First blows struck in battle over Lincoln Parish

By Wesley Harris

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

In the early 1870s, U.S. Army units moved into seven former Confederate states to support federal marshals in the trying days of Reconstruction as Southern Democrats and Radical Republicans struggled for political control. North central Louisiana saw more violence and bloodshed in the ten years after the Civil War than during the conflict itself. Lynchings of freed blacks and white criminals, the assassination of Republican officeholders, and a host of brutal crimes filled newspapers. To many Louisianans, the soldiers were not peacekeepers but an occupying enemy force.

By September 1874, troops had been stationed all over Louisiana. Portions of the 7th Cavalry Regiment moved into the state in October without its celebrated leader, George Armstrong Custer, but under the command of Major Lewis Merrill. The cavalrymen were distributed through the state, including to Monroe and Shreveport. Merrill would become so despised in north Louisiana that Democrat-leaning newspapers referred to him as “Dog Merrill,” or simply “the Dog.” 

Under Merrill’s command in the Red River district, Lieutenant Benjamin Hodgson led a company of 7th Cavalry troopers working with U.S. Marshals in north Louisiana. On October 24, 1874, Hodgson and his cavalrymen accompanied Deputy U.S. Marshal Edgar Selye to Homer in Claiborne Parish where he arrested the parish judge, parish recorder (clerk), and the mayor of Homer.   

The men were charged with an attempt to break up a “peaceable assemblage” of black Republicans in Homer on July 11. The prisoners claimed they were trying to prevent a riot. 

U.S. Congressman Frank Morey and U.S. Commissioner David J. M. A. Jewett accompanied the troopers and the marshal. Jewett had issued the arrest warrants for the men the posse sought. Although he kept a low profile away from the arrests, Congressman Morey appeared to oversee the operation. 

Morey represented the Southern Democrats’ epitome of the Northern carpetbagger. Born in Massachusetts, Morey joined the Union army in 1861. Once he was stationed in Louisiana, he served as a captain for the 92nd U.S. Colored Infantry until December 1865. Assigned as the Freedmen’s Bureau representative in Monroe after the war, he married a local woman and became a cotton planter and insurance agent, all the while preparing for a political career. While Morey had been elected in 1868 and re-elected twice prior to the roundup, Democrat newspapers blasted him at every opportunity. One called him “a soulless wretch and cowardly adventurer. His very name has become synonymous with all that is base and mean, low and degrading.”  

Selye and the cavalrymen left Homer with their prisoners bound for Vienna in Lincoln Parish where more arrests were anticipated. Just over a year since its creation, rumblings of discontent over governance of Lincoln Parish had reached the state capital and Washington. On the way to Vienna, Morey stopped at Greensboro, the home of the parish’s leading Republican, Allen Greene, who likely helped identify which locals to arrest. Greene and his sons had moved the parish seat to their plantation, increasing animosity among local Democrats. Selye took his prisoners a few more miles east to Vienna and placed them in the parish jail. 

Most of the 78 men wanted in Lincoln Parish eluded the marshal. Selye arrested James Grisham Huey, former sheriff of Jackson Parish; Ainsley H. Mayfield, a Lincoln Parish deputy sheriff; and P. L. Phillips. The warrants accused the men on the list of being part of an August 17 meeting “upwards of a thousand citizens” who rode to Greensboro demanding the resignations of Republicans holding parish offices like Greene and his sons as well as Commissioner Jewett. Huey, Mayfield, and Phillips surrendered without resistance and were “hurried from home without time to consult their families or get a change of clothes.” When Huey asked by what authority he was being arrested, Lieutenant Hodgson drew his revolver and retorted, “This is my authority.” 

The arrested men joined the Claiborne prisoners in the Vienna jail overnight. Local men armed themselves and gathered in Vienna. The next morning, the authorities hurried their prisoners to the federal court in Monroe. 

Worried a hostile party might be waiting for them in Ouachita Parish, Hodgson and the deputy marshal decided to cut the telegraph wires so the enraged citizens of Vienna could not alert Monroe of their impending arrival. 

Eleventh District Judge James Trimble issued a writ of habeas corpus for the marshal and troopers to deliver the prisoners to his court and explain their detention. Hodgson and Selye spurned Trimble’s writ when Claiborne Parish Sheriff W. F. Aycock served it. In a letter published in several newspapers, Aycock recounted Hodgson’s response when approached at Vienna:

“. . .I introduced myself as the sheriff of Claiborne parish. He ordered his troops to surround me, with loaded guns at a ready. . .When this was done I informed him that I was a sworn officer with a writ to serve and that I would discharge my duty, and then I read the writ. The Lieutenant informed me that he was a United States officer, and should not respect parish officers. He further said ‘Give our compliments to Judge Trimble and tell him to go to hell. I will use his writ the next time I go to the privy.’” 

The Claiborne men appeared before Commissioner Jewett on October 27. Jewett found sufficient evidence to proceed with the cases and set the trio’s bail at $1,000 each. They were able to immediately arrange for bond to be signed for their release.                           

On October 28, Huey, Mayfield, and Phillips of Lincoln Parish appeared before Jewett. After reading a lengthy ruling quoting the complaint against them, Jewett set the men’s bail at $1,000 each. 

A crowd collected as the men arranged bail. The New Orleans Republican reported,      “The bands of Trenton and Monroe are serenading the released prisoners and a large number of citizens are in attendance.” 

After Huey’s release, Selye arrested him again on a second warrant for a violation of the Enforcement Act. When Huey asked for the marshal’s authority, Selye grabbed him by the arm and led him to the jail. Huey posted a second bond. 

The Enforcement Act was actually three laws passed by Congress in 1870 and 1871. The first, the Enforcement Act of May 1870, prohibited people from banding together “or to go in disguise upon the public highways, or upon the premises of another” with the intention of violating citizens’ constitutional rights. 

The second and third laws, known as the Ku Klux Klan Acts, were designed to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The second placed administration of national elections under the control of the federal government and empowered federal judges and United States marshals to supervise local polling places. The third empowered the president to use the armed forces to combat those who conspired to deny equal protection of the laws and to suspend habeas corpus, if necessary, to enforce the act. Huey’s alleged transgression is not described in the news accounts.

The failure to heed Trimble’s order and the damage to the telegraph wires led the judge to order the arrest of Lt. Hodgson and Marshal Selye for contempt of court and damage to property. On November 6, Lincoln Parish Deputy Sheriff Edgar Howard, bearing warrants signed by Trimble, arrived in Monroe with a posse of 20-30 men. 

Lt. Hodgson’s arrest at the Ouachita House occurred without incident, but Selye managed to escape the hotel. Howard and his posse split up and searched through Monroe. 

One group set out for the home of John T. Ludeling, Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. A member of the posse reported, “Chief Justice Ludeling met the posse on the piazza. He said Selye was not in the house. He had been there half an hour before but had gone off, he did not know where.” Ludeling said Seyle came for legal advice, but the chief justice did not want to involve himself considering his position. Ludeling told the posse he advised Seyle to surrender. 

The posse insisted on searching the house. Ludeling showed them around. The men found a locked door leading upstairs. After a “considerable delay,” Mrs. Ludeling produced a key and the posse searched, finding nothing in the upstairs rooms. Looking up, they saw an attic hatch. With a candle lighting the way, they located their target in a dusty, cramped garret. Seyle was disarmed without a fight and escorted downstairs where he nearly fainted from fear.

While Deputy Howard returned Hodgson and Selye to the Vienna jail to await Judge Trimble, Congressman Morey, still lingering in the background, alerted Major Merrill in Shreveport of the arrests. “Lieutenant Hodgson and Deputy Marshal Selye arrested just now by sheriff Lincoln Parish, and two hundred men, and taken to Vienna. Twelve cavalrymen have followed for protection in case of attempted mob violence. Additional force should be sent at once to Vienna.” 

The brief message spurred Merrill to action. He sent telegrams to Army headquarters in New Orleans, to Hodgson care of the Lincoln Parish sheriff, to Morey in Monroe, and Jewett in Vienna. The frenzy of messages revealed Merrill’s alarm at the arrests and his opinion the lives of the two men were in jeopardy. He believed a swift military response was warranted. But would it spawn all-out war in Lincoln Parish?    

Next: The fate of the lieutenant and the marshal