“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Natchitoches in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana — The American South (West South Central)

The American Cemetery

The American Cemetery Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Tom Bosse, July 3, 2017
1. The American Cemetery Marker
Established in 1737, the American Cemetery is considered one of the oldest cemeteries in the Louisiana Purchase. The many civic, religious, military, and political leaders buried here reflect the long and colorful history of Cane River National Heritage Area. In modern times, the cemetery is perhaps best recognized as the setting for the funeral scene in the 1989 movie Steel Magnolias.

Humble Roots
The American Cemetery was established near the second site of Fort St. Jean Baptiste, after the original French outpost was moved following the Natchez Indian attack of 1731. It is believed that Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, the founder of Natchitoches, was actually buried here upon his death in 1744 although no headstone survives to mark the location. Since the area’s first residents were mostly French and Catholic, the cemetery was originally referred to as Catholic Cemetery. However, the name was changed to American Cemetery as non-Catholic Americans started to be buried here.

Some of the early graves were marked by iron crosses forged by blacksmiths and engraved by French artisans, as was the popular
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tradition from the 1700s into the late 1800s. It was also common for graves to contain burials three and four deep in keeping with the old tradition of most cemeteries along Cane River.

Notable individuals buried in American Cemetery include a number of the great Cane River pioneer families — Buard, Cloutier, Lambre, Metoyer, Prud’homme, Rouquier, and Sompayrac. Numerous soldiers who died in the Red River Campaign of the Civil War, as well as veterans from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam were also laid to rest here.

The oldest surviving grave marker dates to 1797 and is that of Dame Marie Ann D’Artigaux, a French noblewoman who came to the New World with her husband after being banished from the French Royal Court for unrecorded reasons.

Several legends about famous residents buried in the American Cemetery have emerged over time. One such legend is that the red oak tree on Second Street near the entrance to the cemetery was planted by St. Denis as a grave marker for the daughter of a Natchitoches Indian Chief who killed herself upon learning that her Spanish lover had been ordered back to Spain. Another legend is that Davy Crockett’s wife is buried on the grounds; however, a gravestone marker has not been located.

By the early 20th-century, the once beautiful cemetery
The American Cemetery Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Tom Bosse, July 3, 2017
2. The American Cemetery Marker
had fallen into a state of neglect with deteriorated markers and overgrown trees and weeds. In response, a group of local women formed the American Cemetery Association in 1904 with the goal of restoring the cemetery to its original condition and preserving the history within its walls. The Association solicited restoration funds from the City of Natchitoches and partnered with several other organizations to transform the cemetery into a beautiful historic spot. The American Cemetery Association, with the support of the City of Natchitoches and many other local preservation groups, continues to maintain the cemetery today through preservation of tombstones and care of the grounds.

Notable Individuals
Buried in the American Cemetery

Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme
Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme was a successful businessman and farmer credited with growing the first cotton crop in north Louisiana and representing Natchitoches at the 1812 Louisiana Constitutional Convention in New Orleans. He and his wife, Marie Catherine Lambre Prud’homme, built Bermuda Plantation in 1821. The Plantation, which is today known as Oakland Plantation, is part of Cane River Creole National Historical Park and is open daily for tours.

Alexander Sompayrac
Born in Natchitoches in 1843, Alexander Sompayrac
The American Cemetery image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Tom Bosse, July 3, 2017
3. The American Cemetery
was one of the most successful planters in Louisiana, establishing a steamboat line in Natchitoches to transport cotton along the Red River. He went on to serve a four-year term in the Louisiana Legislature, during which time he helped establish Louisiana State Normal School, which continues today as Northwestern State University, along with Leopold Caspari. He also sponsored the establishment of the first hospital in Natchitoches.

Carmelite “Cammie” Garrett Henry
Cammie Garrett Henry arrived at Melrose Plantation in 1899 and transformed the estate into an artist colony that attracted an array of authors and artists, and gave rise to African American painter Clementine Hunter. The Cammie G. Henry Research Center at Northwestern State University is named in her honor.

Leopold “Leopole” Caspari
A native of France, Leopold Caspari immigrated to the United States in 1848 and quickly became a successful businessman. A distinguished Civil War veteran, he served four-years in the Louisiana House of Representatives, during which time he helped secure Natchitoches as the site for the newly-formed Louisiana State Normal School, and 16-years in the Louisiana Senate. He also founded and financed the construction of the Natchitoches and Red River Valley Railroad, and organized and served as president of the Bank of Natchitoches.

Dr. John Sibley Grave image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Tom Bosse, July 3, 2017
4. Dr. John Sibley Grave
Born - May 19, 1757 Sutton, Mass. Died - April 8, 1837 Natchitoches, LA. Revolutionary War soldier, appointed by Thos. Jefferson 1805 Indian Agent Natchitoches; influential in U.S. Spanish boundary dispute settlement; N.W. La frontier development; First Senator, judge, militia Colonel, historian, Natchitoches Parish. Owner plantations N. S. C. site; Army post physician; operated drake salt mines. Donated by Sibley descendants of Shreveport, April 24, 1954. Sponsored by the North La. Historical Assn.
Gideon Lewis, Sr.

John Gideon Lewis, Sr. was a teacher at several of the area’s African American schools, and established the Prince Hall Order of Freemasons in Natchitoches, serving as Most Worshipful Grand Master from 1931–1941. He is buried in the only mausoleum in the American Cemetery.

Claude Thomas Pierre Motoyer and Marie Therese Coincoin
A native Frenchman, Claude Thomas Pierre Motoyer was a successful Natchitoches merchant who had ten children by the young female slave Marie Therese Coincoin. After being freed by Metoyer, Marie Therese and her sons went on to become the leading family of the Creole community of Isle Brevelle with the establishment of Melrose Plantation and St. Augustine Catholic Church. Melrose Plantation is currently owned by the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches and is open daily for tours.

Dr. John Sibley
Dr. John Sibley, a physician from Massachusetts, moved to Natchitoches shortly after the Louisiana Purchase. President Jefferson appointed him a surgeon to the U.S. Army and an Indian agent for the border regions. He later served as justice of the peace, district judge, state senator, and captain of the militia. Sibley Lake is named in his honor.

Mayor Theodore Edward Poleman
Theodore Edward Poleman served as mayor of Natchitoches from 1920 to 1922.
Dame Marie Ann D’Artigaux Grave image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Tom Bosse, July 3, 2017
5. Dame Marie Ann D’Artigaux Grave
The oldest surviving grave marker, dating to 1797.
Poleman was assassinated in 1922 by E.S. Cropper, a local businessman who sold mineral water from his well, over allegations that city employees destroyed his well during a street grading project.

(Picture captions from left to right)

The “Natchitoches Noisette” [Rosa] was discovered ca. 1870 in the American Cemetery. The blooms are double, cupped, and slightly swirled with a light pink coloring, and produce a strong myrrh fragrance when the first open. Its boom frequency is continuous, beginning in April and repeating through December. Though once isolated to the American Cemetery, the “Natchitoches Noisette” is now available at garden centers across the United States.

American Cemetery gained national acclaim in 1989 as the setting for the funeral scene of the film “Steel Magnolias”. In this photo, actresses Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, and Shirley MacLaine are rehearsing the scene with director Herbert Ross.

Early view of the American Cemetery, which is considered of the oldest cemeteries in the Louisiana Purchase.

Decorative element of the grave marker for P.F. Kimball, 1805-1847, and his wife Helena Sibley Kimball, 1817-1850.

Staff members of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) presenting a cemetery monument conservation workshop.
Topics and series. This historical marker
John Gideon Lewis, Sr. Grave image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Tom Bosse, July 3, 2017
6. John Gideon Lewis, Sr. Grave
is listed in these topic lists: Cemeteries & Burial SitesColonial EraSettlements & Settlers. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #03 Thomas Jefferson series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1737.
Location. 31° 45.249′ N, 93° 5.467′ W. Marker is in Natchitoches, Louisiana, in Natchitoches Parish. Marker can be reached from the intersection of 2nd Street and Bossier Street, on the right when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 2nd St #200, Natchitoches LA 71457, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Fort St. Jean Baptiste (a few steps from this marker); a different marker also named The American Cemetery (within shouting distance of this marker); Fort Saint Jean Baptiste (within shouting distance of this marker); Northwestern State University (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); Dr. John Sibley (approx. ¼ mile away); Natchitoches and the Early American Period (approx. ¼ mile away); El Camino Real de los Tejas (approx. ¼ mile away); The Jefferson Highway (approx. ¼ mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Natchitoches.
Also see . . .
St. Denis Oak image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Tom Bosse, July 3, 2017
7. St. Denis Oak
 The American Cemetery in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Red River Historian YouTube video (12m 08s) (Submitted on May 16, 2024, by Larry Gertner of New York, New York.) 
St. Denis Oak image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Tom Bosse, July 3, 2017
8. St. Denis Oak
Credits. This page was last revised on May 16, 2024. It was originally submitted on July 25, 2017, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 1,191 times since then and 195 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on July 25, 2017, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee.   7, 8. submitted on February 14, 2018, by Tom Bosse of Jefferson City, Tennessee. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.

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May. 25, 2024