MOSES ‘JUDGE’ LIDDELL

MOSES ‘JUDGE’ LIDDELL

(49th in a Series)  

During the winter and spring of 1870, newspapers across the country were covering a sensational story – a 24-year feud between two Black River planters in Louisiana had come to a bloody conclusion.  

In Harrisonburg, the seat of government for Catahoula Parish, a mob had surrounded the home of the sheriff, forcing him at gunpoint to flee with his family and guests, before killing two of his three prisoners, Col. Charles Jones and his son, Willie. A third prisoner, Jones’ other son, Cuthbert, escaped the mob, made his way to New Orleans hidden in the hold of a steamboat and told a newspaper about the horrific early morning hours of February 28, 1870, when his father and brother were murdered.  

Willie Jones was the sixth and last person killed in a feud that had begun in the late 1840s. Over the decades, rumors that a dozen or more men died in the deadly dispute were advanced, but they weren’t true.  

Friendly with one another in the early 1840s, the relationship between Col. Jones and General St. John Richardson Liddell had fallen apart with rapid speed.  

One early friend of both men recalled leaving his home in New Orleans to visit his Catahoula Parish plantation -- Blue Cane -- at Larto. The man recalled attending parties at both at Jones’ Elmly Plantation and at Liddell’s Llanada. Both Jones and Liddell appeared to get along well at these events during the early to mid-1840s.  

But according to Liddell’s brother-in-law, Francis D. Richardson, the two men never really liked one another. Richardson said Liddell and Jones “first met socially at a gentleman’s dining, during which a toast was given by the other reflecting upon female virtue … Liddell, who was sitting near an open window, threw out his glass of wine.”  

“Here,” Richardson wrote in a letter, “the arrow entered.”  

Later came the infamous confrontation between Jones and Eliza Nichols, a woman he had called immoral and an adulterer. With Liddell present outside the front of Jones’ Elmly home, Eliza demanded an apology. Jones refused and insulted her again.  

She immediately shot in the face. When he turned to run, she shot him in the back. For reasons still unclear, Jones believed – or chose to believe -- that Liddell shot him in the back although both Eliza and Liddell said Eliza was the lone shooter.  

Why would Jones insist that Liddell shot him? Was there more to the story concerning the hatred Jones felt for Liddell? We may never know.  

REPUTATION FOR TROUBLE  

But we do know that they were different kind of men. Liddell was determined and opiniated, yet reserved. Jones was calculating, violent and confrontational.  

Nathaniel C. Hughes, who edited Liddell’s recollections of the Civil War into a book, wrote that Jones “had a reputation connecting him to trouble in Monroe, Louisiana, and in Kentucky. Even the relationship between” Jones and his wife was strained. “In March 1849 Laura won a judgement against Charles and had their property separated.”  

For a quarter century Jones had threatened to kill Liddell and in mid-February 1870 he did just that – along with his sons Willie and Cuthbert – abroad the St. Mary off Jones’ landing on the Black River.  

The three men turned themselves in to 26-year-old Sheriff Oliver Ballard in Harrisonburg. Two weeks after the killing of Liddell a mob rushed the Sargent House, the home of Sheriff Ballard, and murdered Col. Jones and Willie.  

In New Orleans, Cuthbert reunited with his mother, who had been in Europe. A short time later, he joined her and his surviving siblings and traveled to Germany.  

Liddell’s son, Moses “Judge” Liddell, had attempted to killed Col. Jones prior to the mob attack on the Sargent House, but Jones, shot twice by Judge, had survived. Judge was later implicated in the murder of Col. Jones and Willie.  

Judge Liddell, who was 25 in 1870, had been a toddler when the famous feud began. Cuthbert Jones, 19 years old when his father and brother were shot by the mob, had yet to be born when the feud ignited.  

No one was ever convicted in the six killings connected to the feud.  

Yet these two young men would live the rest of their lives in the shadow of the war between their fathers.  

JUDGE LIDDELL’S APPOINTMENT  

Judge had married and left Catahoula Parish shortly before the bloody feud ended. When a teenager, he had fought in the Civil War.  

Afterward, in 1868, Judge married Isabelle Semple in Wilkinson County, Miss. The couple moved to Girard along the Boeuf River in Richland Parish where the Liddell family owned a large tract of land.  

He was living there when he got word that Charles, Cuthbert and William Jones had killed his father.  

In Richland Parish, Judge became a lawyer and entered politics. He attended the Democratic State Convention in 1876, and served as chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee before his election to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1878.  

He practiced law in both Rayville and Monroe, but in 1887 he traveled to the Washington to meet with President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, who appointed him to the Montana Territory Supreme Court.  

On Dec. 24, 1887, the Ouachita Telegraph in Monroe reported:  

“Hon. M. J. {Judge} Liddell returned from Washington City last Saturday.” He was “booked for a Territorial appointment (judgeship) and has the solid endorsement of the Louisiana delegation. President Cleveland could not bestow his confidence and favors upon a better man or a truer Democrat. Judge Liddell also fills the bill for capacity and fitness.”  

‘OUR FRIEND AND BROTHER’  

Three years after his appointment, Judge died on Oct. 4, 1891.  

According to The Livingston Enterprise in Montana:  

“Judge Moses J. {JUDGE} Liddell died at his home in Bozeman Sunday morning from the effects of a virulent carbuncle and subsequent heart trouble. The funeral took place Monday afternoon and remains were interred in the Bozeman cemetery.  

“Judge Liddell … a son of the noted General Liddell” was “47 years of age. He leaves a wife and son.  

“He came to Montana in April 1888 as an appointee of President Cleveland to fill the position of judge of the Sixth Judicial District. When state judges were elected in 1889, he was defeated for the position by Judge Frank Henry of this city. Since his retirement from the bench and until his death Judge Liddell has been successfully engaged in the practice of law.”  

In 1891, not long after Judge died, the Montana Bar and the state Supreme Court honored Judge with a resolution, noting:  

“Whereas, it has pleased the Supreme Judge of the universe to call from among us our friend and brother, while yet in the meridian of his manhood and in the zenith of his power and usefulness as a citizen and lawyer.  

“Be it Resolved, That the death of Judge Liddell the state of Montana has lost one of her noblest and best citizens, the bar has lost a member who, whether sitting upon the supreme bench or engaged in the practice of the profession which he loved, was alike a jurist, a scholar, a patriot and a gentleman, untouched by prejudice and undaunted by fear, always just and always affable.  

“Be it Further Resolved, That the members of the bar of this honorable court, over which the deceased so ably presided, and of which he was more lately a member, hereby express our late brother our warmest sympathy in this their great sorrow and afflicted.  

“Be it Resolved, That these resolutions be spread among the records of this court and copies thereof be furnished the widow of the deceased and the newspapers of Park and Gallatin counties.”  

For 130 years, Judge Liddell’s body has rested in Montana, 1,400 miles from Catahoula Parish and the place where he grew up, his father’s beloved Llanada Plantation along Black River on the outskirts of Jonesville.  

‘SPIRIT OF RECONCILIATION’  

Judge and his siblings, as well as the children of Charles Jones, grew up in the shadow of the war of their fathers. So intertwined were the sons that they felt an obligation to defend their families.  

When Judge shot and wounded Col. Jones from the deck of the steamboat Governor Allen at Harrisonburg, he told Captain Sinnott, “Sir, I know I have violated your regulations in what has been done. The only excuse I have to offer is, that I saw the man who murdered my father.”  

This incident occurred only a few days before a mob gunned before Col. Jones and Willie outside the Sargent House. Judge was part of that mob.  

The Ouachita Telegraph, like other newspapers, tried to make sense of the tragedy and pleaded for the feud to end, writing that “in every stage of this deplorable tragedy we find cause for regret, and too much cause for censure.  

“Alas! For Col. Jones and for Gen. Liddell, and for the sons of both, that they had not taken counsel of the spirit of conciliation, and buried with the past every circumstance and though which could possibly tend to arouse afresh the bad blood which so long and so violently existed between them.”  

Cuthbert Jones, the other surviving face of the old feud, learned several languages while in Europe, and later was appointed by President U.S. Grant to a high appointment in Tripoli, Libya. Later he returned to the U.S. for the first time in years and challenged a congressman to a fight over the official’s remarks about the Jones family and the Jones-Liddell Feud.  

(To Be Continued)  

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