How Allen Greene amassed power in new parish

By Wesley Harris

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

Allen Greene is credited with the creation of Lincoln Parish in 1873, but how did the farmer and businessman manage to pull off such a political coup? 

Greene typified the Reconstruction-era “scalawag”—a local citizen who allied himself with the Radical Republicans who controlled national and state government to achieve personal political and financial aspirations. Scalawags were considered traitors to the South. White citizens considered them as bad, if not worse, than the carpetbaggers from the North.

Both respected and despised, Greene was a savvy businessman and a generous, sociable neighbor. While he opposed Louisiana’s succession from the Union before the Civil War, he supported individual Confederate soldiers—one of his sons fought for the South. Unlike most Unionists, Greene owned slaves. After the war, however, he sided with the victors, developed relationships with newly freed black citizens, and created his own short-lived political dynasty in the heart of the white Democrat majority. His choice of allies led to death threats and a gunfight that left him wounded.

With the escalating struggle for control of the state, the fall elections of 1872 were destined to be plagued by controversy and conflict.

Judge Evander McNair Graham, a highly respected attorney and former Confederate officer, seemed certain to win the state senate race for the district that included Jackson Parish and would later become much of present-day Lincoln Parish. Graham’s support extended well beyond the parish seat of Vernon as he served clients throughout the region and former soldiers from his command lived all over north Louisiana. No one expected Allen Greene to enter the race.

Greene waited until Election Day to add his name to the ballot, infuriating many in the local electorate. The last thing they wanted was a scalawag elbowing his way into the election at the last minute. Greene’s three sons William, Charles, and Jackson accompanied him to the polls in Vernon. Jackson Greene was a commissioner of the election at the polls, keeping a tally sheet. Charles had been appointed a United States commissioner to monitor the election. 

Since the supervisor was slow in tallying the vote, Allen Greene went home to Greensboro, his home west of Vienna, and returned the following day to examine the results. The count showed Graham garnering twice the votes of Greene and another candidate combined. However, Greene claimed victory to the outrage of the local white citizenry. Longtime friends took offense and battle lines were drawn.

A confrontation between the Greenes and another local family broke out. Two sons of Captain J. Y. Allen, a respected Vernon resident, met Allen Greene and son Charles near the Jackson Parish courthouse. Gunfire filled the street as bullets replaced angry words. The Vernon Standard gave a brief account:   

“A difficulty occurred here on last Tuesday between Charles W. Allen, Wm. J. Allen, Allen Greene and his son, Charles J. Greene, which resulted in the shooting of C. W. Allen and both of the Greenes. C. W. Allen was shot first by Allen Greene through the left thigh, just above the knee, and also through the right leg, breaking the bones of the same and shattering them badly. His wounds are very painful and serious, but are not thought to be fatal. Both of the Greenes were shot in the head, but their wounds are not considered dangerous.” 

The sheriff arrested all four men who appeared the next morning before the judge—Greene’s opponent in the senatorial race, E. M. Graham. The defendants waived a preliminary examination and Graham bound them over to appear at the next session of the district court. Since a fire at the Jackson Parish courthouse later destroyed the records of the incident, we do not know the specific charges or the ultimate outcome. Most likely, all charges were eventually dismissed. In Greene’s extensive writing over the next few years, he mentions the shootout several times but never a court disposition.

Greene obtained affidavits from voters who claimed to have been intimidated along with accusations of fraud. It was no longer a matter of how many ballots were in the box but whether they had gotten there by fraud by denying persons the opportunity to vote. Based on these allegations, Greene claimed the election. The final decision lay with the state’s returning board.

The returning board examined the results of all Louisiana elections in November 1872 and in most cases ruled the Republican candidate the winner. The board approved and certified Allen Greene was the lawfully elected senator from the 19th District. The approved results by the board gave Greene substantially more votes than what had been tallied locally.

Greene’s first move as senator in collaboration with son Charles, a state representative, was to secure passage of an act creating a new parish from portions of Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson, and Union to be named after President Abraham Lincoln.  For the new parish, Governor William Pitt Kellogg appointed a slate of officers submitted by Greene. The hand-chosen officials gave Greene complete control of every aspect of local government.

Greene’s lock on the Lincoln Parish political machine 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. But the Radicals had the governor and the federal government behind them. 

Federal troops were stationed throughout Louisiana, ostensibly to enforce Reconstruction, protect freedmen, and support U.S. marshals and local officials in enforcing the law. Greene’s numerous pleas for troops in Lincoln Parish to back his government fiefdom were finally answered in 1873 when the 7th Cavalry of the U. S. Army rode into Vienna.

Next: Troops raid Lincoln Parish