- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

STERLINGTON, La. (AP) - In 1917, Jim and Jenny Garland married in northern Arkansas and drifted down the White and Mississippi rivers on their houseboat. The couple ultimately settled on a sandbar in Sterlington. Almost 100 years later, their descendants have created a community near the same place called Garland Landing.

Will E. Lambert and his wife, Rebecca, were inspired to write a book telling the story after a family reunion in 2013.

The Garlands originally had 9 children - only one of whom is still alive - and the Lamberts wanted to capture the stories of those who lived on the rivers and founded Garland Landing.

Will Lambert said in the early 1900s a newspaper article estimated that there were 50,000 houseboats in the Mississippi delta alone.

“Landowners called them ‘river gypsies’ and ‘river rats,” Will Lambert said. “They had to suffer persecution.”

The Garlands came up the Ouachita and landed in Sterlington because they were told that there were a lot of mussel shells.

“Back then, they were selling mussel shells to make buttons, and it was a big industry,” he said. “But in the ‘40s plastic buttons came out, so that collapsed.”

Will Lambert said Jim Garland supplemented the family’s income with fishing, and they stayed in the same houseboat for 30 years. The couple had nine children before moving to a “land house” nearby in 1945.

He said his first cousin Bobby Gerald “Jerry” Hobson started working to buy the land where their grandparents first homesteaded around 2000. The land belonged to another family, and most of the Garland decedents weren’t initially interested in the project.

“It’s like he had the same vision his grandfather had to keep the family close, right there,” Rebecca Lambert said.

“He went in there and cleaned it up - I mean built a community,” Will Lambert said. “And he did it by himself. It was nothing but a jungle down there, and it was tied up with heirs and we - I just didn’t see anything in it, but that boy went in there and cleaned all that up, built his house. Then all the families then began to say ‘Whoa, you’re going to do it,’ so they came in there and built their houses.

“He had to go in and buy all that land. He owns all the land just about now from … Sterlington bridge just about as far as you can see down the bend, and he’s been selling lots on it, so you’ve got a pretty big community there now.”

Rebecca Lambert said the couple started working on the book after a family reunion in 2013.

Will Lambert started calling family members for stories and photos. He worked on a story a day for a few months.

“He got sick during the process of this,” Rebecca Lambert said. “We didn’t know it, but he had stomach cancer. … He finished the book, but I was the one doing the editing and the pictures and stuff. It took me about a year to really finish it.

“Going through all the treatments, we were at M.D. Anderson for nearly a year last year, but he’s doing really good now, and he mentions something about that in the back of the book.”

While the stories and photos focus on one family, the Lamberts said there’s a little something in it for everyone: Jim and Jenny’s love story, some humor and tales about how celebrities like Huey P. Long, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart affected the family.

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Information from: The News-Star, http://www.thenewsstar.com

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