The History of Mansfield

Mansfield, the parish seat of DeSoto Parish, has had an interesting and rich history dating back prior to its actual date of incorporation, April 15, 1847.

DeSoto Parish was created by Legislative Act 88 of 1843 from the adjacent parishes of Natchitoches and Caddo with some realignment with Sabine Parish which was established at essentially the same time.

Many interesting stories have been told concerning the location of the seat of government for the new parish. The voters were fairly divided between the northern sector of English speaking settlers who favored Screamerville, about two miles west of present day Grand Cane and the southeastern sector of Spanish and French settlers along Bayou Pierre who favored Augusta. Actually, the parish government first met and was organized in Screamerville.

To the dismay of many romantic story tellers as to the reason for the location of Mansfield, the site for the parish government was set by the Louisiana Legislature. Following is the text of section 3 of Legislative Act 88 which established the parish and the location of the seat of government.

Sec. 3 Be it further enacted, &c. That Charles A. Edwards, James Welch, Francis Rumbice, Simon De Soto, and Israel Rodgers be and they hereby appointed commissioners to lay off the said Parish of De Soto into not less than five nor more than seven police districts and they shall select a seat of justice for the said parish of De Soto which shall be located within three miles of the geographical center; and the Parish Judge shall order an election to be holden in each Police District, to elect one police jury member for each district.

This act was passed at the First Session of the Sixteenth Legislature in the City of New Orleans on January 2, 1843. (All acts were printed in English and in French.)

With the site for the parish government selected by the Louisiana Legislature, it behooved some of the leading citizens to secure the property for development. John A. Gamble and Charles A. Edwards of the Screamerville community purchased the quarter section (160 acres) from the United States Government Land Office. Major John E. Hewitt was employed to survey and mark the corners for each section.

The De Soto Parish Police Jury purchased the site from Mr. Gamble and Mr. Edwards on June 5, 1843 for $ 200.47 (Book A, Page 4, De Soto Parish Conveyance Records). Since the seat of government was not yet established at the new site, the transaction was signed in Screamerville.

Naming of the town was settled when Thomas Abington of Screamerville suggested “Mansfield” as the name in honor of an English Lord, Chief Justice Mansfield, who was favorable toward the colonies. (Others suggestions named were Ferdinand and Jackson.)

On January 2, 1844 the De Soto Parish Police Jury employed Thomas P. Hall to subdivide the quarter section into blocks and lots. Jacob D. Wimple, De Soto Parish Clerk, made a map from the Hall survey plat. This map has been photocopied and is still available in the office of the Clerk of Court.

Throughout the years many people have thought it strange that the numbering of the blocks does not follow the normal procedure of north to south; e.g. Block One is north of the Court House Square; Block Two, immediately east of Court House Square; Block 3, due south of the Square; Block 4, due east of Block 3; Block 5, due east of Block 3.

One June 7, 1845 lots owned by the De Soto Parish Police Jury were sold at public auction. Some of the lots sold at this auction were Lots 1 and 2, Block 20 for $ 285 to John I. Crow, Lots 3 and 4, Block 20 to Squire Pate for $ 76, Lot 1, Block 5 situated at the northeast corner of Washington and Texas Street for $50, Block 10 to William Crosby for $56.

It is worth to note that most of the streets running north and south in Mansfield were named in honor of early presidents. Some of the early founders of Mansfield were honored with their names being given to streets as well.

Contrary to the prevailing opinion, Mansfield was not a part of the Louisiana Purchase and when Napoleon sold the last empire known as the Louisiana Purchase to the United States in 1803, the site of the town of Mansfield was not in the territory transferred but belonged to Mexico. The Louisiana Purchase line ran from Avery Island in a northwesterly direction, passing four and one half miles north of the present site of Mansfield. The line crosses present Louisiana Highway 175 near the intersection of Sloan Road thereby placing the Mansfield site in “No Man’s Land.” 

On its 150th Birthday, probably the most historic structure in Mansfield is the former Mansfield Female College building. Nearby on the southwest corner of Louisiana and Crosby Streets is the location of the first brick school constructed in DeSoto Parish, Central High School.

It was near Mansfield that the great Battle of Mansfield, April 8, 1864, took place. This is recognized as the last major victory of the Confederate States of America in the war between the States. Texans stood with their Louisiana kinsman to preserve Shreveport, Louisiana’s state capital and save Texas from capture.

Contributing to the growth of Mansfield was King Cotton and later the great lumber mills.  In 1912 brought on the oil boom in Naborton oil field. The foundry now known as Hendrix Manufacturing, Nabors Trailers, International Paper Mill, Cleco-Swepco lignite power plant, timber, cattle and of course, the recent discovery of the “Haynesville Shale” natural gas play have contributed to further growth.

It has been aptly said that "history is the track of God’s footsteps through time".  As the Twenty-first Century dawns, may each remember that our forefathers have chartered a good course to follow.