Natchitoches, LA
Founded 1714

City of Lights [one million Christmas lights)

12/28 -29/2007

By Paul and Dottie Ridenour

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Charles Steger told me about Natchitoches.  There is the story of two brothers who were told by their Caddo chief father that they need to go in opposite directions and form towns.  They did.  In Texas, we have Nacogdoches (pronounced Nack-a-doe-chis).  In Louisiana, they have Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-a-tish).  Natchitoches is on the Cane River.  The river is 35 miles long.  The story is a myth but both towns are Caddo.  The Caddo were great traders and friends of both the Spanish and French.

We left Dallas at 9 AM and arrived in Natchitoches at 1 PM.  We first stopped at Lasyon's and had meat pies.  Mr.  Lasyone has his picture on the wall with famous people including Vanna White and Darrell Hanna from Steel Magnolias, which was filmed in Natchitoches.  The wedding scene was filmed at St. Augustine.

After lunch, we toured the Melrose Plantation.  The original owner was named  Marie Therese Coincoin (pronounced kwan kwan).  She was a freed slave who previously had ten children with a Frenchman named Pierre Metoyer (pronounced Meh-twire).  They never married.  She bought the freedom of all her children who were not yet free.  Pierre married a white woman and had three children.  The Metoyer family today consists of Creole and white descendants numbering in the thousands.

One of the buildings at Melrose is called the African House because it was designed after what the slaves remembered the houses were like in Africa.  Inside and on the second floor, are paintings by Clementine Hunter.   Her real name was Clemence but she changed it to Clementine (pronounced Clementeen).  She picked cotton on the plantation, washed clothes, and cooked.  She was never a slave since she was born circa 1887.  Clementine hated school, and therefore, never received an education.  She didn't like the nuns at the school.  She brought meat on a Friday when it was fish only and she got mad and never went back.

In 1899, the plantation became owned by Cammie Henry who allowed artists to come and stay for free as long as they were working on their art (writing, painting, and photography).  Every day she asked them how they were doing.  One guy had writers block and she locked him in a room for three days until the block was gone.  Some of the guests included writers William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Sherwood Anderson, Francis Parkinson Keyes, Anne Parrish, and Alexander Wollcott.

At age 50, Clementine told one of the guests named François Mignon that she could "mark" a picture.  He gave her some oil paints and a window shade.  She painted that night and gave it to him in the morning.  He was amazed by it.  He became her encourager and promoter throughout her life.  He was supposed to be a guest for six weeks but stayed on the plantation for 32 years.  Clementine gave her paintings away or sold them for 25 cents.  As years went on, she was able to sell them for $5 and $10.  She was called a "primitive" painter most of her life but now she is described as "untrained," or a folk artist.  She was married three times, had three children, and did not care for men.  She said they were lazy.  She painted men "small" and anyone else she didn't like.  She picked 78 pounds of cotton the day before she bore one of her children.   She would paint about picking cotton, doing the wash, weddings, baptisms, church services, and life on the plantation.  

Her original painting on the window shade recently sold for $50,000.  Francois died in 1980 and she died in 1988.  He was not alive to see her fame as now some of her paintings have gone for $700,000.  She signed her paintings C H.  She realized that Cammie Henry's initials were also C H so she then signed with a backwards C with the H, then the backwards C would touch the H, and finally, the H was written over the C.  This makes it easy to identity the years in which her paintings were made.  Clementine would paint at night and sometimes all night.  The husband she liked once said "You are going to go crazy if you do not get some sleep."  She responded "I will go crazy if I don't paint."  One of her paintings was found intact in the rubble after Hurricane Katrina and it sold for thousands of dollars.

We ate a fantastic steak at Papa's where we thought we saw Dottie's old dentist Jim Berry.  We convinced ourselves it wasn't him.  Mama's was next door, owned by the same people, and supposed to be one of the best restaurants for seafood, but we did not have the opportunity to eat there.  Next time we will.

We spent the night at the Ramada Inn on Hwy 1 Bypass.  I had a frozen margarita before dinner about three hours earlier and we were stopped by the police right before we got to our hotel.  They had blocked the road and were doing a "sobriety check."  I was fine but I have never seen anything like that before.  Next time we will stay downtown at the Church Street Inn.

Saturday we visited the Oakland Plantation.   The local French government taxed houses by the number of doors and fireplaces.  So the people made "windows" one could walk through and Oakland had four fireplaces connected to one chimney, therefore, it looked as if the house only had one fireplace.  We saw the same guy again who looks like Jim Berry.  He asked me about my camera.  Then he asked where we were from and that he thinks he knows us.  I said "That's because you are Jim Berry and I am Paul Ridenour."  He then recognized Dottie.  Small world!

We drove by other plantations.  The Magnolia Plantation had 70 brick slave quarters at one time housing 250 slaves.  They tore down most of the slave quarters to use the bricks on the Magnolia house after it burned.

We had a late lunch at Merci Beaucoup and it was also very good.  We had the Cajun Potato - a baked potato stuffed with crawfish etouffee and two grilled shrimp.  It was as good as it gets [$12].  We shopped the rest of the afternoon.  We met a couple, Rick and Denise Thomas, in one of the stores who had recently moved from Plano, TX, where we work.  Denise Martin Thomas graduated Denton High School [Denton, TX] in 1980 and knew some of the same people I knew from that year - Claire Fischer [married All-Pro Detroit Lion's player Doug English], Charlotte Hopkins [I only knew her through Claire - Charlotte married Terry Bradshaw around 1982], Rachel Thames, Duana Bender, Carson Sinclair Trapnell,  Shelly Darby, and Shawneen Hebert.

We ate dinner at The Landing.  We had salmon topped with lobster sauce, shrimp, and crawfish, and a side of buttered steamed broccoli.  Very good!  We heard that The Mariner was another good place to eat.  Next time!  All of the restaurants are within walking distance from downtown.  One can park on Front Street or the side streets.

After dinner were the fireworks by the bridge.  One of the best fireworks shows we have ever seen.  We left Natchitoches at 8 PM and made it home by 11:50 PM.

Next year we hope to be in Natchitoches for New Year's Eve.

Lasyone's - famous meat pies

Melrose Plantation

Melrose kitten

Our tour guide Lori Tate was the grooms' mother in the wedding scene in Steel Magnolias
She also ate dinner with singer Jim Croce at his last meal - he died in a plane crash at the airport when the plane hit some trees on takeoff

African House at Melrose

Clementine Hunter

She would not smile for the photographer.  Then she grabbed this chicken that ran by her and would not let it go so he took this picture.  The story is that she ate the chicken that night.

African House - upstairs is a four-walled mural by Clementine

Good angels = white and women, bad angels = red and men [signed H over C]

When asked why their hair is sticking straight up, Clementine replied "Yours would too if you were flying through the air."

Clementine drew a chicken because she was tired of drawing horses [notice her signature - H over backwards C]

Copy of original painting on the window shade - sold recently for $50,000

Lots of Oak trees - 175+ to 230+ years old

Cane River across from St. Augustine

St. Augustine - wedding scene from Steel Magnolias

Inside St. Augustine

Buried behind St. Augustine and next to Francois Mignon so she could bring him coffee every afternoon at 3 PM [backwards C connected to the H]

Downtown Natchitoches

The bridge at dusk

"Answer me these questions three"

The Christmas tree changes colors to music

Bridge in downtown over the Cane River

Christmas lights along the river

Cherokee Plantation - 1837 (private)

Oakland Plantation - 1821

Oakland - fence kicked in by John Wayne in the movie Horse Soldiers.  The wine bottle garden is worth 100s of 1000s of dollars.  There are some bottles that are worth so much, you could retire on selling just one of them.  They are heavily monitored.

Jim Berry in the black jacket

Tour guide Jean Carter

Left cup to protect a man's mustache

Magnolia Plantation (private)

Magnolia slave quarters - two families each

D. Metoyer - National Parks guide at the Magnolia Plantation Complex

Oaklawn Plantation - 1830s (private) - owned by Steel Magnolias writer Robert Harling
The 680 foot "Oak Alley" is the third longest in Louisiana

Beau Fort Plantation - 1790 (private)

Owned by Ann Brittain who saved most of Clementine Hunter's paintings - because she owned most of them

Merci Beaucoup - lunch

A store cat

Church of the Immaculate Conception, built 1856 as the Cathedral of St. Francis - the congregation goes back to 1714

The Landing - dinner

I could not get enough of the bridge

Fireworks at 7 PM at the bridge - right over our heads