Editor’s note: What began as basic research into the name of a little known community in Richland Parish, Louisiana, led to the discovery of a man whose life story demonstrated great success; but ended shockingly different than I might ever have imagined. It is a story of much more than a place name, and one that I hope will now be around for a long time. Author Luke J. Letlow
The Community Of Sacksonia In Rural Richland Parish
Nestled along the railroad in Richland Parish, Lousiana, lies a community that was once more prominently known as Sacksonia. A handful of people who live there today might still call it that, but it looks much different than it did more than a century ago.
How Did Sacksonia, Louisiana Get It’s Name?
Wedged between Holly Ridge and Dunn on U.S. Hwy 80 and the Kansas City Southern railroad, lies this curiously named place.
It wasn’t until a close examination of earlier maps that it became clear the spelling had changed over time. A 1913 railroad map of the area is the first time this place shows up on a map. The original spelling was slightly different, spelled instead as “Sacksionie.”
By 1933, according to the following USGS map of the area, the spelling had changed to it’s present day form on most maps, as “Sacksonia.” The area would eventually become a named gas field as well and to this day, it is known as the Sacksonia Gas Field.
The original spelling however, was the key to solving the mystery of how the area became known as Sacksonia.
An Immigrant From The Netherlands, With Visions Of A French and Belgian Colony In Richland Parish – 1909
Benjamin Simon “B.S.” Sacksionie was born on January 15, 1871 in The Hague, located in the Netherlands. An area also known as Holland. Little is known about his childhood, nor the early years of his adult life. It appears that B.S. Sacksionie established prominent business connections in France however, and at age 37, he and a colleague named Jacob P. Wolff set sail on the USS Rijndam from Boulogne-sur-Mer, France to New York, New York.
Listed on their passenger manifest, was New Orleans, Louisiana as their final destination. They arrived in America in New York on April 29, 1908, though they did not attain U.S. citizenship.
Upon arriving in New Orleans, Sacksionie and his partners evidently set out to look for worthy investments related to the virgin timber industry. In the town of Greensburg, located in St. Helena Parish just north of Baton Rouge, the local paper The Echo reported the following, on May 22, 1908.
The Echo had three distinguished visitors on Thursday of last week in the persons of Messrs. B. S. Sacksionie. Gustave Camoin, of Paris, France, and H.C. Ferriot, of New Orleans. They seemed delighted with the looks of this country and declared that Greensburg was just a lovely spot.
It’s unclear whether Sacksionie established additional investments in Greensburg, but by 1909 his visions for a French and Belgian colony had begun to take root, in none other than Richland Parish, near Dunn, La.
The Times-Democrat of New Orleans of March 8, 1910, printed the following.
Jacob P. Wolff and Julien Garad, both of Paris, and interested with B. S. Sacksionie in the French and Belgian colony that is settling in Richland parish, arrived from France lately and will go with Mr Sacksionie this week to inspect the timber land that was purchased by him at Dunn one year ago, and which it is intended to settle with immigrants from France. Mr. Sacksionie, who is at the Denechaud (hotel in New Orleans) said last night that his two partners had come to the United States merely to see for themselves how the colony was progressing.
The Building Of A Sawmill Near Dunn, Louisiana
In the Richland Parish census of 1910, Sacksionie and Wolff are listed as the non-citizen proprietors of a saw mill near Dunn. Seven French immigrants are also living under the board and care of Sacksionie and Wolff at their newly established colony. All residents were listed single, with no families of their own.
Sacksionie returned to Europe in 1910, but four months later, on September 26th, he quickly returned to the United States, traveling from France to New York, with Dunn, Louisiana listed as his final destination. His occupation on the ship manifest was listed as merchant.
From all accounts, the enterprise became profitable. After a few modifications were made to their operation, Sacksionie and his partners soon found that exports of lumber brought greater profits than exports of cut timber logs. The location of their sawmill, located on the railroad, would additionally establish a train depot and loading dock. The depot was officially named “Sacksionie.”
World War I In Europe Causes Great Trepidation
It is from the Lumber World Review, a trade publication, that we learn of what happens next to B.S. Sacksionie, his saw mill and his export lumber trade. LUMBER WORLD REVIEW, VOLUME 30., February 10, 1916, is the following account:
Additional articles printed in the Lumber World Review reveal that Sacksionie’s company was eventually sold to a company incorporated under the title of Trinity Hardwood Co. Inc.
The article notes that “Trinity has secured a fine tract of hardwood timber.” “Mr. Willis has been connected with the Norman Lumber Co. of Louisville, Ky for a number of years. Mr. Bolton has been connected with the Holly Ridge Lumber Co. of Louisville for some time and Mr. Livingstone has been with Chess & Wymond of Louisville for several years.”
B.S. Sacksionie Remains In Europe
In 1919, the Southern Lumberman provided one final correspondence concerning the status of B.S. Sacksionie.
“Local lumbermen friends have received a communication from B.S. Sacksionie at 94 Rue St Lazare, Paris, saying that he has opened offices there for the resumption of his importing business. Mr. Sacksionie, it will be remembered operated a hardwood sawmill at Dunn, La., for a number of years and was widely known and will be pleasantly remembered by the Southern hardwood trade. In his new business he expects to deal principally in Southern hardwoods.”
The story almost ended here, as there was little further evidence as to the fate of B.S. Sacksionie. The community that had taken on his name however continued on.
As previously noted, Mr. William “Willie” Coats assumed much of the responsibility for the sale of the timber mill, and lived at the Sacksionie plantation on the property in the years to follow. Tim Coats, the grandson of Mr. Willie, writes the following:
“He (Willie Coats) hired young boys to be on the Sacksionie semi-pro baseball team, and I’ve heard many stories about people coming from church in their suits, and in their top hats, watching a ballgame there; many of those players went on to play Major League Baseball.”Tim Coats, grandson of Willie Coats
The baseball team at Sacksionie got plenty of print in the decades to follow. By the 1930’s, it appears that Sacksionie had almost become more synonymous with baseball, and the fantastic ball clubs that would play there.
Richland Beacon News, Crowville, La., Aug. 18, 1936 – The Midpoint Bullpups defeated the Sacksionie nine, 15 to 6, on the Sacksionie diamond Sunday as Otho Newcomer pitched one of his best games of the season. Until the eighth Inning the two teams battled neck-and-neck and then the Bullpups broke loose to stage a nine-run rally that completely routed Sacksionie. A. Riser led the locals belated attack with a home run. Craig, the Sacksionie hurler, pitched a good game up until the eighth when he went wild under the Midpointers attack.
In 1937, great anticipation of the pending baseball game at Sacksionie made the print.
Many years had passed since the original settlement by Mr. B.S. Sacksionie, and the connection of the community to it’s namesake naturally began to slowly slip away. But the story of Sacksionie’s namesake wasn’t totally lost to history. Clay Cooper, whose family later farmed these lands, had heard the story of how this place got it’s name from his father, Clayton Cooper. Clay writes in 2019, the following:
“Dad was told that it was a Frenchman that owned the plantation there. He went back to France to fight for his country during WW1 and never returned. Willie Coats was then the overseer of the plantation. It was not considered part of Dunn as it was a whole mile and a half away.”– Clay Cooper
World War II, B.S. Sacksionie Returns To The Netherlands
Though it’s unclear how long Mr. Sacksionie remained in Paris following World War I, records reveal that by the outbreak of World War II in the early 1940’s, he had returned to The Hague in the Netherlands. Perhaps it was fear for his relatives that brought him back there, though there is no evidence he ever married or had children. As Hitler and the Nazi regime stormed through Europe, the Netherlands would fall quickly, and they remained under Nazi control for much of the war.
For Benjamin Simon Sacksionie, thus began an unimaginable daily persecution of intimidation and tyranny. He was not only a native of the Netherlands, but he was also one of 140,000 Dutch Jews who lived there. Dutch Jews made up just 1.4% of the population of the Netherlands in 1939, but only 25% of these Dutch Jews would ultimately survive.
More than 4,700 miles away, small communities such as Dunn, Delhi, Holly Ridge and Rayville, all located in Richland Parish, were enlisting their young men at a rapid rate, as the escalation of WWII had become a global crisis. It’s unlikely these young men had any idea that someone they might have met or known in their childhood, would be a direct target of those they were being sent over to fight.
Mr. Sacksionie, the once young and ambitious proprietor who had spent time and treasure on a promising venture in Richland Parish had by this time reached the age of 71. It was at this age, at the sunset of his life, that he would be arrested by Nazi forces, placed on a train, and transported to the living hell that was the Auschwitz death camps. Mr. Benjamin Simon Sacksionie was tragically executed at Auschwitz, on December 7, 1942.
Upon learning of Mr. Sacksionie’s fate, my heart sank. It’s unknown whether anyone who had known him from his days spent in Richland Parish would ever learn of his ultimate fate. When I visited the memorial page for Dutch Jewish victims of the Holocaust from the Netherlands, little was known about his life. In noting that he had no children, it is easy to see how his legacy was almost lost to time.
Then it dawned on me that the legacy, the story, and the honor of his name can truly still be honored today. His legacy in fact is forever etched in history, on maps, in the naming of gas fields, and now through the telling of this story.
The ultimate fate of Mr. Benjamin Simon Sacksionie was gut wrenching. An innocent search for the source of a community name led me down a path I couldn’t have begun to imagine on my own. I am proud however to know that despite being half a world away from the Netherlands, nestled along the railroad tracks in the sleepy rural parish of Richland, lies a place that can still honor the life of it’s namesake. It is my prayer that Mr. Sacksionie never be forgotten, that the story of his life, and the place that bears his name, forever stand the test of time.