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/ Chatham History

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by Howard G. Chatham
Third Place, Graduate,
Overdyke Award, 1982
As Published in Journal
of N. La. Historical Association

Although most of early transportation in North Louisiana was by water there were some well used trails at an early date. “The Old Natchitoches Road” was one that ran from Lake Providence to Natchitoches. The geographer William Darby published what many believe to be the first known trails on it. He described the trail, later known as the “Old Natchitoches Road,” when he spoke of an Indian trail at Grand Encore, located north of Natchitoches, on the new bed of the Red River as being: ...joined by another which was known as the Ouachita trail, and which led directly to the Licks, and thence through the hills, directly northeast to a Choctaw Village on the banks of Bayou Cheniere au Tondre, and thence to cross the Ouachita at the site of Monroe and to continue on up the Ouachita and into southeast Arkansas and to the Mississippi.

This trail was used extensively by the Indians to transport salt from Louisiana salt works to the many Indian villages along the route. It was also a part of Sieur de Bienville’s route to Natchitoches by way of Chatham in 1700 on his trip from Lake Providence to Natchitoches.

Following Bienville’s exploration, white men began to drift into Ouachita River Valley country or what was to become known as the “Ouachita District,” which would comprise most of northeastern Louisiana. Ouachita Parish, created, March 31, 1807, named for the Ouachita Indians, was one of the original twelve counties in 1805 and comprised basically the same area in northeastern Louisiana as did the “Ouachita District.” Most of the early arrivals to this area were hunters and trappers, or traders engaging in bartering with the Indians. Nobody was interested in settlement and the pursuit of agriculture, though there is a record that a Frenchman, Jean Bon, engaged in Indian trade and also acquired a large tract of land at Point Pleasant on Bayou Bartholemew. Others came but there was no serious attempt to colonize until the coming of Don Juan Filhiol in 1785. Filhiol was a Frenchman commissioned by Don Estevan Miro, Spanish military governor of Louisiana Province from 1785-1791. Don Juan Filhiol established the settlement known as the “Post of Ouachita,” which later became the city of Monroe.

There was no agricultural settlement in the area until a John Stow arrived in 1802 with a land grant obtained from the government of Spain. The grant lay eight miles east of Vienna in present day Lincoln Parish. Legend related that Stow and his wife Dorcas lived under three flags before his first crop was harvested. This occurred when Louisiana was ceded from Spain to France and then sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. He had first settled along the Ouachita River but was “flooded out” and decided to move to higher ground in the “piney hills” in the early nineteenth century. When Stow settled on his “piney hills” grant the land was literally uncharted. After the land was surveyed in 1813 and 1821 it was charted as Township 19, North, Range 2 West.

When Jackson Parish was formed in 1845 from parts of Union, Ouachita, and Claiborne Parishes, John Stow’s land was split by the newly created boundary between Union and Jackson parishes. A land of conveyance of 1853 shows John Stow to be a “resident of Jackson Parish.” John Stow lived the remainder of his life in the same place being a resident, successively of Ouachita Territory, Ouachita Parish, Union Parish, and Jackson Parish without ever having moved. He died July 28, 1861 at the age of 81 years.

Today the name Stow is often found with the “e” added but early records show Stow as the correct spelling. Stowe Creek, which flows through John Stow’s earlier plantation is spelled with a final “e”.

There was little development in North Louisiana until 1812 when migration began to slowly move toward the area. The settlements of Natchitoches and Monroe belong to the early French and middle Spanish periods but their importance was limited to use as military posts and centers for Indian trade until immigrants from the southeast began to move in and establish cotton as an agricultural base. One group in particular came in considerable number. The Scotch-Irish, most of whom had come to America in the years immediately preceding the American Revolution, were forced to settle along the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. Earlier settlers had taken most of the land along the eastern coast. The Scotch-Irish were hard-working and thrifty people and as land opened up in the “new west,” many found Louisiana, with its rolling piney hills an acceptable climate, a most desirable place to live and build a new life from themselves.

Location sites were often selected by advance scouts. Then large groups who were often related or who were good friends in the old community would travel together to their new found home sites. Many of the early communities in the area of the present town of Chatham were formed in this manner. Also, a very high percentage of the early arrivals to the area were from Georgia. One such group that was of great importance to the early settlement and subsequent founding of Chatham was known as “The Second Wagon Train.” No information is available on a first wagon train, but considerable evidence exists on the second. On November 10, 1857, families composed of the Hearnes, Shells, Jordans, and Carrolls combined and loaded into ox wagons before setting forth on a forty-five day journey that would take them to Jackson Parish, Louisiana in time for Christmas Eve, 1852. The Hearnes had been here two years earlier staying long enough to plant a cotton crop near what is now Brooklyn Church, located about eight miles east of Chatham. The worms ate the cotton and a sickness claimed the life of one woman, Mrs. John Wesley Carroll. The Hearnes returned to Georgia but in 1857 they finished a crop there and longed once more to return to Jackson Parish. Gathering some friends, the Hearnes decided to try again to settle the pine country of North Louisiana. This time the group had grown to approximately 40 people, including three slaves. A better time of the year could have been selected for the difficult trip since the streams were often swollen by the winter rains, making crossing treacherous. In some cases the wagon train waited for hours while the wagons were floated across. Joshua Shell kept a diary that records most of the events along the way, including a log that recorded the miles traveled each day.

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Design and Photography by Andy Bloxham
Provided by USDA and La Tech Rural Development Center