Morehouse Parish was originally part of Ouachita country which was roughly defined by the area between the Red and Mississippi rivers north to the Missouri River. The name Ouachita, pronounced Wash-i-taw, is derived from a tribe of Native Americans which inhabited that area when it was first explored by the French. European settlement of the area began about the same time as the founding of New Orleans, but the massacre of settlers at Natchez in 1729 induced the Ouachita settlers to move closer to the protection of more established communities down river.
In 1785 Don Juan Filhoil, a Frenchman in the Spanish military, was given command of the Ouachita and told to establish settlements in the area, which had become Spanish territory in 1769. He reported that no sign of the previous settlements existed.
About 1795, a letter from governor Carondelet to Filhiol mentions a possible contractor. He is a Dutch man Felipe Enrique Neri, the Baron de Bastrop. Like the Marquis de Maison Rouge, his French properties had been confiscated in the revolution and they had been banished from France. If he would help populate the area he would be given a grant of over a million square acres of land. The Baron hired a man from Kentucky named Abraham Morehouse to encourage immigration to the Ouachita country. Settlers were promised title to 400 acres of land if they remained for three years.
About 1799, The Baron de Bastrop sells the "grant" to Col. Abraham Morehouse before Gabriel J. Johnson a Kentucky Justice of the Peace. Morehouse was originally from Montgomery County New York, claimed to be a Colonel in the New York Militia, and had abandoned a wife and two young sons there before he began speculation on land in Kentucky, Virginia and Louisiana.
In 1805, when the Territory of Orleans is divided into counties the present-day Morehouse Parish is part of Ouachita County. In 1844, due to the population increase, Morehouse Parish is created from the parent parish of Ouachita by an act of the Louisiana Legislature in 1844 and at the time included within its boundary part of what is now Richland Parish.
In 1850, Settlement mostly occurred on small prairies near navigable streams. The prairies allowed the pioneers to plant crops without clearing the land of trees. Small communities appeared near present day Bastrop and at Prairie Mer Rouge and Prairie Jefferson (Oak Ridge), but settlement of the area was slow until 1850 because the validity of the BaronĖs grant was disputed by the government of the United States. Once the question of land ownership was settled by Congress and the courts, the parish of Morehouse began to grow more rapidly, new towns were established and businesses flourished.
Another boost in immigration to the area came with the steamboat era. In the 1850s the first packet boats began to arrive, carrying produce and cotton to New Orleans and delivering supplies to the new settlements. The communities near the points of river trade grew until the Civil War.
River traffic had a significant influence on the area's development during these formative years. However, as railroad tracks were constructed through the parish after 1890, the settlement patterns and growth of the villages changed. Towns which were not on the railway were deserted while those along the right-of-way prospered. By 1850, only two areas of the parish, Bonne Idee and Gum Ridge, remained unpopulated. Collinston, in the area of Gum Ridge, became a population center with the construction of the Houston, Central Arkansas and Northern Railroad (later called the Iron Mountain Railroad) and the New Orleans, Natchez, and Fort Scott Railroad which intersected at that site. Bastrop which lagged behind in population grew rapidly after the construction of a railroad nearby in 1892. In 1868, Richland Parish is organized in 1868 taking with it part of Morehouse Parish.
By 1900, Bastrop had a population of roughly eight hundred people, followed by Mer Rouge with about five hundred. Collinston, Oak Ridge and Bonita had approximately three hundred people each. Agricultural dependency continued to dictate settlement of Morehouse Parish in the first half of the twentieth century.
© 2002 - present by Ann Allen Geoghegan
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