(transcribed by Leora White, 2008)A. EARLY HISTORY
Beauregard Parish is located in what was originally the northwest corner of Opelousas County, created in 1806 as a division of the Territory of Orleans. The boundaries of Opelousas embraced the entire southwestern section of the state and, in the northeast extended almost to the Mississippi River. With the inception of the parish form of government in 1807, the area of Opelousas was called St. Landry Parish. The boundaries of St. Landry Parish were not altered until around 1840, when the western portion of that parish was designated as Calcasieu Parish.
The recorded history of the region begins in the latter part of the eighteenth century, when the land between the Rio Hondo and Sabine Rivers, called the Neutral Strip, was under Spanish jurisdiction. After the first land grant in 1797 the territory became a notorious refuge for desperadoes for many years before it was inhabited by permanent settlers. Settlement by the white man was not made as early in the region of Calcasieu, from which Beauregard was created, as in some other portions of southwestern Louisiana. White people entered the region around 1815 and formed settlements along the Calcasieu River, then known as the Rio Hondo. These settlements spread with westward advance of the pioneers and resulted in the organization of new parishes in the old Opelousas area.
Prior to the coming of white settlers, the area was inhabited by a few tribes of Attakapas Indians. This tribe consisted of a large number of small bands roving along the gulf coastal region from Vermilion By to Galveston Bay, and along the Mermentau, Rio Hondo (or Calcasieu) and the lower Sabine and Neches. The culture of the Attakapas group has been described as being on a much lower level than that of their related groups, the Tunicas and the Chettimanchi.
When Texas loomed as a great country and severed her connection with Mexico, the region remained as the outskirts between Louisiana and Texas. The land lying between the Rio Hondo and the Sabine was a disputed territory claimed by the two states.
A few adventurous pioneers came into this section east of the Rio Hondo under Spanish grants from the Louisiana state authorities. A few others, perhaps two hundred and fifty, settled in the western region under, what were termed, Rio Hondo claims.
The Lake Charles Echo of October 24, 1890, had this to say concerning the Calcasieu area. “In the early days of America, when the Spaniards were settling Louisiana and Mexico, while Texas was a wild prairie region, the land on the outskirts or confines of two great colonies one having its seat in the famed palaces of the Montezuma’s, and the other having its center in the valley of the wooded banked father of waters, the great continent-draining Mississippi, the present region of Calcasieu was the home of a few tribes of Indians and wild deer.”
troubles persisted for a long time and in 1830 a fort was erected at Niblett’s
Bluff, near the present town of Vinton, Louisiana, then a thriving settlement on
the Old Spanish Trail. At this point, cattle drivers stopped to rest on their
trek to the New Orleans markets with their great herds of longhorn cattle from
Texas. Another fort of crude logs was built on the bank of “Charles Lake” and
given the name of “Cantonment Atkinson” in honor of Brigadier General Henry
Atkinson who was in command of the western division of the United States Army.
This fort was located at what is now the foot of Lawrence Street in Lake
Charles, and provided passage through the woods in the rear of the Old Spanish
In 1832 the post was abandoned and the log building with its fifteen rooms was sold to James Barnett who, in turn, sold it in the late 30s to Thomas Bilbo, a French Canadian who began the first survey of old Calcasieu Parish, laying out the boundaries of much of the land acquired in the early 40s.
The Calcasieu country was inhabited by white people before the American Revolution. Probably the first to arrive was Martin LeBleu, who came about 1770, and settled on English Bayou. Originally from Bordeaux, France, LeBleu lived for a time in Virginia before he set out for the west intent upon making his home wherever his vagrant fancy prompted. In a two-wheel bullock cart, LeBleu and his young wife set out with their pitifully few wares and penates, traveling mile after mile until they reached the rich land which embraced the Calcasieu territory. His wife, we are told, took a fancy to the drooping cypresses and the majestic moss-hung oaks and persuaded her husband to stop and camp. This he did, and here he built their home – a twenty by twenty foot house of un-hewed logs – the first house erected on the east side of the Calcasieu River.
On the west side of the river, Louis Reon was building himself a home on Bayou D'Inde, settling there while Louisiana was still under Spanish domination. Here, too, a little later came Henry Moss, Jacob Ryan, Sr., Pierre Vincent, and Thomas Rigmaiden. Because of the uncertainty of the boundary line and because they had been given Spanish land grants, these settlers paid taxes to the Spanish governor at Nacogdoches , Texas, as late as 1819. Other early settlers of old Calcasieu, from which the present Beauregard Parish was derived, were Charles Sallier and Reese Perkins, an the east side of the river, and, on the west, Joseph Cornon, Dempsey Iles, Hardy and John Coward, William and Archibald Smith, Elias Blunt, David Choate, Philip Deviers, Joshua Johnson, and many others.
There were four Indian villages in what is now Beauregard Parish, possibly more. One was six or seven miles south of Sugartown, on Indian Branch, near the home of J. J. Young, another was just north of the old W. B. Welborn home on Bundicks Creek, another was long the mouth of Anacoco Creek, and another at Merryville, on the Frazar farm, just across the street from where the Merryville High School now stands.
According to tradition, the first white settler in the area was “Saddler” Johnson, who acquired his name through his work as a saddle maker. He settled in the Sugartown community, the first permanent settlement in the parish, around 1825. Prominent among the early settlers of what is now Beauregard Parish were Edward Escoubas, Dempsey Iles, John L. Lyons, Joseph W. Moore, E. Shirley, James Simmons, William B. Welborn, Ezra Young, and G. W. Corkran.
The second community was that of Dry Creek, founded by Thomas W. Williams. Another settlement was founded at Petersburg, six miles south of present Leesville, in the late 1830s or early 1840s. It was named after Peter Eddleman, one of the settlers. Most of the group composing this settlement came from South Carolina and Florida.
The old Calcasieu area received quite an influx of population from Hancock County, Mississippi, between 1848 and 1851, a large portion of which settled in present Beauregard. During the next decade the area was settled rapidly, but during the Civil War, a portion of these groups migrated to the north. The Louisiana act of secession was opposed by most of the parish residents, but the majority supported the Confederacy.
During the war, when it became necessary to furnish General Taylor’s retreating army with provisions and ammunition, a military road was established from Niblett’s Bluff to Alexandria. A stretch of this road was cut by residents of present Beauregard and, for many years, this military road was the only road in the parish.
“It entered the parish near the southwest corner and ran diagonally through the parish, entering what is now known as Allen Parish less than a mile from the northeast corner of the Beauregard line.”
Among the next settlers to arrive were William Iles, George Smith, and William Thompson. Soon after then came Bill Bundicks, after whom Bundicks Creek was named, and Joe Beckwith, after whom Beckwith Creek was named. Of these settlers, George Smith and William Iles later moved to Rapides Parish.
Many of the descendents of these families are now living in Beauregard and adjoining parishes. Tradition says that W. F. Thompson, father of Dempsey Thompson and grandfather of D.A. Thompson, was the first white child born in Beauregard Parish.
Between the years 1830 and 1835 there came from Sumpter, South Carolina, and four brothers named Dr. L. M. Mims, P. D. Mims, Sumpter Mims, and Hiram Mims. Two of the brothers settled in what is now Beauregard Parish, and the other two in what is now Calcasieu Parish. The old Mims farm site can be located today near Dewitts Eddy. The mother of these boys came with them from near Fort Sumpter of Civil War fame. One of them was named after this fort and if proper examination were made of a map, one would find that near Fort Sumpter there is a fort named Fort Mims in honor of the ancestors of these four brothers. The Mims family was directly related to the Frazar family, one of the pioneer families of Beauregard Parish. Miss Mary Mims traces her ancestry back to near Fort Sumpter and is probably related to these same Mims. Two of the brothers went to British Honduras many years ago; one of them returned to this country and the other died there. His body was brought back to this country for burial near old Bagdad that once was located at the ferry west of Lake Charles.
A little later there came three more men from South Carolina; William Sanders, Pink Cain, and Tyce Roberts. A settlement named for Mr. Sanders was known as Sandersville. The old place is on or near the paved highway, some seven miles from Leesville.
About 1840, a settlement was made on the lower Anacoco Creek. This settlement was made in part by the following families; McGees, Welborns, Crafts, Eaves, Hennigans, Gores, and Hickmans. About the same time, there came to the Sabine River country some fifteen or twenty miles south of Merryville, the Colemans, Fosters, McCorquodales and others, whose names are not available.
In 1840 the present five parishes of Allen, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, and Beauregard, were severed from St. Landry, and christened Calcasieu, taking the name from Calcasieu River whose course ran through the area. Between the years of 1848 and 1851, there came to this Sabine River country a large colony of people from Hancock County in Mississippi and a number of them settled in what is now Beauregard Parish. Among these people were the Mingates, Spikes, Mitchells, and Slaydons. The leader of this group was Robert Wingate.
In 1849 David Lyles settled a few miles south of the present community of Dry Creek and in 1850 there came to what is now known as Beauregard Parish a man by the name of Alston, who settled on Beckwith Creek in the southern part of the parish. In 1852 Joseph Nichols, came to this parish, first settling in Vernon Parish and later moving. Between 1850 and 1861, the area’s rapid growth was evidenced by the one hundred and fifty families living within ten miles of the present community of Sugartown. As stated previously, many of these people migrated North during the period of the Civil War.
All or practically all, of the settlers named were of Anglo-Saxon descent, but there were a few French settlers who are worthy of mention. Julian Lejeune, who came from near Opelousas at an early date, was one of the first settlers in the Sugartown settlement. Shortly after Lejeune , there came from the same part of St. Landry Parish a John Fruge, who settled near where the village of Longville now stands. The name Fruge was later changed to Frusha.
There were no communication facilities available between the years 1830 and 1870, hence all of the settlers in the western part of the parish had to get their mail from Belgrade, a small town in Texas on the west side of the Sabine River across from the mouth of Old River on the Louisiana side. The people living in the eastern part of the parish received their mail either at Opelousas or Alexandria; however, there was very little mail at that time.
Local historians state that a star mail route was established from Lake Charles to Petersburg, by way of Sugartown, during the year 1841. The mail was delivered on a weekly basis because three days each were needed for the trip and the return. Alexander Varnel was the first postmaster at Sugartown, and the post office was about one and a half miles from the present location.
These settlers in log houses with floors made of puncheons. The roofs were almost flat, covered with boards three to four feet in length, and weighted with long heavy poles. The lack of nails in this part of the country at that time necessitated this particular kind of construction.
From this time of the first settlement in this part of the state until after the close of the Civil War, clothing, food, and farm implements were made entirely in the home. Cotton mills, syrup mills, grist mills, rope works, and hide tanning concerns were common, however, and relieved the settlers of some tedious labor. One hide tanning yard was located about two miles southeast of Sugartown on the bank of Sugar Creek; its location is visible today. It was operated by two Pollard brothers.
Every farm house had a spinning wheel and a loom for weaving cloth. The women had a system they called a “single slaying” which they used in the manufacture of goods for special wear. All cooking was done on open fireplaces with skillets, pots, and ovens; there were no cook stoves at this time. But, about the year 1870, merchants began to realize the conveniences of material for clothing and implements for cooking. These began arriving in small quantities.
The first Masonic Lodge in all of the territory west of the Calcasieu River was organized at Shilo, where the Shilo Baptist Church now stands. It was organized around the year 1868 and later was moved to Sugartown.
Also in the year 1868, Cameron Parish was carved out of the Imperial Calcasieu. This occurred during the Carpet Bag regime.
B. GROWTH OF BAGDAD
The movement to create Beauregard Parish was begun in 1908 by a group of
businessmen from DeRidder, Sugartown, and Merryville. The first
parish division meeting was held upstairs over the Ideal Drug Store. Among some of those present were Herman McMahon, T. J. Carroll, Frank E. Powell,
Gilbert F. Hennigan (who acted as secretary), Moses Cook Frazier, Harold Iles, and A. I. Shaw. Through the efforts of these men, a bill was introduced in the State Legislature for the creation of a parish. It was voted down. A second and successful attempt was made in 1912, when interested citizens from the parish met at DeRidder and selected a group of men to go to Baton Rouge to lobby for the creation of the parish.
The bill was properly introduced and passed in the regular session of the year 1912. The bill did not become effective, however, until the first day of January, 1913. A group of women promoted the idea of naming the embryonic parish after the illustrious General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. The majority of the citizens were in favor and, hence, “Beauregard” took its place among the other fifty and odd parishes of the state.
During the year 1912, in the interim between passage of the bill and the date of its effect, a temporary set of police jurors were appointed by the, then, Governor Hall. They were W. W. Farque, Harold Iles, J. I. Nichols, T. E. Hyatt, and J. W. Tooke. They divided the parish into wards.
E. J. Teagarden of DeRidder was appointed a member of the Board of Supervisors of Elections. On July 20, Governor Hall named O. J. Morrison of DeRidder as Registrar of Voters in Beauregard Parish.
It then became necessary to select a parish seat of justice from the two candidates, DeRidder and Singer.
At a meeting of the citizens of Singer on Monday evening, June 2, at which time W. S. Pugh was chosen president and A. P. Cosand was chosen secretary, it was decided to call a mass meeting of all the citizens of Beauregard Parish who were interested in having the courthouse located at Singer. The mass meeting was held in Singer on July 6, 1912 and permanent organization was effected. T. E. Hyatt was elected chairman and Cosand, secretary. Arguments were advanced in favor of Singer as the parish seat for its central location, and the fact that it was the nearest railroad station to the geographical center of the parish. A committee of three, W. G. Strange of Newlin, J. D. Hayes of Singer, and A. J. McBeth of Juanita were appointed to act with the chairman and secretary in preparing plans to secure the parish seat at Singer.
At a mass meeting held July 20 at Singer, T. E. Hyatt resigned as chairman because of his appointment to the police jury. W. S. Pugh filled the vacancy.
The police jury appointed by Governor Hall met in DeRidder on July 30, 1912, and adopted certain specifications and prescribed certain conditions for the location of the parish seat. The citizens of DeRidder protested the action of the police jury and claimed that the specifications were so worded as to make it impossible for them to fulfill the requirements.
The specifications included a free site for parish buildings “not less than 600 feet square” and “not exceed 600 feet from the post office.” The specifications also stated that this site must be donated and the warranty deed given by August 15. In spite of strenuous objections from DeRidder, these conditions were adopted by a vote of three to two.
At an indignation meeting held at DeRidder on the following day, it was decided to employ counsel to fight the action of the police jury and the court.
On October 15, Beauregard Parish voted for the location of the permanent seat of the parish. The grand total of votes cast was 1,097; 663 for DeRidder and 434 for Singer. DeRidder was elected as the parish seat by a majority of 229 votes.
The first meeting of the police jury was held on July 29, 1912, and all of the members were present. J. W. Tooke was elected president of the body. Shortly afterward, the clerk’s office was selected as a temporary courthouse. Apparently no session was held there for those who took part in the first court session state that the first court was held in a small two-room frame building on the west side of North Stewart Street. This building was later destroyed by fire and a one-story building was selected and used as a court room until June 3, 1913. At that time, a special meeting of the police jury passed an ordinance designating the “old high school building” of the town of DeRidder as the courthouse until other arrangements could be made.
On September 10, 1913, an ordinance was passed making the Methodist-Episcopal church building the official courthouse of the parish. At this session of the police jury, plans for a new building were proposed and accepted. The town of DeRidder had already donated the ground for a courthouse, and a bond issue to cover the cost of a permanent courthouse and jail was authorized. These structures were completed and accepted on April 20, 1915.
The time for final declarations of candidacy for members of the parish committees and state central committees in the new parishes, which included Beauregard, ended Monday night, August 12. The following people from the Parish of Beauregard offered as candidates for the parish committee from the following wards:
First Ward: H. M. Stevens, Fields, A. J. Lewis, Elawatt.
Second Ward: R. H. Fleming, Merryville; W. C. Smith, Merryville.
Third Ward: No entry.
Fourth Ward: No entry.
Fifth Ward: W. S. Pugh, Singer; A. J. McBeth, Juanita.
Sixth Ward: R. M. Burgess, Bear; C. F. Jones, Longville.
Seventh Ward: No entry.
At large: Tom Smart, Fulton; W. C. Strange, Newlin; O. W. Young, Mystic; J. E. Walters, Merryville; James C. Parker, Merryville.
Member Democratic State Central Committee: B. H. Carroll, Merryville.
On September 12, 1912, the Parish Democratic Executive Committee of Beauregard Parish, in regular session, fixed the date of October 22, 1912, for the purpose of nominating candidates of the Democratic Party to compete with candidates of other political parties in the special election to be held on December 3, 1912, for the offices of sheriff, clerk of court, assessor, coroner, superintendent of public education, and for the office of police juror, justice of the peace, constable, and member of the school board in each of the wards in said parish.
After a regular police jury was elected and a courthouse made available, provision for a government for the new parish was begun immediately. The first parish officers were:
|Sheriff||W. A. Martin|
|Assessor||T. W. Stewart|
|Clerk of Court||J. H. McMahon|
|Coroner||Dr. J. D. Frazar|
|Representative||Frank E. Powell|
|Superintendent of Schools||L. D. McCollister|
The same day that Beauregard Parish was created the parishes of Allen and Jefferson Davis also were created. These three were the last parishes of the present sixty-four.
Beauregard is located in the extreme western section of the state and its boundaries remain as originally described. It is bounded by Vernon, Allen, and Calcasieu Parish on the north, east, and south respectively, and by Texas on the west. The parish has a land area of approximately 1,172 square miles.
DeRidder, the parish seat of Beauregard, was incorporated in April, 1903. The nucleus of this little town was established in 1897 at which time the site was known as Callie Shirley’s farm. The town first called “Scovall’ in honor of a railroad official. Later it was named “DeKidder” and then “DeRidder,” which names were presumably variations of the name of one of the heaviest stock holders of the railroad, who resided in Holland.
The first form of government was the mayor-alderman type. G. W. Heard was appointed temporary mayor and A. I. Shaw clerk. At the first election of town officials, Mr. Heard was elected to succeed himself. On November 15, 1921, the commission form of government was adopted for DeRidder. An election was held and the first mayor under the new system of government was Nye Patterson with W. E. Kilman as Commissioner of Finance and Utilities and D.G. Stokes as Commissioner of Parks and Streets. This form of government went into effect on June 30, 1922.
Old Ward Six of Imperial Calcasieu, which today comprises most of Beauregard Parish, voted the first school tax ever voted in Louisiana for the maintenance of pubic schools.
The first summer term of the Merryville Agricultural High School began on June 10, 1912, and lasted for six weeks. The enrollment was over three hundred. Quoting from the New Orleans States of that date, the school at Merryville, is, by its excellent work, gaining the attention not only of the entire parish of Calcasieu, but the whole state of Louisiana. Many prominent school men from different sections of the state have visited the school.
Professor L. D. McCollister was principal. Scientific agriculture was taught by Professor W. J. Sheely of South Carolina.
This was one of the first summer schools to be organized in the state of Louisiana.
C. GENERAL POPULATION CHARACTERISTICS
Let us take a present-day look at Beauregard Parish. In 1950 the total population of the parish was 17,766. In 1960 total population figures for the parish were 19,191.
In addition, Beauregard Parish has experienced a very slight change from rural to urban status. For example, in 1950 the resident population of the parish residing in urban areas represented 32.6 percent of the population. Latest figures available for 1960 indicated more urban residents in the parish than at any other time with 37.4 percent reported. However, Beauregard Parish remains a highly rural area with approximately 63 percent of the population classified as rural farm and non-farm.
Furthermore, Beauregard Parish is, population wise, comparatively young. The average age per person in 1960 was 26.6 years as compared with the state average of 25.3 years. There were approximately 2,133 children under 5 years of age in Beauregard Parish in 1960 and 7, 579 of the total population of 19,191 under 18 years of age.
Beauregard Parish has a background which is predominately agricultural. Diversified farming has met with increasing popularity; and today, cotton, rice, corn, sweet potatoes, and other crops as well as livestock, contribute to the agricultural income.
According to the latest census figures, there are approximately 1,045 farms in Beauregard Parish. The average size of these farms is approximately 153 acres as compared with 130 acres in 1954. The approximate land area of the parish is 757,760 acres of which 159,130 acres, or 21 percent, are in farms. Most recent figures available indicate that 3,663 acres were planted in rice with a production of 49,670 barrels, 50 acres of cotton produced 24 bales, 1,807 acres were planted in corn with a yield of 47,588 bushels, and 57 acres of sweet potatoes with a yield of 5,582 bushels. In addition, sale of dairy products proved to be a source of income for many Beauregard Parish farmers. Farm income derived from dairy products amounted to $888,465. Too, poultry and poultry products sold increased to $446,528 in 1959. For example, 1,051,516 dozens of eggs, 36,515 chickens were sold in 1959. The value of sales of livestock and livestock products has increased from $956,246 in 1954 to $2,307,915 in 1959.
Tree fruits, nuts, and grapes are found in a limited and abundant scale in Beauregard Parish. For example, peaches 232 bushels; pears 1,836 bushels; plums; figs; oranges 817 boxes, and pecans 120,838 pounds are harvested throughout the area.
The total value of all farm products sold in 1959 by farmers in Beauregard Parish amounted to $2, 868,562, or an average of $2,688 per farm. This average was considerably higher than the parish average of $1,263 in 1954 and lower than the state average of $4,503 in 1959.
In the decade 1952-60, the school age population in Beauregard Parish has risen from 5,690 to 6,864. This represents an increase of 21 percent. The state average for the same period was up to 36 percent. Meanwhile the number of high school graduates increased approximately 80 percent having risen from 157 to 282 in the same period.
The enrollment of more children in school plus the enrichment of the instructional program in various subject matter areas have necessitated the addition of numerous public school teachers. In 1952, a total of 199 teachers were employed. Today the number is 255. Ten years ago only 71 percent of the teaching staff had earned four or more years of collage as compared with 95 percent of the staff with four or more years of preparation at the present time.
An excellent measure of the importance of education and the support provided the program is the amount of money expended for the education of each public school child. In 1952 Beauregard Parish was spending about $228. Today, the amount is $446. The increase of 96 percent exceeds the state average. In addition, the bonded debt per school age child has risen from $191 in 1952 to $378 in 1962 – up 98 percent. Investments in school facilities - that is building, sites, and equipment have increased 52 percent since 1952. Today, investments in facilities exceed $3,731,402 as compared with $2,457,350 in 1952. The people of Beauregard Parish are to be commended for their outstanding support and interest in the public school program..
F. TAX EXEMPTIONS AND INDUSTRIAL EXPANSION.
Louisiana has a ten-year tax exemption law for the benefit of industrial expansion. An important index of the extent of industrialization which has occurred in a parish is best exemplified by the approved values of manufacturing plants under active ten-year contracts as of December 31, 1961. As of this date, the approved values in Beauregard Parish amounted to $1,655,080.48. These investments represent a significant contribution in the economy of the area, and continued growth and expansion will add considerably to the future of Beauregard Parish.
In 1956, a total of 2,574 residents in Beauregard Parish were employed. Of this total 39.5 percent were engaged in manufacturing, 25.8 percent were employed in trade and 15.1 percent were in transportation. Service occupations accounted for 7.3 percent of the work force in the parish.
In 1961, manufacturing was the leading occupation of 35.3 percent of the working force. Trade and transportation were also very active and leading occupations of Beauregard Parish.
Average weekly earnings increased from $58.32 in 1956 to $63.47 in 1961. This increase represented a rise of 8.8 percent. The rate for the state for the same period was 19.5 percent.
Retail sales in Beauregard Parish decreased 3.4 percent from 1956 to 1961. In comparison the state average for the same period was 12.8 percent.
Assessments in Beauregard Parish have increased
from approximately $17,119,000 to about $23,719,000 or up 38.6 percent. These
data reflect the growth and progress made in Beauregard Parish.
H. MINERAL PRODUCTION
In 1962 the leading minerals and produce severed from the soil in Beauregard Parish were oil, gas and distillate gas. Other minor products were timber and pulpwood. As a result of these minerals, the value of mineral collection increased from $11,896,429 to $15,734,621 in the period 1952 to 1961.
This source has
provided Beauregard Parish with additional revenue.
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