Minden Press-Herald

Thursday
Oct 02nd

Hunches on History

Normally I try to base my weekly columns on historic facts. I use the same research methods I would employ for a scholarly paper, with the only difference being I don't use footnotes and reference lists for the column.

This week will be different; it will be mostly about historic "hunches". In the course of doing research, particularly local history research, you often come across circumstances that suggest possible explanations for things that happened years ago.

The problem is that because of the absence of primary sources for the early years of settlement of our area, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to confirm these hunches, and all one can do is put together a hypothetical "circumstantial case."

In this week's Echo I will discuss a few of those wild guesses I've developed over the years.

The first hunch will be the one that inspired me to write this column and it deals with the career of Abraham Lincoln "Linc" Waggoner, whose death I discussed in a recent column.

One reader contacted me and wondered, since Waggoner was really never proved to have done any truly heinous crime, why was the hatred directed toward him so strong.

Now, outlaws can expect to be disliked, but I do have my own theory of a situation that could have caused hatred of Waggoner to be stronger than deserved.

It beings with his name, Abraham Lincoln Waggoner, and his date of birth, 1867, here in what would become Webster Parish in 1871.

I hope this doesn't offend anyone but the chances of a white child being named Abraham Lincoln in the South in 1867, was about equal to the chances of a Jewish child being named Adolph Hitler in 1947.

Lincoln was despised in the South and quite honestly, throughout Waggoner's entire life, which ended in 1894, anyone with those given names would have been at least a little suspect to most in the South.

So, why the name? I have come across an Abraham Lincoln Waggoner in Tennessee as early as the 1790s, nearly 20 years before the birth of the "real" Abraham Lincoln, so it is entirely possible that "our" Linc Waggoner was merely given a family name.

The problem is tracing his genealogy it has been difficult to tie his family to that of the other Abraham Lincoln Waggoner.

Linc's father John Waggoner was born in 1826 in Missouri and came to Louisiana during the 1850s. In the 1860 Census, he owned no slaves.

Both of those facts could be used to give an alternative explanation to the name he gave his son. Missouri was one of the states most strongly divided between rabid supporters and opponents of slavery.

Based on land records, it would appear that John Waggoner had enough land and money to have owned slaves, yet he did not. Was he opposed to slavery?

Further credence could come from the fact that the noted newspaperman and public official of old Claiborne Parish, Jasper W. Blackburn, married into the immediate family of Linc Waggoner.

Now, if the theory that the Waggoner family had ties to the Republican Blackburn and had always opposed slavery were true. It would put the peak of Linc's career as an outlaw and his death at a time when a battle was raging in Louisiana politics between the Bourbon Democrats and the supporters of the Populist Party who were filling the gap left by the death of the Louisiana Republican Party.

In fact, here in Webster Parish in 1892, the Populist slate upset the Democrats, an event that would be reversed four years later, returning the parish to Democratic control for the next 8 decades.

So, did the violent murder of Linc Waggoner result solely from his own deeds, or did it arise from a long-standing difference in politics between the Waggoners and local Democrats. I'm still looking and I hope to find some proof, someday.

Another of my "hair-brained" theories has to do with the circumstances of the founding of Minden and how it relates to the settlement of the Germantown Colony.

The Germantown Colony was founded by the followers of the Utopian Count Leon in late 1835, north of Minden.

But the arrival of the colonists came after a long journey. The first arrived in New York City, moved to the Economy Colony in Western Pennsylvania and, after Leon had a dispute with Economy's founder George Rapp, came down the Ohio River, into the Mississippi River, then up the Red River to a failed settlement at Grand Encore and finally to their home north of Minden.

During that trip the colonists gained a lot of attention when they came to cities, largely because the men were all dressed alike in bright green outfits – an eye-catching ensemble to say the least. One of those cities was Louisville, Kentucky, where they stayed for a few days.

Now, as the comedian Ron White has been known to say, "I told you that story to tell you this one."

The second part of this story deals with the founder of Minden, Charles Veeder. Veeder was born to a German-heritage family near Schenectady, New York, and served in the War of 1812.

After the war he embarked on a career as an attorney, entrepreneur and a speculator that would finally take him to the West Coast.

His first stop after leaving his home in New York was in Indiana. He became one of the first attorneys in Rush County in Southwest Indiana.

In fact, he was the first postmaster in Rushville, Indiana in 1822. Eventually his law practice was hindered after a public fight during a court session and he began to concentrate on commerce along the Ohio River. Among the cities where he did business was Louisville, Kentucky.

Based on Veeder's later career which saw him found Minden and eventually two cities in California after he went there during the Gold Rush, it's not hard to imagine the following scenario.

Veeder encounters the Germantown settlers during their Louisville visit and learns of their plans. The "light bulb" goes off in his head that these newcomers to the United States will have a hard time building a settlement in the wilderness since they mostly came from developed areas of Germany.

It does not take a stretch of the imagination to see Veeder's arrival in Louisiana in 1836 as no coincidence. Particularly when you consider he set up an inn and store directly between the location of the new settlers and the Dorcheat Bayou that had brought them to the area.

There is less concrete evidence in this case than with Linc Waggoner, but still, I'm digging for proof for this hypothesis.

A third hunch deals with the "Redemption" of Webster Parish from control of the carpetbagger Republicans to the Democrats in 1871. Eventually during Reconstruction every parish would be returned to control of the White Democrats.

In some cases such as the Colfax Riot, the Coushatta Massacre and the Battle of Liberty Place, for example, violent, bloody confrontations brought about this change.

In other places, such as Webster Parish, the circumstances are less clear. Many stories from Reconstruction have been intentionally buried by the families involved, one secret from those years was recently revealed in a memoir written by a family member, but it is very difficult to find much written by locals about those times.

The local newspapers from those years have long been gone, and even the parish records from those early years were apparently destroyed in a fire in 1874 (excuse my skepticism, but the timing on that "fire" seems very convenient.)

Here's what we have known. Webster Parish was created in February 1871, as a Reconstruction Parish.

Although local residents had lobbied for the creation of the Parish, it was an invention of the Republican state government of Henry Clay Warmoth.

In March 1871, Warmoth appointed the first parish officials, mostly white, but with some Republicans and a few former slaves.

Mysteriously, by September 1871, all the Republican and black parish officials had resigned (although the Town of Minden would have at least one black Alderman until 1886) and Webster Parish would not have a Republican or black public official again until the late 1960s.

So what happened to cause the "Redemption" of Webster Parish?

For many years I puzzled over this without any clues. Finally a few years back while researching another topic, I came across a possible clue to an explanation in the pages of the old Bossier Banner.

Editor J. M. Scanland pontificated from his desk in the Bossier Parish seat of Bellevue on all area events.

In August 1871, in his recap of local news he made what at first seemed a bizarre reference.

He said, "the knights at Minden had a joust the other night, good results have been reported."

Now for a brief explanation of what I read that to mean.

In Louisiana the major terrorist organization among whites in early Reconstruction was not the Ku Klux Klan, but rather the Knights of the White Camellia.

Now, Minden had active chapters of both organizations and it is true that the members of the Klan also called themselves knights, but my "hunch" is that the "joust" by the knights at Minden, was describing a formal intimidation of the black and Republican officials in Webster Parish by the local Knights of the White Camellia. The good results meant that resignations were obtained.

That guess is not purely speculation as that type of event was the pattern repeated all over Louisiana by the Knights, Klan and later by the White League.

They would approach the officials either in a clandestine encounter by the two "secret" groups, or in a public area in the case of the White League and request the officials step down.

If they complied, they were usually allowed to remain and live in peace or, in the case of Carpetbaggers who had come to the South only recently be escorted on their way out of town.

(The most notable exception to that protocol came at Coushatta, where the White League received voluntary resignations from the officials who were family and friends of Marshall Harvey Twitchell, and then reneged on the agreement, rode down the Carpetbaggers and killed them in the Coushatta Massacre.)

As in the other cases, I am searching for proof, but perhaps even more than the other two cases, I strongly believe that Scanland was writing in almost a code, letting the residents of the area know that control of Webster Parish had been completely returned to the Democrats.

These are not my only "hunches", I have several others I may share at a later date, and in a few cases, I have seen my hunches backed up by solid evidence. I will be sharing one of those stories at some future date.

John Agan is a local historian, an instructor at Bossier Parish Community College and a published author. His column appears Fridays in the Minden Press-Herald.

Last Updated ( June 03, 2011 )  

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