Well over 250 years ago, long before others made their appearance in that section which is now Southwest Louisiana, this land was occupied by the Attakapas Tribe of Indians. The Indians have long since disappeared from this region.
Louisiana was claimed by France in 1682 when Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle took possession of the territory. By secret treaty of November 3, 1762, Louisiana was transferred from France to Spain. This treaty was not made known to the people of Louisiana until D'Abbadie, Director of Louisiana, issued a proclamation in 1764. This was the first example of printing in the provinces of Louisiana. Spain did not take full possession of the colony until 1769.
Spain's rule came to an end by retrocession of Louisiana to France in 1800. On November 30, 1803, Pierre Clement de Laussat, agent of Napoleon, received the retrocession from Spain, and on December 20, 1803, Laussat, on behalf of France, in the Sala Capitular of the Cabildo at New Orleans, transferred to William C. C. Claiborne and General James Wilkinson, commissioners for the United States, the entire colony and province of Louisiana.
The Spaniards built a military and trading post at Opelousas in 1765, and the old Indian village became the governing center of the entire southwestern part of Louisiana. These early settlers were joined about 1758 by the French-Acadians who had been deported by the English from Nova Scotia and who now located in this region. An influx of people from the United States, after Louisiana was ceded to that country in 1803, added a group of English-speaking persons to the population.
Old records, preserved in the Clerk's Office, indicate that many establishments of civilization were functioning in this district as early as 1765. Opelousas was the center of population and the chief trading post between the Atchafalaya and the Sabine Rivers in 1776. These records also show that the Spanish authorities made many grants in favor of the first inhabitants.
St. Landry Parish, deriving its name from the Saint Landry Catholic Church, was established by a legislative act approved on April 10, 1805. The Parish included the land between the Atchafalaya River on the east, the Sabine on the west, between the southern boundary of Rapides and Vernon Parishes on the north, and the northern boundary of Lafayette and St. Martin Parishes on the south. Since then six other parishes, Calcasieu, Acadia, Evangeline, Jeff Davis, Beauregard and Allen have been formed from this territory.
There is no authentic record establishing the exact date of the settlement of Opelousas. However, it is believed that Opelousas is the third oldest town in Louisiana and one of the oldest in the United States. Opelousas, always an important trading center, was also important governmentally during this early period. The State Land Office was located for many years in Opelousas, and the Supreme Court also sat there.
The town of Washington maintained its position as the chief shipping point in Southwest Louisiana and shared with Port Barre the commercial advantages of being the main ports. Navigation through the Atchafalaya and Courtableau Rivers was established certainly by the beginning of the 18th Century. These two ports were the terminals of barges and boats from New Orleans and other Mississippi River ports.
The Atchafalaya and Courtableau, with the Teche, Cocodrie, Boeuf and des Cannes Bayous, were the principal waterways, and much of their cargo passed through Washington. All cotton, corn and other produce for many miles to the south and west were shipped through here, and it was here that all merchandise required in this section was delivered. Large warehouses were built to accommodate the business interests.
During these early days, stock-raising was the major activity. This industry continued to grow until by the end of the 19th Century great herds were being moved over the Old Spanish Trail to New Orleans for shipment throughout the country and abroad as well. Stock-raising was later replaced by cotton farming, and in recent years the raising of soybeans had become one of the leading occupations. In addition, the Parish produces rice, corn, sweet potatoes, pecans, okra, tomatoes, onions, peppers and cabbage.
From the early days to the present, St. Landry Parish has been a hub for transportation, government and agriculture. Because of St. Landry Parish's geographical location, these things can all be exploited to a much fuller use in making this a hub for small industry. Our highway, rail and waterway transportation have been modernized in recent years.
The agriculture lands of St. Landry Parish may be divided into three separate classes: Loessial terrace, coastal prairie and alluvial. The terrace lands are silt loams, more or less, and border on the prairies to the west and the south and the alluvial lands to the north and east. On the eastern edge, the terrace lands slope abruptly to the alluvial lands. The bluff soils are more heavily wooded than the typical coastal prairie lands. They are more or less fertile and are well adapted to the production of rice, sweet potatoes and cotton. The prairies are level and open. These soils lack organic matter but can be built up readily by plowing under crops.
The alluvial lands make up the greatest portion of the Parish. This section lies east and north of the terrace lands and is made up of deposits of the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers. The lands are for the most part heavily wooded with the cultivated portion located along the rivers and bayous. This section is well-adapted to the various crops grown in this part of Louisiana, such corn, sweet potatoes, rice, hay and pasture crops.
St. Landry Parish is the most diversified parish in the state; every major crop grown in the state is grown here. St. Landry has long been one of the leading agricultural parishes in the state, and numerous residents of the urban areas receive their income from this source.
Parish Resources Taken from St. Landry Parish Chamber of Commerce.