Stephen F. Austin State University

PEASON RIDGE TOUR OF 2017 (April 2017)



Peason Ridge is a land filled with history and a land filled with the heritage of the brave men and women who settled these lands beginning is 1818 and who lived on their beloved farms until 1941 when the U.S. government used imminent domain to force all these 29 homestead families and 35 sharecropper families off their beloved lands. Located on Peason Ridge are Native American sites, historical locations of home sites, other sites where historical events took place, turpentine and logging camps, cemeteries, creeks, roads used by the stagecoaches and even the Confederate Army, and the last vestige of our heritage, the wild horses of Peason Ridge. A wonderful place to tour and to visit. Each year the JRTC and Fort Polk partner with the Cultural Resources Section at Fort Polk to allow Heritage Families and visitors to attend a free tour of this historic area. And every year we have a large group who attends the tour.

On Saturday April 1, 2017 nearly 50 people gathered at Pine Grove Baptist Church to go on this tour. Our ancestors who settled and lived on Peason Ridge so many years ago had to overcome many obstacles as they lived and worked this land. Well, remember it was April Fool's Day and everyone who had gathered to attend the tour found out we had a problem. The Army had not sent the tour bus to Peason for us! Our ancestors adapted, overcame, and improvised so why couldn't we also. Tour guide Rickey Robertson advised the group that we were going to continue the tour and if they would follow in their vehicles we would still visit this historic area. 45 people loaded up in their personal vehicles and followed Rickey and the tour began. At the Peason Forward Landing Zone the people were able to see the airstrip where large Air Force cargo aircraft such as C-130's and C-17's land to bring in supplies and ammunition to the army units going through a rotational training cycle. And they got to see the parachute drop zone around the airstrip where parachute units land when they jump into Peason Ridge.

As the group continued its journey at the site known as the Prairie since it looks like the open prairie lands of the American Midwest, the group got to see several big turkey gobblers in full strut and some hens, and just a little father up the road, a sight I had not seen in many years. Coming across the road was a full covey or bobwhite quail. Wow, what beautiful wildlife in such a beautiful location! Upon arrival at the Merritt Cemetery the group were able to see this well-kept cemetery where Edmond Merritt and Robert Conner are buried along with their wives. These 2 Peason Ridge settlers were both decorated Confederate soldiers who came back home and raised a family and helped their neighbors. Also pointed out were the old home sites of Rollie West and Reverend Young Prewitt, whom Prewitt Chapel Baptist Church is named after. We passed by the site of the large turpentine still site and it had special meaning to several of the Heritage Family members on the tour since their grandfather and grandmother lived in a "skid shack" while working at this site. And as we crossed Dowden Creek and went on a ways, we came to the location where Cold Springs School was once located in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Special meaning to me since my grandfather had attended this school. From this school evolved present day Cold Springs Baptist Church. Upon arrival at the large live fire village known as the SACON Village, M/Sgt. Fields explained all the various types of training conducted at that location. The group could see the bullet holes and devastation to these buildings. And as soon as we were able to leave, a group of infantrymen were to begin a walk-through of the village prior to an attack. After viewing the Dowden/ Owers/Sanders dipping vat we toured the West Trench area used by the army to teach units on how to assault fortified positions. While at this location to tour group were able to see 2 beautiful wild stallions fighting for territory rights. A sight most people have never witnessed and this group got to see first hand. Throughout the tour the group witnessed many of the beautiful horses on the range and many pictures of these wonderful animals were taken. Even the soldiers love the horses ! One thing several of the folks told me that was so interesting to them was the many varied types of terrain located here and that there were 3 major watersheds that were filled by the water sources located on Peason Ridge. These three watersheds are the Sabine River, Calcasieu, and Red Rivers. And they were also able to be shown where each parish was located and of the many sites of historical interest located in each. Natchitoches, Sabine, and Vernon Parishes provide the lands for this large training area that has now been expanded from 33,000 acres to over 75,000 acres with the army obtaining over 42,000 more acres of land in the last year or so.

We traveled several more miles and came to the Spears Village. It is in the Digital Target Range and the people were able to see the area where the original settlers set aside 16 sections of land where all the livestock could graze. This is a beautiful area with a new assault village being built there. One the way to this site we passed the old Army Pond and one of the ladies on the tour, Shielda Wilson had a special story about this pond. As a young girl she had been baptized along with several more folks in this pond by Rev. M.C. Green, when he was pastor of the Peason UPC Church. So many stories and remembrances by every person who attended about an experience of their families or of an incident they were involved in. A way of life remembered and never forgotten!

Our last stop on the tour was at the Peason Memorial Park located on Hwy. 118. This park has 2 historical markers and photo kiosks for the public to visit. One historical marker is in memory and honor of the sawmill town of Peason and the other marker is in memory and honor of the heritage Families of Peason Ridge. The ancestors of the Heritage Families were pleased to stand and have their pictures made at the historical marker honoring their families and the way of life that was lost by these families. A very enjoyable day for all those who came out for this tour. And let us always remember the sacrifice made by the Peason Ridge and Camp Polk Heritage Families as they gave up their homes, farms, culture, and way of life so that our freedoms could be preserved.

The Old Army Pond located on Peason Ridge. This is the pond that Shielda Wilson, who attended the tour, was baptized in many years ago. (Robertson Collection)

The Peason Ridge tour group visiting Peason Memorial Park where they viewed the 2 historical markers and photo kiosks. (Robertson Collection)

Peason Ridge Forward Landing Zone control tower. The tower is located near the airstrip and parachute drop zone. (Robertson Collection)

The Merritt Cemetery is located on Peason Ridge Military Reservation and the tour group visited this historic cemetery (Robertson Collecton)

Rickey Robertson, tour guide for the Peason Ridge Tour, explains the area around Eagle Hill and the Forward Landing Zone to the group. (Robertson/Langlois Collection)

The Peason Ridge Tour group arrives at the Merritt Cemetery location on Peason Ridge Military Reservation. (Robertson Collection)

M/Sgt. Fields giving the tour group information on the types of training conducted at the SACON Village. (Robertson/Langlois Collection)

Mosque located in the SACON Village used for training purposes on Peason Ridge Military Reervation. (Robertson/Langlois Collection)

Tour group being briefed by M/Sgt. Fields at the West Trench Assault Course. The group is watching 2 wild stallions fight over their territory. (Robertson/Langlois Collecton)

Historical marker at Peason Memorial Park dedicated to the Peason Ridge Heritage Families. (Robertson Collection