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Tensas Parish, Louisiana facts for kids

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Tensas Parish
Parish of Tensas
Tensas Parish Courthouse at St. Joseph
Tensas Parish Courthouse at St. Joseph
Map of Louisiana highlighting Tensas Parish
Location within the U.S. state of Louisiana
Map of the United States highlighting Louisiana
Louisiana's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  Louisiana
Founded March 17, 1843
Named for Taensa people
Seat St. Joseph
Largest town Newellton
 • Total 641 sq mi (1,660 km2)
 • Land 603 sq mi (1,560 km2)
 • Water 38 sq mi (100 km2)  6.0%
 • Total 5,252
 • Estimate 
 • Density 8.193/sq mi (3.1635/km2)
Time zone UTC−6 (Central)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
Congressional district 5th

Tensas Parish (French: Paroisse des Tensas) is a parish located in the northeastern section of the State of Louisiana; its eastern border is the Mississippi River. As of the 2010 census, the population was 5,252. It is the least populated parish in Louisiana. The parish seat is St. Joseph. The name Tensas is derived from the historic indigenous Taensa people. The parish was founded in 1843 following Indian Removal.

The parish was developed for cotton agriculture, which dominated the economy through the early 20th century. There has also been some cattle ranching in the 1930s and timber extraction.



Tensas Parish was the home to many succeeding Native American groups in the thousands of years before European settlements began. Village and mound sites once built by these peoples have now become archaeological sites. One example is the Flowery Mound, a rectangular platform mound just east of St. Joseph measuring 10 feet (3.0 m) in height and 165 feet (50 m) by 130 feet (40 m) at its base and a summit measuring 50 feet (15 m) square. Core samples taken during investigations at the site have revealed the mound was built in a single stage and because the fill types can still be differentiated it suggests the mound is relatively young. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal found in a midden under the mound reveals that the site was occupied from 996–1162 during the Coles Creek period. The mound was built over the midden between 1200–1541 during the Plaquemine/Mississippian period. The corners are oriented in the cardinal directions. Several others include Balmoral Mounds, Ghost Site Mounds, and Sundown Mounds.

Civil War

During the American Civil War, private citizens, particularly planters, organized, equipped, and transported military companies. In Tensas Parish, cotton planter A. C. Watson provided one company of artillery with more than $40,000. In April 1862, Governor Thomas Overton Moore, reconciled to the fall of New Orleans, ordered the destruction of all cotton in those areas in danger of occupation by Union forces. Along the levees and atop Indian mounds in Tensas Parish, thousands of bales of cotton burned for days. At the time, Tensas Parish was second only to Carroll Parish (subsequently divided into East and West Carroll) in the overall production of cotton in Louisiana.

Near Newellton is the Winter Quarters Plantation restoration, where Union General Ulysses S. Grant and his men spent the winter of 1862-1863, prior to launching the assault in the spring and summer of 1863 against Vicksburg, Mississippi, to the northeast of Tensas Parish.

In 1864, Captain Joseph C. Lea of the Missouri guerrillas, with two hundred men, moved into Tensas Parish and came upon a fortification held by four hundred Federal soldiers under the command of Colonel Alfred W. Eller. Lea inflicted heavy casualties and drove the men to the Mississippi River, where they boarded their boats. Lea seized a federal warehouse with gunpowder, groceries, and medical supplies. Facing attacks from the Union forces who tried to return to their fortification, Lea managed to secure seventy-five Federal wagons and cotton carts, all of which he dispatched to Shreveport.

Franklin Plantation, owned by a physician, Allen T. Bowie, was considered the most elegant of the antebellum homes about the oxbow lake, Lake St. Joseph, near Newellton. A Missouri Confederate wrote that the area was "unsurpassed in beauty and richness by any of the same extent... in the world." Union officers in charge of the XIII and XVII Corps kept close watch on the troops to prevent looting as the men marched southward headed indirectly to Vicksburg. When General William Tecumseh Sherman's XV Corps joined Grant's forces, however, the soldiers became lawless. On May 6, 1863, rowdies from General James Madison Tuttle's division burned most of the mansions which fronted Lake St. Joseph, including Dr. Bowie's beloved Franklin Plantation.

Toward the end of the war, schools were established for African American children in northeastern Louisiana, including Tensas and Concordia parishes, some through the sponsorship of the American Missionary Association. According to the historian John D. Winters of Louisiana Tech University, the students

ranged in age from four to forty, were poorly clothed, loved to fight, and were 'extremely filthy, their hair filled with vermin.' Religious instruction, with readings from the Bible and prayers, was emphasizsed while reading from primers and studying spelling and writing rounded out the course work. The program stressed 'a maximum of memory and a minimum of reasoning.' The schools sponsored by the Christians societies were gradually taken over by a board of education and supported by special property and crop taxes. These schools operated primarily along the Mississippi River and few, if any, were established in the interior [of Louisiana].

By the turn of the 20th century, with Civil War memories still present in the people's minds, St. Joseph numbered no more than 720 residents (with Tensas Parish at 19,070), most having been engaged in cotton growing and related river work.

Racial issues

Prior to January 1964, when fifteen African Americans were permitted to register, there were no black voters on the Tensas Parish rolls. Tensas was hence the last of Louisiana's parishes to enfranchise African-Americans.

In 1962, Tensas Parish, with only whites registered, gave the Republican Taylor W. O'Hearn, later a state representative from Shreveport, 48.2 percent of the vote in a race for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Russell B. Long. Tensas Parish also voted for Republican presidential nominee Barry M. Goldwater in 1964, when few blacks were yet registered.

After the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, large numbers of Tensas Parish blacks began registering to vote. These new black voters were staunchly Democratic; since then, the parish has been a Democratic stronghold. Some white Democrats, however, have continued to win some public offices in the parish, including Sheriff Rickey A. Jones and several school board members.

Tensas Academy IMG 1241
Tensas Academy in St. Joseph opened in 1970.

Tensas Parish was de jure desegregated until the fall of 1970; however, the schools remain de facto segregated by parental decisions. The majority of white students attend the private Tensas Academy in St. Joseph; nearly all African American pupils attend the public schools, where few whites are registered; enrollment in the public system, now based in St. Joseph, has declined in recent years. The former Newellton High School in Newellton and Waterproof High School and Lisbon Elementary School in Waterproof have closed because of decreased enrollments. Tensas High School in St. Joseph is the latest consolidation in 2006 of the former Joseph Moore Davidson High School of St. Joseph as well as Newellton and Waterproof high schools.

In May 2010, only three whites out of forty students graduated from Tensas High School. Ten whites graduated from Tensas Academy, and four whites from another private school, the Newellton Christian Academy.

Partisan politics

Historically, Tensas Parish is heavily Democratic in orientation.

In the 1860 presidential election, the parish supported by plurality the Constitutional Union Party candidate, U.S. Senator John Bell of Tennessee, who pledged to support the Constitution of the United States, the Union of states, and the "enforcement of the laws." Louisiana as a whole narrowly cast its electoral votes for the Southern Democratic choice, Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. Regular Democratic nominee Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois ran poorly in Louisiana, and the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, also of Illinois, was not even listed on the state ballot.

In 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, prevailed in Tensas Parish with 1,645 votes (50 percent). Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts trailed with 1,556 (47.3 percent). In 1996, U.S. President Bill Clinton obtained 1,882 votes (60.7 percent) in Tensas Parish, and the Republican Bob Dole of Kansas polled 1,000 votes (32.3 percent).

In 2000, the Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore, won Tensas Parish by 250 votes. The Democratic electors polled 1,580 votes that year to 1,330 for the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney ticket. In 2004, the Democratic ticket of U.S. Senators John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina carried Tensas Parish, 1,460 (49.6 percent) to 1,453 (49 percent) for Bush-Cheney.

In the 2008 presidential contest, Democratic nominee Barack Obama of Illinois won Tensas Parish, 1,646 (54.1 percent) to 1,367 (45 percent) for the Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. In 2012, President Obama again carried the parish, with 1,564 votes (55.6 percent), while rival Mitt Romney polled 1,230 votes (43.7 percent). The Obama-McCain and Obama-Romney voter divisions in 2008 and 20012 are consistent with the racial complexion of Tensas Parish.

In the 2004 U.S. Senate primary election, Tensas Parish gave a plurality to the successful Republican candidate, U.S. Representative David Vitter of St. Tammany Parish, who polled 1,145 votes (41 percent) compared to 881 ballots (32 percent) for his chief Democratic rival, Congressman Chris John of Crowley. There was no general election to determine if Vitter would have surpassed 50 percent plus one vote to obtain an outright majority in this traditionally Democratic parish.

In 2007, the successful Republican gubernatorial candidate, U.S. Representative Bobby Jindal, polled in Tensas Parish a plurality of 40 percent. Tensas gave a plurality of 48 percent to Secretary of State Jay Dardenne. A Republican candidate won a seat on the Tensas Parish Police Jury, the parish governing body, with the victory of Emmett L. Adams, Jr., over fellow Republican Patrick Glass, 207-179 votes (54-46 percent).

Legion Memorial Cemetery in Tensas Parish IMG 1267
Legion Memorial Cemetery is located north of Newellton off Louisiana Highway 605.

Prior to 1968, each parish regardless of population had at least one member in the Louisiana House of Representatives. The last member to represent only Tensas Parish was Democrat S. S. DeWitt of Newellton and later St. Joseph. DeWitt won the legislative post in 1964 by unseating 20-year incumbent J.C. Seaman of Waterproof. He lost the seat in the 1971 primary to Lantz Womack of Winnsboro in Franklin Parish.

Between July 1, 2006, and July 1, 2007, Tensas Parish lost 173 residents, or 2.9 percent of its population. Police Jury Vice President Jane Merriett Netterville (born July 1956), a Democrat from St. Joseph, expressed surprise at the latest exodus figures considering that some had moved there after Hurricane Katrina. "Maybe the loss was the people who died. We have a large elderly population," she told the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. Netterville explained that younger people leave Tensas Parish because of the scarcity of higher-paying jobs.

Tensas Parish has one principal cemetery, Legion Memorial, established in 1943 and located just north of Newellton. A new entrance sign to the cemetery has been erected. The cemetery is particularly well-maintained.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the parish has a total area of 641 square miles (1,660 km2), of which 603 square miles (1,560 km2) is land and 38 square miles (98 km2) (6.0%) is water.

St. Joseph is located adjacent to the Mississippi River levee system.

There are three communities in the parish: Newellton, St. Joseph, and Waterproof. Newellton was founded by the planter and attorney John David Stokes Newell, Sr., who named it for his father Edward D. Newell, a native of North Carolina. All three communities are linked by Highway 65, which passes just to the west of each town. The developed Lake Bruin State Park lies near St. Joseph. Lake Bruin is an oxbow lake created by the meandering of the Mississippi River.

Major highways

  • US 65.svg U.S. Highway 65
  • Louisiana 4.svg Louisiana Highway 4

Adjacent parishes and counties

National protected area

  • Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge (part)


The mostly rural parish has continued to lose population. Between July 1, 2006, and July 1, 2007, Tensas Parish lost 173 residents, or 2.9 percent of its population. Police Jury Vice President Jane Merriett Netterville, a Democrat from St. Joseph, expressed surprise at those figures, as a number of people had moved into the parish in 2005 and 2006 as refugees from New Orleans and coastal areas after Hurricane Katrina. "Maybe the loss was the people who died. We have a large elderly population," she told the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. Netterville explained that younger people leave Tensas Parish because of the scarcity of higher-paying jobs.

Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 9,040
1860 16,078 77.9%
1870 12,419 −22.8%
1880 17,815 43.4%
1890 16,647 −6.6%
1900 19,070 14.6%
1910 17,060 −10.5%
1920 12,085 −29.2%
1930 15,096 24.9%
1940 15,940 5.6%
1950 13,209 −17.1%
1960 11,796 −10.7%
1970 9,732 −17.5%
1980 8,525 −12.4%
1990 7,103 −16.7%
2000 6,618 −6.8%
2010 5,252 −20.6%
2020 4,147 −21.0%
2018 (est.) 4,460 −15.1%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790–1960 1900–1990
1990–2000 2010–2013

2020 census

Tensas Parish racial composition
Race Num. Perc.
White (non-Hispanic) 1,728 41.67%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 2,232 53.82%
Asian 6 0.14%
Pacific Islander 1 0.02%
Other/Mixed 113 2.72%
Hispanic or Latino 67 1.62%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 4,147 people, 1,792 households, and 1,102 families residing in the parish.

2010 census

As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 5,252 people living in the county. 56.5% were Black or African American, 41.9% White, 0.2% Asian, 0.1% Native American, 0.5% of some other race and 0.8% of two or more races. 1.2% were Hispanic or Latino (of any race).

As of the census of 2000, there were 6,618 people, 2,416 households, and 1,635 families living in the parish. The population density was 11 people per square mile (4/km2). There were 3,359 housing units at an average density of 6 per square mile (2/km2). The racial makeup of the parish was 55.6% Black or African American, 43.2% White, 0.1% Native American, 0.2% Asian, 0.29% from other races, and 0.9% from two or more races. 1.4% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 2,416 households, out of which 30.00% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.10% were married couples living together, 20.20% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.30% were non-families. 29.30% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.90% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.54 and the average family size was 3.14.

In the parish the population was spread out, with 26.50% under the age of 18, 10.00% from 18 to 24, 25.10% from 25 to 44, 22.90% from 45 to 64, and 15.50% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 97.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.20 males.

The median income for a household in the parish was $19,799, and the median income for a family was $25,739. Males had a median income of $26,636 versus $16,781 for females. The per capita income for the parish was $12,622. About 30.00% of families and 36.30% of the population were below the poverty line, including 48.20% of those under age 18 and 29.60% of those age 65 or over.

The Tensas Gazette

Tensas Parish is served by a weekly newspaper, The Tensas Gazette, which began in 1871 under the title The North Louisiana Journal. It was renamed The Tensas Gazette in 1886. Some 1,300 copies are circulated each Wednesday throughout the parish.

Josiah Scott (born 1874 in Vidalia) was reared by a maternal uncle who was the editor of the Concordia Sentinel. At the age of twenty, Scott took over The Tensas Gazette, then owned by Judge Hugh Tullis. In 1906, Scott purchased the paper from Tullis and continued as editor until his death in 1953. He was known for political commentary over the decades.

Upon Scott's death, Paul Alexander Myers, Jr., and his wife, the former Patricia Wilds (1924-1999) purchased The Tensas Gazette and operated it together until his death in 1964. Thereafter until her retirement in 1988, Mrs. Myers owned and published the paper. From 1974 to 1988, she concurrently owned the Richland Beacon-News in Rayville, in Richland Parish. The daughter of Oliver Newton Myers (1900-1965) and the former Alice Robinson (1898-1948) of Natchez, Mississippi, Myers graduated from the former Joseph Moore Davidson High School in St. Joseph and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. As a member of the Louisiana State Park Foundation Board, she was instrumental in the reopening of Winter Quarters State Historic Site south of Newellton. She was a member of the Tensas Development Board, the Tensas Garden Club, the Lake Bruin Country Club, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1997, she was named "Citizen of the Year" by the St. Joseph chapter of Rotary International. The Myerses had four children: Paul Alexander "Andy" Myers, III, of Gulf Breeze, Florida, LaRue Myers Cooper of Dry Prong, Morris Newton Myers of Temecula in Riverside County, California, and Alice Robinson "Robin" Myers of St. Joseph, who is named for her maternal grandmother. A Roman Catholic, Mrs. Myers is interred at the Natchez City Cemetery.

No longer under local ownership, The Tensas Gazette is now published by Louisiana State Newspapers, Inc. After years in a downtown location, The Tensas Gazette moved to 118 Arts Drive near the new Tensas Parish Civic Center off U.S. Highway 65.


Map of Tensas Parish Louisiana With Municipal Labels
Map of Tensas Parish, Louisiana With Municipal Labels


Unincorporated communities


Public schools in Tensas Parish are operated by the elected seven-member Tensas Parish School Board.

Notable people

  • Henry Watkins Allen, Confederate States of America general and Civil War governor of Louisiana, grew cotton in Tensas Parish near Newellton in the years prior to the war before he relocated to Baton Rouge and became a public figure.
  • Daniel F. Ashford (1879–1929), member of the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1916 until his death; planter, first person in Tensas Parish to own an automobile and a wristwatch.
  • Andrew Brimmer, the first African American appointed (by President Lyndon B. Johnson) to the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C., was born in Tensas Parish.
  • Clifford Cleveland Brooks, cotton planter; member of the Louisiana State Senate from 1924 to 1932
  • Sharon Renee Brown, Miss Louisiana USA 1961, Miss USA 1961, was Miss Waterproof that same year.
  • Buddy Caldwell, district attorney from East Carroll, Madison, and Tensas parishes and thereafter attorney general of Louisiana, elected 2007.
  • Claire Chennault of the "Flying Tigers," though born in Commerce, Texas, lived for a time in Waterproof in southern Tensas Parish.
  • George Henry Clinton, chemist, lawyer, member of both houses of the legislature from Tensas Parish.
  • Charles C. Cordill, Louisiana state senator from Tensas Parish from 1884 to 1912
  • Brenham C. Crothers (1905–1984), Ferriday cattleman who represented Tensas Parish in the Louisiana State Senate from 1948 to 1952 and again from 1956 to 1960
  • Joseph T. Curry (1895–1961), Louisiana state representative from Tensas Parish from 1930 to 1944
  • James Houston "Jimmie" Davis, singer, songwriter and governor; owned farm property in Tensas Parish.
  • Sarah Dorsey, author and benefactor of Jefferson Davis
  • C. B. Forgotston (1945–2016), Hammond attorney, political activist, and state government watchdog
  • Samuel W. Martien (1854–1946), planter from Waterproof and member of the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1906 to 1920
  • James Albert Noe, Sr., former governor of Louisiana; once owned farm property in Tensas Parish.
  • James E. Paxton, district attorney of East Carroll, Madison, and Tensas parishes; St. Joseph resident
  • Phil Preis, Baton Rouge attorney; gubernatorial candidate in 1995 and 1999
  • Clyde V. Ratcliff, Louisiana state senator from 1944 to 1948 and planter in Newellton until his death in 1952
  • J.C. Seaman, state representative from Tensas Parish from 1944 to 1964; promoter of Lake Bruin State Park
  • Jefferson B. Snyder, district attorney for Tensas, Madison, and East Carroll parishes from 1904 to 1948
  • Robert H. Snyder, state representative from Tensas Parish from 1890 to 1896 and 1904–1906, Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives in the second term, died in office; Lieutenant governor from 1896 to 1900
  • Thomas M. Wade (1860–1929), member of Louisiana House of Representatives from 1888 to 1904, Louisiana State Board of Education, and Tensas Parish School Board; Tensas school superintendent for some twenty years after 1904

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