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.

Elizabeth "Libby" Day
Elizabeth "Libby" Day

Hello, My name is Libby. I enjoy reading good books, painting, blogging, spending time with friends and whatever my "Heart" leads me to do. Welcome to Beauty Without Within.

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