Louisiana’s No Man’s Land
Immerse yourself in the history of Louisiana's "Wild West."
Far from the lights of Bourbon Street, in the bayous of south Louisiana and the farmlands of north Louisiana is an entire swath of west Louisiana known as the Neutral Strip. This sparsely inhabited region is a wealth of historical incidents and natural beauty, and just might be one of the best off-the-beaten-path destinations you’ll find in the South.
Backstory of the Neutral Strip
The boundaries of Spanish and French territories in the present-day Texas and Louisiana borderlands had never been formally established prior to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The original boundaries had been drawn, via a gentleman’s agreement, between the Spanish commander at the presidio of Los Adaes (then the capital of the Texas; today part of Louisiana) and the French commandant at Natchitoches, the oldest settlement in the entire Louisiana Purchase.
Three years after the Louisiana Purchase, Spain’s hold on present-day east Texas was tenuous, and Americans were moving in. Tensions between the two superpowers was high.
The solution: Put some acreage between the two countries.
U.S. Army General James Wilkinson and Spanish Lieutenant Colonel Simón de Herrera agreed to keep Spain west of the Sabine River, while the Americans would respect the arbitrary boundary established by the French and Spanish decades before. Spain had no rule in this region, but neither did the U.S.
And — who’d have guessed? — renegades moved in.
No Man’s Land became a haven for squatters, runaway slaves, army deserters and thieves. Merchants in Natchitoches and present-day Texas, who relied on trading routes that went through No Man’s Land, began seeing their stock and supplies disappear. American revolutionaries, dead-set on taking Texas for the U.S., began showing up. Ironically, the peaceful territory that Spain and the U.S. sought by creating No Man’s Land became everything but. It would take years of Spanish and American forces raiding the camps set up by these interlopers before the No Man’s Land experiment, finally, was ended in 1821. The interpretation varies, however the area was sometimes described as a place filled with an outlaw culture or a different take is that the region could be seen as a bastion for those cultural groups who wished to find a home where they could preserve a way of life they cherished.
No Man’s Land Today
While logging became big business in the region, much of western Louisiana has maintained the rugged beauty that it’s had for centuries.
You can find vestiges of its No Man’s Land past in places like Logansport’s historic downtown and riverfront. A large granite shaft, placed in the Sabine River after the 1819 treaty formally demarcating national boundaries, is still intact, and you’ll find it in Logansport. You can visit this by traveling along the Toledo Bend Forest Scenic Byway.
El Camino Real National Historic Trail is another relic of No Man’s Land’s storied past. The “Royal Road” at one time connected Spanish missions throughout present-day Mexico and the U.S., stretching from Mexico City north. El Camino Real de los Tejas followed trails made by the region’s Native Americans, and became the main thoroughfare for Spanish settlers in present-day western Louisiana.
Los Adaes State Historic Site long predates No Man’s Land, going back to the early 1700s. Its history features visionary military leaders, politically minded missionaries, local Native Americans and frontier farmers willing to risk everything. Today, visitors can learn about the many challenges facing the men and women who tried — with varying success — to forge lives on the frontier.
The activities are endless as this territory covers eight different parishes in Louisiana: Allen Parish, Beauregard Parish, Desoto Parish, Lake Charles, Natchitoches, Sabine Parish and Vernon Parish. Learn more about all the things to do in Louisiana's Neutral Strip.