By Jim Bradshaw
In the years after the Civil War, when a steady stream of families headed west in search of a place to farm, the editor of the Washington News in what was still a thriving little St. Landry Parish steamboat port, just couldn't understand why anyone would pass by the beautiful prairies of south Louisiana and go on to Texas.
But, in those Reconstruction Days, there were also some people who were not particularly welcome here either.
"This beautiful, healthful, and very productive portion of our State extends in a straight line, North and South, from Alexandria on the Red River to New Iberia, a very considerable and enterprising town situated at the head of navigation of the Teche River," he wrote.
"From the termini of the imaginary line to the Sabine River is the intersection of the counties to which we refer. High rolling prairies, interspersed with long lines of woodland, through the center of which small streams flow, constitute the largest acreage of this vast district. Along the western borders [are] pine forests ... in which many active and enterprising men have erected mills for the purpose of supplying the Gulf States with lumber."
He continued, "These prairie lands are easily cultivated and although naturally not as rich as the low lands, can, in a few years by the use of... manures ... be made to yield quite as much to the acre.
"It is something wondrous strange that intelligent farmers should pass through ....and seek homes in Texas, where none of the advantages are offered such as are found here," he said.
"Our climate is more congenial, our seasons more regular, our laws better administered, schools and churches more numerous, and facilities to reach market infinitely superior.
"There are favored spots and towns in Texas that have the benefit of railroads, but as a rule no country in the world offers more natural advantages than Louisiana, and Southwestern Louisiana in particular, for carrying ... produce to market.
"We have the Red River on the northern boundary, the Atchafalaya and Teche, the Courtableau and tributaries, the Vermilion, Mermentau, Calcasieu and Sabine rivers ... all of which are navigable for some sort of draft at all seasons of the year."
The editor saw "a new era of prosperity ... about to dawn upon us" and suggested that folks wanting farms take a hard look at "the healthiest, prettiest, and, for farming, richest section on the globe."
The prairies were swept by Gulf breezes "throughout the heated months" and that meant that "yellow fever, cholera, and typhoid fevers are unknown" and "consumption is a curiosity."
This was a place, he said, where a man could "turn loose his flocks and they can graze on thousands of acres of virgin ... prairies," and where he need but turn the earth and crops would spring up.
Good land was going for between $1 and $5 an acre, and now was the time to buy, the editor advised. Those prices surely wouldn't hold once the world heard more about the delights of the south Louisiana prairies.
"Our people will receive you kindly and hospitably," he said.
Unless, of course, the prospective farmers were Carpetbaggers from the North. Those, the editor suggested, were the people that needed to keep on going to Texas.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw by e-mail at email@example.com or by regular mail at P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.