Horse & buggy

THE CARRIAGE that Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins were riding in when they were shot to death looked something like the one above. In 1852, both men were shot by St. John Richardson Liddell, who successfully claimed in court in 1854 that he had killed both men in self-defense because the two were part of a gang organized by Charles Jones with a single mission: To assassinate Liddell.  

(16th in a Series)  

For a period of two years, rumors and speculation spread from Black River to New Orleans and throughout the land concerning a growing feud between two prominent planters in Concordia Parish.  

The situation had become so toxic that in 1852, two men supporting planter Charles Jones were shot dead by his arch enemy, St. John Richardson Liddell.  

In Acme, where the Black flows into the Red River, new settler Joseph Delhoste, a native of France, was keeping up with the events. There, he and his family had been settled for about two years. Taking advantage of the strategic location of his home at the juncture of two rivers and its close proximity to the Mississippi, he built a coal chute to provide fuel for the steamboats.  

Delhoste also kept up with the rainfall and water stages as well as the steamboat trade. In 1858, The Independent, the newspaper at Harrisonburg, would mention Delhoste and spell his name the old way: “On Black River at Wild Cow Bayou, Jos. C. De L’llosie, Esq., reported, on yesterday morning, a total fall of six inches below the highest water mark of the present year. This is caused both by a fall in Red River and in the Ouachita.”  

The steamboat trade enabled Delhoste to make a living as the plantation economy grew. In 1851, Black River planter Dr. Andrew Robert Kilpatrick wrote in DeBow’s Review: “At this time, there are, during the winter and spring, as many as thirteen boats in this trade, and the amount of business done on the Washitta {Ouachita} is so very considerable that during the present fall, while the river has been so low as to prevent shipments, the merchants in New Orleans have seriously felt the want of the produce.  

“Freight on cotton bales, during low water, this past fall, was $1.25; the general price is 75 cents, and sometimes as low as 50 cents from Trinity. Cabin passage to New Orleans, generally, $5, sometimes, $6, and the same back.”  

At the head of the Black River is the community of Trinity, where four rivers meet. Up the Ouachita from Trinity is Harrisonburg and the location of the Catahoula Shoals three miles above the town. This short shallow bed of the river often prevented the passage of steamboats during the warm months.  

The Independent would report in 1857 that 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.”  

But in 1852, one of the most followed stories in Louisiana centered on the courthouse in Harrisonburg where St. John Richardson Liddell was on trial for the murder of Moses Wiggins and was to be tried later for the murder of Samuel Glenn.  

 

A KEY WITNESS  

 

The feud between Jones and Liddell, known as the Black River War, began in the late 1840s when a woman, Eliza Nichols, shot Charles Jones in the face and back after he had previously slandered her name. Eliza was a friend of the John Liddell family and tutored Liddell’s orphaned niece that he and wife Mary reared. There had already been trouble between Jones and Liddell. Although Eliza had committed the violent attack upon Jones, he blamed Liddell, not her.  

From that point, Jones was out to get Liddell. He associated himself with an outlaw named Richard Pryor who recruited a gang to kill Liddell on behalf of Jones. Glenn and Wiggins were among the recruits.  

During the Wiggins murder trial, it was determined that there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting. Several people heard the gunfire on the afternoon of June 26, 1852, and one witness, traveling down Little River on a skiff, saw two men standing at the scene of the shooting and saw a runaway horse pulling a carriage. The witness was too far away to determine the race of the two men on foot, but it was obvious one of the two was Liddell.  

The runaway horse was stopped up the public road at the home of the widow, Mrs. Bray. Her plantation overseer, J.D. Richardson, offered the most revealing information about the crime scene. The Independent in Harrisonburg published a summary of Richardson’s testimony.  

Richardson saw “the bodies of Glenn and Wiggins on the day they were killed … The body of Glenn after he was shot remained in the buggy and the horse was stopped at Mrs. Bray’s. The horse was shot also.  

“The body of Wiggins had fallen out … took a horse cart and went down and found the body of Wiggins and bought that also to Mrs. Bray’s. The body of Wiggins when found was lying near the public road on Little River just back of Maj. Liddell’s field – Maj. Liddell’s plantation extends from Black River to Little River and fronts on both streams. His house is near Black River.  

“Glenn was shot in the forehead and also just over the eye, the ball glancing down and striking his cheek. Wiggins was also shot in the side, in the breast and back, and there was one large wound in the head, through which the brain escaped. There were a good many persons assembled about the body of Wiggins, when” Richardson “got there. The ground was a good deal trampled about the body and near the fence … heard there was a power horn found near there.  

“There was a carpet bag in the buggy of Glenn. It contained three pistols, one long one, one short one and a revolver. Glenn also had a knife about him. The carpetbag was not clasped. There was nothing else in the bag besides the pistols.  

“A good many people had been passing near” the place where Richardson “saw tracks and Wiggins ... The powder horn … may possibly have been dropped by some one of these persons …  saw Glenn and Wiggins on the morning of the same day and before they were killed. They were in a buggy going to Trinity and stopped” to talk with Richardson.  

The quarrel between Jones and Liddell came up, Richardson testified, but his efforts to get Glenn and Wiggins to go to Jones and plead for peace were rejected. Glenn said he planned to kill Liddell. There is no record of this, but it seems possible that after Richardson heard Glenn expressed his intention to kill Liddell that Richardson tipped off Liddell, who waited along his back fence for Glenn’s carriage when Glenn and Wiggins returned from Trinity that afternoon.  

Richardson testified that the “fence near where the body of Wiggins was found and where the shooting took place was about four feet high on a level. The top of the carriage was up when it arrived at Mrs. Bray’s. The dasher was a high one.”  

 

‘SHAMEFULLY PERSECUTED’  

 

A few weeks after the April 1854 trial, The Independent publisher W.A. Bryan provided a summary of the court proceedings, writing that Liddell “was first arraigned up on the Wiggins case. Upon the close of the testimony for the prosecution, the counsel for the defense made a proposition to submit the case upon the testimony of the State witnesses provided they might be allowed to close the argument. To this the State dissented.  

“The witnesses for the defense were then examined, and the case was submitted without argument, and the Jury gave in a verdict of acquittal without retiring from the box.  

“Much of the testimony elicited in this case born directly upon the guilt or innocence of the accused, so far as the killing of Glenn was concerned. Had that case been tried, the same witnesses would have been again called to the stand. Rather, therefore, than go through with a useless form and in the exercise of what we thought a very proper discretion as a public officer, District Attorney Hough entered a nolle prosequi in the Glenn case.  

“Hitherto we have forborne saying anything whatever in relation to these cases … Acting upon this principle, we have carefully excluded from the columns of the ‘Independent’ any mention, favorable or otherwise of Maj. Liddell and his lately pending trial, until he had a full legal hearing. Now that that hearing has been given him, we feel ourself at liberty to speak in such terms as we deem just and fitting of the developments made by the testimony on the trial. We shall not say much today, however, and that only to express our gratification, and we believe the gratification of nearly all who were present and heard the testimony, at the verdict of the Jury.  

“If anything more than another could speak louder in Maj. Liddell’s favor, it would be the very remarkable change which took place in the public mind of the Parish during the progress of the trial. So great was the prejudice existing against him supposed to be, that an application for a change of venue was made by his counsel, and only reluctantly withdrawn when it was ascertained that the Parish which they desired the trial might take place in would not be selected by the Judge.  

“When the Wiggins case was disposed of, however, quite a change took place in the public mind, and the District Attorney gave notice to the Court of his intention to apply for a change of venue in the {Samuel} Glenn case, which was afterward withdrawn, when a nolle prosequi was entered.  

“We ourself know of many changes in individual opinion. We met with one person, a gentleman of respectability from the upper portion of the Parish, who was summoned to appear on the Jury, and who excused himself on the ground that he ‘formed and expressed an opinion.’ That opinion was one decidedly and bitterly adverse to the cause of the accused, but after listening to the testimony, he said that he could not conceive of a justifiable homicide unless this were one.”  

Liddell, wrote the Independent, was “wrongfully accused and most shamefully persecuted” and “has suffered in the estimation of the people of many sections of the country, through the industrious circulation of false rumors, we do not feel authorized to withhold from the public … from the time he denounced as false, slanders existing an injured woman, has been singled out as the victim against whom the machinations of an organized band of conspirators have been leveled. Their object has been at all hazards to get rid of him.”  

The paper concluded that no one listening to the trial could doubt that “the only means by which Maj. Liddell could extricate himself from the snares by which he was surrounded, and escape from the destruction determined upon by cunning unscrupulous schemers, were the means which ended in the removal from his pathway of two of his enemies. That he escaped at all is a matter of special wonder.”  

It would long be remembered that the jury was so convinced of Liddell’s innocence that jurors didn’t bother to go into the jury room to deliberate. Instead, they reached an immediate not guilty verdict right there in the courtroom and apparently without much, if any, deliberation.  

In the aftermath of the trial, things settled down for a while, and along Black River, a period of peace was enjoyed by a weary Liddell. Jones retreated to his home, too, located four miles downriver.  

But the Black River War was far from over. There would be more blood to spill, more bodies to commit to the grave.  

(Next Week: Talk of civil war.)  

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