Abstract tells story of lands, families, and times

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correspondent

Louisiana had developed as an important agricultural and commercial state well before 1860. Land prices were generally low in the northern part of the state and some land was available for homesteading. Before and after the War Between the States, there was a large migration of Irish, Germans, and Italians and many of these foreign born settled in North Louisiana. Henry S. Long and James J. Long and their families were among those early settlers over one hundred years ago. In 1860, they owned 430 acres in the sixteenth section, located three miles north of Castor, Louisiana. Henry Long and wife Mathilde had purchased the southeast quarter, James and wife Sarah bought in the northwest portion of the same section. It was one of the Sixteenth Sections granted to the states for the benefit of public schools.

The Longs had purchased the land for $2 and $3 per acre. Henry made a down payment of $52.30 and promised to pay nine annual notes of $52.50, a total of $525 for 160 acres of land. James Long's mortgage to the state promised nine annual payments of $179.20.

Possibly, Henry and James Long expected to combine their resources in a farm operation. The land seemed well suited for cotton and food crops and they expected to live work filled but comfortable lives. They began with some acres in cultivation and herded livestock on the open land. Eighteen sixty was a flush year for cotton and production for the state was nearly 800,000 bales. Like most antebellum Louisiana agriculturists, the Longs were plain "dirt farmers" who tilled their acreage with oxen or mule teams and plows. Some new farm machinery was on the horizon and the corn sheller; new types of plows, rakes, and harrows would soon be in use.

James Long had built a log cabin with the help of his neighbors. He laid pine logs parallel to the ground, roofed the building with hand-split shakes, and tamped down an earthen floor. He hung a door of rough boards on leather straps and fastened it with a wooden latch. He constructed a mud and straw fireplace and chimney.

Henry built a larger 'double pen' house with a roofed gallery and two rooms on opposite sides. The furnishings were few and handmade and everything was put together with wooden pegs. Henry and his wife had two children, a son and a daughter. Mathilde and her daughter wore simple dresses of homespun cloth with fitted bodices and flowing skirts made by hand, rough shoes made by an itinerant shoemaker, and sunbonnets. The men wore pants of cottonade with alternating blue and white thread, home made shirts, and straw hats.

The elections of 1860 and the subsequent secession of Louisiana from the Union in 1861 shattered their early prosperity. As preparations began for the War Between the States, Henry's son, John, enlisted in the 16th Regiment of the Louisiana Infantry, the Castor Guard that was assembled on the site of Old Castor.

John E. Long mounted his horse before daybreak on the morning of September 30, 1861. He had packed his saddlebags with essential food and clothing to sustain him during his long trek to the southern training camp. His Mother Mathilde watched as he rode away and silently prayed for his safe return. His father and his Uncle James went along with the young soon to be soldier, joining the throng accompanying other volunteers that day on their approximate eight-mile horseback ride to Old Castor. Many fathers and uncles, too old to enlist, watched as sixty-eight men joined up and then began the long march to the military training camp in Amite, Louisiana.

As John Long went away to war, a difficult period began on the sixteenth Section. As the War progressed, prices of the necessities of life rose until Henry and James were hard pressed to provide food and clothing for their families. The price of salt rose to $130 per sack and quinine rose to $150 per ounce. The Longs became home manufacturers, making their hats of shucks and dyeing their home spun cloth with garden grown indigo and pokeberries. Flour was often unrefined cornmeal, and coffee substitutes were made of parched potatoes, burned meal, roasted acorns, and okra seed. The family accepted hardship without complaint throughout the war years. Company 1, Castor Guards, 16th Regiment, Louisiana Volunteer Infantry also suffered hardships and sustained losses. John E. Long returned to his home and family after the War was over and began anew his life on the Sixteenth Section.

War and reconstruction left Louisiana virtually bankrupt and without any means to restore agriculture, industry, and commerce to their former importance. John Long returned home during those late spring days of 1865 to a war-ravaged and desolate state, to unspeakable poverty and despair. His first task was to begin working to put the farm into operation and relieve the workload of his aging parents.

Henry Long died in 1873, Mathilde in 1882, and John inherited their property in the Sixteenth Section. James Long had his acres seized to satisfy the indebtedness against it. His land was offered for sale at public auction at the Town of Sparta and John purchased it for $54. John eventually owned 480 uncontested acres in Section Sixteen. At age fifty-eight, he sold his vast holdings to Bienville Lumber Company after having moved to Red River Parish.

Bienville Lumber Company was thriving in the little town of Alberta, one mile south of Castor. Early records indicate that the mill employed 250 workers. March of 1915, the mill had exhausted the timber supply and moved its operation to Mississippi. Their acreage in Section Sixteen was sold to J. R. Norman.

Records reflect Norman's attempts to make his investment yield a profit. He sold timber to Delta Stave Company, and leased Castor Creek Lumber Company acreage for a lumberyard and sawmill. He finally mortgaged the land to the Federal Land Bank of New Orleans. Norman held the land for thirteen years before selling it to W. B. Hanson in 1930.

The country was in the grips of the Great Depression and the record shows that Hanson's holdings were seized and sold for taxes in 1933. Three times, Hanson lost his land for non-payment of taxes and three times he redeemed it. His land endeavor seemed ill fated. The Federal Land Bank foreclosed on the mortgage made by Norman. The Bank sold the acreage in Section Sixteen to E. J. Waller. Waller sold the same property to Morgan Howard Waller in 1940.

Eighty years had passed since the original 1860 purchase and the 480 acres originally owned by the Longs in Section Sixteen had been bought and sold over fourteen times. It was mortgaged many times, and seized at least five times. Five owners died and their holdings passed to their heirs. Subsequent owners have included Martin Timber Company, Lee D. Hancock, and B. H. Davis and his heirs.

The history of the Sixteenth Section reminds us that the land is a trust to be kept and used for a while. If he is a good steward, he will leave it better than he found it, but man is transient upon the face of it. The land will not be owned for long.

Authors note: Most of the material for this article was obtained from a land abstract furnished by Mr. & Mrs. B. H. Davis (now deceased).