city, seat (1807) of Natchitoches parish, west-central Louisiana, U.S., on Cane River Lake, 68 miles (109 km) southeast of Shreveport. The oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory, it was founded about 1714 as Fort St. Jean Baptiste by the French-Canadian explorer and soldier Louis Juchereau de Saint-Denis to forestall Spanish occupation of the area and to set up a trading centre. Renamed for the Natchitoches Indians (members of the Caddo confederacy), it developed as a cotton market, but its commercial importance declined after 1825, when the Red River, then its main artery of transportation, changed course, shifting 5 miles (8 km) to the east. In 1864, during the American Civil War, Union troops passed through the area as they retreated from the failed Red River Campaign.
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