History

From the old community of Bee Gum situated in the northeast part of what is now known as DeSoto Parish, so named because a bee hive took residence in a sweet gum tree, to a community situated at the southeast corner of the parish whose name was basically decided upon in 1880 after a pelican flew in on the heels of a hurricane and landed on the community’s mill pond, hence giving a name to the community of Pelican, Mother Nature has pretty much had her way with the entirety of DeSoto Parish. How beautifully she has dealt with us for centuries… her dealings with DeSoto have been grand indeed albeit a few fits and starts over the years.

Giant oaks and loblolly pines, sweetgums and sumacs and tallows, and gorgeous undercover trees continue to define farmlands that have withstood the ravages and fury of a sometimes tyrannical Mother Nature… thousands of acres still grow indigenous grasses to produce the best quality hay and provide shelter, food and solace for an abundant wildlife.

While large expanses of farm and wood lands no longer wear the title of plantations, many DeSoto Parish farmers still cultivate a variety of crops and have successfully, for the most part, held firm during both good and lean years. In some places, granted mostly the extremely rural and remote areas of the parish, the same simple rutted dirt or sandy roads delineate homesteads that were robust and proud long before the bloody Civil War battle south of Mansfield.

But a look back into DeSoto’s history forces this question: why would anyone risk packing up family and at best extremely meager belongings, hitch a horse or mule to a homemade cart or wagon, swing their heart on one single brilliant star in a canopy of millions, and come to settle on a parcel of land in DeSoto Parish, which by the way did not even exist until it was carved out of Caddo, Red River and Natchitoches Parishes? Yet come they did to the very places we now live and move and have our being. The Red River and the Sabine River bounded us on the east and west while long fingers of sunsets shimmered in the dark moving waters.

DeSoto Parish became a magnet, drawing all kinds of folks from the richest to the poorest and even those running from the law looking for a safe haven. People found our land and came up the rivers by steamboats and canoes and down the roads in carts and wagons, bringing families and belongings to start new lives right here.

Those families for the most part flourished. Schools and churches dot our landscape now that date from a much-earlier time as do homes of great variety including the simple dogtrot style to Greek Revival to homes reminiscent of more southerly styled plantations. Dignified antebellum homes can be spotted throughout DeSoto Parish if you know where to look and sprawling family farms are seen as are stately Victorian town homes that add grace to changing neighborhoods.

We are a living breathing history of change, whether from the ravages of war to having the largest natural gas field in the country develop right in our neighborhoods. Can a parish have a slogan? If so, DeSoto’s should perhaps be… “we are survivors”… for all of us are in a historical time once again although it is not the sound of cannons being fired in battle that we hear…it is the sound of natural gas drilling rigs if not in, then certainly fairly close to our yards.

A look back to the homes and churches and schools of yesteryear can possibly make our future a bit more pleasant as we learn to appreciate greater conveniences than at any other time in our history. Our forefathers endured what we will never experience, and we will endure what they could never have imagined.

Life in DeSoto Parish is as diverse as the flora found along the banks of its creeks, crags, bogs and bayous. That diversity defines our culture and our lifestyles, all byproducts of an earlier time when life was good but not so good, when times were hard but not so hard, when money was scarce but not so scarce, when women sent men off to war and welcomed them home whether they were whole or not… when courtship turned to love and love turned to marriage and children were born and died and were wept over…when pigtailed lassies were kissed quickly on the cheek by gregarious lads and schoolmarms were called upon to make those kids behave… when a man’s word was his bond and a handshake turned deals into dollars.

We’re still the same kind of people, but our landscape has changed much through the years. Here and there, if you know where to look on a Sunday afternoon drive, you can still get glimpses of the way life was in DeSoto Parish dating back to the early to mid 1800s. Our cultural treasures are still here. Fortunately we still have relics of the past that tell of our adventurous spirit, a determination to improve our lot in life, our proud traditions, our enduring cultural heritage and our love for family. DeSoto’s mere breath is one of history, with a reverence for tradition and a harmonic blending of the old and the new. We embody the true spirit of hospitality and gracious living. And forgiveness... for there was a time when men sought to destroy the very ground we now claim as home.