Pictured above is Berl Clark, owner of Clark’s Grocery and Market, as he stands behind the front counter. Clark remembers the history of the Lake Cove area that includes Bonnie and Clyde. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Parker, Barrow, and Clark
Tucked away a couple of miles from the edge of Cocodrie Lake in northern Evangeline Parish is a community that time seemed to have forgotten. Not much happens here anymore except for when people attend services at the Lake Cove Baptist Church or go buy a cold pop at Clark’s Grocery and Market next door.
While time may have forgotten this area, not forgotten are the stories of characters who have walked these grounds. One character, David “Tobe” Clark Jr. is the great-grandfather of the store’s owner, Berl Clark.
“My great-grandfather was the first one who came here after the Civil War and built the church,” Clark said. “He was the last survivor in Rapides Parish, and he died in the 1920s. He was under Captain Sam Haas of Chicot.”
Clark’s great-grandfather was not the only character from the Civil War to have come across Lake Cove. Two miles to the north closer to Cocodrie Lake is an area known as Jayhawkers Island. According to Clark, there is one such island in Evangeline Parish and a similar one across the lake in Rapides Parish.
Clark explained the Jayhawkers were members of the Confederate who knew the South was losing the Civil War and decided to desert and hide out along Cocodrie Lake. Around that same time was when Union forces burned down Alexandria and Pineville.
“One of the Jayhawkers was Louis Deville,” Clark said. “He and four more broke and ran, and he got his little finger shot off when he went over the fence.”
Decades later, a resort opened in the area known as Bell Cheney Springs that became a popular tourist attraction.
“They had an artesian well at Bell Cheney Springs,” Clark said. “Around 1950, I swam there. They had what was called blue mud that was good to put on sores and on the mange.”
He continued, “It was about two miles from here. During those years, we would walk there because it was about a mile through the woods. It was a big operation at that time because it was on what they called the Texas Trail. You could travel it from Texas to Florida.”
Two of the most famous, or infamous, guests of Bell Cheney Springs were the legendary outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
“Bonnie and Clyde were there just a year or so before they died in Gibsland,” Clark said. “Bonnie and Clyde were assassinated in 1934 and traded some at Chapelle’s Store. That was Chapelle’s great-grandfather who had the store at the time. He married my great-aunt who was Uncle Tobe’s sister.”
When Bell Cheney was still in its heyday, so were also the sawmills. As Clark said, “There were sawmills all over the place. I had uncles who had a bunch of sawmills. Back in those years, it was small mills that we called groundhog mills. Really that was the only work going in the community during the Depression back in the 1930s.”
Like the sawmills, another common occurrence around Lake Cove was the passing of the railroad.
“I cut pine nuts for the trains when I was 17-years-old,” said the 84-year-old Clark. “The train ran from Longleaf to Meridian and ran twice a day hauling big logs.”
Clark has added to the history of Lake Cove by operating different stores for the better part of the past half-century.
“I had a big operation at one time,” Clark said. “I sold seven different chainsaws when I started. I had little stores in the community, and I opened this store in 1972. All together, I’ve been in business about 52 years. I don’t stock anything hardly anymore after my wife passed away two years ago. I just piddle around now and do a little saw work. It’s mostly a past time now because all of these dollar stores killed the community stores.”
Clark’s store also serves as the polling place for members of the community.
“We have a voting place, and we got that back in 1982,” he commented. “It was pulled away in the late 1940s and moved to Upper Pine Prairie. We had to go vote at Everton Deshotel’s store. In 1982, I got the poll back here, and it’s been here ever since.”
Clark continued, “We got about 165 voters here. If the state pulls it right now, we’d have to go back to Upper Pine or Pine Prairie to vote.”
While serving as a polling place, Clark’s store has also served as a setting for many of a political rally.
“Wayne Morein used to come here a lot,” Clark said. “Elin Pitre was the first man to ever put a sign outside. I kept his signs for years in my barn. He had them on a regular 4X8 piece of plywood and had on a big Cowboy hat.”
As Clark reflected back on his time in Lake Cove, he recalled changes from then to now.
“Electricity came through here when I was 12-years-old in 1947,” he said. “Telephones came after that in the 1950s. I’ve seen a dirt road and a gravel road, and now it’s a paved road.”
While time may be forgetting about Lake Cove, Clark will always be remembered for his service to the community.
He concluded, “I had a big operation at one time. I sold seven different chainsaws, and I sold Stihl for 50 years. As a matter of fact, that’s on my headstone.”