New parishes provided political power

By Wesley Harris

Lincoln Parish is commemorating the 150th anniversary of its founding in 1873. This is part one of the LPJ’s examination of the early days of our parish. 

The creation of Lincoln Parish in 1873 occurred as a political move to gain power in the difficult days of Reconstruction after the Civil War. As one of several new parishes formed after the war, the new Lincoln Parish government provided additional political offices for the party in control of the state.

The war’s end in 1865 failed to bring peace to Louisiana. Local and state governments, which had been controlled by white Democrats for decades, were held during Reconstruction mostly by the Radical faction of the Republican Party. To bolster local Republican loyalists, the Louisiana Legislature created new parishes to provide positions of authority to its like-minded collaborators. The Democrats fought back—literally and politically—and President Ulysses Grant sent federal troops into Louisiana to quell violence against freedmen, the state government, and these local Republican fiefdoms.

First among the new parishes were Iberia and Richland, both formed in 1868. Tangipahoa and Grant Parishes followed in 1869. In 1870, the fifth Reconstruction parish, Cameron, was created, followed by the sixth, seventh, and eighth new parishes (Red River, Vernon, and Webster) in 1871. 

Lincoln, named after the late president, was the ninth parish to be formed under Radical Republican rule. In 1877, Carroll Parish was divided into East and West Carroll, the tenth and eleventh Reconstruction parishes. 

Violent encounters revealed the animosity local citizens possessed against officials installed in these new parishes. Disputes over the 1872 election results had produced dual governments at all levels in Louisiana. Democrats claimed victory in most elections, but an election review board gave Republican candidates the win in virtually every race.

Grant and Red River Parishes suffered some of the worst clashes over political control. The battle over the Grant Parish courthouse was one of the bloodiest single instances of racial violence during Reconstruction in the United States. Fearful local Democrats would seize power, former slaves under the command of black Civil War veterans and militia officers took over Colfax, the parish seat. A massacre ensued, led by the Democrat who claimed he won the sheriff’s race, including the slaughter of about fifty African Americans who had laid down their arms and surrendered.

White League influence spread through northwest Louisiana in the summer of 1873. Its brutal actions targeted white officeholders as well as freedmen. One such episode was directed against the family of Vermont “carpetbagger” Marshall Harvey Twitchell. Twitchell and his family controlled virtually every public office in newly created Red River Parish. In 1874, the White League executed Twitchell’s brother, two brothers-in-law, and three other white Republicans while Twitchell was in New Orleans. Twitchell returned to Coushatta with two companies of federal troops to restore Republican rule in the parish. Democratic leaders wrested control of local politics, however. In 1876 they assassinated Twitchell’s brother-in-law, and tried to kill Twitchell, who lost both arms in the ambush.

Allen Greene was declared a Jackson Parish state senator after the disputed 1872 election. Greene’s first move as senator in collaboration with his son Charles, a state representative, was to secure passage of an act creating a new parish from portions of Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson, and Union. For the new parish, Governor William Pitt Kellogg appointed a slate of officers submitted by Greene. These included James B. Ray as sheriff, a Republican from Ouachita Parish; Greene’s son William as tax collector; son Jackson as tax assessor; and son Charles as parish judge. Friends and fellow Republicans were appointed to other posts. As a sop to the local opposition, lawman Spencer P. Colvin, a well-known and respected Vienna resident, was appointed clerk of court as the sole Democrat officeholder. The parish seat was established at Vienna.

Lincoln Parish saw its share of friction but without the bloodshed experienced in some north Louisiana parishes. Total control of the parish by the Radicals led to talk of mass revolt but elder citizens counseled restraint and suggested a petition asking Greene, his three sons, and several other officials to resign. An overwhelming majority of Lincoln Parish taxpayers—white landowners—signed it. While Sheriff Ray was pressured to go back to Ouachita Parish, the others remained in office with the governor and the federal government behind them. 

The situation nearly exploded several times. The removal of all parish records and offices from Vienna to Greene’s plantation several miles to the northwest infuriated the population. Greene and his family became virtual prisoners as it was too dangerous to leave Greensboro, their home on what is now the White Lightning Road. The arrival of federal troops to arrest purported leaders of Greene’s opposition almost triggered bloodshed. Each time it appeared the lid would blow off the volatile situation, someone backed down and the lethal clash experienced in other north Louisiana communities never occurred in Lincoln.

Coming next: How Allen Greene amassed power