(53rd in a Series)   

Of all of the people involved in the 24-year Jones-Liddell Feud in Catahoula Parish, no one was more mysterious than Laura Jones, the wife of planter Charles Jones of Elmly Plantation on Black River. That’s mostly because so little is known about her.   

But her life, like those of her children, was forever altered by her husband’s longtime obsession with killing St. John Richardson Liddell, whose plantation was located upriver from Elmly   

The feud resulted in six deaths. Laura lost her husband and her oldest son, Willie, in the feud. Liddell was shot and killed too.   

By the late 19th century, Laura and daughter Rosa were living together in what is now Jonesville. By one account, another daughter, Ella, married in Europe and died in Switzerland.   

Two of Laura’s sons – Cuthbert and Francois, also called “Francis” – had lived abroad as did she before returning to the U.S. in the 1870s, just a few years after the feud ended.   

Cuthbert and Francois, who would also die a tragic death, were both in the consular service in the State Department, Cuthbert having served as Consul to Tripoli for six years.  

It appears that neither of Laura’s youngest sons ever returned to Catahoula Parish.  

The feud ignited in the late 1840s when Elizabeth Nichols – accused of cheating of her husband by Charles Jones – shot Jones once in the face (by one account in the mouth) and once in the back after he refused to apologize and after he reasserted that she was a woman of low moral character.   

The shooting took place on the front lawn of Elmly Plantation.   

Liddell had been there that day, too, and afterward, Jones accused him of firing the shot that hit him in the back. But Eliza said publicly she was the lone shooter and Liddell said the same. Jones survived, but a scar now marked his once handsome face.   

After the shooting, Liddell expressed concern that Laura seemed as mean and hateful as her husband. Liddell didn’t trust her either.   

He wrote to a friend about Jones and Laura: “That man’s wife is a bad woman. There is no telling what she will do.” Liddell also claimed that after the shooting she had offered a reward to the enslaved black men on her plantation to assassinate Eliza.   

At some point years later after their return from Europe, Laura and Rosa left Elmly and moved to Troy Plantation at present day Jonesville. Laura owned the plantation.  

According to Jonesville Through the Mirror of Time (Sue Avery, Alice Winegeart and Alma McClure), Laura and daughter Rosa “built a nice home near where the Methodist Church now stands. She was owner of most of the land on which Jonesville was built.   

“Noted for her brutality with slaves before the war, she was not a woman with whom folks would trifle, and she and her daughter lived a secluded life. But although she was not soft, she had her ego, and when she decided she would like the town named for her, she began figuring out a way to get it done.”   

According to Nathaniel Hughes in Liddell’s Record, late in the 19th century “Laura took her land and carefully laid out a town” and built a post office.   

   

HE ‘SEIZED THE REINS’   

   

During the mid-1880s, Laura’s son Francois, the baby of the family, and Cuthbert were living together in Washington, D.C. Cuthbert had been involved in the shooting of Liddell aboard a steamboat on Black River but two weeks later, after he, his father and brother were arrested for the murder, a mob surrounded the Sargent House in Harrisonburg, the home of the sheriff where the three Jones men were being held.   

Charles Jones and Willie were killed by the mob, but Cuthbert escaped to New Orleans and went to Europe with his mother and siblings.   

The two brothers had a close relationship. Cuthbert had been nominated for consul position in Peru, but when a Louisiana congressman opposed his nomination, President Grover Cleveland decided against appointing him.   

This led to two years of conflict between Cuthbert and the congressman.   

During the 1890s, the State Department appointed Francois first secretary of the American legation at Buenos Ayres, South America, where he served a few years. But while on a return trip to the U.S. he became the third Jones’ male to experience a violent death.   

A newspaper, The Times of Richmond, Virginia, printed a story on June 7, 1901, under this headline: “Waters Give Up Long Lost Dead: Body of Francis S. Jones, Drowned Last September, Washed Up by Rivanna River Flood.”   

The article noted that Jones drowned in a stream near Shadwell, Virginia, months earlier -- on September 15, 1900.   

“Mr. Jones had come to Charlottesville that afternoon from the Warm Springs and registered at the Gleason Hotel. At 7 o’clock in the evening he hired a buggy and a horse and started out to Edgehill, the home of Miss C.R. Randolph, to visit his friend, Dr. G.S. Wise, who is summering there.   

“The night was intensely dark and the heavy rain, which had been falling for some hours, had greatly swollen the mountain streams. Just east of Major Thomas Randolph’s old barn, on the roadside, runs a very small creek, which in ordinary weather is not over eighteen inches or two feet wide   

“It is a mountain stream, however, and after a heavy rain frequently rises to considerable depth and width. A few years since the brook had cut such a deep ditch across the road that it was found necessary to fill it up with rocks and allow the stream to flow across level with the road. Of course, that left a short drop of about three feet on the extreme right of the road, where the stream falls back into its original bed.   

“When Mr. Jones and the boy reached this stream they found it a raging torrent. The rain was pouring down and the darkness was intense.” The boy “became frightened and said, ‘It’s too deep. Let’s go back.’   

“Mr. Jones seized the reins, applied the whip to the horse, and drove it. It is supposed that the wheels went over the edge of the rock causeway mentioned above, and that the buggy immediately capsized.”   

The boy was saved when “he caught on the main pole that supports the water gate and finally reached the rail fence. The buggy, which was practically broken all to pieces, was found in the bed of the stream just through the water gate.   

“The drowned horse was lying very near it.”   

   

‘CARRIED DOWN THE CREEK’   

   

The article continued:   

“About 150 yards below the water-gate the creek joins a much larger stream, and after flowing perhaps a quarter of a mile empties into the Rivanna River. Some hundred yards below the junction of the two streams, Mr. Jones’ pocketbook was found. It contained $50 in notes, and lying near it were two one dollar notes. Further down, his handkerchief and umbrella were discovered on the banks of the stream   

“Mr. Jones was not heard of again until today, when his body was discovered some three miles down the Rivanna River in the lowlands where some of Mr. H. E. Magruder’s farm laborers were at work. Dogs had taken away some of the bones, and but little remains, nothing, in fact, beyond the skull and upper part of the body, and about the neck the fragments of a scarf, in which the scarf-pin remained.   

“The theory is that Jones’ body was carried down the creek half a mile or so and into the Rivanna River: that it sank in a hole in the bed of the stream and was covered with drift, thus baffling those who dragged the stream. The recent high rain, it is believed, uncovered what remained of the body and washed it into the field where it was found.”   

Francois Jones was in his late thirties and “a native of Louisiana. Educated abroad, he spoke several languages fluently and held a position as interpreter in the State Department before becoming the attaché of the American Legation in Buenos Ryes.   

“It seems that he has no near relatives living except one brother. Cuthbert Jones, who is at present in Peru, engaged in the exploitation of coal mines for an American syndicate.”   

Francois had served as a clerk in the State Department Washington from 1892-1897 prior to the appointment to Argentina.   

When news reached Cuthbert in Peru, it was a blow. The two had been especially close. Cuthbert’s final years were difficult yet successful, but his heart was broken with the loss of his beloved brother, the only family member he had left.   

He spent his final years in Peru absent loved ones. He was the only member of the Jones family still alive. None of the children of Charles and Laura Jones appeared to have had children of their own and with the death of Francois, Cuthbert was alone in the world. Images of Elmly, Black River, Trinity, old friends, family and tragedy kept life in Catahoula Parish alive in his head.   

   

WILLIE ‘VISITED US’   

   

The Jones-Liddell Feud seemed as if it would live forever and for years afterward it ended, interest in the case never seemed to go away.   

In mid-1970s in Catahoula Parish, during the renovation of the courthouse in Harrisonburg, Tax Assessor G.O. McGuffee, while moving office records, found a letter dated 1930 and addressed to the assessor serving at that time – W.L. Johnson.   

In Jonesville Through the Mirror of Time, the editors reported that Louise Kennedy of Ottawa, Canada, had written the letter seeking information “about her mother’s plantation, situated at the junction of the Black and Little Rivers” in Jonesville.”   

Mrs. Kennedy didn’t say who her mother was.   

“We left Troy Plantation {Jonesville] in 1863,” Mrs. Kennedy wrote in 1930, “and have heard nothing of the place since Col. Jones’ son {Willie} visited us in Nashville, Tenn., just before they were both killed in the old feud {in 1870} … There might be some members of the families left.”   

Who was Mrs. Kennedy and what was her maiden name? No one knows. No further correspondence from Mrs. Kennedy was discovered at the courthouse.   

(To Be Continued)  

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