George Patton and his armored tank division got lost during the Army maneuvers in Louisiana in 1941 after crossing Red River one night from Natchitoches Parish into Winn.
Patton’s orders were to wipe out the enemy infantry division that was supposed to be in the Cootchie Brake and Wheeling area, then recross Red River into Natchitoches Parish at the old St. Maurice ferry.
Patton’s scouts and engineers that night never were able to find the old St. Maurice Ferry site. They found the St. Maurice post office on Hwy. 71, more than a mile east of Red River, but no signs of any river being close by.
Between midnight and dawn, when Patton’s tank outfit could not find either the “enemy” infantry division or the St. Maurice Ferry site, orders came crackling over the radio to the various tank units scattered all over the woods in southwest Winn Parish to rendezvous as quickly as possible at Winnfield and stand by for orders.
By daylight, the people of Winnfield were surprised and dismayed to find every street and side street in Winnfield choked with elements of Patton’s armored tank division with their officers and men standing by their units. All during the morning, Patton’s “rolling stock” with their crews stood silent and still in the streets. By mid-morning, reports reached the several hundred “natives” gathered on the courthouse square that Patton’s vehicles were stacked up, bumper to bumper, for several miles out of Winnfied on all roads coming into town.
General Patton and his staff went into the restaurant talking about the mess they were in because there was no St. Maurice Ferry site, and spread out a lot of maps on the dining tables.
A brash young Winnfield native suddenly barged into the conversation without being asked, saying: “Say, mister, there is an old ferry across the Red River at St. Maurice.” Patton cut in, saying, “Who are you? How do you know there is a ferry site there?”
The boy, Norwood Smith, said: “I have seen the old St. Maurice Ferry site many times – I know it is there, just like you know you are lost.”
Then, Patton asked Norwood Smith how his armored division could get to St. Maurice in the shortest distance and travel the least over main highways. Norwood suggested going out Highway 84 to the Nine Mile Boar and then go into St. Maurice over the old Sparta dirt road.
Norwood Smith, the major, a radio operator and the jeep driver headed out west on West Court street that afternoon about two o’clock, followed by hundreds of vehicles that was the “rolling stock” of the first armored division “Old Blood and Guts” ever commanded.
They reached the St. Maurice Ferry site over the old Sparta dirt road and work on the pontoon bridge across Red River quickly got underway. The pontoon bridge was completed about nine o’clock that night and a heavy bulldozer was the first vehicle to cross over, followed by a steady stream of the rolling stock of the armored division, all without lights of any kind.
Norwood felt he was well paid for his trouble by having the privilege of serving a little while with one of America’s greatest fighting generals.
Three other Winn Parish men, Jake Williamson, Othel Taylor and Ford Power, rolled all across the top side of Africa and all over Europe with Gen. George Patton and his armored division in the greatest fighting unit of modern times.