“The Louisiana Ouachita Region,” De Bow’s Commercial Review of The South & West (1 March 1847): 225-230.


The historical sketch of that part of Louisiana known by the name of Ouachita, cannot be expected to be of any very great interest, independent of that which results from its relation to our general history.

It is circumscribed within narrow limits, and up to the time when the first Spanish commandant was sent by his government to form a post out of the few scattered inhabitants whose sole occupation and pursuits were hunting, there exists no written record relative. For its earliest settlement by Europeans, resource must be had to oral tradition, which, correct as it may be, necessarily leaves much to be desired for certainty and accuracy.

When the French first located in Louisiana and at Natchez, it appears that a settlement of some importance was formed by them on the shores of Lake Louis, within the tract, of country now known by the name of Sicily Island, in the parish of Cataoula [sic]. There have been and are now, occasionally, found French axes and other tools, cannon balls, and even millstones, all evidently of French manufacture. According [p. 226] to a dim tradition confirming the inference, it is very probable that this settlement was made by the French, and one of the earliest made by them in the country; it appears to have been abandoned when the massacre by the Natchez Indians took place.

There can be but little doubt of the knowledge those early settlers had acquired of the Ouachita river and of the land in its valley; the names given to some prairies and bayous seem to indicate it, such as Prairie De Lay, Prairie du Manoir, Prairie Chatelrau, Bayou de Siard, etc. No appearances exist, however, of their having then settled on the banks of the Ouachita, though they might have visited that country during their hunting excursions.

A few years before a permanent post was established by the Spanish government, the country was thinly inhabited by hunters and their families; they were mostly Canadians and Louisianans, from Point Coupee and other settlements on the banks of the Mississippi; a. few Spaniards were scattered among them. They could not be called cultivators of the soil, small fields of Indian corn (maize) being the utmost extent of their agricultural pursuit.

In the year 1781 or 1782, John Filhial​*​ [sic] was the first commandant appointed by the Spanish government, sent up expressly to form a settlement, establish a Post, etc., at the most suitable place on the Ouachita liver, and collect, there and in its immediate neighborhood, the families scattered over the land. He settled, at his arrival, near a place called Ecore à Fabri, now Cambden [sic], in the State of Arkansas, distant two hundred and twenty miles from and above Monroe. After having remained there four or five years endeavoring to gather around him a few families of hunters, he came down to Monroe, where he permanently settled and established the Post of Ouachita, to which he gave the name of Fort Miro. That spot being in a very eligible situation on the banks of the river, it was before known to the hunters as Prairie des Canot, it being their common rendezvous, from which they dispersed in search of game, then extremely abundant, and returned to descend to New Orleans, where they found a ready market for their peltry, bear oil, tallow, and even the buffalo meat, which was known in the city by the name of Viande de Chasse. The last buffalo seen in the neighborhood of Fort Miro was killed in 1803. A herd of about one hundred and fifty remained near the Bayou Saline, in Arkansas, about one hundred and fifty miles above Monroe, where, being surrounded with settlements, they were all destroyed in 1807 and 1808.

The territorial limits of the jurisdiction of the commandant of the Post of Ouachita were not precisely ascertained or defined,—a matter of [p. 227] small importance when the population was so thin that the country could hardly be said to be inhabited, and was well entitled to the appellation of wilderness. That jurisdiction was, however, claimed, and some time exercised over part of the now State of Arkansas, as far as the Hot Springs near the Ouachita river, distant about four hundred miles from Fort Miro, and over what now forms the parishes of Union, Morehouse, Carroll, Ouachita, Franklin, Jackson, and part of the parishes of Madison, Tensas, Catahoula and Claiborne.

Besides the first settlement at Fort Miro, there were four or five families, French, who inhabited the banks of the Ouachita river, about sixty or seventy miles below that fort at a place called Prairie du Manoir and Prairie Brin d’Amour, subsequently named the lower settlements, now in the parish of Caldwell. At the mouth of Little river, situated where that stream uniting with the Ouachita and the Tensas rivers, forms what is called Black river, but which is in fact a continuation of the Ouachita, a solitary settler, a European French, kept a valuable ferry, on the main route through which great numbers of horses and mules passed on their way to the banks of the Mississippi in search of a market. From that ferry to the Father of Rivers, the country was a desert.

The population of Ouachita can hardly be said to have increased until the years 1795 to 1797, when the Baron de Bastrop introduced several families according to his contract with the Spanish government. These were Irish, Germans, and some French families who came with the Marquis de Maison Rouge under a contract nearly similar to the one with Baron de Bastrop, alluded to before. Since Louisiana became a member of the Union, the number of the inhabitants of Ou[a]chita has greatly increased; it is now, 1847, three times as large within the present very narrow limits of the Parish, as when under the Spanish government it covered the area of ten fold its present size, and included the parishes before named, which have successively been detached from it.

The large Spanish grants of land in this section of the State, although designed to forward the settlement of the country, have effectually retarded its progress. Had those grants been public lands, or the validity of their titles been decided on as early it might have been done, the greatest part of the arable lands would have been cultivated ere this, and the population and wealth of the country proportionally increased.

The Agricultural pursuits of the first settlers were, as stated before, extremely limited; as the population increased, and the reward of the toils and labor of the chase diminished in proportion to the yearly [p. 228] diminution and the further removal of the wild inhabitants of the forest, the cultivator of the soil gradually replaced the hunter. The first cotton planted was in 1800; the first gin built in 1801 and 1802. The quantity exported did not exceed from 100 to 500 bales until 1809 or 1810. It was greatly augmented from the time when that most important of modem inventions, the application of the power of steam to navigation, rendered the exportation of the products of the soil so much cheaper and easier. At present about six thousand bales are made within the narrow limits of the parish of Ouachita, and the whole extent of country formerly enclosed within its old boundaries yields probably more than one fourth part of the cotton raised in the whole State; for it includes a large portion of the best land, in the climate the best adapted to the culture of that great staple of the South.

When this country was first settled by Europeans, there were no Indians claiming a right to the soil; none but parties of hunters of the Choctaw, Arkansas or Caddo nations were met with; no fields or patches of corn, no wigwams were to be seen, nothing but the rude camps of the hunters were occasionally discovered in the forest.

About fifty families of the Choctaw nation had, however, obtained permission from the Spanish government to settle on the hills about 20 miles west of Fort Miro: they left that place, yet known as the Indian Village, upwards of twenty years ago.

No doubt, however, can exist but many years, nay, centuries before this country was known to Europeans, some Indian nation had inhabited it. The great number of mounds, tumuli, met with in so many different situations, from which are dug out Indian pottery, human bones, places it beyond the possibility of a doubt. Some of these mounds are much higher than those far more numerous which appear to have been made for their habitation, and were most abundant in prairies, where they seem to have been placed with some attempt at regularity. The largest mounds vary from fifty to one hundred feet high.

One of the largest is at the mouth of Little River, called by the Indians Etac-oulow, or River of the Great Spirit, which has been changed, or rather crippled, into Cataoula, the present name of the parish through which it runs. Might it not be inferred from this quasi-tradition that these high mounds were temples similar to the Theocalis of the Astecs [sic], and the small ones the houses or huts of those extinct aborigines, built of mud and earth, which time easily reduced to their present shape, and that the unknown nations which inhabited this country before the present races occupied it, had some affinity in their customs and religious rites with the ancient Mexicans.

[p. 229] Note by the Editor.—The Ouachita region of Louisiana includes that portion of the State for the most part which is northward of Red River. Many parishes have been established out of it, one of which has taken the same name. In relation to the Ouachita river, we take the following from Judge Martin:

The Ouachita has its source in the territory of Arkansas, in the Rocky Mountains. In the vicinity of its head waters are found tho celebrated warm springs. It runs almost parallel with the Mississippi. At the mouth of the Tensas, Little river or Catahoula river, arrives from the west. The Ouachita, running between the two, takes their additional supply at the same place, in its course, but there loses its name: from this place to its junction with the Red River, during- a meandering course of about sixty miles, it assumes the name of Black river, an appellation probably derived from the colour of the soil through which it runs; the fertility of which often induced emigrants to settle on its banks: but they are too low, very few years elapse without seeing them inundated; they are now deserted. Many bayous empty their waters into Black river, all rising in the Mississippi swamp, and at high water communicating with that noble stream. The largest is bayou Crocodile, which comes out of lake Concordia; when its current is considerable, the largest kind of canoes have navigated it to Black river.

The Ouachita is navigable for steamboats of any burthen during six or eight months in the year, as far as the town of Monroe, a distance of about two hundred and forty miles from its mouth, or as it is there called, the mouth of Black river. Steamboats of upwards of one hundred and fifty tons have ascended it more, than two hundred miles above Monroe. From its mouth to the Mississippi, the banks of Red river are low, and during high water offer nothing to the eye but an immense sea covered with forests.

The plains of the Ouachita lie on its east side, and sloping from the bank, are inundated in the rear by the Mississippi. In certain great floods, the water has advanced so far as to be ready to pour into the Ouachita over its margin.

On approaching towards bayou Lowes, which the Ouachita receives from the right, a little below its first rapid there is a great deal of high land on both sides of the river, producing the long leaved pine.

At the foot of the rapids the navigation is obstructed by beds of gravelly sand; above the first rapid is a high ridge of primitive earth, studded with abundance of fragments of rocks or stone which appear to have been thrown up to the surface in a very irregular manner. The stone is of a very friable nature, some of it having the appearance of indurated clay; the rest is blackish from exposure to the air; within, it is of a greyish white. It is said that the strata in the hill are regular and might afford good grinding stones.

On the west part of the river, lies a considerable tract of land, granted in 1795 by the Baron de Carondelet to the Marquis of Maison Rouge, a French emigrant who proposed to bring into Louisiana, thirty families from his country, who were to descend the Ohio for the purpose of forming an establishment, on the banks of the Ouachita, designed principally for the culture of wheat and the manufacture of flour. [p. 230] This tract was two leagues in width, and twelve in length, traversed by the river.

The town of Monroe stands on the side of the Ouachita, and at high water is approached by large steamboats; but the navigation is interrupted during a great part of the year by many shoals and rapids. The general width of the river to the town is from eighty to one hundred yards. Its banks present very little appearance of alluvial soil, but furnish an infinite number of beautiful landscapes.

A substance is found along the river side nearly resembling mineral coal; its appearance is that of the carbonated wood described by Kirwan. It does not easily burn, but being applied to the flame of a candle, it sensibly increases it, and yields a faint smell resembling that of gum lac, or common sealing wax.

Soft, friable stone is common, and great quantities of gravel and sand are upon the beach: on several parts of the shore a red[d]ish clay appears in the strata of the banks, much indurated and blackened by exposure to light and air.

The land above the town is not very inviting, the soil being poor and covered with pine wood.

About thirty-six miles higher up, is bayou Barthelemy [sic], on the right. Here begins Baron de Bastrop’s grant of land, by the Baron de Carondelet in 1795, obtained nearly on the same terms as that of the Marquis de Maison Rouge; It is a square of four leagues on each side; containing about one million of acres.

“The Louisiana Ouachita Region. No. II” De Bow’s Commercial Review of The South & West (1 April 1847): 324-325.


No. II.

The first inhabitants of Ouachita Europeans, or of European descent, were, as before stated, exclusively hunters; they were without ambition as to the acquisition of wealth. A few, more industrious than their neighbors, added to the products of the chase some means of satisfying their very limited desire of obtaining more than the absolute necessaries of life. The greatest number did not, however, show much inclination to employ their long intervals of leisure in agricultural labors; they spent carelessly the product of their hunting excursions, which sometimes reached to a proportionally considerable amount. One of their favored pastimes was to tie to their hats their hunting-shirts; to the mane and tail of their horses a large quantity of ribbons of all colors, often to the value of one hundred dollars, when what now sells for five cents, was paid for by them at one dollar a yard. The horses and riders thus decorated started together through the prairie at full speed, the ribbons fluttering fantastically In the breeze. This was considered a beautiful show. All were good, honest people, kind and liberal; their hospitality boundless. Of a gay and lively disposition, they were fond of amusements, of these the dance held the first rank; they had balls always once a week, and often twice. The refreshments were coffee, taffia, (New Orleans rum,) and fritters of Indian corn meal, to which was added when the company was numerous, the more substantial beef, or some member of the grunting tribe. The dress of the ladies on these occasions, was as simple as their customs, linen check was the ne plus ultra of the fashionable circle, and the first one who appeared in calico was considered as very extravagant, and surely would be ruined by such unheard of luxury.

All this, however, did not last long; when the new families introduced in 1795-7, were settled and gave the example of industry, showing that labor found its reward with far greater certainty when bestowed on the culture of the soil, than by the continually diminishing products of the chase. The plough was then seen in hands previously employed in the sole use of the gun and rifle,—the country gradually [p. 325] but rapidly assumed another aspect; the fertile land of the prairies were covered with valuable crops, and even the forest soon fell under the axe of the sturdy woodman, commerce increased in proportion, and the farmer can purchase at moderate prices what was before sold to him at enormous rates by merchants who met with little or no opposition. The value of goods annually sold in the small town of Monroe, alone, does not amount to less than two hundred thousand dollars, besides the several stores scattered in the neighborhood.*

[Footnote: “Note.—Among the first inhabitants a few were so indolent, and not always lucky in finding in the forest as soon as wanted, food for their families, that the mothers in order to assuage the cravings of hunger endured by their offspring, used to put a tight belt around tho body of their children. Now, as the industrious wife of the agriculturalist is fully occupied, and cannot be constantly watching over her infant, when compelled to be absent, she gives him a piece of fat pork to suck, and as he might choke himself she ties a string of proper length to the piece, one end of which is tied to his foot. If he tries to swallow it, and thus run that risk, his first motion is to kick, and off goes the pork from its dangerous position. This is sufficient to show the difference of industry and ingenuity between the first settlers, who mainly depended on the chase to provide for their family, and the subsequent ones, who, to use a farmer’s expression, ‘raise their own meat.’”]

“The Ouachita Country. No. III,” De Bow’s Commercial Review of The South & West (1 May 1847): 408-411.


No. III.

A geographical sketch of Ouachita must necessarily embrace not only the country through which the river of that name flows, but also of all its tributary streams, comprehending its whole valley; if limited within the present boundaries of the parish, it would not be interesting nor add to the general knowledge of this section of our state.

The surveys made by order of the general government, have afforded means to make accurate maps, and give correct information as to the graphical position of all that has been surveyed.

I shall therefore offer but a few remarks which may convey some idea of the advantages which that situation presents to the inhabitants of the Ouachita Valley.

The Ouachita River has its origin in the State of Arkansas; it is navigable for steamers as high up as the small new town of Arcadelphia, [p. 408] about five hundred and ten miles from its juncture with the Tensas and Little River, where it takes the name of Black River, which is but a continuation of Ouachita for sixty miles to its entrance into Red River, in all five hundred and seventy miles, which enters the Mississippi, (at present,) thirty-nine miles below. Before the cut off made there by Captain Shreive, the distance was but thirty miles.

From November to July, the Ouachita river presents a safe navigation for steamers. Few streams are as clear of snags and other impediments. It has been but once in nearly fifty years navigable during the whole year. The receding of the waters taking place at a time when all the produce has gone to market, and all importations have reached their destination, the inter[r]uption during four or five months is not so disadvantageous as might be supposed.

Several streams carry their tribute to the Ouachita. The most important on the western side, the Little Missouri in Arkansas, distant about two hundred and eighty miles above Monroe, is not navigable for steamboats for more than about thirty miles from its mouth; the bayou Darbonne, about two hundred and seventy miles below the Little Missouri, is the next met with on the same side. Steamboats have ascended it as far as Farmersville [sic], about sixty miles.

Little river is a stream of some importance; it takes that name from the junction of the bayous or rivers Castor and Dogdomane, both having their springs among the hills which intervene between the Ouachita and Red River. It is now navigable at high water its whole length, about one hundred and twenty miles.*

[Footnote: “The distances here given are computed by water, according to the common opinion of pilots and travellers on those rivers, which differ in their meanderings. Thus the course of River aux Bœuf, as far as navigable, is on an average three times as long as a nearly straight line would make it. The same remark may apply to the course of bayou (ought to be river) Bartholomew as far as the line between Louisiana and Arkansas, (it is straighter above,) whereas on the Ouachita and most of its other tributary streams the difference does not exceed the proportion of two to one.”]

On the eastern side of the Ouachita the first considerable stream met with is the Bayou Salines [sic], about one hundred and fifty miles above Monroe; it is navigable to a distance of about thirty miles from its entrance into the Ouachita. The next important river is the Bartholomew, which has its origin in hills near Little Rock, in Arkansas. Steamboats have ascended it for upwards of two hundred miles from its mouth into the Ouachita; thirty-six miles above Monroe it could be made navigable at a small expense of labor much higher up in Arkansas.

The river Aux Bœuf, which has its beginning in the overflowed lands [p. 409] between the Bartholomew and the Mason, has its mouth at a distance of one hundred and forty miles below Monroe. Steamers have been as high up on that stream as a place called the Prairie Jefferson’s Landing, a distance of about two hundred and fifty miles. The bayou Louis has its entrance in the Ouachita; seven miles below the mouth of River aux Bœuf, it is navigable by steamers its whole length, and through the lake of that name about forty miles. On the banks of that lake the French had, it is believed, formed one of their earliest settlements in this country, as mentioned before.

The Bayou Mason, situated between the River aux Bœuf and the Tensas river, is a small but handsome stream; is navigated by steamboat upwards of sixty miles, and could easily be made for a much greater distance; it empties into the lake Tensas, the river of that name passing through it, and carrying its tribute thirty miles below, where by its junction, the Little river and Ouachita, it forms that continuation of the last named stream which is known by the name of Black river.

The Tensas issues from Lake Providence, in the parish of Carroll, its course being nearly parallel to the one of the Mason, and is now navigable for steamboats a distance of upwards of one hundred miles from its mouth. Few countries offer as many advantageous means of communication for transport of produce as the one embraced within the limits of the Ouachita valley. From several points on that river, where the distance due east to the Mississippi varies from forty to sixty miles, we have five navigable streams running nearly parallel, to wit: the Mississippi, Tensas, Mason, River aux Bœuf, and Ouachita; besides these there are several of small importance, which, however, can be made useful in intersecting the larger ones, or be rendered navigable for various distances.

The whole valley of Ouachita, contains at present about fifteen hundred miles of navigation; that advantage can be easily increased. Of these about two hundred and forty are in the State of Arkansas, the remaining twelve hundred and sixty in Louisiana. That part of the valley within this last State is bounded on the north by the line dividing the two States running on the 33° of latitude, and extending on that line from the 14° 35′ longitude west from Washington, to 16° 15′, it terminates at the mouth of Black river, in latitude about 31° 20′ longitude 1d° 16′. On its eastern limit it is nearly parallel to and approaches the Mississippi; on its western side it runs at various distances from Red river on the ridges dividing the waters, which find their way into the last from those which run into the Ouachita, covering an area of, in round numbers, about five thousand five hundred superficial miles.

[p. 410] An uncommon topographical feature is met with on the Ouachita river. It is that large extent of country called emphatically the Overflow; it begins at a distance of seventeen to eighteen miles above the mouth of the Bartholomew, and extends about eighty miles higher up, its breadth varies from two to ten miles on both sides of the river, forming an immense lake or reservoir, which retains a large quantity of water, which when the rivers are full, would probably submerge the country below is not remaining there until the streams getting low, it proportionally subsides.

Several small towns or villages but lately called into existence are situated on the banks of the Ouachita river. The northernmost one is Arcadelphia, about seventy miles below the Hot Springs in Arkansas; the next one descending is Campden [sic], at the place former[ly] called Ecore á Fabri; a few short years ago but a single warehouse met the eye where now a rapidly growing town covers the land around the first solitary building.

About sixty miles below is the small village or rather hamlet of Champagnolle; it is rather a landing for steamboats having freight for the interior, or receiving cotton from the settlers in the neighborhood. It is situated not far from a place formerly known by the name of La Cache à la Tulipe. This was the (probably) nom de guerre of a Canadian hunter, who used it as a hiding place for his peltry, an ordinary custom of that primitive race of European descent.

Ouachita city, opposite the mouth of the Bartholomew, is a village but lately formed on the western bank of the Ouachita. The incorporated town of Monroe, the ancient site of Fort Miro, in latitude 32° 30′, and about 30″, is the largest in the Ouachita valley, well situated as a central point for the commerce of the surrounding country.

Columbia, in the parish of Caldwell, about eighty miles below Monroe, dates its beginning from but a short time before that parish was detached from the parish of Ouachita. It is the seat of justice for the parish.

Harrisonburg, in the parish of Cata[h]oula, about seventy miles below Columbia, is a small town, the building of which was begun sometime before Monroe assumed its present name; it is situated at the foot of the first pine hills met with on ascending the river. It possesses an advantage over Monroe, being accessible by steamboats during the whole year, while the navigation is interrupted at low water a short distance above by a flat stony and gravelly shoal nearly a mile long.

Farmersville [sic], the seat of justice of the parish of Union, is the largest town or village in the interior, it is situated at the present head of [p. 411] navigation of Bayou Darbonne, it is increasing and bids fair becoming a town of some importance.

It would be a bootless task to enumerate all the inland villages in that part of the Ouachita valley within the limits of Louisiana, suffice it to say that every parish has its courthouse, which uniformly becomes a nucleus soon surrounded with houses forming towns, villages or hamlets, in proportion to the extent of the parish, its population and general resources.

  1. ​*​
    Jean-Baptiste Filhiol.