Ever wondered when Jackson Parish began to be settled and why it was called such? What about how the town of Jonesboro actually got its name? Maybe you curious about how Jonesboro became the parish seat or even things like how the early settlers made their money or got around back. You are not alone. Over the next several weeks a series entitled “Blast from the Past” will be published exclusively in the Jackson Parish Journal designed to help shed a light on these questions and more. This week – Settling in!
A long-lost newspaper article that was written by W.S. Ingram and published on July 18, 1926, in the Shreveport Times, provides an interesting description of the “early days” that comes from, as they say, “straight from the horse’s mouth.” The historical piece is an interview with W. W. McDonald, age 76, whose family migrated to the area from Alabama in 1846 and who was one of the first children born in the parish. As you may have already started wondering, the answer is yes, he is a direct descendant of the McDonald family that today owns the Jackson Parish Bank in Jonesboro.
When asked to describe what the main industry was in the early days and how the settlers connected themselves with the rest of the state McDonald stated.
“When I was a small boy this whole country was a forest. Knowing that the land was fertile for crop production the men from Alabama and Georgia set about to clearing large tracts of acreage for cultivation. It was a slow, backbreaking process but as a collective group pitching in to help one another, they eventually opened up large areas where cotton was the primary crop that was planted for sale along with the necessary vegetables and such needed for food.
Our population was growing rapidly as seemingly every day or so large wagon trains of migrants would arrive. According to the census taken in 1850, the population of Jackson Parish was 5,566 people. By 1860 it had almost doubled to 9,463.
Vernon was established as the parish seat but there were no established routes of transportation from the community to the outside world other than rough trails/roads carved out of the terrain. My grandfather laid out and built a road from Vernon to Campti where the Red River could be accessed. Another rough road was cut from Vernon to Trenton, which was a landing on the Ouachita River just about one mile below West Monroe.
We raised a lot of cotton back then and it was over these roads that we transported our crop by teamsters driving large, heavily laden wagons to the rivers. From there they could be ferried down the rivers to the markets and buyers in the southern part of the state and needed equipment and such could be hauled back. This remained the main method of transporting our goods until the railroad was built through Ruston in 1884.”
Next week: Life after the Civil War
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