Friday, July 31, 2009

Louisiana in Slices

In the spring and summer of 1860, J. W. Dorr, an editorial correspondent for the New Orleans Crescent, made a horse-and-buggy tour of a considerable part of Louisiana. The tour was an effort to acquire new subscribers to the paper and to secure advertisements from merchants in the country towns that he visited. Dorr recorded information about crops, weather, scenery, towns and villages, planters and merchants, hotel accommodations, politics, schools, churches, newspapers and much, much more. His observations were published in a series of twenty-seven letters in the Crescent under the heading “Louisiana in Slices” between April 30 and September 10, 1860. Each letter dealt with a particular parish or part of a parish. They were labeled “From Our Special Traveling Correspondent” and were signed “Tourist.”

Dorr was in Bossier Parish on July 14, 1860. From Bellevue, then the parish seat of Bossier, he wrote of Bellevue’s mayor, its one store, two bar-rooms and a church. He described the town as a “scrougin little corporation of about a hundred fifteen or sixteen inhabitants.”

His description went on to say “Those who visit the capital of Bossier should come prepared to ‘camp out’, for while this correspondent was partaking of his bacon and bread in the [dining room] of the ‘hotel’, he had to keep his feet in continual motion to defend himself against the pigs under the dining table. These cleanly and agreeable household pets run round the house more sociably than cats and dogs, and, conjointly with the bipeds, make a rush for the victualing apartment whenever the bell announces meal time. The fare at the hotel is bacon and bread for breakfast, bread and bacon for dinner, and some bacon and bread for supper. We have bacon on the table and bacon under the table—the latter very much alive and uncured, the former very salty and rusty.”

Dorr was critical in his remarks that “It is a great pity that the rural Anglo-American of Louisiana does not understand the mere rudiments of the science of living. In this climate and with this soil he might live in luxury. At few country stopping-places do I find milk, eggs, butter, fresh meat or vegetables. Occasionally one of the above articles may be had, seldom more than one at the same place, and ordinarily not any of them. The Creole population in their part of the State, invariably live well. Our Americans, generally, had rather raise fifty dollars’ worth of cotton than five hundred dollars’ worth of anything else.”

Less critical were Dorr’s observations that Bossier Parish is extensive, having many acres of fine cotton and corn lands. He pointed out that while some of the uplands did make good crops, the bottomlands were much richer. “Bossier is the most broken and uneven country I have yet visited in Louisiana, and some of the highlands look barren enough, but in the bottoms may be found bodies of lands of unsurpassed fertility.”

Dorr’s Bossier letter ends with his remarks about the weather, a scorching drought which had rendered the corn crop almost a total failure and the cotton crop badly injured.

The weather was “unprecedentedly hot and dry.” That certainly sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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