Seamboats

STEAMBOATS ONCE chugged up and down the beautiful Ouachita River in Catahoula Parish during the 19thcentury. In 1857, Judge James Gowan Taliaferro, the publisher of the weekly newspaper The Independent in Harrisonburg, wrote “there are now on the Ouachita plying regularly more boats and of a better class in every respect than ever at any one time before … They are all fast.” (Concordia Sentinel photo)  

(31st in a Series)  

During the final months of the Civil War in Mobile, Alabama, where Confederates were preparing for an attack from Union forces, General St. John Richardson Liddell carried on his war duties while constantly worrying about life back home in Louisiana.  

There, his wife Mary was running what was left of their Llanada Plantation along Black River in Catahoula Parish. Keeping the plantation afloat was almost as impossible as Liddell’s job to help defeat the Union army. Neither efforts would ultimately be successful.  

But for Liddell, there was one more worry to add to his list of concerns. What was Charles Jones, another Black River planter, up to?  

The two men had a long history of conflict. Since the late 1840s, they had been involved in a bloody feud that resulted in death in 1852 when Liddell shot two men – Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins -- both associates of Jones, who had plotted to kill Liddell.  

News of the shooting spread up and down the rivers via the steamboats but the newspapers covered the story, too. In Catahoula Parish, there was a newspaper in Harrisonburg and one in Trinity. Concordia Parish had a newspaper in Vidalia as did Natchez across the Mississippi River.  

In the summer of 1852, the Mississippi Free-Trader in Natchez reported on the feud, also known as the Black River War, in a story under this headline, “The Catahoula Homicide,” while the trial in the case was still two years away.  

This story was one of the most read during the era. It outlined Jones’ aggression toward Liddell and Liddell’s defense of himself.  

Residents of the region were spellbound by this story published in the Free-Trader on July 21, 1852. The story provided key information on the events leading up to the shooting of Glenn and Wiggins.  

To follow are excerpts.  

 

ASSASSINATON CONTEMPLATED  

 

In 1848, Charles Jones, residing on Black River, about four miles below Major Liddell, was seriously wounded by a lady whose character he had assailed.”  Liddell was at Jones’ “residence when this occurred, and was charged by Jones with firing one of the shots which took effect upon him. This was denied by Liddell, and by the only other person who could have known who fired.  

“After an absence of four years from his plantation, Jones, in April last {1852}, returned.  He found the neighborhood in peace, but in the language of a witness, his return was like casting a firebrand into the quiet community. He brought with him one Richard Pryor, sometimes called Col. Pryor, a noted black-leg, without means or character.  

“In a short time, on the day of an election at Trinity, at which Liddell was present, Jones, Pryor, and one Samuel Smith, a nephew of Jones, were known to have been standing behind trees in the woods, near the road side, at a place convenient for intercepting Liddell on his return. An accident disturbed them before Liddell made his appearance. The impression became general that assassination had been contemplated. Jones denied it, but made contradictory explanations of the very strong circumstances which bore against him. From that day forward it became apparent that Liddell's life was in danger.  

“Warned by his friends, and anxious to settle all difficulties, he, through those friends, on three different occasions, proposed to Jones a peaceable settlement, and if that were impossible, then an honorable combat. Jones declined both. His refusal to accept either impressed even his friends with the belief that he intended to take some dishonorable advantage of Liddell; one of them, indeed, exacted from him a pledge that he would not; others refused him any further countenance in the matter. He was enabled however, in a short time to enlist in his behalf several dangerous men in the neighborhood, (among them Samuel Glenn), all of whom became identified with him in his hostility to Liddell.  The latter by the State's evidence proven to be a gentleman, peaceable and retiring in his habits, devoted to his family and the management of his plantation, found it necessary to remain constantly at home, with three or four friends, who visited him for the purpose of protecting him against the superior force of his enemies.”  

 

‘LIDDELL HAD BETTER LEAVE’  

 

“About the first of June {1852}, Jones, with his friends, Pryor, Smith, Glenn, Henry and Samuel Huntington, and Doctor. Emerson, made his appearance on the streets of Trinity. Most of the party were armed with double barreled shot guns and all with side arms, and Pryor, after threatening in a loud tone of voice, (to use his own language), ‘to blow the top off the head of any fighting friend of Liddell's who would show himself,’ proposed in the same public  manner, to bet one thousand dollars, and to give a premium of one hundred dollars to anyone who would take the bet, that Liddell would not be alive twelve months, or if he should be, it would be because he fled the country, and he would be a fool if he did not flee; and that if Liddell knew as much as he, Pryor, did, he would leave at once. At this time, a skiff coming from the direction of Liddell's house, was approached and watched by three of the party until they ascertained that Liddell was not in it.  

“On the same or the next day, the same party, excepting Glenn armed as before, were seen in the woods near the rear of Liddell's field apparently watching the negroes and the father of Liddell who was with them. Two of the party, who were witnesses for the State {in a preliminary hearing}, testified that they went by the field piloting Jones through the woods in order to avoid the sun, and that they approached the field unawares. About this period of time Glenn … remarked of Liddell, ‘we have got the drop upon him now, and some one of the party will be bound to take him before long,’ and that ‘if Charles Jones or Huntington was killed, Liddell had better leave the country.’  

“He {Glenn} had remarked previous to Jones' return, that ‘Charley Jones was coming back to Black River, and might do as he pleased about making up the difficulty with Liddell, but he (Glenn) would be d—d if he would make it up.’  

“Glenn's determined hostility to Liddell was fully proven as well as his character of executor of Jones' schemes. Court met in Harrisonburg on the second Monday in June, yet the Grand Jury did nothing effectual in regard to the hostile and unlawful conduct of Jones and his friends.  It is true that Jones was indicted for drawing a pistol on an unarmed friend of Liddell in Trinity, yet he has not been arrested.  

“During the term of court Glenn proposed to a witness to join the Jones party, and remarked that they could then go down and take Liddell and his friends. That it would be necessary to go to Liddell's house as he would not leave it, and had forted it.  

 

THE SHOOTING  

 

“Jones with his friends, armed with guns, were seen several times passing by a road back of Liddell's plantation, and they had ceased to use the direct public road along Black River. The death of Liddell was now anticipated by all.  

“On the 26th of June he {Liddell} was informed that Pryor and Glenn were in Trinity. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon, Liddell, who was in his field, discovered the buggy supposed to contain them approaching; stepped from the field to the road-side, and called to them to stop.  No answer was returned, but the horse was urged forward. Glenn was distinctly seen; the other person in the buggy was hid by the top and side. As they neared him Liddell fired. How many shots were fired is not known.  

“Pryor was not known by Liddell. Wiggins, who was mistaken for Pryor, fell from the carriage some 300 yards from the place of firing. The body of Glenn remained in the buggy until the horse stopped at about one and a half mile from the place of firing.  

“The State introduced in proof a statement of Liddell's made to a friend, in which he acknowledged the killing, and further stated that Glenn was one of the leaders in the plots against him, and that having received erroneous information he mistook Wiggins for Pryor; that he had been daily expecting to be assassinated at his own door -- had offered peace and it was declined -– an honorable combat and it was denied him. That he had then appealed to the laws to protect him, and they were ineffectual; and he had been compelled to take the course he had in defense of his life. That it would be hard, indeed, if the law which had not protected him should now claim to punish.  

“When informed that Wiggins, not Pryor, was killed, he expressed the deepest regret; and at another time said with much emotion, that he would give his right arm to restore him to life. There was no proof that Wiggins was shot after he fell, indeed circumstances as well as direct evidence clearly contradicted it. A Bowie knife was found on Glenn's person, and three loaded pistols in an otherwise empty, and unlocked carpet bag at his feet. The buggy had been purchased from Pryor, and Glenn was proven to have been at all times well-armed.”  

 

‘TEARS OF THE WIDOW & ORPHAN’  

 

Three days later on June 29, “the sheriff called upon Maj. Liddell with a warrant, and he surrendered himself at once. The sheriff, although Liddell proposed to attend him to any place of trial the magistrate might designate, declined removing him, for fear of assassination, and left him on parole, proposing to get the magistrate to attend at Liddell's house. Objections to this were suggested by Liddell's attorney. No terms were dictated to the sheriff, and no resistance was offered or thought of.  

“The sheriff failed to return on the day appointed. In the meantime Maj. Liddell had written to the district Judge asking for a trial. A day was fixed {for a hearing}, and guarded by his friends who were present to protect him, he met the sheriff and his posse at Trinity, and was by him conveyed to Harrisonburg. There he came and went without the let or hindrance of the officers, who confided in his honor.”  

The paper reported that “armed men summoned by the sheriff, guarded the courthouse – examined all who entered, lest arms should be introduced. This was thought by the sheriff to be necessary, as threats had been made against counsel, and Jones had declared his intention to shoot the prisoner, even in the face of the court. Bail was refused, and upon the application of the sheriff the prisoner was ordered to Concordia Parish for confinement. Bringing with him the order for his imprisonment, unattended by an officer, he delivered himself to the sheriff of Concordia, and in the jail of that Parish awaits his trial.  

“The above facts are susceptible of proof and are gathered from the evidence, letters of the parties and eyewitnesses of the occurrences related. Jones, to whose malignity these sad events are now ascribed, has once more left Black River; but gloom has overspread that region of country.  The worst of bad passions have been aroused, and the tears of the widow and orphan, and the agony of the prisoner's afflicted family mark the track he has left behind him.”  

(To Be Continued)  

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