The Alabama Landing, Part 1

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In 1541-1542, Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto’s expedition included the first white men to explore this particular area of north Louisiana. They had traveled throughout mid-America from the Mobile, AL, starting point and, in time, to south Arkansas and north Louisiana. Expedition journals record they spent the winter of 1541 at an Indian village somewhere within the area of what’s now known as Camden, AR

The land south of there was a long stretch of low-lying swampy area. (The US Geological Survey has documented the Red River – Alabama Landing fault, which created a 25-foot drop in land level, extending from Smackover Creek, south of present-day Camden to just north of the Alabama Landing.) The only way to move south was down the Ouachita River. The DeSoto expedition constructed boats, left the Camden area, floating down the Ouachita River, and eventually discovering a “beautiful, firm, rocky landing spot” which some researchers believe became known as the Alabama Landing. This was the first bluff with gravel banks encountered south of Camden on the west side of the Ouachita River.

Searching for gold and silver, the explorers disembarked and traveled west through what’s now the Shreveport area, continuing to north of Houston. Giving up on their quest, the explorers turned back, retracing their path through north Louisiana, up the Ouachita River and Bayou Bartholomew, and over to the Mississippi River. However, Desoto died while they wintered in the area of Lake Village, AR. Following his death, they abandoned the expedition, built boats and floated south to the mouth of the Mississippi.

According to early maps, Alabama Landing received its name in the early 1800’s. (Coordinates are N 32 degrees 52.384’, W 92 degrees 05.344’) The landing had been in use for years when, in the early 1800s, many settlers from Alabama came ashore and began establishing in the higher elevations west of the Landing. (There was also a ford crossing on the upstream side.)

My 3rd great grandfather, Louis Repon, was born 1789 at Post d’Ouachita, which became Ft Miro (now Monroe, LA). His father, Etienne “Esteban” Repon, traveled up the Ouachita River with Jean Baptist Filhiol and helped establish Post d’Ouachita in 1782. They built Ft. Miro, which subsequently became Monroe (named after President James Monroe). As a young man, the story goes Louis wanted to settle further upriver near what became the Alabama Landing. He ventured up the river with a party of men on a bear hunt. Exploring the area, they traveled up a stream, which became Reppo Creek, north of the Alabama Landing. The first substantial ridge he encountered on the edge of the swamp was occupied by an Indian village. He liked the country so well that he decided to settle there.

Repon traveled up the river with his wife, Henrietta McCormick, two men and another woman. He started to carve himself a home out of the wilderness. There were no other settlers in that part of the country; his nearest neighbor lived 14 miles away.

Louis settled in the eastern part of what is now Union Parish in the year 1820, two miles northwest of the Ouachita River near what’s now the Alabama Landing. The land was fertile, and the country had an abundant amount of wild game. Bear and deer were plentiful as well as other kinds of game. Being a bear hunter, the country suited him fine.

There were some friendly Indians who lived in a small village on a ridge jutting out into the swamp nearby. Subsequent to the Natchez Massacre, all Indians were forced to join the “Train of Tears” march to the Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma.

Repon always favored the site of the Indian village, so when the federal land office was finally established in 1839, Repon was the first to purchase land in the Alabama Landing area for little over $1 per acre. (this writer was born on the property which is still in our family’s possession)

During the course of Louis Repon’s life, the family name evolved to Reppond and has remained such ever since. In 1834, Louis Reppond purchased the 80 acres for $100 from the United States, and it became the Reppond-McKinnie homestead.

As a young girl, my grandmother Ethel Reppond McKinnie remembered an old Indian man living on the property; when he passed away, her family buried him on the property. Out of respect, a pecan tree was planted over the grave. The Reppond homestead, now McKinnie family property, has remained in the family for 184 years.

Some of the early settler families in the Alabama Landing area included Reppond, McKinnie, Day, Hargis, Turner, George, Crow, Byrd, Abscent, Lee, Thomas and Love.

By 1830, Alabama Landing was the destination for passengers coming to Union Parish or going northwest. During this period, four large warehouses were constructed for storing cotton and farm products heading south. Stored merchandise was hauled by ox-drawn wagons to Shiloh, Union Cross Roads (Oakland), Marion, and Upper and Lower Pines (Farmerville).

In 1832, one new community (10 miles west) was named Marion, in remembrance of their hometown, Marion, AL. Dean, another local community, became more established in 1900 when the railroad was extended from Huttig, AR, to gain access to virgin timber.

Union Parish native, Jon R McKinnie’s career has taken him throughout the world. Jon & his wife, Phyllis Richardson, moved back to Union Parish about four years ago. Jon currently serves as President/CEO of Union Parish’s Chamber of Commerce. Jon can be reached at president@unionparishchamber.org