Shotgun wedding in reverse

By Wesley Harris

The traditional shotgun wedding, replete with gun-toting relatives, is a common premise of comedies set in hillbilly country. Any big-city fellers who wander into such areas had best be discreet about interacting with local womenfolk, lest they find themselves forced—at the point of a gun—to stay a lot longer than they had intended.

But what if the shotgun-wielding relatives show up after the wedding? And the news of the family brouhaha is transmitted to newspapers halfway around the globe?

Sarah Wafer was born into a large and well-known family with extensive land holdings in southeast Claiborne Parish. At 16, she was attending school in Terryville, also known as Quay, then in Claiborne but later annexed as part of Lincoln Parish. Lincoln’s Wafer Creek and Wafer Road are named after the family

In the fall of 1855, a Dr. Clement and 16-year-old Sarah, “an orphan heiress of a wealthy Louisiana planter,” eloped from Claiborne Parish. The couple journeyed to Arkansas “with utmost dispatch” where a quick marriage ceremony was performed.

The account of what happened next was detailed in Homer’s Claiborne Advocate.

On the return trip to Claiborne Parish, Dr. and Mrs. Clement were met by the bride’s brother, James T. Wafer, who forcibly took possession of his sister. Mabry Wafer, Sarah’s father, had died two years earlier, so James had become Sarah’s guardian. Dr. Clement was removed from his seat beside his tearful bride. After some discussion, the groom was allowed to accompany his wife to Wafer’s home.

After a short time, Wafer permitted the couple to leave. The newlyweds went to the doctor’s house in Arcadia. There they resided “in the comfortable enjoyment of about one half of their honeymoon” when Sarah was summoned to the bedside of a sick sister at her brother’s residence.

Apparently, the summons was a ruse to separate Sarah from Clement. While at James’s home, Sarah was presented with a letter written by her brother-in-law, the sister’s husband. The letter accused Dr. Clement of “having basely imposed upon and deceived her and that he was a coward for allowing himself to be chastised by her brother. Even worse, the letter said Clement was “old, ugly, and no physician,” that Sarah did not love him and never did, and that she could never consent again to live with him.

Sarah signed the letter.

The Wafers loaded Sarah in a wagon and carried her to the home of another sister, Mary, who lived with her husband John Wyatt Simmons on the Red River in Bossier Parish.

Dr. Clement followed in pursuit with 15 to 18 armed Arcadia friends. Reaching the Red River home, they demanded Sarah Clement. To avert bloodshed, Sarah consented to go with Clement but only on the condition she be taken to her uncle, Claiborne Parish resident Reverend James T. Wafer. The parties agreed Sarah would remain unmolested at Rev. Wafer’s for two days. Then she would announce her decision on returning to Arcadia with Clement.

Skeptical the agreement would hold, brother James Wafer raised a group of armed men to accompany him to his uncle’s to retrieve his sister. The house was heavily guarded, however, and the sound of the cocking of several shotguns by Clement and his friends caused the party to retreat.

James swore out a complaint. Claiborne Deputy Sheriff Gentry Warren summoned a posse of about 20 armed men to accompany him in the middle of the night to Rev. Wafer’s house in the Arizona community to arrest Dr. Clement and his party for “forcible abduction and imprisonment of the fair heroine.”

Warren and the posse narrowly escaped meeting gunfire when they approached the house. Had they not quickly announced themselves as the law, a bloody fight would have ensued. Instead, Clement and his friends submitted to arrest. 

The entire party arrived at Homer about 9:00 a.m. the next morning—the posse riding in carrying their shotguns intermingled with the prisoners and Clement and Sarah seated side by side in a buggy.

In the commotion of sixty riders on the street, one of the posse members accidentally discharged his shotgun. The charge passed through the window of J. M. Thomason’s office, inflicting a nasty but survivable wound on the Homer attorney.

James Wafer signed an affidavit for a writ of habeas corpus, which was issued by District Court Judge Harmon A. Drew. The writ commanded Clement to produce Sarah and show cause why he deprived her of her rights and liberties. Clement did not answer the writ immediately and was also arrested for contempt of court. The next day, Drew held the habeas corpus and contempt hearings and dismissed both.

Two days later, those arrested for the alleged abduction and imprisonment of Mrs. Clement appeared before the justice of the peace. Clement was tried first. One of the witnesses was Mary Wafer Simmons, Sarah’s older sister. Mary testified Sarah had been engaged to her brother-in-law, Sidney Simmons, before her elopement with Dr. Clement. Mary said Sarah had received a letter purporting to be from Sidney in which he chastised her for her dalliances and was finished with her. Based on the letter, Sarah hastened into an elopement with Clement, who she did not love, and after the marriage, learned to hate. 

The letter was a forgery.

The case against Clement was dismissed and the prosecution declined to pursue Clement’s “accomplices.” 

While the trials were underway, Sarah was “spirited away to parts unknown.” The Claiborne Advocate reported, “the general opinion is that she has been transported to Arkansas, where she is protected or guarded by forty double barreled shotguns and a howitzer!” 

Adding insult to injury for the parties involved, the article from the Advocate was published across the country, including papers in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, New York, North Carolina, and even in England and Scotland.

The saga does not end there, but the newspapers are silent on the rest of Sarah Wafer’s life. Family genealogy records are confusing, but census records and other government documents seem to sort out her fate.

Mary died soon after the trial and Sarah married the widower, her brother-in-law John Wyatt Simmons. Sarah and John Simmons moved to Texas where they farmed and ranched in Rains County near other members of the Wafer clan. They raised numerous children, including one named Mabry after her father. 

While Sarah’s love life got off to a rocky start, she finally found a relationship that worked, experiencing a marriage of at least 40 years. Sarah died in 1905 and John followed in 1917.


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