Minden Press-Herald

Oct 01st

1880’s crime from new news sources

For many years, most of us who research Northwest Louisiana and Webster Parish history have relied on this quote from Biographical and Historic Memoirs of Northwest Louisiana as the "gold standard" for dating newspaper history in Minden:

"The Minden Iris was the name of a newspaper published at Minden in 1848. This was undoubtedly the first journal issued within the area now embraced in Webster Par., Louisiana but who the publisher was no one can remember, nor would the Iris be mentioned had it not been referred to in one of the old records of Bienville Parish."

Well, my reliance on that secondary source has been shaken and actually destroyed.

Recently I gained access to some "new" digitized versions of old Louisiana newspapers.

In the New Orleans Daily Picayune of December 19, 1841, I found a story copied from the Minden Gazette of November 30, 1841.

To dispel any doubts about the place of publication, the Picayune emphasized that the Gazette was published at Minden in Claiborne Parish. So much for the Iris being the first paper in modern Webster.

In subsequent research I have come across two more local papers that predate the Iris and three additional local newspapers whose names I've never before seen.

I'm very excited about the wonderful information that may be found in these images I've just begun exploring.

We have only one or two issues of any Minden newspaper prior to the late 1870s in a readable form. Access to even these second-hand stories from that "dead period" is a big step forward.

These secondary and tertiary accounts of local news from that missing era are going to be helpful in answering some lingering questions about our past.

I have already found quite a few articles with pertinent "new" information about our past.

However, this week I'm going to transcribe three articles detailing crimes in Minden between July 1882 and February 1883 that make our area seem to really be part of the "wild, wild west" in that era of over 125 years ago.

I knew about one of these events, as it was covered in the Minden Tribune, of which we still have some extant copies; but the other two were "news" to me.

These aren't earth-shattering events, but they do give a unique picture of wild times in our area.

The first article comes from the Daily Picayune of July 31, 1882. It is a reprint of a story that appeared in the Shreveport Standard of July 28, 1882.

The article was headlined: "Highway Robbery – The Minden Mail Stage Robbed In The Broad Light Of Day On the Public Road by Masked Men."

Here is that story:

"The Minden stage, due here yesterday morning, did not arrive till about 3 o'clock in the afternoon on account of its being robbed. On its arrival, a Standard reporter sought the passengers and driver, and learned the following facts:

"About 9 o'clock in the morning when passing through the woods near Clark's Bayou about three miles beyond Fillmore in Bossier Parish, two masked men made their appearance and called to Mr. Marion Tolly, the driver, to halt, which he failed to obey, and they soon reached the leaders of his team of four horses and stopped them. While one took charge of the driver and team, the other ordered the passengers to throw up their hands and get out of the stage, which they did at the mouth of the highwayman's pistol without any other persuasive eloquence on his part.

"By this time the partner came to the group and the process of going through them was proceeded with. From a Mr. Hill, one of the passengers, they got about $10; from Mr. Alex Homer, of Minden, $4; from Mr. J. R. Stinson, of De Soto Parish, a watch chain and ring. They failed to get $175 this gentleman had in his pocket. It seems they took him for a parson and let him off easy. From Mr. R. W. Walker, of Shreveport, they got $10.75.

"While this was going on Tolly, the driver, was occupying his seat on the box, thinking they were going to let him off. Not so, however, as he was required to shuck out his pile, amounting to five dollars and fifty cents.

"They then called for the mail bags, which Tolly refused to give up, but they soon procured them, and while one of the daring highwaymen kept the whole party holding their hands up at the mouth of a revolver, the other proceeded to cut the leather mail pouch open, and secured thirteen registered packages, which they made off with. The rest of the mail they left scattered on the ground, and after their departure it was gathered up by Mr. Tolly.

"Before leaving the highwaymen made Mr. Tolly get down and take the nuts off the wheels on the left side of the stage and give them to them, and they carried them off, making their escape into the woods, and telling the stage driver not to leave for an hour.

"By wrapping the end of the spindles with rope, Mr. Tolly was enabled to get the stage to Fillmore, where he had new nuts put on.

"The two highwaymen wore masks made of black cambric, which fit closely over their heads. Eyeholes and mouth holes were cut in the masks, and on the back part of the head they did not entirely cover the hair. While the robbery was going on, Mr. Tolly, who was sitting on the box, took in the two individuals as best he could who had so unceremoniously stopped the mail stage.

"He describes one of them as being a stout, heavy set man, weighing about 220 pounds, and about 5 feet 10 inches in height, black moustache, hair and eyes, and dark complexion.

"The other was somewhat taller and had auburn hair and moustache.

"In answer to our inquiry as to how he could tell the color of the hair, etc., Mr. Tolly said he sat upon the box of the stage while the robbery was going on and the wind sometimes blowed the masks up and he could tell the color of the hair from behind as the masks did not entirely cover it. He thinks he could know them if he saw them again. One of them wore blue cottonade pants and black vest and the other black pants.

"The driver was unarmed, as was the case with the passengers, and hence were the victims of one of the most daring robberies it has ever been our duty to record."

The second "true crime" adventure comes from the Daily Picayune of January 31, 1883, quoting the account of the Sparta Times of January 27, 1883.

That story was headlined: "Fatal Shooting Affray" and details a slightly different stagecoach-related adventure.

The story was this:

"Mr. J. A. Williamson, while traveling from Shreveport via Minden to this place last Saturday was forced to the very unfortunate necessity of killing a man in self defense.

"While the stage was detained at Fillmore for the purpose of changing horses, one John Justis, the hostler at that point, and who was drinking was very abusive and insulting toward the passengers.

"One of the passengers got out of the stage to resent the insulting epithets of Justis. Mr. Williamson, on discovering that a serious difficulty was about to occur between the passenger and Justis, got out of the stage and placed himself between the two men in order to stop the difficulty.

"In the effort to separate the two men Justis fell or was thrown to the ground. Mr. Williamson raised him to his feet and assisted him to the steps of a gallery nearby. Justis then with a look of great vengeance, told Mr. Williamson that he was going to kill him.

"He (Justis) went back into the house. While he was gone, either one of the passengers or the stage driver, Mr. Williamson did not know which, told him he had better prepare himself, for that man certainly intended to kill him.

"Whereupon Mr. Williamson proceeded to the stage and procured his pistol. When he saw Justis coming with a pistol, he stepped past the corner of the house. Justis came out and very quickly threw his pistol on Williamson, holding the handle in both hands.

"Fortunately for Mr. W., the pistol failed to fire. Mr. Williamson, on perceiving that the man was determined to kill him, fired on him, the ball taking effect in the region of the bowels.

"Justis died in ten hours after being shot. Mr. Williamson gave himself up to the authorities and after preliminary examination was released. He arrived in town on Thursday evening."

The third story, titled: "Outlawry in Webster Parish", came from the Daily Picayune of March 1, 1883, reprinting the story from the Minden Tribune of February 22 of that same year.

It describes one of the earliest mentions of the Germantown colony I've found in the news media and this is that story:

"A dastardly and bold robbery was attempted at Dutch Town on last Monday evening.

"Three men entered the house of Mr. Hahner and asked for something to eat. Mr. Hahner was in Minden at the time.

"Mr. Stakowsky, on old and highly respected gentleman, who is living with Mr. Hahner, was at home, but the men seized him and tied his hands behind his back and then tied Mrs. Hahner's hands. They also overpowered Mr. Krebs, another old gentleman whose house is in the same yard.

"They then went through Mr. Hahner's house, but did not find anything of value. They then entered Mr. Krebs' house and while pilfering it, Mr. Hahner rode up.

"His wife informed him in German of what was taking place and as he started for the house of Mr. Krebs, the robbers took fright and ran off.

"We believe they only secured a few dollars and some other articles of small value.

"These people were originally from Germany and came to America with Count Leon, who settled on Red River many years ago. The Count died there, and also many other members of his band.

"They then moved to what is known as Dutch Town, about eight miles north of Minden, and for a long time were quite a thriving people.

"The war came on and broke them up. The original numbers, with a few exceptions, have all died and the balance are scattered all over the parish and are now considered our most successful farmers.

"Mr. Stakowsky holds the remnants of relics left by the Count, and it is supposed the robbers thought there was also a large amount of money.

"They were mistaken in this. The relics are only valuable as mementoes and have no commercial value, but are highly esteemed by these old people.

"As yet, the robbers have not been overtaken, though everything is being done by Sheriff Reagan to capture them."

For those who know the history of the Germantown Colony, they will recognize that Mr. Stakowsky was the music teacher who came into Minden and provided musical instruction to the children of many of the prominent families in town.

So there are three episodes of wild-west style crime in old Minden. So far I have come across more than 200 different accounts of Minden from the "dead period" and more of those stories will be appearing in future Echoes of our Past.

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.






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