This is the second installment of recollections of Coushatta in the early 1900’s. Try to imagine a place with very little telephone service, dirt streets, and folks who went home and went to bed when the sun went down. It was a world with no radio or TV, no cell service, texting, internet, personal cameras, fast cars and all that.
Paul Stephens was born in 1900 and in his later years was commissioned by the publisher of the Coushatta Citizen, Gordon Nelson, to write a series of articles about life in old town Coushatta. In part one, published in The Journal on Wednesday, Stephens recalled the arrival of the railroad in 1898, the dedication of the post office in 1917, and old horse-drawn hearses and wooden caskets. In this edition, Stephens picks up the story with a description of the area at that time in history.
Generally the town and country side around it was settled by people of quality. There were no automobiles here until 1912. John Marston had the first and Dr. W. L. Davis and Dr. Wilkinson followed. The roads were wagon roads with deep ruts and plenty of dust in the summer and full of mud holes in winter. Jimmy Florane had the first radio about that year.
While the people were of high quality, I can’t say the same about the buildings or the roads of my town as I grew up. My mind carries me back to the dust that settled everywhere about the time of the cotton ginning season. Perhaps the whistle on Gidden’s gin reminded me that school would soon start.
I remember November 11th, 1918. I was working at a refinery in Crichton, since school was out on account of an epidemic of influenza. The old LR&N that I caught every morning to go to work had several miles of river to traverse down at Angola, …(undecipherable)…I would walk by the depot here to ask the agent if the train would be on time that morning…fog often delayed it. I don’t remember what he told me about the train, but I do remember he told me the Armistice had been signed and World War I was over. I went to the gin and found Mr. Baromb Curry firing up the boilers and as soon as he got up enough steam, he started his whistle blowing and soon the whole town was celebrating early that Armistice Day morning.
I remember the foot bridge that crossed Bayou Nichols. I especially remember my first schooling in the frame buildings that were located where the present elementary school is. (Note: that site is no longer a school and located just east of the 4-way stop at the foot of the bridge.) Everybody got to school the best that he could in those days and bought their own books and equipment. I remember the Fletcher children coming to school in a motor boat as their home was six or more miles up the river, and there were others who came by surrey. Everybody brought their lunch.
Coushatta has been a town of many fires. The wooden buildings built adjoining each other burned all together on occasions too numerous to mention. The bucket brigade didn’t have a chance. But the granddaddy of them all (fires) occurred one afternoon in 1918. A man was burning trans along the riverbank just south of a warehouse. Suddenly a gust of wind blew some of the burning material into some dead leaves in a China tree adjoining a warehouse. Before they could put it out the strong south wind had blown it onto the warehouse and the Big Fire had begun. It is impossible to recall all of the major buildings that burned that day, but at the time I recall 23. (Note: the Great Coushatta Fire of 1918 was covered in detail in The Journal’s October 27th issue.)
After the great fie of 1918, most of those businesses that had been destroyed decided to rebuild over near the railroad, as that was the new source of supplies. The last to come over was L.P. Stephens & Company and the Bank of Coushatta. They moved into their new buildings in January of 1923.
This concludes the series of stories on the early days of Coushatta as recalled by the late Judge Paul Stephens. The Journal wishes to thank Joe Taylor and his vast trove of area history and the Red River Parish Library for furnishing materials that went into these reports.