Monday, August 28, 2023

Calvary Baptist Church History Part 10

The Calvary Baptist Church in Bayou Chicot has the distinguished title as the "Oldest Baptist Church still in existence West of the Mississippi River."

In 1806, the Chicot Methodist Church was established, and it is likely it was the first non-Catholic congregation in that area.  It is still in existence as well.  The original two churches were about 300 yards apart when we moved there in 1949, but the Methodists moved to another location and built a new building that still stands and holds Sunday services.

We need to ask, with everything else that was built and established so many years ago and now gone, why are these two churches the only things that remain?

I think the answer can be found by going back to the very beginning.  To do that, I have drawn information from several sources.  Miss Mable Thompson gave a very concise history of both churches in her book, "Looking Back." I have also found information from various newspaper articles, the Baptist Message archives, and books on the history of Baptists in Louisiana.  The most comprehensive and interesting source though happens to be Randy Willis, the 5th generation grandson of the actual founder of Calvary Baptist Church, Joseph Willis.

Randy Willis has been collecting and publishing the history of his 4th great grandfather for over 40 years.  After seeing articles and references written by him, I bought one of his books.  I then contacted him regarding a newspaper article and he began sharing with me personal information regarding his relationship with Calvary Baptist Church.  He in fact, met and visited with my dad while he was in his last pastorate there.

It is mostly from Randy's compilations that I glean the following information about Joseph Willis.

His story actually begins long before Joseph was born. In the 1740's Joseph's father and his family of four boys and a daughter lived in the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia.  If this sounds familiar, it is where the pilgrims first settled. In the early 1750's he moved his family to New Hanover, North Carolina.

It was here that Joseph's father, Agerton first bought property and became a very wealthy landowner, along with his brothers.  And it was on this plantation that Joseph was born to a half Cherokee slave girl.

In his book, "Twice a Slave", Randy tells in novel form how this might have come about. Being the romantic that I am, his version of Ahyoka being rescued and bought by Agerton Willis and taken to his plantation home where they fell in love, is exactly as I imagine this story beginning.

This meant Joseph was born into slavery.  In those days, anyone of mixed blood was called a "mulatto."  Being born to a slave Indian girl meant that Joseph was also considered a slave.  Even though he and his mother lived in the big house, he had no legal standing.

When he was a young boy, Joseph's mother, Ahyoka died, and his father when he was a teenager.  Prior to his death, Agerton wrote in his will that his son would inherit all his property and holdings, and when he became 21 would be emancipated.  However, Agerton's oldest brother, Daniel, executor of the will, refused to recognize the will and only allowed Joseph to retain a small portion of the land and the house.  However, he refused to free him and made him live in the slave cabins and work the land as a slave.

Having been forced to live with rejection by his father's family, Joseph dealt with a sense of not belonging anywhere, other than his father's home. As a young man, wanting to fight as Patriots against the British, Joseph and his friend Ezekiel left North Carolina and fought in the Revolutionary War under General Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox.  It was during this time that he became very good friends with two families living in the Pee Dee River swamp region in South Carolina, the Braveboys and the Richard Curtis family who would later play a significant role in assisting Joseph's early ministry.

There was also a young lady living in Pee Dee River region, who would later play into Joseph Willis's story (and ours) by the name of Fanny Taylor. She had a daughter, Delaney and lived with Gilbert Sweat, unmarried.

At some point after the war Joseph returned to his home and met Rachel who became his wife.  They had three children; Rachel died giving birth to the third.

Prior to Rachel's death, General John Willis, a Congressman from North Carolina and Joseph's first cousin by his Uncle Daniel, had Joseph declared a free man.

He later married Sarah and not much is known about her except she was of Irish background and gave birth to two of his children. 

His friend, Richard Curtis had moved to Natchez, Mississippi to preach the Gospel and it was he who encouraged and helped make it possible for Joseph to cross the mighty Mississippi and enter the unknown dangers of this wild, untamed Louisiana Territory in 1798.  It was under Spanish rule at that time. and no other Protestant preacher had ever dared to do what Joseph knew the Lord had called him to do.

In time, Joseph Willis found his way to Bayou Chicot.  It was on this initial visit that he met others like himself of mixed blood, Indians, Spanish, English, slaves, and Catholics. 

When Joseph entered the Louisiana territory, he fell under the dreaded Code Noir, the "Black Code."  Preaching the Gospel violated this decree's prohibitions against all religions except Catholicism. This did not stop Joseph Willis as he ventured into these regions to preach the first Gospel sermon by an Evangelical west of the Mississippi River.

I love what Randy included in his novel about a conversation Joseph and Sarah might have had after his return.

"Do you think God would use an old Indian slave to bring revival to a foreign country?  Sarah's reply was, "This isn't about us.  Louisiana isn't about us.  What we're about to experience is much bigger than being Indian or Irish.  This is about God's kingdom."

And this is why two churches still stand to this day over 200 years later.  It was never about Joseph Willis or Porter Lazenby, but all about God bringing lost people to a saving knowledge of Him and growing His kingdom.

It is believed that shortly after this trip, Joseph's wife Sarah died of an unknown cause.  Losing two wives within six years was very difficult for Joseph, but it didn't keep him from the desire to fulfill the dream God had given him years earlier and that he had shared with both wives.  That was to preach the gospel in what would later be Louisiana and specifically Bayou Chicot.

A few years later he married Hannah and they added more children to the Willis family.  Hannah also shared Joseph's calling to the people of the Louisiana Territory.  Together with all their children, they made the long, arduous and dangerous journey into the Louisiana territory and to Bayou Chicot as early as 1802 where they purchased land.  A line in his obituary reads, "The Gospel was proclaimed by him in these regions before the American flag was hoisted here," meaning before April 30, 1803.

An interesting personal side note here is that the Willis family built their first home near Bayou Cocodrie, which is where our dad later built his fishing cabin.  (See Part 5 of our Lazenby Story)  Joseph faced his own ostracism there, but so did Porter Lazenby years later.

Chicot was becoming a thriving trade community by this time and other English-speaking people had begun to settle there.  Among those who followed Joseph were his friends from the Pee Dee Region of South Carolina, Gilbert and Fanny Taylor Sweat, Fanny's daughter Delaney and her husband, John Bass, also "a free man of color".  They would play a pivotal role in establishing churches in that area.

Joseph Willis, along with his friends met as a group of believers but were unable to establish a church in Bayou Chicot because of existing prejudice by his own denomination in Natchez, Mississippi, that prevented his being ordained as a Baptist pastor.

Three messengers from the Mississippi church traveled to Chicot and officially ordained the pastor, who immediately and officially constituted the Calvary Baptist Church in Bayou Chicot on November 13, 1812 with six members including the Sweats and Basses.

The original Calvary Baptist Church building was built on land donated by Gilbert and Fanny Sweat.  Delaney and John Bass helped organize another of the churches, perhaps in the Cheneyville area.

There is an interesting line in Miss Mable's book that tells us that a Delaney Bass at some point married Greene Whittington and had seven children, one of whom is a direct ancestor of my brother-in-law, and Gingie's husband, Thomas Whittington.  This Delaney Bass Whittington is the granddaughter of Gilbert and Fanny Sweat who followed Joseph Willis from South Carolina.

Some historians recognize Joseph Willis as "the father of the Baptist religion in Louisiana" for having planted this, the first Baptist Church west of the Mississippi River. Louisiana had barely been a state seven months and was in turmoil when this church was founded.

There was more turmoil on the horizon that also affected this part of the country.  Great Britain did not consider the Louisiana Purchase legally valid, and Congress had declared war on Great Britain about five months earlier to start the War of 1812.  

Ezekiel O'Quinn, Joseph's long-time childhood friend would later follow Joseph to Louisiana as the second Baptist minister west of the Mississippi River.  He was the first pastor of one of the churches Joseph started, Beulah Baptist Church in Cheneyville.

In 1845 Thomas Keller donated one acre of land for a new building.  It is on this same plot of land that the current church stands.

On October 31, 1818, O'Quinn, Joseph Willis and others who had followed Willis to this land, created the Louisiana Association of Baptist Churches at Beulah Baptist Church in Cheneyville, made up of five churches founded by Willis.  It is believed Willis was elected as moderator.  It was out of this organization that the Louisiana Baptist Convention was later established in 1848.

When our father, Porter Lazenby, many years later was serving on this associational board, they continued to meet at Beulah Baptist Church.  Don't you just love history!

Joseph Willis pastored the Calvary Baptist Church for at least 34 years and went on to plant twenty churches in Louisiana.

Joseph Willis was not content to stay only in Bayou Chicot but knew the Lord was leading him to venture into more dangerous and unknown territory known then as "No Man's Land" along the Louisiana and Texas border.  It was known at that time as the most horrible, dangerous place and a completely lawless land.  It was not Spanish or American but a territory where outlaws lived and ruled.  It was to this land that mixed people groups made up of Blacks, Creoles, and Indians lived.  Choctaw Indians living in Bayou Chicot escaped to this land rather than be sent to Oklahoma.  The people came to be called "Redbones."

While serving as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church and also founding numerous churches and congregations in the south-central part of the state, Willis made frequent trips to this neutral zone to the west.  Oddly, he found people just like himself there, mixed blood, and yes outlaws like Jim Bowie, famous for his knife as well as fighting to defend the Alamo.  He was a slave trader and later a neighbor of Joseph Willis.

Again, let me quote something from Randy Willis's book that could very well express what Joseph might have felt:

"There are runaway slaves there.  I was a runaway slave.  I know how they feel.  That's when I met Jesus.  There are Indians who live there.  I'm Indian.  There are outlaws roaming about those woods, I was an outlaw when I came to Louisiana in 1798.  I preached when the Black Code forbade it.  I know these people.  I can reach them.  God's created me for this moment."

It was not a "stinking hell" as some had described this land to Joseph Willis.  Instead, it became his home.  He believed that one day, God would turn this forsaken land into His "holy ground".  It was to this area that Joseph Willis eventually moved his family and where many of his descendants still live and where he is buried.

When we lived in Pine Prairie, our family made many trips to Oakdale just west of us.  We had friends there, did shopping and enjoyed the ice cream and Drive-in movie.  One of the things we quickly learned was to recognize a "Redbone."  Yes, they were a mixed group of people and we thought were to some extent to be avoided.  They looked different, spoke differently, but I never knew about their history.  I accepted the stigma that seemed to be applied to them.  Oakdale was on the edge of what had been "No Man's Land."  We played basketball against schools that had been established in that territory.  I do remember thinking that the girls were all very pretty and I envied them their beautiful olive skin.  Yes, even after all those years, there was still prejudice and I never questioned it.

That is why it is crucial to not forget who and what came before us.  To not forget what brought us to the point that our history affects our present and our future.  Without knowing, without looking back and seeing how God has worked in our past, we cannot truly see our present.  Neither can we see how He wants to use our future.

After overcoming insurmountable obstacles, Joseph blazed a trail for others for another half-century that changed American history. Joseph Willis's life is a story of triumph over tragedy and victory over adversity! Known lovingly as the "Apostle to the Opelousas" and "Father Willis," his accomplishments are still felt today.

He went on to marry a fourth time and fathered a total of 19 children, two of whom died at an early age.  His youngest, Aimuewell, was born on May 1, 1837 when Joseph Willis was 79 years old.

Joseph Willis passed away and went home to Jesus on September 14, 1854 and is buried at Occupy Baptist Church in Rapides Parish, which he planted in the former neutral zone.  At the time of his death Joseph had 28 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.  He died at the age of 100.

Many of his descendants followed his example and went into the ministry, and continue to leave a legacy that Joseph Willis began when he crossed into the Louisiana Territory in 1798.  There are churches all over Louisiana; there are families strong in their faith; there is still a small church in Bayou Chicot, Louisiana with doors open for anyone who seeks the kingdom of God because of this man who was proud to be "Twice a Slave".

In 1987 the church celebrated it's 175 years of existence.  Daddy was on the program and it was interesting to see that I was supposed to sing.  Miss Mable, in writing about this milestone explained that I could not be there due to illness.  I have no recollection of that, but do know for some reason I wasn't there.  In 2012 there was again a large celebration that marked the church's 200th year.  Again, for some reason neither I nor my sisters attended; however Randy Willis and the co-author of "Twice a Slave", Sammy Tippitt (also a descendant of Fanny and Gilbert Sweat) did attend.

Today, sadly the parsonage that our parents called home for 28 years is empty and the church is showing its age.  Oh the sad affects of time.  Hopefully, as long as there are believers in Jesus Christ in Bayou Chicot, the legacy of its founder, Joseph Willis, and all the pastors who followed and served Calvary Baptist Church and her members, will continue to be shared with future generations.

This concludes my recording of our family's story and the historical background of places we called home.  However, it has not been our story at all.  It has been God's story!  I trust as you have read these 10 accounts, it has been obvious to you that God was doing His work through our parents and hopefully He was able to use the Lazenby girls along the way.

As long as there are descendants of Porter and Laura Lazenby, their story will continue and it is my prayer that those who come behind will also give honor and praise to the God of ages whose story has been told through the generations.  May God continue to bless the legacy our parents left behind, and may He find each of us as faithful to our calling as He has theirs.

Randy Willis has been doing family research for over 40 years and has written several books about his 4th great grandfather.  I so appreciate all he has contributed to this account.  If you are interested in more information, his website is

Monday, August 21, 2023

Bayou Chicot History Part 9

The Hawkins House

Back in our days in Bayou Chicot, there were still several old houses around that had belonged to some of the early settlers such as the Haas House, the old Tatman House, The Griffith House where one of the good-looking mover boys lived, and of course the Thompson House that Miss Mable lived in until her death.  All but two of them were in ruins.  Many of these houses, once beautiful, had been passed down to descendants who chose to no longer live there, and had been neglected for generations. The Griffith House, where the Dudley Johnsons lived and who owned the last remaining sawmill in the area, still stands.  The one I want to tell you about is the Hawkins House.

Gin and I had freedom to explore the woods all around our house by ourselves except one place.  The Hawkins House was on the opposite side of the school from us.  It was in ruins but it was obviously a lovely home at one time.  It sat on the most beautiful site around with hundreds of trees of various varieties, and only our imagination could picture what it might have looked like in its heyday.

There was much folklore and mystery attached to this old house because there had once been a hospital there owned by Dr. Josiah Hawkins.  In fact, it was the only hospital in that area.  Stories told and passed down, and articles have been written about it; however, it wasn't until I did research for this series of posts that I actually learned the truth.  But let me first tell you what we grew up believing.

It was told that the Hawkins had been buried in the front yard of their home along with all their money and jewels.  There were tomb stones there that been broken and the graves obviously destroyed.  This fed into the likely hood of the tales being true.

The house and grounds were said to be haunted by the mental patients who had died from Dr. Hawkins's cruel experiments.  Apparently, there were those still living in Chicot who had heard the painful screams during the night.  I'm sure Gin and I thought we even heard them a time or two in the dark of night from our shared bed.

Another story was it was haunted by old Civil War soldiers who died there under the doctor's care.  These lost souls were actually seen roaming around without limbs, etc.  Perhaps the saddest story was that Dr. Hawkins's daughter, Belle who had been killed in an overturned buggy and lost her unborn baby, still cried at night. We were also told that Dr. Josiah E. Hawkins and his wife had been buried in the front lawn with all their money and jewels which explained why the tombs were broken and partially dug up.

The account, "Ghosts of Evangeline's Past," written by Tony Marks can be found HERE.  The writer actually quotes someone who knew someone from Chicot with this:  "It was called a sanitarium.  Dr. Hawkins performed experiments on the mentally insane. His subjects came from all over, not just local people. It is said that there were many who died there and were buried there."

Another person contributed what he had heard his grandmother say.  “Dr. Hawkins was kind of a scientist, and he would experiment with these people. There were some people that were pathological. They were dangerous, and there was an old cell or like a room with bars that they were kept in.  By experiment, I don’t know how bad the experiments were, but I always thought there could be people buried where that old house was that nobody knows about because people would come drop their family members off there and leave and never come back again.”

An article from 1956 printed in The Ford Times and written by Ben Earl Looney can be found HERE

These sure make for exciting tales but no one ever bothered to correct them until a few years later.

Miss Mabel describes the old house best:

"It had stood here for something like one hundred and forty years. This once grand old place had a colorful history and a historic past, it had weathered periods of pathos, and tragedy, of success and gaiety, of war time gloom and even medical distinction." 

The true story that has been handed down was the house had been built in 1840 to be a court house. The people living here had thought they could get the county seat located in Bayou Chicot since it was such a prosperous community at that time. However, politicians, in Opelousas were stronger, and the county seat of St. Landry parish was located there. In 1910 the area would be divided and renamed Evangeline Parish.  The county seat is now Ville Platte (just a few miles south of Chicot), so named by one of Napoleon Bonaparte's former soldiers, Adjutant Major Marcellin Garand (1781-1852), of Savoy, France.

Since, the house has served as best as can be remembered, as an early post master's home, as a girl's boarding school, as a Civil War refuge for a wealthy family from New Orleans and as the home of an eminent doctor and his hospital.

Circa early 1900's

Dr. J. E. Hawkins came into the community in 1872 with his wife Charity, sons Jeffie and Willie and daughter Belle. He liked the area and bought the land and the brick house. Dr. Hawkins added verandas across the front, south and north and a long wing on the back having several rooms. He next built an office out to the front of the house, and a little farther away behind the house, he built his hospital. Dr. Hawkins has the distinction of having the first and only hospital in all this area of Louisiana. Although it was never a sanitarium for mental patients, any patient unable to return home after treatment remained in the hospital and was cared for by Dr. Hawkins's servants and fed from his kitchen.

He also made regular buggy rides throughout the community any time someone needed attending to.  He did this at night and there are some interesting stories about some of his escapades.

Dr. Hawkins had his tenants plant hundreds of pecan trees all around his house, and many cedar trees and magnolias all out among the pecans. Miss Mable remembers that Dr. Hawkins had a greenhouse built where he grew rare plants, and that many years after the doctor's death there were huge japonica trees growing near the front porch.

All the open land was farmed by his twenty-five tenants and their families. They raised corn, cotton, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, and vegetables on shares with the doctor.  The crops were so productive that Dr. Hawkins saw a need for a cotton gin on his place to gin all the cotton grown there and some for the other people of the neighborhood, so he purchased a gin.

Dr. Hawkins also had cattle and needed hay to feed them during the Winter. He had heard of a new invention, the mowing machine, so he bought one and found a local man who could put it together and operated it to clear his acres of fields.

There was also a large pen across the road from his home with a high fence around it, and here he kept a large herd of deer. All the deer had small bells around their necks.  It's not sure why Dr. Hawkins had these, if it was for his enjoyment or for the meat.  At that time there were no legal restrictions against penning up your meat source.

Many young men aspiring to become doctors, came from far and wide to observe and learn from Dr. Hawkins.  He was well known all over the state and these young doctors went back to larger towns and cities to work.  One of these young men fell in love with Belle, Dr. Hawkins's daughter and I will allow Miss Mabel to tell their story.

"One young man who had come to learn from the doctor finished in medicine, returned to marry the doctor's daughter, Belle. He was Dr. Willie A. Quirk. He took his bride to Reddell, Louisiana where he set up practice. A baby girl was born to the Quirks, and she was named, Belle. A road ran through the woods from Reddell to Bayou Chicot. One day Mrs. Quirk and the little girl were riding in a gig on their way to engage a young girl to help in the house work and with the child. Just as Mrs. Quirk drove to the gate where the girl lived, there was an incline, the harness broke, the gig turned over backwards throwing Mrs. Quirk and the child out onto the hard ground. Both were hurt, and Mrs. Quirk did not live long as she never recovered from her injuries. Dr. Hawkins wanted his only daughter buried near his home. A brick vault was built at the north end of the porch, and here Mrs. Quirk was laid to rest." 

The story is that Belle was pregnant with their second child when she died.

Dr. Hawkins' wife died in 1888, and some years later he married Miss Bella Butchee, who was much younger than he - she was only eighteen and he was in his late sixties or early seventies. 

Dr. Hawkins became ill and requested that if he died that he be buried by the side of his daughter. He died in 1908 and that explains why there were two graves in the front of the house. Some years before the old house was torn down, Belle's granddaughter had both remains moved to the Vandenburg Cemetery, and placed by the side of the doctor's wife and son.

Dad would take Gin and me to walk around the remains of the Hawkins house and though there wasn't much left, we weren't afraid of stepping on hidden graves. Neither did we see the remains of barred windows.  It did always hold an appealing mystery and intrigue for us.  We were able to see touches of wallpaper on some of the boards of the dilapidated house, and a few old medicine bottles scattered around what was once the hospital behind the house.  This was before the grave remains had been moved, but there was evidence that the tombs in front of the house had been tampered with.  We, with Dad's urging and his own love for history could only imagine the stories this place could tell.  And they were not horrid, but endearing.

We loved this old place and it broke our heart to know it had been completely demolished and the land bought by a developer.  Now though, there are lovely homes enjoying what could have been an historical site and still has a story to tell.  At least we Lazenby girls will never forget the wonder and mystery of the old Hawkins House.  And now, you know it as well.

Part 10 and my final post about life in Bayou Chicot will tell all about the history of Calvary Baptist Church, which is its own fascinating story.  I'll see you next Monday.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Bayou Chicot History - Part 8

We continue to delve into the fascinating history of Bayou Chicot and our personal experiences while living there.


Records and old diaries passed from generation to generation tell that this area was settled by well-educated men and not of the "coon-skin-cap variety", as Miss Mable called them, as early as the 1700's. Some had been educated in England, Scotland and France before coming to America. There were first generation emigrants who came directly from Czechoslovakia.  The Tubres family, who homesteaded land and built a home in Chicot came from the Pyrenees region on the Bay of Biscay.  Another family, the Zagars came from Yugoslavia.  Most of these first settlers came from the thirteen original colonies.  This accounts for the caliber of people we came to call family.

A Ville Platte Gazette newspaper article dated January 8, 1942, giving a history of Evangeline Parish, stated that education in this parish "had a tardy beginning" compared to other areas of the state.  However,  that does not seem to apply to Bayou Chicot where education was very important to these early settlers in the Bayou Chicot community from the very beginning. Establishing schools was a part of early life there.  It is also recorded that several families moved there primarily for the educational opportunities.  Perhaps the most educated person in the whole area was the son of the wealthiest resident in Bayou Chicot who spent several years in the mid 1800's studying in Europe and afterward returned to his home where he played significant roles not only in education but in politics as well.  The Sam Hayes name is still recognizable in Evangeline Parish.

Picture Compliments of Stanley Whittington

The old Sam Haas house looked much like this when we moved to Bayou Chicot in 1949.  It was empty and overtaken by untrimmed bushes and grass, but still maintained some it's earlier dignity.  The long-time caretakers of the place were Merix "Mr. Red" and his wife Mrs. Evalina Gooden who lived nearby.  We remember them very fondly and with great respect.

Picture Compliments of Stanley Whittington

Miss Mabel's great grandfather, Isaac Griffith came to this part of the country from Dover, Delaware in 1814, where he had received a good education and taught his younger brothers.  He also served as Deputy Sheriff.  At the age of 26, his curiosity brought him to New Orleans, which he found "disgusting" and moved northward.  Hearing about this English-speaking community, he was eager to continue his love for teaching. It is said that the other homesteaders saw in him the potential for a teacher for their children and he wrote in his diary that he "commenced teaching school in Bayou Chicot on May 16, 1814."  This was the first private school in existence anywhere in this part of the country, and in all probability, it was the first English-speaking school for a much greater part of the territory.

Miss Mabel's grandfather also became an educator and taught French and Latin to young men in the area who planned to go into medicine.  More on that later.

In 1886 the people of Bayou Chicot had a brand new one room school house. The above school could possibly be the Cheney Old Field school.  The third from the left on front row is Wilson Whittington.  Up until this time school had been taught in old vacant houses or in churches, or wherever there was room enough for teacher and pupils. They made do with whatever they could find to use.

The first teacher in the new school was Louis De Grey, a Confederate veteran, who had lost an arm in a battle while fighting for the South.  I'm sure those were some interesting classes.

The new three room 2-story brick school house was built in Chicot in 1912 and for the first time, all area students were able to attend in one location.  Each classroom had a globe and maps hung on the wall.  Miss Mable tells how they had never seen anything like them and were thrilled.  She also tells about seeing their very first dictionary.  The upstairs was also used for assemblies and became the community gathering place.  It was in this building that she later began her long teaching career.

Miss Mable wrote in one her weekly newspaper articles of meeting a former student of hers one day whom she hadn't seen in over 60 years, from this old school. It brought back a memory she hadn't thought about in years.  She said while the students were outdoors for recess, they saw there was a fire in the 2nd floor.  She said she sent the older boys to get water and others to evacuate the building.  She and the boys began transferring buckets of water to the top of the building.  She said she still doesn't remember how they got up there because there was no ladder.

Once the fire was out, she returned to the front of the building where all the children were only to see a lone little boy sitting in his desk cradling all his books.  When she asked what he was doing, he replied, "You told us to get our belong'ns and go outside.  I didn't want my desk and books to burn up."  This was that little boy and they shared this delightful memory.  Now you know it too.

The building we attended class in was built in 1936.  In 1955 a new high school of contemporary design was built behind the older ones and across the road from our house.  This was exciting to watch and a very scary thing happened on the building site one day.  

Yours truly, who always seemed to find a way to get into trouble was enticed to wedge herself, along with a book and a Baby Ruth candy bar, between high stacks of 2X4's waiting to be used in the construction.  Not long after getting myself comfortable, the stack I was resting against fell forward pinning me in-between the heavy lumber.

Daddy somehow heard my screams and with super-human strength managed to crawl into the narrow space and lift the heavy load on his back enough for me to get out and without them falling and crushing him.  Needless to say, he was not happy with his eldest daughter, but he never made me feel guilty for putting both our lives in danger.  I did that all by myself.  

In April 1968 this building was burned down by vandals.  Mother and Sarah saw the fire from our house and called it in.  This of course, was terribly upsetting for the whole community.  In 1971 a new one was built to take its place. Today, the schools in the parish have been consolidated and only elementary students attend in Chicot and they will have another brand new building in the fall.


Religious development evidently began very early on, probably during the French domination.  The earliest ministers were Catholic priests as this was during the time of the Black Code where only Catholicism was allowed.  In 1798, the first Baptist preacher arrived in the state and primarily in Bayou Chicot although he ventured further south at a great peril to his life.  Joseph Willis returned with his family seven months before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and established the first Baptist Church west of the Mississippi River in 1812.  A Methodist Church had already been organized, so the earliest Protestant work in the state was done by these two religions and in Bayou Chicot.

In my final post, Part 10, I will go into great detail about Joseph Willis and his work in Louisiana and especially Bayou Chicot.


Very early on, Chicot became a thriving trade center for a large part of what became Central Louisiana all the way to the Sabine River on the western border. It was directly east of Woodville, MS which was the safest location to cross the Mississippi River.  There were Creek Indians living in this area and passports to travel through their land had to be obtained.  

Being the major trade center between east and west as well as north and south, Bayou Chicot was the sought after designation for frontiersmen.  It served Indians, hunters, homesteaders and later large plantation owners.  One of the original properties purchased was obtained from the Spanish Government on November 10, 1783.  Property was purchased through Spanish Land Grants at this time.  The Louisiana Purchase didn't happen until 1803.  There are no available transaction records prior to 1783; however, there are numerous proofs that settlers were there way before that date.

This area was appealing mostly because of its natural resources.  It provided not only beauty, but great forests, waterways, fresh springs, rolling hills, and rich soil in contrast to the flat prairies of the land further south.  Bayou Chicot was a thriving community at the beginning of the 1800's, and up until the outbreak of the Civil War.

Contributing to the success of this thriving community, was a stage coach stand located here that served this area and provided a means for people to travel from New Orleans to points north and west.  This early trail was part of the El Camino Real which started in Colonial Mexico (later Mexico City) and ended in Natchitoches, Louisiana.  It was the only overland route from Mexico across the Rio Grande to the Red River Valley and one of the routes went right through Bayou Chicot.  We know it still existed as late as 1877.

It was also used briefly during the Civil War to get supplies to the Confederacy 
and to send cotton to Mexico.  By the 19th century it was no longer used.  In 2004, the El Comino Real became an historic Trail.

There was another route that was part of this Trail that was along the western border with Texas and went through "No Man's Land" or the neutral land.  It holds greater acclaim as it was this Trail that led to the settlement of Natchitoches and will be discussed more in Part 10.

The Civil War had a devasting affect on Bayou Chicot and other small communities in the south.

Miss Mable writes:

"But when the Civil War came many had to leave their farms and businesses, with no one to carry on, naturally they soon fell into a sad condition. Many men were killed, many were crippled, and came home unable to help their families. This left the women in an awful state. Those that owned slaves, even if they had been freed, still looked to old master to provide for them. Naturally this placed an extreme burden on the former owners. During the years just after the war was a terrible time for everyone. During the reconstruction days it was a struggle for all in the South to survive."

The state capital of Louisiana was originally in New Orleans.  In 1862 it was  moved to Baton Rouge, and there it remained until January of 1863 when the Northern soldiers came into South Louisiana. Then it was moved to Shreveport. Historical records discovered in the LSU Library, show that "During the Civil War Yankee troops operated within the area of Evangeline Parish (it was then St. Landry) and at one time the capital of Louisiana was located in Bayou Chicot." Isn't that a remarkable fact!  Being part of the El Camino Real I'm sure played a part in this.

We had been told this story as children, but were told the capital was set up in the old Hawkins House.  This has been determined to probably not be true because there was a much nicer home belonging to Major Ward Murduck that would have been a better choice for such a distinction.  

Back in the early days of Bayou Chicot, there were many fine, large homes and the Murduck home was one of the finest.  As people learned of the lush land and clean water supply, and an abundance of trees, they moved there to live, but also there were many summer homes built.  These no longer existed in 1949 and one today would find it hard to imagine Chicot being a large prospering community.  The only way we know where some of these homes were is by finding planted tree groves, and rows of crepe myrtle trees that would have been on a nice homestead at one time.

By the time we moved there, Bayou Chicot was no longer a thriving center of productivity.  Besides having the largest man-made lake in the state located in the astonishingly beautiful Chicot State Park, there was only the school, our church and one store, Wilson Whittington's Store, but we simply called it "Papa Wilk's Store."

Wilson Whittington - WW II Veteran
Wilson Whittington - WW II Veteran
Picture Compliments of Stanley Whittington

An interesting sidenote:  Records show Whittingtons living in Chicot when a Revolutionary soldier, Grief Whittington found his way to Bayou Chicot.  It is believed that the three sons of Grief Whittington, John, Elisha and Greene eventually made their way west from their father's home in Mississippi.  Grief was the Patriarch of all the Whittingtons who still today live in Bayou Chicot .  He was born in Virginia in 1762, but lived in South Carolina.  He was given 200 acres in Mississippi for fighting in the Revolution and records show him owning property there in 1806.

We aren't sure when the three sons arrived in Bayou Chicot, but they were known to be farmers. One son, John is the ancestor of Miss Mable.  It is from Ethan who also was a blacksmith and a grocer that Papa Wilks, Delmont and Roger that you've already met, came, and the only brother who actually lived in Bayou Chicot.  They intermarried with the Thompsons, Griffiths, Jenkins, Causeys and others, and it was the descendants of this intermingling who lived there in 1949.

Gingie's husband, Thomas Whittington is a descendant from the third and youngest son, Greene, who settled in the Bayou Beouf area, what is now St. Landry, just east of Bayou Chicot. Thomas's grandfather, Baldwin was the grandson of Greene Whittington and Delaney Bass.  You will recognize Delaney's name in Part 10 of our story when I introduce her grandparents, John and Delaney Taylor Bass and her great grandmother, Fanny Sweat.  So interesting!

Now back to Papa Wilk's story.  Any and everything was sold in Wilson Whittington's Store and it had also been the voting site for the area until 1947 when Papa Wilks declared that it interfered with his business and asked that it be moved.  Roger, mentioned in Part 2 was the only child of Papa Wilks and his 2nd wife, Aunt Esther, and he and Gin were the same age.  They grew up like brother and sister.

We have good memories of sitting out on the backsteps of the old store eating watermelons.  By the way, Chicot was known for growing the sweetest watermelons around and was a product shipped out of New Orleans at one time.

Gin has vivid memories of her and Roger seeing who could swallow the most seeds.  When the maid, Aunt Malindy caught them, she told them they better stop that or she would "whup you young'un bahin's to kingdom come an' back."  That was when she taught us how to spit the seeds and see who could spit them the farthest.  This wasn't necessarily the beginning of our competitive spirits, but it didn't hurt it either.

She also taught us that if "you young'uns swallow dim seeds, you gonna grow a baby in dare." This early sex lesson was good enough for us and we weren't about to let a seed slip down our throat. We loved that lady. Gin was especially close to Aunt Malindy.  We also remember with great fondness her daughter, Mrs. Evalina Gooden, who also worked for Aunt Esther for many years, and her husband, Mr. Red.  They were the finest people.

One of Papa Wilk's grandsons, Stanley shared with me one of the reasons the Whittington family loved our daddy.  Stanley's dad, Merwin, Papa Wilk's 3rd oldest son, was at home alone when the preacher went calling.  During the visit, Dad asked him what he was going to do with the rest of his life. It was during this visit that Merwin prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior and became a believer and church attender.  His life was never the same.  Stanley said, the family will always love "Preacher" for that visit.

In 1950, Papa Wilk's 2nd oldest son, Delmont, by his first wife, built a new store in time for his dad to retire, and the big wooden, never-been-painted building on the only intersection in town was later torn down in 1959.

Delmont's store, Whittington Brother's Grocery was within walking distance of our house and it was also the post office.  This was the only place for several miles around where one could purchase fabric, patterns and anything needed for making clothes; seeds and tools for the garden; building material; food for the chickens and livestock as well as good cuts of meat, veggies and ice cream for the family.  And we were allowed to put what we bought "on the ticket."

Delmont was a Baptist Deacon at our church and his wife, Elaine, a devout Methodist, became Mother's and Daddy's closet friends.  They even had a daughter, Sherry, about the same time Sarah was born and the two grew up as sisters.  Sarah has told about her friendship with this family in previous posts.

In 1993 Delmont was honored by the community for his many years of taking care of the people of this area.  It was estimated that at least 200 people attended this event, and it was an honor for Daddy to speak about his friend.

I believed Delmont was a mathematical genius because he never used a calculator to add up the many groceries on his counter.  We enjoyed challenging him with long lists of numbers.  He was the first to graduate from the school there with straight A's all the way through school.  Delmont died one year after Daddy and we knew there was rejoicing in heaven not to mention a sweet reunion.

Today, there is a Dollar General, locally owned Tom's Fried Chicken, and a nice gas station that also houses the Bayou Chicot Grocery, but the Whittington grocery legacy is only a memory.  There are many new lovely homes there now again as people have rediscovered the beauty of this part of the parish.

Known for its woodlands and rolling hills, the Chicot State Park Arboretum contains 100 trees out of the 160 trees that are native to Louisiana.  One can only imagine what the early pioneers to this area must have found.

Next week I will share with you one of the most interesting tales to ever come out Bayou Chicot history - the "haunted" Hawkins House.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Bayou Chicot History Part 7

Why look back?  What is important about spending time on the history of a little village that barely exists anymore?

Because if its story isn't told and passed down, then future generations never know.  History can be so quickly and easily lost and when that happens, what brought each of us to whatever point we find ourselves, becomes insignificant.

We must never allow that to happen.  Even in telling the story of family, a tiny village and a church in Evangeline Parish, we find significance and meaning.  It is all part of our story.

Before we can appreciate the history of Bayou Chicot, located in the south-central part of Louisiana, we need to first remind ourselves of how Louisiana came to be.  It is one of the most fascinating stories of any state in the union and why Louisiana is probably the most culturally diverse state in the union.

The Spanish were the first to venture into the Mississippi River region.  An overland expedition in 1542 by Hernando de Soto, was the first European confirmation discovery of the mighty river; however, hostile climate, wildlife, and geography convinced Spain to look elsewhere for the precious metals and fertile soils they were seeking.

This whole area was ignored for nearly one and a half centuries until France's King Louis XIV, the "Sun King," began encouraging exploration of the Mississippi River in order to enlarge his own empire and stop Britain's and Spain's expansion.  In 1682, Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, reached the river's mouth and proclaimed possession of the river and all the lands drained by it for France.  He named this vast expanse "Louisiane," or "Louis' land."

In 1718 the city of New Orleans was founded by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville on a narrow strip of land at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

France governed the territory until 1763 when it turned Louisiana over to Spain.  It was a Roman Catholic colony with a close relationship between church and state, priests, and politicians.  They were the prevailing order at the time and continued to be well into the 18th century.

Royal policy in France and Spain prohibited non-Catholics from living in the colonies, but especially in frontier regions like Louisiana.  This resulted in much persecution as Protestants began to arrive, and much opposition in being able to establish churches.

On December 20, 1803, in the Cabildo in New Orleans, Thomas Jefferson's designee, William Charles Cole Claiborne, highest-ranking civilian official in the vicinity and General James Wilkinson, signed the transfer document giving lower Louisiana officially to the United States.  Three months later the United States took possession of the full territory, in St. Louis when France handed over the rights to upper Louisiana.  That was the Louisiana Purchase.  On April 30, 1812, Louisiana was admitted as the 18th state.

History tells us that Native Americans populated much of the land; in fact, there were many different Indian tribes living in what became Louisiana.  We know that as early as 2000 BC, there were several groups living in both the north, central and southern sections of the state.  By 1700 there were at least seventeen Native American groups living in the Louisiana Territory.

Louisiana's Indian peoples are important to all of us because they represent the original human adaptation to the diversity of Louisiana cultures. As Houma tribal leader Helen Gindrat says, "We were people before we were called 'Indians." Despite years of neglect, exploitation, and expropriation of their lands, the Indians of Louisiana have persisted.  There are still four major Tribes plus eleven State recognized Tribes living in Louisiana.

In the 1700's most lived in small and large communities and were mainly farmers and hunters.  They were also very advanced in producing products needed to survive, such as their own clothing, jewelry, tanning, building, basket weaving, weapons, etc.

During this period, emigrating colonists, Indians and Africans were among the most numerous inhabitants.  They created a three-way exchange as no racial or ethnic group dominated, though Native Americans made up the largest segment of the population.  They shared food, medicines, material goods, and building and recreational practices among the groups, even though there were times the Indians waged war against these newcomers who were threatening their cultural existence and traditions.

Now, with that background, let's look more closely at Bayou Chicot. 


The interesting history about this area was captured in a book by Miss Mable Thompson, "Looking Back - A Narrative History of Bayou Chicot."  She was the acknowledged Chicot historian, and as the Chicot Social Editor for the Ville Platte Gazette, recorded and published every time I or my sisters "journeyed" to visit our parents in Chicot and anyone else who took a trip, or entertained guests.  She was my fifth grade teacher and one of the original teachers from the early 1900's.  It was because of her and my dad's influence that I learned to love history.

Her family are direct descendants from the earliest settlers, arriving in the early 1800's.   It is from her book, my own research, and our personal experiences, that I will share some fascinating facts and stories about Bayou Chicot, Louisiana, the oldest English settlement west of the Mississippi River.  To quote Miss Mable, "There was a Chicot before there was a United States."

Choctaw Indians

According to Miss Mable, earliest records show that there was a large tribe of Choctaw Indians living in the area later known as Bayou Chicot.  Her older brothers grew up with and knew many of them personally.  They even learned their language which did not consist of many words.  The Indians were friendly to these English speaking newcomers and there is no record anywhere of any discord between them.

Her oldest brother told her the story that he and a younger brother gave their Indian friends a dozen eggs one day to make them a blowgun. This was a gun made out of  a straight­ened, hollow piece of river cane used by the Indians for hunting small game such as squirrels and rabbits.  There was a dart made of some type of hard, pointed material which plugged up the end of the shaft.  When the hunter blew into the gun, the dart was forced through the shaft and out with a high velocity.  It is said these Indians could hit their prey with amazing accuracy.

This blowgun was still in Miss Mable's family home at the time she wrote the book.  What a treasure.  By the way, she lived in the original Thompson home until shortly before her death.

The Indians and settlers worked together, sharing knowledge and food as well as friendship.  After the war between the states most of the Indians became tenants of the white people but continued to live in the woods in camps or small villages.  Most of them were living in tents and wigwams, but as more settlers arrived, the Indians also began to build houses.  Unfortunately, many also became sick and died with the "white man's" diseases such as tuberculous and pneumonia. 

Miss Mable writes of having collected thousands of arrowheads of every size and shape.  This also explains why when our dad was plowing new garden rows, he would find arrowheads.  He would delight in showing them to us and telling us stories that he had heard as a child in North Louisiana.  The story had even been passed down that we had some Indian blood in our veins and that explained my olive complexion.  Although my DNA testing showed no trace, it still can not be ruled out.

Miss Mable tells an interesting account she learned from her brothers that you lady readers might enjoy.

"The squaws usually worked very well and were busy making baskets to sell out of switch cane. They would set up a camp in the woods and sit around a fire making baskets of all shapes and sizes. Whenever the squaws got tired of a man getting drunk they would grab him, and tie his big toes with buckskin strings and tie him as high as they could to a limb in a tree with only his shoulders touching the ground. He stayed in this position until he sobered up and begged to be taken down." 

She told about how the Indians who lived around them had a keen sense of humor.  Her uncle told her that before the Indians left for Oklahoma, they started getting a lot of mail from the government.  One day one of the men who was a frequent visitor to his front porch, was holding one of these letters and reading it.  The only problem was it was upside down.  When the uncle asked him about it, the old man said "You wouldn't understand it, it's all big Indian business."

Another of her stories that was told to her by her brothers and verified by others who personally knew the Indians, regards their method of justice.

"Old Charles was the last Tribal Chief the Indians had here, and when an Indian committed a crime, he was tried by Charles, and the tribal elders, and a sentence of death was pronounced. One Indian so condemned was away west of the Calcasieu River at the time so they sent word to him to appear so many moons from the date of sentence. When the appointed day came the Indian was stood against a tree. His squaw placed her hand over his heart, the bullet pierced her hand on its way to his heart." 

Early in 1900, the government declared that the Indians were to be rounded up and sent to Oklahoma where they could purchase land.  Of course, this is what is now known as "The Trail of Tears," one of the darkest days in American history.  Some of these Chicot Indians escaped and resettled in various parts of the state.  One group settled in an area west of Chicot, near the Texas border.  This land was known as "No Man's Land," and the people came to be called "Red Bones."  More on this in another post.

How Did The Early Settlers Come To Bayou Chicot?

It is believed that the early settlers who came in the early 1700's, were English speaking, but how did they know to come to this particular part of the south?

History tells us that George Washington somehow knew of the open prairies around what is now Opelousas, La.  It is located just north of Lafayette.  Records show that men from England and Scotland had been enticed by the promise of free land to come to this land to fight the French and the Indians.  These groups were causing a lot of trouble along the Ohio River.  At some point, a group of these men met with Washington, and he evidently told them that the promise could be kept if they were willing to go south to the prairies; hadvised them to go in groups for protection.  This is possibly how the open land around Opelousas came to be settled.  Is it possible Washington also knew of the beautiful forests, rivers, sandy rich soil, wild life and fowl just thirty miles north of these prairies?

It is possible some of the colonists foresaw the fight with England brewing and left to avoid it.  We know that some early settlers returned to fight in the revolution and no doubt told others about this lush available land.  I know that is how some of our ancestors learned of the available farm land in North Louisiana and left the Carolinas, moving their families across the wide Mississippi.

One of the most fascinating facts that I found is that there seems to be little doubt that the daughter of Louisiana's first Creole family and her husband were among the first, perhaps the very first non-English, to settle the Bayou Chicot area of the Old Opelousas Post.  For those of you not from Louisiana, Creoles were people of mixed colonial French, African American and Native American ancestry.  The Black Creoles were freed slaves who came from Haiti and settled mostly in New Orleans.

Marie des Neiges Juchereau de St. Denys/Sanchez-Navarro was the daughter of the founder of Natchitoches, Louisiana, Louis Juchereau de St. Denys.  This area is still known for their Creole heritage and in fact, I knew several personally when we lived in Shreveport.  They are a proud people and rightly so, though at one point looked down upon because of their mixed heritage.  It is well known that St. Denys single-handedly guarded French interests in Louisiana prior to the founding of Natchitoches, the oldest settlement in the state.

In 1714, having blazed the Old Spanish Trail across Texas, while in Mexico, de Denys met, fell in love with, and married Emmanuela Sanchez-Navarro, who is said to be a descendant of Cortez, conqueror of all Mexico.  Their daughter, Marie des Neiges (which, in French, means "Our Lady of the Snows") was born at Natchitoches in 1734.  At the age of twenty, she was married to Emanuel Antonio de Soto Bermudez, a native of Galicia in Spain, and an officer of the Spanish king on the Texas frontier.

The story continues that as early as 1785, the king of Spain granted a tract of land at Bayou Chicot to the couple.  According to National Archives, as late as 1816, the children of this marriage still claimed property there.

Other land records indicate that this family also pioneered the first settlement at Pine Prairie or "Prairie Piniere" as it was first called.  It was at Pine Prairie where de Soto died in 1799, his wife Marie, having died two years earlier, either at Bayou Chicot or in Pine Prairie.  Their descendants are numerous in these areas to this day, represented by all Ortego families in the area of Evangeline Parish and beyond, some branches of the Fontenot and Vidrine familys, and many others.  These are common names and some of our closest friends in Pine Prairie were in this group.

No one knows exactly how Bayou Chicot got its name.  Chicot is French for "Stump" but since it was the earliest English settlement, that interpretation is unlikely.  It could have been a Choctaw word, but we will never know for sure.  Regardless, "Stump" has been the name of the school's yearbook since the beginning, and is the accepted interpretation.

Next time I will share with you more fascinating history of this part of the state.