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Sugartown: Queen of the Frontier

Scroll down through this history to read “Another Iles Comes Home to Sugartown.”

 

It was once called “The Queen of the Frontier.”

There’s not much there now. But it once was the only civilisation between Alexandria and Orange, Texas.

It’s called Sugartown.  At one time it was known for much more than just sweet watermelons.

 

History of Sugartown, Beauregard Parish, Louisiana

My cousin, Don McFatter, is the living historian of Sugartown.  I share this with respect for he and

all of those who love Sugartown and our corner of Beauregard Parish

 

Submitter: Kim Stracener Zapalac

from written permission from source.

Source: Don McFatter

Date: June 16, 1996

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Copyright.  All rights reserved.

http://usgwarchives.net/copyright.htm

http://usgwarchives.net/la/lafiles.htm

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History of Sugartown

Presented by Don McFatter

June 18, 1996

Copyrighted 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 Typed by Kim Stracener Zapalac

 

Mrs. Terry, I want to thank you and the members of the Beauregard Museum

for inviting me to speak about the history of Sugartown – a community that

is known to be the oldest permanent settlement in Beauregard Parish a

community once called the “Queen of the Frontier” – the community where I

was born and reared. My being born there doesn’t add any importance to the

community’s history but it does help to explain why I was the one invited

to make this presentation.

 

The information contained in this presentation

came from three sources – that which has been written about Sugartown. I

need to give Nancy Iles a lot of credit in furnishing me with certain

materials she has put together in her family research. Another source is

what I heard from the old timers when I was growing up and, the third

source would be my own memory that would go back about 65 years. The

Sugartown area was first surveyed in 1807, which was shortly after the

Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Prior to the Louisiana Purchase, the Spanish

laid claim to and ruled all that territory between the Calcasieu River

and the Sabine River.

 

When the Louisiana Purchase was signed, the papers

were not clear on just where the western boundary was. Because of this,

the area between the two rivers became a disputed territory resulting in

little or no law enforcement. Almost immediately the area became a refuge

for outlaws, outcasts, and other undesirables. However, in spite of little

protection, indications are that a few permanent settlers began moving

into the area about 1816 to 1818. Although never incorporated, the general

consensus is that Sugartown became what could be called a permanent

settlement in about 1825.

 

Many people helped to bring this about but here

is a sampling – but by no means complete – of the family names found in

Sugartown’s past and present: Andrews, Baggett, Bailey, Boggs, Caraway,

Cole, Dickens, Gill, Jones, Holoway, Iles, Kemp, McDonald, McFatter, Moore,

Officer, Sanders, Seamon, Singleton, Smith, Spears, Stracener, Watson,

Welch, Weldon, Young – and the one black family in Sugartown, Cooper.

 

People have asked how did Sugartown get its name. I have heard two stories.

The first story is that back in those days, freight was shipped in by

wagon from the Alexandria-Lecompte area. One wagon loaded with very

precious sugar turned over while fording a small stream that became known

as Sugar Creek. When the community developed, it was called Sugartown.

The second story that has been told through the years is one that an

earlier settler was making syrup from sugarcane. The settler neglected

the cooking vat too long and allowed the contents to overcook and turn

to sugar rather than syrup. I lean toward the first story as being the

true one. Sugartown is not nearly so large today as it was years ago.

In the event it is every completely wiped from the map, let me confirm

its exact location.

 

Legally speaking, it is located in Section 31,

Township 2 South, Range 6 West at the intersection of State Highway 112

and 113, in the extreme northeast corner of Beauregard Parish. Allen

Parish is two miles east on Highway 112 and Vernon Parish is 3 miles

north on Highway 113. Because of its location, Sugartown became a way

station for travelers from the southwest areas who were going to the

Alexandria and Lecompte area.

 

Cattle drives were also being made through

the community from the Marked Tree Pens just west of DeRidder to a rail

shipping point in Lecompte. Like all other pioneer communities, the people

were very self-sufficient and imported very little, if anything. This

condition existed pretty much until after the Civil War. Cooking was

done over open fireplaces, candlelight at night, wooden shake roofing

(told of watching old men in Williamsburg, Virginia, make round roof

pegs by driving a small square block of wood through a round hole

drilled in a piece of iron. Very little manufacturing equipment back

then and the people were not too educated but they were smart!).

 

These were the days of “dog trot” houses. For the younger ones, a “dog trot”

house is a house constructed with an open breezeway all the way through

the middle of the house with rooms on either side. This allowed the cool

air to flow through, helping to keep the house cooler during the

summertime. It also allowed the family dog to “trot” up the front steps,

through the breezeway, and on out the back side of the house. These were

also the days of split rail fences. The fence zigzagged so the rails

could be built on top of each other. Lots of labor was involved in

splitting the rails, but most of the early settlers either didn’t have

or couldn’t afford the wire and nails to build any other kind of fence.

But gradually a few enterprising people began putting in businesses at

Sugartown. A tanning yard was established, a rope works, gristmills for

grinding grain into meal, and syrup mills for making syrup. Both the

gristmill and syrup mill were operated by “horsepower” in the truest

sense! The first post office was established in Sugartown in 1841. Prior

to that, the mail had to be picked up at Belgrade, Texas, which was a

boat landing on the Sabine River just south of the present town of

Merryville. Sugartown has had a post office ever since. The first ones

were located in such places as a one-room school, the local store, and

later in the Masonic lodge building. And finally, it was located in its

own freestanding building that measured 8 feet by 10 feet. Because of

its ize, Ripley carried it in his “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” as the

smallest post office in the world! But today, the post office has come

full circle and is once again located in one of the local stores. It is

recorded that in 1861, there were 150 families living within a ten- mile

radius of Sugartown. These families didn’t have many of what we refer to

as conveniences, but they had a good life nevertheless. They did a lot

of fishing and hunting which was a pleasure but also a necessity for

putting food on the table.

 

Other forms of recreation included swimming

in Sugar Creek and Whiskey Chitto. The “Whiskey Chitto” spelling is the

way the local people pronounced the name, but the real name is an Indian

spelling of the name as “Ouiska Chitto.” The locals will tell you that

the water is might tasty where Sugar Creek runs into Whiskey Chitto!

And Sugar Creek – It’s a wonder all the boys didn’t die from a broken

neck from diving into such a shallow stream or from some strange disease.

 

The creek is spring fed and extremely cold! And this reminds me of the

lady who lived near the old swimming hole who used to have an awful lot

of fun out of the young fellows! She will go unnamed since she still has

close relatives living in the vicinity. But she would come down to the

hole and catch all the fellows in swimming without swimsuits. I believe

that is called “skinny dipping.” She would sit upon the bluff overlooking

the swimming hole and wouldn’t let anyone come out of the water. We would

be about to freeze! We would beg her, threaten to come out anyway, and

nothing would move her until she tired of the fun and leave on her own.

Dancing was held monthly in various homes in the community with the music

furnished by two black fiddlers named Uncle Rube and Joe who came over

from the Ten Mile community which was located to the east of Sugartown.

Campground meetings and religious gatherings were quite common back then.

Many of them lasted for days and were as much a social gathering as they

were religious. These early pioneers couldn’t run down to the supermarket

(grocery store) and pick up a frozen dinner, but they still had a wide

selection of foods for the table. They used a lot of wild fruits such

as the Muscatine grape, wild huckleberry, blackberries, mayhaws, wild

plums, and various edible nuts. They grew domestically other fruits

such as figs, blueberries, and peaches. Other foods that were being

grown included corn, potatoes, greens, beans, and peas. In 1877,

Sugartown was a bustling little town.

 

Surveyors in the area recorded the following, “Sugartown is a thriving little place with two cotton

gins, a sawmill, and a gristmill that is steam driven.” Stores handling

a general line of merchandise had been opened during the 1860’s and by

1870, they were stocking yard goods for dresses and rough jean material

for men’s work clothes. By the 1880’s, the stores were carrying ready-

made clothes. At this particular time in the history of Sugartown, I

had two of my four great-grandfathers living – both on my mother’s side

of the family – George W. Richardson and Joseph W. Moore. Richardson had

been living in the general area since the 1860’s. When he first married,

he was living at the community of Bundicks, was a member of the Shiloh

Baptist Church, and was living there when his first wife, my great-

grandmother, died. Her maiden name was Mary Ann Harper and she is buried

in the Shiloh Cemetery. Richardson was quite active in the Sugartown

community and I’ll get back to him a bit later.

 

Let me talk a moment about my great-grandfather Moore and how he came to be living in Sugartown. He was a native of County Mayo, Ireland, and came to this country in 1853 at the age of 18.

 

He came into New Orleans, worked a while on a riverboat,

migrated over to Rapides Parish where he taught school a couple of years

at the Spring Hill Academy, served as a Recorder of Deeds for Rapides

Parish and then moved over to the western part of Rapides Parish which

is now Vernon Parish. There he married Eliza Cavanaugh in 1858. When

Vernon Parish was carved out of Rapides Parish, they were searching for

a name, and decided to name the parish Vernon after great-grandfather

Moore’s racehorse, Vernon.

 

In John Cupit’s history of Vernon parish,

he could find no one who had served as Tax Assessor prior to Grandfather

Moore who served in 1871. Soon after he moved to an area in southwest

Rapides Parish known as Cherry Winche. It is still referred to today as

Cherry Winche. Along with a friend of his, a Doctor Hamilton, he opened

a store in the community that became known as Westport.

 

There has been

quite a lot of animosity in the area between the earliest setters –

I’ll refer to them as Ten Milers – and the more recent settlers such as

Moore, Hamilton, and others. During December of 1881, there had been a

horse race and the outcome of the race had been in dispute. On Christmas

Eve of that year, a number of the Ten Milers had gathered at the store

along with a number of new settlers. I suppose they were buying supplies

for Christmas and killing time in general. A fight broke out from an

argument about the disputed horse race. The Ten Milers went home for

their guns and returned to the store where a gunfight took place.

Note: The “Westport Fight” information is taken from several publications.

One in particular is from a person who was an eyewitness to the actual

fight. It is titled “The Cherry Winche Country” by Don C. Marler and

Jane P. McManus of the Dogwood Press.)

 

Following the big fight, Moore

moved his family to Sugartown where he established another store.

Sugartown was never incorporated but for many years was recognized as

the center of organized community life, a recognized center of trade and

business in general and a leader in the fight to bring law and order

to the frontier. The first Mason lodge west of the Calcasieu River was

established in Sugartown in 1867. It was named the “Sam Todd Lodge #182”

in honor of the Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, and a past

Grand Master. At this time in history, it was formed not only for a

Masonic lodge but for protection for its members because of the

turbulent times following the Civil War. George W. Richardson served

as Master of the Lodge twenty-seven times from his first term in 1871

until his last term in 1912. Joseph Moore served as master in 1882.

Several members of the Miller family served as master including Frank

Miller who served in 1940-41 and is in the audience today.

 

Sugartown

was the home of the first legislator for that newly formed district,

George W Richardson. Sugartown was the home of the first female school

teacher in the area – Richardson’s daughter, Mary Jane – “Aunt Mollie”

to all of us who were fortunate enough to have known her. She received

her teacher’s certificate by attending school in New Orleans while her

father was attending legislative sessions in New Orleans. Sugartown was

the home of the first cotton gin west of the Calcasieu River and it

operated for over 40 years. A gin still operated there when I was growing

up. The owner, “one armed” Mr. Tom Hughes, got a lot of free labor out of

the kids in town. The cotton would be brought to the mill by either wagon

or truck and the cotton would be unloaded into the gin by suction or

vacuum through a metal tube that the kids enjoyed using. Several caps and

hats went up that vacuum tube into the mill! The people of Sugartown have

made many contributions through the years but many people consider the

most important contribution made by this community to be the establishment

of the Male and Female Academy in 1880. This academy was felt to be the

beginning of the educational system in Southwest Louisiana.

 

The first

professor was W.H. Baldwin out of Columbia University, New York. He was

quite a recruiter and drew students from eight or nine surrounding

parishes and even students from East Texas. Quoting from the Lake

Charles American Press of August 1880, “There has been a meeting held

at Sugartown to organize an academy. Dr. G. Meyer acted as chairman,

H.G. Peninger as secretary. The committee appointed to draw a plan for

the building and let the contract consist of Dempsey Iles, H.C. Lyles,

J.D. Sigler, G.W. Richardson, and J.P. Penniger.” Again quoting from

the American Press of October 1881, “W.H. Baldwin, Principal of

Sugartown Academy, passed through Lake Charles on his way to visit

friends in South Carolina. The academy is known as the Male and Female

School. It stands about half mile from Sugartown, on commodious grounds,

surrounded by a good plank fence. It has a convenient water supply.

The schoolroom is large and comfortable, with a wash room at each end

for the young men and young ladies. The principal is W.H. Baldwin. He

has had 15 years experience as a teacher so the discipline is excellent.

The second term will begin Monday, October 31, and will continue six

months. Tuition runs from two dollars to four dollars a month, with

one dollar for incidental fee. Miss Mollie Richardson is assistant

principal. Board may be had by the pupils in the best families. There

are 45 pupils applied for enrollment, with as many as 75 expected.”

After Professor Baldwin left – some say because of heavy drinking –

M.W. Shaddock was the professor with S.J. Iles as his assistant. The

school that replaced the Male and Female Academy was build in the

western edge of Sugartown sometime after the turn of the century,

and educated children from a large surrounding area including Shiloh,

Kipling, Cole Central, etc.

 

Some of the earliest principals included

T.L. Harvey, John Cupit, Bill Shirley, James Simmons, and Frank Hennigan.

In 1962, the Sugartown and Dry Creek Schools were consolidated into East

Beauregard and located one mile south of the Wye. For the students, I

think this was a great move. For the two communities involved, it was

an emotional moment. There was always a friendly rivalry between Sugartown

and Dry Creek that sort of faded away after the consolidation. I don’t

believe anything demonstrates this rivalry and loyalty to the individual

communities as does the following. While Bobbie and I were living in

Baton Rouge, and shortly after I had been appointed head of the Office

of Forestry, I was out on the L.S.U. campus visiting with Dr. Tom

Hansbrough, head of the School of Forestry. After a bit, Tom said,

“Why don’t we go over and visit with Dr. Howard Hanchey?” a native of

Beauregard Parish, and head of the Horticulture Department at L.S.U.

After a bit of conversation, Tom said, “Howard, I had forgotten. Don’t

you and Mac come from the same town?” and Howard raised up his chair

and very emphatically said, “No! Don’s from Sugartown. I’m from Dry Creek!”

 

The Sugartown Baptist Church was organized in 1878. For several years,

services were held in one of the stores, for a while in the Masonic

lodge building, and finally, a frame church was constructed. This old

frame church was replaced in 1953 with the present church building.

Reading the church minutes of July 1915, leaves a person with the

feeling that some mighty high-powered preaching went on back in those

days. These minutes covered a 10-day revival during which 65 people

joined the church. Baptized in Whiskey Chitto Creek were several members

of my family including a grandfather, my father, 4 uncles, and a couple

of aunts. The Nathan A. Jones family lived in Sugartown at that time and

it appears the entire family joined the church during this revival –

Nathan Jones, his wife, Martha McFatter Jones, daughters Blanche, Ollie

and her husband Perry Seale, Bertha and a son, Wilbur. Mr. Jones was a

circuit judge for the area. Just a side note about so many joining at

one time in July – Whiskey Chitto Creek is mighty cold during the winter

months and warms up along about July!

 

The cemetery adjacent to the

church was established sometime prior to 1890, but I am not sure of he

exact date. Two older cemeteries are located about one mile east of

Sugartown and are known as the Old Campground Cemeteries. This location

was originally an Indian campsite, then the Methodists used it for

outdoor religious meetings. The older of the two cemeteries is down

adjacent to Sugar Creek. Typical, I suppose, of the time that cemetery

was being used, are four headstones located together of four children

that were born to the M.T. Nolen family. Two boys, two girls, and all

died in a ten-year period – three born and died on the same day that

each was born. There is a double headstone for the grandfather and

grandmother of Louisiana’s former Governor, Sam Jones.

 

However, only

is grandfather is actually buried there. His grandmother died in New

Orleans at a time when the city was under quarantine and the family

could not move the body, so she was buried in New Orleans. Later,

when Governor Jones couldn’t locate her burial site in New Orleans,

he put up a double headstone where his grandfather is buried. I suppose

during the winter months, the oldest cemetery down near the creek was

difficult to get to so the people established a new cemetery near the

old one but on higher ground. My great-grandfather, Joseph W. Moore

was buried in the new cemetery in 1914 – 61 years after arriving from

County Mayo, Ireland, and 33 years after surviving the “Westport Gunfight”

in Rapides Parish. Dr. Henry Ray Officer was the doctor who delivered me

in 1926. He had arrived in Sugartown shortly after the turn of the

century. He taught school for a couple of years and then started his

medical practice. He married the daughter of a previous doctor, M.E.

Singleton. Dr. Officer did something back then that you don’t find

today – his office was open on Sunday. In fact, Sunday was one of

his better days with two busloads of patients coming in from East

Texas and remaining there most of the day while he checked everyone

out. Each one leaving his office would be carrying one small bottle

and one large bottle! But these bottles made him a rich man. At this

same time, my father, John McFatter, owned a store in Sugartown.

 

Later,

my Uncle Paul Moore opened a store so you might way we had business

sorta’ sewed up. My father in about 1927 leased the store to Mr. George

Iles. My father then took over the store in Leesville where he was in

business until he died in 1934. Our family then took over the store

again in Sugartown and Mr. George Iles moved to DeRidder where he

established a grocery store. At this point I show the audience the

photo of Sugartown that I made in 1954 from the front porch of my

mother’s house. I identified each building and remarked that the sad

thing about the photo is that not a single building in the photo is

still standing. Note: The photo is not included with this file! Other

tidbits: All female teachers were single, as were most of the male

teachers. Most stayed with Mr. & Mrs. Bob Baggett. Few teachers had

cars so people in the community invited them out over the weekend for

candy making, popcorn, etc. and playing dominoes, checkers, etc. The

oiled floors at school and how they smelled. Outside dirt basketball

courts. End of the school year class trips. While classes today make

trips to Disneyland, Washington D.C., etc., we were lucky if we got

to go as far as Calcasieu River for a picnic. The old local telephone

office with its operator and party lines. Swimming in Sugar Creek –

spring fed and cold. Wives coming to the store with the husbands to

buy feed so the wives could pick out the feed sacks they needed to

make a blouse, shirt, or skirt. The hookworm bench at the front of

the store, and the tall tales told there. How flour, rice, sugar,

beans, etc. were stored in bins, weighed, placed in paper bags and

tied with string when sold to a customer. What you couldn’t buy from

the local store was ordered from Sears, Roebuck and Co. The army

maneuvers of 1941. Conclusion –

 

In summary, let me say that at the

turn of the century, Sugartown had a racetrack, saloons, Masonic lodge,

school, churches, boarding houses, several stores, and a doctor’s office.

It was a bustling community and truly, at that time, was the “Queen of

the Frontier.” But also at the turn of the century, the virgin timber

was being harvested to run the large sawmills that were moving into

Southwest Louisiana. Along with and preceding the sawmills in most cases

were the railroads. But these railroads did not come through Sugartown.

 

They came south through the community of DeRidder and east through Pitkin

to the Oakdale area. And, because of transportation needs, the sawmills

built along these railroads. I recall joking in the past about Sugartown

no amounting to as much as Pitkin because the small two-car passenger

train we called the “doodle bug” came through Pitkin instead of Sugartown.

There was more truth in that than fiction! As the community of DeRidder,

located on the Kansas City Southern railroad, began to grow into a well

established town and, finally, become the parish seat of government

(Beauregard), Sugartown began a slow decline to its present status of

being remembered for what it once was more than for what it is today.

 

This is a story from several years ago written after attending a burial at Sugartown Cemetery.

It has a Louisiana/African connection.

Curt

 

Another Iles comes home to Sugartown

 

My Iles ancestors came to what is now Beauregard Parish in about 1819. Before you begin to think I’m puffed up about that, remember this:  Most early settlers of this part of Louisiana called “The Outlaw Strip” were running from the law.

 

William Iles and his family found a home among the pine forests and creeks of this land that is still our home. Many of his descendants lived in and around the area’s first village, Sugartown.

 

Sugartown Cemetery is full of the graves of many of these settlers.

 

And last week another one came home.

 

Elsie Young Iles was born in Sugartown to a large hard-working family.

Once she grew up, she moved away to Lake Charles. However, I’m not sure she ever got Sugartown out of her heart. It’s that way with country places.

 

After World War II, she married her high school sweetheart, George Iles. He was also a Sugartown boy. George, a geologist, made a very good living in the oil business that flourished in Southwest Louisiana through his working years.

 

When her husband George died and her own health declined, Elsie moved to be near her daughter Betty in the Dallas area.

 

During the last years of her life, up to her death at 93, a wonderful Kenyan woman named Karen cared for Elsie Iles.

 

It was at this Sugartown Cemetery graveside service for Elsie that I met Karen. It was a rainy cold day that is often a feature of Louisiana in January. The crowd of relatives from both the Iles and Young families huddled under the tent and umbrellas trying to stay warm.

 

Karen, a large Kenyan with a wonderful smile, closed the service. As she stood to speak, one hand was on the podium and her other hand tenderly caressed Mrs. Elsie’s casket.

 

In beautiful British-accented English, Karen told of her love for Mrs. Elsie Iles. However, she

added,  “I didn’t called her Mrs. Elsie. She was ‘mother’ to me.”

 

Smiling she added, “I was her black daughter, and Betty was her white daughter. I loved her so and will miss her greatly.”

 

Daughter Betty, who had faithfully taken care of her mother, nodded in agreement. It was evident the “two daughters” shared a great love for Mrs. Elsie.

 

Karen told of how Mrs. Elsie loved to hear her sing hymns, and then she launched into singing.

 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

In the Sweet Bye and Bye

And many others.

 

And it was sang in that heart-grabbing style of Africa that I love deeply.

Her singing, sometimes slightly off-key, came from deep in her heart and was simply beautiful as it echoed off the pines surrounding Sugartown Cemetery.

 

In my African-loving mind, Karen’s singing transported me to her home continent. It was as if the tall pines became flat-topped Achaia trees and we were now “in the bush” instead of Sugartown Cemetery.

 

Then the singing stopped. Karen patted the casket one more time before returning to her seat.

A final prayer was given and everyone hurried into the church fellowship hall for lunch and warmth.

 

As I drove away in the rain, I realized that another Iles had come home to Sugartown. Mrs. Elsie Iles had returned to be buried among her kinfolks, friends, and family.

 

And she’d been brought home by two wonderful daughters.

A faithful daughter named Betty Iles Bulloch.

and another daughter—one who also called her ‘mother’—named Karen.

 

 

 

I have a deep and growing love for the continent of Africa.  After two mission trips there (Ethiopia and Zululand, South Africa) I’ve come to love the people of this wonderful, frustrating, complex continent.

 

I am returning there in April to the countries of Rwanda and Congo.

 

 

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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