St. Landry Parish was named for the Catholic Church Parish that was established about 1767 in the Opelousas Territory and named for St. Landry, the Bishop of Paris who served in 650 AD. The photo to the left is of the present St. Landry Catholic Church building soon after it was constructed in 1908. The building sits on the same site that was donated to the church by Michel Prudhomme in 1798.
St. Landry Parish was established by a legislative act approved on April 10, 1805, St. Landry Parish (first called Opelousas County). However, the history of the area goes back many years before the parish was officially created.
Many, many years ago the first humans settled in the territory of the present parish of St. Landry. Although not much is known about these prehistoric Louisiana inhabitants, anthropologists say they arrived in the area over 12,000 years ago. Archaeologists have identified 110 prehistoric dwelling sites in the parish, three dating back to the Paleo-Indians of Louisiana who lived in the area as early as 10,500 BC.
During the historic period (after 1500 AD), Attakapa Indians roamed the area of St. Landry Parish. One band, the Opelousas, eventually gained control of the land. The city of Opelousas, the seat of the parish, takes its name from this tribe.
The history of the parish and the history of the state as we know it today began in 1519 when Alvarez explored the gulf coast. Desoto, from Spain, explored in 1541, and in 1682, Robert Cavalier Sieur de la Salle descended the Mississippi, claiming the territory for France and naming it “Louisiana” in honor of King Louis XIV.
The first white man to walk on the land of St. Landry Parish was probably French. According to local legend, that was about 1690. Several years later, the French government of Louisiana established Poste des Opelousas in the territory of the Opelousas Indians. The post became a stopping point for overland travelers going between Natchitoches and New Orleans. When Jean Joseph LeKintrek and Joseph Blanpain formed a partnership to handle trade with the Opelousas Indians in the 1740s, they settled in Opelousas, along with their three Black slaves, who became the first Africans to arrive in the area. The Spanish took over Louisiana and Opelousas in 1762. During this period Spanish settlers joined the French inhabitants of Opelousas. It was also during this time that some of the French Acadians, deported by the English from Nova Scotia, Canada, came into the area. In the census of the Opelousas Post taken in 1771, there was ten Acadian families listed as living in Opelousas.
The Spanish built a military and trade post at Opelousas in about 1765, and the old Indian village, now known as El Post de Opelousas, became the governing center of the entire southwestern part of Louisiana. The post, a large garrison, was established in the area north of the present city of Opelousas. By the end of the eighteenth century, the French controlled the land again.
Opelousas and the area that would become St. Landry Parish was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France sold the territory. Louisiana and Opelousas than became a part of the United States of America. An influx of people from the United States added a group of English speaking persons to the already diverse population of the Opelousas area. Through the years until the present time, other groups arrived to settle in what became St. Landry Parish from places such as Germany, Italy, Ireland, Asia, as well as from other countries and other parts of the US. This created a “Cultural Gumbo” of sorts in the parish.
When St. Landry was created at the beginning of the 19th century, it was the largest parish in the state. Its boundaries encompassed all the land once called the Opelousas Territory, between the Atchafalaya River on the East, the Sabine River on the West, between the southern boundary of Rapides and Vernon Parishes on the North, and the northern boundary of Lafayette and St. Martin Parishes on the South. Since then, six other parishes: Calcasieu, Acadia, Evangeline, Jeff Davis, Beauregard and Allen, have been formed from this territory, making St. Landry the Imperial Parish of Louisiana.
Since the formation of the parish, Opelousas has been the seat of government. While it remains the principal town in St. Landry Parish, Washington maintained its position as the chief shipping point in southwest Louisiana until the beginning of the 1900s, and shared with Port Barre the commercial advantages of being the main ports. Today, Krotz Springs serves as the major port for the parish. Other municipalities of the parish include Eunice, Leonville, Melville, Palmetto, Lebeau, Arnaudville, Sunset, Grant Coteau and Cankton, making St. Landry the parish with the most municipalities in Louisiana.
From the early days to the present, St. Landry Parish has been a hub for transportation, government, commerce, education and agriculture. Today, Imperial St. Landry Parish remains one of the most important and historical areas in Louisiana.
© 2003 Carola L. Hartley
Used with permission