Historical Articles by W. T. Block

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One of the earliest of the big Kansas City retail lumber dealers to follow the Kansas City Southern rails south to Lake Charles around 1896 was Long-Bell Lumber Company, which operated in Western Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) under a number of subsidiary names, its mill at Deridder being Hudson River Lumber Company, and its mill at Bon Ami being King-Ryder Lumber Company. King-Ryder also owned mills at Thomasville, I. T. and at Winthrop, Arkansas.

The ghost town of Bon Ami no longer appears on a Louisiana road map, but the erstwhile sawmill town flourished two miles south of Deridder in 1905. Bon Ami, of course, means "good friend" in French, but in all likelihood, an early settler probably came from another town of that name in the eastern states. There are two long articles about early Bon Ami, one in the Long-Bell treatise in American Lumberman of July 2, 1904, and another in Beaumont (Tx.) Enterprise of November 26, 1904 and May 14, 1905.

King-Ryder Lumber Company of Louisiana was organized in 1900, and according to the 1901 Kansas City Southern Sawmill Circular No. 52-A, the mill was already cutting 120,000 feet daily, to make it one of the greatest sawmills ever in Beauregard Parish. By 1904, the Bon Ami mill was working both a day and a night shift of ten hours each and cutting 300,000 feet daily. The main cutting machinery included two single-cutting band saw head rigs and a large gang saw, and the writer believes that only the Fullerton, Louisiana sawmill of Gulf Lumber Company enjoyed a larger daily cut.

Officers of King-Ryder Lumber Company included R. A. Long of Kansas City, president; B. H. Smith, vice president and general manager at Bon Ami; and W. F. Ryder, secretary-treasurer. Other key plant personnel at Bon Ami in 1904-05 included H. Bales, mill superintendent; G. E. Davis, sales manager; J. E. Dodd, A. R. Sommers, shipping clerks; L. B. Abbey, depot agent; Roy Matthews, E. G. Matthews, bookkeepers; O. C. Murray, time keeper; J. G. Pontius, J. K. Sorrels, planing mill foremen; A. F. Scott, yard foreman; A. F. Belt, J. W. Baker, checkers; and Miss Lou Sailor, stenographer. A lady sawmill stenographer in 1904 most assuredly would have emptied any K. C. S. passenger train of all the 'drummers,' passengers, engineers and firemen for a conspicuous glance or stare.

The King-Ryder sawmill of Bon Ami in 1905 was reported as owning a 20-year "stumpage reserve" (of uncut trees), or enough to last until 1925, and that report came when the sawmill was cutting 300,000 feet daily on two ten-hour shifts. Of necessity, the loggers would have had to deliver daily to the log pond 400,000 feet of log stumpage. The King-Ryder log tram owned five locomotives, each of them of standard gauge.

One article noted that: "...The company has a boarding train which is used in the logging camp, several miles distant. The train includes 30 log cars, each painted white, and is fitted up with sleeping, cooking, and eating accommodations..."

No estimate was given of the number of employees, but the number of mill hands and loggers needed to work two 10-hour shifts would require a minimum of 600 persons. Hence, the population must have reached at least 1,200. Wages varied from $3.50 daily for skilled hands to $1.50 daily for mill laborers, although the saw filer earned $7.00 daily.

Bon Ami was a "dry" town, with no saloon anywhere on company property. The same may have applied to F. L. Carroll of Beaumont, president of Nona Mills Company of Leesville, who was virtually head of the Prohibition Party in Texas.

The Bon Ami water works was complete and was piped throughout the mill area and town, the sources being from several springs and wells with artesian flows. Electricity from the two dynamos was wired thoughout the mill area, which resembled a Christmas tree during the night shift. Water and electricity was also wired and piped to the Commercial Hotel, the dispensary, the commissary, boarding house, school, and tenant house areas. There was also a telephone system within the plant and yard.

Being in the age of strict racial segregation, there was both a white living quarter in Bon Ami and a black living quarter too. The dispensary had both white and colored waiting rooms, hot and cold running water, an operating room, a drug store, and two college-trained mill physicians, Dr. J. Z. Barnett, and his son, Dr. G. F. Barnett.  1

In April, 1905, King-Ryder Lumber Company shipped 367 box cars of lumber, which set a new record for the plant. Monthly cuts averaged well above 5,000,000 feet, or about 64,000,000 feet annually. A new battery of boilers, of 450 hp., had just been added for steam heat in the dry kilns. For some reason, there were two planing mills at Bon Ami, Nos. 1 and 2, spaced far apart as a fire precaution. A 40" blow pipe system for sawdust and shavings, connected both planers and the sawmill to the brick fuel house (2,000 feet long) and required a booster blower to keep the shavings moving.

Most of the single men resided at the boarding house, where meals were cheaper. Social life in a sawmill town usually centered around the large commissary, which carried a $50,000 stock of goods, had several departments, and employed several clerks. There was also a 'substantial' school building, where two teachers, Estella McLout and --Simmons taught. There was also a community building, used by fraternal orders, and alternately by the Baptist and Methodist congregations. In 1905, Rev. H. Armstrong was pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church congregation.   2

By March, 1908, the Bon Ami log camp, known as Walla, was located about twelve miles southeast of Deridder, between Newlin and Carson on Cowpen Creek. Long-Bell Lumber Company also operated at that point one of its turpentine distilleries, known as Louisiana and Texas Naval Stores Company. Walla log camp quickly grew into a semi-permanent location because of the large volume of Long-Bell's virgin pine timber reserve in that vicinity.

Walla had a variety of employee housing, from four room pyramidal to house cars on wheels, most of them painted as well. The house cars were simply two box-like rooms, bolted together, on a flat car. About 300 men were employed in logging operations and in the turpentine plant, most of whom rode the daily log train back and forth from Bon Ami.

At the log front, residential areas were segregated into black and white quarters. There were likewise a number of substantial buildings at Walla, an office, a 14'x40-foot commissary with a $4,000 stock of goods, an ice house, a dispensary for Drs. Lemon and Smith, fifty houses, and a two-story boarding house with fifteen rooms. The waterworks there consisted of a deep well of 220 feet, 6-inch water mains throughout the work and residential areas, and a 28,000-gallon cypress water tank and standpipe, elevated 52 feet. There were also a steam engine and two boilers in the power house, a round house for the locomotives, and a blacksmith shop.

The Bon Ami sawmill had 12 miles of standard gauge track ending at Walla, plus two miles of rail spurs and temporary tracks. Due to a slack lumber demand in 1907-1908, the Bon Ami sawmill had cut back to 150,000 feet daily, cut on one ten-hour shift, and 200,000 scaled feet of logs were unloaded daily at the Bon Ami log pond. Logging in the woods was done with sixty mules and horses, 8-wheel log wagons, a four-line Ledgerwood skidder and loader, and a smaller two-line skidder-loader.

Bon Ami's rolling stock included one 45-ton Baldwin mainliner, on which Robert Creasey was the engineer, four Shay engines used on the spurs, 83 log cars, 3 cabooses, one passenger car, 5 water cars, 2 feed cars, and 2 livestock cars. The logging personnel at Walla included C. E. Ryder, superintendent; L. L. Ryder, assistant superintendent; John Conn, #1 skidder foreman; M. Covey, #2 skidder foreman; C. P. Galloway, saw boss; Shad Young, filer; Tom Burke, steel (track) gang foreman; Jack Farrell, section foreman; Louis Calloway, blacksmith and deputy sheriff; W. H. Calloway, corral foreman; Ed Dies, John McKissick, locomotive switching engineers; Will Hester, track engineer; C. McKinney, commissary manager; W. A. Hill, carpenter foreman; and Mrs. McClendon, boarding house operator.   3

As of March, 1908, the Bon Ami sawmill schedule had already been reduced to one shift, and the No. 2 planing mill was closed down due to a stagnant lumber market. The sawmill cutting equipment as of 1908 included two single-cutting band saws, a Dixie circular saw, and a 36-gang saw. The Bon Ami sawmill continued as the pride of the Long-Bell mills in Louisiana. One new mechanical feature of the Bon Ami mill was its new lumber sorter and stacker.  4  A news article reported the following: . . . A very noticeable thing about this plant is its neatness.... The homes of the employees are very neat and comfortable. Some of them have large rose beds and well-kept yards. The house are all painted and as to architecture are symmetrical.... The pay roll runs to $30,000 a month and 500 men are employed {300 in the woods and turpentine operation}... The Bon Ami baseball team will play the Carson team on April 5 (1908)....  5

Key plant personnel at Bon Ami in March, 1908 included W. S. Pickett, superintendent; H. Bale, assistant superintendent; F. E. Martin, sawmill foreman; A. S. Miller, master mechanic; F. A. Love, W. F. Pontius, planer foremen; E. K. Elliott, stacker foreman; J. T. Combs, yard foreman; Charles Edwards, dry kiln foreman; C. H. Benke, filer; W. S. Goyen, dock foreman; W. S. McCurdy, Charles Smith, shipping clerks; J. M. Frye, Tom Shumake, John Evans, C. B. Hopkins, sawyers; S. W. Hooper, Jack Gillespie, mill engineers; T. H. Preisker, electrician; G. D. Allen, chief inspector; S. H. Stewart, deputy sheriff; Dr. C. W. Smith, mill physician; C. B. Kenneson, chief clerk; Charles Albin, cashier; W. A. Bohnert, C. L. Yarborough, timekeepers; Misses A. Carpenter, Nora Vick, stenographers; W. E. McNair, commissary manager; J. C.Moore, dry goods clerk; George Feiffer, H. G. Albin, Eugene Gorham, grocery clerks; and Daisy Koonce, commissary cashier and telephone operator.  6

In July, 1908, the Bon Ami mill was still running at half-capacity due to a buyers' market that left lumber prices low. A news article of that month reported that Bon Ami enjoyed an excellent safety record, with very few mill accidents. Another mill innovation of that year was that only compressed air was used to clean all the mills, including floors, pulleys, belting, and line shafts. All dust and wood refuse was blown into the dust blowers, bound for the fuel house or burner.  7

Bon Ami also had an experimental farm and peach orchard in 1908. Seventy acres of fall potatoes and six acres of tomatoes were planted as a fall crop. Several acres of peas were expected to yield 500 bushels, worth $4 a bushel, and a yield of 200 tons of forage hay was expected. In July, 1908, a youth named Simpson Medley was bitten by a rattlesnake while picking peas, but the poison inflicted in the wound caused no ill effect since it was soon attended by a physician.  8

In May, 1907, the Bon Ami baseball enthusiasts met with those of Neame, Carson, and Ludington, and they organized the Yellow Pine League. The managers then drew up a schedule of games to last between May 17 and October 25th. "All four teams are about evenly matched, and no doubt some very close games will be played." Also in May, the Bon Ami Dramatic Club presented the comedy-melodrama "Diamonds and Hearts" to a packed house from Neame, Pickering, Ludington, Carson, and Deridder. At the request of Deridder residents, a repeat performance was scheduled for Ford's Opera House there. The Bon Ami Club had already won particular fame in Southwest Louisiana with its performance of "East Lynne" some years earlier.  9

The writer knows very little about Bon Ami after 1908. In his dissertation, "Lumbering in Southwest Louisiana," Dr. George Stoke reported that the Bon Ami sawmill's annual output was 60,000,000 feet when operated at full capacity. The mill cut out its timber in 1925, at which time the mill and much of the town were dismantled. During its heyday, there were two boarding houses for whites and one for Negroes at Bon Ami. The town had unusual recreation facilities for a sawmill town, having a baseball club, a recreation hall for Negroes, a YMCA recreation hall for whites, a theater, bowling alleys, two churches, and schools for both races through the seventh grade. Stokes estimated Bon Ami's maximum population at 1,500 persons.  10

It would be a terrible waste if knowledge about Western Louisiana's old sawmills should be allowed to die. By 1925, Beauregard Parish had become a wasteland of cutover pine stumps, and like two hundred other mill towns, Bon Ami became only another ghost town whose very name was soon forgotten except by a very few elderly persons who may have been born there. And perhaps only an abandoned cemetery is all that exists there today. Bon Ami and the other Western Louisiana ghost towns were a way of life for 40 years, and the stories about them should be accumulated and published somewhere while such is still possible to do.


  1. 1   "In The Piney Woods-Bon Ami, La.," Beaumont Enterprise, Nov. 26, 1904; also "Bon Ami-A Model Plant," Beaumont Enterprise, December 4, 1905.
  2. 2   "Reception at Bon Ami," Beaumont Enterprise, Feb. 4, 1905, p. 4, col. 3; also "Long-Bell-Bon Ami News Items," Beaumont Enterprise, May 14, 1905, p. 11.
  3. 3   "Budget From Walla--The Bon Ami Log Camp," Beaumont Enterprise, March 27, 1908, p. 6, cols. 6-7.
  4. 4   "King-Ryder Works--Bon Ami," Beaumont Enterprise, March 29, 1908, p. 19, cols. 6-8.
  5. 5   Ibid.
  6. 6   Ibid., p. 19, col. 6.
  7. 7   "Bon Ami News Budget," Beaumont Enterprise, July 26, 1908, p. 2, col. 6.
  8. 8   "Bon Ami Experimental Farm" and "Bon Ami Personals," Beaumont Enterprise, July 26, 1908, p2, cols. 6-7.
  9. 9   ""Diamonds and Hearts"-Bon Ami Dramatic Club," Beaumont Enterprise, May 11, 1907.
  10. 10   Dr. George Stokes, "Lumbering in Southwest Louisiana," Ph. D. dissert., LSU, 1954, pp. 107- 108.