Most of the western boundary of Louisiana is the Sabine River, but that wasn’t the case at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, or even when Louisiana became a U.S. state nine years later.
There was no physical western boundary, at least not one that was agreed upon. While the U.S. claimed Louisiana’s edge was the Sabine River, Spain, which held the land directly west of Louisiana in what is now Texas, claimed the border was instead the Arroyo Hondo, a river ranging some 25 to 50 miles east of the Sabine that’s known today as the Calcasieu River.
In an 1806 diplomatic effort to avoid war, regional American and Spanish military commanders signed a treaty creating a neutral strip of land between the rivers—a territory under neither the American nor Spanish flag—until a formal boundary could be set by respective governments. The international border dispute would not be settled until 1821, nine years after Louisiana became a state, and debate over the border still ensued within the U.S. for two decades until the creation of the Republic of Texas and just prior to its U.S. statehood in 1848.
The neutral strip—a rural, rolling hill region sometimes referred to as the “Sabine Free State”—was eventually cut up into all or parts of 10 Louisiana parishes (counties). This part of western Louisiana is a great destination for history enthusiasts with interests in the corridor’s colorful past, as well as for outdoor enthusiasts.
- At the neutral strip’s northernmost point in Logansport, there is a granite pole at a park outside town. On its east side it says “U.S.” and on its west side it says “R.T.” It was one of numerous border markers placed by U.S. survey crews in 1841, marking the border between the U.S. and the Republic of Texas. The Logansport marker is the only marker that still stands, and it is said to be the only international boundary marker found in the continental U.S.
- Three Louisiana State Parks sites along the La. Hwy. 6 corridor in Natchitoches and Sabine parishes have stories tied to the neutral strip. Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site in Natchitoches was the French colonial outpost in the region. Los Adaes State Historic Site near Robeline is the archaeological remains of the region’s Spanish colonial fort. Fort Jesup State Historic Site near Many was the base for the U.S. police presence in the strip beginning in 1822. Its chief military officer, Zachary Taylor, would eventually become a U.S. president.
- Louisiana State Parks also has two recreational sites in the region. Both North Toledo Bend and South Toledo Bend state parks (near Zwolle and Anacoco respectively) lie on Toledo Bend Reservoir between Louisiana and Texas. The massive lake created by damming Sabine River offers some of the best freshwater fishing in the South.
- Kisatchie National Forest districts in Natchitoches and Vernon parishes offer outdoor activities including camping, hiking, and designated cycling, horseback and off-road recreational vehicle trails.
- The former Beauregard Parish Jail in DeRidder is a must-stop photo op for architecture enthusiasts. The 1914 facility is said to have made history at its time for its unique Gothic Revival design (it resembles a castle), large spiral staircase accessing each cell, and the cells having somewhat uncommon amenities such as private bathroom facilities and windows.