History of Natchitoches
Quaint, historical, unique and progressive are all common words used to describe Natchitoches and Natchitoches Parish. But for those with roots in the area or who are transplants to the Cane River Country... the best way to describe Natchitoches is... home.
Natchitoches is home to so many things. It's home to Northwestern State University, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the Walk of Fame on St. Denis St., the Natchitoches Christmas Festival, Cane River Country, the filming location for the movie "Steel Magnolias", a 33-block National Landmark District, nationally recognized historic homes, over 40 bed and breakfast inns, the Natchitoches Meat Pie, Carolyn Dorman Nature Preserve, Fort St. Jean Baptiste and Kisatchie National Forest. That and much more makes Natchitoches a favorite destination for tourists, visitors and those wanting to relocate to an area that offers a quality of life that is unmatched in the country.
The oldest city in the Louisiana Purchase (even older than New Orleans), Natchitoches has been tapped time and time again in the past decade as one of the top places in the United States to retire. Distinctions such as one of the top six places to retire in the U.S. by Kiplinger Magazine, one of the 12 great road trips by National Geographic and among the 10 bargain retirement spots in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report have been heaped upon the Natchitoches community in recent years.
Louisiana history... and for that fact... a large part of the nation's history begins in Natchitoches.
The name "Natchitoches" has been translated to "chinquapin eaters." The Indian tribe of that name was one of about a dozen that banded together in the Caddo Confederacy. The name was later applied to the French trading post established by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis in 1714, and around which the town of Natchitoches has grown. A third generation Canadian, St. Denis was educated in Paris and came to the New World with explorers Iberville and Bienville. St. Denis is considered the founder of Natchitoches because the first wooden structures were erected immediately upon his arrival among the Indians in 1714.
The reason for the establishment of Natchitoches was both military and commercial. The mercenary Crozat, having obtained control of the province of Louisiana as a business venture, directed Governor Cadill ac, stationed in Biloxi, to establish a post for the dual purpose of opening up trade with the Spaniards of Mexico and of checking the presumptuous aggression of those same Spaniards who had established a military post at Los Adais (near Robeline). That task was assigned to St Denis.
St. Denis renewed trade with the Natchitoches Indians with whom the French had been trading irregularly with since about 1700. Leaving 10 men in charge of his merchandise, St. Denis continued his journey to Mexico City. After marrying the granddaughter of the Spanish commandant whose aggressions he had been sent to check, he returned to Natchitoches.
The site of St. Denis' home is appropriately marked on Normal Hill. Legend has it he was buried in the old cemetery extending from the Catholic Church to Front Street and that his grave is somewhere under the brick building at the corner of Front and Church.
For more on the history of Natchitoches and Natchitoches Parish there are a number of resources available. Check out our monthly publication Historic Natchitoches on the homepage of this site, or visit the web sites of the Natchitoches Parish Tourist Commission at www.natchitoches.net or the Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce at www.natchitocheschamber.com.