Natchitoches’ Fort St. Jean Baptiste is a wonderful place for families to enjoy themselves while learning about our region’s long and colorful history. The fort has been a feature of our community since 1981 and sees 13,000 to 14,000 visitors in an average year. The fort is a replica of Fort St. Jean Baptiste des Natchitoches, built around 1716.
The fort is a faithful replica built from original plans and extensive research. The fort consists of 9 buildings surrounded by a palisade of almost 2,000 sharpened logs. A modern museum stands just a short walk away. The buildings were constructed using many 18th century building techniques. The various buildings’ hinges and latches are all handmade and Bousillage was used in the walls. The modern interpretation of Fort St. Jean Baptiste stands just a few hundred yards away from the original site.
The fort also hosts several events each year in addition to its day-to-day educational mission. There are Colonial Era re-enactments held each year. The Natchitoches Tribe of Louisiana held its first pow-wow at the fort where they were joined by tribes as far away as Oklahoma. Re-enactors regularly visit the fort to supplement its staff in interpreting colonial history for visitors.
As in the other museums I have visited, the staff are what makes the experience so special. The fort’s staff are incredibly knowledgeable about the colonial era of 1714 to roughly 1804 represented by Fort St. Jean Baptiste. They are also enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with visitors. They regularly hold cannon firing demonstrations in which they detail the surprisingly complex sequence of actions involved in firing an 18th century black powder cannon. Volunteers and staff also demonstrate black powder rifles, tomahawk throwing, colonial era cooking, and other aspects of day-to-day life in 18th century Louisiana.
Depending on staffing levels, visitors sometimes get hands on experience in tomahawk throwing from Interpretive Ranger Jeremy McCormic. Among his many students of the art of Tomahawk throwing was the Consul General of France who drove up several times from New Orleans to visit the fort. The Consul General also earned his black powder certification and fired the fort’s cannon, surely a diplomatic first!
Fort St. Jean Baptiste is located at 155 Rue Jefferson in Natchitoches 318-357-3101. Its hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission is a modest $4.00 for ages 4 to 61. Persons 62 and older are free as are children up to 3 years of age.