It has been estimated that Opelousas was settled approximately 12,000 years ago. As a child in this portion of the state, I remember walking along hills looking for arrow heads after rains. I didn't realize then that those "hills" were burial mounds that Native Americans built many centuries ago.
The Attakapa tribe lived here for hundreds of years before the first European explorers arrived. The name Opelousas is most commonly interpreted as meaning Blackleg because the Native Americans painted their legs black in contrast to their light colored bodies.
The French arrived in the late 17th century with explorers, trappers, and hunters to settle the are
a. A trading post was established and Opelousas was the stop over for travelers between New Orleans and Natchitoches. Opelousas was officially established then, 1720, so it is the third oldest city in the state. In 1763, Louis Pellerin was given a land grant to lay out the town.
The Spanish soon took over Louisiana and Opelousas became a military post. Because both the French and the Spanish kept very careful records through the church, we have a wealth of information about the people who lived here at that time. French rule was soon restored and, not long after, the Louisiana Purchase was made. Opelousas was named the seat of Imperial St. Landry Parish. Louisiana still uses the word "parish" rather than "county" due to the influence of Catholicism here. Opelousas was officially incorporated in 1821.
People who live here today reflect the cultural diversity of the time then. Spanish, African, Native American, Italian, English, French, Germans, and many others live here. The biggest influence, of course, is from a French group who were exiled from Nova Scotia in the mid 1700's known as Acadians. Opelousas still celebrates the French traditions of fais-do-do, boucherie, the coup de main, and charvari.
Opelousas is well known for its foods too. Traditional French cooking was influenced by the Spanish and even the Native Americans. File' and tasso were both native to the region long before Europeans arrived. In Opelousas, one can eat gumbo, etouffee, sauce piquante, sausage, boudin, tasso, andouille, hogshead cheese, and cracklins. Of course, there are also many many dishes that use crawfish. Many chefs have come from Opelousas including Didee Lastrapes, Toby Veltin, Tony Chachere, and Paul Prudhomme.
Historically, Opelousas became the capital of Louisiana for a short time during the Union occupation of Baton Rouge. The home where the Lieutenant Governor resided is still called the "Governor's Mansion" to this day. Jim Bowie, hero of the Battle of the Alamo, also resided some years in Opelousas. So did General Garriques de Flaugeac, a soldier under Napoleon who was a hero of the Battle of New Orleans.