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John H. Overton family donates collection of documents to Northwestern State's Cammie G. Henry Research Center
Nov 29, 2011 | 653 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Descendants of a prominent 20th century Louisiana statesman donated a collection of documents to the Cammie G. Henry Research Center at Northwestern State University’s Watson Library. Elizabeth Hood Brazelton, an alumna of Northwestern State, and Edward Overton Cailleteau, the two surviving grandchildren of Senator John Holmes Overton, presented the John H. Overton Papers to Northwestern State during a signing on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

The collection – more than 40 linear feet of materials that includes letters, personal notes, collected speeches, maps and photographs -- will be inventoried by University Archivist Mary Linn Wernet and available to researchers and historians.

“Many of these documents have been used in important publications, including the 1965 thesis of A. David Poe and the Corps of Engineers publications ‘Designing the Bayous: The Control of Water in the Atchafalaya Basin, 1800-1995,’ by Martin Reuss and ‘The Flood Control Challenge: Past, Present and Future,’” Wernet said. “Overton was instrumental in creating studies of the river systems the Mississippi, the Atchafalaya and the Red River valleys.”

Cailleteau said that following Overton’s death in 1948, his grandmother offered the collection to Louisiana State University’s Middleton Library. Beginning around 1980, Cailleteau urged his mother and aunt to remove the collection from that library so it could be examined and Overton’s personal and/or organizational records removed. After the papers were canvassed, the family arranged for the collection to be placed in the Cammie G. Henry Research Center on indefinite loan.

“I don’t think the collection has been used to the extent that it could be,” said Cailleteau, who recollects numerous stories about his grandfather and other family lore. “It’s a big collection and our family has numerous connections to Northwestern State.”

“This is a marvelous collection and includes some major works,” said John Price, professor of history at Northwestern State. “Overton put us on the right track regarding the river systems and addressing flood problems.”

John Holmes Overton was born in Marksville in 1875. He received a bachelor’s degree at Louisiana State University in 1895, a law degree from Tulane University in 1897, began practicing law immediately after graduation and entered the political arena in 1912. During his early political career, Overton associated himself with the more flamboyant political figures of the times. In 1928 Overton served as Gov. Huey Long’s chief council during Long’s impeachment proceedings. After the trial, Overton gained notoriety as being politically connected to Long and attained the political backing needed to fill the United States senatorial seat in 1931 that was caused by the death of James B. Aswell. Overton won a much-contested election in 1932, and he continued to be elected as U. S. senator until his death in 1948. During his tenure as senator, Overton was best known for his sponsorship of the flood acts of 1936, 1938 and 1941.



Before his death in 1948, Overton sponsored the projected Red River Lateral Canal, which was to run from Shreveport to the mouth of the Red River. He died before an appropriation was made to support the work. The Red River Valley Project, which was funded by Congress, includes a lock and dam near Alexandria was named in memory of Overton.

Overton has several connections to Northwestern State. In 1905, he married Ada Ruth Dismukes of Natchitoches at First United Methodist Church in Natchitoches. She and her sister, Mary Dismukes, were both graduates of Louisiana State Normal, as Northwestern State was known then, and were both teachers in Alexandria. Through the Cailleteau side, the family is related to Victor Leander Roy, president of Louisiana State Normal from 1911-1929. Brazelton earned a degree in social work at Northwestern State in 1973.

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