The Great 1918 Coushatta Fire

RRPJ-1918 Fire-17Oct27

Introduction by Joe Taylor: This is another article written by Judge Paul Stephens. This one describes the great 1918 fire that virtually destroyed most of the town.

In 1871 the legislation forming the Parish of Red River was passed. The newly formed police jury selected the steamboat stop called Coushatta Chute as the county seat. The name was derived from the bayou that emptied into the river at that spot. The Bayou at that time was much larger and more substantial than it is now. Apparently it narrowed before going into the river, creating a swift current. Thus the descriptive word “chute “ to describe it. This spot was selected because without roads or transportation. Steamboats were the only outlet to the outside world.

There were several businesses already there and with the increased traffic the courthouse would bring, the village grew rapidly and dropped the chute from its incorporated name.

As we all know the town is no longer on the riverbank. The fire, caving riverbanks and the location of the railroad caused the town businesses to relocate.

Judge Paul Stevens’ story:
When I considered writing about the Great Coushatta Fire, I looked around to those still living here, who remembered it so as to assemble all the facts I could. But fifty-five years is a long time to stretch memory and it is small wonder that all of us were a little hazy on some of the facts. Fortunately I was able to secure from the Shreveport Times their account of the fire published by the paper on the next day, together with their permission to publish it along with this article, which throws a great deal more light on the subject. At any rate it is certain that the fire occurred on Tuesday afternoon, the 25th day of June 1918 and it is equally certain that it was the worst holocaust that ever struck our fair city.

At the time of the fire I was working as Stillman at Red River Refining Company at Crichton, for Oscar Briggs, and when I heard late in the afternoon that the Town had burned, I persuaded the engineer of a freight train that had stopped at the Refinery to pick up cars, to let me ride the ten miles to Coushatta. When I go home there was a pail of smoke everywhere and everybody was so excited and exhausted that I had trouble finding out what had happened. Of course it was a great relief to me to see my mother’s home still standing and to find that the fire had been confined to Old Town.

As the story unfolded, I found that a trash collector, working for the town, whose name was Jonas “Bib” Myers, was burning some trash under the riverbank, just below Lisso’s warehouse. There was a dead china tree standing next to the warehouse, where some leaves had lodged in one of the forks, and some of the burning paper was blown by the strong southern wind into the leaves, which were soon on fire. Several people around Lisso’s store saw the burning leaves in the tree, but had very little water and were unable to extinguish the fire, and soon Lisso’s warehouse was on fire. It was very dry and there was a strong southerly wind and with such a large building as Lisso’s warehouse, located on the extreme southern edge of the town, on fire, the conditions were ideal for a Great Fire and a Great Fire was really had.

Next came Lisso’s store and John Brown’s store. And then it jumped across the street to Mrs. Jane Paxton’s home, then the Fannie Wolfsan Millinery shop, occupied by Mrs. Wynn, the Mrs. Lou Merrells home, then the Coushatta Citizen and the J. P. Clarkson home and the W. P. Carter home all on the east side of Abney Street. Also between Abney Street and Front Street the stores of Redner Merrell and S. T. Armistead were destroyed, as also were the Coushatta Motor Repair Company shop and Sam Laws’ Meat Market. As if this was not enough, the fire then jumped over several low buildings to Carroll Street, where it destroyed the three story Drug store of Dr. Edgerton, the J. J. Stanfill store, a residence that stood across the street from where Walter Mangham now lives, then it crossed Carroll Street and burned the John B. Brown warehouse, the Keete Lockett Residence, the A. J. Moss residence and the residence of J. T. S. Thomas.

Twenty-three major buildings burned in all and perhaps a hundred smaller houses. Frequently three or four huge frame buildings would be burning at the same time. The people worked until they were exhausted. The bucket brigade was no match for this fire. Furniture and goods were hauled out of many buildings only to see much of it destroyed by the onrushing fire. Three large rocking chairs were saved from the gallery of the Paxton house and were given to my mother, who gave one to each of her children, and as I write this article, I am sitting in one of them.

Perhaps the only good that may come from this fire, is that it hastened the day, when most of the businesses from old town were rebuilt over on the railroad and brought the town together again. It is interesting to note that some of the boys that were serving in the army in World War One were home on furlough, at the time of the fire, and were of greet service in our hour of tragic need.

Editors note: This great fire was reported in both the Shreveport Times and Journal the next day, June 26, 1918. They reported some additional details. The Journal reported the loss estimated between $80,000 and $100,000 and twenty-three houses totally destroyed. The Journal reported nearly half the town was burned and that some building owners carried insurance.

The Shreveport Times reported, “While Miss Esther Parker, telephone operator, stayed at her post and called for help until the wall of the building was giving away at her side. Miss Parker escaped unhurt. The conflagration raged from about 3:30 pm until 8:00 pm when it was under control.
“The town had no water supply but residence wells with which to fight the flames. Miss Parker called citizens aid from East Point, Crichton, Hanna, Gahagan, Armistead and Lenzburg.

“Irrie Cole, Banker, fainted from exhauston in fighting the flames. Sam Parker was slightly injured by a falling timber, and Alvin Edgerton was hurt,” reported the Shreveport Times.

Leave a Reply