Fort Jesup and the Frontier 

In 1823 United States troops began clearing the land for building Fort Jesup. It was located in the center of a reservation two miles square and was named in honor General Jesup of the United States army. The delay in erecting the fort in the Neutral Strip was due to the tardiness of the Spanish king in giving his approval to the treaty of 1819 which made the disputed territory a part of Louisiana, thus extending the western frontier to the Sabine River. The site for the fort is one of the most commanding and picturesque that could have been selected; situated on one of the highest elevations in Louisiana and a surrounding country altogether beautiful. In the beginning the aim seems to have been to make Fort Jesup a permanent military post. The officers' quarters were substantially constructed and the barracks for the troops were built for convenience and comfort. The foundations of the principal buildings were made of stone which was quarried from neighboring hills, and the lime used in the masonry work was also the product of a rock found in the vicinity. While the stone was being placed on the ground a kiln was turning out the lime, and the work executed by the builders of that period furnishes splendid testimony of their ingenuity and industry.


Relics of Old Fort Jesup

The illustration on this page shows some stone pillars upon which the home of the officers once stood. The low wooden building at the left was the old kitchen, in one end of which is a brick chimney, with an immense fireplace about ten feet wide on which all cooking was done. These are the most prominent and interesting relics, of the onetime pretentious fort, which now exist. The building is constructed of hand-made lumber, with split boards for the roof and are yet in a fair state of preservation.

Two miles west from the fort, on the Sau Antonio road, Shawneetown was located to supply the evils which in those days were believed to be necessary to every frontier garrison. Here flourished the saloon, the gambling house and other auxiliaries of disorder. Soldier and rowdy met at Shawneetown and the place became famous for its ruffian revelry. To this day those passing the spot where the "town"' once stood frequently recall the report that many men spent their last day on earth in that vicinity. A few years ago a small school house (erected in the '90s) stood on the site of Shawneetown, but that was later torn down, and the spot is covered with pines which have grown in recent years. Not a relic remains of the place which was once a popular resort for troops and rowdies, with their horse races, "gander pullings" and other contests; where the weary travelers indulged their appetites for a "toddy" as they passed in either direction over the San Antonio road and which also supplied refreshments for the freighters and muleteers on whom the commerce of the country depended. Shawneetown is only a memory.

Fort Jesup was occupied by federal troops in 1824. The United States had two important objects in view in the establishment of this military post. One was to afford protection to the settlers in the hitherto neutral territory, the names of many of whom appear among the Rio Hondo claimants, and assist in establishing law and order. The other object was to supply the necessary border fortification against incursions from Texas, which was yet under the Spanish crown. Thus, in order to strenthen the military position of Fort Jesup, a Block House was erected near Sabine River, not far from where the San Antonio road crossed that stream, and the fortress supplied with troops. Many stirring events of pioneer life transpired at this place, but, like Shawneetown, it disappeared, and in later years a church was erected on or near the site.

In August, 1821, the so-called Mexican republic was established, which was formally recognized by the United States, but this did not lessen the necessity for maintaining a strong garrison at Fort Jesup. Hundreds of filibusterers from the United States had aided the Mexican people in their struggle Spain, still the people of the South and particularly Louisianians, had long desired that Texas become a part of the Americas Union. Following the establishment of the Mexican republic, Texas became the Mecca for adventurers and land speculators. Americans even busied themselves to create a sentiment favoring the annexation of all Mexico, General Wilkinson, who had become a soldier of fortune, was an aggressive advocate of this plan of empire expansion. Little confidence was entertained in the stability of the new Mexican government. A state of anarchy existed in Mexico, robber bands infested mountain and plain, and the people were at war among themselves. Texas was especially afflicted with bands of outlaws. The border garrison at Fort Jesup was of even more importance than during the Spanish regime. During the ten years following 1824, notwithstanding the turbulent state of affairs, many Americans had secured grants from the Mexican government for thousands of acres of land to be utilized for colonization purposes, and citizens from the United States, came in large numbers, to make their homes. Great caravans of emigrants and traders marched over the old highways from Natchitoches and Alexandria to Texas. By 1830 the English speaking colonists had begun to wield a strong influence in the government of the Texas province. Nacogdoches became headquarters for political adventurers, many of whom were men of strong personal character and splendid ability; others were adventurers at all titles ready to embark in any enterprise. The colonists were now dissatisfied with the Mexican method of keeping promises and enforcing the provisions of the constitution which they had fought to establish, and they were determined to demand their rights. The Texas revolution was started, and after the slaughter of Americans at the Alamo at San Antonio by General Santa Ana's soldiers, the patriots declared their independence of Mexico. General Sam Houston was elected commander-in-chief, and his victory over the Mexicans at San Jacinto brought glory to himself and his army, avenged the Alamo and commanded recognition for the Texas republic (1836). While the revolution was going on United States troops were sent from Fort Jesup across the Sabine, commanded by General Gaines, under pretext of enforcing the observance of the neutrality laws, but it is noted that the American commander, who favored annexation, gave material aid to the Texans. Andrew Jackson was president, and, in response to a popular disapproval of this move, the troops were ordered back on American soil. Texas annexation remained the "paramount issue" in the politics of the United States for the following ten years, the South favoring and the North opposing the proposition. That annexation would be the signal for war with Mexico was generally recognized, and Fort Jesup was amply garrisoned to meet any contingency. Among the early commanders of this post was Colonel Zachary Taylor, familiarly known as "Old Rough and Ready," who in 1845 held the rank of brigadier general by brevet. He came to Louisiana directly after the American occupation and purchased a plantation near Baton Rouge, where he resided when not engaged in his military duties. He is accorded much of the credit for the construction work at Fort Jesup, the well which he had dug for the troops being still in existence. The members of his family were visitors and mingled in the society of the old fort. He was sixty-one years of age at the outbreak of the war with Mexico, but the command of the first army to go to the front was entrusted to him, and his successes were so pronounced that within two years he rose to the highest rank in the army, which was followed by his election as president of the United States. There served with him some of the most famous military men America has produced, many of whom had been stationed at Fort Jesup. Among the distinguished officers who accompanied General Taylor in his invasion of Mexico were Generals Twiggs, Worth and William O. Butler, Captains Bragg, Ringgold and May, as well as officers of lower ranks, Grant, Sheridan and Jefferson Davis, who later played prominent parts in the affairs of the nation. Colonel Many was among the commandants at Fort Jesup in the 40's. Stationed there was the 3rd and 4th Infantry and Bragg's Artillery. These regiments and battery were the first to cross the Mexican border. The infantry went on transports from New Orleans to Corpus Christi, while other portions of the army went overland. The deeds of this heroic army of regulars, reinforced by regiments of patriotic volunteers from Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Missouri, have been recorded in history. From Polo Alto to the bloody field of Buena Vista the Americans were triumphant. As a result of the war the United States acquired a vast empire and the former humble commander at Port Jesup became the chief executive of the nation. Though a native of the Old Dominion State, he was accredited as a citizen of Louisiana, and he gave to our state a son who rendered distinguished services to his country in the War Between the States. With the conclusion of the conflict with Mexico Fort Jesup ceased to be a military post, the old buildings and fort long ago disappeared and the spot transformed into a model rural village.


'"Red River Gazette," published at Natchitoches, August, 1837

Fort Jesup has always been a "social center." When it was a military post the beaux and belles often assembled there for a social dance and various amusements. Regimental bands for the entertainment of visitors. The old fort was a popular stopping place for those who journeyed overland to and from Texas and many people prominent in pioneer American life were quests of the old hotel there. An advertisement of that hostelry is reproduced on this page which reflects some customs of the old days. Even after the abandonment of Fort Jesup as a military post it was famous for its social gatherings and many of our good citizens recall the pleasant hours spent as guests of the people there.

The cemetery of a community often furnishes much material for historical narrative and the burying-ground at Fort Jesup is eminently worthy of notice. The cemetery is not large, but is one of the best kept and preserved in this section of the state, and contains probably the oldest marked gave in Sabine parish. This grave was made nine years before the fort was built, and a stone slab contains the inscription:

"Viatoria, daughter of Alen and Viatoria Phillips; born March 15, 1815; died April 19, 1815."

During the "military days" slabs were erected to the memory of the following: "Ann Remsey, consort of Major George Birch, U. S. A.; died October 25, 1829; aged 48 years."

"Elizabeth Clair, consort of Major L. G. DeRussy; died August 30, 1836; aged 44 years."

"Gordon H. Irvine, died May 11, 1837; aged 26 years."

"Lieut. Thomas Cutts, 3rd Regiment U. S. Infantry; died September 2, 1838; aged 31 years. Erected by officers of the regiment."*

Among the leading citizens of Sabine whose remains repose there are: Samuel Jackson McCurdy, Rev. J. M Franklin, Kiley Stoker, W. W. McNeely, Leslie Bar-bee, W. R. Chance, Mabra P. Hawkins, J. H. White, W. H. Peters, Dr. J. R. Franklin, William E. McNeely, William H. Barbee, and William Amos Ponder, who was also prominent in the history of Natchitoches parish.

The burying place for the private soldiers is in the vicinity, but no efforts have been made to care for the graves. Relatives have come, at various times, and removed the remains of soldiers from this neglected cemetery, which should have received some attention by the government.

In 1903 the military reservation was opened for settlement under the provisions of the federal homestead laws, fifty years after the fort had been abandoned.

The parts that have been played in our parish life by the people of Fort Jesup are noted in other chapters, and it is sufficient to state here that they have ever been representative of all that makes for good government and good society.

Sabine Parish | AHGP Louisiana

Foootnote:
*This regiment won fame with General Taylor in the Mexican war.

Source: History of Sabine Parish, Louisiana, by John G. Belisle, Sabine Banner Press, 1913.

 

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