Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site
Natchitoches was founded by a French Canadian, Louis Antoine Juchereau de St. Denis, in 1714 while he was en route to Mexico from Mobile, Alabama, on a trade mission. When he reached the village of the Natchitoches Indians on the Red River, he had two huts constructed within the village and left a small detachment there to guard the stores and trade with the inhabitants. This became the first permanent European settlement in the territory later known as the Louisiana Purchase.
In 1716, Sieur Charles Claude Dutisné was sent to Natchitoches with a small company of colonial troops to build and garrison an outpost that would prevent the Spanish forces in the province of Texas from advancing across the border of French Louisiane. This strategic outpost was named Fort St. Jean Baptiste des Natchitoches. Economically, Natchitoches evolved into a primary French trade center in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Native American tribes of the three Caddo Confederacies played a vital role in establishing trade and communication links among the French, the Spanish and the Native Americans of the region. The trade that developed with the Caddos forever changed the material culture of the tribes, and by the mid-18th century they were almost completely dependent upon French trade goods. The diplomatic success of the fort was assured when St. Denis was named commandant in 1722. His influence would thrive in the colony until his death in 1744.
The fort continued to serve as a military outpost and commercial trade center until 1762, when France's defeat by England in the French and Indian War forced her to cede the Louisiana colony to Spain. Under Spanish authority, the fort served as a trade center and a link in Spain's intracolonial communications network. But since its original purpose of protecting a territorial boundary no longer applied, the Spanish eventually abandoned the fort. The fort was in such ruins by the time the United States acquired the area in the Louisiana Purchase (1803) that the Americans could no longer use it, so they built Fort Claiborne nearby.
The site obtained for the replication of Fort St. Jean Baptiste is located on Cane River Lake (formerly the Red River) a few hundred yards from the original fort site. The fort replication was based upon Broutin's plans and on extensive archival research in Louisiana, Canada and France. Construction began in 1979 under the direction of the late Samuel Wilson, Jr. and the Louisiana Office of State Parks. Building materials were obtained locally, and many 18th-century techniques were employed in the replication. Nearly 2,000 treated pine logs form the palisade and approximately 250,000 board feet of treated lumber went into the construction of the buildings. All of the hinges and latches were handmade at a nearby foundry. Further historical research is ongoing.
North Toledo Bend State Park (9 miles southwest of Zwolle off LA 3229) - Located on Toledo Bend Reservoir, the park offers fishing, picnicking, boat launch, improved campsites, 10 vacation cabins, group camp facilities, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, pavilion, playgrounds, trails and a conference center.
Fort Jesup State Historic Site (6 miles east of Many off LA 6, formerly the "San Antonio Trace") - The site of a fort established in 1822 by Zachary Taylor to secure the western border of the U.S. frontier. It features the original field kitchen, a replica of officers' quarters which serves as a museum and visitors center, and interpretive programs.
Mansfield State Historic Site (4 miles south of Mansfield on LA 175) - The site of the last major Confederate victoryof the Civil War. Visitors may take daily tours, see interpretive programs, spend time in the museum with its comprehensive collectionof CivilWar artifacts,and walk the trailthrough the battlefield area.
Rebel State Historic Site (3 miles northwest of Marthaville on State Hwy. 1221, and 25 miles west of Natchitoches and I-49) - Features the gravesite of an unknown Confederate soldier and is home of the Louisiana Country Music Museum. An amphitheater offers concerts featuring gospel, country and folk music.
Los Adaes State Historic Site (1 mile northeast of Robeline on LA Hwy. 485) - The 14-acre site located on the "El Camino Real" near Natchitoches features the remains of a Spanish fort built in the 1700s to protect Texas from the French. It is a major archaeological site and offers interpretive programs.
Hodges Gardens State Park (6 miles south of Florien on Hwy. 171) - Cabins and tent campsites offer overnight accommodations, while both overnight and day-use visitors will enjoy the nature trails and extensive picnic area. Water from the 225-acre lake is pumped through an extensive system of pools and waterfalls, adding to the beauty of the formal gardens.
Historic Town of Natchitoches (Off I-49 on Cane River Lake) - The oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, it has a 33-block Historic Landmark District featuring Creole architecture, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, shops and historic homes.
Cane River Country (South of Natchitoches along LA 1) - Features some of the South's oldest plantation homes situated along the 32-mile oxbow-shaped Cane River Lake. The countryside is dotted with pecan orchards, cotton farms, historic landmarks, plantations, and churches.