Photo by BOBBY ARDOIN, Contributing Writer
CAROLA LILLIE HARTLEY
Local news this week included information regarding one of the monuments on the St. Landry Parish Courthouse Square. Although that marble artifact of our past has been in downtown Opelousas for over a century, what do we really know about it and why it is there. Here are facts about our Confederate Monument you may want to know.
History of Confederate Monuments
After the Civil War that divided our country ended, the first known Confederate Monument was erected in Bolivar, Tennessee in 1867. By 1880, nine courthouse monuments had been erected including one in Cynthiana, KY in 1869 — Kentucky being the birthplace of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America. (Interesting also is the fact that Kentucky was the birthplace of US President Abraham Lincoln.)
Although there were some installed as early as the late 1860s, most of the Confederate Monuments were installed by the Daughters of the Confederacy, between the 1890s and 1950s, which was during the era of Jim Crow segregation. Although the monuments were said to be memorials to those who lost their lives fighting for what was called the “Lost Cause,” there are further reports in the newspapers and other publications of that time showing the monuments were also meant to intimidate the Black population, especially in the South, and keep them from trying to register to vote. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center research conducted over the last seven years, the biggest spike in the building of Confederate Monuments was between 1900 and 1920. During that period the Civil War Monument on the St. Landry Parish Courthouse Square was erected.
History of the St. Landry Parish Confederate Monument
The Gordon Chapter No.124, United Daughters of the Confederacy was organized in Opelousas on July 31, 1897, at the Sandoz Opera House on Main Street. The Opelousas chapter was the third organized in Louisiana, the other two were in Morgan City and New Orleans. At that time the following officers were elected: Anita Doremus, President; Mrs. R. R. Settoon, 1st Vice-President; Bella Jacobs, 2nd Vice President; Mrs. R. Mayer, 3rd Vice-President; May Sandoz, Recording Secretary; Annie Andrus, Corresponding Secretary, and Mrs. Wm. Evans, Treasurer. The membership in the chapter included 43 women of Opelousas.
Immediately following the chapter’s organization, what was described in local newspapers as a combination of adverse circumstances, the chapter went dormant for more than two years and was reorganized in September of 1902. The objects of the chapter were said to be historical, educational, memorial, benevolent and social; to fulfill the duties of charity to the survivors of the war between the States and those dependent upon them; to collect and preserve the material for a truthful history of the war; to protect historic places of the Confederacy; to record the part taken by Southern women; as well in untiring effort after the war in the reconstruction of the South as in patient endurance of hardship and patriotic devotion during the struggle; to honor the memory of those who served and those who fell in the service of the Confederate States; and to cherish the ties of friendship among the members of the society.
The qualifications for membership in the chapter were as follows: Those women entitled to membership are the widows, wives, mothers, sisters, nieces and lineal descendants of such men as served honorably in the Confederate army, or civil service; or of those men, unfit for active duty, who loyally gave aid to the cause; also, women and their lineal descendants, wherever living, who can give proof of personal service and loyal aid to the Southern cause during the war.
Officers of the chapter in October of 1902 were President, Mrs. Leonce Sandoz; 1st Vice-President, Pearl Harmanson; 2nd Vice President, Mrs. A. B. Anderson; 3rd Vice-President, Regina Loeb; Recording Secretary, Mrs. T. Miller Anderson; Correspondent Secretary, Mrs., C. T. Bienvenu; and Treasurer, Aline Delarue. The chapter chose the Confederate Jessamine as the flower of the Chapter, with its motto being “Duty Binds Us.”
Even though the women in this Opelousas chapter did not have the right to vote, they proved to have great social and political influence in the town, all in the name of preserving Confederate culture.
For years following that 1902 reorganization, the women involved in the Gordon Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Opelousas and St. Landry Parish pushed to have a monument to honor the dead soldiers who fought for the Confederacy, and honor the remaining veterans, installed on the parish courthouse square.
In 1910 Opelousas was the site for a giant reunion of all Louisiana Confederate Veterans. The reunion event lasted several days, with hundreds of veterans in attendance. There were many events, activities and a great parade through the town to end the reunion. Following that successful event, the United Daughters of the Confederacy Opelousas chapter decided to begin raising funds to install a monument in Opelousas and dedicate it to the memory of Brig. General Alfred Mouton, who was killed in the war. The monument was also to honor all the other St. Landry Parish soldiers who lost their lives in the war, and to honor the Louisiana Confederate Veterans of St. Landry Parish. The Mouton Monument Fund was created at that time.
During the 1914 year some disagreements came up about the name of the Opelousas monument. A citizen of Opelousas, who did not want to identify himself, wrote letters to the editor of the St. Landry Clarion newspaper claiming he had suggested a monument to honor Confederate veterans years before the Mouton Monument fund was started. Signing his name “St. Landry,” he stated the monument should be called the Confederate Monument, and not the Mouton Monument. Following that letter writing campaign, the Opelousas monument was called the Confederate Monument. At that time a group in Lafayette took up the cause to install a monument dedicated as a memorial to General Alfred Mouton.
The women of the Gordon Chapter held fund raisers and had celebrations for what was called Jefferson Davis Memorial Day each year. There were other fund raising events over the years like the one held in August of 1914, called the Donkey Party and Dance, which attracted a large number of young folks and was said to be a great financial success.
Over the years the monument fund continued to grow until 1918. During that year the Daughters of the Confederacy voted to give the money from the Confederate Monument Fund to help the US as it was involved in the Great War, later known as WWI. They used all the monument funds to purchase war bonds. When the war was over, the bonds were cashed in, and that money, plus the bond interest earned, used to begin the process of getting the monument made and erected.
When the Great War ended, many people in Opelousas felt there should not be a monument dedicated to the Confederate Veterans, but one instead to honor the young soldiers who fought in WWI, and especially those who gave their lives in that war. A fund was created to raise the monies necessary to have that monument erected on the Courthouse Square. At that time Opelousas had two competing monument funds by two different groups with different ideas. That created some disagreement in the town, and many people were no longer in favor of having a Confederate Monument. Nevertheless, the Daughters of the Confederacy continued with their effort to have a Confederate Monument in the town.
In October of 1919, work began on the two monuments to be installed on the St. Landry Parish Courthouse Square. One was for the young soldiers of the parish that were killed in WWI, plus the newly returning veterans of that war. The other was in memory of the soldiers who did not return from the Civil War, and the veterans of the Civil War in St. Landry Parish. Both monuments were installed in 1920, the Confederate monument dedicated on February 22nd and the World War One monument dedicated in July.
 Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture, written by Karen L. Cox, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, NC.