Efforts to save Hodges Gardens State Park from closure continue

Locations of signees of "Save Hodges Gardens" petiton, up through May 1, 2017
Locations of signees of “Save Hodges Gardens” petiton, up through May 1, 2017

To date, 2,758 people have added their names to a petition created by All Things Sabine which aims to show support for Hodges Gardens State Park.  Our goal is plain and simple:  to convince the State of Louisiana that Hodges Gardens is worth keeping open and that the State should fund the park as is needed to keep it open.

The petition is still active and interested persons are encouraged to add their names.  Remember, strength often comes from numbers, so the more signatures, the better.  To sign the petition, follow this link:

Keep Hodges Gardens State Park open

A bit of abbreviated backstory on Hodges Gardens State Park:  Hodges Gardens was created in the 1950s by area businessman A. J. Hodges (an oilman, if you will) and his wife, Nona Triggs Hodges (an all-around lover of nature and avid horticulturist), as a way of giving back to their community and of preserving almost 5,000 thousand acres of land, and to create a unique arboretum attraction.

Basically, and I think I am safe to say this, the Hodges’ were true conservationists before the dawning of the age of conservation.  They wanted this land protected, beautiful and available for the enjoyment of the public, and they clearly wanted this for their time and for the future long after they were gone.

The Hodges’ set up a legal Foundation under which the land would be operated and protected, even after their deaths.  I don’t really know much about the Foundation or how it works or any of the legalities of it, but as I understand, the Foundation members are descendants of the Hodges… children, grandchildren, etc.

Ten years ago, the Foundation entered into a cooperative agreement with the State of Louisiana whereby the State was granted use of the prime 770 acres of the 4,800-acre Hodges Gardens property.  By prime acreage, I am referring to the gardens themselves, the 225-acre man-made lake which is in the center of the property, the hiking trails, some of the equestrian trails, and the land used for cabins, camping, and RV sites.

Through this agreement, the State would operate this acreage as Hodges Gardens State Park and would maintain the grounds.

By the time this agreement was inked between the Hodges Foundation and the State, Hodges Gardens itself had become a bit of a wreck, in part due to storm and wind damage from two huge hurricanes which ascended this way from the Gulf (Rita in ’05 and Ike in ’07) and in part because of neglect of maintenance of the grounds.

When the State took over the park, hundreds of thousands of dollars were initially invested to bring the grounds back up to par.  Hodges Gardens did not reach the magnificence of its prime times, in the 1960s and 70s, but I think it’s fair to say that most people realized that it would be difficult to ever achieve what the Hodges’ had again without some miraculous and tremendous source of funding.

What Hodges Gardens did become under the State, however, was a very nice park different from other state parks in that it was an arboretum featuring flora of all kinds.  It had unique beauty, features and a unique feel and appeal to the public… locals and visitors alike.

Eventually, the State repaired deteriorated roads inside the park, maintained the grounds nicely, fixed up the cabins, added some cabins, added railings for safety around the rock features, removed an old group cabin which had fallen into disrepair and added in its place a new $300,000 “state-of-the-art” (if you will) group cabin at which groups of individuals can stay for various purposes (youth organizations, church groups, wedding groups, private parties, etc).  In all, the State invested millions into Hodges Gardens over the past 10 years.

Supplementing the State’s investment, a private non-profit group named “Friends of Hodges Gardens” has through the years collected donations to fund various projects at Hodges.  These projects included but were hardly limited to funding needed for improvements themselves, such as repairs on water fountains and other water features thereby going a long way in making the park beautiful and unique… not to mention the single best place to take portrait photographs in Sabine Parish and beyond (I have on occasion met photographers from Lake Charles, Vernon Parish, DeSoto Parish, Sabine County, and Newton County, even as far as Orange, Texas to the south and Longview, Texas to the north who chose Hodges as a setting for their portrait photographs including dance groups, high school senior pictures, and bridal photographs). Furthermore, Friends of Hodges has secured much needed volunteer help, from volunteers offering a hodge podge of miscellaneous services such as planting and weeding and general beautification to volunteers who are professionals in various fields like irrigation, plumbing and construction.

The jeopardy of Hodges Gardens today is two-fold.

First, the State of Louisiana is suffering a budget deficit and for whatever reasons, several parks are being considered dispensable by the State in the midst of these financial strains.  Hodges Gardens is one of these parks.

Second, the property of Hodges Gardens remains under private ownership… as explained, the Hodges Foundation owns the land and the State operates it as a park.  Complicating things for Hodges Gardens at this time is that the Hodges Foundation earlier this year initiated a process of apparently attempting to reclaim the property, or rather kicking the State out (that is the best way I can describe it) and attempting to take back full rights to the property.  The Foundation’s legal argument behind their quest to take the property back is that it is their contention that the State is in breach of its contract with the Foundation in that Hodges Gardens is not sufficently funded by the State, meaning it is their belief that the State does not intend to fully fund the needed maintenance to keep the park in the condition in which the State received the Gardens’ property.

That contention by the Foundation, however, is disputed not so much by the State, which has remained a bit mum on the legalities surrounding the Gardens, but by members of Friends of Hodges Gardens as well as at least one legal expert, Sabine District Attorney Don Burkett.  In a recent public forum regarding Hodges Gardens, Burkett expressed his conviction that the State was in fact not out of compliance with the contract between it and the Hodges Foundation.  Burkett explained that he was not speaking in any official capacity, but rather as a supporter of Hodges Gardens offering his legal opinion.

“I read the contract and it is my considered opinion that we are not in default,” Burkett said.  “I don’t care what they say, we are not in default.  Now if they appropriate no money and things start going south real fast after July 1, yes, maybe we’ll be in default at some point.  But as we sit here today, we are not in default.”

Also, Friends of Hodges’ President Chris Nolen asserted that the Gardens’ property has been and continues to be in better condition now than it was when the agreement between the State and the Foundation was reached.  That particular condition, under which the State accepted the Gardens 10 years ago, seems to be a critical point of the agreement between the Foundation and the State.

So let’s say that the property is in equal or better condition now than it was in 2007 when the State took over the Gardens… (and I very much believe it is in at the very minimum slightly better condition now than it was 10 years ago), then the State is in fact holding up to its end of the agreement.

However, and this is paramount to Hodges’ future, the State must allocate funding needed to maintain the Hodges Gardens for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins July 1.  State legislators are currently in Legislative Session and this is where our petition comes in.

The petition, for us, was just another means to show State officials that there is public support for Hodges Gardens.  There have been letter-writing campaigns, a well-attended public meeting, and other efforts to convince the State to allocate funding for Hodges and ultimately save the Gardens.  Our petition is just another means of trying to show support for Hodges Gardens.

The way I see it, if the State doesn’t fund Hodges, then the property does go back to the Hodges Foundation.  Unless the Hodges Foundation intends on operating the property as a park, and there is absolutely no indication that they do or do not plan on this, this could spell the end for Hodges Gardens forever.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent the results of our petition to area State Legislators as well as to the Office of Governor John Bel Edwards and the Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser (bearing in mind that all State Parks are operated under the Office of the Lieutenant Governor). At that time, the petition had a few more than 2,500 electronic signatures.

I explained to the State officials to whom I forwarded the petition results  that All Things Sabine is a not-for-profit three-year-old Facebook community and website which posts photos and stories and videos of all sorts related to our geographic area along the Sabine River and beyond.
I further explained that I had observed through All Things Sabine a huge amount of interest on Hodges Gardens State Park particularly related to strong desires that the State fund the park this coming fiscal year in order to keep it open and operating as a public park
“Because of this, and because of my own passion for Hodges Gardens,” I wrote, “My husband and I created a petition to gather signatures of some supporters of Hodges Gardens who want Hodges to remain open for us all to continue to enjoy.  The petition has been posted for a little less than three weeks now.”

My letter to legislators and the Governor and Lt. Governor stated, in part, “This petition is but just one single effort… grass roots through and through… and by no means is a complete or exhaustive show of support for Hodges Gardens.  I believe this petition shows a wide variety of support for Hodges, but doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the support that exists for this gem of a park in West Central Louisiana.

“The petition remains posted, and as I write this new signatures are still being added each day.”

Gov. Edwards responded to this in a very brief statement, stating that correspondence related to State Parks should be directed to the Office of the Lt. Governor.

Lt. Governor Nungesser responded with the following letter, explaining where his office currently stands on Hodges Gardens:

“Thank you for taking time to write to me regarding Hodges Garden State Park.  First and foremost, I want you to know that we are looking at all of our options to keep this valuable asset in the state park system open.  It has never been my intent to defund or close this facility; however; on March 12, 2017, my office was served a letter from the Hodges Gardens Foundation requesting that the property be given back to its original owners.
“My legal team is currently working with the Commissioner of Administration as well as the Attorney General’s Office to review all options.
“Because of the years of maintenance that has been deferred and the current budget situation, it may be an uphill battle.  In addition, I am currently looking for an outside donor(s) to possibly raise enough money to fund some of the deferred maintenance and repairs from the past few years.
“If we were able to raise a substantial amount of money as an initial amount to start that process, we may have a leg to stand on.  We are looking at all options and I am always open to any recommendations that anyone may have to help with this matter.

“The Office of State Parks is looking at a potential $6 Million cut, which would be devastating to not only Hodges Gardens but to other state parks across our state.  It’s an additional cut that we cannot sustain. The Lieutenant Governor’s budget has been cut 50% over the last 10 years and we continue to struggle with deferred maintenance in many locations.

“I realize the beauty and importance of this facility and the hard work that the volunteer organization has put into this facility over the last 10 years.  Rest assure, I will make every effort that I can and look at all options before I turn this facility back over to the foundation as they have requested.”

This is all of the information I have at this time.  Based on what the Lt. Governor said, the situation certainly looks worrisome for Hodges Gardens, but not yet of a entirely dooming nature in that he offered possible solutions to the problem involving corporate investment into Hodges Gardens.  I certainly believe there are corporations, groups, even individuals who would be interested in contributing to saving Hodges Gardens and interested in the personal satisfaction and/or positive exposure they would receive from such noble investments (not to mention tax incentives, I suppose).  Maybe this can happen.

Of course, the State and the Foundation would have to be committed to keeping Hodges Gardens open.  Otherwise, there would be understandable hesitation from anyone to financially invest in Hodges Gardens if there is any real fear that the park could still close even after an influx of outside investment.

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Toledo Queen and Toledo Princess once graced the fresh, new waters of Toledo Bend Lake

The following text is part of an article published in The Longview News-Journal on Jan. 1, 1967, and gives some details on two excursion boats that some All Things Sabine readers had asked about:  The Toledo Queen and the Toledo Princess.  Both were operated by Cliff Ammons, who became known as “the father of Toledo Bend” as it was he who introduced legislation as a State Representative to create Toledo Bend, and he was one of the main individuals behind the creation of the lake.  Most knew Ammons operated the boats, but this article provides some interesting on who was behind making the boats, which was a Florien entrepreneur and enterprising, talented jack of many trades, Johnnie Jordan of Florien.  As a young man, Jordan’s son, Rodney, helped his father build houseboats and today runs the business as Jordan Marine, still building some of the finest houseboats you can find anywhere around.

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C. R. (Cliff) Ammon   s of Many is a man of numerous endeavors. Not only is he president of the Many Chamber of Commerce this year and vocational agriculture teacher in Many High School, but also he deals in real estate, devotes many hours to promoting development on Lake Toledo, and takes time out to build camp cabins in his Sportsman’s Paradise Subdivision.

Rut the one enterprise of Ammons’ which has perhaps fascinated and captivated the largest numbers of people all up and down the Louisiana and Texas sides of the Sabine River and Toledo Bend Reservoir is his proof that the river is navigable.

This photo and caption was from The Shreveport Times, in Summer 1967
This photo and caption was from The Shreveport Times, in Summer 1967

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Ammons owns two riverboats, the Toledo Queen and a “sister” ship, the Toledo Princess. t h e latter a paddle wheeler. Both now are plying the Sabine River waters and making 10 – mile excursion trips, showing guests aboard some sights in the river, not seen since steamboats plied the winding waterway just after the turn of the century.

In mid-November, many river authority and Toledo Bend project officials, plus civic leaders from a wide area in Texas and Louisiana, joined the initial cruise of the Queen down the Sabine. And around Thanksgiving, the Toledo Princess joined the “river fleet.”

A steary stream of passengers can be found at Pendleton Bridge, on weekends and holidays when the weather is good, to take the cruises. Up to 60 people can board each of the two vessels.

Oddly enough, both the Toledo Queen and the Toledo Princess were built in the area in which they were launched. They are the construction of Johnnie L. Jordan, owner and manager of Jordan Iron Works Inc., near Florien, La., a few miles from Many.

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Jordan got into the boat-building business when he made a steel pontoon cylinder for a custom trip up in Shreveport several years back. In fact, his firm was originally established as an ornamental iron-works outfit solely, but more arid more his business is boat-building, and he moved headquarters from Shreveport to Florien to be nearer Toledo Bend.

It was Ammons’ idea to make the Toledo Princess a paddle wheeler on the style of the old time water-wheel riverboat.  He had tractor wheels and chassis hauled out to Jordan and the two men put their heads together and came up with the answer to “how” it could be done.

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Jordan mounted the tractor on specially-constructed framework at the back of the riverboat, inserted steel spokes to support the wooden paddles made of cypress, and eventually the Princess was launched.

Ammons’ friend Jordan also builds boats other than excursion vessels. In fact, he has built them with full cabins, controls, sleeping quarters (with a backrest pillow for bed included) and in prices ranging from $7,500 to $12,000. They tan be found plying waters around Jackson, Miss., Dearborn Lake near Farmerville, La., the Arkansas River, and Lake 0′ The Pines in Texas.

Jordan Marine, owned and operated by Rodney Jordan, continues to build fine houseboats today.
Jordan Marine, owned and operated by Rodney Jordan, continues to build fine houseboats today.

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Where there were bandits, perhaps there is gold

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In June 1965, The Shreveport Times featured an articled titled, “Where the gold is… maybe.”

Among the geographic regions mentioned in the article was Western Louisiana, where it has been long believed that nineteenth century bandit John Murrell and his gang of thieves buried their loot… possibly in today Sabine and/ or Vernon parishes. Also mentioned was the “lost mine of Wyndham Creek” in Beauregard Parish, which also hugs the Louisiana/Texas border along the Sabine River.

The article, written by Times reporter Norman Richardson (a superb journalist and feature writer of his day), follows.

If Jean Lafitte had dug as many holes and buried as much gold as legend says he did, the soil of the Bayou State would contain little else.

Pirates like Lafitte and Pierre Rameau and land bandit John Murrell once called Louisiana home and, carrying on an age-old tradition, no doubt hid much loot that lies undiscovered to this day.

All through the state’s history fabulous fortunes vanished almost overnight, never to be heard from again. Even the wealthy Spanish who ruled the state for almost a century were well known for their habit of concealing silver and jewelry and gold and almost everything else of value.

When the Civil War came, the planters latched on to the idea and began burying their valuables so the Yankees wouldn’t get anything. A lot of these people apparently died in the war and others left their homes and simply never returned, so who can say what lies under the spots where these homes once stood and how much it is worth.

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Even the ordinary people were forced into the act of burying things since banks catered only to the wealthy as little as 150 years ago. Take all this, plus the occasional finding of an old map allegedly pointing out treasure spots or parts of trinkets and treasures, and you have proof enough—at least for the treasure hunters—that Louisiana is a paradise for fortune seekers.

Take the men, for example, who excavated a dry bed of the Calcasieu River back in 1929 and came up with the richest strike in Louisiana history… 175,000 in gold coins buried just a few yards from the shoreline possibly by some of Lafitte’s cronies or maybe the man himself.

Then, there is the Baton Rouge find many years back. 21 Spanish gold doubloons that workers found in a load of gravel that came from Grand Isle.  Or the more recent discovery, $1,000 in gold coins found when a Ruston man, John Skinner, shattered the blade of his plow on on old iron chest.

And if that’s not enough to keep treasure hunters awake all night, try this: Where did Col. Norman Frisby, the famed baron of Tensas Parish, bury his wagonload of gold that everyone knew he had. The violent-tempered Frisby had his dreams of an empire along a 52-mile front of the Tensas River interrupted by the Civil War and when he heard the roar of approaching Yankee cannons he one day loaded his valuables onto a wagon. Accompanied by two husky slaves, so the tale goes, he drove into the forest near his home. He returned to the home later without the valuables and legend says he shot the two slaves so they couldn’t tell. He later died is a knife fight with nephews and carried his secret to the grave.

None of his gold has ever been found, but the violent colonel’s relatives and descendants haven’t given up hope nor have the treasure hunters. For years. the Texas branch of the family has been trying to locate Norman Frisby’s Bible, which is said to contain many records and may hold the key to Frisby’s buried treasure.

The pirate Jean Lafitte, last of the great buccaneers, is suspected of having buried far greater treasures than Frisby’s. Lafitte’s corsairs patroled the waters of the Gulf of Mexico looting mer-chant ships and smuggling their loot into New Orleans.

Here Jean and his brother, Pierre, sold it freely to store owners, many of whom were their friends. He made his headquarters at Grand Isle off the Gulf Coast and maintained dozens of other hiding places on other islands and along the Mississippi bluffs as far north as Baton Rouge. The buccaneer lived a life apart from his men.

On Grand Isle Lafitte constructed a large house of brick coated on the outside with a mixture of pulverized oyster shells and plaster.

In keeping with his noble attitude, Caine dressed in rich costumes and enjoyed the finest of wines and liquors in his expensive surroundings. Although Lafitte always maintained that he never ceased to be a good citizen, the threat of federal raids was always near during Lafitte’s latter years at Barataria and so the pirates hid much of their loot.

That’s why Lafitte’s islands and hiding spots and former headquarters are believed to be the best localities for treasure hunters. In addition to Grand Isle, Lafitte sometimes landed at Coca Island and is said to have hidden $1 million in gold on Kelso’s Island and on the Mississippi bluff.

No one knows for sure how much of Lafitte’s loot is left for treasure hunters but there are cases on record to prove that the story of Jean Lafitte’s fabulous gold is a little bit more than legend.

For instance there is the story of John Patorno. Disregarding the methods of most treasure hunters, Patorno in 1935 invented a radio device which responded to nonmagnetic metals. Then he hired out for his services and the makeshift semblance of a Geiger counter for $25 a day.

A few days later accompanied by a Mississippi ferry boat captain Patorno was on his way to Coca Island to look for Lafitte’s loot. He carried with him a map that supposedly pinpointed the pirate hoard.

For three days the men searched the island and just when they were giving up hope his radio device suddenly began to buzz. The men got out their shovels and began to dig but had to stop their search because of seeping water and sandy soil.

His treasure hunt, however, paid off later in an unexpected locale. He found $1,300 in two caskets just across the river from New Orleans.

Other men even today are searching North Louisiana for the treasure of John Murrell, the famed bandit of the Natchez Trace who made his debut in the wide open country of the Free State of Sabine, the strip of land separating the Spanish and United States territories along the Sabine River.

It was a buffer zone with no law and no government and no punishment and drew some of the worst outlaws in American history.

Murrell ranged far and wide, brazenly robbing travelers while at the same time urging people to repent their sins and “return to God.”

He left behind him hidden wealth that still excites the imaginations of treasure hunters.

In 1930, for example, Forest Normand. an Avoyelles Parish farmer, plowed up a pot of coins containing 3,000 pieces of Spanish silver with dates ranging from 1763 to 1805.

In 1939, perhaps the largest all-out method was to get Murrell’s loot by a farmer named Reber Dove who had discovered what he believed to be the treasure chest with steel probes, only to feel it sink deeper and deeper into the treacherous quicksand.

Special equipment was purchased but whether the treasure was found only Dove and a few other men know, for after that reports of further progress mysteriously stopped. Treasure hunters do not like to publicize their findings, and are a close-mouthed lot.

But there are exceptions to this rule, like George C. Maher Jr. of South Louisiana. who freely admits to having found $200,000 worth of gold, silver and jewelry over a period of 30 years. Maher and his father accomplished this with aid of an invention they called a ground radio, a device which operates via the variable induction of a magnetic field.

Near Abbeville in 1925, a Negro boy who was said to have been hypnotized by a man, pointed out a cache of silver.  Two years earlier another $800 in silver was found on Jefferson Island.

The second largest cache in Louisiana history, if the claims are true, included $65,000 on the outskirts of the little promising town of Gretna.

There are many other promising treasure sites in Louisiana. Even metropolitan New Orleans boasts its strikes. A charcoal peddler who lived there 50 years ago found a box of 1,500 doubloons dating back to Lafitte’s time.

And then there’s the fabulous “lost mine of Wyndham Creek” lying in Beauregard Parish which has not yet been found.

At Linceum lies gold, allegedly buried by a group of men who were surprised by the Indians and to hasten their flight they hid the gold. Before the end of their journey they fought among them-selves and killed each other, leaving no survivors to return for their riches.

Several years ago a man cutting down trees near Opelousas turned up 1,485 Spanish gold pieces.

A planter living near Breaux Bridge was murdered by his slaves who escaped with his gold just before the Civil War. After they were captured and shot, it was discovered that one sack of gold was missing. It has never been recovered.

What may yet turn out to be the most valuable find, however, is the treasure hastily buried by plantation owners during the Civil War. There is the fabulous Charles Duralde and his undiscov-ered wealth.  And the plantation of the Marquis Vincent de Ternant with all of its secrets and the wealthy Hubbardvilie planter who hid his money in silver plates outside of town.

Duralde’s fortune was as fantastic as his showmanship. Shortly before the Civil War, two of his daughters became brides in a double ceremony. Adding a fairy tale touch to the festivities Duralde startled the society of his day. From China he imported a cargo of spiders and freed them in his plantation near St. Martinsville in order that they might spin webs among the branches. Then the weird patterns were sprayed with silver and gold dust by slaves to serve as the wedding aisle.

Later as he lay dying during the war, he hinted that his fortune was buried nearby, but death cut short his revelations and the treasure to this day lies undiscovered.

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Longview News Journal documents Toledo Bend Dam and power plant construction

I have found no newspaper which documented the construction projects involved in the making of Toledo Bend better than the Longview News Journal.  Here are some photos and pages of one of many features that The News Journal published on the making of the Toledo Bend Project.longview_news_journal_mon__jan_1__1968_1-copy longview_news_journal_mon__jan_1__1968_2-copy longview_news_journal_mon__jan_1__1968_3-copy longview_news_journal_mon__jan_1__1968_4-copy longview_news_journal_mon__jan_1__1968_5-copy   longview_news_journal_mon__jan_1__1968_8-copy longview_news_journal_mon__jan_1__1968_9-copy longview_news_journal_mon__jan_1__1968_10-copy longview_news_journal_mon__jan_1__1968_11-copydam dam2 longview_news_journal_fri__oct_10__1969_1 longview_news_journal_fri__oct_10__1969_2 longview_news_journal_fri__oct_10__1969_3 longview_news_journal_fri__oct_10__1969_4 longview_news_journal_fri__oct_10__1969_5

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Quinton Brandon: Walking Tall in Zwolle

 

In October 1981, The Shreveport Times published a two-page spread featuring newly retired Zwolle Police Chief Quinton Brandon, aptly titled “Walking Tall in Zwolle.”  The article was written by Calvin Gilbert. It follows:

ZWOLLE — If a legend ever existed in Sabine Parish, it’s Quinton Brandon. Often compared to Walking Tall Sheriff Buford Pusser, Brandon is credited with bringing law and order to Zwolle.

Brandon retired in late August, ending his 35-year reign as police chief in Zwolle, which, like it or not, has a reputation as a place where many a friendly disagreement in a barroom has resulted in a violent brawl.

Quinton Brandon, from The Shreveport TImes, 1981
Quinton Brandon, from The Shreveport TImes, 1981

But Brandon says most of the stories about Zwolle are based upon incidents outside the town’s incorporated limits.

“These are good people here,” Brandon said. “We just don’t have that much trouble in Zwolle any more. “Everything that happens 15 miles away they seem to blame on Zwolle.”

Wayne Ebarb, Brandon’s successor as police chief, is the first to admit that Brandon is responsible for making Zwolle a respectable place.

“A lot of the old tales on Zwolle are still alive,” Ebarb said. “It’s just not true. Zwolle is a good place.” Ebarb paused and looked at his mentor.
“Thanks to him, we don’t have such a problem these days,” he said.

The son of a Sabine Parish lawman, Brandon received his first concepts about law enforcement from his father, “He believed in it just like I did,” Brandon said. “Anybody that violated the law violated the law.”the_times_sun__oct_18__1981_3

“There’s not many men around here — old or young — that I didn’t put in jail at one time or another,” Brandon said.  “I’d arrest them when they broke the law. But I always saw that they were treated fairly.”

In a community with an oilfield heritage and a more-than-average population of poor blacks and Chicanos, Brandon’s early days as police chief were long and demanding.

“I was the only lawman.” Brandon said. The days were rough. My biggest problem was the boys carousing around. getting rough and fighting.”

The creation of Toledo Bend Reservoir in 1968 resulted in more problems for the police department.

“I don’t think liquor would have been legalized here if it hadn’t been for Toledo Bend.” Brandon said. “Of course. we always had problems with bootleggers. But this was just a bad place to legalize it.”

Most of the illegal alcohol came from Natchitoches Parish, Brandon said.

“They had a man over there that would sell them a load on credit,” Brandon said. “When they’d come back, they’d bring him the money.”

Brandon, who turns 64 in November, doesn’t move as fast as he once did. A serious stroke two years ago left him partially paralyzed. But standing more than 6 feet tall, he has a look about him that shows he still has the kind of determination which gained him the respect of law enforcement officers and outlaws alike.

Even so, Brandon is modest when it comes to talking about his reputation.

“A lot of it I didn’t want. I had no idea that would happen. I guess I was just a born lawman. They have to be born,” he said, “or they won’t stay with it. You just don’t have the lawmen you used to. Most of them I knew back in my early years are dead.  It’s hard to get hold of a man to work in law enforcement these days. Now we have young ones who don’t know what it’s all about. All they want is their time up and a check. I
may sound hard on them. But that’s the facts.”

Brandon has been a friend to Zwolle.  But Zwolle’s been a friend to him, too.

A walk with Brandon near the railroad tracks in downtown Zwolle makes you realize that you’re with a local celebrity. Stopping to wave to motorists and speak to the towns-people, Brandon is obviously enjoying his retirement.

“I’ve got a bunch of grandkids who like to visit me,” he said. “I want to spend more time with them. And I want to spend more time with my wife. Not once did she ever complain about me leaving in the middle of the night and staying gone all weekend.”

the_times_sun__oct_18__1981_4While he enjoys relaxing in the big reclining chair in his living room, Brandon’s not going to sit still for long.

“I can still hop in my truck and go any place I need to go,” he said. One place he’ll probably be found is the police department next to city hall. There’s a pot of rich coffee brewing there. And although Brandon has been out of office for two months. his coffee cup remains on the wall. Just like Quinton Brandon, it’s gathering no dust.

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Archaeological sites exposed along Toledo Bend during severe drought years

While searching for details on the Indian village discovered near Noble and researched in the 1960s, before Toledo Bend, I also found a more recent article relating to the Caddo Indian Village.  A little over 11 years ago, in September 2006, The Shreveport Times published an article relating to the village, as discoveries were being made in the area during a drought season which left banks along Toledo Bend Lake high and dry.

Following is the article, written by Vickie Welborn.

Archaeological sites exposed at reservoir
■ State warns public against removing artifacts from lakebed.

Caddo village scene. Painting by Nola Davis, courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Caddo village scene. Painting by Nola Davis, courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

TOLEDO BEND RESERVOIR —The expanding shoreline of the drought-stricken Toledo Bend Reservoir is raising more than just the ire of recreational users frustrated with the limited access and hazardous conditions.

It’s also elevating the concerns of state archaeologists who have learned the exposed lake bottom has become a drawing card for curiosity seekers in search of archeological treasures hidden underneath the water’s surface for the past 40 years.

Many people don’t realize it is illegal to excavate or remove items from state-owned lands, including exposed river-beds and lakebeds, said Jeff Girard, regional archaeologist on staff at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.

“It tends to get worse when there is easy public access such as what you find now on Toledo Bend. But we’re trying to educate the public as much as we can,” Girard said.

His main worry is the potential of losing a significant part of this region’s history.

Readily discovered in the past two weeks near Converse Bay is a duster of sites providing evidence of the Caddo Nation Indian tribes living on what once was high bluffs along the Sabine River.

It’s not a surprise, given that the Caddo are an integral part of the state’s history.

But little is known about the Caddo Nation in relation to the Sabine River basin, especially in more prehistoric times, which makes Girard’s archaeological finds —and those that might be in the hands of unsuspecting looters — all the more important.

“A lot of the early history on the Sabine River has not been documented,” Girard said.

Part of the reason can be blamed on the creation of Toledo Bend Reservoir. An idea borne out of a 1958 feasibility study, the 186,000- acre lake — the fifth largest in the nation — was once 150,000 acres of standing timber straddling the meandering Sabine River.

Land acquisition began in 1963, with construction of the earthen dam, spillway and power plant following in 1964. Impoundment of water began in 1966.

During the construction phase, at least one Caddo Indian burial site was discovered and hundreds of remains were exhumed. “It was a site dated to the 16th century,” Girard said.

The burial ground unknowingly was located behind Earline and Robert Bison’s home, south of Converse, that once sat close to the Sabine River. The Bisons moved to higher ground before the lake swallowed up their family home, and Earline Bison recalls watching the University of Texas and Southern Methodist University college students painstakingly remove the Native Americans’ remains.

“My husband had dug up pottery during the years when he was gardening, but we had no idea that was behind our home,” Earline Bison said.

Girard is concerned that former burial site might be exposed again as Toledo Bend continues to drop to levels not witnessed since its creation.

Friday, the lake measured 161.97 feet. Until earlier this month, the reservoir had never dropped below 162.5 feet. The bottom of the power pool is 162.2feet and the top is 172 feet.

The opportunity to collect and record artifacts from Toledo Bend’s lakebed is only temporary, said Phillip G. Rivet, archaeologist with the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism’s Division of Archaeology.

“The lake will be coming back so now is a great opportunity to collect representative samples, get them cleaned and recorded,” Toledo Bend is usually at its lowest in late summer and early fall, and there’s been some years that shallow lower parts of the lakebed, especially from the Converse area north, has been briefly void of water.

But not to the extent witnessed in recent days, Sabine River Authority Executive Director Jim Pratt said. The water has receded so much on the north end that an old roadbed extending from near the public boat launch in Converse has re-emerged.

The barren roots of hundreds of tree stumps once hidden under several feet of water stick up from the now dusty ground. Small mounds of dirt dotting the sandy soil also are evidence of the weekend artifact hunters, Girard said.

Within seconds of scouting the surface, Girard picks up more than dozen small brown objects that at first glance appear to be merely pieces of chipped rock or slivers of hardened dirt. But upon closer inspection, Girard identifies some as small pieces of clay pottery and others as crude tools that likely were used to tip a spear or used like a screw-driver.

Mark Moore found one such tool Tuesday morning. Moore, who drove to Converse Bay from his home near Marshall, Texas, walked the lakebed for only 30 minutes before finding a brown sharp-tipped stone that Girard dated any-where from 400-500 B.C. to 500600 A.D.

“What fascinates me is that I could be the first person to see this since then,” Moore said. Girard estimates some of the scraping tools to be 7,000 to 8,000 years old, with the pottery pieces dating to the late 1500s.

“That tells you how ancient this river area is,” Pratt said.

The mixture of old and new is intriguing to Girard, who is spending several days a week walking the dusty lakebed with a GPS device in hand. Girard is able to pinpoint exact locations of the suspected cluster of Indian villages onto topographical maps to forever document this new discovery in the Caddo Nation’s history.

Ancestors of the Caddo Indians were agriculturalists whose way of life emerged by 900 A.D., as revealed in archaeological sites in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. When members of Hernando de Soto’s expedition entered the region in 1542. thriving Caddo communities were distributed along several rivers, including the Sabine and Red, according to a brief history of the Caddo Nation appearing on its official Web site.

Efforts to reach spokesmen Bobby Gonzales and Robert Cast were not successful Thursday or Friday.

“We don’t know a lot about this river… it never was studied much…. I don’t know why. But we’re trying to document as much as we can.” Girard said.

That’s why he cautions the weekend artifact hunters to not remove or unearth objects. “The early history of this area is being lost. And from the Caddo’s point of view, this is their history. How would you like it if someone came digging around in your grandparents back yard?”

While it against the law for people to remove items from the lakebed, Pratt admits it is almost impossible for the SRA to enforce it. Pratt asks citizens to contact Girard if they find or have found anything significant.

“We want people to know we won’t confiscate their finds. We just want to document them because once it’s lost, it’s lost,” Girard said. Rivet said another concern is the possible disturbance of human remains should the collectors move beyond scraping the surface. “Our main issue is to make the public aware that it is illegal to dig for artifacts.” Rivet said. the_times_mon__sep_18__2006_1 the_times_mon__sep_18__2006_

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Caddo Indian Village site on Sabine River studied before creation of Toledo Bend

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One of the readers of All Things Sabine, from Leesville, La., messaged me this morning, asking if I could find something on “an Indian burial site that was excavated back in 1966 or 67.”  The reader said he recalled going to the site, which was referred to as “Bison’s Homeplace” and watching the excavations.  I found this quite interesting article, which was published in The Sabine Index, Spring of 1966, and written by Index journalist Mary Calcote.  The article follows, along with pictures that were published with it:

The was the year 1266.  The Sabine River left its banks and rolled over the land in West Louisiana.

It was springtime, and the crops were budding and blooming and trees were green.  There was much game to hunt and the fish were plentiful.  But in the spring of this year, the Caddo people were burdened with sadness.

The oldest and wisest of the Indian tribe called by the name of Swift River was dying…

The sky was darkening and the amber moon was rising over the trees.  It was time to light up the evening fires and begin the chants that would take the sickness out of Swift River.

Death Nears

The time of departure was near for the old Indian and the chants of his followers could not save him.  As the sun rose over the hills, Swift River died.

Red Clay, the oldest of his sons, was the one the tribe would turn to today.  Swift River was buried that day, along with his eating utensils, drinking vessel, pottery, his arrows and his smoking pipe.

White Man Comes

The years rolled by faster and faster until the white man took over the beautiful country that the Caddos loved so much.  Soon, there were cabins built, farms planted, and our ancestors settled in to their new homes in Sabine Parish.

Robert Bison came to own the old Indian Village site, located about eight miles west of Noble.  And as he plowed the lands, he would often find the arrowheads and other artifacts left by the Caddos.

Then came the creation of the gigantic Toledo Bend Reservoir, and Bison was among many who had to move out of the Sabine River valley.

In 1963, working under a grant given by the National Science Foundation, a survey was made of Indian Village sites in the Toledo Bend Reservoir area.  This initial survey was made by Dan Skarlock of the University of Texas at Austin.  He mapped this and other sites in Sabine Parish.  Dr. Ed Jelks, a professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas, worked on the project.  He later moved to Southern Methodist University.

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Digging Starts

About mid-April, anthropologists from SMU in Dallas began digging at the site.  Ned Woodall served as archeologist in charge of this, the second of four field seasons by SMU this year in the Reservoir area.

This was the third site in Sabine Parish to be explored and other sites in upper Sabine Parish will be looked at later.

When I arrived at the scene Friday afternoon, May 6, the rain was slowly falling, but archeologists were busy under a tent that had made from a parachute.

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I introduced myself to Dave Brown, who served as assistant in charge, while Wodall was in Reno, Nevada to give a speech.  Assisting Brown was Hiram Gregory, professor of Anthropology at Northwestern State College in Natchitoches, and several of his students.

700 Years Old

Gregory, who is an authority on the Indian cultures of this area, said these Indians lived about 700 years ago.  They were Caddo Indians, so very early that the anthropologists gave them the name “Belcher Focus.” The Caddo tribe was believed to be of the same tribe that has baen discovered in a line running into Arkansas and East Texas.

Gregory told me these people were hunters, fishers and agriculturists.

When I was there, four burials had been found. Three had grave goods which consisted of arrowheads, vessels, pottery, and smoking pipes.

To find a lead as to where the graves might be located, the archeologists dig trenches with back hoes.  Gregory said these Indians were buried from five to six feet deep.  When the archeologists get near the skeleton, they are very careful not to disturb it or any of the grave goods.  They carefully use bamboo knives, trowels, and paint brushes as wisk brooms to uncover their finds.

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Skeleton Uncovered

I then saw one of the graves just as they were. uncovering the skeleton and grave goods. It gave me a good feeling to know that I was watching history being made.

Brown told me the digging at this site would definitely go on until Friday, May 13. He said that if other things of significance were uncovered, the exploration may go on longer.

Brown told me the digging at this site would definitely go on until Friday, May 13. He said that if other things of significance were uncov-ered, the exploration may go on longer.

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As I left, I looked at Mr. Bison’s old barn still standing a few feet from the grave sites, and wondered if someday archaeologists would be uncovering it. You see, in just a few months it will be covered by about twelve feet of water when the Toledo Bend Reservoir fills.

This was springtime, 1966.  I looked at the Sabine River 150 yards from the graves as it rolled by, increased by heavy rains from u north.  I looked back at the Indian Village, then again at the river, and left.

Excavation at the 700-year old Caddo Indian village on the Sabine ended a few weeks later.  This brought to an end the month of digging at the Robert Bison place, and ended with the uncovering of about 10 grave sites.

Woodall told The Index that his team had found evidence of houses at the old site.  He said holes were found in the ground, showing that poles supporting houses were once there.  A hearth area was also uncovered.

Woodall said the location was a wonderful place for a village.  Clear springs feed the Sabine River about 150 yards from the grave sites.  Fishing was good in the river, hunting was good, and the soil was rich.

The anthropologist said that deer bones and mussel shells were uncovered at the site.  He said the Indians planted corn and squash.

Those working at the village area said Saturday and Sunday were like carnival days at the site, with steady streams of people coming all the time.  They said as many as 500 people were at the site at one time.

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Sgt. Robert T. Conner: A busy combat record

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A photo kindly shared by Rickey Robertson, an avid military buff and historian from the Florien, Louisiana area (specifically, from Peason, a community east of Florien in Sabine Parish)… This photo has a neat story.

The photo is of Confederate veteran Robert Conner, a Peason Ridge settler.

Conner is buried with his wife in the Merritt Cemetery located on Peason Ridge Military Reservation.

He was wounded in the First Battle of Manassas in Virginia in 1861 and four other times. He was sent home to recover from his wounds, joined General Richard Taylor’s troops during Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, and was captured at Monett’s Ferry in Natchitoches Parish. He was carried to New Orleans and finished the war in a Yankee Prison Camp in New Orleans.

Pictured with Conner is his wife, Elizabeth.

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Sgt. Robert T. Conner was the last Confederate buried on Peason Ridge.

Robert Conner was a member of the famed 1st Texas Infantry serving in Company K. His ancestors still reside in the Milam, Hemphill, and Newton areas of East Texas.

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Remembering a favorite eatery: Sam’s Restaurant of Many, La.

sams015Ah, Sam’s Restaurant!   Fond memories for so many 🙂  Makes me hungry just to think about their yummy steak dinners!

If you lived anywhere in Sabine Parish, Louisiana, chances are you remember Sam’s Restaurant.  For a little over a decade, Sam’s was the go-to place for people to eat and socialize in the town of Many and well beyond.

The restaurant was located on U. S. Hwy. 171 on the southern side of town, from 1990 through around 2001. Sam’s was owned by Sammie Morales and Tom Robinson of Florien.  Morales had for many years managed Hodges Gardens and then later Toro Hills Restaurant.  Ms. Morales’ son, Carlos, managed Sam’s and recently shared these photographs and menus with All Things Sabine.

I’m expecting these memorabilia will bring back a lot of fond memories!  Comment away on your memories 🙂

sams001 sams002 sams004 sams006 sams008 sams014 sams015  sams017 sams018     sams020 sams029 sams030 sams031sams024sams027 sams028sams022 sams023

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More on General Patton’s entry into Many, Louisiana


image​By ​​​​RICKEY ROBERTSON

NOTE:  Rickey Robertson’s previous article on General George Patton’s entry into Many, Louisiana (Sabine Parish… During the World War II Maneuvers) was incredibly well received.  The article generated over 50 shares and was viewed by over 35,000 people.  Robertson is a local historian and collector of anything related to the military and has notably researched and reported on and shared information and photos from the World War II Maneuvers in Louisiana.  Here is a follow up from Robertson on his previous article (yay!)

​In the April, 2016, (I had completed and published) an article named “Patton’s Entry into Many”. This told the story of General George Patton and his arrival at St. John’s Catholic Church in Many, La. to find a major traffic jam stopping his 2nd Armored Division from advancing south. Due to his disruption of services being held at the church, the Parish Priest had gone outside and called Patton down.

Due to this story I have received so many favorable comments and phone calls on this vital part of Sabine Parish and Many, La. history that I had to share some information given me by some of the readers about the priest, the church, and the event.
​Betty Skinner of the Belmont Community has been a parishioner at St. John’s since she was a little girl living about 3 miles outside of Many on the Shuteye Road. She was thrilled to see a picture of her church just as it was in the 1940’s when General Patton came through in the maneuvers. She noticed that I did not have the name of the Parish Priest who encountered General Patton. Mrs. Skinner was able to provide information that the Priest at St. John’s was Father J. A. Benoit and he was the one who called down Patton as he ranted and raved at the traffic jam by the church. Father Benoit was the Parish Priest from 1935 to 1951 and he was originally from Canada. Father Benoit long remembered his encounter with General Patton and told his story many times during his tenure at St. John’s.
​Maud Evans Brown who lives in the Clearwater Community of Sabine Parish in Ward 2 also had remembrances of Father Benoit. Mrs. Brown and her first husband were married by Father Benoit at St. John’s Catholic Church in 1939. The story on Patton and the priest brought back memories for her also.
​And another reader from Leesville told me that during the maneuvers 3rd Street in Leesville was swamped with both civilian and military vehicles and parking spots were very hard to get. This readers grandfather and General Patton arrived at the only available parking spot at the same time. Neither would let the other park so they got out of their vehicles and Patton thrashed the man from Vernon Parish and he in turn thrashed Patton. Don’t know who got the parking spot but they put on a good show for everyone on 3rd Street! Patton was into something everywhere he went!
​And several people enquired about getting a historical marker. This will fall onto the Town of Many to possibly work with the State of Louisiana in having a marker placed at this historic site. It is a site that needs to be remembered for all generations and to let visitors learn of this historical site. Thank you so much for your great input on this story. May the stories and legends of General Patton in Sabine Parish never be forgotten !

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