Historic Walking Tour
Experience the charm of one of Louisiana’s Oldest Cities
Welcome to Opelousas, one of Louisiana’s oldest communities. Established in 1720 as Le Poste Des Opelousas, the community grew to become a crossroads of commerce. History lives on in out architecture offerings, historic districts, and in the museums that celebrate our storied past.
Opelousas is the Zydeco Capital of the world. The sounds of the rub board and accordion fill the air in celebration of this ingenious music style. Cajun and Swamp Pop also contribute to the musical heritage of Opelousas, creating a mix of sounds unlike any in the world.
Opelousas is known for its great food. Ingredients that are the basics of Cajun and Creole culinary creations can be found here. Roux, boudin, gumbo and seasonings are some of the legendary culinary delights known worldwide.
Some of Louisiana’s pre-historic cultures inhabited this area for thousands of years. Historic Indian tribes including the Opelousas, were here when the Europeans arrived in the late 1600s. Opelousas takes it name from this tribal group. While the term Opelousas has been given various meanings including “black hair,” and “black water,” the most commonly accepted is “black leg,” since legend tells us the tribe painted their legs black in contrast to their light skinned bodies.
French Courier de Bois (“runner of the woods,” or hunters and trappers) carried on trade with the Opelousas Indians during the early 1700s. In about 1720, the French established a trading post that served as a stopping point for colonists traveling between Natchitoches and New Orleans.
By the time the Spanish took control of the Louisiana Colony from the French in 1763, Opelousas was a thriving outpost. Records indicate that one of the first Spanish Colonial land grants in the area was made in 1763 to Louis Pellerin, a French officer stationed at the Poste. In 1764, Pellerin laid out the town of Opelousas from the land he received.
Opelousas is considered a “cultural gumbo.” Since its beginnings as a community, it was known for its cultural diversity. When the first French settlers arrived in the early 1700s, many brought African slaves with them. German colonist arrived in the mid-1700s, and Spanish settlers arrived in the 1770s. Also later during that century and the beginning of the next, Irish, Italian, Scottish and other immigrants began arriving in the area.
In about 1765 the French speaking Acadians who were exiled from Canada by the British arrived in the Opelousas area. When they first came to Louisiana, the Acadians were not allowed to settle in Opelousas proper. Instead they were sent to the vast prairie lands of the area, and to the Bayou regions in the Attapapas territory. Later, their descendants moved into Opelousas and all of St. Landry Parish.
There was also the cultural group known as Créoles. The word Créole is derived from the Spanish expression “criollo” meaning a child born in the colony. Créoles are descendants of early French and Spanish colonist who settled Louisiana. Later during the 19th century the “Créole” population also included people of mixed heritage that spoke French fluently. “Créoles de Couleur,” or Créoles of Color, are descendants of French and Spanish colonist as well as Native Americans, Haitians and Africans. Famous Créoles include the pirate Jean Lafitte, a French Créole who lived in early Louisiana, and Amédé Ardoin, a Créole of Color, who made the first audio recording of Zydeco music.
After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the area was divided into two parts, the lower section, known as the Territory of Orleans, and the northern section, known as Upper Louisiana. The Territory of Orleans was divided into twelve counties, including the County of Opelousas. In 1805, Opelousas became the seat of government for this county. A year later, the first Opelousas County Courthouse was built on a square in the center of town. In 1807, Louisiana was divided into 19 “parishes,” named because of the strong Roman Catholic heritage of the state. The original Opelousas County then became St. Landry Parish, the same name as the local catholic church, named for the Bishop of Paris who served from 650-661 AD. A total of seven parishes were created from the original Imperial St. Landry Parish.
On April 30, 1812, Louisiana became the 18th state of the U.S. Opelousas was formally incorporated in 1821 by a legislative act that included all land within one-half mile of the courthouse. During the Civil War when Union forces occupied Baton Rouge in May of 1862, Opelousas became the capital of Confederate Louisiana. Charles Homère Mouton, who served as the state’s Lt. Governor in 1856, lived in Opelousas during that time and offered his home as the temporary residence for Governor Thomas O. Moore. From that time on, the Mouton Home was known as the Governor’s Mansion.
Famous residents of Opelousas include Jim Bowie, legendary adventurer and hero of the Battle of the Alamo; General Garrigues de Flaugeac, Napoleon Bonaparte’s soldiers and a hero at the Battle of New Orleans; Susan Walker Anding, an advocate for the US Good Roads Movement; Louisiana governors Jacques Dupré and André Bienveau Roman; Olympic gold medalist Rodney Milburn; Swamp Pop music legend Rod Bernard; the “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier; novelist John Ed Bradley; Eula Savoie, founder of Savoie’s® Cajun Food Products; James Joseph, U. S, Ambassador to South Africa; Hadley Castille, internationally known Cajun musician; cookbook author and chef Enola Prudhomme; Chef Tony Chachere, founder of Tony Chachere’s Famous Creole Seasoning®; and Chef Paul Prudhomme, who is credited for introducing Cajun food to the world.
We know you will enjoy this charming, storied place with its picturesque landscape, warm Southern hospitality, and Louisiana joie de vivre. Have a Bon Temps!
This project was partially funded by a grant from the Louisiana Certified Local Government Program.
This project has been financed in part with federal funds from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior through the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, Office of Cultural Development, Division of Historic Preservation. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of the Interior.
This program received federal financial assistance for identification and protection of historic properties. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, the U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, or sexual orientation in its federally assisted programs. If you believe you have been discriminated against in any program, activity, or facility as described above, or if you desire further information, please write to:
Office of Equal Opportunity, National Park Service
1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20240