In 1997, at the request of the Chief of Police, I began compiling information for this brief history of Bossier City Police Department. I chose to focus on the twelve men who had served in the position of Chief of Police since 1949. I enjoyed working on the entire project but especially loved learning more about the early history of Bossier City. It took me close to nine months to compile 236 pages. I hope you enjoy this bit of north Louisiana history.
BOSSIER CITY, LOUISIANA
William Smith Bennett and James Huntington Cane were rugged adventurists who were willing to rough the wilds of unsettled America as a means to earn their fortunes. Leaving their homes in New Hampshire, they traveled to Alabama where Sam Bennett, Will Bennett’s father-in-law as well as his uncle, convinced them that a move to Louisiana would be prosperous. Leaving their wives behind in Alabama, they set out for new territory. Once in Louisiana, they cleared land and built a small log cabin, from which they opened a trading post overlooking the Red River and the area soon was called Bennett’s Bluff, but later would be known as Shreveport. William Smith Bennett was one of the original founders of Shreve Town Co. and was instrumental in laying out Shreveport and naming the early streets. In the year 1835, the Caddo Indians sold much of the land in the Shreveport and Bossier City area to the government. During that same year, William Smith Bennett received a patent for 600 acres of land across the river from Shreveport. On that site, he developed a cotton plantation, which he called Elysian Grove.
Arriving in January, 1836, Mary Bennett and her aunt, Rebecca Cane, had made the trip to Shreveport to take up residency with their husbands at the trading post. Mary, 23 years of age, was pregnant as they made the arduous trek on the steamboat “Charleston” from Alabama to the Great Raft Country, as the area was known. (The sluggish waters of the Red River moved slowly through the flatlands, allowing fallen trees and debris to build up and block passage in certain areas, thus the name.) Mary Bennett saw this move as an opportunity for a new beginning. Her mother and father had never married and she had been tormented since early childhood by the shame of being a bastard child in a puritanical New England village. Mary’s strength of character and determination would pull her through the hardships and heartaches of settling in a primitive, wilderness area.
Unfortunately, Rebecca Cane died during her first year at Bennett’s Bluff, leaving James Huntington Cane a widower. William Smith Bennett died within two years of their arrival, of the jack (Yellow Fever). Thus, Mary Bennett was alone also. Mary’s father, Sam Bennett, wanted to keep the trading post “in the family” and arranged the wedding of his daughter, Mary Bennett, to her aunt’s widower, James Huntington Cane. The wedding took place in June of 1838.
James Huntington Cane built a beautiful four-story house at Elysian Grove Plantation for his wife, near the end of the present day Texas Street Bridge. Upon completion of the house, a landing was built to permit easy access to the property from Shreveport and the plantation became known as Cane’s Landing. However, on Christmas day 1846, Mary was again widowed when James Huntington Cane died of Yellow Fever, just three years after Bossier Parish was established. In addition to the beautiful home at Cane’s Landing, Mary also inherited almost half of the original square mile where downtown Shreveport is located today. Mary’s determination to survive sustained her as she learned to handle family business matters. She kept the trading post open and took over supervision of cotton production at Elysian Grove Plantation. Mary married a third time to Granville B. Alexander, a man ten years her junior. Granville, however, was more interested in living in a grand style, partying, and gambling than in hard work. Mary soon realized that her marriage to Alexander had been a mistake, but because she had been born the illegitimate daughter of Sam Bennett and had endeavored her entire life to gain acceptance and respectability, she hesitated to tarnish her reputation further by divorcing Granville. However, over the next several years, other distressing situations arose as a result of the circumstances of her birth, and, in 1859, she suffered the ultimate humiliation and divorced him.
In view of the fact that Mary Cane owned a large portion of the land on the Bossier side of the river, most of the property development took place across the river around Shreveport. However, after the Civil War began in 1860, Cane’s Landing was fortified by the Confederacy. Three batteries, Ewell, Walker, and Price were established on the property, with Fort Kirby Smith located in the center, in the area of present day Coleman Street, between Monroe Street and Ruston Street. Numerous historical accounts tell us that in order to keep the Yankee troops from coming up the river to attack Shreveport, the Confederates sank a steamboat, The New Falls City, across the river at Loggy Bayou. Through various means of documentation, we know that Mary Cane was recognized for her generosity and hospitality. She had been known to take in and care for the sick and the poor during periodic Yellow Fever epidemics. She, also, used the bottom floor of her home as a hospital during the Battle of Mansfield.
In 1865, following the war, Mary Cane once again began planting cotton on her plantation. Other farmers grew cotton in the hills of Bossier Parish, as well,but they experienced great difficulty transporting their crops by wagon across the swampy bottom lands. In addition to the problems encountered due to the terrain, area residents were easy prey for bandits. It eventually became necessary for them to move their goods to market using a convoy system in order to protect themselves and the commodities they were transporting. In 1873, Judge John Watkins of Minden, Louisiana, secured a congressional charter to build a toll road over much of the bottom lands. Much of the labor was done by Irishmen who had been brought to America to build railroads. This grueling labor with shovel and sledge hammer paid seventy-five cents per day. The toll road, which measured nine miles in length and was roofed, became known as The Shed Road. The cost to cross with a four-yoke ox team and wagon was $1.50, the cost for a four-mule team and wagon was $1.00, while the cost for an individual on foot to cross was $.05. Although the toll was expensive for many, the road was a tremendous success, netting more than $20,000 each year. The Shed Road became an invaluable and historic passageway for cotton farmers in the area and remained so until 1886 when construction of the Vicksburg-Shreveport-Pacific Railroad, which crossed the river, was completed and a stage coach line between Monroe and Shreveport became operational. At that point in the history of Bossier City, the toll road went out of business and the number of steamboats on the river began to decline.
Mary had one child during her first marriage and two during her second; but only one child, Mary Jane Cane, survived to adulthood. Mary Jane Cane’s marriage to Dr. Harfield McCormick produced three grandchildren for the Cane matriarch – Anna, William Bennett, and Williamine Bennett McCormick. All three were raised by Grandma Mary after the untimely deaths of both Dr. and Mrs. McCormick. Of the three grandchildren, it would appear that Anna was most directly responsible for further development at Cane’s Landing. Against her grandmother’s wishes, Anna married James Stockwell in 1873 at the age of fourteen. Within the year, Anna’s husband sued Mary Bennett Cane for Anna’s mother’s portion of the Cane estate. Fearing that Anna and James might squander Anna’s birthright, Mary battled the action in court; but in 1881, she divided her holdings in Bossier Parish among the three grandchildren, who then began to sell the land that once comprised Elysian Grove Plantation. By selling portions of this family-owned property, Mary Bennett Cane’s grandchildren were instrumental in the founding of Bossier City.
By 1884, a small settlement stretched along the river on property south of the present Texas Street Bridge. For years, the area was known by various names – Bennett’s Bluff, Cane’s Landing, and Cane City. On May 15, 1902, Mary Bennett Cane died at the age of 90 in Cane City. She had outlived most of her family and friends; however, she would never know the impact her family had on the future development of Bossier City. But, by April 9, 1907, Governor N. C. Blanchard chartered the area as the Village of Bossier and Ewald Max Hoyer, who had opened a dairy in Bossier in 1893, was the first appointed Mayor. Hoyer served in that capacity from 1907-1911. By 1907, the number of settlers in the area had grown to more than 500; and, by March 14, 1923, the population had increased to more than 1,000, at which time, the village was incorporated as a town by Governor John M. Parker. Much of Bossier’s business district on Cane Street (current Barksdale Boulevard) was destroyed by a catastrophic fire on June 23, 1925; at least ten businesses, including the Post Office, the “Picture Show,” and Shoe Hospital, as well as numerous homes, were destroyed. Nevertheless, Bossier struggled to recover and the area continued to develop. After World War II, Barksdale Air Force Base had become a prominent military installation, the largest aviation facility worldwide; and Bossier City, following 1940 census results which revealed a population of more than 15,000 residents, was officially proclaimed a city by Louisiana Governor Earl K. Long, on August 9, 1951. By 1960, the population had increased to 32,776, more than twice the 1950 figure. Each following census return depicts a steady increase in the populace of Bossier City. On October 30, 1974, Louisiana Downs Thoroughbred Race Track held its grand opening at the new facility. Tourism in the area immediately increased; however, on December 3, 1978, Bossier City suffered another destructive act of nature when the city was struck by a devastating tornado. Businesses and residences alike were destroyed, the extensive damage being estimated at $100,000,000.00. As in times past, public officials and citizens banded together to direct their efforts toward rebuilding Bossier City.
The original City Hall, a two-story, wooden, frame structure which was never painted, stood in the shadow of the levee on the northwest corner of the intersection of First Street and Wilhelmina Street. This facility was built by Mayor Hoyer with his own funds at a cost of $1,150. Over a three-year period, citizens repaid Mayor Hoyer for his investment. The vacant building was later demolished in order to begin construction of the Texas Street Bridge. The second building was constructed in 1926 at 630 Barksdale Boulevard at a cost of $50,000. Upon moving his office from the old, wooden City Hall, Mayor Tom Hickman is reported to have said, “This is really too fine a place for the people of today, but not good enough for the people of tomorrow.” Forty-eight years later, having completely outgrown the facility, the City of Bossier City purchased the vacant Bossier Bank and Trust building located at 635 Barksdale Boulevard. While the Bossier City Court and the administrative offices of the Bossier City Police Department occupied 630 Barksdale Boulevard, City Hall moved across the street on November 27, 1974. The present City Hall was completed in 1985 as part of the new Municipal Complex, located at 620 Benton Road. Phase II of the complex, the building which houses City Hall and City Court, cost $4,800,000.
Despite the growth Bossier City has experienced during the last two decades and the changes that growth has effected, the city’s motto still rings true…“small enough to care – large enough to serve.”