Patti and Tom Burkett are regular off-the-beaten-path reporters for the RV Lifestyle. This week, they take us to the Natchez Trace and historical French Camp, LA
This is a story that starts with Louis LeFleur, who was born in a settlement near Fort Condé on the Gulf of Mexico. As a young man, he operated flatboats on the rivers and bayous stretching from Pensacola, Florida to Natchez, Mississippi.
During this period, after the Revolutionary War, there was much interaction among the French settlers of the area and the native Choctaw people. The Choctaw chief Pushmataha had married Rebecca Cravatt, a Frenchwoman, and in 1790, Louis married both of their daughters, according to the polygamous custom of the tribe.
On the Natchez Trace
LeFleur, his wives, and their growing family settled on the bluffs overlooking the Pearl River and when the Natchez Trace opened to general traffic in 1801, he set up a way station that eventually grew into an inn.
As a son-in-law of the chief, LeFleur was frequently called on to help with disputes, treaty negotiations, and trade arrangements with the Choctaw. His inn and ranch, perhaps the first to raise cattle in the region, came to be called French Camp. Now the thousand plus acres of his holding make up the town and academy.
European settlers, many of them Scots, filtered into the region and began to set up homesteads. LeFleur helped smooth out disputes with the Choctaw over infringement on their lands. French Camp became a settlement and LeFleur’s eldest son, Greenwood, became chief of the Choctaw tribe. Eventually, he negotiated the treaty by which the Choctaw were removed west of the Mississippi.
In 1885, the settlers founded an academy for the education of women, intended to serve the Choctaw children who remained behind as well as their own offspring. A boys’ school followed shortly thereafter.
The town of French Camp grew on LeFleur’s holding, and now has about 400 residents, many descended from the original inhabitants. The original French Camp Academy has gradually transformed into a residential school that serves a national population of troubled youth.
The Academy is well worth a visit. The Council House Café serves great locally-grown food across from an artist studio featuring a variety of local work, and the visitor center provides not only a friendly introduction to the community, but also a bakery shop selling bread, preserves, and large cookies.
We recommend the sorghum cookie, moist and chewy.
Just down the road is the Academy’s Rainwater Observatory and Planetarium, stocked with two dozen telescopes of various sizes and offering regular public programs which you can find on their website.
Finally, there is a recreated settlement, made up of buildings moved from the surrounding area, that gives visitors the feel of what it might have been like in the 1850s, right here off the beaten trace.
The Burkett's appear every Wednesday with an audio report on our RV Lifestyle Podcast and every Sunday with a written report here on the RV Lifestyle Travel Blog.
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