De Soto Parish, often referred to as the "diamond in the forest," is located in northwestern Louisiana. The first inhabitants were the Caddo Indians. Similar to Sabine Parish, De Soto became a neutral area between Spain and the U.S. in the early 1800s as both claimed ownership but wanted to avoid conflict. In 1833, the U.S. purchased the area from the Caddo Indians, paying them $80,000 over a period of four years. Finally, in 1843, De Soto parish was carved out of Natchitoches Parish and Caddo Parish. There is some dispute over the naming of the Parish. It is widely believed that the parish was named after the Spanish conquistador, Hernando De Soto. However, the belief is also held that the parish was named after Marcel DeSoto, who first brought settlers to the area.
It was decided by the legislature in 1843 that a new town would be created to fill the role of parish seat for De Soto. The Police Jury bought a share of land for $200.48 from local landowners and named it Mansfield. This name was selected to honor an English Lord, Chief Justice Mansfield. The original log courthouse, built in 1843, is the only one surviving in the state. The parish seat of Mansfield is well known for the Mansfield-Pleasant Hill Battle. The Battle of Mansfield, fought in 1864, was the last major confederate victory. In this historic battle, Texans and Louisianans fought together to keep Shreveport, LA from capture.
The majority of the 856 sq. miles in De Soto parish is oak uplands. This parish is a hilly, productive area with numerous lakes and bayous in the west. Historically, the economy has primarily been agricultural. The parish land is equally divided into farm/dairy land and timber land. With the introduction of the railroad cotton fields and sawmills sprang up in De Soto parish. Cotton, dairy and beef industry thrived during the 19th century. By the 20th century, an oil boom came to De Soto parish. More recently, the industrial sector is developing at a rapid rate. Ten years ago, a half billion dollar paper mill was built and is now the largest employer in the parish.
De Soto Parish has numerous listings on the National Register of Historic Places, including several historic houses and churches dating back to the 19th century. There is a State Historic site and museum located in Mansfield, LA commemorating the battle. Also interesting to visit is the Mansfield Female College which opened in 1855 and is still standing.