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back to index A Brief Ethnography of Magnolia Plantation: Planning for Cane River Creole National Historical Park

Chapter 10: Local Suggestions of Interpretive Events or Activities

Responses to questions about the information and messages parks should convey to the visiting public reflected several kinds of experiences. Residence in the area potentially affected by increased tourism traffic influenced some views. Probably just as important in framing peoples’ responses was familiarity with national parks or other historic plantation sites, travel outside the area, and knowledge about or involvement with heritage conservation programs. Responses from white Magnolia owners and Creoles of color, for example, suggested familiarity with plantations and heritage sites elsewhere in the south, and Creoles of color in the Heritage Area demonstrated their own involvement in developing local heritage events and programs. Concern about “heritage resources” and tourism was more recent among the blacks we interviewed, although it is expected to expand with the recent establishment of the Black Heritage Society in Natchitoches. Different individual or ethnic group experiences in the Lower Cane River in general and Magnolia more specifically sometimes encouraged divergent opinions. Agreement was evident other times.

Black Views:

  • Clean and repair the quarters, the store, and other farm structures.
  • Encourage events, such as homecomings and community reunions, at June 19th and Labor Day weekends. June 19th is important for friends and families but the national holiday, July 4th, when people enjoy a long weekend, brings people back from elsewhere, including California, Texas, and Chicago.
  • Teach black work songs.

White Views:

  • Commercial ventures, such as establishing a souvenir shop for the sale of local specialties, including Ms. Lil’s dolls (formerly made and sold by a Creole of color woman in a shop on Highway 1, at Natchez), and a food service where local culinary specialists could demonstrate Cane River creole cooking. Hot tamales, meat pies and crawfish pies are especially important foods at Christmas time.
  • Make Magnolia a fun place to visit with family-oriented and children’s activities, including riding horses, taking buggy and surrey rides, having someone perform magic tricks for children, and providing farm machinery that children could ride.
  • Tell ghost stories such as the one about the overseer, supposedly killed by Yankee troops, who still haunts the Big House.
  • Swim in Cane River.
  • Initiate environmental education programs.

Blacks and Whites Agree:

  • Run the plantation store, stock it as before but also sell small items such as post cards and other items representing Magnolia. Both groups felt the store should be shown as the hub of local life where people traded, played dominos, told stories, paid bills, met, and enjoyed Youk and Dumas’ band.
  • Reconstruct the stiles where people could sit and talk and see small animals cross.
  • Show how people processed their foods, for example, demonstrate coffee parching.
  • Demonstrate recreational events, such as running horses on a brush track and playing baseball.
  • Run a demonstration farm.
  • Create a photo gallery that displays enlarged copies of Dr. Hertzog’s photographs. Magnolia people from the quarters would enjoy seeing themselves and their families and would like postcards for sale to them as well as to visitors. (Former residents have offered to lend copies of their photos to NPS. Another potential source is B.A. Cohen, daughter of one of the Lakeview Plantation owners and a professional photographer.)

Creoles of Color in the Heritage Area Suggest:

  • Host special exhibits that support Creole Heritage Day in January and the Creole Fair in October, but schedule NPS events on other days to avoid having them compete with Creole-sponsored activities.
  • Involve Creole community members in story-telling, discussions, demonstrations of foodways and quilting, and French-language lessons and programs.
  • Tell the Creole story through photos and documents.
  • Create an Interpretive Center where Creole community members could interpret their own history, tell their own stories, and demonstrate their own crafts and foodways. Grandparents and great-grandparents could tell stories about years ago.
  • Create a demonstration center where older people or “culturals” could demonstrate traditional crafts to today’s younger people who know nothing about, for example, quilt-making. Cooking demonstrations would be useful too, because young people don’t know how to make meat pies, defined as a “creole” dish.

Blacks, Whites and Creoles of Color Agree:

NPS should:

  • Demonstrate the preparation of local foods, such as tamales and meat-pies.

Interpretive Topics

Blacks Suggest:

  • Describe the quarters, the dirt floors, and how we used to sweep the yards clean.
  • Talk about our gardens and animals.
  • Tell about the history of places in and around Magnolia.
  • Talk about times from this century, our lives here, and the way we live now.
  • Tell about family connections, because people who have left this area, and then returned, and young people would like to hear about their past family relationships.
  • Discuss healing skills and wisdom, and the way we cured sickness.
  • Discuss the music played under the trees and how we had old-fashioned picnics there, at the churches.

Whites Suggest:

  • Interpret different historical periods by using different cabins in the quarters to communicate stories of different periods.
  • “The best thing to interpret is the part we remember. The second best is to interpret the whole story.” This includes stories about the major changes brought by mechanization after WWII, when people left, and how some people, who had always lived in the country, stayed on even though they had no work.
  • Discuss the difficulties of farming and financing it each year.
  • Talk of the importance of Magnolia’s survival as a family farming unit.
  • Discuss differences between Creoles of color and white Creoles.
  • Tell stories about the different people who made up this country—“Creole people and people of color, and blacks—and their heritages.” Tell these stories in terms of events and developments within and beyond Natchitoches.
  • Emphasize self-sufficiency of the rural area, and the self-reliance and lifeways of rural people, immersion in work and isolation from town. Although town people might say that we’re not in the real world, this is the real world. It isn’t just farming that is important, its living close to the earth.
  • Emphasize the sense of connectedness to the rural surroundings, a real attachment to place.
  • Play an educational role so that visitors and townspeople can better appreciate the area. Educate people about the importance of the environment.
  • Talk about Cane River as a cultural island, extending from Cloutierville to the commemorative area, with its own way of life and philosophy related to plantation society. Tell how French Creoles never left this island except to go to other islands like it.
  • Tell about the pigeonnier, which supplied squab for the Big House.
  • Relate Magnolia’s experiences with those of other plantations. Use ledgers to discuss economics.
  • Tell about plantations in history and changes in plantation life, and about differences between town and plantation life.
  • Talk about the sheep around the Big House that helped keep the grasses down and provided lambs for the table.
  • Talk about the old bell behind the overseer’s house that called people to work, announced the noon break, and rang for emergencies.
  • Tell about how black residents were not downtrodden on the plantations.

Blacks and Whites Agree:

NPS should:

  • Discuss cowboys and their jobs.
  • Describe all the different types of plantation jobs.
  • Discuss Magnolia’s prize-winning horses.
  • Demonstrate life in the quarters.
  • Run the blacksmith shop and other facilities.
  • Discuss Magnolia as a quiet, peaceful, and cooperative community without public disputes.
  • Tell how important the store was. Open and stock it, bring the band, and make the store a Visitors Center.
  • Talk about the prize-winning horse, the Flying Dutchman, and about Ms. Betty and Mary Gunn, who were expert horsewomen; show their photos. Talk about Magnolias’ horses and people from the quarters who were their handlers.

Creoles of Color in the Heritage Area Suggest:

  • Portray them as a unique group, differing from other local groups.
  • Portray them as multicultural, without denying their black or white heritages, and present them as a separate group equal to blacks and to whites.
  • Describe St. Augustine Church as the spiritual and cultural center of the Creole community.
  • Discuss out-migration as a survival strategy and the initial dependence of newcomers on relatives and friends already established in the new settlement area.

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