No Man's Land: History and Outdoor Activities in Western Louisiana
The “Neutral Strip” mixes an interesting history with natural adventures.
When someone mentions the Wild Wild West, you probably picture images of cowboys, saloons, boots and spurs. But, did you know that Louisiana had its own Wild, Wild West?
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 present-day 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” or “No Man’s Land” — for the absence of an established government in the area. This made the area very attractive to many people — some seeking a place to freely practice their beliefs, some wanting to be a part of the lumber boom that was happening and others who were looking for various opportunities, criminal or otherwise. 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.
- One such group seeking a new start was the New Llano Socialist Colony. After the first colony in California dissolved, the Llano Society moved to Louisiana to begin their second colony to prove to others around the world that the idea of socialism could work. Colonists were given a wage, food and a role. The colony flourished for two decades until the founder Job Harriman’s death in 1937. The colony was sold off, but the town of New Llano stands today as a reminder of the trailblazers who settled there. Today, visitors to Vernon Parish can learn more about the colony at the Museum of the New Llano Colony.
- 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 Louisiana 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.
The stories of these individuals can be found along the Myths and Legends Byway, where stops off the highway paint a picture of life in No Man’s Land. With outdoor activities such as hiking and horseback riding in the Kisatchie National Forest and museums along the way, excitement awaits you! What stories will you find in Vernon Parish along the Myths and Legends Byways? Share your #OnlyLouisiana adventure today!