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


(photo) Mrs. Lizzie Johnson
Mrs. Lizzie Johnson. Photo: M. Crespi.

We are indebted to the Hertzogs, especially the residents and co-owners of Magnolia Plantation, known locally as “the Hertzogs’” place. Ms. Elizabeth (Betty) Hertzog, daughter of the now-deceased Mr. Matthew (Mr. Matt) and Mrs. Dee Hertzog, and her cousin Mr. Ambrose J. Hertzog III and his mother, Mrs. Irma Hertzog, the widow of Dr. Ambrose Hertzog II, generously shared their information about events and people, their memories and insights about plantation history and operations, helped identify local consultants, and provided access to plantation work records. The Hunter family of Alexandria spent a long afternoon recalling their Magnolia experiences (Hunter 1994). Thanks go to Ms. Dorothy Cohen, her brother Mr. Morris Cohen, and their niece Barbara Anne Cohen, known as B.A., former owners of Magnolia’s neighboring plantation, Lakeview, for sharing their recollections. BA’s concern for the vitality of Cane River communities and her artist’s eye sharpened the nuances of local landscapes.

(photo) Mrs. Bertha Simmons
Mrs. Bertha Simmons. Photo: M. Crespi.

Our indebtedness extends to several African Americans, or “black” people, as many prefer to call themselves. Born at Magnolia, where they lived and worked as day laborers or sharecroppers most of their lives, they taught us about the plantation community through interviews and walks through the quarters. These residents included the members of three proud generations of Magnolia-born women, Mrs. Lizzie Johnson, her daughter Mrs. Bertha Simmons, and her granddaughter, Ms. Dorothy West. Permission to use their words and their photographs here is greatly appreciated. We regret the recent demise of Ms. Lizzie, the respected traditional expert on black Magnolia life. The Verchers, another enduring Magnolia family, were represented by Mr. Ellis Vercher and his wife, Leola Rachal Vercher, and their children. They invited us into their Alexandria home and shared their rich memories of life in the Magnolia community. We were saddened to later learn of Ellis Vercher’s untimely accidental death. Another family member, Mrs. Rosetta Turner, shared memories of her youth at Magnolia and neighboring communities, further enriching our insights into the area.

Deacons and other members of St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church, including Dr. Herbert and Pearline Baptiste, and members of St. Augustine Catholic Church lent gracious assistance by offering written and verbal information about Church history and inviting other congregation members to join group discussions about the area.

(photo) Ms. Dorothy West
Ms. Dorothy West. Photo: M. Crespi.

Thanks to former overseers or supervisors and families, including Mr. George Lynn, the Thompsons, and Mr. Don Gallien, and former cowhands such as Mr. Isaac Dupree, who recalled daily life at Magnolia. Ms. Ruby Fuller’s fine food and conversation at the Derry Mercantile restaurant further enriched our understandings of local culture and cuisine. We appreciate the help of several residents of urban Natchitoches, including Mr. Robert (Bobby) DeBlieux, the L.J. Melders, Mr. Ed Ward, and the Palmers who shared their experiences and insights into Magnolia, preservation and tourism, and cotton farming. Mr. John L. Mayer, archeologist at the United States Forest Service (USFS) Kisatchie District, offered information and hard-to-find publications. Additionally, people interviewed for the subsequent study of Oakland Plantation related their experiences with Magnolia, as did Ms. Theresa Sarpy of the Clifton Choctaw Tribe, and urban Natchitoches residents, including Reverend Turner and Mr. Rogers Roque, and Cloutierville resident Mr. Edward Metoyer.

The owners of Metoyer’s Arts and Crafts in Derry, Betty Metoyer and her husband Tony Metoyer, whose untimely death was mourned near and far, supported this project by sharing their first-hand knowledge of the Creole of color community. They also organized group meetings when Matthew and Elenor Metoyer and Celena Rachel discussed Cane River life. We are grateful for the sharp memories of Derry and Cloutierville residents, such as Ms. Lucille Carnahan, who, with Mrs. Myra Friedman, helped reconstruct the area’s past. We were helped by additional group interviews with participants who included Mr. Mickey Moran, Ms. Judith Moran, and Ms. Vera Severin. The Jones, Listach, Rachal, Williams, Cyriaque, Cyiark, Morris, Roque, Sarpy and Metoyer families all furthered our insights into the Cane River area.

Ms. Mary Linn Wernet, University Archivist assisted the project staff by identifying information sources and providing access to the rich collections at the Cammie G. Henry Research Center, Watson Memorial Library, Northwestern State University. Mr. John Vander Sypen, Supervisor with the Natchitoches Parish School Board generously tracked down data on the establishment of several rural schools of importance to Magnolia children. Both he and Nancy Harrington, former secretary to the Superintendent of Schools, provided leads to other educators.

Thanks to Ms. Laura Soulliere Gates, the caring superintendent of Cane River Creole National Historical Park, for comments on a previous draft, support and enormous patience while this document was being completed. I appreciated the insightful comments offered by Park Interpreters Ms. Carla Cowles and her summer sidekick, Ms. Amy Williams. Former staff of Cane River Creole NHP assisted too, including ranger Mrs. Carolyn Breedlove who provided copies of critical documents in the park collections, and Mr. Lee Jordan, program manager, who provided leads to potential consultants. The humor and patience of former superintendent Mr. Randy Clement and his introductions to key community members helped move this project ahead.

A warm abrazo goes to Mrs. Allison Peña, anthropologist from Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. She not only articulated her beliefs that the views of present-day peoples deserved systematic ethnographic attention but acted on them by supporting this study and thoughtfully reviewing earlier draft documents. I also appreciate the careful reviews of earlier drafts made by the Denver Service Center planners, particularly planner Mrs. Ann Van Huizen and cultural anthropologist/ethnographer Dr. Larry Van Horn, and the useful comments of archeologist Dr. Hiram (Pete) Gregory of Northwestern State University. Thanks to the cultural landscape specialists David Hasty in the National Park Service Atlanta office and to Lucy Lawliss and Cari Goetcheus in the Washington office for help in identifying historic maps. David Hesker expertly modified maps in the General Management Plan to fit the needs of this report.

Ms. Jane Gray and Mrs. Sherri Lawson Clark, cultural anthropologists formerly in the Archeology Program in Washington, DC and graduate Anthropology students, and Ms. Laura Bruce, Cultural Anthropology intern in the program from Columbia University, get my endless thanks. They not only offered interested support and comfort throughout this unfortunately prolonged undertaking but also used their considerable computer skills to produce the Figures, help format the document and often save it from inadvertent destruction, lend expert editorial and technical assistance, and integrate the photos.

I appreciated the help extended by all the project supporters, too numerous to name, and hope the resulting report meets their expectations. If not, only I am responsible for its shortcomings.




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