Meet Natchitoches' very own File' Man

NATCHITOCHES, La. Along the cane river, Creole traditions are still alive and well.

It is one man's mission to keep it this way.

They call him the File' Man.

However, family and friends know him as John Oswald Colson.

He has been making file', a thickening agent often found in gumbo, since he was eight years old.

It's a three week process that starts by picking the leaves off of a Sassafras tree.

"I de-stem all of it and then I start pounding it," Colson said. "Once I get it pounded, I sift it a couple of times to get all of the small particles out of it. Then, I start bottling it."

It is a trade his mother taught him at his childhood home along the river, built in 1943.

"The property here, its about 50 acres altogether," Colson said. "It's been in the family for about 160 years."

Colson left Louisiana, moving east for 25 years of his life, but moved back to help his aging mother make file'.

Realizing not many people were left that knew how to make file', he made it his mission to teach them.

Now he travels to local festivals and schools with his favorite apprentice, to share his beloved craft.

"If you see Mr. Os at a festival, he's just very easy to get along with, very easy going," said Chief of Resource Management at Cane River National Park Service Dustin Fuqua. "He's an interesting guy, if you don't know him, you are going to know him. He's just that kind of guy. For all of us that do know him, he's our hero."

The two met 15 years ago and Colson taught him everything he knows.

"When I first met Mr. Os he started telling me all about these magical medicine plants and all these different things," Fuqua said. "It was just very exciting for me to get to learn and go with them, and learn the whole process of how to do it. It's been really rewarding."

Fuqua, an anthropologist, wants to help Colson preserve Creole culture.

"With the Sassafras and the file' tradition, that is a very special tradition," Fuqua said. "It's a very, very precious thing and that is why it is important for us to save it."

Colson plans to continue calling the Cane River home and sharing what he loves.

"I've been to a lot of places and it's really different here," Colson said. "It's peace and quiet. Everyone knows everyone down here, ya know?"

Colson sells his file' seasonally, in the summer, when Sassafras leaves are at their greenest.

Keep an eye on his families Facebook pages for his annual one day sale. You can also contact him by email at

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