(13th in a Series)
Just a short time before Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins were shot up and killed on the public road along Little River in present day Jonesville in 1852, the man who would kill them was challenged to a duel.
Major St. John Richardson Liddell would admit he killed Glenn and Wiggins but that he did so in self-defense. He said the two men were part of a gang out to get him. The group was led by Charles Jones, a planter on Black River a few miles south of Liddell’s plantation.
This whole mess had begun in 1847 and as a result Jones had grown to despise Liddell. That year, Eliza Nichols shot Jones in the face and back. She claimed Jones had insulted her, apparently in a vulgar way. Liddell had agreed to go with her when she met with Jones to confront him over his insult, but Liddell was as shocked as Jones when Eliza opened fire.
Instead of blaming Eliza, however, Jones blamed Liddell and thus in 1847 sparks flew. During the spring of 1852 when Jones and his wife Laura returned to Catahoula after an absence of many months, those sparks flamed into a prairie fire that would destroy many lives and devastate many families.
It would be known as the Jones-Liddell Feud and also as the Black River War. Stories of the bloodshed spread far and wide. This 23-year feud (1847-1870) would claim more than a dozen lives and result in a handful of arrests but no convictions. Only one man – Liddell – was tried.
This war had been long underway when the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud broke out during the Civil War. The Hatfields of West Virginia and the McCoys of Kentucky battled along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River. This feud would last almost 30 years, claim more than a dozen lives and result in the imprisonment of more than a half dozen Hatfields and the execution of one.
Throughout the spring and early summer of 1852 in Catahoula Parish, Charles Jones and his men, including an outlaw named Richard Pryor, roamed the banks of the Black and Little rivers and the streets of Trinity, threatening and intimidating the populace while putting a bounty on the head of Liddell.
One day in Trinity, members of the Jones gang went from store to store hunting for Liddell and his friends. When a skiff came up Little River, the gang thought Liddell was onboard and intended to kill him until realizing it wasn’t Liddell.
Several times Jones, Pryor and others attempted to ambush Liddell but on each occasion Liddell escaped unharmed.
Soon, one of Jones’ men challenged Liddell to a duel. The challenge came from the son of one of Catahoula’s most prominent early settlers – William Henry Huntington.
COL. WILLIAM HENRY HUNTINGTON
Born in Connecticut in 1789, Huntington graduated from Yale and was admitted to the bar in Hartford, Connecticut. But he lived during an era when every boy wanted to grow up to be a soldier. He soon decided to join the army, a life that suited him for a while and brought him to Natchez. There, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and would live in the South the rest of his life.
While in Natchez, Col. Huntington married Helen Dunbar, the daughter of William Dunbar, the Natchez planter, inventor, surveyor and slaveholder who explored the Ouachita River for the U.S. following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Dunbar had predicted that the fertile land along the Black River would one day be cleared for farming where slaves would tend the land.
But little did Dunbar know that more than three decades later his daughter and son-in-law would live in Trinity and farm in present day Jonesville and vicinity, along the Black and Little rivers.
In 1840, the year of the devastating Natchez tornado, the colonel and Helen followed the western migration, bought land in Catahoula Parish and established themselves in Trinity. By this time, the household was full, although many of their 10 children were already on their own.
THE PREEMPTION ACT
Other families were arriving to settle along the Black and other interior rivers as well, due in part to better levees on the Mississippi River and due to passage of a new law by Congress.
The Preemption Act of 1841 allowed those living on federal government-owned surveyed lands the first chance to purchase property. They were known as “squatters.”
A settler was given the opportunity to purchase up to 160 acres at $1.25 per acre before the land was opened for public sale. To qualify, a squatter had to be the head of the household, a 21-year-old male or a widow, and had to have lived on the land being claimed for at least 14 months. Part of the land also had to have been improved.
Additionally, the applicant had to be a U.S. citizen or an immigrant planning to be naturalized.
Proceeds from the sale of the lands would go to the federal government with 10 percent of the amount going to state government. The 1841 act provided that the monies from land sales be used for the public good to build roads, bridges, canals, railways, draining swamps or improving canals and waterways.
In 1852, the year Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins were killed, an article the New Orleans Courier featured Col. Huntington’s Troy Plantation that bordered the Black and Little rivers in present day Jonesville. This land eventually became the property of Charles and Laura Jones.
Thirty-six slaves worked the land on which Huntington harvested 350 bales of cotton and 6,000 bushels of corn. The housing, food and clothing provided to the enslaved on his property was said to be exemplary compared to other plantation owners.
“The plantation is in apple-pie order,” wrote the newspaper. “There are shelters for the stock, good fences, good fruit, plenty of vegetables, an abundant dairy, a table spread with delicacies, dispensed with beautiful and graceful hospitality, and flowers and shrubbery throwing their fragrance over all.”
Black River planter Dr. Andrew Robert Kilpatrick wrote in DeBow’s Review in 1852 that Col. Huntington "was spending his declining days" in Catahoula Parish "in quiet on his farm, relieving the monotony by devoting much of his time to philosophical observations and also mechanical work." The colonel was, said Kilpatrick, "a very nice artificer in silver, steel, iron, etc. He now keeps accurate thermometrical registers, together with barometrical and rain gauges."
Col. Huntington also had a keen interest in state and national politics. He wrote 28 letters to Judge James Gowan Taliaferro of Catahoula, the lawyer and newspaper publisher who would become a Louisiana Supreme Court justice. The topics in the letters concerned the Whig Party, elections, candidates, the state constitution, dueling, the shipment of freight and presidential elections.
And then in the fall of 1854, just a short time after the murder trial of St. John Richardson Liddell, the colonel died.
Somehow, and history does not leave a clear reason, two of Col. Huntington’s sons, 41-year-old Henry and 20-year-old Sam, had become involved in the Black River War. They sided with Jones.
A TEXAS DUEL?
A short time before the shooting in 1852, Trinity merchant and future sheriff Felix Robb visited with Col. Huntington’s son, Henry, at Trinity. Henry told Robb he had challenged Liddell to a duel.
Historian Nathaniel C. Hughes says in his book (Liddell’s Record) that one of Col. Huntington’s employees, a “friend of Jones, alarmed Liddell by discharging his pistol in front of Llanada. Liddell disarmed him.”
Afterward, Henry called Liddell a coward and challenged him to a duel in Texas. Robb, a friend of Liddell’s, testified that the reason the duel between the two didn’t come off was because Liddell believed he was going to be assassinated in route to Texas. After weeks of threats of assassination in Catahoula Parish, Liddell feared the proposed duel was a set up.
Samuel Glenn and Richard Pryor were to be Henry Huntington’s seconds. Pryor had spent days informing just about everyone he saw in Catahoula that Liddell had threatened his (Pryor’s) life, which was a lie. Pryor also told many residents that he intended to kill Liddell.
Hours after Liddell shot Glenn and Wiggins, he told Felix Robb that he had believed Pryor, not Moses Wiggins, was in the carriage with Glenn when Liddell had opened fire. Pryor had once owned the carriage.
But Liddell was not willing to go to Texas unless Glenn would guarantee that if Liddell survived the duel that he (Liddell) would not be harmed on the trip home. Glenn, however, negotiating the terms of the duel with Col. Stanton, refused to provide that assurance.
Col. Stanton was to be Liddell’s second.
Henry Huntington told Robb that since Liddell had “backed out” of the duel, that he (Henry) would “have to take” Liddell wherever he “could find him.”
(Next Week: Liddell surrenders to the sheriff.)