The American Cemetery

The American Cemetery in Natchitoches was founded circa 1737 and is believed to be the oldest cemetery in the Louisiana Purchase. It is also thought that this was the site of the second Fort St Jean Baptiste and that all occupants were buried there. None of the monuments predate 1797. I love graveyards and the sense of stillness.  This one seemed a little forlorn but reflected a long and interesting southern heritage.

This monument to Mollie Campbell Sullivan, a worthy matron, fascinated me.  It was a beautiful tomb with the little bird perched on top.   I hope that Teddy does not inscribe ‘worthy matron’ on my tombstone/crematorium jar but perhaps it meant something different back in the day.  If you zoom in on the first image, you can see a little gravestone that just says “We love you”.  Sometimes simplicity is best.

John Gideon Lewis Sr.,
Courtesy of the Natchitoches Times

The only mausoleum in the cemetery is of a famous African American educator, John Gideon Lewis, Senior.  I was somewhat surprised as Natchitoches was a Confederate town and cemeteries in the south were often segregated or separate.  Even more unusually, he established the Prince Hall Masons in Louisiana and he was Worshipful Grand Master of Louisiana until his death in 1931 aged 81.

Most of the names seemed English or Scottish in origin and there were very few French names.  They would have been buried at the Catholic Cemetery.  Emmeline Lestace, wife of Walter Gongre, was an exception.  I tried to investigate the origins of the name Gongre but I could find nothing.  Perhaps it was one of those names that was forever changed at Ellis Island.

This final gravestone of a Confederate soldier symbolized, to me, the futility of war.  My heart and thoughts are with the people of Ukraine.

Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Despite my lapsed Catholic status, I had no idea what a Minor Basilica was until I researched this post.  There are just 4 Major Basilicas in the world and are regarded as personal churches for the Pope.  There are many Minor Basilicas which are an elevation of  a Cathedral, followed by Churches and finally  Chapels.

The Parish of Natchitoches in Louisiana was first founded in 1728 and the first church was built within the walls of the Fort St Jean Baptiste circa 1729-1733.  Pope Pius IX granted Cathedral status to the 6th Church of the Immaculate Conception in 1853. The current Minor Basilica, below and in all the images, is the 7th church built in the general area.

The building above is the current and hopefully final building.  It was completed circa 1900-1905.  Pope Benedict elevated it from a Cathedral to Minor Basilica status in 2009.  The turbulent history surrounding the Basilica belies its peaceful appearance, from its beginning in colonial Louisiana through fire, Civil War and finally a magnificent edifice in a sleepy little town.

I was struck by how this architecture and interior differed from Cathedrals and Churches in Texas. It echoed the French style of the original Arcadian settlers. The arches were so finely painted in gold and the chandeliers sparkled. On the first stained glass image you can see the Fleur de Lys, the state flower and symbol of Louisiana.

Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile

This is the oldest hardware store in Louisiana – the Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile in Natchitoches, LA. It was founded in 1863, during the American Civil War, by Jewish Prussian immigrants who were looking for a welcoming place to settle. The store is still owned by descendants of the family.

This is an original working till from 1910. I LOVE hardware stores and have been known to loiter with intent in my local Ace store… Kaffie Frederick was the stuff of nostalgic dreams and totally unexpected. Despite it’s historical magnificence, it’s a working hardware store, with some unique old toys.

Look at the original paneling on the walls and those amazing tools! They looked as though they could have been used in battle…

It’s amazing to think that the store was opened before electricity was in general use, so you needed natural light, and perhaps some gas lights. I wanted to say thank you to the owners for preserving something so special, even if it was by accident.

This is so much more practical and sustainable that plastic packs of nails and screws. Below is a side view of Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile from the street.

Angel Blessings

On our recent visit to Natchitoches in Louisiana, I visited the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. I was enchanted by a pair of angels looking over the water fonts. Roman Catholics traditionally bless themselves with holy water as they enter the church. Now they the fonts are often empty as there is a health risk from everyone using the same bowl.

Angel Blessings

Thanksgiving 2021

Was there ever a better year to thank health and care workers? On our recent trip to Natchitoches in Louisiana, we noticed little Halloween or Harvest displays by local companies along the banks of the Cane River. As we tentatively enjoyed our first vacation together since the pandemic, it struck me how much we need to thank all the people who worked relentlessly through the last two years. How grateful I am to farm workers, supermarket employees, scientists, health care workers and all the other essential workers who kept us alive and fed. Thank you!

When traveling, I love to find out something unique or whimsical about the area. Did you know there was a Creole fairy – Fee Folay? According to the sign, it is not dissimilar to our stories of Will O the Wisp. The display had a touch of Druidic charm that enchanted me.

El Camino Real, Texas

In English, El Camino Real means the King’s Highway but refers to the Spanish King, Charles II.  It stretches from Mexico City to the little town of Natchitoches in north east Louisiana – 2,500 miles in length.  I find it difficult to imagine my Spanish ancestors traversing this route with just horses that had been shipped from Europe.  Even more astonishingly it followed an existing trade and travel route used by indigenous Americans.  In 1690 Alonso de León followed the trail and consequently it became El Camino Real.  (There is another El Camino Real route in California.) The Texas route wavered at various points in time depending on relations with the local Nations and flooded rivers.  Missions were established all along the route, mostly notably the Alamo in San Antonio.  Austin and Houston were non existent at this time – strange to imagine, eh? El Camino Real was used extensively as a trade route from Mexico to Texas and Louisiana until the 19th century.  Louisiana had been settled by France in the late 1600s.

On our first little trip since the pandemic, we traveled from our home traveling north east, eventually joining El Camino Real after Lufkin.  It was my first long drive in 2 years (4.5 hours) and I was surprised how well I managed.  The road was quiet for most of the length and it went through miles and miles of Piney Wood Forest.  Most drivers were considerate – it is a simple two-lane road for most of the section near Louisiana but with a speed limit of 75 mph on long stretches.

Pendleton Bridge over the Louisiana/Texas border
Courtesy of Texas Fish and Game

I have a fear of long low bridges over water and the Pendleton Bridge tested me to my core.  I just focused on the road ahead and let Teddy enjoy the spectacular view on 2.5 miles of bridge.  You can see the bridge on the map above marked SH 6 aka El Camino Real. The center of the Sabine River is the border between Texas and Louisiana.  You have to be careful entering into Louisiana as the speed limits change and a Texas driving plate is just begging to be stopped!

Fishing Pier by Pendleton Bridge

After we crossed into Louisiana, we stopped briefly at this little village, below, named Robeline.  It was a little down at heel as are many little towns in the hinterland.  I was fascinated by the abandoned Masonic Hall which had a hand written sign.  Most halls I have seen in the States are very elaborate structures.  Robeline was the area where Louis St Denis, who established Natchitoches, led a party of missionaries and Spanish soldiers to initiate trade with the local Native Americans (Caddo Nation) in 1717.  Robeline didn’t become a village until the arrival of the rail road in the 1800s.  I wondered if it may have had a heyday but I read this quotation, on regarding Robeline, “The village also has a history of rough and rowdy crowds. Once known as “Robbers Lane” the area was full of these types of crowds.” Sounds like some places I have lived before…👀

References:, Wikipedia and Texas Fish and Game