Harrisonburg Courthouse

HARRISONBURG ON the Ouachita River in Catahoula Parish was in 1854 a bustling town of 250 with multiple businesses. The town also served as a destination for the steamboat trade. In spring of 1854, the courtroom in the courthouse was filled with spectators for the trial of St. John Richardson Liddell in the murder of Moses Wiggins, one of two men Liddell had shot and killed two years earlier. Liddell was to be tried later in the murder of Samuel Glenn. The new courthouse at left (above), rests at the foot of Fort Beauregard (better known as Fort Hill), which was manned by Confederates during the Civil War. The courthouse in 1854 was in the approximate location as above. (Concordia Sentinel photo)  

(14th in a Series)  

During the late spring of 1854, the town of Harrisonburg on the Ouachita River, located 10 miles upriver from Trinity, was the scene of great excitement as citizens from throughout Catahoula Parish and elsewhere arrived at the seat of government.  

There, Major St. John Richardson Liddell, the owner of Llanada Plantation across Little River from Trinity and situated just below the present day city limits of Jonesville, was on trial for murder. He was accused of assassinating 35-year-old Samuel Glenn and 43-year-old Moses Wiggins as they rode in a carriage along the public road beside Little River two years earlier.  

Liddell immediately confided to a close friend that he was the shooter, but he insisted he acted in self-defense, claiming that Glenn and Wiggins were part of a conspiracy to kill him. He said the plot was engineered by his enemy, Black River planter Charles Jones.  

The troubles between Jones and Liddell had begun when Eliza Nichols shot Jones in the face and back in the late 1840s. Jones blamed Liddell although Liddell had no clue Eliza was going to shoot Jones.  

Eliza had asked Liddell to be with her when she confronted Jones over slanderous and vulgar remarks Jones had reportedly made against Eliza. He refused to apologize and when he began to unbutton his coat, Eliza, perhaps thinking Jones was reaching for a gun, fired twice.  

After recovering, Jones all but declared war on Liddell and during the spring of 1852, the public was stunned when news spread along the rivers that Liddell had gunned down Glenn and Wiggins, two of Jones’ followers.  

The newspaper in Harrisonburg – The Independent – pointed to the origin of the troubles between the two men: “Liddell, it would seem, from the time he denounced as false, slanders existing against an injured woman, has been singled out as the victim against whom the machinations of an organized band of conspirators have been levelled.”  

Over a period of 23 years, more than a dozen men reportedly would die of gunshot wounds. The feud between Jones and Liddell would become known as the Black River War because the men’s residences were four miles apart along the Black.  

As was discovered during the trial in 1854, two years after the shooting of Glenn and Wiggins, the Jones faction believed that Liddell was going to resist arrest and avoid prosecution. They planned to take matters into their own hands by catching him themselves and obtaining a cannon to blow up Liddell’s home with him inside if he refused to surrender.  

 

HEALTHIEST TOWN ON THE OUACHITA  

 

The Independent reported that Harrisonburg, the site of the trial, had a population of 250 and that Catahoula Parish land was as fertile “as the sun ever shown upon, lying idle and unimproved, which can be had on reasonable terms – these lands are situated on Sicily Island, Bayou Tensas, Black and Little rivers.  

“Harrisonburg is situated at the head of permanent steamboat navigation – this being the highest point that boats ascend during four or five, and some seasons, six months in the year.  

“There are four Dry Goods stores, two Groceries, three fine, large and commodious hotels, and also a good Drugstore; there will soon be an office of the Electric Telegraph opened here, thereby placing us within a few minutes communication with Natchez and Alexandria.”  

Harrisonburg “is undoubtably the most healthy town on the Ouachita.”  

The Masons were about to open an office there.  

But the town needed a good sawmill to enhance growth and prosperity. Prices paid for lumber were “exorbitant.” Also needed, the paper said, was a plank road leading to Natchez.  

 

LIDDELL INDICTED IN 1853  

 

After the shooting of Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins, according to The Independent editor and publisher William A. Bryan, Liddell “immediately signified to the Sheriff his intention to submit to authorities. Accordingly, on the day fixed for the purpose, he came to Harrisonburg, in company with that officer, and the affair underwent a preliminary investigation before Judge Barry, the presiding Judge of the district, and Col. Simeon Thomas, the Magistrate of the ward in which the offense was committed.  

“The investigating court {grand jury} deemed it to be its duty to commit Maj. Liddell for trial, and in the absence of a suitable and wholesome jail at this place, he was sent to the Parish of Concordia, there to await the action of the District Court, which was to assemble here in the following December.”  

A legal notice under Police Jury expenditures revealed that the Catahoula Parish Jury appropriated $37 to Concordia Parish Sheriff W.R.C. Vernon for boarding Liddell during his jail time.  

In December {1852} in Catahoula, “the Court met, and the Grand Jury, after a careful investigation of the case, ignored the bills presented against Maj. Liddell, and he was, therefore, immediately set at liberty.”  

The paper reported that the district court “did not hold a session in this Parish again until September 1853. At that time, the Grand Jury found true bills of Indictment against Major Liddell for the killing of Glenn and Wiggins, and at the April term of the Court {1854}, he came forward voluntarily, and delivered himself up for trial.”  

 

PROSECUTION AND DEFENSE  

 

In Catahoula at that time, after rapid growth during the 1840s, many of the witnesses and officials at the trial and participants in the feud had come from elsewhere.  

The sheriff at the time of the murder was Drury Pritchard, born in Illinois in 1815 and later settling at Funny Louis in western Catahoula Parish (now part of LaSalle Parish).  

Pritchard was popular. He served 10 non-consecutive years and after the Civil War was elected parish judge.  

Presiding over the case was Edward Barry, a native of Virginia, who served from 1847 to 1857 as the elected judge in the 11th Judicial District, comprising Catahoula, Caldwell and Franklin parishes. Barry resided in Caldwell Parish.  

The district attorney was W.H. Hough, who also lived in Caldwell. During those days when DA’s offices were not staffed with lawyers, district attorneys were allowed to hire attorneys to assist him in trials.  

One of the three men Hough hired was Thomas Crawford, a future judge, who would question Dr. Hiram E. Emerson, a friend to members of the Jones faction. Emerson was one of the doctors who examined the bodies of Glenn and Wiggins after the shooting.  

Liddell hired three powerhouse attorneys to represent him. One was 31-year-old Natchez lawyer William T. Martin, who would later serve as district attorney in Adams County. Although he opposed secession, Martin would serve the Confederacy throughout the Civil War. After the hostilities ended, he was elected to the Mississippi state senate and also oversaw construction of the Natchez, Jackson and Columbus Railroad as well as holding the position of company president.  

 

CANNON SHIPPED ON STEAMBOAT  

 

Concerning the topic of the cannon, defense attorney William Martin of Natchez asked: “Dr. Emerson, I have in my hand a letter from a Commission merchant in New Orleans, in relation to a cannon that was brought up Black River for the purpose of blowing Maj. Liddell’s house down. Will you please state to the Jury whether any such cannon was brought up, and what connection you with bringing it?”  

Emerson answered: “Before I answer that question it is necessary that I should go into an explanation of some circumstances.”  

But Thomas Crawford, one of the prosecutors, said, “It is not necessary to do that.”  

Then, this followed:  

DR. EMERSON: I wish to do it in justification of myself, Mr. Crawford. After Glenn and Wiggins were killed, it was understood that Maj. Liddell would not deliver himself up to the Sheriff; that he had a body of armed men about him and intended to resist the officers of the law. Under these circumstances, it was thought best to send down to New Orleans and get the cannon, and I went down for it.  

MR. CRAWFORD: Did the Sheriff send you for that cannon?  

DR. EMERSON: No sir.  

MR. CRAWFORD: Did any of the deputies of the Sheriff send you for it?  

DR. EMERSON: No sir, I did not see them. I had nothing to do with them.  

MR. CRAWFORD: Did the Sheriff ever tell you that Maj. Liddell had resisted him?  

DR. EMERSON: No sir.  

MR. CRAWFORD: Did anybody else ever tell you so?  

DR. EMERSON: No sir, that was the rumor, that he intended to resist the Sheriff.  

MR. CRAWFORD: Did Maj. Liddell resist the Sheriff?  

DR. EMERSON: I don’t know.  

MR. CRAWFORD: Don’t you know that he never did resist him, and never intended to resist him?  

DR. EMERSON: Of course, I don’t, for I wasn’t there.  

MR. CRAWFORD: You say you brought the cannon up with you?  

DR. EMERSON: I believe it came up on the same boat with me; I never saw it.  

MR. CRAWFORD: Was any ammunition brought along with the cannon, balls, powder etc.?  

DR. EMERSON: I believe so.  

MR. CRAWFORD: Was the cannon landed?  

DR. EMERSON: No, I received a message at Mr. Jones’ stating that it was not necessary as Maj. Liddell would give himself up to the officers.  

MR. CRAWFORD: Did you have control of the cannon?  

DR. EMERSON: No, I did not see it.  

MR. CRAWFORD: Did you not have the control of the landing of it?  

DR. EMERSON: No.  

MR. CRAWFORD: How happened it, then, that it was not landed?  

DR. EMERSON: I had control of the 'not' landing of it.  

 

TRAGIC ENDS  

 

This testimony clearly revealed the intensity of the feud.  

It’s also interesting to note the tragic deaths, somewhat common during the era, suffered by Dr. Emerson, the witness, and Mr. Crawford, one of the prosecuting attorneys who questioned him.  

The Independent in March 1859 announced that the doctor had died in “one of those fatal accidents that so unfortunately arise so frequently from the use of steam power.  

The doctor has recently built a new gin and mill to be operated by steam. One day last week he happened to be near the engine which was about being set in motion to grind when the boiler burst killing him instantly, and also a negro man near him.  Dr. Emerson has previous to his removal to Concordia (Parish) some months since, been a resident of this {Catahoula} Parish near 20 years.  He held a high rank in his profession and was much esteemed for his urbanity and attractive social qualities.”  

In 1873, the Ouachita Telegraph reported that Thomas Crawford, then a judge, and 11th District DA Arthur H. Harris had been murdered on the road from Columbia to Winnsboro on September 8.  

The paper reported:  

Judge Crawford had several personal enemies, and was indifferent as to his fate … It seems that both Crawford and Harris had fallen under the threats of a man named Winn living in Caldwell, who was charged with murder, and that this man Winn was a fugitive and a desperado.  He is not distinctly charged with the crime of assassinating Crawford and Harris, but from his manner of living, his well-known disregard of human life, his threats, &c.,” there existed “a strong suspicion that he with his friends, were the assassins.  Such at least, seems to be the prevailing opinion among the friends and neighbors of both the murdered men.”  

But in Harrisonburg in 1854, a change in opinion was occurring throughout the parish. The Jones faction had spread so many rumors and lies about Liddell that his reputation had been tarnished.  

Yet public sentiment would change as the testimony of the witnesses spread through the hills and swamps and up and down the rivers via the steamboats.  

(Next Week: Prosecution and Defense)  

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