local legend, a woman in Monroe who owned a river boat alerted the Southerners to impending danger.  She would travel by boat to Boeuf Prairie in Franklin Parish and send a relay messenger to Mrs. Norris at Pine Hill.

"This Belle Watling-type character saved many Catahoula men from Yankee jails," Peck says, referring to the classy madam in "Gone With The Wind."

Social events for which Mrs. Norris had been famous continued at the house until the early 1900s. Dances were held in the upstairs rooms for the young people of Sicily Island.

And then, around the turn of the century, a young man who had only recently moved to the area was murdered at the house.

Peck said that a "Mr. Stewart" had come to Catahoula with the gas industry.  In the short period he was there, he gained the respect of area residents.

One ill-fated night, he escorted a young Sicily Island woman to the Pine Hill dance.  Unknown to the young couple was the fact that a local youth was in love with the girl.

He waited outside the house for them to leave the dance.  As they walked onto the front steps, Mr. Stewart was mortally wounded.

The murderer mounted his horse and vanished into the night, according to one popular version of the story.

"The young girl was totally innocent, that was the irony of the entire matter." Peck says.

After Mrs. Norris' death, Pine Hill remained an empty shell for a number of years.  From time to time, tenants would live there, but never for any great length of time.

But work is currently underway to restore the front veranda and to repair other deteriorating features.
Peck intends to open the house to the public for seven months during the New Orleans World Fair in 1984.  He plans to make available the upstairs to overnight guests who wish to take a trip into the past.

Whether there are ghosts at Pine Hill remains a mystery.  Peck will not comment on any unusual happenings during his time at the house.

"Ghosts?  All I can say is Grandmother Norris has to be here.  Without her, the house would never have survived," he says.

Pine Hill Plantation House - 2011

Newspaper article and photograph are courtesy of Karen Barron Egloff.

March 19, 2015

LaSalle Parish Carved Out of Catahoula Parish - October 1908

Louisiana - 1908

One hundred years after the creation of Catahoula Parish, the final annexation of the parish would occur in the later part of 1908 with the creation of the parish of LaSalle.

The above map shows Catahoula Parish surrounded by the parishes of Caldwell and Franklin to the north, Tensas and Concordia to the east, Avoyelles to the south and LaSalle to the west.

The following article was posted in Le Meschacebe of Lucy, Louisiana on November 21, 1908:

Le Meschacebe - 11/21/1908
This last annexation marked the seventh time the political boundaries of Catahoula Parish had been changed.  Earlier annexations occurred in 1814 and 18281838 and 18431852, and 1873.  The creation of LaSalle Parish also followed the failed attempt to annex a portion of Catahoula to Caldwell Parish in 1904 and an attempt to create Beauregard Parish from Catahoula earlier in 1908.


March 18, 2015

Flooding of the Mighty Mississippi and its Impact on Catahoula Parish, Introduction

Mississippi River at Natches, Mississippi - 2014

The Mississippi River is 2,350 miles long.  It begins as a stream in northern Minnesota before ending at the Gulf of Mexico.  Water from thirty-one states and two Canadian provinces drain into this mighty river.

Prior to the 15th Century, the Mississippi River and the Red River were separate rivers.  At some point after the 15th Century, the Mississippi River intercepted the Red River and the Red River became a tributary of the Mississippi. The Atchafalaya River was formed during this time and became a distributary of the Mississippi River.

Flooding of the Lower Mississippi River below the Red River Landing in Louisiana dates back to as early as 1734; possibly as early as 1543.

Over the years, attempts have been made to divert the Mississippi River channel with levee systems in order to protect cities and landowners from the impact of this great river's overflow.

From The Mississippi Levee System and the Old River Control Structure:
In 1717, the first manmade levee system was started by Bienville, the founder of the city of New Orleans.  The construction of the first levees, which reached only three feet in height, was completed in 1727.  After that, it was left to private interests to extend the levees.  By 1743, French landowners were required to build and maintain the levees along their riverfront property or forfeit their lands to the French crown.  However, it soon became obvious that these small levees, although augmented through the efforts of the settlers, were not enough protection against Mississippi flood waters.  During large floods, the river would frequently break through at weakened points in the levees, referred to as crevasses.  Many crevasses, such as the Mccarty Crevasse of 1816, took many lives and caused extensive property damage.
In 1840 the State of Louisiana removed a 30 mile long log jam at the Atchafalaya River headway. The removal of this log jam permanently connected the Mississippi River with the Atchafalaya River. The Mississippi Atachafalya River Basin (MARB) is now the third largest basin in the world, after the Amazon and Congo basins.  It covers more than 1,245,000 square miles.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took over the management of the levee systems in 1879 when the Mississippi River Commission was created to execute a comprehensive flood control and navigation plan on the Lower Mississippi.

Though it does not border the Mississippi River, Catahoula Parish has seen its share of flooding due to the overflowing of the mighty river in past years.  Most of the overflow has been the result of northern ice melt during the months of Spring.  The northern ice melt has often been accompanied by heavy rainfall amounts both to the north as well as locally.

Often called 'backwater' by residents of Catahoula Parish, the overflow has caused the loss of life, land, homes, businesses and livestock.

In an attempt to document the history of flooding in Catahoula Parish caused by the overflow of the Mighty Mississippi River, occurrences will be presented in a series of posts which will include maps, newspaper articles, photographs and reports from the State Library of Louisiana and other collections from sources linked below each post.

This series will begin with 'The Great Overflow' which occurred in 1874 and continue through to more recent floods.

In his book titled, Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain shared the following:
"One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver--not aloud, but to himself--that ten thousand River Commissions, with the mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it, Go here, or Go there, and make it obey; cannot save a shore which has been sentenced; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at."


March 17, 2015

Further Annexation of Catahoula Parish is Defeated in Election of 1904

Catahoula and surrounding parishes in 1893

The above map shows Catahoula Parish and the parishes which surrounded it by the year 1893.

Prior to 1893 and following the creation of Catahoula Parish in 1808, political boundary changes had taken place in 1814 and 1828, 1838 and 1843, 1852, and in 1873.

In 1904 a proposition to annex a portion of Catahoula Parish to Caldwell Parish was put before the voters of Catahoula Parish.

The Donaldsonville Chief of Donaldsonville, Louisiana reported the following on August 20, 1904:

Donaldsonville Chief -8/20/1904

The results of this election are found in this December 4, 1904 article from the same publication:

Donaldsonville Chief - 12/4/1904

Catahoula Parish would face two more proposed annexations in 1908, with one succeeding and another failing.