New York Sun

NEWSPAPER ACROSS the country, including the New York Sun, reported on the Jones-Liddell feud. In 1854, the weekly newspaper in Harrisonburg – The Independent – covered the trial of Liddell for the 1852 shooting deaths of Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins. The testimony included that of James Hensly who said both Glenn and Wiggins offered him money to kill Liddell.  

(39th in a Series)  

During the summer of 1885, newspapers across the South reprinted an article that first appeared in the New York Sun.  

The widely read piece took a second look at an old Black River story concerning a feud between two Catahoula Parish planters – St. John Richardson Liddell of Llanada Plantation and Charles Jones of Elmly Plantation.  

Their plantations were four miles apart – Liddell’s just on the outskirts of present day Jonesville, and Jones’ four miles downriver from Llanada.  

For decades, the feud fascinated folks outside Louisiana.  

The article provided background:  

“The parish of Catahoula {which then included LaSalle Parish}, just north of Red River is what, in Louisiana parlance, would be termed ‘a piney woods,’ otherwise a poor parish. The greater portion is covered by long-leaf pine … Through Catahoula, however, runs the Black River, and along its banks were located, in antebellum days, and remain to this day, some of the finest cotton in the South.  

“The population of this alluvial district was composed, thirty years ago, of rich planters and their slaves. The most prominent among these planters were Major St. John Liddell and Mr. Charles Jones, who were, indeed, two of the largest and richest cotton producers in the State. They were both Southern men.”  

The story continued:  

“The different temperaments of the two men precluded their being very warm friends, but they were on neighborly terms, as became the two leading citizens of the parish. As from the days of Eden down, this peace was broken on account of a woman. There was visiting the family of Major Liddell a lady of the name of Nichols, a Natchez lady of excellent family and connections.”  

Eliza Nichols and her husband had moved from Natchez to a farm they bought below Elmly. Jones had publicly stated that Eliza was sleeping with a local plantation overseer, which was untrue.  

“Of this lady, Jones, at a masculine while somewhat too convivial gathering, spoke slightingly and disparagingly. Liddell, who was present, objected to the language used, and even told the lady's husband of it. It finally reached Mrs. Nichols' ear, and aroused her indignation. She insisted upon an apology. Her husband advised her to pay no attention to the idle talk of a man under the influence of liquor.  

“She said no more to him about the matter, but calling on Major Liddell, insisted that, he, as a gentleman and a Mississippian {by birth}, should accompany her to Jones' residence … Jones came out to meet them at the gate. Liddell stood a short distance off, out of hearing, while the other two conversed. It was a short, angry conversation.  

“Jones refused an apology, when the lady, without a word of warning, drew a revolver and fired. The bullet struck Jones in the cheek, and left a life scar there. He turned and fled, but a second bullet in the back brought him down with a serious and nearly fatal wound.  

“While he was in bed, hanging between life and death, he threatened dire vengeance against Liddell, whom he charged not only with having brought the woman there to shoot him, but with having personally fired the second shot. Major Liddell indignantly denied the charge; asserted that he had no weapon; that he had no idea that Mrs. Nichols intended any violence, he having come there only as her escort. His explanations were declined, and Jones declared war.  

“It was a vendetta ... Both men had their followers, their friends, relatives, and supporters, who took up their quarrel … Nearly everybody in the parish had to take sides with one faction parish or the other, and the peace of the parish seemed gone forever.”  

 

ONE CONFLICT AFTER ANOTHER  

 

After he was shot, Jones moved his family and slaves to Baton Rouge. A cholera epidemic followed as well as a great flood. Almost four years had passed when in early 1852, Jones returned to the parish with one goal in mind – kill Liddell.  

According to newspaper articles, family records, letters and correspondence, these events followed:  

-- When Jones returned to Catahoula Parish he brought with him Richard Pryor, a violent outlaw who trashed Liddell’s name and recruited gang members.  

-- A short time later, on election day in Catahoula Parish, Jones, Pryor and Jones’ nephew, Sam Smith, prepared to assassinate Liddell as he traveled along a road. But their plan was thwarted when the trio, all armed, was discovered standing in the woods along the roadside. Jones offered various explanations for his presence there, but most everyone believed he was there to assassinate Liddell.  

-- While Jones had previously threatened Liddell, the above event finally made Liddell realized that his life was truly in danger. Friends gathered to protect him and his family.  

-- During the days to follow Liddell on multiple occasions sought a peaceable settlement. When Jones refused, Liddell suggested a duel. Again, Jones refused.  

-- Jones’ friends were sick and tired of him menacing and threatening Liddell. One friend got Jones to promise that he would not harm Liddell. But his other friends didn’t believe him. They were done with Jones.  

-- With the loss of many of his old friends, Jones began to recruit others to join him and outlaw Richard Pryor in the quest to kill Liddell. Among Jones’ earliest recruits was Samuel Glenn, a farmer along Little River. Glenn’s father had been one of the earliest settlers in Catahoula Parish.  

-- In May 1852, Liddell disarmed an employee of Henry Huntington, another man recruited by Jones. Huntington’s employee had fired guns in front of Liddell’s house after Liddell had previously warned him not to. Huntington called Liddell a coward and a duel was planned, but because Huntington and his friends – Glenn and Pryor – wanted to hold the duel in Texas, Liddell feared that the actual plan was to assassinate him along the way. Liddell declined and told Huntington that he wanted to nothing to do with any of them. Huntington threatened to kill Liddell anyway.  

-- In June 1852, Jones, Pryor, Glenn, Huntington and others terrorized Trinity over the course of a day. Pryor attempted to hire an assassin to kill Liddell on Jones’ behalf. He offered $1,000 to the killer and $100 to the person who located the assassin. Glenn and Moses Wiggins separately tried to convince a local farmer to kill Liddell for even more money. While Jones and his followers were going about Trinity from bar to bar and business to business cursing and ranting about Liddell, a skiff was spotted coming up Little River. The men rushed to the shore with their weapons in hand, but the man in the skiff was not Liddell. To witnesses in town, it was obvious that Liddell would have been shot and killed if he had been the man in the skiff.  

 

THINGS MOVED QUICKLY  

 

From this point on, things moved quickly.  

-- The next day, Jones and his men, all armed, were spotted hiding in the woods on the back of Liddell’s property. Liddell’s plantation stretched from Black River to Little River. A witness reported that Jones was watching Liddell’s father and Liddell’s slaves work in the fields while they waited for Liddell to appear. Samuel Glenn indicated this was a perfect spot to get “the drop” on Liddell.  

-- During this period, a grand jury met in Harrisonburg to consider charges against Jones on a complaint that he drew a pistol on an unarmed friend of Liddell’s. No action was taken.  

-- As friends guarded Liddell’s house, Jones quit traveling the public road between the front of Liddell’s home and Black River. Instead, Jones was seen on the Trinity-Little River road located on the back of Liddell’s property, the same location where Jones had spied on Liddell’s fields.  

-- By now, all of Liddell’s friends feared for his life. Then on June 26, someone came to Liddell and reported that Richard Pryor and Samuel Glenn were in Trinity. A meeting had been held there by the Odd Fellows, a fraternal order of which both Liddell and Glenn were members. Glenn was chastised for his harsh words against Liddell, who did not attend the meeting.  

-- At 3 p.m., not long after the gathering at the Odd Fellows lodge, Liddell, warned that an attempt on his life might be made on him that day, waited at the back of his property along the Trinity-Little River Road. Soon he spotted two men in a buggy pulled by one horse. He recognized the buggy as that of Richard Pryor.  

While he recognized Glenn as one of the men in the buggy, he assumed the other man was Pryor. That man’s face was hidden by the top and side of the buggy, which unknown to Liddell had been sold by Pryor to Glenn the day before.  

As the buggy neared Liddell called for the two men to stop, but instead the horse was urged forward. Liddell opened fire. He killed both men.  

Later, Liddell was distraught when told that one of the men he killed was Moses Wiggins, not Richard Pryor.  

Although Liddell made it quickly known that he was the shooter and that he wanted a trial, a short time passed before formal charges were brought. In the meantime, Jones, angry that Liddell had not be arrested, sent a friend to New Orleans to purchase a cannon. When the steamboat arrived at Jones’ plantation, word had just arrived of Liddell’s arrest. Jones sent the cannon back to New Orleans.  

Almost immediately, Jones, just like he had done when Eliza Nichols shot him, left the parish. Liddell was found not guilty by a jury. Months later, Jones returned. Why Jones was not called to testify at the trial is unclear.  

Months later, lawyers drew up terms of peace between the two. Jones signed it. Liddell did not, but from that point until the end of the Civil War, things were quiet between the two families.  

 

‘THE GREATEST INSULT’  

 

The New York Sun reported:  

“Peace was declared between them, and it was resolved that no more blood should be spilt.  

“The rebellion soon followed, and in the greater struggle followed, the lesser was forgotten. Both Liddell and Jones entered the Confederate army … Liddell won great distinction, became a general, commanded the Confederate forces at the gallant defense of Spanish Fort in Mobile Bay, against the Federal fleet, even after Appomattox, and was one of the last Confederate generals to surrender. He returned to his plantation much impoverished by the war, and his circumstances grew worse instead of improving.  

“His quondam enemy, Jones, on the hand, prospered. Joining the Republican party upon its organization in Louisiana, he participated in the schemes which made so many numerous of the politicians of that day rich men.  

“The bitterness engendered by the excited political hatred of that time existed probably between the two men, but there was at least a nominal peace. At last however the old sore was reopened.  

“A woman had started the feud; a lawsuit revived it.”  

While Jones made a bundle from the State of Louisiana over a convict leasing deal approved by the Legislature, Liddell was drowning in a vat of debt. He was forced to file for bankruptcy. Then his beloved wife Mary died.  

“The Liddell family disintegrated,” wrote historian Nathaniel Hughes, who edited Liddell’s Civil War memoirs. “Friends stepped in and paid for the children’s school.”  

Most planters along Black River did their banking in New Orleans and the mortgage on the bulk of Llanada Plantation was held by Citizens Bank.  

Charles Jones, his pockets flush with cash thanks to the sweet deal with the state, made arrangements to buy Llanada. While he wanted the land as revenge against Liddell, he also had an unquenchable thrust for land and he did not like for people to tell him no. Land was the reason he insulted Eliza Nichols. After Mr. Nichols refused to sell their land to him, Jones figured that by slandering Mrs. Nichols the couple would be so shamed they would sell.  

Now Jones planned to purchase Llanada and send Liddell and his family packing.  

Wrote the New York Sun: “This was the greatest insult that could be offered to a Southern planter.”  

(To Be Continued)  

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