Regional Reports from across Louisiana
(page 1 of 5)
Wild and Woolly
in Winn Parish
Perhaps the biggest claim to fame for Winn Parish is that it was home to the Long family, especially Huey, considered a political rogue of sorts who nevertheless propelled Louisiana into the 20th century. Huey’s son Russell, born in Shreveport, is someone I associate with a childhood experience. The summer I was to turn 9 in the early 1960s, I was spending those hot months in Avoyelles Parish. There was a fierce political campaign being waged for a seat in the Senate, and I only knew that Central Louisiana was afire with Russell Long fever. So therefore was I. One evening he came to speak to a crowd outside of my Cousin Tit’s (swear to God, that was her name) grocery store across from Bayou des Glaises. I had no idea what his platform meant, but I became such a Russell Long crusader that I would pull opposing campaign posters off telephone poles. One day two young men caught me doing this, and I saw they had an armful of Long posters. “Little girl,” one of them said, “are you going to tear down our poster?” “Whoa, no!” I replied. “I’m going to vote for Russell Long!” To my immense surprise they both broke into belly laughs and gave me half a box of candy canes they were handing out as part of the campaign.
But I digress.
There once was a time in Winn Parish’s history when it was ruled by outlaws. On what is today Highway 34, just 11 miles south of Winnfield (the Longs’ hometown) there once existed a spot called Atlanta Village in Winn Parish. In the early 1850s, some Georgia natives were given land grants by the United States in Louisiana, and by 1858 many settled in Winn Parish along the El Camino Real where the Atlanta Male and Female Institute was established along with one grocery store and a saddle shop. The Georgia natives supposedly named the town for its state capital. In addition to the establishment of a farming community, the creation of Atlanta Village likewise established the wild reign of terror that was John West and his followers. West and his cretins rode the El Camino Real from Natchez to the Sabine River, growing rich from the blood money he gleaned from his victims. For a time he was king of the highway and unstoppable in his murdering and marauding. West and his clan once held some of the village’s citizens hostage overnight. Finally, the village citizens formed a committee to end the bloodletting. West and his motley crew were tried in an old Masonic building where they were also convicted and executed before a firing squad.
To thank the town for their bravery, Gov. Henry Clay Warmoth influenced the state Legislature to approve logging in Atlanta Village, and the citizens erected a turpentine still.
By the early 1900s, because it was located near the center of the Kisatchie National Forest, a company from Saginaw, Mich., started a sawmill and Atlanta Village’s population swelled to more than 15,000. But by 1929, the sawmill was moved from Atlanta Village, and mass unemployment ensued. A December hurricane in 1916 all but wiped out the town that lay so close to the home of the Long family.
When my book, Louisianians All, was published, I was asked how I could include a chapter on Huey Long with his questionable, corrupt political practices. I simply replied, “How can you write about Louisiana history and not include Huey Long?” And I was surprised to experience a little déjà vu somehow connected again to the Longs – because of Louisianians All, I was invited to speak to a charming group of teachers in Breaux Bridge. Afterward, my mother, brother and I stopped for lunch at Henderson’s, and our waitress bore a nameplate that said “Tit.” My mother told me that “Tit” is a pet name, a diminutive of “petite,” meaning “little,” while her eyes dared me to make a comment.