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CultureArt | People | History | Cajun Country | Plantations



There is a rich diversity of peoples in Louisiana. They include the original Indian inhabitants, plus the descendants of a variety of settlers, among whom were the French, Spanish, English, German, Acadians, West Indians, Africans, Irish and Italians and now include almost every nationality on earth.

The original French colonists were soon joined by the Spanish and Acadians, and later by French aristocrats fleeing slave revolts in the West Indies or the horrors of the French Revolution. As part of Louisiana's French legacy counties are called "parishes" and the Napoleonic Code (rather than Common Law) holds sway in the state's courtrooms.

Ironically, it was the Spanish who built many of the colonial structures that still stand in the "French Quarter" of New Orleans, and Spanish is still spoken in some communities, particularly in St. Bernard Parish below New Orleans. Hundreds of German families were recruited in 1719 by the Company of the West (which held the French royal charter for the development of Louisiana), and those sturdy pioneers settled upriver from New Orleans along a section of the Mississippi River that is still called the Cote des Allemands ("German Coast"). The parishes north of Lake Pontchartrain (the sixth largest lake in the U.S.) and east of the Mississippi River were once a part of British West Florida, occupied by English planters and military in the 1700s. Bernardo de Galvez, Louisiana's Spanish governor and an American ally in the Revolution, prevented the further development of a British stronghold in the Mississippi Valley by capturing British forts at Manchac and Baton Rouge in 1779. Some years later, in 1810, citizens of the "Florida Parishes" staged the West Florida Rebellion against Spanish authority in the region. They established the West Florida Republic, which enjoyed independence briefly before joining the American territory that had been acquired from France through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

Among the other nationalities that have settled in Louisiana are the Yugoslavians who made a success of oyster harvesting along the Gulf Coast anthe Hungarians who became cultivators of strawberries and other crops in the Albany area. Free blacks amassed some of Louisiana's largest land holdings prior to the Civil War and blacks have major contributions to Jazz and Louisiana cuisine in particular. And many of Louisiana's annual festivals are celebrations of particular ethnic contributions to the "cultural gumbo" of this unique state.


No other state has a more varied or colorful past than Louisiana. The state has been governed under d 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.

Earlier, in 1803, Louisiana had become a part of the United States because of the region's importance to the trade and security of the American mid-west. 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.

With the acquisition of Louisiana, Jefferson nearly doubled the size of the fledgling U.S. and made it a world power. Later, 13 states or parts of states were carved out of the Louisiana Purchase territory.

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.

Cajun Country

The French province of Acadia (today's Nova Scotia and surrounding regions) was settled in the 1600s by French colonists, but the area became a British possession soon afterwards. In 1755, as war neared between France and England, the British authorities demanded that the Acadians renounce their Roman Catholic faith and swear allegiance to the Crown. The Acadians refused and the mass exile that followed is well known to all who have read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Evangeline".

The migration of the French Acadians to Louisiana was neither smooth nor immediate. Many were shipped to the New England colonies, others to the West Indies or back to France, and many wandered for 20 years before learning that they were welcome in the predominantly French territory of Louisiana. Here they established small farms along the Mississippi River, Bayou Teche, Bayou Lafourche and other streams in the southern part of the region. Fishing and trapping villages were established in the swamplands. Cajun (the word is a corruption of the original French pronunciation of Acadian--A-ca-jan) Country today lies within a triangle whose base is the Louisiana coast and whose apex is near Alexandria in the central part of the state. The triangle contains 22 parishes and the region's principal city, Lafayette, is the unofficial capital of "Acadiana".

Cajun cooking may be a first cousin to the Creole cuisine of New Orleans, but there is none other quite like it in the world for the imagination of its dishes or the artistic robustness of its seasoning. Favorite Cajun dishes include jambalaya, gumbo, turtle sauce piquante, andouille sausage, boudin (a pork and rice sausage), cochon du lait, soft-shell crab, stuffed crab, a hundred shrimp dishes, crawfish etouffee, crawfish bisque, crawfish pie, and dozens more.

Cajun music can be lively or melancholy - and sometimes both at once. The traditional instruments are fiddle, accordion and triangle, and those still dominate (although drums and guitars have found their way into Cajun bands in recent years). Like the spoken language of the Cajuns, the lyrics of their songs are part French, part English. The themes are universal, love (lost and found) and the beauty of their land, but the melodies and phraseology are unique.

Originally farmers, trappers and fishermen, today's Cajuns occupy virtually every occupation and are the backbone of the state's oil and gas exploration and production industry, particularly offshore. When oil was first discovered in the North Sea more than 5,000 Cajuns with experience working on oil rigs in the open sea were employed to drill the first wells and to provide training.

Along with its food and music, the major trademarks of Cajun Country are pirogues (canoes made from a single cypress log), Spanish moss, alligators, swamps, bayous and "Cajun Cabins".



The Louisiana plantation culture first came into being along the state's rivers and bayous in the 18th century. Planters initially used the fertile soil for indigo and tobacco, but these crops were soon replaced by cotton in north Louisiana and sugar cane in the more tropical southern part of the state.

Sugar and cotton made the great mansions possible, but the designs of the homes came from as many directions as did the planters themselves. The first house type was the Creole Raised Cottage, whose core design came from the West Indies. Its great umbrella-like hipped roof came from Canada and its wide galleries and turned colonettes (slender wooden columns) were developed in Louisiana.

The earliest furnishings of the homes were made of oak or cypress by slaves on the plantations. Later, in prosperous years, European craftsmen came to Louisiana. European furnishings and art were imported through New Orleans and other ports. The plantation mansions of Louisiana still bear signs of efforts to make life in the new world as genteel and pleasant as possible. Many are surrounded by extensive formal gardens, and the approaches to some of the homes are lined with avenues of live oaks that are now huge in their old age.

Pelican, Louisiana State Bird
State Bird
The brown pelican is Louisiana's official bird. Pelicans are famous for their large bill, the lower portion of which has a pouch that can be greatly extended.

Cypress Tree
State Tree
The state tree is the bald cypress. Its shape, which varies from columnar to conical (bottle-shaped), depends greatly on the amount and duration of flooding in the area. The bark is reddish-brown, fibrous, thin, and divided into small, flat ridges and shallow furrows. Leaves of the cypress tree spread in flat planes in the feathery pattern on its branches.

Catahoula Hound
State Dog
The Catahoula Leopard Dog is the official state dog. It is a cross of the domestic dog the Indians of the Catahoula Lake region raised and the Spanish "war dog" that came through the area in the early 1500s. The Catahoula has unusual glassy eyes, webbed feet, a spotted coat, and is gentle with children.

Magnolia, Louisiana State flower
State Flower
The large, creamy-white bloom of the magnolia tree was designated the state flower in 1900 because of its abundance throughout the state. The magnolia is an evergreen and the flower is unusually fragrant.

Louisiana State Seal
State Seal
The state seal was adopted in 1902 and features a pelican tearing flesh from its own breast to feed its young. The pelican and its three young are surrounded by the Louisiana motto, "Union, Justice, Confidence."

State Flag
Louisiana's flag, though used since the 1800s, was not officially adopted until 1912. The design consists of the pelican group from the state seal, in white and gold, and a white ribbon bearing the state motto, on a field of a solid blue.

Quick Facts
Abbreviation: LA
Admitted to Union: April 30, 1812 (18th state)
Capitol: Baton Rouge
Climate: Subtropical
Flag: A pelican feeding its young against a field of blue.
Federal Delegation: Two U.S. Senators, Seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nine Electoral Votes
Government:State Constitution of 1974 provides for 3 branches of government: Executive, Judicial, and Legislative. The Executive Branch is headed by the governor who is elected for a four year term. The Judicial branch is headed by the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Legislative branch consists of 39 State Senators and 105 State Representatives. All are elected for four year terms.
Motto:Union, Justice, Confidence
Nickname:Pelican State
Political Subdivisions:64 parishes (analogous to counties in other states)
Population:4,315,000 (1994 Census Bureau estimate)
State Bird:Eastern Brown Pelican
State Dog:Catahoula Leopard Dog
State Flower:Magnolia
State Insect:Honey Bee
State Seal:A pelican and her nest, surrounded by the state motto "Union, Justice, Confidence" and the words "State of Louisiana".
State Songs:Give Me Louisiana
You Are My Sunshine
State Tree:Cypress
 Important Dates In Louisiana History
1519 Alvarez de Pineda discovers mouth of the Mississippi
1541-1542 Hernando de Soto discovers the Mississippi River
1682 Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle, erects a cross at the mouth of the Mississippi River after descending the river from the Great Lakes and claims the territory for Louis XIV of France, for whom Louisiana is named.
1715 Louis Juchereau de St. Denis establishes Fort St. Jean Baptiste (Natchitoches), first permanent settlement in the Mississippi Valley
1718 New Orleans is founded and named for Phillippe Duc D'Orleans
1718 The St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans is built, the oldest in the United States
1723 New Orleans becomes the capital of Louisiana, superseding Biloxi
1735 Jean Louis, a sailor, leaves his savings to establish the first charity hospital in New Orleans
1751 Sugar cane is first introduced into Louisiana
1762 Louis XV gives the "Island of New Orleans" and all of Louisiana west of the Mississippi to his cousin, Charles III of Spain
1763 Treaty of Paris ends Seven Years' War and confirms transfer of Louisiana to Spain. Florida Parishes ceded to England with Baton Rouge becoming New Richmond
1764 First four Acadian families arrive in Louisiana from New York
1796 Opera is first performed in the United States at New Orleans
1803 Louisiana is purchased from Napoleon I by the United States for $15,000,000
1804 Louisiana is divided into the Territory of New Orleans (south of 33 degrees latitude) and the District of Louisiana (north of 33 degrees latitude). W.C. C. Claiborne is appointed governor of the Territory of Orleans.
1808 First public school is established in Pointe Coupee Parish
1811 First institution of higher learning opens in New Orleans (College of Orleans)
1812 Louisiana is admitted to the Union
1812 The first steamboat to navigate the Mississippi River, the "The New Orleans," arrives at New Orleans from Pittsburgh on January 10, 1812
1815Battle of New Orleans is won by General Andrew Jackson
1823 First natural gas field is discovered in Louisiana, at a depth of 400 feet
1837 Shreveport is founded
1838 First Mardi Gras parade is held in New Orleans
1840 Antoine's in New Orleans, the state's oldest continuously operating restaurant, is established
1849 Baton Rouge becomes capital of Louisiana
1861 Louisiana secedes from the Union and after a brief period as a republic, joins the Confederacy
1862 The first salt mine is discovered at Avery Island, oldest in the Western Hemisphere
1867 Shrimp first canned commercially at Grand Terre Island
1868 Louisiana is re-admitted to the Union
1869 First sulphur is produced in United States
1872 Rex, King of Carnival, parades for the first time on Mardi Gras
1901 The first oil is discovered about six miles from Jennings
1915The name "Jazz" is given to music of New Orleans origin
1926Louisiana's first public airport is built in Mansfield
1928 Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo is established, the oldest fishing tournament in the United States
1932New capitol is completed in Baton Rouge
1935Senator Huey Long is assassinated in the state capitol
1935First Sugar Bowl game is played -- Tulane 20, Temple 14
1947Kerr-McGee Corporation, with offshore operations based in Morgan City, drills the first commercial producing oil well out of sight of land
1963Tulane University accepts five black students, the first in its history
1973A team of surgeons performs Louisiana's first heart transplant
1975The Super Dome in New Orleans is completed, with a final cost of $163,313,315 for building and grounds
1977Ernest Morial is elected mayor of New Orleans, becoming the city's first black mayor
1979David Treen is elected governor, the first Republican governor since Reconstruction
1983Edwin W. Edwards becomes the first three-term governor
1987Louisiana celebrates the 175th anniversary of its admission into the Union