Date of this Version
National Center for Cultural Resources National Park Service, Washington, DC (2004)
Interest in the people with traditional associations to Magnolia plantation, one of the two plantations incorporated into Cane River Creole National Historical Park (CARI), and in the development of the new park’s General Management Plan prompted this brief ethnographic study. We hoped to bring diverse voices to planning dialogues about resources, interpretation, and alternatives by walking the grounds that associated people consider culturally meaningful and by interviewing ethnically different peoples individually or in groups. Our interest focused particularly on the associated peoples who perceive park resources as essential to their development and continued identity as culturally distinct people. The same community members rarely participate in public planning hearings, but the research process would help inform them about the park taking shape in their midst. Additionally, the project would demonstrate the value of professional cultural anthropological or ethnographic work to “ground-truthing” community concerns by the researchers’ direct interaction with people and places. We interviewed people who were born or lived and worked at and near Magnolia. We identified the ethnographic resources, or places and landscapes they considered culturally meaningful, and the ways they perceived their past and wished it conveyed to the visiting public. To help contextualize people’s responses, we also lightly sketched the political, economic, social and geographic aspects of plantation life in the mid-20th century.
For more than a month, Dr. Muriel (Miki) Crespi, National Park Service Chief of Ethnography interviewed people linked to Magnolia. For another month, Northwestern State University anthropologist Mrs. Dayna Bowker Lee and historian Ms. Susan Dollar interviewed people primarily from neighboring communities in the Heritage Area. Crespi also analyzed the data and prepared this report. The brief research period necessarily limited our work to people and planning issues directly associated with the park. Sharecropper life in the area beyond park boundaries, although important, received less attention. Generally, this study offers a stop-gap solution to the ethnographic data shortage on the full array of people whose combined labor, land, and goals built and maintained the plantation. Nevertheless, it provided valuable lessons about the benefits of conducting early ethnographic research with people whose intimate relationships to park resources and unique insights into local life make them candidates for the planners’ special consideration.
We found an immensely complex situation, reflected in a landscape faceted by the diverse uses of diverse people. Until the rural exodus of the mid-20th century reconfigured local farms and settlements, Magnolia had formed part of an extended landscape peppered with places local residents considered important in their work, worship, recreation, and marketing. Probably the most frequented area reached from Cloutierville to Derry and urban Natchitoches. Many places fronted Cane River or left their mark on the neighboring plantations and settlements in the Cane River Heritage Area. Some were in the forested Kisatchie hills. For the plantation owners, the Hertzogs, the culturally meaningful landscape extended to more distant places, including New Orleans. Until the 1950s and 60s, when agricultural mechanization drove rural residents away, people’s class and ethnicity affected their distribution, activities, and the places that welcomed them across this landscape.