When Verdiacee Hampton Goston moved to Franklin Parish in 1997, the then 70-year-old self-proclaimed "empress" of the Washitaw Nation said her sole purpose in life was to lead her people to happiness, and free them of paying taxes.
Three years later a small army of state and federal agents descended on the home she rented ten miles east of Winnsboro on the banks of the Bayou Macon, thus thrusting the eccentric tribal leader into the national spotlight.
After years of fighting for what she claimed was the "heirship" of her people, Goston died at her son's home in California last week at the age of 87, marking an end to a colorful and turbulent life.
On the morning of March 21, 2000, the self-proclaimed "empress" of the Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah — a group that claims sovereignty over a 30 million-acre empire in Louisiana and neighboring states — was about to eat breakfast when the doorbell rang.
On her doorstep were armed agents from the FBI, the IRS, the U.S. Customs Service and the State Police. Acting on search warrants, agents seized a variety of documents in connection with an investigation regarding income tax evasion, mail fraud and wire fraud.
The planned raid was a well-kept secret, as then Franklin Parish Sheriff Steve Pylant wasn't informed of the raid until it was underway.
In an interview with The Franklin Sun the following day, an angered Goston said she had no idea what the agents were looking for.
"They never said what they wanted," she said. "They knocked on the door and came in with guns. All the rooms are in shambles. They put dogs all up in the refrigerator looking for drugs and took metal detectors across the yard looking for gold coins. They took my jewelry. Why did they do that? The jewelry didn't do anything wrong."
Gotson confirmed agents seized a variety of documents available to people who seek citizenship in the Washitaw Nation. Washitaw passports, marriage licenses, drivers' licenses and birth certificates were available for purchase by Washitaw citizens. A full membership in the Washitaw Nation cost up to $520 per person at the time of the raid, according to reports.
A frustrated Gotson said the "government of the United States" had went to far by ransacking her home.
"The government is going to have to pay up or get off my land," she told The Franklin Sun. "That raid was the straw that broke the camels back and I'm fixing to put them off my land."
The then 73-year-old Goston, a former mayor of Richwood, claimed vast amounts of land in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas was hers by "heirship".
"My fore-parents were here when everyone else came," she said. "I am who I say I am. I am an empress."
Goston claimed the legitimacy of her claims had been recognized by agencies such as World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the State of Louisiana.
The Washitaw Nation claims 100,000 years of history, including mound-building Indians, but has never been recognized as an Indian tribe by the federal government.
When asked about how many members were claiming citizenship in the Washitaw Nation, Goston responded, "They are as many as the stars in the sky."
In 1999, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimated the group had about 200 hard-core members, noting its popularity among followers of Moorish Science, an older black separatist sect.
To this date, United States courts have held that the Washitaw Nation is "fictional" and that it is not recognized as a sovereign nation.
At the time of the raid, Gotson claimed she had been offered sanctuary by the Mormons, but she had no intention of running away from conflict with the government.
"They offered my shelter in one of their granite mountains," she said. "But I'm not going anywhere. And there ain't a damn thing they can do about it."
"Who do you think these people are?" Gotson continued. "They killed the Branch Dividians in Waco. They shot a woman right out from under her baby at Ruby Ridge. Didn't they kill Jim Jones and his people? That wasn't a suicide. They are murderers."
Fellow tribe members Gregory Campbell and Lucille Liscomb were indicted by a federal grand jury three years later on conspiracy charges and 31 counts of internet fraud each.
Campbell and Liscomb, both from Arizona but at the time residing in Winnsboro, pled guilty to collecting more than $20,000 from internet auctions without delivering any of the promised goods. Reports state they advertised Beanie Babies and computer merchandise on Yahoo.com's auction service. Instructions told winning bidders to send payments to a U.S. Post Office box in one of six northeast Louisiana towns: Columbia, Fort Necessity, Baskin, Archibald, Mangham and Sterlington.
"They had post office boxes all along the road between Winnsboro and I-20 and over," said then Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert W. Gillespie Jr.
According to family members, Gotson was cremated last week and her ashes are planned to be dispersed over numerous locations in the future.
During her lifetime, the self-proclaimed "empress" was never charged by the FBI.