Stanley Nelson

CATAHOULA PARISH in the 19th century was one of the largest parishes in the state in terms of size. In 1910, LaSalle Parish was created from the western section of Catahoula. The boundary line separating the two parishes begins at Rosefield and extends southward to Catahoula Lake. But prior to that, Catahoula Parish stretched from Peck in the northeast corner westward to Olla and Tullos, and southward to Catahoula Lake and Larto. 

 

(12th in a Series) 

During the mid-19th century, Catahoula Parish was so big geographically, wrote Black River planter Dr. A.R. Kilpatrick, that the “sheriff and other officers are necessitated to ride about 70 miles west from Harrisonburg {the parish seat} in the discharge of their duties, while those citizens in the west are also subjected to great inconvenience in attending the District Court.” 

That’s why Sheriff Drury M. Pritchard spent most of his time on horseback, tending to one problem after another in a big land of hills, rivers, swamps, creeks, lakes and bayous. 

In 1852, Pritchard had a case that stunned the parish. But when Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins were gunned down along the public road beside Little River in present day Jonesville, the sheriff didn’t have to look far to find the shooter. 

Major St. John Richard Liddell took sole responsibility for shooting the men although one witness saw what appeared to be two assassins along the roadside. Because the heads of Glenn and Wiggins were so disfigured by the gunshots, it seems possible, even likely, that more than one shooter was involved. 

The only survivor was the old horse pulling the bullet-riddled carriage the two men were riding in. But even the nag had been shot in the nose. When Liddell was committed to the grave 18 years later, the identity of the second shooter was buried with him. 

Liddell claimed immediately he shot the two men in self-defense because they were among a group of men who had long plotted and planned to kill him. What happened at the scene? We have no idea because Liddell’s lawyers chose not to put him on the stand during the 1854 trial. 

Glenn and Wiggins were part of a gang loyal to Liddell’s enemy Charles Jones, a Black River planter like Liddell. Jonesville is named after Charles Jones and his wife Laura Jones. 

In 1847, Eliza Nichols had shot Jones in the face and back, an act that shocked the only other person there, Liddell, who was there at the request of Eliza after she claimed Jones had slandered her. There was speculation that Jones, an Irishman who came to Catahoula Parish from Kentucky, coveted the land belonging to Eliza and her husband. Some believed at the time that when the couple refused to sell to Jones that he insulted Eliza to tarnish her reputation and leave the couple little choice but sell their land and exit the parish. 

Jones blamed Liddell for the shooting and sought revenge. For a period after the incident, Jones and Laura stayed in Ohio, where Laura was from, when a cholera epidemic and extensive flooding ravaged Catahoula and the state.  

In April 1852, the couple returned to their Elmly Plantation along Black River, four miles south of Liddell’s Llanada Plantation. 

 

PRYOR: SCOUNDREL AND BLACKLEG 

 

Arriving at Elmly with the Jones family was an outlaw named Richard Pryor, whose job was to lead the effort to taunt, defame and ultimately murder Liddell. Pryor’s notorious reputation had spread far and wide. Liddell thought Pryor, not Wiggins, was in the carriage with Glenn when he (Liddell) opened fire. The carriage belonged to Pryor who reportedly had only recently sold it to Glenn. 

In the 19th century, two words were often used to describe men like Pryor: “blackleg” and “scoundrel.” 

A blackleg is a cheat and fraudster, especially at gambling. A scoundrel is the worst of the worst of all things: a rogue, reprobate, swindler, snake in the grass, wretch, skunk, charlatan, good-for-nothing and add a few curse words on top of those. 

And if you wanted to make a man fighting mad in the 19th century, just call him a blackleg or a scoundrel or coward. 

During the trial of Liddell in 1854, Liddell’s friend and the future sheriff, Felix Robb, a Trinity merchant, described Pryor as a “notoriously bad character, given to gambling, rioting and fighting.” 

The basis of Liddell’s defense was that Jones, Pryor, Glenn, Wiggins and others conspired to kill him, publicly boasted their plans and terrified the populace, especially over a two-month period in 1852 from April, when Jones returned to Catahoula with Pryor, until June, when Glenn and Wiggins were killed. 

Several defense witnesses laid out for the jury what they heard the conspirators say and what they saw them do. 

One day in Trinity, a bustling community with commercial businesses and a post office, the Jones gang harassed local citizens while proclaiming they intended to kill Liddell. They stated often during that long day that any man who was a friend of Liddell’s was an enemy of theirs. 

 

J.D. RICHARDSON  

 

Plantation overseer J.D. Richardson testified he saw Glenn and Wiggins during the morning of the day of the shooting. Unsuccessful in getting them and the Jones faction to consider resolution with Liddell, Richardson said Glenn was adamant that Liddell should be killed. 

 “A few days ago, we had a planned to kill Maj. Liddell which failed,” Glenn told Richardson hours before the shooting. The plan was to get Liddell into a store in Trinity where he could be cornered by Jones’ men. Glenn planned to put his hand on his pistol and tell Liddell that he had heard Liddell intended to kill Glenn upon sight. When Liddell attempted to draw his weapon, two of Glenn’s friends would catch Liddell’s arms before Glenn shot him dead. 

But the plan was never fulfilled. 

 

CHARLES C. WATERS 

 

A 30-year-old Pennsylvania native, Charles C. Waters had lived in Trinity prior to the shooting of Glenn and Wiggins and had known Samuel Glenn well for a few years. On one occasion, when Waters was coming up the Mississippi on a steamboat with Glenn, they talked about the hard feelings between Liddell and Jones. Waters expressed his opinion that the matter should be settled. He asked Glenn if that was possible. 

Glenn answered that even if the others agreed to end the conflict with Liddell that he (Glenn) “would be damned if he would give it up.” 

In Trinity two or three weeks prior to shooting, Charles Jones and his supporters -- Richard Pryor, Wiggins, Sam Smith, Glenn, Henry Huntington, Samuel Huntington, Dr. Hiram Emerson and others -- moved about Trinity armed with double barreled shotguns, rifles and pistols while searching for Liddell. 

That same day, Pryor, standing on the gallery of Felix Robb’s store, bet $1,000 that Liddell would be dead in less than a year. Pryor offered payment of $200 to anyone who could find someone to make the bet with Pryor. Liddell was a coward and would leave rather than fight, Pryor claimed, while also boasting that he would shoot Liddell’s friends in the head if they had the guts to show themselves. 

This group was together much of the time they were in Trinity “acting in concert together,” according to Charles Waters’ testimony. 

Waters also testified he saw Pryor and Sam Smith, Charles’ Jones’ nephew, head to the sawmill in Trinity to hunt Captain Phillips, a friend of Liddell’s, apparently to hurt him. Pryor and Sam Smith also had waited along a roadside during an election with plans to kill Liddell when he passed by. “The impression,” wrote the Concordia Intelligencer in Vidalia, “became general that assassination had been contemplated.” 

Dr. J.J. Dearing, who established the first drugstore in Trinity, was another of Liddell’s friends. He was threatened by Charles Jones at Dearing’s office in Trinity. Samuel Glenn later challenged the doctor to a fist fight, which the doctor avoided. 

After Jones and his men spent most of the day terrifying the populace of Trinity, they prepared to cross Little River when they saw what appeared to be Liddell’s skiff coming down the stream. Witnesses watched as Jones and his men pulled out their guns preparing to kill Liddell until they realized the man in the skiff was someone else. 

 

JOSEPH GUSS 

 

Adding to witness Charles Waters’ testimony was Trinity merchant and the village’s first mayor, Joseph Guss, a 37-year-old Pennsylvania native like Waters.  

Guss also had seen the Jones crew in Trinity. He, too, watched as Pryor and Glenn stood together on the gallery of Felix Robb’s store trying to intimate and incite onlookers. 

 Speaking on behalf of the Jones faction, Pryor shouted, “Major Liddell” is “a G-- damned coward and damned scoundrel, and if he would show his face” they would shoot “his damned head off.” Pryor said that if there was any man there who claimed to be a friend of Maj. Liddell’s, they “would shoot the top of his head off,” too. 

Later, Guss walked over to Gillis’ store where Jones’ nephew Sam Smith stood armed with a double barreled shotgun and a brace of pistols. Guss asked Smith when he had “got to be a fighting man.” Smith warned Guss and others if they wanted to see whether he could fight than they should provoke him and he would show them. 

All of Jones’ men seemed to be on the hunt for Liddell, Guss testified. He, too, saw the men draw their arms when a skiff, which looked like Liddell’s, came up Little River. Guss had no doubt that if the man in the skiff had been Liddell he would have been riddled with bullets. 

 

DAVID BROWN 

 

Another witnessDavid Brown, testified that a good while before the shooting, Moses Wiggins had returned from New Orleans when Brown and Wiggins struck up a conversation. Brown asked about Charles Jones and whether he was recovering from the gunshot wounds inflicted by Eliza Nichols. 

Wiggins told Brown that Jones would pay an assassin to kill Liddell. 

Both Wiggins and Glenn had attempted to get a local farmer to assassinate Liddell on behalf of Jones. They told the farmer that Jones would pay him $1,500 for the act. 

Jones himself asked a local planter to offer the farmer money to kill Liddell. 

But there were no takers. 

 

THOMAS LANINGHAM 

 

Witness Thomas Laningham, also a friend of Wiggins, testified during the trial about the day Jones and the others came to Trinity looking for Liddell. 

Wiggins told Laningham that Liddell was a coward and a scoundrel and would “resort to the blackest and basest means to put his enemies out of the way.” 

After the day of chaos in Trinity, Liddell’s friends warned him that there was a conspiracy to kill him. They took turns protecting the Liddell house and family. From that day forward, Liddell made sure he was well armed before leaving home. 

Three weeks later, Glenn and Wiggins were dead. 

The witnesses called by the defense during Liddell’s trial in 1854 would do much to bolster his claim of self-defense in the shooting. 

Others would testify about other efforts made by Jones, Pryor and the gang to kill Liddell. 

(Next Week: A Challenge) 

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