Like a good yarn? You’ll love Louisiana’s Myths and Legends Byway, a drive based on true stories, ghosts, and tall tales. This byway, mostly flat land originally settled by the Atakapa and Coushatta Indians, was at one time a haven for land pirates and outlaws. Known as No Man’s Land, this stretch of land was a disputed boundary between France, New Spain, Mexico and the United States. The years of lawlessness lasted from the time of the Louisiana Purchase until the 1840s. Wolf Rock Cave, near Bundick’s Creek near Pitkin, dates to 2500-1000 BC, and is the only known rock shelter in Louisiana. Could it have been one of land pirate John Murrell’s caves?
The Myths and Legends Byway is extraordinary because visitors can drive it or paddle it. The Ouiska Chitto River, (also known as the Whiskey Chitto), is one of Louisiana's most scenic waterways. It begins near the southern boundary of Fort Polk and meanders for some 70 miles before entering the Calcasieu River. Sandy beaches and a gently-flowing stream with white quartz sandbars characterize the river. It flows through portions of the Kisatchie National Forest and passes several historic sites. The area is attractive not only for paddling but also picnicking, swimming, camping and fishing.
If you prefer to drive the byway, start at Burr Ferry, at the junction of LA 8 and LA 111 south. It’s rumored to have been first settled a few years after the Louisiana Purchase. Dr. Burr, the town’s namesake, built his house in the middle of trade routes that also happened to be in the middle of No Man’s Land. After the start of the American Civil War, Natchez, Mississippi had fallen and Alexandria was burned, it was feared that Burr’s Ferry would be attacked. Trenches and breastworks were constructed, but there were no battles. Today, remnants of breastworks built during the Civil War can still be seen.
The byway heads south on Highway 111, then turns east at US 190. The next stop is DeRidder, home of the Beauregard Parish Museum, with its unusual collection of more than 3,000 dolls and the "Hanging Jail," an imposing Gothic Revival style building located in the center of town. Once it housed prisoners, today it is open for tours (and the occasional ghost-hunting expedition).
From Deridder to Oakdale, look for blackberry farms and azaleas, dogwoods and mayhaws. Stop in Sugartown to take the town cemetery’s one-mile forest walk. Near Elizabeth, visit the West Bank Wildlife Management Area*, where you can stretch your legs and do some bird-watching. The byway ends in Oakdale, where the Leatherwood Museum, housed in a circa 1880s building, and tells stories of local life in the region.
If you continue down Highway 111 from Burr Ferry (rather than heading east at US 190), you will reach the town of Merryville. You will find the grave of Leather Britches Smith, allegedly a Texas outlaw. Leather Britches, alias of Charles Smith, was an outlaw who fought in the town’s union strike over a hundred years ago. He was killed during an ambush, and depending on who you talked to in Merryville, he died as a hero or an outlaw. Just north of Merryville is the Clear Creek Wildlife Management Area. In winter months, you’ll see northern wildlife arriving in search of warmer climates. * To visit any of Louisiana’s Wildlife Management Areas, you must have either a valid Louisiana fishing or hunting license OR a Wild Louisiana Stamp. You can buy these online at www.wlf.louisiana.gov or by calling 1-888-765-2602 or at any vendor that sells hunting and fishing licenses, such as Bass Pro Shop, Walmart and Academy Sports. If you are buying a license or stamp for short-term use, you will be given an authorization number; that, plus a valid I.D., allows you to visit the WMA and hunt or fish. Prices vary for hunting and fishing licenses. The Wild Louisiana Stamps costs $2 for a one-day stamp.