The first European settlers came to what is now Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, in the mid-18th century, taking advantage of its location near the intersection of the Red, Atchafalaya, and Mississippi Rivers. Parish government was formed around 1817. Cotton and livestock have been the area’s most lasting industries. In the 19th century, cypress milling was another important local industry, but by the early 1900s, most of the parish’s forests had been converted to farmland. The parish seat is Marksville, named after Marc Eliche, an Italian Jew who established a trading post there in the 1790s.
The Avoyelles Pelican is thought to have begun publication in 1859. At present, the earliest recorded surviving copy of this newspaper dates from October 1861, when it was being edited by Prudent d’Artlys, the pseudonym of Hippolyte-Prudent de Bautte (1821-1861). A native of Normandy, de Bautte was imprisoned in France during the political turmoil of the 1840s for writing incendiary pro-republican articles. After his release, de Bautte emigrated to Louisiana, where he wrote for the magazine La Revue Louisianaise before becoming editor of the newspaper Le Meschacébé [LCCN: sn86079080]. He sold this enterprise in 1857 to fellow political exiles Ernest Le Gendre and Eugene Dumez, then eventually made his way to Marksville.
After de Bautte’s death in October 1861, the Pelican was taken over by Adolphe Lafargue (1818-1869). Born in the town of Orthez in the French Pyrenees, Lafargue worked as a schoolteacher in Natchitoches Parish, professor of French and mathematics at Jefferson College in St. James Parish, and then superintendent of schools in Avoyelles Parish, where he founded Marksville High School and published a newspaper, the Villager [LCCN: sn85034327], in the late 1850s. From 1863, he was assisted in managing the Pelican by his son Arnaud Denis Lafargue (1845-1917), who would later publish the Marksville Bulletin [LCCN: sn88064213].
Extant issues of the Avoyelles Pelican focus on the Civil War, with common topics of discussion including military enlistment, town meetings, home defense, and the Ladies’ Relief Society. The Pelican also carried a mix of general war news, letters from correspondents, and proclamations of military commanders and politicians. Obituaries, legal notices, and advertisements made up a large portion of each issue. Unlike many newspaper editors of his day, Lafargue tried to avoid political disputes, writing in one editorial that “The energies of the Pelican will be devoted to the labor of harmonizing the conflicting elements of parochial politics, so that feuds may sink down in the depths of oblivion’s wave and leave a placid surface for the admiration of society.”
The Pelican was originally published weekly in four pages, with two in English and two in French. In October 1862, it was reduced to two pages on account of wartime paper shortages. By 1863, most issues, as well as occasional supplements, were being printed on wallpaper. Currently, the last known extant copy is dated January 16, 1864. In August 1865, Adolphe Lafargue revived the Villager after a suspension of five years. No copies of this paper are known to survive, but it may have replaced the Pelican.