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Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society

Truman Stacey

"Notable Men and Women of SWLA" is result of work compiled by SLHA member Truman Stacey.

A native of Texas,Truman Stacey served in the U.S. Army in World War II, earned bachelor and master degrees from the University of Detroit, and worked on a number of newspapers before serving as editor-in-chief of the Lake Charles American Press from 1961 to 1982, when he became chief information officer for the Catholic Diocese of Lake Charles. 

Stacey wrote the series of articles here to commemorate the Bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. These articles appear in numerous newspapers across the state, including the DeQuincy News, the Cameron Pilot, the Teche News, the Welsh Citizen, the American Press, the Ville Platte News, and the Hammond Star.

He is a past president of Southwest Louisiana Historical Association.

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Manuela Sanchez y Navarro

Manuela Maria Stefania Sanchez y Navarro, at age seventeen, probably had not the slightest inkling of the impact she would have on the histories of 18th-century Texas and Louisiana.

A member of one of the great Spanish families of the New World, Manuela was probably born in Monclova, Mexico, where her grandfather was governor, about the year 1697. Her grandfather, Diego Ramon, was leader of the expedition that founded San Juan Bautista del Rio Grande, the founding date being recorded as January 1, 1700. As a young man Don Diego had soldiered with Francisco de Elizando and later accompanied Alonso de Leon on his expedition north of the Rio Grande in 1688.

Don Diego was named the commandant of the new Presidio at San Juan Bautista, and he brought his growing family to the new post. As the years passed a regular tempo developed. The priests worked with the Indians, the vecinos tilled the land and the garrison kept watch over the river fords.

Then, on July 19, 1714, the mission was jarred from its slumber. There rode up to the gates a French frontiersman, Louis Juchereaux de St. Denis, who told Don Diego he had traveled from the French colony at Biloxi hoping to purchase grain and cattle for the settlement. Since he had orders not to allow French traders in the area, Don Diego placed St. Denis under arrest and sent a messenger to Mexico City for instructions.

Meanwhile, St. Denis’ punishment was unusual. His prison was Don Diego’s home. St. Denis became almost a guest and he and the various Ramons enjoyed each other’s company. Indeed, for one Ramon, 17-year-old Manuela, it must have been love at first sight. She was delighted with the stalwart stranger and as days passed, St. Denis’ imprisonment took on the atmosphere of a fiesta.

Then tragedy struck. From Mexico City came an officer and 25 troopers with orders to take St. Denis to Mexico City in chains. Don Domingo Ramon, however, was placed in charge of the escort and he was Manuela’s uncle.

Not until autumn did St. Denis return, this time with a commission to guide a Spanish party to East Texas to reestablish the missions there as a buffer against French incursion. And who was to command this expedition? Manuela’s uncle, of course, Don Domingo Ramon.

Before the expedition was to leave, however, a wedding was to take place. Proper clothing and other necessities had to be purchased in Monclova, and a month was devoted to this. Ross Phares, author of "Cavalier in the Wilderness," described Manuela as "a beautiful, charming, clever, and energetic member of an old and distinguished family of Spain, and as such was possibly as well-equipped as any female of that age and nation to play a historic role."

According to legend, Manuela was "the most beautiful girl in all the northern provinces of Mexico." Of course, are not all brides beautiful?

There were seven priests on the altar for the wedding. The festivities lasted three days, during which there was much firing of muskets, preparing of feasts and drinking of toasts. Then the bridegroom was off to East Texas with his uncle-in-law.

When he returned after several months, he found himself the father of a daughter, Louisa. The little family then returned to Biloxi where St. Denis was commandant. In 1722 he was appointed commandant of the post at Natchitoches, and there he and Manuela lived out their lives as guardians of the French vanguard.

Throughout her life Emanuelle (at Natchitoches she took up the French version of her name) provided a bit of gentility and piety to the raw frontier. In the early days there was no church and no priest at Natchitoches, so she invited Spanish friars from the nearby Spanish mission that her husband had helped to found to come to Natchitoches to celebrate Mass in the St. Denis home.

She was solicitous of the religious needs of the little settlement, and was often a godmother to children of the garrison, or children of Indian leaders or even children of the local slave population. She instructed her own children and others in the Catholic faith.

The years went by, made notable by the Natchez War and negotiations with the Indian tribes, and the development of a settlement around the little post.

Four daughters and a son were born to St. Denis and Emanuelle and two of them were destined to carry on the St. Denis tradition on the frontier.

The years began to exert their toll on St. Denis, and he passed away on June 11, 1744. The frontier would not see his like again.

St. Denis was succeeded as commandant by his son-in-law, Cesaire de Blanc de Neuville, who had married one of Emanuelle’s daughters, Marie des Douliers Simone St. Denis. Cesaire was commandant until his death in 1763. One of his direct descendants is Monsignor Irving A. DeBlanc of Lake Charles.

A second daughter of St. Denis and Emanuelle, Marie Petronille Feliciones Juchereau de St. Denis, married Athanaze de Mezieries, who followed Cesaire as the commandant. Thus Emanuelle’s influence continued to permeate the frontier for years after her death.

In March of 1758 Lady Emanuelle passed away in her 61st year. She had led a full life in Mexico, Texas and Louisiana and left her mark on the history of Louisiana. Five of her children lived to adulthood and all were important citizens of the French colony.