Elmly Plantation

ELMLY PLANTATION, built by 19th century Catahoula Parish planter Charles Jones, is pictured during the 1912 flood. In the front of this house along Black River in 1848, Jones was shot in the face and back by Eliza Jones, sparking a two-decade feud with neighboring planter St. John Richardson Liddell. (Photo Credit: The Cottons of Catahoula by William Davis Cotton and Carole Cotton-Winn)  

(41st in a Series)  

In early 1870, what little cash General St. John Richardson Liddell had left to his name appeared to be slipping out of his hands.  

Liddell had filed for bankruptcy months earlier and was losing his Llanada Plantation at Jonesville. By the time he had returned home in 1865 after four years of fighting in the Civil War, the physical and financial toll had left him depressed and weary.  

He was still mourning the death of his son Willie, a casualty of the war. And months later his wife, Mary, his longtime companion and emotional rock, had died.  

Although Liddell was losing Llanada, land he had acquired in Richland Parish between Gerard and Alto along the Boeuf River remained in the family name, but at this point in time it remained to be seen whether he would be able to retain it.  

Ultimately, it wasn’t money or land or the bankruptcy of Llanada that worried him the most – it was a feud with another Black River planter, Lt. Col. Charles Jones. This had been a long nightmare that Liddell was determined to end. For more than 20 years, Jones had hassled and harassed Liddell, threatened to kill him and recruited assassins to achieve that end. In 1852, two of those would-be assassins – Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins -- were killed by Liddell at the back of his cotton field on the road along Little River.  

Both had been threatening Liddell’s life for weeks.  

Jones blamed Liddell and vowed revenge following an incident in 1848 when Eliza Nichols, a woman slandered by Jones, shot him the face and back. Liddell was there at the request of Eliza, but he did not fire a weapon although Jones for the rest of his life insisted he did. Eliza stated afterward she alone fired shots that day.  

Maybe Jones turned all of his ire toward Liddell because he feared ridicule for being shot by a woman during a period when women were expected to be submissive to men. Ultimately, Eliza alone had stood up for herself and had enacted her own justice upon Jones. For the rest of his life the scar on his once handsome face was a reminder of the price he had paid for his cruel accusation that Eliza was an adulteress and a harlot.  

Although the two men had agreed in the late 1850s to keep their distance from one another and stay out of each other’s business, the feud was renewed with fury when Liddell learned that Jones and a partner, Catahoula Parish planter Elijah B. Cotton, planned to buy Liddell’s plantation where Liddell’s family was buried, including the fresh grave of Mary.  

When the land deal went sour, Jones and Cotton’s cotton factor and agent, John Nixon, was killed by a banker at a men’s social club in New Orleans. The banker, Charles Cammack, had purchased Llanada out of bankruptcy with an agreement to sell two-thirds to Jones and Cotton. But when Liddell informed Cammack of the bad blood between he and Jones, and when Cammack faced other legal issues involving the property, the deal was temporarily in limbo.  

When Cammack reneged on the deal, he and Nixon had words, leading to the shooting on Jan. 6, 1870.  

In the meantime, Liddell was blind with rage over Jones’ attempt to buy Llanada. Before Cammack shot Nixon to death at The Boston Club in New Orleans, Liddell had visited with the editor of The Ouachita Telegraph newspaper in Monroe. After that shooting, Liddell began making plans to go to Baton Rouge to visit his daughter and then on to New Orleans to check on the failure of his own cotton factors – Scott and Cage – who went out of business while holding Liddell’s cotton crop, the only thing resembling cash left to his name.  

 

‘SLUMBERING ANIMOSITY’  

 

The Ouachita Telegraph’s editor and publisher, George William McCranie, wrote in the newspaper on Feb. 19, 1870, that “Col. Jones became part purchaser of some real estate from the Citizen's Bank, which had been surrendered in bankruptcy by Gen. Liddell and was bought by the Bank from the General Assignee in bankruptcy. Col. Jones, it is proper to state, says that the purchase was made by him and partners subsequent to a refusal by Gen. Liddell to purchase the property at the bank's price, and after hearing that Gen. Liddell had determined to quit the country.”  

Jones was right that Liddell had talked about leaving the parish and moving with other ex-Confederates to Brazil. But he never convinced himself to leave home.  

“Nevertheless,” wrote the newspaper, “the transaction aroused the slumbering animosity in Gen. Liddell's breast, it being, as we have heard, a part of the agreement entered into by him and Col. Jones, when settling their feud, that neither was to have ever after anything to do with the business affairs of the other.”  

During Liddell’s visit with publisher McCranie, Liddell was considering challenging Jones to a duel.  

McCranie wrote that during a long interview Liddell “unfolded to us his purpose of sending Col. Jones a challenge to meet him on the field — in fact, he read us the note he designed sending, remarking that for certain reasons … he would delay the sending until he could meet Col. Jones in New Orleans.  He added that this, referring to the note, would end the suspense he was in, either by an honorable fight or a peaceable adjustment.  

“He denounced in strong language the evils of street fights and sudden personal collisions, and particularly sanctioned dueling as the best means of avoiding them, and illustrated his view of the custom by the circumstances noticed by us editorially two weeks ago under the heading ‘The Code of Honor.’”  

 

LIDDELL & JONES  

 

Of Liddell, the newspaper publisher wrote that he “was about fifty years of age. He was of fine personal appearance and highly polished in his manners.” He had attended West Point “in the same class with Gen. {P.G.T.} Beauregard, and the class above Gen. {Braxton} Bragg, and was possessed of unusually fine scholarly attainments. He for some time belonged to the old army, and served in the Army of Tennessee, as a Confederate Brigadier General, in the late war, achieving high repute for vim, dash and persistency. Richard the Lion-Hearted did not surpass him in bravery nor in fixedness of purpose.”  

McCranie wrote that Liddell’s main problem with other men might have been this: “Perhaps he was somewhat too fiery in his nature and too sensitive for the age in which he lived; but certainly his sense of honor never went beyond his sense of right.  A man of retired nature, he remained at home, never making a show of his accomplishments or seeking any public station.  He belonged to the old school of gentlemen … who in adversity, as well as prosperity, maintain the dignity of manhood …”  

And the publisher wrote of Liddell’s adversary: “Col. Jones is a well-known citizen of the State, and lives near the late residence of Gen. Liddell in Catahoula parish. He is a man above the age of fifty, of active mind and habits, and has accumulated a handsome property.  

“In the early part of the late war, he was second in command in a Louisiana regiment, the 17th, and was subsequently on the staff of Gen. Ruggles. Since the war he has been planting, and a part of the time one of the lessees of the Penitentiary.”  

 

JONES’ PARTNER - LIGE COTTON  

 

Jones’ friend and farming partner in 1870, Elijah B. Cotton, commonly called “Lige,” was a well-respected parish planter who had been born in 1813 in North Carolina. According to the book – “The Cottons of Catahoula,” by William Davis Cotton and Carole Cotton-Winn – Cotton educated himself at home at night by reading and studying whatever material he could find.  

When he was 23, his father died. Soon afterward, his widowed mother and her children moved along Red River in Louisiana. Cotton soon found employment as an overseer for Judah P. Benjamin, a wealthy plantation owner who would be elected to the U.S. Senate from Louisiana and later serve in the Confederate Cabinet.  

In 1842, Cotton bought property along Little River in Catahoula Parish while in 1858, he purchased Duran Plantation, located seven miles west of Jonesville. The plantation included 1,200 acres “fronting north” on Little River .  

He cultivated 800 acres, including cotton, corn, oats, potatoes and peas.  

Cotton had married a widow in 1854 – Mary Gibson Bray -- who had a close connection to the 1852 killing of Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins. AMississippi native, Mary had previously been married to John Bray, who died a year before the killing of Glenn and Wiggins.  

Both men had been riding in a buggy when shot by Liddell. Wiggins fell out a few yards down the road, while the horse pulling the buggy with the dead Glenn inside raced a mile or so down the road before stopping at Mary Bray’s home along Little River.  

Wiggins’ body was brought up to the Bray home, too, where doctors examined the bodies.  

According to the book on the Cotton family, when Lige Cotton “came to the Parish in 1842, there was comparatively little open land, not one-tenth of what is now cleared and for some time thereafter the country was very unhealthy, there being more than one or more sick persons in every cabin.”  

The book notes that Cotton was “the largest landholder in Catahoula Parish in 1865 and paid the highest U.S. tax in the parish, $72.83.”  

 

THE STEAMER ST. MARY  

 

There is no record that Liddell had ever said a disparaging word about Cotton. How Jones and Cotton became associated in farming isn’t clear, but they had known each other for a long time.  

With news that Cammack was dead and that the money from Liddell’s last crop might be in jeopardy with the failure of his cotton factors, he packed his bags for a trip on the steamer St. Mary to Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  

The vessel on its return down the Ouachita from Camden, Ark., soon reached the river’s mouth at Trinity before steaming into the Black. Two miles downriver was Llanada Planation.  

As Liddell prepared to board, unbeknownst to him, Jones was waiting for the steamer, too. He was on the landing at Elmly, his trunk packed and 20 bales of his cotton stacked for shipment to New Orleans.  

The day was Monday and the date Feb. 14, 1870.  

For the next 13 days Catahoula Parish residents braced themselves as this old feud exploded into all-out war.  

(To Be Continued)  

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