"Richland Parish, Franklin Parish."
The other afternoon, as I was riding up St. Charles Avenue in a streetcar, a pretty-looking lady seated opposite me leaned over and said shyly: "I read your letter about Grant Parish and I immediately sent up there and bought a section of land."
Perhaps a poor scribe never had a more subtle compliment from an unknown source. But the meat of the matter lay in the fact that an enterprising southern woman with money to spend thought well enough of her own state?s future to invest funds in its lands.
In a quiet way a great many men — particularly lawyers — are getting hold of all the Louisiana land they can. They are simply shrewd enough to see that Louisiana is destined to become the objective point in the new South. They see that its millions of acres of fallow fields, its inexhaustible and virgin forests, its varied and prolific resources cannot remain much longer unsolicited. They know that when the tide once turns, Louisiana, with its temperate climate and tropic harvests, will indeed become the accessible summer land of the nation. The period of incubation is about over. Nothing can much longer delay the development of the state nor keep back a progress that distinguishes already certain localities such as Arcadia, Calcasieu, Cameron, Rapides and Tengipaloa.
Louisiana has been persistently misrepresented by those who know nothing of it, and who wouldn't improve their knowledge or state of mind; but really the most serious harm has been done by our own heavyweights, who have the bad habit of deprecating their own.
With a few distinguished exceptions, including the entire state press, the best and only boomers have been the newcomers. They fall in love with our red and gold roses, our luminous palette-tinted skies, our soft sunshiny days and our easy life, and while we dampen their ardor by assuring them there is nothing in it, playing the thankless role of kill-joys to perfection, they go on forming here and there new colonies of people from the old homes, who transplant and grow as happily as briar roses that will bloom in any kindly soil.
Only recently, I met a young man who told me somewhat sheepishly of his El Paso craze and how he had been cured. He gave up a neat little farm in Caldwell Parish, sold out his horses at twenty and thirty dollars a head, his cows at ten and fifteen, his land at a few dollars an acre, all to go off to El Paso, that barren, glaring, little semi-Mexic town at the edge of Texas.
"But I have come back," he said repentantly, "because I have just sense enough left to know that life is easier, cheaper, happier and healthier in any good part of Louisiana than it is or can be in Texas, Colorado or California."
The difference between California, by the way, and Louisiana is just this: California is the rich man's pleasure land. Louisiana is the poor man's home.
In the extreme eastern corner of Richland Parish — a parish of which I know but little, and that I came to by a thirty-five-mile drive over fertile fields, intersected by sample bits of incomparably lovely forest, as wild as an unknown ocean, as full of color as a town on the blue shore of Italian Magiore — is a little, thrifty and pretty town called Delhi. Delhi illustrates almost better than any small place in the state the meaning of thrift, patriotism and pride. Its trade, largely in the hands of a number of progressive, honorable and cultured Israelite gentlemen, is worth $100,000 a year. These merchants assist in all enterprises; they have charming homes, and both incidentally and directly they are at work developing the resources of Richland and of Delhi. Delhi is the chief shipping point for three great cotton parishes — West Carroll, Richland and Franklin. It is on the line of the Vicksburg and Shreveport Road, is the shipping point for about 10,000 bales of cotton and is one of the liveliest drummer towns in the state.
It is in the heart of that great tableland of almost priceless value that extends from West Carroll due south to the tip of the Catahoula, and it has been picturesquely laid out by its early settlers and improved upon by its latest — a colony of families from Michigan, who moved to Delhi and are spending money to beautify the town and increase their property values.
The handsomest hotel in Louisiana, outside of New Orleans, is at Delhi. It is well situated near the railroad, with broad tree-lined avenues on either side, and is as picturesque as a villa on the Hudson, with plate glass bow windows, a belvedere dining room, Swiss shingled walls, and porches wide and sunny. The Hotel Richland is a superb beginning for a town, and he evident intention of the good people of Delhi is to improve and beautify their little city on the neat and artistic lines of some western town, such as Winona, Minn.
Accompanied by my genial hostesses, Mrs. T. Hirsch and Mrs. S. Blum, wives of two popular leading merchants, I made the tour of Delhi, saw its pretty High School, the new cotton compress that can turn out a bale a minute, the aesthetic $10,000 Richland, the eleven large stores, with two finely equipped drug stores, the livery stable, post office, newspaper office, the pretty Methodist church and all the rose-grown homes of the old inhabitants, and the pretty western-looking residences of the Michigan colony.
Of course, with a few differences, all American towns look alike. The differences are likely to be thrift or the absence of it, tidiness or its opposite, sloth. I felt as if I were a new and female Columbus when I discovered that wide, artistic, soft-colored Hotel Richland looming like a big tawny moon through the trees. Possibly the good people of Delhi will try to live up to their hotel like the family who bought an aesthetic tea pot, but at any rate it is one of the neatest, thrivingest small towns in the state.
We all know the story of the Chicago man who had such faith in his great city that he promised if ever Chicago took hold of culture she would just make culture hum. In this little southern town of roses there is an air as if everything the people take hold of is made to hum.
A year or so ago a number of gentlemen from Michigan moved into Richland Parish and Delhi, determined to build up a colony. From the start they have been full of new, practicable enterprises, and have enlisted all the town people in their plucky adventures. The Hotel Richland is their project, also the cotton compress. They propose putting a furniture factory on the bank of Bayou Macon, and to arrange that Delhi shall be the shipping point for small truck farmers. They maintain a newspaper just to advertise the parish and towns of their adoption.
In many instances the people who are to grow rich in our state will be the newcomers who see good in what others have belittled.. Some of the largest landowners and most successful planters are men who have come South since the war, have stuck steadily to work and have determinedly developed the land, and each year conquered more of it and get more out of it.
It was nipping cold that Sunday morning when we drove down the wide streets of Delhi enroute to Winnsboro. There was no use in pretending we were going to church. The luggage was in evidence against us. A soft gray blur filled the air and made dim, elusive shapes of the road-side trees, and even when we came upon some darkies playing craps on a log they seemed almost about to resolve into translucency, so thick and jelly-like was the atmosphere. The dust that always seems incongruous in winter, lay half a foot deep in the main-traveled road. The horses' feet scuffled in it with a muffled velvety-sort of sound.
Overhead, the sky was like a tarnished shield of copper. The sun seemed to have melted into the general air, and a dull glow, making luminous the gray, suffused all earth. The dust pulled up like flour blown from loose big mouths at carnival time and settled on rail fence and withering leaf. It frosted all with a sort of golden furze.
I have a friend, an artist, who paints beautifully characteristic pictures of Louisiana. His name is Walker. It was the Artist Walker who first showed me "what an artist dust is." He puts a bloom on common things, softens out nature's wrinkles, effaces the ugly and piles his colorful drifts of brown and amber and gray on the holly and Cherokee's burnished green, turning wild roses into chalices to hold his brimming measure. He is a sort of Silence expressed in shades.
I was thinking of these dust fancies and remotely of that wholesomest book of books for women, Ruskin's Ethics of the Dust, when we came upon one of those little pictures of al fresco life that sweeten a worker's work. Work, after all, is like th missal wrought out under some old cloistered abbey's roof, and the happy things that happen along th way are the delicate broideries of brush and pencil put there by the Monk of Fate, the artist Dust, the beautifier Circumstance.
A mover's wagon, as if dropped out of some old story of Gypsy life, was drawn up into the bushes at the roadside. The horses, corralled, were nibbling dusty leaves; a camp fire burned, and over it a woman was frying squirrels that smelled delicious. She carried a baby on her hip. The man lay among the bracken of fern, a long homespun length of gray and brown, thatched at one end, with a sandy shock of wispy hair at the other, finished off with boots whose soles were an inch thick. He lay flat on his back reading and singing Moody and Sankey's hymns. Naturally, I stopped. Ships at sea, when they meet, exchange signals. What are we, at best, but ships at sea? The courtesy of the forest, like that the drawing room is instinctive. It only takes different forms.
Once in a crowded underground car in England a British workman invited me to ride down to my destination on his knee. It was the finest politeness he knew. Once, in the door of the Picayune office, at four o'clock in the morning, I gave a sick little newsboy some sugar for his cough. A chum of his standing near struck the dumb beneficiary.
"You ____," he cried in a whisper. "Why in ____ don't you say thankee?"
He meant well. Once at a simple meal in a simple home, in this state, the father of the family made all the young ones wait until I had had "the first whack at the soup." Once, Jefferson Davis with outstretched arm led me by the delicately-pointed fingertips, like a Watteau lady in a minuet, down the great steps of Beauvoir House. On this day, I was royally invited to stop for dinner. As we sat on the soft-moving cushions of dust, half-reclining, like effete Pompeiians, dining from tin plates on squirrel and deer's brain that had been wrapped in breakfast bacon and toasted on a stick — a trick I taught my accidental hosts — it seemed never was a feast so fine.
Meantime, we exchanged confidences. They were movers from "Missip."
"Why did you leave there?" I asked.
"Well, land got sort er run out and the folks was restless anyhow. We moves considerable, anyway."
"Where are you going now?"
"Buff Perayre, at the tip end of terday's travel. They say its great country."
The country is full of these movers. They tell a story of a Kansas family that moved so often, every time the chickens saw a covered wagon drive into the yard they laid down and put up their legs to be tied. I quite believe it. Often in this overland jaunt have I fallen in with "movers," a curious species of tramps. They stay a year or so in a place, then sell out, hitch up, dump beds and belongings and babies into the big body of the wagon and crawl on, through weeks and months, until they come to some Canaan or Eldorado.
"Show people, ain't ye?" inquired the man gnawing over the leftover hind foot of a rabbit.
"No," I said indignantly.
"I told you so, Simon," said the wife triumphantly. Then to me, "I thought you was too plain for a show lady."
When the meal was over we all repaired to a dusty little pool for ablutions, and then making thanks, I departed. I noticed some tobacco leaves in the wagon, and in order to pay for my dinner, or perhaps because I really like to share my sweets, I gave the movers from Missip a copy of My Lady Nicotine. It is a book that has helped me away from sorrow.
They did not open it but put it away in the wagon. Ever since, some sense of the lonesomeness of that merry volume comes over me. If I had it to give over again I wouldn't. I wonder if they do not feel and starve — those locked volumes that die on so many shelves with all their sweetness in them.
Not long since, one Sunday morning, I was on my way to market. One of the passengers in the streetcar bought a Sunday paper. He took off the first part, containing local and telegraphic news, and the literary pages he thrust brutally under his feet.
The newsboy said: "You've dropped your paper, sir."
The passengers called his attention to it, but the act of vandalism had been intentional. I have seen florists stab a rose through the brain with a knife, gibbet orchids and do other murders — I have seen folk cut the leaves of their magazines with the fat edge of a palm, but that indignity to clean printed thoughts is without parallel. Far better to be My Lady Nicotine, folded away in a lavender-sweet chest with the baby's best cap, and living in a blue wagon and belonging to a set of "Movers from Missip."
Of the 600 square miles comprising the beautiful parish of Franklin, not an acre is really available for the farmer and settler. The land is divided into three sorts: alluvial and wooded, near the streams; table land, a feature of the Bayou Macon country; and in the southern and western corners, like islands in an ocean, three beautiful and famously rich prairies, set like golden pictures in frames of the most beautiful trees. There is not in America a richer and more beautiful piece of land than the famous Boeuf prairie, to which my friends, the movers from Missip, were bound. It is dotted with small homes, It is as level as a chessboard, as rich in grass as a jungle in Africa, and on it will grow every known cereal and vegetable.
Cattle never have to be fed in the prairie district and the cotton crop should average, without fertilization, a bale of cotton to the acre. The alluvial land is almost a black soil, like that which is thirty feet deep on Bayou Teche. Its working qualities are inexhaustible and on it will grow yields of vegetables and grains equal to any in the state. The table lands have a growth of fine timber. They are high, dry, and yield per acre a bale of cotton, twenty-five bushels of oats or corn. Farms on this land have been cultivated without intermission for forty years and are still yielding a bale of cotton to the acre.
Tensas River and Bayou Macon are on the east of Franklin; Boeuf River and Big Creek on the west, and Deer Creek is on the south. Flowing into these are innumerable branches full of game fish. Turtles are to be had plentifully. The hunters have not yet come here for the fresh water alligator, whose hide is the finest and best; and the trappers still prowl in the woods like the Pathfinder of old in the far west.
The market value of these lands is too cheap. In fact, the price of lands all over the state should be trebled. The too cheap thing nobody wants. In Franklin Parish are improved lands that will produce a potato crop of from 300 to 400 bushels an acre — of Irish potatoes from 150 to 300 bushels — yielding two crops a year, making 600 bushels a year. It is an insult to anyone's intelligence to offer for sale at from $3 to $15 an acre. Although only one-tenth of Franklin's 600,000 acres are under cultivation, so huge a sweet potato crop is made that often they are dumped out in the road for stray animals to consume.
The highest price for woodland is $2 an acre. When cleared the timber is worth $14 a thousand feet, and the land becomes the best in the state for cotton, cane and fruit.
There are 6,000 people in the parish to occupy 600,000 acres. The people are kindly, refined and law-abiding, and are immigrants from such cultured states as Virginia, Georgia and Alabama, noted for their comfortable homes and hospitality.
There has never been a case of either yellow fever or cholera known in Franklin Parish. The climate is equable, and in January and February people begin to make their spring gardens. At that time of the year, householders in the north are blasting out the frozen earth if they wish to lay foundations. Nearly every farmer in the parish is self-sustaining, that is, he raises his own vegetables, meal and fruit, cures his own meat, puts away his own apples and nuts, raises fodder for his cattle, and sells enough cotton to keep him in clothes and give him current coins.
This year the cotton crop is small — 5,000 bales. Last year the parish produced 9,000 bales. The fruit crop in apples, peaches, pears, strawberries and watermelons is always good. Small industries have received an impetus from the arrival of Michigan colonists, who propose to make a specialty of truck and dairy farming.
The people of the parish are mostly whites. They encourage immigration and maintain good schools and churches. Their excellent newspaper, the Franklin Sun , is edited by Mr. W. P. Power and it is the Sun's immigration documents that have been the means of making Franklin one of the best advertised parishes in the state, and of bringing to it a large number of thrifty settlers who desire to become small farmers.
Winnsboro, the parish seat, is a pretty town of 300 souls. It is a level stretch of land, surrounded by a broad band of forest. The streets are laid out with the precision of a checkerboard. At the railroad edge of town is a fine high school and about are a few stylish residences. The Methodist Church, as our country churches most often are, is kept up by the heroic devotion of the women members. The town is the largest shipping point on the New Orleans and Northwestern Railroad. It has a pretty depot, a good hotel, and it is on a steady upgrade of improvement. Its soil is curiously penetrated by fine iron wells. In every household all the domestic crockery will be stained with iron rust. It was just such wells made the fortunes of Waukesha and other health resorts.
An immigrant settling in Franklin Parish will find level lands easily improved; he will have a railway crossing his parish from north to south, and navigable streams everywhere. He will find his health good, the climate charming, the people kind, and life easy. Schools need building up, but this is possible with a little private enterprise. The parish tax is eight mills. The total assessed value of lands is $172,781. Last year on 9,000 acres of land were raised 9,000 bales of cotton. Franklin is a clean, well-prepared parish, whose lovely plateaus of rich land are so many scrolls on which in flowers is writ the invitation: Come to Louisiana.
- Catharine Cole. Pen name of Martha R. Field, who was a reporter for the New Orleans Picayune.
- Tengipaloa. She probably means Tangipahoa.
- Vicksburg and Shreveport Road. The Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Pacific Railroad. Other east-west transportation routes parallel this one, including the Old Wire Road, Hwy 80, and I-20.
Cole, Catharine. New Orleans Picayune 18 Dec. 1892: n. pag. Print.
For Further Reading
Cole, Catharine. Louisiana Voyages: The Travel Writings of Catharine Cole. Ed. Joan B. McLaughlin and Jack McLaughlin. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi, 2006. Print. <http://www. amazon. com/ Louisiana- Voyages- Travel- Writings- Catharine/dp/ 1578068266/>.
Cole, Catharine. Catharine Cole's Louisiana: The Travel Writings of Martha R. Field. Edited by Joan B. McLaughlin and Jack McLaughlin. Web. <http:// catharine cole. startlogic.com/ catharine cole/>.