Stephen F. Austin State University

The Settlers and Homesteaders of Peason Ridge (September 2011)

The Settlers and Homesteaders of Peason Ridge
By Rickey Robertson

Located in Sabine, Natchitoches, and Vernon Parishes is a large 33,000 acre area known as Peason Ridge. This land has great historical value and has many stories of the people who settled and homesteaded there. Beginning in 1818 my ancestors and other hardy folks began settling this area. When the first settlers arrived there were deer, bear, buffalo, and other food sources available, along with many wonderful springs for water. And when these settlers began farming and raising livestock, there were Indians from the Caddo, Adais, Hasinail, Ais, Natchitoches, and Petticaddo tribes living throughout the area. Eagle Hill, located here, is known as one of the largest Indian sites in western Louisiana.

Throughout the years these settlers carved out farms, yet they had to fight for them. These folks fought the outlaws of the Sabine Free State Area, and during the Civil War, they fought off robbers comprised of carpetbaggers, jayhawkers, and renegade Yankees. Many of our old stories tell of our ancestors fighting back to keep their farms, burying their dead, and continuing with their way of life. And yes, they killed off these intruders. Makes you wonder how many unmarked graves are in these sand hills!

These settlers comprised 29 families and over 35 known sharecropper families. They were self- supporting, with large areas of crops, and vast herds of cattle and livestock. There were 16 sections of land set aside just for grazing purposes. If a "squatter" tried to settle in this area, the men would ride over and advise them there was no settling there, and if they did not take a hint, they looked at the barrel of a Winchester.

In 1941 the US Army held the largest field maneuvers in its history, with Peason Ridge right in its midst. Peason Ridge was fought over by both the Blue and Red Armies due to its military value. Once completed, the Army knew they had found a great area for training. By using imminent domain, all the farms and homesteads were taken from these settlers and Peason Ridge Military Reservation, part of Ft. Polk, was formed. It was a sad day as these folks had to leave behind their way of life, heritage, and culture. My great grandfather and great uncles never got over losing their old places. It took Foster Dowden and all the cowboys he could hire to move his vast herds of livestock 7 miles in 3 days. A way of life was lost.

Beginning in 2007 the Army decided to honor these "Heritage Families" who had gave up so much for their country. Each year at Ft. Polk there is an annual "Heritage Day" where these remaining family members come together, share stories, put on displays, and teach the youngsters our old way of life, from making corn-shuck dolls to making wood shingles. I invite all to contact Tami Narigon at Ft. Polk at 337-531-0916 and learn more of the event. Heritage Day is scheduled for October 22 and 23, 2011. The army provides tour buses and if you would like to take the Peason Ridge tour, let Tami know. I am the tour guide and will show everyone many of the old home-sites, dipping vats, buffalo and cattle grazing lands, cemeteries, and other historical sites. The tour is free and I hope to see ya'll on the bus with me !!