Natchitoches (French: Les Natchitoches) is a city in and the parish seat of Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, United States. Established in 1714 by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis as part of French Louisiana, the community was named after the Natchitoches Indian tribe. The City of Natchitoches was first incorporated on February 5, 1819. It is the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Natchitoches's sister city is Nacogdoches, Texas.
Natchitoches was established in 1714 by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis. It is the oldest permanent settlement within the borders of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Natchitoches was founded as a French outpost on the Red River for trade with Spanish-controlled Mexico; French traders settled there as early as 1699. The post was established near a village of Natchitoches Indians, after whom the city was named.
After the United States' Louisiana Purchase of 1803, migration into the territory increased, and Natchitoches experienced a population boom. Several plantations were built along the Red River. In the 1820s and early 1830s, Natchitoches was a freight transfer point for cotton from parts of east Texas. Cotton shippers used a land route crossing the Sabine River to Natchitoches, where the freight was transferred to boats, and floated down the Red River toward New Orleans. However, the course of the river shifted, bypassing Natchitoches and cutting off its lucrative connection with the Mississippi River. A lake was left in the river's previous location.
It became known as Cane River Lake. The lake runs through the city’s downtown historic district and Plantation Country. It serves as the spring break training location for numerous crew teams, such as the University of St. Thomas, Kansas State University, University of Kansas, Wichita State University, Murray State University, and Washington University, as well as Northwestern State University.
During the Civil War, Natchitoches was set on fire by Union soldiers who retreated through the town after their failed attempt to capture Shreveport. Confederate cavalry pursued the fleeing soldiers and arrived in time to help extinguish the flames before the town was destroyed, as happened in Alexandria in 1864.
In the spring of 1863, Confederate General Richard Taylor and his men passed through Natchitoches en route to Shreveport. Andrew W. Hyatt, one of Taylor's line officers, wrote in his diary: "reaching the banks of Cane River. ... We are now on a regular race from the enemy, and are bound for Grand Ecore. ..." Three days later on May 11, 1863, Hyatt penned: "We have now retreated 280 miles. Natchitoches is quite a 'town,' and the galleries were crowded with pretty women, who waved us a kind reception as we passed through town."
Around Natchitoches and its environs, 12,556 bales of Confederate cotton were stored. A match factory also opened in the city during the war. Natchitoches often engaged in fund-raising activities to relieve the destitute during the war. This historian John D. Winters observed, "Eggnog parties and other social affairs during the Christmas holiday season lifted the morale of civilians as well as that of the soldiers."
Natchitoches was the site of the 1973 plane crash that claimed the life of singer Jim Croce. Croce had performed a concert on campus for Northwestern State University students at Prather Coliseum, but was killed less than an hour later in a plane crash headed to Sherman, Texas. The pilot may have suffered a fatal heart attack that interfered with his flying.
In 2005, the cartoonist and historian Pap Dean published Historic Natchitoches: Beauty of the Cane, a study of the history, people, and attractions of the historic city. It is one of the oldest in the state, with Harrisonburg, the seat of Catahoula Parish, being the other original French settlement.