Early Settlements

R. David Neal  |  8/5/2005 1:41:55 AM

Information on 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 (Avoyelles Parish) were French or of French descent.  To the present time, families with French names, such as Chevallier, Sanson, LaCroix, LaPrarie, Sharrier, etc., are to be found on Black River and upper Little River. One branch of Little River is known 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.

Trinity

The first settlements, or villages, were Trinity, on the narrow peninsula between Little and Ouachita rivers, and Harrisonburg. Trinity, it is certain, came into existence subsequent to 1833 because the land embraced therein was not entered from the United States until the year after. The town of Trinity was incorporated by Act No. 50 of the Legislature of 1850. There is nothing to show whether the town was organized, but this probably took place, because by Act No. 115 of 1860 the town was exempt from payment of parish occupational licenses. It was authorized to levy and collect licenses and to use the proceeds to construct a levee to protect it from inundation.  The town was so named because it was located where three rivers met: the Tensas, Ouachita and Little River.

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 present, in a business sense, very little remains of what was once a center of unusual commercial activity.

Harrisonburg

John Harrison, in the early part of the ninteenth century, owned the tract of land where the present town on Harrisonburg is located; hence the name. Not much is known of the village's early history, but it is likely that it antidated Trinity because the Harrison tract was part of the Spanish request that had been acquired by one John Hamberlain from either the French or Spanish government before 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 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 referring to the parish of Catahoula, had anything to say about the parish seat.  It is not known for how Harrisonburg was selected. It was only incorporated in the year 1872. There is a tradition 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; no public buildings were erected on this site. 

In 1842 the Police Jury let a contract for the erection of a brick courthouse in Harrisonburg at a cost of $6,600. This contract is registered in Conveyence Book G, Catahoula Parish records. This building, though inexpensive, and of plain design and architecture, served until the year 1929, at which time it was demolished to give place for the present stately courthouse.

Jonesville

Jonesville, 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 in the heart of of a rich agricultural district.  Few places in the state derive more benefit and profit from commercial fishing than does this town. 

Jonesville is located on a Spanish grant or riquet containing 1,000 acres. The town was platted and laid off into lots in 1871 by Laura Stewart Jones, who, at the time, owned the entire tract. In 1946 a ring levee was constructed around it that provides protection from devastating floods like those of the past.  The contruction of this levee instantly increased property values.

In the center of the town of Jonesville, as originally laid out, stood an Indian mound, second highest in the United States. The mound was cut down and the dirt used in constructing the approach to the bridge that spans Black River at that point. While the mound was being cut down, represenatives from the Smithsonian Institute were present and took notes of what the interior of the mound revealed. Later the Smithsonian issued an interesting booklet disclosing this information and containing conculsions about the age of the mound and its builders.

Sicily Island

Sicily Island is the name of that valuable area surrounded at times by water of various streams. It is said that this area is similar in shape to the Isle of Sicily, just off the toe of the boot-shaped Italian Peninsula. Its eastern side ends in a bluff that borders on Bayou Flacon and Lake Lovelace (Louis). 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 before 1800. Some of these lands are yet owned by descendants of the original grantees.

It is fairly well established that at some point on this bluff line, the exact location not being possible to determine, military forces in 1729 overtook and routed the Natchez Indians in battle soon after they had massacred the settlers in and about what is now Natchez, Mississippi.

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