HISTORY: Lincoln Parish resists federal authority

By Wesley Harris

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the creation of Lincoln Parish. This is the fourth article by Lincoln Parish Journal describing the tumultuous early days of Lincoln Parish Journal. The previous parts of this study can be found at lincolnparishjournal.com.

In Part III, the roundup of local citizens opposed to the Reconstruction government had commenced in October 1874, about 20 months after Lincoln Parish was formed. Fearing backlash against that action, 7th Cavalry Lieutenant Benjamin Hodgson and Deputy U.S. Marshal Edgar Selye had cut telegraph lines between Vienna and Monroe and refused to comply with a judge’s order to bring their prisoners to him. Hodgson and Selye were arrested in Monroe by a posse from Lincoln Parish and locked up in the
Vienna jail.

Captain Lewis Merrill, stationed in Shreveport, sent a telegram to Monroe ordering Captain George E. Head, commander of Company B of the Third Infantry, to “move to Vienna at once every disposable man . . . you are further instructed, and will, at all
hazards, protect the prisoners against any illegal violence; and this you are hereby instructed to do. A company of cavalry will report to you at Vienna at once.”

Later that night, Merrill sent frantic telegrams to Head, and to Hodgson in care of the jail, and to everyone else he could think of, insisting application be made at once to have the case transferred to a federal court.

More cavalry and infantry from Monroe, Shreveport, and New Orleans were ordered to Vienna in the belief the federal men might be in danger while lawyers were dispatched to represent them before the Vienna court. William R. Hardy, an Ohio-born attorney working in Monroe, was retained to represent Hodgson. Another Northern Republican practicing in Monroe, John H. Dinkgrave, went to Vienna to defend Selye.

Just as important as protecting the men was the need to avoid treading on local judicial authority and risk an uprising among the citizens. The assistant adjutant general in New Orleans, Major E. R. Platt, warned Merrill, “Use all expedition possible and all the force at your command to prevent violence, if necessary; but instruct all your officers to be very guarded in aiding to enforce one law not to violate another. No interference is to be made with the legal process, except to have it, if you can by legal means, transferred to the United States courts.”

On November 7, Selye and Hodgson appeared before Judge Trimble at Vienna charged with contempt of court for disregarding his writ of habeas corpus. Hodgson wired Merrill, reporting he and Selye were sentenced to ten days in the parish jail, a fine of $100, and costs of arrest. “Let me have any advice you may wish to give,” Hodgson asked.

Merrill fired off telegrams with regularity over several days demanding explanations and insisting on more information. Meanwhile, Merrill learned General Henry A. Morrow was headed to Vienna from New Orleans. When word of the telegraph line damage had reached the headquarters of the Western Union Telegraph Company in New York City, its president William Orton fired off a “very sharp letter” to the War Department demanding an explanation. With Orton’s standing as a prominent Republican known to President Grant and extensive newspaper coverage of the letter, the War Department responded quickly.

The next Monday, Judge Trimble resolved the case. Merrill again insisted a request to transfer the case to federal court be filed. Head responded there was nothing to transfer as Trimble had disposed of the matter.

The next day, after numerous telegrams, Merrill received a wire from Hardy stating that Judge Trimble had “reversed sentence and discharged Hodgson” at the request of a group of local citizens.

However, a grand jury had convened to consider a criminal charge against Hodgson for cutting the telegraph line. By evening, the grand jury had handed down an indictment against Hodgson. Captain Head wired for instructions. “[Hodgson] is not to be arrested
until tomorrow morning. Citizens offer to give bond. Morrow not arrived. What shall I do…?”

Hardy followed up with a telegram of his own to Merrill to explain the arrest was being delayed so Hodgson could leave the area. “They give Hodgson till tomorrow to get out of the way. I advise nothing. Am prepared to go into the fight if one is to be made…”

Once General Morrow assessed the situation in Vienna, he wired Merrill that Hodgson should be taken into military custody for cutting the telegraph wires. “If it is done, the military will acquire jurisdiction of the case and avoid arrest by the civil authorities,”
Morrow said. Merrill immediately telegraphed Head to make the arrest, charging Hodgson with “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.” Even with Morrow managing events in Vienna, Merrill continued to telegraph him from Shreveport
with advice to file a transfer petition.

With an agreement from Morrow that Hodgson would face military charges and a more sympathetic view of the officer’s situation by the locals, Trimble’s sentenced the lieutenant to a $1 fine plus court costs, which were either donated or waived by the court and district attorney. Hodgson accompanied Morrow back to New Orleans to face charges. Some locals assumed this was a ruse to get Hodgson out of sight.

Hodgson faced a court martial in New Orleans and was sentenced “to be reprimanded in general orders from Department Headquarters. The court is so lenient in consideration of the good character and record of the accused, and of his inexperience which has been taken advantage of in the circumstances of the present case.”

When Selye’s case was brought up, attorney John Dinkgrave produced a pardon from Governor William Kellogg negating the contempt of court charge. However, Trimble remanded Selye to the custody of the Lincoln Parish sheriff to await the grand jury’s
consideration of the telegraph wire damage. When the indictment was handed down, Dinkgrave sent word to Allen Greene at nearby Greensborough to post Selye’s $1,000 bond. Once that was accomplished, to everyone’s surprise, Dinkgrave produced a
commission as a deputy U.S. marshal and a warrant for his own client on a charge of embezzlement.

The papers reported the odd turn of events as a stunt to cart Selye out of the jurisdiction. They were right. The warrant was a fake. During his incarceration awaiting a hearing, Selye told Captain Head he had blank arrest warrant forms in his possession. He asked Head to fill one out and use it to take him into custody and remove him from the Vienna jail. Head refused, but apparently Dinkgrave followed through with the scheme. The Ouachita Telegraph cawed, “the gallant Major [Selye] escaped from
Vienna through the innocent ruse of charging himself with embezzlement.”

It was not the first time Head had been approached to undertake a nefarious deed. Selye and Congressman Morey had offered to ensure Head’s promotion to major if he would post some of his troops semi-permanently in Vienna and in Farmerville in Union

Jackson Parish Sheriff J. H. Kavanaugh went to Vienna to arrest Selye and U. S. Commissioner David Jewett based on a grand jury indictment charging them with the kidnapping of Louis G. Sholars. The men posted a bond of $1,000 each on that charge as well. Selye was taken to Monroe, by Dinkgrave and two troopers and placed on the steamer Sabine for New Orleans. Neither Selye nor Jewett would return to north Louisiana.

Two years later, in testimony before Congress, Selye admitted the roundup had a political purpose. “It was to take these prominent Democrats . . .and keep them out of the way until after the election,” Selye testified.

Selye told Congress that David Jewett signed the warrants used in the roundup. Jewett had been United States commissioner assigned to Jackson Parish and stationed in the parish seat of Vernon. Selye revealed that Jewett “was commissioned in 1872, and his commission revoked; then he was commissioned again, and that was revoked; and at the time these warrants were issued by this commissioner, I learned afterward, he was not a commissioner.” In other words, the warrants which almost brought north
Louisiana to the boiling point were invalid because Jewett had no authority to sign them.

To cover up the blunder, Jewett’s commission was renewed after the arrests. Congressman Morey told Selye of the problem and directed the deputy marshal to write U.S. Marshal Stephen Packard asking for a commission and to have federal judge William B. Woods antedate it to June or July to cover up for the flawed warrants.

Selye received Packard’s response on October 28 explaining Woods refused to backdate the commission. Instead, he dated it about October 26, after Jewett had heard the cases against the arrested men. Whatever the men of Claiborne and Lincoln had done or not done, their arrests, incarceration, and preliminary examinations were illegal.

Prosecutions never occurred.

Eventually the Republican administration withdrew troops from Louisiana and the attempt at Reconstruction ended. The Louisiana contingent of the 7th Cavalry moved to the Dakotas to rejoin regimental commander George Custer and the rest of the troop to
deal with the Sioux.

In his Congressional testimony in 1876, Selye revealed he had been threatened with prosecution in the Louisiana courts and offered bribes if he would not tell what he knew in relation to Louisiana matters. Selye wanted a promise of immunity from punishment from the U.S. Attorney General, and said he had rather be kept in the custody of the House as a recusant witness than be persecuted by his enemies in Louisiana.

When asked who had threatened him if he testified, Selye named Congressman Frank Morey, who was still representing Louisiana in the House. Selye testified he was threatened just days before his Congressional appearance by Morey and a Mr. Ayer, brother-in-law of U. S. Marshal Packard. Ayer told Selye if he testified before the committee, he would find himself in the penitentiary.

Selye gave a lengthy account of Morey’s illegal acts to secure his election, how he caused the arrest and imprisonment white citizens of the Democrat party who opposed his election, confining them until too late to be of any service at the elections in their respective parishes. Selye said Morey asked him to arrest, lead into the woods, and murder Isaac Newton Glover, a Confederate veteran and active Claiborne Parish Democrat who opposed Morey’s election. Selye refused to do it. Morey proposed the
murder in the presence U.S. Commissioner Jewett.

While Frank Morey won a third term in the 1874 Congressional race, he lost his seat in the contested 1876 election. He moved to Washington, D.C. to practice law Two years after the roundup, hard feelings remained. When Lt. Hodgson died in the battle at the Little Big Horn along with Custer on June 25, 1876, Democrat-leaning papers could not resist bringing up his actions while assigned in Louisiana. The New Orleans Bulletin reported:

“Among the killed in the massacre on the Little Big Horn we notice the names of Lieutenants Hodgson and McIntosh. Hodgson was the lieutenant who led a detachment of Dog Merrill’s troops through North Louisiana with Selye, arresting peaceable citizens,
handcuffing them, and chasing them through the country. McIntosh was the brute who headed a detachment of the same troops and led them on a similar raid into the parishes of Red River and Natchitoches.”

Tensions between Radical Republican and white Democrats climaxed with the disputed gubernatorial election in 1876. Both Republican Stephen B. Packard and Democrat Francis T. Nicholls claimed a majority of votes and established separate governments, just as the 1872 candidates had done. Political happenings in Washington, however, decided the Louisiana election. The outcome of the presidential election between Democrat Samuel J. Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was also in dispute. A compromise worked out in February 1877 gave Hayes the Presidency in exchange for removing troops from the South and permitting southern Democrats to take over governments in the three remaining militarily occupied states, Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana.

Once federal troops left Louisiana, a Democrat-led convention wrote a new constitution that voters ratified in 1879, returning Louisiana to what was called “home rule” with white Democrats controlling most of the state, parish, and municipal institutions for
nearly the next 100 years.