The Sargent House

THE SARGENT HOUSE in Harrisonburg was built in the 19th century although it is not clear if this structure was the scene of the mob attack on Charles Jones and his sons in 1870. According to one account, the house was built circa 1880, but it may have been built earlier. Mrs. Sargent, who was present during the mob attack, died just a few months afterward while her husband, Joseph Sargent, had died a few years earlier. The location of this house lines up with accounts provided by 19th century witnesses of the mob attack. (Concordia Sentinel photo)   

 

(45th in a Series)  

On March 14, 1870, a reporter for the New Orleans Picayune went to an undisclosed area of the city to interview Cuthbert Jones, the son of Col. Charles Jones of Catahoula Parish.  

Cuthbert’s story of miraculously surviving a mob attack mesmerized readers.  

Col. Jones and sons Cuthbert and William had previously killed their father’s arch enemy, General St. John Richardson Liddell, onboard the steamboat St. Mary on the Black River a month earlier. Jones and Liddell had been feuding for 23 years. Jones was the aggressor.  

Liddell on multiple occasions tried to end the hostilities. His death was the fourth in the feud.  

Jones and his boys turned themselves in to 26-year-old Catahoula Parish Sheriff Oliver Ballard at the parish seat of Harrisonburg on the Ouachita River.  

Vigilantes made up of the Liddell family and planters from Catahoula, Concordia and Tensas parishes vowed to avenge Liddell’s death.  

In the meantime, court proceedings were scheduled for the three Jones men in the killing of Liddell.  

On the night of Feb. 27, 1870 – thirteen days after Liddell had been shot multiple times by the Jones’ -- the mob arrived at the Sargent House, the home of Ballard’s mother-in-law, the widow Mrs. Jeanette “Jane” Sargent. The sheriff and Mrs. Sargent’s daughter, Margaret, had married a month earlier. The newlyweds resided in the Sargent home, where Mrs. Sargent took in guests at the two-story house located near the Ouachita River.  

In the house that night were the Sheriff and wife Margaret Sargent Ballard, Mrs. Sargent, two unidentified young ladies, two sons of Mrs. Sargent, the mail rider from Winnsboro, the Jones’ men (Charles, Cuthbert, William) and their friend, Elijah B. Cotton – 12 people in all.  

Word of bloodshed at Harrisonburg had spread up and down the rivers and was disclosed in the newspapers. But Cuthbert had vanished and was being hunted by vigilantes when the newspaper learned that he just arrived in New Orleans at a secret location and in fear for his life.  

The News Orleans Picayune described Cuthbert as age 19, medium stature, “delicate, almost effeminate appearance. He gave evidence of refinement and culture, and was, we learned, educated at Heidelberg, Germany.”  

Two years earlier, Cuthbert had been issued a passport for the trip to Germany. The document noted that he had been born Dec. 23, 1850, in Baton Rouge, at a time when Charles Jones had moved his family from Catahoula due to an overflow and an outbreak of cholera.  

Cuthbert was described this way on his passport: prominent nose, medium mouth, round chin, brown hair, long face, florid complexion.  

According to the reporter: “In looking upon his slight figure we could scarcely realize that he was the youth who had passed through such dangers and hardships as might well have unnerved a powerful man.”  

“Mr. Jones is at present in the house of a friend, who has taken steps to see that he is protected from the assaults of his enemies, and who will only resign him to the officers of the law, when he is sure that the officers of the law can protect him … ”  

 

‘BANGING AT THE FRONT DOOR’  

 

Cuthbert told the reporter that he, his brother and father had contemplated leaving the Sargent House multiple times until a son of Liddell’s shot Charles Jones. Moses “Judge” Liddell, aboard a steamboat passing Harrisonburg, fired both rounds from a double barrel shotgun as Jones walked in the yard behind the Sargent house. The wounds were not life-threatening but severe.  

“Well, sir, we were warned to do so {escape},” Cuthbert said, “and I wanted at first to leave, and so did my brother; but after my father was shot he could not travel, and of course we would not leave him.”  

“We had been warned a few days before, but we thought at the moment that the people were unnecessarily alarmed.  

“We noticed some young men riding past in the daytime with shotguns, but thought nothing of it.  

“We did not think an attack would be made on the house in force. We had fears that someone would attempt to shoot through the window and for this reason my brother and I moved our father’s bed from the bedstead down upon the floor, so that he would be out of the range of bullets … We had some four or five revolvers in the party.”  

Cuthbert continued:  

“The party came about 2 o’clock on a Sunday night. There was a large crowd, I suppose from twenty-five to thirty of them. The first I knew of it, there was some banging at the front door, and I think some guns went off. We were all in bed at the time. I jumped up and dressed myself, and we all went into the next room, my father, my brother and myself.”  

 

‘WE WERE RUINED MEN’  

 

At a hearing in court in Harrisonburg heard by Judge Drury M. Pritchard, who had previously served as sheriff, four members of the Sargent household – Sheriff Ballard, wife Margaret, Mrs. Sargent and her son, William Sargent -- testified about what they saw and heard during the attack.  

Witnesses said the household was awakened by a pounding on the front door and men yelling that they wanted Jones.  

There was no light inside the house. Some members of the mob carried torches, but the lighting remained poor and faces were hard to recognize.  

The men also called out for the sheriff. Mrs. Sargent answered the door, whereupon they demanded Jones and then the sheriff.  

Ballard heard the knocking, too, and heard his name called.  

“I went out,” he said. “They asked if the Jones’ were the house. I told them that they were. One of the party said to me to fetch the Jones’ out. I told them I could not.”  

Then the mob threatened to burn the house. Ballard told them there were women in the house.  

“They said get our family and all in the house out and leave the house,” Ballard testified. “The men in the mob shouted that they had come for Jones’ and were “going to have them.”  

William Sargent described a chaotic scene as the door was kicked in. There “was shouting through the house.”  

Margaret Ballard testified that as they began to file out of the house Charles Jones “went out with us. He was shot as we left the house … I was 10 to 15 feet from Col. Jones when he was shot. I saw him fall.”  

Mrs. Sargent said she was about five to six feet from Jones when he was shot and that she saw the man who shot him. That unidentified man asked her “who he had shot,” and she told him, and then she had a short conversation with the man.  

 

THE MOB ‘RUSHED IN’  

 

In New Orleans, Cuthbert Jones in his interview with the newspaper, said:  

“The Sheriff, Mr. Ballard, the son-in-law of Mrs. Sargent, in whose house we were, came in, and was much alarmed, almost crying. He advised my father to give himself up, and it would be no use to resist. We were ruined men, he said.  

“The attacking party called, and said that the ladies must come out, and if they did not come the house would be set on fire.  

“After everyone else had left the house except Elijah B. Cotton, who was concealed beneath the stairway, I said to my father I thought we could do better upstairs by shooting from the upper windows, but he replied, no, they will set the house on fire, and we will be safe down here.  

“The party outside, soon after, commenced to split up wood as if preparing to set the house on fire, and when my father heard them doing this he rushed out of the front door, and I think he had reached the front gate when he was shot down.”  

Cuthbert said the “last I saw of my father he was standing near the front door with his pistol pointed toward the door. He was so standing when I went upstairs.”  

As soon as those in the household walked outside with Jones attempting to blend in with the group, Cuthbert said his brother William, whose nickname was Willie, “jumped out of the back window into the back yard, and was there shot down. A little while afterwards I heard him shrieking and calling for water several times.  

“About this time Elijah B. Cotton, who had been under the steps all this time, thinking it was the safest place, was discovered, or disclosed himself, and he went out and told them that he was a Cotton, and not a Jones.”  

A man in the party yelled out, “Cotton, come out. I will protect you!”  

Cotton, Cuthbert said, “went out to them, and as they crowded around him I saw them. I was looking at them through the window upstairs, where I had previously gone.”  

A man outside yelled, “Come around here and tell us who this is who is shot.”  

Cotton told them it was William Jones and then “they shot my brother again,” Cuthbert told the newspaper.  

Sheriff Ballard said in court that when he returned to the Sargent House that he found the bodies of Charles Jones and William Jones.  

“Col. Jones seemed to have been shot with a shotgun and Williams Jones seemed to have been shot with a shotgun in the body and a pistol or rifle in the head,” he said.  

 

‘BLINDED BY THE GLARE’  

 

After Cotton identified William Jones for the mob, according to Cuthbert, “they sent Mr. Cotton into the house” to search for Cuthbert. “Mr. Cotton reported to them that he could find no one in the house.”  

The mob warned, “If any of us are hurt, you will have to pay for it.”  

Cotton answered, “There is no one there.”  

Cuthbert continued: “Then the crowd rushed in except those who were left outside as a guard.  

“After searching thoroughly downstairs with torches, and not finding me, they started up the steps, but told Mr. Cotton to go up ahead so that if I shot he would receive the load.  

“I had all this time stood there waiting, having already resolved what to do if they came upstairs. I did not stir until Mr. Cotton’s head appeared above the floor. I was under the impression for the moment that he had discovered me for he threw his head around and looked into my face, but I suppose he must have been blinded by the glare of the torches.”  

(To Be Continued)  

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