Personalities Along the Cane
The old French Louisiana communities of Natchitoches and Isle Brevelle
have forever been the destination of the adventurous
and a stopover for people whose destiny is compiled in the history books.

Two future presidents spent part of their military careers in the area.
Ulysses S. Grant and Zachary Taylor were young officers
when this was the edge of the frontier.

It is said that Davy Crockett and Happy Johnson stopped here
on their fateful trip to Texas
and Longfellow mentioned "sweet Natchitoches tobacco"
in his famous poem Evangeline.

Nineteenth century Natchitoches saw the aristocratic town flourish,
but visitors to the area during the 20th century are equally noteworthy.

During the early years of the modern age,

the Melrose Writers Colony hosted such prestigious guests as
Lyle Saxon, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck
and Francis Parkinson Keyes.

Grace King, Robert Tallant, and Rachel Fields were
among many others who plied our sidewalks and strolled along the Cane River.

It is no wonder that stars of the silver screen were soon to follow.
In 1958, Bob Ford, son of legendary director John Ford,
had been in Tennessee scouting locations for a Civil War movie.

A chance lay over at the airport in Shreveport brought him
into contact with someone who knew Natchitoches
and suggested he use the time to look the area over.

One prerequisite for the film The Horse Soldiers
was enough varying terrain to recreate the thousand mile march
that the true story was based on.

During the war, Col. Benjamin Grierson and his troops
had pushed out of Tennessee and across Confederate held Mississippi
to sabotage a railroad depot which was supplying the sieged town of Vicksburg.

With our swamps, hills, and plantation homes, Bob Ford
abandoned his plans to film in Tennessee and the movie began production here.

John Wayne portrayed the lead character
with William Holden as co-star,
and Constance Towers playing the love interest
and ever-Southern antagonist to their plans.

Also of note was Butterfly McQueen
of Gone With the Wind fame who played Miss Towers' aide.

About this time, there were other notable celebrities walking our streets.
Johnny Cash and Johnny Horton shared a fishing camp on Black Lake
and the lake was featured in one of the first fishing shows on television,
the Gadabout Gaddis Show.

In 1988, production began on Steel Magnolias,
the film that brought more attention to the town than any other.

Based on a play written by Natchitoches raised Robert Harling,
the movie told the tragic story of Mr. Harling's sister
and a conglomerate of characters he knew while growing up in this small town.

Such stars as Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Olympia Ducakas,
Darrel Hannah, Shirley McLaine, Julia Roberts, and Tom Skerrit
roamed the streets on their off hours and could be spotted
anywhere from grocery stores to the golf course.

The possibility of catching a glimpse of a movie star
brought spectators from all over our and neighboring states.

Even the casting call for extras got a larger response
than the Hollywood people had counted on.
The coliseum on Northwestern Campus was rented
for one day to hold applicants,
but the turnout was so heavy that it was needed
another three days to see everyone.

The last movie (to date,1996) filmed here was
The Man in the Moon written by Jenny Wingfield.
The movie was based on her childhood experiences in the area
and the boy with whom she and her sister both fell in love.

Sam Waterston and Tess Harper portrayed the father and mother
with Reese Witherspoon and Emily Warfield playing the two sisters.

The object of their affection was Jason London's character
and while the movie was highly unpublicized,
it revealed a touching story of adolescents dealing with tragedy.
Although these movies are the major films made
here up until this time, it is doubtful they will be the last.

The architecture and flavor of the area comes across on
the camera so well that I am sure other producers will choose
our scenic area for backdrop.

And I also am sure that more writers will visit
and emerge from our little community with tales
to regale the public about the serene lifestyle
along the Cane River.

Author's note: At the time of this posting,
the last movie made in Natchitoches was The Garden Club.
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