by Louise Stinson - FROM 1976 EVENT
As the nation celebrated its 200th birthday in 1976, Bossier City citizens honored our country in numerous ways. When official centennial community designations were bestowed upon many Louisiana communities, Bossier City accepted proudly. And, 1976 will be remembered as the year a new form of government and city charter were approved by the people of Bossier City. This is perhaps the most important document in the history of the city.
The principal theme of the Bossier City story is growth. It ranks among the fastest growing cities in the state. It must not be forgotten that the city has risen from rather inconspicuous beginnings to its present position as a thriving center of industry, business, and population.
The city’s history dates back to 1835 when it was known as Bennett’s Bluff named after William Smith Bennett, who earlier had helped lay out Shreveport.
At the time, New Hampshire native Bennett, his wife, and his commercial firm partner, James Huntington Cane, owned a plantation on the Bossier side at the present site of the Long-Allen Bridge. Mrs. Bennett, the former Mary Doal Ciley, later married her husband’s partner Cane, and the plantation in Bossier City became Cane’s Landing, the predecessor of Cane City, and finally Bossier City.
Bossier City is an integral part of Bossier Parish, which had its official beginning a little more than one-hundred and thirty-five years ago.
On February 24, 1843, Act thirty-three of the Legislature created the parish out of the Great Natchitoches District and Claiborne Parish. Named for Pierre Evariste John Baptiste Bossier, the parish was some seven hundred square miles. The boundaries of the parish as given in Act thirty-three state that Bossier parish was “Bordering on the Red River, starting at the mouth of Loggy Bayou, thence following the short of the said bayou to Lake Bistineau, thence up along the shore of said lake to the mouth of the Dorcheat Bayou, up along the shore of the said Bayou to the line between the states of Arkansas and Louisiana, thence west on sail line to the eastern bank of the Red River, these down along said river to the point of starting.” This land which comprises Bossier Parish was, and is, some of the richest farm land in the word. It is a combination of rolling hills, fertile valleys, and alluvial delta.
General Bossier, pronounced “Bozure”, was a famous Creole general in the Louisiana Militia. He was highly educated, became an extensive cotton planter and was among the first to settle in the parish.
The 1840 census indicated the population in Bossier Parish was sparse prior to the 1840’s. During the decade, however, the Great Western Migration began and the parish enjoyed a substantial increase in population. Many families traveling westward to Texas and other new territories changed their plans after viewing the countryside with its fertile land, abundant forest, and meandering bayous. In 1850, the census listed the total population figures at 6,962.
A memorable happening in the parish was the November 26, 1860, meeting held at Rocky Mount. War was declared upon the North months before the guns were fired at Fort Sumpter or the Southern Confederacy was even organized, even preceding Louisiana’s secession from the union.
During the meeting “The Minute Men of Bossier Parish” was organized, and in the 1860 presidential election, the voters of Bossier Parish did not give any of their seven hundred and eighty-five votes to Abraham Lincoln.
On December 10, 1860, the Mounted Rifleman group was created as the cavalry of the parish, with E.G. Randolph as its captain. During January 1861, other parish residents formed the Red River Volunteers, and the latter part of that same month the other parishes of the state joined Bossier in secession. Bossier Parish had two representatives at the statewide convention which ratified the ordinance of Secession of the State of Louisiana. After the Ordinance was signed and war with the United States was deemed eminent, other companies were formed, both to aid other states of the south and to defend the home front against assault by northern troops.
During the Civil War, Mrs. Cane’s plantation was fortified to protect Shreveport by three batteries with Fort Kirby Smith in the center of the line at the principal fortification. A portion of Fort Smith stood. In 1936, the city and other citizens purchased four acres of land on Coleman Street and named the park after Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. Born in St. Augustine, Fla., on May 16, 1824, Gen. Smith was an 1845 graduate of West Point. He was distinguished for gallantry in the Mexican War. Gen. Smith commanded the Trans-Mississippi Department C.S.A. headquartered in Shreveport, from March 7, 1863, until May 26, 1865. He was a professor at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, at the time of his death on March 28, 1893.
The actual site of Mrs. Cane’s four-story brick home has since gone into the Red River, but two homes were built from the lumber and brick from the old home. Mrs. Cane had played host to hundreds of confederate officers and troops who were heading for the battle field.
The Great Civil War had begun in Bossier Parish in 1860 and ended across the Red River in Shreveport four and one-half years later, with the surrender of the Trans-Mississippi Department. The citizens were ready for peace but it seemed peace was not ready for them.
War haggard and weary, the virile youth of Cane City wanted only to farm their land and make a new start in peace. However, they found the state and local governments in the hands of carpetbaggers, scalawags and illiterate former slaves – more interested in their own economic gain than in rebuilding the war torn South.
It was during these hard times of reconstruction that the people of Cane City revealed their vitality and power of survival. They made adjustments in their daily lives using their minds in relations to their skills and experience. They held house raising and rebuilt barns to replace the buildings which had been destroyed in the last days of the war. Too, they built wagons and carts, designed horse collars by braiding corn shuckings, and constructed harnesses from hickory saplings with axes and knives. Traces of other parts of saddlery were made from old chain and home tanned leather.
The residents fought the oppression of political reconstruction with hard work and self-discipline. Through their endeavors, these enterprising individuals restored the economy to near normalcy. Not being content with the political spoils of the south, the carpetbaggers sought to deprive the people of Bossier City of their valuable farm land by levying excess taxes and buying the land at sheriffs’ sales at a very cheap price. Since former confederates were disenfranchised, it was difficult to rectify the wanton disregard for law, court decisions and principles by those in positions of power. With the Compromise of 1872, as a result of the Hayes-Tilden Election, Louisiana’s political reconstruction came to an end. After twelve years of war and occupation, the residents of Bossier City were at last allowed the peace which they had long been seeking.
The first parish seat was established at Fredonia, later the name changed to Society Hill and finally to Bellevue. Bellevue was the parish seat until 1888.
Bossier City, when known as Cane City, was once voted the seat of Bossier Parish. In the September, 1882, election the parish voted on the proposed removal of the parish seat from Bellevue to either Cane City or Benton. The vote was 1,692 for Cane City and 1,510 for Benton. However, the courthouse was never built in Cane City as a flaw was discovered in the 1879 constitution and an act of legislature moved the parish seat to Benton, where it remains today.
The first meeting of the Bossier Parish Police Jury held on June 19, 1843, four months after the chartering of the parish, was to conduct the business and William Burns presided. The first parish court was opened in 1873 by Judge W.K. Beck. While all that now remains at Bellevue is a country store, it had been noted that in 1860 it contained a store, two barrooms, and a church. Bellevue was also the site of the parish jail, had several law offices and the office of the Bossier Banner, then the only newspaper in the parish. Will H. Scanland, who founded the newspaper in 1859 when he was less than twenty years old, was the editor.
Most North Louisiana historians credit Fillmore, in many ways one of the most picturesque settlements in North Louisiana, with being the oldest settlement in Bossier Parish, established many years prior to the Civil War. Other settlements included Bellevue, 1857; Rocky Mount 1874; Benton, 1876; Cane City (later Bossier City), and Plain Dealing, both before 1900. For a long period before the War Between the States, Fillmore was a community of great prosperity. Its families were known for their wealth, gentility, and culture. Rocky Mount was a similar community, prospering with the great cotton boom of that era. Cane’s Landing, where a ferry was located, served as a shipping point at this time. The Cane and Bennett Trading Post, which had printed paper money for use in this area in 1832, was prospering and successful, even though both men died before the advent of the Civil War and the post was run by the widowed Mrs. Cane.
Census study, dairies, wills and letters written by and about Bossier Parish residents before the War Between the States have given an accurate picture of the lives of the early settlers.
At this time residents were engaged in agricultural occupations. Most grew sufficient food crops to feed themselves, their families, and their slaves, if they held them. Cotton was grown as a money crop on the land available after the planting of foodstuffs.
Social life revolved around the community church, with Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and the Church of Christ as the predominant denominations. There were picnics, dances and barbecues, as well as regular church services, and more frequently than not, the residents all met jointly in a true ecumenical and community spirit.
Hunting, woodlore, horsemanship and marksmanship were necessary elements of survival as well as recreational outlets. The average ability of the residents would astound even the most sophisticated of today’s citizens. The way of life of these residents had great influence on the economical, sociological, and governmental outlook of this area, both in that period, i.e., prior to the Civil War, and today. These people were independent, accustomed to making their own decisions, choosing their own courses of action, and solving their own problems. This sense of self-reliance and freedom prevails even today.
The lives of parish residents did not change markedly during the remainder of the 19th Century. Automation of farming equipment brought more leisure time to the parish and, as a consequence, social activities gradually grew more frequent. Living and traveling conditions improved during the 1870’s with the building of the Shed Road, which was in operation from 1874-1886, and the building of levees and damming of bayous to contain the flow of the Red River.
We all know the road called the Old Shed Road, traversing the river-bottom lands for two miles north of Bossier City to the hills, where U.S. Highway 80 no crosses Red Chute.
The story of the Shed Road is a fascinating chapter of the nineteenth century enterprise and development. It was a project both picturesque and practical. It was the first all-weather, year-round turnpike in the South, according to the very old settlers, for its existence made transportation of our out-going cotton and their incoming supplies possible.
Judge John W. Watkins, a Kentuckian who now resided in Minden, secured from Congress a special charter to build a peculiar road, which he felt sure would conquer the situation and to charge toll for the use of the road by the public.
After obtaining his charter, he began work immediately, in the spring of 1874, and completed the structure the same year. It was a shed, nine miles long, with a highway running through it.
It was an instant and continuing success, expanding commerce into this area from the highlands of Louisiana and a large part of Arkansas. Prior to the advent of the Shreveport, Vicksburg and Pacific Railroad in 1886, it was a mainline of transportation. Later, the Shed Road was allowed to lapse into ruin.
The levees and dams made possible the further settlement and cultivation of the bottom land near the river. This had direct bearing on the growth of Cane City and the later development of Benton and Plain Dealing. The depression which swept through the country in 1873 had little effect on Cane City’s residents as they continued to cultivate most of their own necessities.
The 1870’s and 1880’s saw a shift westward in the population of the parish. Fillmore, Bellevue, and Rocky Mount were passed by the railroads and as a result, were unable to compete with population centers on the railroad lines. Bellevue moved, almost in mass, to Benton following the three great setbacks to its survival in this era. Benton was built on the railroad lines giving it an advantage in shipping and transportation, the seat of government was moved to Benton, and the majority of the physical accruement was destroyed by fire in 1872. Plain Dealing arose from the site of the Gilmer Brothers’ plantation of the same name, Haughton experienced a boom in population from the Fillmore area after the advent of the railroad lines to Haughton, and Cane’s Landing enjoyed an influx of new arrivals as a result of its dual role in shipping, with both steamboat wharves and a railroad terminal.
The turn of the century thus saw Bossier Parish’s main population centers as Benton, Haughton, Plain Dealing, and Cane City. Of these four Benton, Haughton, Plain Dealing have remained at their approximate size of that period, while Cane City, which had a population of about 600 in 1990, has become Bossier City with a population nearing 50,000 in 1972. The remainder of this story will deal primarily with Bossier City’s progress through the 20th Century. Although Bossier City’s history normally dates from 1907, it was about 140 years ago that the seed was planted for the development of a town that in this year has become the fastest growing city in North Louisiana.
The settlement of Cane City was proclaimed as being incorporated by former Gov. N.C. Blanchard and was chartered as the Village of Bossier City. It has grown from an area of one square mile to a thriving city containing over 35 square miles and 25,000 acres.
The area continued to grow and, on March 14, 1923, Bossier City’s classification was changed from Village to Town by former Gov. John M. Parker, and on August 9, 1951, then Gov. Earl K. Long issued a proclamation classifying Bossier City a city.
On October 21, 1952, a special election was held in the City of Bossier City and by a vote of 835 to 117 the city adopted the commission form of government to replace its aldermanic form.
E.M. Hoyer had been appointed Bossier City’s first mayor by Gov. Blanchard when the former trading post was incorporated. The other officials were Walter Colquitt, Bryant Coffee and Will Coleman, councilmen, and Charlie Smith, town marshal.
After the special election, Hoffman L Fuller was elected the city’s mayor. Clyde W Fowler was named clerk; Hazel Mabry, assistant clerk, and J. D. Fenton, Jr., Fred S. Jones, Danny Meziel, and C.L. Madden, Jr. were aldermen. F. Maxwell Smith was named to the post of the city’s fire chief, and Burgess E. McCranie, police chief.
Other persons who served as mayor prior to 1923 were M.B. Woodward, 1910-1919. T.M.Yarborough, 1919-1921, and G.B. Smith, 1921-1925, during which time the Village of Bossier City officially became the Town of Bossier city.
Other mayors of Bossier City have been Thomas Hickman, 1925-1937, Hoffman L. fuller, 1937-1953, when the city officially became a city; Burgess E. McCranie, 1953-1957; Jake W. Cameron, 1957-1961; George L. Nattin who served from 1961 to 1973, and James L. Cathey who was elected in 1973.
Mayor Marvin Anding, a retired Barksdale Air Force Base commander elected in 1977, is now top man in the city’s first mayor-council administration, governing a city of 55,000 people.
During the 18 years after the commission form of government was adopted, the official U.S. Census count placed the city’s population at 41,595, up 26.19 per cent from the previous 10 year count and placed Bossier City as the seventh largest city in the state, one place higher than Alexandria. In 1971, the population was 46,904 and Bossier officials project the 1980 federal count of the city population to rise above the 60,000 level. The boundaries have expanded far to the north, south and east since Bennett’s Bluff, Cane’s Landing, and Cane City. Bossier City seems to be a city of never ending expansion.
Just one of the important roles the city plays is her place as a homesite to thousands. She is located adjacent to Barksdale AFB, which has a constantly moving population.
It was in 1930 that construction began on Barksdale AFB. This proved to be the beginning of a new era for the city and provided the impetus for what has proven to be continued growth in population and economic areas. Barksdale was dedicated in 1933. At that time, while it was known as “The World’s Largest Aerodrome” its importance is no manner revealed its pre-eminence today.
The first unit assigned to Barksdale was the 20th Pursuit Group which was comprised of single-engine P-12 aircraft. The installation was first commanded by Major Millard F. Harmon, Jr. Barksdale has steadily increased in importance with the rise air power. Prior to the Second World War, Barksdale operated as a training school for the Army Air Corps. During that war Barksdale trained pilots, navigators, and bombardiers to fill positions necessary in the conflict. Later as the range of aircraft increased, the base became one of the key ones of the Strategic Air Command in the new Air Force. As headquarters for the 2nd Air Force, Barksdale contributes greatly in the defensive might of these United States.
Barksdale has been an integral part of Bossier City since its conception. The land on which the base is built was purchased by local residents who donated this rich delta land to the U.S. Army with the understanding that the Air Corps would construct a “military air reservation” on the donated site. Not only does Barksdale furnish Bossier with many temporary residents, but many of the city’s finest citizens are former military personnel who have placed their roots in this community after a tour of duty at the base.
It is estimated in 1967 that over 2,000 professional Air Force personnel had retired in the city. This figure does not include nonprofessional serviceman who have decided to reside here after temporary active duty with the Air force. Being naturally hospitable, Bossier City residents have always welcomed these new people, both temporary and permanent. The southern hospitality which began with the donation of the site of Barksdale continues, and well it should.
The citizens of Bossier City have always been proud of Barksdale and have joined with its personnel many times to further its well being. The base contributes about 25,000 persons to the local area and these civilian and military employees join Bossier’s other residents in making Bossier City “A city large enough to serve, but small enough to care.”
In order for the city to have a new form of government and city charter, a Home Rule Charter Commission, headed by attorney Glenn Armstrong, was appointed by the former administration. Currently the city council consists of seven members, five from council districts and two elected-at-large.
Although the mayor-council form of government is little over a year old the system, thus far, has produced good results. Bossier City is looking for bigger and better things to happen. They will too!
Long range planning in the fields of utilities, sanitation, and related areas have been and shall continue to be a matter of policy. Bossier City’s rich history provides insight into the future capacity of this community for action, achievement and success.
The city’s spiritual forces may be counted as a solid asset. Bossier City’s school system is one of the top ten organizations in the state in quality education. Students enrolled here enjoy many special educational advantages not found in many school systems.
Several parks and recreational areas have been completed, and others are in the planning stages. The city boasts a thoroughly efficient recreational program which includes softball, baseball, swimming and a host of other activities.
There are still questions concerning a Bossier City port on Red River, however the city hasn’t given up. And, eventually there will be a north-south route through the city.
The $31 million Louisiana Downs racetrack, opened in October of 1974, is expected to bring a minimum of $50 million from tourist this racing season, with a minimum of a half-million dollars each going to the city and parish.
Steps are being taken towards construction of a Red River Parkway. Yes, progress is now the way of life for residents of the city.