Introduction by Joe Taylor
In the early 1970’s the Citizen editor Gordon Nelson persuaded Judge Paul Stephens to write several articles about early Coushatta and his memories of growing up there. This is one of the Judge’s stories.
Paul Stephens was born in 1900 and lived in Coushatta his entire life. He was a local historian of renown, a writer of poetry, and he served as the district judge for Red River and Natchitoches parishes for 24 years. His father was Laurie Paul Stephens the founder of L. P. Stephens & Co. For many years it was the largest store in the Parish. (Ed note: Today the store is vacant and owned by the Town of Coushatta. It is the largest building on Front Street.)
These articles he wrote almost 50 years ago are invaluable to those wanting to learn about early Coushatta history. I find them interesting and John Brewer will be publishing several of them in his Red River Parish Journal. In this story Judge Stephens writes about the little village located on the Red River.
So, why is the town not still on the river where it started in 1870? Because there was a great fire in 1918 that virtually burned down the entire town. Paul Stephens was a witness to it and in his article next month describes the cataclysmic event.
Here is Judge Stephens’ story.
If you could go back to the year 1910 in Coushatta, you would find a quiet town, with older people going about their daily task of making a living and the children going to school. Quiet too, because with a south bound and north bound passenger train each day as the only means of coming or going to or from the town, the population remained constant, with little or no excitement.
The steamboat had vanished from the river, driven out by the railroad, except for an occasional visit from the old snag boat, C. W. Howell, and this visit, rare as it was, always engendered some excitement, especially among the young people.
The days were very much like the days we have today, weatherwise, but otherwise you would see a great difference. There was no gas or gasoline, no electricity, no automobiles or radios or paved or graveled roads or side walks. The houses had coal oil lamps for lighting and only wood as a fuel for heating and cooking.
There were no supermarkets or markets, except Sam Law had a meat market and on certain days he would bring his wares to his customers on a large square board, covered with oilcloth, held up on one hand high above his head. His market burned in the great fire of 1918 along with many other homes and businesses on the riverfront.
There were no brick schoolhouses, no school buses, no school lunches, no Welfare or income taxes. Can you imagine such a community without all of these? With all of this, my recollection was that the people were independent and very happy. They took care of their own infirm and the Lord blessed them for it.
Editor’s note: The photo of the C. W. Howell was taken by photographer Ernie Deane in 1907 on Spirit Lake, Arkansas. It came from the Arkansas History Commission website.