Back in the 16th century, current-day St. Landry Parish was occupied by several Native American tribes: the warlike Atakapa Indians, the Choctaws, the Alabamans and the Opelousas Indians. According to local legend, the premier white settler to the area was Michel de Birotte, a French trader who came around 1690. A number of years later, Louisiana’s French government constructed le Poste des Opelousas, a point which would become a popular stopping point for those traveling from New Orleans to Natchitoches. Le Poste des Opelousas is recognized as one of Louisiana’s oldest European settlement.
In 1765, three years after acquiring the territory of Louisiana from France, the Spanish constructed a military and trade post located slightly north of the current-day city of Opelousas. Nearly 100 families located in and near the post by 1769. The mix of settlers included soldiers from Spain, Italy and Switzerland who came to the area as part of the Spanish military; immigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland and Germany who found that the fertile lands were ideal for agricultural endeavors and cattle raising; and French-speaking Acadian exiles.
The U.S. eventually secured control of the territory in 1803 through the Louisiana Purchase. Two years later, the Territory of Orleans was divided into 12 counties, with one being the County of Opelousas. In 1807, the county was split again, this time into 19 parishes, which included St. Landry Parish. The parish provided governmental services for the majority of southwest Louisiana.
Opelousas, Louisiana’s third oldest city, was designated as the parish’s seat and was incorporated as a town in 1821. In 1862, as the Civil War was being played out, the Union seized Baton Rouge, resulting in the designation of Opelousas as the capital of Confederate Louisiana. After nine months, in 1863 Opelousas endured occupation by the Union army and the capital was once again relocated to Shreveport.
After the war, the area began to expand in all aspects and today, St. Landry Parish is home to over 90,000 with approximately 23,000 residing within Opelousas, also commonly referred to as “The Big O.”