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Fort Claiborne, Unwanted


House
Fort Claiborne's only remaining structure sits behind Front Street in Natchitoches (LOC).

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 necessitated that the Americans protect their newly-acquired property, much to the chagrin of the French and Spanish creoles in northern Louisiana, which saw these "depraved Americans" as a threat to their way of life. The conflict between the American new-comers and the "old inhabitants" along the Red River could be seen with the establishment of Fort Claiborne.


With the original fort of Natchitoches, St. Jean Baptiste, in ruins, the United States established a new garrison to the north of town. Fort Claiborne, named after the territorial governor, became a quite substantial locale as it continued to be occupied for close to fifteen years. Here, the Indian Agent Dr. John Sibley signed treaties with Caddoan, Coushattan, and other tribes - including the famous Caddo chief, Dehahuit - to begin the process of westward removal. It was also at Fort Claiborne where the Red River expedition of 1806 by Peter Custis, Thomas Freeman, and Captain Sparks was launched.


The Creole (French/Spanish) parishioners of Natchitoches sued the American government to remove the fort, since they believed that the fort was built on communal property that was overseen by the church, which was located at the fort's southeastern corner. The suspicion that the Creole community had against the Americans was evidenced by the abandonment of the original cemetery at the location of Fort St. Jean Baptiste. The Catholic Creoles removed their dead from the cemetery once protestants began burying their own at the newly renamed "American Cemetery."


Fort Claiborne thus had an active but relatively short life. After the signing of the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, which legally named the border between New Spain and the Louisiana Territory; the Mexican Revolution of 1821; and the American push into North Texas, the U.S. government established Fort Jesup along the Spanish Road (Camino de Real) northwest of Natchitoches.


Today, the old location of Fort Claiborne has been reclaimed by the Natchitoches citizens. The site is now occupied by the convention and visitor's bureau, Louisiana museum and hall of fame, the events center, the Main Street office, and other city service buildings. The only reminder of the old fort is its guest house, which sits at the corner of Second and Lafayette Streets.

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