February 15, 1791 (228 years ago) Jean Baptiste Filhiol’s (the Spanish called him Don Juan) dream of having a fort to provide safety for the settlers in North Louisiana became a reality.
The fort was the beginning of a settlement that turned into a small town, also named Fort Miro. In 1819, the city fathers changed the name of the town to Monroe, in honor of the first steamboat that came up the Ouachita River.
Filhiol, born in Eymet, Aquitaine, France, fought for the American colonists in West Florida under General Galvez, and settled in the Opelousas area in South Louisiana. Rewarded for his service, Filhiol was commissioned by the Spanish Governor Estevan Miro to establish the Poste d’Ouachita, arriving in the area in 1782. He was to maintain harmony with the Indians, keep out the “Englishmen, Americans and vagabonds” and to assemble the scattered inhabitants of the region into a civilized settlement.
Being the furthermost northern military post between New Orleans and what is now Little Rock, AR, the region was a wilderness when Filhiol arrived. It didn’t take him long to realize the colonists would need a fort for safety from roving bands of Indians.
The Indians – the Osage, Arkansas, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Miamis, Kaskaskias and Caddos – were not only besieging the post settlers, but were engaged in tribal wars, often with the post caught in the middle.
Dr. E. Russ Williams Jr. in his “Military Tradition of Fort Miro and the Poste d’Ouachita in Colonial Louisiana 1783- 1804” says that Filhiol had hoped several of the tribes would move to a spot to the north that would act as a buffer from the Osage (the ones he was having the most trouble with). When the Indians didn’t move, Filhiol became worried because his militia consisted of only 86 men. When four Americans were killed and scalped the settlers were thrown into a panic and demanded protection.
On August 25, 1790, Filhiol wrote to Governor Miro that several of the inhabitants were asking for a fort. They said they would have “peace of mind if there were a structure to shelter their families whenever Indian attacks were at hand.”
Filhiol proposed a fort that would contain a square arpent (a French measurement of land equaling 0.85 acre) and enclose four buildings, the smallest being 36 feet. The buildings had been Filhiol’s habitat on the river and were adequate for a fort. He requested of the governor that the fort be allowed to bear the governor’s name, Fort Miro. With such a tribute to him, Miro sent four swivel guns and 12 muskets with necessary ball and powder as Filhiol requested.
Filhiol’s wording in his letter, made the governor assume the fort was already built, and that no Spanish money had been used. Frustrated, Filhiol took matters into his own hands, and began fort-building plans on his own.
Work on the fort went slower than he had thought it would. The local people failed to supply the 25 hewn logs as each had pledged. Bad weather was also a factor. But assisted by his officers, some residents and four slaves, Filhiol prepared and placed the 1,100 logs in the palisade. Only 364 logs had been provided by the settlers.
Etienne Repon, my 4th great grandfather, born in Marseille France, traveled up the Ouachita River with Filhiol or arrived very soon after. He helped Filhiol establish the Post d’Ouachita and build Fort Miro. Repon must have been well educated in France, as he can read and write.
Repon married a widow, Catherine Olivo in Dec 1787 at Post d’Ouachita. Olivio’s first husband, Louis LeBlanc (White) was killed and scalped by Osage Indians while on a hunting expedition in southern Arkansas. Filhiol and Repon were close friends and Repon’s step-daughter, Lucillia “Lucy” LaBlanc Repon, married Filhiol’s son, Jean Joseph Filhiol on Oct 21, 1822.
In a letter to Governor Miro, Filhiol explained how he changed the fort design. It was not the simple logged-in arpent made up of a fence of 1,025 vertically placed, tipped posts as originally planned, but instead it was an enclosure of horizontally placed posts with vertical posts placed every 10 feet. A bastion was at each corner of the fort.
Iron spikes had been driven around the rim of the enclosure to make the wall scale-proof. Even though it was made of softer wood and the fort was not as strong as he had hoped for, Filhiol felt it would serve the purpose.
— Part 1 —