Site visit: Rebel State Commemorative Area/ Louisiana Country Music Museum Sunday, Dec 6 2009 

Many visitors (myself included) are surprised on their first visit to Rebel State Commemorative Area. The site marks the grave of a lone Confederate soldier, but is also the site of the Louisiana Country Music museum.Grave of Unknown Confederate SoliderLa Country Music Museum Sign

Ernest Tubb at Municipal Auditorium

The Country music museum is absolutely worth the drive. The museum offers a Louisiana-focused  history of Country music, from its traditional folk roots to the 1970s. The story of the site is as compelling as it is troubling (see below for my thoughts on the troubling part).Classmates form a band

The mission of the site was not entirely clear; however, interpreting the history of country music through the Louisiana Country Music Museum and maintaining the historic site marker seem to be obvious points. We visited on a cold morning and didn’t encounter any other visitors. The site is a wonderful resource on Louisiana Country music, provides some interpretation of the Civil War, and offers picnic tables, barbeque pits, a pavilion, and a large amphitheater (unfortunately, the site no longer regularly hosts music). The interpretive ranger was helpful, knowledgeable, and full of new ideas, including building a recording studio on-site for area aspiring musicians.

Megan joins on the keys

Megan joins on the keys

The museum pays tribute to early gospel, folk, and work-song influences, and does a splendid job of interpreting the early recorded era of Country music genres, including the Louisiana Hayride, KWKH, and KRMD in Shreveport. The museum does not interpret recent trends in Country music, country pop, or most anything after the “Urban Cowboy” phase.Promotional PostersWork SongsHonkey Tonk

My main concerns with the museum were in presenting Country music’s multi-ethnic roots. While one display notes that the guitar was of Spanish origin (via Mexico) and another shows the dissemination of the (Irish) fiddle, there is no mention that the mandolin came from Italian immigrants or that dulcimers, accordions and other squeezeboxes are from Germany and Central Europe, or that the banjo comes from West Africa.

Much more troubling are the possible links between music and commemorations to the Confederate solider.

The Confederate solider was separated from his unit and supposedly killed by three Union cavalrymen, while stopping at a spring for a drink of cold water.

General Taylor's Flag

General Taylor's Flag was usually 36" or 30" square

The Barnhill family buried the solider. A marker was placed on the grave in 1962, and annual memorial services grew to include live performances of Country music.grave of the soldier

The narrative is telling, and parallels the narrative of southern defeat repeated for one hundred years: The federal government and northern industrialists, lacking any respect, gentlemen’s code, honor, or courtesy for the old ways of life, outnumbered and outresourced poor “Johnny Reb” and kicked him (them) while he (they) was (were) down. But a good family restored his (their own imagined) honor in death, and many people commemorate his (the lost cause’s) memory.

The early 1960s was the Centennial of the Civil War. The  late 1950s and early 1960s also saw a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan (after its brief post-war decline and infiltration by Stetson Kennedy) and a number of cases of local police and hate groups working together -essentially sanctioning state violence against Civil Rights groups.  The early 60s also saw the killing of Megar Evars in Mississippi. It was in this context that the so-called “Confederate Flag” came into wide use throughout the South. The placement of this flag near the door to the museum is problematic. The flag, similar to the Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (it is the Second Naval Jack, but colors of the Beauregard’s Battle flag), is often used as a symbol of racist hatred. The flag was placed on the statehouse in South Carolina in 1962; George Wallace flew it in Birmingham in defiance of Kennedy asking him to begin racial integration. A friend of the family told me the first time she saw them in numbers was the early 1960s. In race, amenities, and psychic income and elsewhere, Mwangi Kimenyi argues that the flag, “represents the mark of ‘old all-white’ traditions” and exclusionary feelings. The flag often acts as a marker saying “you are unwelcome.”

By the 1970s, the grave-site saw an annual memorial service “for the solider,” replete with live gospel and country music. The 1970s are noted as a time where racial-cultural war was fought with music. In Rock (a genre I am more familiar with), Neil Young indicted youth of the South with “Southern Man,” and Skynard  responded to Young in “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Louisiana has the second highest proportion of Black folks in the United States. Natchitoches Parish has a higher percentage of people of African ancestry than the state average (about 38% Black), but the Marthaville area is outside the Red River Valley in an area of Anglo “white” farmers and their descendants.  A place with those demographics seems obvious to commemorate country music. But rural transformation has affected Black and white families unevenly (see Southern Farmers and their Families by Walker, reviewed in Red River Valley Historical Journal 2007 (5) volume 5,  147-149), and in places where the slightest material advantages or  “psychological wages” seem like clear class differentiation, racism manifests as “common sense” among working class whites.

This flag

The placement of this flag near the door to the museum is problematic

Given this complex context, placing a “Confederate” Flag near the entrance to the museum invites  accusations. The placement of this flag near the door to the museum is problematic.

The state would do well to 1.) highlight contributions of ethnic immigrants 2.) highlight contributions of African Americans to country music (not just Huddie Ledbetter) and explain the African origins of the banjo, 3.) place the Civil War interpretation in context and, 4.) offer an annual music festival that highlights both country and the breadth of folk musics of Louisiana.

Visit to Natchitoches Fish Hatchery and meeting with Regional archaeologist Jeff Girard Sunday, Dec 6 2009 

The Natchitoches Fish Hatchery is a built environment, yet still a combination Natural Resources and Heritage Resources site.  Hatchery Manager Karen Kilpatrick introduced the MAHR (Masters of Arts in Heritage Resources) class to the history and inner-workings of the hatchery.

The Hatchery has been in operation since the early 1930s. Some 164,000,000 fish have been raised in its 53 ponds, each about .8 acres.  It is the third largest public hatchery in the southeast.  The hatchery has raised over 16 species, but currently focuses on the following categories:

1.) Recreation- Which includes largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, and channel catfish

2.)Restoration- These include striped bass, paddlefish, alligator, and snapping turtle

3.) Recovery- These are threatened and endangered species like the Pallid Sturgeon, and the Louisiana Pearl shell mussel

A small aquarium and museum is on-site. In addition to raising fish, the site conducts environmental education, cultural heritage education (including events on Caddo culture), and special events.

About ten years ago, an American Indian employee of the hatchery brought forth concerns about the desecration of the Caddo burial grounds.  The hatchery responded with a day of reconciliation and prayer, followed by a much higher level sensitivity to interpreting the cultural history of the Caddo village and burials that the hatchery sits on. The site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Smithsonian has agreed to repatriate. I have details of the sequence of events from year 2000 to present in my field notes, but choose not to publish them here. More recently the Hatchery unveiled the Caddo Memorial Plaza. Karen Kilpatrick shared a slideshow that included a lot of information, including Winslow Walker’s excavation including Caddo horse burials.

Next, Regional Archaeologist Jeff Girard met us. He pointed out the location of his dig, which included a prehistoric site on the hatchery grounds that he excavated in 2007. It was apparently NOT associated with the earlier Caddo excavation. Girard began by giving us background of Winslow Walker’s excavation and the “direct historical method” (cf Bureau of American Ethnology; John Swanton). The site included a layer of dark soil associated with habitation, broken pottery and very few features. Girard used a water screening method, with flotation tank. This preserved plant remains and lightweight objects that would have otherwise been lost.  He found a high concentration of fish, turtle and deer remains, as well as hickory/ walnut, pecan shells, maize and persimmon. The pottery he found resembled pottery of Central Louisiana rather than Caddo. The excavation was near a proposed Caddo repatriation plot, so that’s all the detail I care to relay in this public setting. The meeting with Girard was very informative. I look forward to any opportunity to learn from him in the future.

This site visit, including the interaction with Karen Kilpatrick and Jeff Girard, is not typical of what public users (tourists) would experience. I am grateful for that, but it makes the visit difficult to translate to public end-users’ expectations. In any event, a visit to the hatchery is well worth it. There is a knowledgeable director, small but nice aquarium, museum and learning center, and friendly staff. Their website at http://www.fws.gov/natchitoches/ needs improvement, and if they continue down the road of working cultural resources into their mission they should work to acquire a staff dedicated to public interpretation and more aggressively promote visitation.

Publications of FWS on Natchitoches Hatchery and Caddo:

http://library.fws.gov/Pubs2/nativeamerican01.pdf

http://www.fws.gov/eddies/pdfs/EddiesSummer2008.pdf

http://www.fws.gov/southeast/SoutheasternCurrents/archives/2009/2009February.pdf