By Brooke Shirley
The annual Sabine Free State Festival takes place in the Village of Florien. Florien is located in the southern tip of Sabine Parish, which was once part of the “Neutral Strip.” The Neutral Strip was an area of land that the American government and the Spanish government both claimed. On Nov. 6, 1806, General Wilkinson and Colonel Simon De Herrera signed an agreement to stay out of the strip until a proper boundary could be determined. The Neutral Strip ended on March 28, 1822, when General Zachary Taylor was given orders to build Fort Jessup; the Fort was built just outside present day Many, in Sabine Parish.
During that time, the area became known as the “Free State” and a sanctuary for outlaws. John Murrell, a notorious outlaw, and his clan would rob and kill any large parties that would cross the strip. One member in Murrell’s clan was Hiriam Midkiff. According to rumors, the Spanish had gold mines located near Clear Water Baptist Church just outside the city limits of present day Florien. Murrell and Midkiff led a crew of bandits that stole the gold and hid it in the caves also located in this area.
The town of Florien held the first Free State Festival in November 1981. The festival features a treasure hunt for Midkiff’s treasure, which could be located in the town, or up to 10 miles from the town. Clues are given every day to help locate the missing “treasure” which is actually a modern-day savings bond. Several old buildings have been donated to the town including a saloon used for their annual shoot-outs. Don’t be alarmed! While the actors are using fake bullets, they sure know how to make it look real! During the shoot-out, the participants are dressed for the period and Hiriam Midkiff always shows up trying to make a mess of things. No matter how much of a fight he may put up, the sheriff always takes him down. Everyone is welcome to come enjoy the food, music and traditions that have been carried on for more than 30 years!
The festival will take place Oct. 27 and 28 this year! For more information call Margaret Nixon at (318)-586-3521 or the Florien Town Hall at (318)-586-7286.