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 Opelousas History

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 to 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 decimated. 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 occupy Opelousas.

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 Louisiana.

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.

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