The Old Indian Crossing

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By Chapman “Chappie” Morgan

Submitted by Vickie Carney of the Central Historical Society
Excerpted with permission from the Morgan-Chapman Family Newsletter, No. 21, 1997
(Now is not the first time a river crossing has been proposed between Greenwell Springs and Watson.  Read on….)

    Thanks to the efforts of the Edward Livingston Historical Association, an historical marker has been erected on Bend Road (near Watson) to commemorate the Old Indian Crossing on the Amite River between Greenwell Springs and Watson.  The following is a small bit of oral history learned by the writer’s family in 1946 when they purchased a portion of the Eliza Carl White place in the old Tenth Ward of East Baton Rouge Parish, where the Old Indian Crossing had been.

    In 1946 only one old house stood on a bluff at the crossing; all that remained of what was once known as Burlington.  In the years prior to the Civil War, mail was carried by boat on the Amite River.  The Burlington Post Office sat right on the bank of the river at the crossing.  A saloon stood a short distance up the bluff from the post office.  About a hundred yards south of the saloon stood a cotton gin.  A grist mill and a blacksmith shop were also in operation somewhere within the community.

    With the aid of a ferry at the crossing, commerce was exchanged between the two parishes.  Livingston farmers would bring their cotton to Burlington to be ginned, and corn to be ground at the grist mill.  A barge-type ferry, pulled by cable, could accommodate wagons with mule-team or oxen.  Mr. George Fairchild of Greenwell Springs, in a taped interview in June 1988, related how one Livingston farmer nearly met disaster on crossing at flood time with a yoke of oxen and a wagon loaded for the gin and grist mill.  On attempting to cross the rain-swollen river, the ferry broke loose, sending the farmer and his precious cargo down the churning river.  Somehow a rescue was made and the farmer, along with his oxen and most of his corn, was saved.

    Indians abounded in the area prior to the war.  Attempts were made by the white settlers at Burlington to make farmers of them.  But the Indians would have no part of it.  A compromise was worked out whereby the whites would do the farming and share with the Indians if the Indians would do the hunting and gathering, and share with the whites.  During the war, when Federal troops came to the crossing, the Indians would take those things of value that were moveable and hide them in the woods.  When the Feds departed, everything would be returned.  Thus, it seems, the relationship between the whites and the Indians at the crossing was an amicable one.

    In 1946 Mr. John Lee, a life-long resident of the Greenwell Springs community, told the writer’s family that a small cemetery had existed somewhere in the Burlington community.  He recalled coming to the crossing many times in his youth, usually on horseback, but always with a pistol on his hip.  He stated that three adult women and a small child, members of the Eliza Carl White family, were buried there somewhere.  It was his belief that the river had long since claimed the cemetery.  However, a Mrs. Morgan in Ruston, LA (no relation to the writer), told the writer’s eldest brother that she was raised  in the old house and could remember, as a child, looking out in front of the house to the right and seeing the little cemetery.  Based on this information, the writer and another brother, in 1946 or ’47, investigated an area within a small plum orchard and found four sink-ins, three adult and one child.  Mr. Fairchild stated that he, too, remembered the cemetery being in the area described by Mrs. Morgan, and with markers on each grave.  But no markers were there when the writer’s family bought the property in 1946. (*Mr. Morgan received a letter later sharing that Elizabeth Carl Sullivan named the graves as those of Lavinia Alverson Carl, Genii Viola Carl, and John Carl.  The fourth was not known to her.). 

    ….According to a story by Mr. Lee, sometime during the 1890’s two men got into a drunken brawl in the Burlington saloon and one got killed.  The other set fire to the saloon and then committed suicide by drowning himself in the river.  Because the post office, having been erected on tall, red brick piers, was being undermined by the frequent flood stages of the Amite River, it was torn down just before the turn of the (last) century.  A house was built on the site of the old burned-down saloon.  Based on Mr. Lee’s recollections and oral history, the writer’s family has always believed that the house, built about 1898 with the lumber from the post office, was the Eliza Carl White family home, the same one they lived in from July 1946 until it was torn down in the mid-1960’s.

    According to an estimate by Mr. Fairchild (who has the only remaining part of the Burlington cotton gin), the gin was constructed sometime during the 1840’s.  Following the fall of Baton Rouge in August 1862, and the occupation of the Baton Rouge area by the Feds, the gin was ordered closed.  The grist mill and other businesses were allowed to remain in operation.  After the Federal occupation was lifted in 1879, a Mr. Fridge bought the old cotton gin (boiler) and had it removed to Old Indian Mound, north of Greenwell Springs, where…it exploded.  Mr. Fairchild recalls how he, as a child walking to and from school in Deerford, would stop at the old gin and crawl up into the bowels of the old boiler through the gaping hole left by the explosion.  Years later, after becoming a blacksmith, Mr. Fairchild bought part of the boiler, which he used many years on his blacksmith’s forge. A new forge has now replaced the old one, and the boiler part from the old Burlington gin, after some 150 years of service, has been permanently retired. 

    Nothing remains today at the site of the Old Indian Crossing to remind one that once a thriving little community, wedged between two parishes, existed there on the eastern bank of the Amite River.

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