OPELOUSAS FACTS & HISTORY
The City of Opelousas is the third oldest
city in Louisiana. As far back as 1690, French "Coureur
de Bois" traders were probably the
first Europeans to enter the territory of the
Opelousas Indians and
carried on a lucrative trade with
the Opelousas Indians at that time. The exact year in which
Opelousas was established is not certain, but records indicate that the
first land grant was acquired by Louis Pellerin, a French officer
stationed at the Opelousas Poste, in 1764.
Opelousas was part of the Louisiana Purchase
acquired by the United states in 1803. In 1805, St. Landry Parish
was officially established, and was the largest parish in the state,
known as the Imperial Parish of Louisiana. Opelousas was named the
parish seat and records indicate the first courthouse was constructed in
1806 on a square in the middle of town. Since that time four other
structures have been built on the same spot (1822, 1847, 1888, and the
present courthouse built in 1939).
Louisiana was admitted to the
Union in 1812, and Opelousas was later incorporated as a town in 1821.
During the Civil War, Opelousas became the state capital for nine months
in 1862 after Baton Rouge fell under Union control. The former
Lieutenant Governor at that time was Homere Mouton, whose home became
the Governor's mansion, a title it still bears.
How did Opelousas get its name?
There is no record, however legend tells us that the Attakapas Indians
occupied this area for their camping grounds. These Indians were a
warlike tribe and preyed upon neighboring tribes. The three other
tribes in the area, the Opelousas, the Choctaws, and the Alabamans,
considered the Attakapas their enemy and together successfully drove
them from their land, almost destroying the entire tribe. The
three tribes then made a pack and gave the land of the Attakapas to the
Opelousas Tribe, thus the territory was called "Opelousas." The
name Opelousas means Blackleg.
Important Dates In
1719: Military presence is established in Opelousas area when
Ensign Nicholas Chauvin de la Frênière and two others are sent into area
by Captain Renauld d'Hauterive.
1770: In order to encourage settlement of the newly
acquired colony, Gov. O'Reilly issues a land ordinance allowing settlers
acquire liberal grants of land, particularly in the frontier areas of
the Opelousas, Attakapas, and Natchitoches districts.
1804: Opelousas is made
the seat of the "County of Opelousas."
1805: The County of
Opelousas is renamed St. Landry for the church at Opelousas.
1806: Louisiana Memorial
United Methodist Church is founded in Opelousas. This is the first
Protestant church in Opelousas, the first Methodist Church in Louisiana,
and the oldest Methodist church west of the Mississippi River.
1811: The St. Landry
Parish Police Jury meets for the first time on July 16. Minutes are
written in English and French. The first order of business was to
order the immediate construction of a jail, to be built adjoining the
"old prison" where debtors are confined.
1821: Opelousas is
formally incorporated by legislative act that included all land within
one-half mile of the courthouse.
1828: The third St.
Landry Church is built in Opelousas.
1853: One of the first volunteer fire departments in
Louisiana is incorporated in Opelousas.
1853: A terrible yellow
fever epidemic strikes St. Landry Parish in August. The town of Washington was
Twenty people died in Opelousas.
1862: Opelousas becomes
the capital of Confederate Louisiana in May as the state government is
forced to flee Baton Rouge. It remained the state capital until January
1863, when it was moved to Shreveport because Union troops threaten and
1868: Between 25 and 50
blacks are victims of a riot at Opelousas in September. It is
cited as one of the worst examples of Reconstruction violence in south
1880: The first
passenger trains reach Opelousas on October 15.
1908: The present St.
Landry Church begins construction in Opelousas.
Photos available from Louisiana Digital Library,
Louisiana State University.