Lest We Forget: Cane River Creole NHP

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LEST WE FORGET
Cane River Creole National Historical Park
By Nancy J. Reid & Lisa D. Smith

 

Nathan Hatfield, previous Chief of Interpretation for Cane River Creole National Historical Park discusses the Oakland and Magnolia Plantations, both within the national park unit. Part of the Cane River National Heritage in central Louisiana, this historic park is just a few miles from Natchitoches, the state’s oldest town, on Big Blend Radio.

 

Part of the most incredible things our National Parks do for us, is preserve our history in the most accurate and honest way possible. This is not easy, especially if parts of the history are not exactly something of which we are proud. But, knowing our history means we can move forward without making the same mistakes, learning from our past to ensure a better future.

From the perspective of the owners of the plantations to the slaves that built and ran the plantations, Cane River Creole National Historical Park brings to light what plantation life was like. The Prud’hommes home on the Oakland Plantation is a living history showcase that covers over 200 years of plantation heritage and culture. The families that lived on this plantation went through periods of good fortune as well as poverty, war, freedom for slaves and eventually, modernization and the changes it brought to everyday life.

The history of this area is tied to the Creole Culture, a mixture of French, Spanish, African and Native American peoples from the late 1700s, who settled along the forested banks of the Red River. Together, the mixing of these peoples and their traditions, settled and farmed this area, leaving behind the grand plantation homes and communities supported by cotton, tobacco and indigo.

What was it like to be a slave? What was it like to live in these grand homes? What was it like after the Civil War changed a way of life forever? A visit to this historic park, strolling through the many buildings on the Oakland Plantation, will not only answer these questions, it will help you ‘feel’ what it was like. This plantation is unique in that it shows history in stages, from building to building, from artifact to artifact. The main house shows a kitchen from the 1950s, but at the same time, a room under the house where the nanny lived. It shows what a slave cabin was like, even as it became a sharecropper’s home for those freed people, who chose to stay and work the farm instead of leave.

Magnolia Plantation, just a few miles away from Oakland, brings the process of picking, sorting, cleaning and baling cotton to life. You can see how it evolved from mule-powered to steam-powered presses, and also visit the old Blacksmith shop.

Besides the Main House, these plantations had stores, doctor’s offices, slave quarters, overseer’s houses, barns, sheds, and more. It is unique to find plantations with so many buildings left intact, housing implements and artifacts that will give you a glimpse of what life was like for all those who toiled and lived within these historic walls. Not only does this park protect this chapter of our history, but it preserves the rich Creole Culture that took root in the area, making it their home, and making it what it is today.

Located near Natchitoches in northwest Louisiana, Cane River Creole National Historical Park is part of the Cane River National Heritage Area. For directions, tours and more information visit http://nps.gov/cari.

Natchitoches, LA

 

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About the Author:

Created by Nancy J. Reid and Lisa D. Smith, this article, video and Big Blend Radio interview was from a July 2014 visit to Cane River Creole National Historical Park, as part of the Big Blend Spirit of America Tour, Nancy and Lisa’s quest to visit and cover all 400+ national park units. Nancy and Lisa are a mother-daughter travel, radio and publishing team who publish Big Blend Radio & TV Magazine and Spirit of America Magazine, and produce Big Blend Radio and videos.

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