Also known as The Pelican
The Bayou State,
and Sportsman's Paradise
The United States acquired Louisiana on April 30,
1803. This nearly doubled the size of the country and put the United States in a
position to become a world power. New Orleans and the surrounding territory
controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River down which much of the produce of the
mid-west travelled to reach market. To get the vital region in American hands, President
Thomas Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon. On April 12, 1812,
Louisiana became the 18th state.
Louisiana lies on the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River. It covers 48,523 square miles at the southern end of the Mississippi Valley. Texas borders Louisiana on the west, Arkansas forms the northern border, and Mississippi lies to the east. The Gulf forms the southern border.
Louisiana is known as The Bayou State for it's hundreds of sluggish streams called bayous. They wind through the marshes and lowlands of the southern section. Tangled marsh grasses and cypress trees draped with spanish moss grown between the bayous and lakes. Eastern brown pelicans live throughout the bayou region, giving Louisiana yet another nickname, The Pelican State. North of the coastal marshes, the land rises gently through green prairies and piney flatwoods to forest-clad hills in the north.
The busy waterway of the Mississippi River has made Louisiana an important trade center for hundreds of years. Traders paddled canoes on the Mississippi in colonial days. During the 1800s, river steamboats replaced the canoes; and today, powerful towboats push barges along the river. Ocean-going freighters and passengers ships, from all parts of the world, travel up the Mississippi to load and unload at New Orleans and Baton Rouge. New Orleans ranks among the highest US cities in the annual amount of cargo shipped through its port.
The state has rich natural resources. Large crops of cotton, rice, sugar cane, and sweet potatoes come from its plantations and farms. The fertile soil of Louisiana produces fine harvests of food crops. Lonely fur trappers of the swamps and woodlands gather more fur-bearing animals than those of any other state or Canadian providence. Forest industries cut millions of dollars worth of lumber and pulpwood from the forests that cover about half of the state. Vast mineral deposits and timberlands supply many industries throughout the south. Louisiana fishermen catch the nation's largest haul of shrimp.Wildlife in the fields, marshes, and the sea provide living for trappers and fishermen. Yet another nickname for Louisiana is The Sportsman's Paradise. Vast supplies of petroleum formed the basisof a great industrial boom that began during WWII.
Louisiana's natural beauty and old world charm attract millions of tourists each year. People from all parts of the
US travel to New Orleans for the city's great carnival, Mardi Gras, in February or March. The stately plantation homes stand amid fields of cotton or sugar cane in several sections. Descendants of the Acadians still live in the bayou country. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow told of these people in his poem Evangeline; and people sometimes call the Bayou Teche area the Evangeline Country.
Many of the people have French ancestors; and the French language is still spoken in many regions today. Louisiana is the only state that bases many of its laws on the Code Napoleon, the laws Napoleon Bonaparte introduced in France. The units of local government in Louisiana are called parishes instead of counties. The idea of parishes developed from the Roman Catholic Church districts organized by Spanish colonial governors.
Louisiana has 397 miles of coast line along the Gulf of Mexico. The coast of Louisiana is so ragged and irregular that a measurement including bays and inlets total 7,721 miles. The western part of the coast only has a few inlets, but many large bays cut into the eastern stretch. The chief bays include Atchafalaya, Barataria, Caillou, Cote Blanche, Terrebonne, Timbalier, and Vermillion. Many islands lie off Louisiana's marshy coast. The chief cones are Breton, Chandeleur, Grand Isle, Isle Derniere, Marsh, and Timbalier.
Most of Louisiana was once part of an ancient bay of the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi and other rivers flowing down from the north deposited vast amounts of silt in the bay until the entire area became land. Many of Louisiana's rivers today still carry great amounts of silt, especially during flood season. The silt has raised the level of many river beds, and some rivers are higher than the surrounding backlands. About one third of Louisiana would be covered with water each time the Mississippi River flooded if it weren't for levees. Levees stand along some 1600 miles of Louisiana's rivers. The Bonnet Carre Spillway and floodways built in the Atchafalaya Basin carry off high water when it pours over the levees. Louisiana has over 3400 square miles of lakes. Lake Pontchartrain, a salt-water lake covering 610 square miles, is the largest. Other large coastal brackish or salt-water lakes are Barre, Borgne, Cailou, Calcasieu*, Grand (in Cameron Parish), Little Maurepas, and White Lakes. Fresh-water lakes include Bistineau, Caddo, Catahoula, and Wallace.
No other state has a more varied or colorful past than Louisiana. The state has been governed under 10 different flags beginning in 1541 with Hernando de Soto's claim of the region for Spain. La Salle later claimed it for Bourbon France and over the years Louisiana was at one time or another subject to the Union Jack of Great Britain, the Tricolor of Napoleon, the Lone Star flag of the Republic of West Florida and the fifteen stars and stripes of the United States. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Louisiana became an independent republic for six weeks before joining the Confederacy. The State Seal depicts a mother pelican feeding and protecting her brood, it symbolizes the state's role as the protector of its resources and people.
The pelican symbol from the state seal forms the
center of a dark blue field in The State Flag, adopted in 1902. The white ribbon
below it bears the state motto: Union, Justice, and Confidence.
Through much of its early history Louisiana was a trading and financial center, and the fertility of its land made it one of the richest regions in America as first indigo then sugar and cotton rose to prominence in world markets. Many Louisiana planters were among the wealthiest men in America. The plantation economy was shattered by the Civil War although the state continued to be a powerful agricultural region. The discovery of sulphur in 1869 and oil in 1901, coupled with the rise of forestry sent the state on a new wave of economic growth. Eventually, Louisiana became a major American producer of oil and natural gas and a center of petroleum refining and petrochemicals manufacturing, which it remains to this day.
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