Fort Jesup State Historic Site sits deep in the rural country between the Louisiana Purchase’s oldest city, Natchitoches, and the trophy fish-rich waters of Toledo Bend Reservoir. For those interested in American military history, it offers insights into a nation 150 years ago that was headed westward and facing enormous growing pains.
After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the United States’ western borders were not clearly defined. The U.S. claimed eastern Texas and the Spanish claimed west Louisiana. The area became known as the “Neutral Ground,” an infamously lawless region that led to Fort Jesup’s founding in 1822.
Over the following 25 years, Fort Jesup became an important outpost, whose first commander was future President Zachary Taylor. Soldiers at the fort maintained peace along the border and caught fugitives, and also performed more practical tasks such as conducting land surveys and building roads.
Meanwhile, thousands of Texas-bound settlers passed through Fort Jesup during a time of upheaval that ended when the U.S. wrested Texas from Mexico (1845). The following year, with Texas under U.S. control, Fort Jesup was no longer necessary and was abandoned.
Visitors today can learn much more about the Neutral Ground and Fort Jesup’s role in Louisiana history, via guided tours of the grounds and a visitor’s center. See the reconstructed officers’ quarters and the fort’s original kitchen, both decked out in period-appropriate decoration that evokes life on the frontier.
While in this part of west Louisiana, be sure to check other forts at Los Adaes and Fort St. Jean Baptiste state historic sites, as well as the historical city of Natchitoches and North Toledo Bend and South Toledo Bend state parks.
Entrance fee: $4 per person; free for seniors 62+ and children 3 and under