Joe Hardin

Oakland Farm

Oakland Farm

The second song on Come On, Highway is called Oakland Farm.  In Louisiana, just south of Natchitoches, lies what’s called the Cane River Society.  This is a group of antebellum plantation homes that are still standing.  I’m not sure how many plantation homes remain, but there are quite a few.  The story goes that when the Union troops came through during the Civil War, the people in the area started the rumor that there was an epidemic of scarlet fever and the Union troops skirted the area, preserving all the homes.  Whether this story is true or not, these plantation houses survived the war and many are open to the public.  One of them, Melrose, is the home of a wonderful art show every year and was the home of Clementine Hunter, one of the most famous painters from the area.  The Cane River Heritage offices are located in Oakland plantation, which is perfectly preserved—even the fixtures and knick-knacks are original.  The history of this area is amazing—too much to discuss here.  But if you think you know anything about what plantation life was like for the slaves or for the people who owned them, this place will change your mind.  Take my word for it and go visit, and especially go to Oakland and Melrose.

The area is really spooky because there’s not much there except the plantation houses, the old church, and a few people who live in small houses around the old plantation homes.  There’s still a lot of cotton and pecans farmed in the area, but very little commerce or modern houses.  The first thing you notice is how quiet it is.  I wanted to capture in the song this ghostly quiet and the weight of history that you feel when you go through the area.  The first thing I thought of was how the mausoleums on the old church grounds and plantation homes echo each other and how we memorialize death and the history of slavery through the presentation of these old homes.  As soon as I wrote the first line, I thought that this is really how we should remember the dark period of slavery and plantation life and not through statues of civil war generals and flags of defeated armies.  These places really show the complexity of the times.  Flags and statues are incapable of memorializing this complex history.

The important thing is that you should go and maybe this song will encourage you to.  I mean it.  It’s one of the weirdest, spookiest, and richest places I’ve ever been in my life.  Here’s the lyric:

 Oakland Farm

Down along the river, the houses lie like tombstones in the sun

Put away your flags, boys, the time for waving banners is long done

Scores of years have passed us by, it’s time to let the dead ones now be dead

Underneath the grasses, the bones of butchered soldiers in their beds

 

Across the bridge at Atahoe, the crippled roots of cotton clutch the soil

I still hear chains a-dragging, I still find broken shards of the Caddo

Children in the river, the sizzling of cicadas in the trees

The cooing of the pigeons, the humming of the golden honey bees

 

It’s time we tear down all the effigies, and let the ghosts all fly away at last

Put away the hatred, unleash the chains that bind us to the past

Down in Louisiana, everything still stands on Oakland Farm

And that’s enough remembrance, I think it’s finally time that we move on

 

Down along the river, the tombstones mark the cities of the dead.

The smell of file gumbo, beans and rice, andouille and cornbread

Indian, French, and Spanish, gens de coleur libre and the slaves

Colonials and creoles, lying all together in their graves

 

It’s time we tear down all the effigies, and let the ghosts all fly away at last

Put away the hatred, unleash the chains that bind us to the past

Down in Louisiana, everything still stands on Oakland Farm

And that’s enough remembrance, I think it’s finally time that we move on

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