Several years ago this story ran in the Gazette. Over the years people have questioned me about the lake and the politics that it took to build it. In light of the official naming of the Lake D’arBonne spillway this week I wanted to share this story with the readers again. The Lake D’ArBonne Spillway will officially be named for the late former Sate Representative T.T. Fields at the Lake D’ArBonne Country Club at 2:00 on Wednesday, October 7th.
I had said earlier that I would give as my last article the story of how Lake D’arBonne was funded. I lied. For the 50th anniversary of the Lake I was asked to speak at the Chamber of Commerce meeting yesterday. I chose to speak on the politics of funding a lake and I decided to finally write this story. Unless Scott fires me, this will not be my last article.
In 1951 T.T. Fields was elected to his first of four terms representing Union Parish in the Louisiana State Legislature. His first term was rewarding as Union Parish became one of the first parishes in the state to get all of its’ state roads paved. Yes, that’s right. When Huey Long took office as governor twenty three years earlier Louisiana had a total of one hundred miles of paved roads in the entire state. The first term was also rewarding as another Fields’ bill was approved and the new trade school was located in Union Parish and beating out Lincoln Parishes bid to get the next school.
Then in his second term a very ambitious bill was introduced by Fields into the State Legislature. Following work by local businessmen such as Alvin Green, Russell Adams and Armand Rabun, it was Fields turn to do his part.
The governor of Louisiana was Earl Long. Known for his antics with Bourbon Street stripper Blaze Star, he garnered national attention. As crazy as “Uncle Earl” seemed, he was in fact a skilled governor and lawyer from Winnfield and knew how to get things done. He too loved the state and understood that for a state to move forward it needed funding and the easiest way to fund a government is through taxes and Louisiana needed funds.
Today we are continually being bombarded with new taxes but in the 1950s taxes were very unpopular. Earl knew he had a hard road ahead of him to get his proposed one cent sales tax passed. Fields knew he had his hands full also to get his unique billed passed. Long was a hard nut to crack when it came to approving any unnecessary bills and Fields bill was nothing that had ever been proposed before.
Fields’ bill was introduced to the House of Representatives and he took the floor to explain that he was proposing to build one of the largest man made recreational lakes in the Deep South. To exasperate the legislature, few south Louisiana law makers knew where Union Parish was and many more had no idea where Farmerville was located. Fields had done his homework. The north Louisiana delegation understood the value of this lake. The majority of the south Louisiana delegation liked Fields and Fields had made no enemies during his early years in Baton Rouge. Besides, it was realized that if the bill passed Earl would never sign into law such a lage expenditure. There was no opposition and when the vote was cast it was unanimous in favor of building a lake in Union Parish. The bill moved to the Senate and Senator B.R. Patton from Farmerville quarterbacked the bill through the senate and it went to Governor Long for signature. The legislature went into shock when it was announced that Union Parish would get a dam built across Bayou D’Arbonne and a fifteen thousand acre lake would be formed for nothing more than recreation. But this detail is common knowledge. As Paul Harvey would say, and now for the rest of the story.
The one cent sales tax was becoming very contentious. Earl had said he would send the state police out and arrest any legislature and bring him to Baton Rouge for the vote. Earl had also cut a deal with Fields. If Fields would support and vote for the tax, Union Parish would get the lake. Fields accepted the offer and he was now committed to Long. After the Lake was approved Fields returned to Farmerville. Euphoria was replaced with distress as he realized he was going to have to support what was becoming the most controversial vote of the decade What was he going to do?
Fields hatched his own plan to save himself from having to face voters and explain why he voted for the tax. Fields wife was born and raised in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Nevada near Lake Tahoe in the small town of Gardnerville. Communication and travel in the 50s was nothing to compare to today. A long distance call could take hours to get through and jumping on a plane to go somewhere was anything but the norm. Interstates did not exist and a trip to Gardnerville took four days. Fields had it figured out. He called the Speaker of the House’s office and explained that his wife’s widowed mother was in very bad physical shape and he had to take his wife home. The secretary said she would inform the speaker.
Fields hung up and went to his creosote plant to treat a batch of posts. Fields had pulled it off. He never told his wife what he had done. Good thing as she had a problem telling anything but the truth and she was genetically programmed to never be able to lie.
An hour after Fields left for the plant the phone rang at the Fields’ house.
“Hello” said Mrs Fields.
A raspy voice on the other end of the phone said, “Mrs Fields, this is governor Long. May I speak to T.T. please,” Long said in a very traditionally respectful southern polite voice.
“I’m sorry governor. He is at his plant”.
“Thank you Mrs Fields. By the way, how is your mother feeling?” Long asked
“Well Governor she is doing very well, thank you. I talked to her about two weeks ago,” Mrs Fields said.
“Mrs Fields will you please relay a message to T.T. Please tell him to get his a_ _ to Baton Rouge. And Mrs Fields, please give my regards to your mother.”
“I will be sure to do that governor.”
Fields was shortly on his way to Baton Rouge, the sales tax passed despite state police bringing some lawmakers into the capital, Union Parish and north Louisiana got its’ new lake and Fields got re-elected and was named the floor leader by the new Governor, Jimmy Davis.
And now you know the rest of the story.


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