Location: Natchitoches, Louisiana
Webpage: Louisiana State Park
General Description: Fort St Jean Baptiste State Historic Site is a replica of an early French fort based on the original 1716 blueprints. Unfortunately the location of the original fort is unknown, however, it is believed to be a few hundred yards from the replica. Fort St Lean Baptiste was constructed to protect the French settlement on the Red River, which became the Cane River, that became Natchitoches as the first permanent European settlement. It began in 1714 as two huts built to protect the supplies of French Canadian Louis Antoine Juchereau de St. Denis while he was en route on a trading mission from Mobile to Mexico. In 1716, Sieur Charles Claude Dutisné was sent to construct and garrison an outpost to prevent Spanish forces in Texas from moving into French Louisiane. Natchitoches grew into a major French trade center with the Indians in the lower Mississippi Valley. Native American tribes of the three Caddo Indian Confederacies played a major role in the trade and communication between the French, Spanish, and Indians in the region. The fort continued to serve as a military outpost and trading center until 1762 when France’s defeat in the French and Indian War forced France to cede the land to Spain. Since the primary purpose of the fort to protect the border with Spanish Texas, its role as a military outpost was no longer needed and it was abandoned. Reconstruction of the fort was began in 1979 using mid 18th century techniques and consisted of over 2,000 treated pine logs and 250,000 board feet of treated lumber.
1) The Visitor Center at Fort St Jean Baptiste is well worth the visit. Inside there is a short movie about the fort, as well as, exhibits and model of the surrounding area. You get a good sense of the changes over time as the Red River changed its course. At the time of the fort it was along the main channel of the Red River, however, today the main channel is to the east and the Cain River has been turned into a lake. Thus flooding is no longer a major concern, which was a big problem back in the 18th century. They also provide a guide to site which includes the reconstructed fort.
2) It is always nice to see a reconstructed fort since it is much easier to understand the life style of the soldiers. The fort follows the original blueprint and is surprisingly small. Inside the fort walls there is barely enough room for a small barracks, drill field, quartermaster storage, church, and commandant home. In fact, the barracks appeared to be much to limited until you realize that most of the soldiers, including the commandant, lived outside the fort in the town of Natchitoches. There are a few exhibits in the buildings providing information about its use.