sort of Arcadian simplicity and equality at Ouachitta is a transmitted remain
of the olden days of the country, that is, forty or fifty years since. I was exceedingly amused with the freshness
of the picture of the manners prevailing at that period, as drawn by Judge Bry. Even so late as when he came there, the
manners were a curious compound of the hunter’s, soldier’s and woodman’s life, sprinkled
with French gallantry and Spanish romance.
No steamboats, no silks, few luxuries, and few books, brought factitious
wants and motley fashions. Venison, bear’s
meat, and fish were the luxuries, the skins of animals clothing and shoes,
water the drink, and the manners dictated by nature only modified by
circumstances. Dancing, the natural
amusement of men of the woods, was their passion. Whenever a sufficient number of men and women
were congregated, a ball was a matter of course. The green sward in summer, and the beaten
clay of their floors in winter, constituted their ball room. The ladies footed it in moccasins, and the
men in buckskins. The fat deer or bear
of the fortunate hunt of any member of the little community was not devoured in
unsocial segregation, but was part and parcel of the whole society. The men alone could hunt ; but fishing
parties were exceedingly popular, for the ladies could join in them. On the shores of the clear and prolific
Ouachitta these parties assembled, and closed
the party by a dance ; and the eyes of those survivors, who remember the pleasure of these festivals, kindle as they relate, in a country so full of game and fish, and where stock was so easily raised, how little could then make them happy, with a gladness of heart which they scarcely experience in the costlier enjoyments of money and steamboats.
The courting was as lusty and Arcadian, as the other modes of life, sincere, authentic, strong, yet full of French observance and politeness. The parties, smitten at the dance or fishing party, meditate relief for the craving of their hearts by coming to an understanding. Hear the admirable laconicism of their declaration – Faisons le chaudron ensemble – Let us boil the pot together. It seems to me the sublime of love-making! A cabin was reared for them by the joint labours of the community, and a French Lancasterian school soon chattered the vernacular to each other. This was the golden age, and there perhaps the purest samples of the Spanish colonial era of Louisiana.
running over the voluminous documentary papers of your grant, nothing has
amused me more, than these evidences of the extreme simplicity of the colonial
manners of that time, as evidenced in the correspondence between the Marquess
Maison Rouge and the Baron Carondelet.
What absurd ideas fill the heads of the young American readers, as they
stumble on these high-sounding titles.
The marquess, in the midst of his colony at Ouachitta, writes to the
governor, Baron Carondelet, at New Orleans, in regard to the price of thirty
pounds of gunpowder, a couple of barrels of flour, or a few pounds
of pork and tobacco! and the baron allows him, in certain cases, to add two or three hundred per cent to their price. Squeezing was visibly the whole political economy of their finance. Ouachitta was then considered a metropolitan colony, compared with that of Red River. A man, they wanted to get rid of, claims lands at Ouachitta; “Let him get his complement,” say they, “at Red River.” It was like sending Ovid to the Euxine. Nothing could exceed the abhorrence and dread, in which they held emigrants from among our people. They wrote much about the dreaded irruptions of the Indians, but still more the immigration of Americans. they seem to have been considered a sort of lawless ogres, of gigantic powers for annoyance and mischief. How far they merited this odious estimate it is beside my present purpose to enquire. But these documents abound with evidences of their terror at the contiguity of the Americans, and cautions and prohibitions on no terms to admit them to settle on the concessions.
Of the rough and laconic of epistolary style, Maison Rouge gives one example. Speaking of Mr. Morrison, he (Maison Rouge) relates, that he had written to Morrison, making some proposition. “The reply,” writes the marquess in astonishment, “and all the reply is, ‘Fiddle-faddle!’”
was metamorphose more complete, since the country has become American. Cotton plantations are supplanting all other
projects. Steamboats plough up and down
the forests. The numerous water courses
connected with the Ouachitta ; as the Bayou Barthelemi, Bayou Macon, Rivire-au-Boeuf, Tensas,
Little River, and the lakes of Sicily Island ; long, deep and winding water-courses in these alluvial swamps, which seem to have been dug out by the hand of nature, as navigable canals, are all beginning to experience the changes of cotton plantations forming on their banks. Probably thirty thousand bales of cotton are already made upon these shores, and the amount will soon be quadrupled. A rail road from Natchez to Ouachitta is already in contemplation. All these swamps will ultimately be explored and drained, and these long streams will roll through immense extents of rich plantations. Your lands alone will yield thirty thousand bales of cotton, and will show as handsome a coast, with as fine houses, fruit orchards, and meadows skirting the Ouachitta, as will be any where seen in Louisiana.
land, marle, crystalised gypsum, and coal are found. Iron ore abounds in the pine hills. Slate, oil-stones, limestone, and other
valuable fossils abound on the more hill shores of the upper waters of the
river. It is affirmed, that tin ore is
found in the mountains near the Warm-springs.
The most splendid specimens of rock-crystal that I have ever seen,
magnetic iron ore, and ores glistening with little cubes of sulphuret of iron,
together with various specimens of unassayed ores, are shown in abundance from
the same vicinity. – The soil is favourable to gardens and fruits, and more
easily covers itself with a clean and verdant sward, than the lands of Red
River, deemed by the dwellers on its shores more abundant in its yield of
cotton. The lands on the Ouachitta, by
its inhabitants, are considered to be more certain in producing a crop, and
unquestionably more healthy ; and thus they find the balance of comparative advantage stricken. They affect even to doubt if the Red River planters make more cotton to the acre.
With a word in regard to the general character of Ouachitta, and a passage from its history of tragical occurrences, I will cut short a letter which is prolonging if not becoming tedious under my hand.
river has its origin in a range of hills, called the Masserne Mountains ; in 34° or 35°N.,
North fork, Ouachetta fork, and South fork unite, and form the main river in
the Territory of Arkansas. these are all
considerable streams, that run long courses in the mountain. Thence it receives the Cado, Little Missouri,
Saline, Hot-spring fork and the Bayou Barthlemi. The Chaudron is another of its tributaries. The steamboat, in which I descended the
river, ascended the Macon and the Boeuf, and penetrated the lake to Sicily
Island. Catahoola and Tensas are large
tributaries, below which the stream loses its name in that of Black River,
which, after a considerable course, mingles with Red River thirty miles from
its mouth. It has a course between Red
River and the Arkansas of about a thousand miles by its meanders. Below the Barthlemi it has an immense
lake of drowned lands, valuable for the vast forest of prodigiously large
cypress trees which they furnish. About
three hundred miles above Monroe, by the meanders, are the Hot-springs, in a
sterile and mountainous country, furnishing the most fashionable and frequented
watering place for invalids in the south-western country. I should judge the river to be three hundred
and fifty yards in
average width, and it is a stream admirable for its easy and safe steamboat navigation about seven months in the year. In the remaining months it becomes so shallow, that none but small steamboats can ascend it. At present steamboats make regular trips to the Ecor Fabre, about five hundred and fifty miles from its mouth ; but in ordinary floods these vessels could ascend much higher, were there freight or employment to justify the attempt.
early period of its settlement, and in more recent times, this frontier
country, the natural resort of fortune hunters, desperate adventurers and wild
men, can show its full share of tragic rencontres and murders. The devourers of bloody stories might procure
a new repast from the chronicles of its criminal records, lawless though to a
great extent the country must formerly have been. For example, we hear of a woman cutting up
her husband into small pieces, to dispose of his body so as to escape
detection, and other little horrors of a similar character. To speak of some recent tragic occurrences
would be to uncover coals too recently buried in their ashes. But nothing forbids recurring to the execution
of one criminal, whose detection, from the peculiarity of the circumstances
that led to it, at least parallels that of Dirk Hatteraick. A man with a considerable sum of money was
known to have crossed the Ouachitta. He
mysteriously disappeared. Suspicions
were excited. His horse’s footsteps were
traced to the bank of the river. they
were discovered on the opposite shore.
Search was made for the horse, and at no great distance in the woods the
animal was found saddled and feeding. Search
was then made for the body of the rider below the point
of crossing. It was soon discovered. the people of the vicinity, as usual, collected to the inquest. Said a knowing one, “let each one of us in succession walk over the body, and when the murderer passes, he will stumble.” the trial was immediately adopted, and the people, with a good deal of solemnity, walked, one after one, over the body. one person was observed, in making the transit, to walk uncommonly erect and firm, and when going over the body, to raise his feet higher than the rest. “There,” said the wizard inquisitor, “is the murderer.” He went further. “Let his feet be examined,” he added. He wore moccasins, and one of them was tied at the heel with a knot. At the point, where the deceased had come to the river, it was a damp, soft clay. The foot print of a man was discovered there, who had worn a moccasin, that had impressed in the clay the visible indent of this knot. the suspected person was called upon the compare his foot print with those before him. Astounded, stupefied by such unlooked for evidence, he complied, and his foot exactly filled the impress, convincing every one that he was the identical person who had followed the person whose body was before them, to the point of the river where he had disappeared, and below which his body was found. The man was arrested, tried, and , having confessed the murder, was executed. – Respectfully yours,
 James Morrison was an American from what is now West Virginia. He settled in the area that would become Sterlington and founded an American colony there in the 1790’s. He was the grandfather of “the girl in the iron coffin”, Mary Catherine St. Clair Morrison Wade.
 Massard mountains in Arkansas.
 This may refer to the murder of a Mr. Scamp by Russell Brooks, the first man legally hung in Ouachita Parish. The murder happened in 1822.