Begin your Natchitoches visit at Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site and gain a better understanding and appreciation of the customs and cultures of the early inhabitants of Natchitoches.
Birthplace of French Natchitoches
Natchitoches was founded by a French Canadian, Louis Antoine Juchereau de St.Denis , in 1714 while he was en route to Mexico from Mobile, Alabama, on a trade mission.
When he reached the village of the Natchitoches Indians on the Red River, he had two huts constructed within the village and left a small detachment there to guard the stores and trade with the inhabitants. This became the first permanent European settlement in the territory later known as the Louisiana Purchase.
In 1716, Sieur Charles Claude Dutisn was sent to Natchitoches with a small company of colonial troops to build and garrison an outpost that would prevent the Spanish forces in the province of Texas from advancing across the border of French Louisiane. This strategic outpost was named for a French patron saint, Fort St. Jean Baptiste des Natchitoches.
The fort continued to serve as a military outpost and commercial trade center until 1762, when France’s defeat by England in the French and Indian War forced her to cede the Louisiana colony to Spain.
The fort’s original location is unknown, though it is believed to have stood where the Old American Cemetery is today. The fort that visitors tour today is a reconstruction based on historical records. Though it’s hard for visitors to believe, nothing inside its walls is a genuine artifact from the 18th century- except, perhaps, the slowly weathering mud that is mixed with moss and grasses to seal the wall (what the French called “bousillage”).
The Office of State Parks began an interpretive program at the site to allow visitors to experience a bit of colonial history. Each year, the park hosts several 18th century history encampments and programs that demonstrate the history to the visitor through live interpretation.
Facilities include the visitor’s center, day use facilities and fort replica with the addition of modern restrooms. Groups are requested to arrange a tour.