Visions of Vernon: Vernon Parish Communities, Comrade - Cooper

Stanley Fletcher
Leesville Daily Leader

     Comrade(31.32166667N, -92.96416667W) was a side camp on the Red River and Gulf (RR&G) Railroad between Kurthwood in Vernon Parish and Longleaf in Rapides Parish.  Side camps were built along railroads to house workers so they would not have to be transported to and from the mill daily. The Comrade side camp was located in T4N, R6W, Secs. 14 and 15 about 3/4 mile west of Rapides Parish and 1/2 mile north of Comrade Creek.  The community was on the 1814 north-south Opelousas to Natchitoches trace. Today the community is found at the intersection of Comrade Road and Smith Loop.

     The RR&G Railroad was built between 1917 and 1919.  Northeast Vernon Parish had cypress trees and other hardwoods along Comrade Creek and Calcasieu River.  Between the bottoms were virgin pines ready for the flatheads with their saws.  

     The carpetbaggers, Augustus Brown and George E. Avery, owned much of the area.  Augustus owned 14,420 acres and George owned 6,640. Joseph Kurth bought the land and built a sawmill in 1917 which closed and was dismantled in 1945.  The railroad was dismantled in 1954. 

     Conrad's (unknown) location is a mystery.  It was not a village. It predates the railroad in Vernon Parish.  It was not located on a ford or crossroad. It had a post office from 1892 to 1895, which moved in 1895 and then closed in 1898.

     Using the best maps available, Conrad was slightly less than one-half mile northwest of Cravens.  That would put it on Whiskey Chitto Creek west of Woodroe James Road. Perhaps it was the location of a water-powered sawmill.  None of the settlers listed milling as an occupation.

     The Vernon Parish School System started in 1876.  Conrad was one of the first schools with Barnabus O. Owens as the first teacher.  Before he came to Louisiana, he was a teacher in Franklin County, Mississippi. The school closed before 1879.  

     Barney, as he was also called, was also a pastor and Civil War veteran.  He served as a sergeant in the Civil War in Mississippi's 33rd Inf. Regt.  He moved to Slagle where he died in 1890.

     The first postmaster was Napoleon B. Johnson from Mississippi.  He served from 1892 when the post office opened until 1894. Napoleon served in the Civil War also in Co. C, 27th LA Inf. Regt.  It's not known where he lived in Vernon Parish. He did not homestead any land. He moved to Conroe, Texas where he died in 1931.

     John Henry Hunt was Conrad's second and final postmaster. He served from 1894 to 1898.    John owned 160 acres on present-day Gravel Hill Road on Birds Creek. He was known for his musical instruments and playing ability.  He moved to Conrad from Cotile and listed his occupation as sawmill miller in 1900. His sawmill occupation suggests a sawmill on Birds Creek or Whiskey Chitto.  John moved to Texas where he spent 1928 in Huntsville Prison for possessing liquor. Years 1920 to 1933 were the Prohibition Period in U.S. history. He died in prison in 1929 of the flu and pneumonia.  

     Cooper (31.233572N, -91.959898W) was one of the first communities in Vernon Parish. It was located on the Hineston to Burr's Ferry trace.  In the early 1840s people started moving into the area. Mitchel Neal received the first land grant in 1846. The community received a post office in 1847.  Present-day Cooper's location on Jean Chapel and U.S. Hwy 171 was homesteaded by Zachariah Speights who settled the 640 acres in 1860. Zachariah was the son of John Speights, a once wealthy slave owner in Rapides Parish.  Cooper received a post office in 1898 with Charles Lockwood as postmaster after the KCS Railroad was built through the area.

     In Vernon Parish's Carpetbagger Period which started in the 1880s, much of Cooper was bought by outside interests.  Nathaniel Fairbanks purchased 3,247 acres in 1888 and 1890, Charles Hackley purchased 1,769 acres in 1888 and 1890, and Pack and Woods purchased 477 acres in 1885 and 1886.  All four were inside-traders and land speculators who bought cheap and sold high to sawmill owners after 1898 and made a financial killing.     

     Today Cooper is located in T1N, R9W, Sec. 22, about one quarter mile north of Bayou Zourie (called Taylor Creek on some maps) on U.S. Hwy 171 at the Jean Chapel Road intersection and the KCS crossing.  I believe original Cooper was farther west. Before the railroad, the community leaders John Jordan, Willie Hunt, Lewis Cooper, and others lived in the Cooper Church community two miles west. Jean Chapel and Cooper Roads were part of the 1847 east-west trace through Vernon Parish.  Perhaps the community moved east to the railroad after 1898.

     Cooper had a store called Jordan's and Miller's General Store.  Jordan was John Spruel Jordan who was appointed postmaster in 1900.  John owned 160 acres where Cooper Cemetery is today. His store was located where the Welcome Club was located in the 1960s.

     Cooper had three sawmills.  They were water-powered mills located on Bayou Zourie.  All three were partnership mills. They were owned by Lockwood and Bass, Arbuthnot and McCain, and Lockwood and Ross.  Lockwood was Charles B. Lockwood who moved to Cooper from Texas and was recorded as the mill's bookkeeper. Arbuthnot was Charles Lee Arbuthnot who moved around as a millwright from Texas to Louisiana to Florida where he died in 1950.  Ross was George Thomas Ross from Alabama who married Charles' sister, Louisa. He moved to Lincoln Parish where he died in 1910. The other three owners were Bass, McCain, and Ross. None of the three could be found in the Cooper community in the U.S. Census.

        The community was first called Hunt's Springs.  It's the only school I could find in Rapides Parish history.  Located on or next to land owned by Willie Hunt, it opened around 1850.  The school and Hunts Spring Baptist Church, which became Cooper Baptist Church,  met in the same building, which was the norm in that period.  

     In 1876 the Vernon Parish's school system was organized.  No schools were listed in Cooper. The community's children went to Petersburg, also called Huddleston, and Elmwood.  Cooper School formed in the 1907-08 school year. In the early 1920s, a committee formed to build a consolidated school in Ward Four to be called Pickering.  John Jordan and W. J. Blackmon represented Cooper on the committee. Cooper was closed along with Grannis and Pickering. The new school was also named Pickering and moved one-quarter mile north of Hwy. 10 on U.S. Hwy. 171 to its present location from the mill site in 1922.