Stephen F. Austin State University

Natchitoches Parish

Natchitoches parish, located in northwest Louisiana, not only has a colorful history but abounds with natural beauty and scenery. Natchitoches, pronounced "nackatish," is also the name of the parish seat.

The word Natchitoches is an Indian word meaning 'place of the Paw-paw or Chinquapin' (referring to the local flora). Natchitoches is the oldest permanent settlement of Europeans and Africans in the Louisiana Purchase Territory. It was established as a French trading post on the Red River in 1713.

On April 10, 1805, Louisiana's first governor, William Claiborne, signed an act that divided the Louisiana Purchase Territory into 12 parishes. Natchitoches parish, still one of the largest parishes in the state, was then composed of what is now eight other Louisiana parishes (including Red River, Caddo, De Soto, Sabine and Bossier Parishes) as well as parts of five others.

By 1890, Natchitoches Parish was ranked 3rd in population (due to the arrival of new American immigrants) and 5th in cotton production. Though cotton was the dominant crop for Natchitoches Parish, others included sweet potatoes, sugar cane, potatoes, and corn. While agriculture is still important in Natchitoches, today, out of the approximately 1,300 square miles of land in Natchitoches Parish, half of the landscape is beautiful long leaf pine hills while the rest is composed of oak uplands and Red River bottom lands. There are several nationally protected areas in this parish including the Kisatchie National Forest, the Red River National Wildlife Refuge and the Saline Bayou.

This parish played major roles in both Louisiana and Texas history. Many famous and important travel routes passed through Natchitoches including overland highways such as the Natchez Trace and El Camino Real as well as boats passing along the Red River on their way to New Orleans. Natchitoches provided an important post for trade as well as a gateway for explorers and setters going on to Texas.

Natchitoches Parish has succeeded in preserving much of their history. The Cane River Creole National Historical Park provides examples of French and Creole architecture (in the form of 67 historic structures) as well as interpreting the multicultural history for this area. Many preserved plantation homes dating back to the early 1800s can also be visited in this parish.