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Published: April 5th 2008
Obfuscator writes: We left our Natchitoches (pronounced Nagodish, apparently) motel, and headed into the town. We discovered early on that the red dot that drew us to the town the previous night, had little bearing on the actual town. There was no site called “antebellum homes,” but luckily, there were plenty of other things that seemed pretty interesting. The historic downtown of Natchitoches has quite a few really old buildings and storefronts. There's a street running along the Cane River front that's paved with bricks, though about half of it was torn up at the time of our visit.
Down near the river front there's a really old Creole house that was moved there. The construction is part wood, part clay, and part hair. It was pretty cool to see it, since it was so old. Back up in town, we stopped briefly at the Catholic church, which was rather pretty, and at the Courthouse across the street, which had a nice exhibit of folk art by an old woman of Acadian descent.
We walked across town and stopped in the Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site. For a very reasonable price, you get to see their museum
about the fort, a short film, and their recreation of the fort itself. The fort was constructed to protect French claims on the Louisiana Territory and French trading interests from the nearby Spanish, and from any potentially hostile natives. In point of fact, they never really fought the Spanish, and were basically on good terms with their rivals, who had a fort less than 20 miles away. The French were also on good terms with most of the natives, so the fort really only ever saw action once, against the Natchez Indians, who besieged it for a short time. The recreation doesn't have any of the towers, but otherwise is based on the designs sketched by an architect who visited once and made revisions. The location is as close as they could put it, since the Cane River's course is a bit different now than it was in the 1700's.
I should point out that it was about 80 degrees and sunny all day. This normally would be where I gloat at our good fortune over those still in Wisconsin. Today, however, I can't really gloat, since it was so humid as to be miserable. It was raining only
in that the moisture was not falling from the sky in drops, but was rather just sort of oozing out of every molecule of air, and sticking to us. I've been less comfortable, but this was another reminder that we didn't plan on being out quite this long, as neither of is well equipped at this stage in the trip for hot and humid weather. We stopped at a local Meat Pie bakery for lunch, and sampled these meat pies that we had heard a lot about. They were pretty good. Sort of like a deep fried, smaller pastie with no vegetables.
We drove south of town from there, and followed the Cane River. There's a pretty new National Historic Site there, called Cane River Creole. All along the Cane River used to be plantations that grew cotton. The Park Service has acquired two of them, and is restoring them as a place of great historical interest. They're very short staffed, but they're doing a fine job restoring these sites, and you can see an awful lot, which is pretty interesting. I at least, can definitely say that the plantation we stopped at didn't really look a lot like
I thought it would. Certainly, on the surface, it did, but it was much boggier than I would have anticipated. I suppose this could simply be a function of visiting a plantation in Louisiana as opposed to some of the other southern states, but it was still a bit of a surprise when we found loaner galoshes and umbrellas for visitors.
The main house of the Oakland Plantation is raised off the ground, to better survive flooding and to improve air flow. I guess I was expecting a nicer home than it is. Really, it looks a lot like a farm house in the north . . . a real working home, more than the manses I think we sometimes imagine. This one started out as just a few rooms, and was gradually expanded to put in a bathroom, kitchen, etc, all of which was originally handled in out-buildings. The whole plantation was turned over to the park service in 1998, by descendants of the same people that owned it before the Civil War. Some of the tenant farmers on the land at that time were descended from slaves of the same plantation, according to the ranger who took
us through the main building.
The plantation really consisted of a whole slew of buildings. Oakland had its own store and post office, both of which operated until the 1980s. You can go in the store, and the overseer's home, a couple of remaining slave quarters, and several other structures. The whole thing was too much to upkeep, and the family couldn't effectively manage it anymore, so they gave it up.
After that, we headed south. We had a decent weather forecast, but we couldn't seem to find a decent place to camp that was anywhere near where we wanted to be. Eventually, so settled on a motel in Lafayette, and settled in for the night.
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