Brief History of West Central Louisiana

Scholars generally recognize three major cultures within the state of Louisiana – New Orleans has a Creole culture, a result of the blending of early French nobles and army officers with the later Spanish settlers and free-people-of-color; South Louisiana has a Cajun (the local version of “Acadian”) culture, resulting from the blending of Acadians from Nova Scotia, French nationalists and English-speaking blacks, many of whom descended from freed slaves; and North Louisiana, originally populated by English-speaking British Americans, which was the last section settled since it was almost entirely covered with large pine forests and considered to be unproductive land.

Subsistence Farmers

Both New Orleans and South Louisiana were dominated by French-speaking Catholics. The early settlers in North Louisiana, however, were small farmers with a strong Protestant work ethic. The section did include a few large plantations, established along the Mississippi, Red and Ouachita Rivers (Lowland South culture) which were dependent upon a large slave population to operate, but the area destined to become Vernon Parish was first settled by immigrants of the Upland South culture, who primarily lived on subsistence farms.

Lumber Boom

Vernon Parish enjoyed a brief financial boom beginning in 1897 when the Kansas City Southern Railroad arrived in Leesville. Lumber barons bought up the land for pennies on the dollar and hired the local farmers to cut the timber which could then be shipped “back east” for great profit. Many African-Americans came to the area at this time, following the jobs.

For a brief time, Vernon Parish was actually the richest parish in the state, but when their last stand of pine had been cut, those investors pulled up stakes and moved on, taking their profits with them. When they left, the virgin long-leaf pines had all been cut and nothing planted to replace them. Scrub brush grew over the land where none had been before.

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted more than 3,000,000 trees across the nation, including the denuded land in Vernon Parish. Today, responsible lumber companies control how many trees are cut and quickly re-plant in the cutover areas.

Great Louisiana Maneuvers

In 1940, the US Army secured the rights to conduct training maneuvers on more than 3,400 square miles of sparsely populated rural areas in Louisiana and Texas, including all of Vernon Parish. From 1940-1944 several exercises were held with more than 400,000 troops passing through the area at one time or another. The largest exercise, known locally as “The Big One,” consisted of a mock battle between red and blue troops over navigation rights to the Mississippi River. Military umpires ranked the combatants and decided on winners and losers in each scenario.

Today, the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk continues the training maneuvers tradition, hosting several rotations each year, with scenarios custom-designed to prepare each training unit for the difficulties they expect to face while completing their real-world missions.  

Ever since those early maneuvers in the 40’s, Fort Polk has been a major source of revenue and jobs for the citizens of West Louisiana.

Celebrate Christmas 2021

November 20, 2021 – January 26, 2022

Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights – Natchitoches

November 26 – December 23, 2021

5:15-9:30pm – BELIEVE Lights the Night — Shreveport Aquarium, Shreveport

Weekends November 26 – December 29, 2021

5:30-8pm each day – Holiday Light Safari — Alexandria Zoological Park, Alexandria

November 26, 2021 – January 2, 2022

12pm-6pm each day – Boardwalk Blizzard — Boardwalk Boulevard, Bossier City

November 26, 2021 – February 27, 2022

9 am-5 pm – Sno-Port 2021: The Snow Factory – Sci-Port Discovery Center, Shreveport

November 27 – December 18, 2021 (Saturdays only)

Various Times – Santa’s Sleigh Ride (plus other Christmas activities) – South College Center, Lafayette

December 1, 2021 – January 1, 2022

5:30 pm-Midnight – Christmas Light Show – Downtown DeRidder

December 2 – 5, 2021

7 pm –  A Christmas Carol – Ruston Community Theatre at Dixie Center for the Arts, Ruston

December 3, 2021

4-9 pm – Snowflake Festival, 2021 – Main Post Exchange, Fort Polk

December 3, 2021

7 pm – Rudolph – Get to the Point Ballet Company at Kress Theatre — Alexandria

December 3 – 5, 2021

6-9 pm – A Night in Bethlehem – Living Nativity at Family Worship Center, Leesville

December 4, 2021

8:30am-9pm – Light Up the Lake Christmas Celebration – Lake Charles Civic Center, Lake Charles

9am – Miracle on Washington Street Festival – Washington Ave., Downtown DeRidder

9am-3pm – Annual Christmas Porch Sale –  River Oaks Square Arts Center, Alexandria

2:30 pm – Cajun Night Before Christmas – Beauregard Museum, DeRidder

7pm – The Bulls that Stole Christmas (rodeo) – Ted Johnson Arena, Hineston

8 am – 12 pm – Breakfast with Santa – St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, Leesville

December 9, 2021

5:30-7:30 – Christmas Candlelight Tour – John Jay French Museum, Beaumont, TX

December 10 – 11, 2021

5 – 8 pm – Holiday on the Bend – Toledo Bend Army Rec Site, Florien

7 pm – The Nutcracker – Joan Kathey Dance Center Stars at Leesville High School Auditorium, Leesville

December 10-12, 2021

Various Times — The Charitable Sisterhood — Impromptu Players at Wooten Theater, DeRidder

December 11, 2021

8 am – Reindeer Run – 5K Fun Run / Walk, Leesville

8am – 4 pm – Shop Small Christmas Festival – Downtown Leesville

10am – 7 pm – Christmas Around the Cabin – Railroad St., Merryville

2pm – Christmas on the Homefront – Mansfield State Historic Site, Mansfield

5:30 pm – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Parade – Downtown Leesville

6:30pm – The Nutcracker – Shreveport Metropolitan Ballet at Riverview Theatre, Shreveport

December 18, 2021

12 pm – Wreaths Across America — Cannon Cemetery, Merryville

1 pm- 5 pm – Christmas Extravaganza Pop Up – Martin Luther King Community Center – Leesville

It’s Fall, Y’all

Here in West Central Louisiana we’re starting to make plans for fall. The weather has turned cooler, the county fair has come and gone, and here in Vernon Parish we’re ready to celebrate. Next weekend we’re gonna do just that.

The fun will start on Saturday, October 30th, with the Armadillo Classic Car Show and Motorcycle Rally. Mayor Rick Allen, himself a classic car / motorcycle buff, will be there showing some of his cars. If you want to “Run with the Dillo” or enter a car, registration starts at 9am.

Derby Daze, the Louisiana State Derby Championship, will be starting at 10:00 am. The derby gives children ages 6-17 an opportunity to build their own cars –based on a specific plan—and race them down Third Street using gravity as their only source of power. This year prizes will be given for age division winners and one Grand Champion. 

Stop by and check out the custom-built racers and pick up some specs for building your own next year. The volunteers organizing the races, just like the classic car owners, are great talkers and always happy to share their knowledge, so please, don’t hesitate to stop the first one you see and ask your questions.

Don’t forget to stop by the Main Street Market while you’re downtown. You never know what you might find there – anything from farmers selling their produce, jams, and jellies to artisans selling their home-made goods. They’re open year-round on Saturdays from 8 am until 1 pm.

Also, be sure to check out the scarecrows on the Historic Courthouse lawn. The Mayor’s Women’s Commission are hosting their annual Scarecrow Contest, open to youth organizations in the area, so there should be some great examples.

And finally, Witch Way to Main Street, hosted by Leesville Main Street, will run from 6 to 9 pm. Local businesses will gather on Third Street, setting up booths with games and candy for the young Trick-or-Treaters, so dress the kiddies in their costumes and bring them downtown for family-friendly fun.

This looks like the middle of nowhere! What are we gonna do for fun?

True, on a map Fort Polk might appear to be in the middle of nowhere – and once the area was actually known as No Man’s Land – but let me set your mind at ease. You can find almost anything you might be interested in doing within an easy drive from Fort Polk.

For today, let’s start with a little information about Vernon Parish, where Fort Polk is located. We’ll explore the broader area in later posts.

In Leesville you’ll find shopping; restaurants; art galleries and classes; yoga groups, spas and gyms; a farmer’s market; coffee and tea shops; a movie theater, bowling alley and skating rink; VFW and American Legion halls; bingo and video gaming; dirt track racing and more.

Outdoor activities are abundant.

There are plenty of lakes and forests to explore just outside your door, with trails for hiking or riding; hunting, fishing or boating; picnic areas and nature observatories, etc.… If you really hate the heat, there are several scenic by-ways in the parish where you can enjoy an air-conditioned drive from the comfort of your own car while you explore the area.

Besides the usual on-post MWR activities for your children, our communities have youth soccer, baseball, softball, basketball, football and track organizations, as well as classes for dance, tumbling and martial arts.

There are lots of events throughout the year – and admission is free or minimal for most of them! We’ll have more on them later, but we do hope you’ll join us – we’d love to meet you!

What sort of events would you be interested in attending? Let us know in the comments below…