With Governor W. W. Heard, the one party system in which "the Bourbons," a coalition of the old planter class, urban business interests, and others, dominated the state came into being. The Bourbons ruled with as total an authority as the old planter class had ever shaped the government prior to the Civil War -- and probably were even more dictatorial.
"The Bourbons," a name given these coalition groups, which developed in every state in the Old Confederacy, were given their name for the Bourbon Kings who ruled with an iron hand in a dictatorship. The Bourbons were an elite, and none more representative than Rapides Parish planters and associates.
Newton Craine Blanchard, born a planter's son in Rapides Parish, was governor of Louisiana from 1904-1908. A lawyer in Shreveport, he was a states' right advocate and took as his chief interest the expanding public educational system. He is quoted as saying "It was never truer than now that the education of the poorest is the chief concern of the State."
The thinking of Louisiana hill farmers, regarding political participation, changed perceptibly from almost no participation in the political archives of the state, to active participation in the developing Populist Party. William Ivy Hair in Bourbonism and Agrarian Protest: Louisiana Politics, 1877-1900 , reported after reading newspapers of the period: "Soon, Populist activity was visible among the farmers or Calcasieu, Natchitoches, Rapides, and Vernon parishes."
The first state convention of the People's Party was scheduled at Alexandria October 2, 1891. Seventy-eight delegates from seventeen parishes were present, but almost half of the delegation - 35 - came up from Orleans Parish. The convention adjourned without making the nominates for state offices, but a state organization was set up with a chairman and secretary named for the state executive committee. A platform was published from the Alexandria group, and the New Orleans "Daily Picayune" carried the headlines: "It May Be Ridiculous, but It Is Revolution." According to the editor, "It is a gathering of all the discontented, dissatisfied, and unprosperous elements of the population . . It is easy to laugh at, but. . .there is nothing absurd in the fact that half the delegates were from this city. When the city and country unites, the results may be serious."
The movement of this group toward more participation and representation in the government continued. This time the Socialist Party attracted members. No Rapides Parish member is listed among those prominent in the movement until Covington Hall, and outstanding New Orleans Socialist and labor organizer, set up headquarters in Alexandria.
John Tetts, an outspoken agrarian, became editor of a newspaper, "Farmers' Vidette," published in Alexandria, beginning in 1890.
A second Populist convention was held at Alexandria in 1892; it was biracial, and two black delegates attending the convention were nominated for state offices in the organization.
Alexandria, being in the center of the state, was a convenient meeting place, and the Populist nominating convention was held there in 1896.
Typical, perhaps, of the early settlers of the hill country was Webster Britt who in 1867 homesteaded forty acres of land. A Civil War veteran, he and his young wife, Mary Jane, moved into the wilderness from North Louisiana hill country.
Family legend has it that Jane carried a muzzle loader and walked with her husband as he cleared the land to protect him from panthers. *
Although some distance from Alexandria, Britt's mail was addressed to the parish seat which was the nearest post office at the time.
It wasn't until 1892 when the Watkins Railroad was built through virgin timber from Alexandria to Lake Charles that a little cluster of buildings first known as John's Town became Glenmora.
Portions of Rapides and Winn Parish were cut off to form Grant Parish, named for the United States president. This happened in 1869. The capitol, located on the plantation of the former large slave owner, Meredith Calhoun, was named Colfax for Vice President Schuyler Colfax. In the battle which developed on Easter Sunday, 1873, Rapides Parish men were much involved. Alexandria, being the largest town in the area (population: 1,218) was the stop-off place for some belligerents on both sides of the conflict. It was to Alexandria the black postmaster fled with the mail, after signs of pending violence became clear.
Dual governments, from the local officials, to governor's office, kept citizens in confusion as to what was transpiring at every level, but gripping personal problems for survival took priority. Slowly, ever so slowly, the parish returned to economic health. A social order, not much different on the surface, was being shaped. Only the thoughtful realized the structure was actually doomed with the seeds of liberty planted by blacks, and the awakening realization of their own potential leadership in the minds of hill country residents.
In 1876, the compromise between Republicans and Democrats resulted in the election of the Republican president, and the withdrawal at last, of military troops from the state. Local control of government was restored at last.
The public school system had not existed in Rapides Parish, nor in the State of Louisiana before the Civil War. Public education had its beginning in the military, toward the end of the war, and the Freedmens Bureau's efforts to provide schools for the blacks. As soon as the compromise was effected, the Louisiana legislature met and set up provisions for a dual system of schools - one for the blacks, one for the whites. During this period, until 1900, segregation laws were passed.
During Reconstruction Alexandria experienced considerable growth. To begin with it became a railroad center. The Texas and Pacific was the first in the town in 1882, and Southern Pacific and other followed until railroads replaced steamboats. The last steamboat, the "Scovell," left Alexandria for New Orleans in 1911.
By 1900 there were 5,648 people, and the population registered a 300 percent increase within a few years of the new century. This was due to the railroads and the advent of the great lumber industry.
Eli Plummer, LaSalle Parish education wrote about the city at this period:
"I drove a 3 yoke ox team through the principal streets of Alexandria on freight hauls without encountering any traffic problems. I bought a Sun. coat for $1.75 and a pair of dress shoes for $1.40 and a quart of whiskey for 50 cents on one trip and a bicycle for $15 on another."
From the hard years of Reconstruction Alexandria had emerged with a daily newspaper, "The Alexandria Daily Town Talk," started in 1883. By 1907 there were four banks - Rapides First National, Commercial, Guaranty and City Savings with a total of $295,000 capital stock and bout $2,665,000 in deposits.
There was an open structure near the river called "The Market House," and a red brick City Hall.
Pineville grew more slowly, but its vast surrounding forest area brought sawmills and railroads to the city. Its native son, Henry Hardtner became one of the all-time greats not only in the lumber industry but in reforestation.
Pineville was a trade center for the country to the north and the east where small farmers looked to local merchants beside the river bot to ship their produce to the New Orleans market and to supply them with necessaries. A hard core of astute merchants developed there.
Both Central La. Hospital and Louisiana College were started in 1906.
The ferry linking the twin-cities was replaced with a bridge built by a joint stock company in 1902.
* The researcher must listen attentively to legends and family stories as clues to the past. Often part or none may be true, but the many que