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Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society

Timeline History of Southwest Louisiana

A Timeline History of Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana

Prepared by Adley Cormier for the Southwest Louisiana Genealogical Society and delivered at their meeting November 17, 2007.

The history of this area is intertwined with the history of our neighbors, of the political entities of which we are part, and of the people and movements that have shaped America in general. This timeline project attempts to provide a context for Southwest Louisiana history, a unique history in a unique state.

Southwest Louisiana is geologically part of the Gulf Coast. Where we are standing is the youngest of four Pleistocene terraces, namely the Prairie Terrace. In other words, we are standing on some of the youngest land on the North American continent. The Prairie Terrace surface is very flat generally, and slopes about a foot per mile towards the coastline from here to the gulf. In Lake Charles, the elevation is about 20 to 30 feet above mean sea level. North and west of the city are higher elevations, capping out at about 150 or so at the northern end of what was once called Imperial Calcasieu. So, on our timeline: Dinosaurs roam the North American Continent generally for 600 million years. They visit Southwest Louisiana only at the very end of their existence on the globe. They watch the shoreline build up and retreat at least four times in geologic time, leaving stranded beaches in the terrace. These stranded beaches are known as Cheniers after the French word for Oak Trees which are often found on these elevated strips of land.

The Grand Chenier roughly parallels the coastline when you drive Louisiana Highway 82 from Pecan Island to Cameron, you are on its ridgeline. Let's move ahead: 15 thousand BC: prehistoric man migrates over the Attakapas Indian, Public Domain Image, WikipediaBering Land Bridge. By the time they get to Southwest Louisiana, distinctive nations and tribes have been developed. By the time Europeans visit Louisiana, there are at least 6 distinctive nations represented. Southwest Louisiana now shows little evidence of these original inhabitants-- the Attakapas who called this part of Louisiana home.

The Attakapas Indians roam all over Southwest Louisiana hunting buffalo and other game, gathering nuts, roots, and berries, and harvesting fish and shell fish.

(Before we go on, you may ask about the Coushattas currently living in the eastern part of the Imperial Calcasieu area. The Coushatta Nation relates that their history began in the eastern part of the US. This tribe was literally pushed by European settlers and physically moved to the Southwest Louisiana area in the middle of the 19th century. They are not natives, strictly speaking, to Southwest Louisiana).

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