The Colfax Massacre 1873
On April 13, 1873, violence erupted in Colfax, Louisiana. The White League, a paramilitary group intent on securing white rule in Louisiana, clashed with Louisiana's almost all-black state militia. The resulting death toll was staggering. Only three members of the White League died. But some one hundred black men were killed in the encounter. Of those, nearly half were murdered in cold blood after they had already surrendered. The incident once again showed President how hard it would be to guarantee the rights and the safety of blacks in the South.
Since the end of the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations had been growing in strength in the South. Prior to the war, white Southern Democrats had enjoyed a great deal of governmental power. But when the war ended, Democrats were no longer powerful. Northern Republicans controlled the nation's government. They placed federal troops in Southern cities to keep that control. Southerners deeply resented this imposition.
Two laws that Southern Democrats hated were the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to blacks and declared that no state was to deprive them of "life, liberty, or property." The Fifteenth Amendment prevented a state from denying the vote to any person because of their race. Together, these laws guaranteed blacks equal citizenship. Southern Democrats, however, feared that blacks would not only vote Republican, but would be considered equal to their white former masters.
Conflicts between Republicans and Democrats in Louisiana were particularly frequent in 1872. That year, the state election produced two governors, both claiming to be the legitimate one. When the federal government supported the Republican governor by sending federal troops to Louisiana, the white residents of the state refused to cooperate.
Louisiana whites formed their own "shadow" government and their own army, the White League. The White League, similar to the Ku Klux Klan, intimidated and attacked Republicans and blacks all over the state. While the worst violence occurred in Colfax, other incidents were sparked in Coushatta, when the White League murdered six Republicans, and in New Orleans, when thirty were killed and one hundred more wounded.
In response to these incidents and others throughout the South, President Grant ordered federal troops to restore order. But most of the relief was temporary. After Colfax, the federal government convicted only three whites for the murders. In the end, they were freed when the U.S. Supreme Court declared that they had been convicted unconstitutionally. The battle over Reconstruction and the rights of blacks would continue.
From the Congressional Record, House of Representatives, 44th Congress,
2d Session, Ex. Doc. No. 30, "The Use of the Army in Certain of the
Southern States" (pg. 436)
Headquarters Post of Colfax, LA.
May 29, 1875
Second Lieutenant Geo. D. Wallace,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, District of Upper Red River, Shreveport, La:
Sir: I have the honor to submit herewith the list of persons killed and wounded in the parish of Grant, Louisiana, and comprising a few names of those killed in this vicinity, in the contiguous parish of Rapides. These names comprise those furnished in my report in February last; the same were also furnished to Major G. A. Forsyth, A. D. C. to the Lieutenant-General, commanding Division of the Missouri. It was impossible to procure the names at an earlier date, as I was compelled to rely on persons over whom I had not control, and was obliged to wait their pleasure and convenience. I am unable to procure data from the upper portion of the parish, as those persons on whom I could rely for such information are afraid to trust to the perils of travel in the "pine woods."
1/Jessie McKenzie, colored/April, 1873/2 ® miles from Just before Colfax, La./riot.
2/More Reed, colored/April 12, 1873/"/"/Colfax riot.
4/H. M. Elzy/"/"/"/"/"
28 /Elias Johnson/"/"/"/"/"
64/Matt. Parker/"/ "/"/"/"
73/Carry Johnson/"/April 8, 1873/"/Hadnot Settlement/Incident to/Colfax riot.
74/Charles Sumpter/April 13, 1873/Colfax, La./Colfax riot.
81/Warren Williams/April_, 1873/Rapides Parish, La./Incident to riot
82/Charles Russell/April 13, 1873/Colfax, La./Colfax riot.
83/Peter Palmer/April, 1873/Grant Parish in/John Luer's/Ringwood/plantation.
84/Joe White/1872/Grant Parish/Three miles/from Colfax.
85/Jeff. Roper/April, 1873/Rapides Parish/Opposite /Colfax
86/George Barnes/1872/"/"/Near Cotilo.
88/Hamp. Bullitt/October 1873/Near Colfax, La./On Bayou/Dara.
89/Fountain Shaw/April, 1873/Grant Parish Piny Woods
90/John Bonner/April 13, 1873/Colfax, La./Riot; mortally/wounded.
91/Sam Love/1874/Grant Parish,/Between Piny woods./Montgomery/and Colfax.
92/Edware Ware/1873/Grant Parish/No reason /known.
93/Mil. Robinson/April 1, 1873/"/"/Oh his way to Colfax.
94/Tony Williams/Nov., 1873/"/"/}For
95/Charles Vincent/Nov., 1873/"/"/}alleged rape
96/Tom Milton/Nov., 1873/"/"/}of
97/Hamp Harrison/Nov., 1873/"/"/}Miss LaCour
98/Van Moses/Nov., 1873/"/"/}while in
99/Alex. Randolph/Nov., 1873/"/"/}custody of/ / the sheriff./
100/Alfred Frazier/Dec., 1868/"/"/
102/D. W. White**/Oct., 1871/Colfax, La./
103/Volsam Cox/1871/Grant Parish
105/Jeff Yawn**/Nov., 1873/Colfax, La./Killed by colored militia
106/Frank Forster/Aug., 1874/Grant Parish Piny /woods/
108/Needham Waters**/Oct., 1874/Grant Parish
/18 Unknown colored/April 13, 1873/Colfax, La. riot/Bodies buried
/15-20 Unidentified/"/"/"/Colfax, La. riot/Between 15-
//20 were shot /on the banks /of the river /and their
//in the river;
//not included /in the names.
/______ Harris**/"/"/"/Colfax, La. riot
List of Wounded
1/Flam Williams/April 13, 1873/Colfax, La./Colfax riot.
36/About 10-12 whites/"/"/"/"/"/"/"
46/William Ward/Nov. 7, 1873/"/"/"/"
It will be seen that at least one hundred and five (105) colored and three(3)
whites were killed in the Colfax riot, or in connection therewith, in April,
1873, and about forty-five (45) wounded. This does not include those said
to have been thrown into the river.
Ed. L. Godfrey
First Lieutenant Seventh Cavlary, Commanding Post.
History of the period at the 1873 Battle of Colfax by James K. Hogue, Associate Professor of History, UNC - Charlotte. This PDF file requires Adobe Reader.
Manie White Johnson
It seemed that there were two factions of negroes in the court house; one, mostly young darkies who had wished to surrender earlier, but had been prevented by some older negroes who were filled with undying hatred for the white race. These latter were under the command of Alex Tilman. Mr. Hadnot, Sidney Harris, A. I. Hopkins, C. A. Duplissey and several others, seeing the flag of truce and being desirous of making terms of capitulation as quickly as possible and letting the negroes escape from the burning building, rushed up to the court house. When they reached the door a volley was fired at them by the Tilman faction, mortally wounding Mr. Hadnot, and Mr. Harris who fell in the doorway.
Infuriated at this cowardly and treacherous murder of their comrades who had been thus lured to their death by the false flag of truce, the whites slaughtered many of the negroes as they rushed from the burning building, and many were ridden down in the open fields and shot without mercy. Those lying wounded on the court house square were pinned to the ground by bayonets. By four o'clock all firing had ceased and about forty of the fleeing "black sons of Canon," as the Rev. Smith called them, were put under a guard and taken to an "old garden surrounded by a picket fence, ostensibly to bring them to Alexandria to jail."
Late that afternoon, said Mr. Duplissey, "Captain Dave Paul and Mr. Yawn came walking by me and says, "We got most of them, but the man which we want. We don't see him among the dead." I says, "examine them carefully, maybe you can find him there (in the garden). We walked down the line and there was a negro with his hat pulled down over his eyes. Jim Yawn was laying for the man who killed Jeff (in 1871). Yawn lifted his hat up and grabbed him by the coat and says, 'I got you,' and took him about twenty steps and shot him."
By nightfall most of the white men had dispersed, many of them going to their homes. The Rapides and Catahoula men spent the night at the Calhoun sugar house. When Mr. Tanner arrived there about dusk "Dave Stafford was issuing out rations. We had not had anything to eat since the night before and he gave me a section of raw pork and a piece of corn bread. That was the best supper I ever ate. "That night a messenger came riding up to the sugar house and asked Tanner and Mason to help take some prisoners to Alexandria. "When I got to the garden," continued Mr. Tanner, "I heard Luke Hadnot say, 'I can take five,' and five men stepped out. Luke lined them up and his old gun went off, and he killed all five of them with two shots. Then it was like popcorn in a skillet. They killed those forty-eight."
Another version of that night's massacre, as told by the father of A. M. Goodwyn, is as follows:
"Notwithstanding this fearful carnage some forty prisoners were taken by those disposed to be more kind. At four o'clock all firing had ceased and the whites were masters of the situation. There was a general disbandment of the whites, many of whom went home thinking all was over.
"About dark the steamboat, Southwestern, came down the river, taking Mr. Hadnot, who was then in a dying state, and other seriously wounded on board. While this boat was at the landing a number of whites drank pretty freely and became intoxicated. After the boat was gone and nearly all the sober and influential men had lain down to sleep, these parties, all of whom were young, reckless, and irresponsible men, determined to go to the yard where the negroes were. About ten o'clock before anyone was aware of their intentions, they opened fire on the defenseless negroes, who broke and ran in all directions. Of the forty negroes in the yard about twenty were killed."
Neither Mr. Duplissey nor Mr. Hopkins witnessed the scene of that night's horror, for late that evening Captain Paul called together the men from Rapides and said: "Every one that came in here with me, I want to go out with me. Now we have accomplished what we came to do, and I don't want nothing touched. Get on your horses and let's go.' And the men who went in there with him came out without anything in their hands." And Captain Peck of the Catahoula detachment, remarked, "Boys, let's don't have anything to do with that. We did not go there to kill unarmed negroes."
The Colfax Riot of April, 1873 by Manie White Johnson, probably written in the 1920's Reprint by Dogwood Press, Hemphill, Texas, 1994, pages 27-29
Reconstruction: The Riot Tree, Grant Parish
Source: Colfax Parish Library, folder of unpublished thesis on the Colfax Riot
Unpublished paper written for English 163 by Mrs. Adele N. Ethridge, date unknown
540 May Drive
Madison, TN 37115
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THE RIOT TREE
A Historical Sketch of the Colfax Riot of 1873, during Reconstruction Days in Louisiana.
Data taken from writer's own observations, from acquaintances with old citizens, and from Louisiana Historical Quarterly,
v. 13, 1930, "The Colfax Riot", by White.
v. 18, 1935, "The White League", by Lestage.
Cole beside the gravel in a quiet street of Colfax, Louisiana, is a slightly sunken area about three feet in diameter. Over this children run as they play in the street, and slow moving cows crop the soft grass as they feed along the street on either side of the gravel driveway. This scarcely noticeable spot is all that remains to mark the place where until a few years ago stood a tall pecan tree of the small nut variety common to the lowland forests of Louisiana. But this old tree, notwithstanding its beautiful, peaceful, widespread limbs, had witnessed scenes of anguish and bloodshed for it had had the fortune to grow not far from the court house during the stormy period of Reconstruction days.
The tree was after that time know as the Riot Tree, and the reason for its name is recorded in the annuls of Louisiana's history.
After the four terrible years of fighting in the Civil War (1861-65), the Legislature of 1864 elected by the Unionists in Louisiana adopted the thirteenth amendment which abolished slavery, and sent representatives to Congress. Lincoln recognized this Louisiana government but Congress refused to receive these representatives. Meanwhile, the Confederates kept up a government at Shreveport under Governor H. W. Allen while the Federals kept up one at New Orleans under B. F. ("Spoon" or "Beast") Butler. Under these conditions riots occurred in a number of places in the state. After the riot in New Orleans, in 1866, the rejection of the fourteenth amendment (making citizens of negroes) by the Louisiana Legislature of 1867, the passage of the Black Codes (rules to prevent negroes from gathering in idle unruly cords), Congress feared that the negroes were not safe under their former masters. Military rule was again established in Louisiana and a new constitution for the state made in 1868. H. C. Warmoth, a carpet bagger, and Oscar Dunn, a negro, were elected governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. Thus by 1869 carpet bag rule was in full power in the state, and as James Ford Rhodes, the historian, says of this period, "it is a sickening tale of extravagant waste, corruption, and fraud."
At that time, as is still the case in the lowlands of Louisiana, the negro population was in excess of the white, and since most white men were debarred from voting because of having fought against the Untied States or having aided those who did so fight, officials were elected by carpet-baggers (northern men who came South to help the negro), scalaways (southern withe men who assisted negro rule), or negroes themselves. This state of affairs could scarcely be tolerated by the proud former masters of slaves, so a reform party was organized to replace the state government by a better one, but under Warmoth's influence the party advocated equal suffrage to black and white.
In the election of 1872 both Democrat (loyal white citizens) and Republicans claimed the victory. While McEnery, for governor, and Penn, for lieutenant governor, were elected by a majority of white votes, Kellogg and Antoine (a negro) received the sanction of the Federal Government. President Grant sent Federal troops to uphold Kellogg and Antoine. Thus bitter antagonism resulted in Louisiana for the real citizens refused to acknowledge Kellogg but proclaimed McEnery governor. There were therefore, two governors in the state.
The first open, forceful opposition to Kellogg from the conservative element was the event which occurred in Colfax in 1873.
In December, 1872, two citizens of Colfax, Cazabat and Nash, were elected by the citizens of Grant Parish judge and sheriff respectively. These were commissioned by Governor McEnery, and took up their duties. In April, 1873, agents were sent to Kellogg at New Orleans to get commissions from him for these officials. The agents were well receive and Kellogg even announced in the New Orleans Republican that he had commissioned Cazabat and Nash, but he really commissioned two Republicans, Register and Shaw, for judge and sheriff.
These men arrived in Colfax March 23, 1873, accompanied by a tax collector, a clerk (of Kellogg's choosing), a negro state representative, and a negro from Pennsylvania. Register and Shaw attempted to take up their duties in the court house, and secretly began to summon armed negroes.
The white people, becoming alarmed, called a mass meeting April 1 to settle the difficulty. A small party arrived, but finding only a crowd of armed negroes present, departed at once.
After four days a small party of whites came within a mile of Colfax where they were fired upon by more than two hundred negroes. The whites returned fire but retreated, pursued by the negroes. Agents both wrote and went to Kellogg for a settlement of this affair, but received no satisfaction. In the first week of April Sheriff Nash summoned a posse of men to settle this terrible condition. A small party, collecting four miles north of Colfax, soon grew into a small army, being joined by men from Winn, Natchitoches, and Rapides Parish, and on April 6 men from Catahoula Lake and Sicily Island came in. On April 12, on the banks of the Darrow, a mile out of town, lines were drawn up under Sheriff Nash. These men pledged to each other to rid the country of "Black Devils." Nash and a companion, under a flag of truce,
forced a negro to bring Allen, the leader of the negroes, before them. Nash demanded that the negroes disperse and leave home rule to the white citizens. Allen refuse to do this.
Negroes had already made many depredations on the property of the whites, continuing to roam the town armed, and openly making threats of destroying the white men, and of taking the white women as wives and servants.
About noon on Easter Sunday, April 12th, the white men crossed the Darrow and advanced upon the negro quarters of the town. Then the skirmish began, the whites pouring volleys into the trenches which the negroes had constructed. The blacks fled in every direction, pursued by the whites. Many negroes were killed, and their leader, Allen, fled. Some took refuge in the court house, where they were surrounded by the whites. After some time the court house caught on fire, by what means is not known, and the negroes within raised a white flag of truce. At once the whites advanced to the house to make terms of peace, but were fired upon by the opened fire, killing many negroes, but few escaping.
Some of those captured were taken by the whites and hanged upon the branches of the nearby spreading oak, others were imprisoned.
By evening all was quiet, and white men again controlled the situation. Silently the white bands dispersed and negroes were allowed to bury their dead, some of which they placed int he trenches about the court house and covered with earth.
Nine of the white leaders were afterwards indicted, brought before Federal Court, and finally had their case referred to the Supreme Court which decided that the states, not the United State, should settle this case, thus proving that the fourteenth amendment had added nothing to the rights of citizenship, under the constitution, but merely prevented the denial of the right of citizenship. Thus this riot served to place the South on the way to home rule by the white citizens.
And the Riot Tree, which had done its part also towards this end, stood long as a reminder that peace and order had been won by courage and determination.
Today, in the Hall of Fame in the Congressional Library, Washington, D. C., there hangs a picture of this famous tree, through the town of Colfax know it no more; for in 1930 the tree which bore on its trunk a metal plate inscribed "The Colfax Riot Tree, April 13, 1873", was struck by lightning. The next year its dead body was cut down to prevent its falling on the street.
It would be but an act of justly appreciative memory of those who fought and of those who died in defense of home and country if the present parish of Grant would mark the site of the old Riot Tree with a column, for thus is history often recorded for future generations.
Mrs. Adele N. Ethridge
Baton Rouge, La
Written for The Bugle
Writer of this article has lived for the past ten years within two blocks of the Court House herein mentioned; has witnessed the recent exhuming of bones of the slain negroes mentioned; has heard many of given facts rehearsed by old citizens; particularly by the late Judge J. H. Williams; once see the picture of the tree in the Hall of Fame. Some of the data used is from Louisiana Historical Quarterly, v 13 1930, "The Colfax Riot", by Miss White, and v 18, 1935, "The White League in Louisiana", by H. O. Lestage, Jr.
Alexandria Town Talk, July 15, 1957
GRANT PARISH HISTORY AFFECTED U.S.
By Loyd Harrison
(As told to Richard Briley III)
Historical events of Grant parish like southern cooking, have affected the entire United States. While George Washington was ordering his Indian campaigns, Bienville camping at Choctaw Springs was making history in this area with his explorations.
After Bienville came two other Frenchmen, Oss and Soss, with a Spanish land grant who settled at Montgomery which then was on a stream called Rigollette du Bon Dieu. The parish gradually came to have a number of "Roe Gullies" named after this stream.
By 1800 the two Frenchmen owned a large amount of land in Grant and Winn parishes, but with the Louisiana Purchase in 1804 a tide of English speaking squatters began to establish homes and settlements in the area.
JESUITS COME IN
The Jesuits came into the area in 1830 and established a school and mission on Carencrow Creek near the Montgomery Landing. This became the Carencrow Mission and Convent and students from many sectors came here to study.
The first trading post was established by Nomite Rachal on an Indian graveyard beside the mission, but Nomite and his family were later killed, supposedly by a traveler put off a boat near the settlement, ending the activities of the post.
Yellow fever broke out at Grand Ecore in 1850, and the priest and sisters in the Convent died aiding the ill. Instead of sending replacements to run the mission, the convent was closed.
Montgomery found its making in 1832 when the waters of Red River broke over at Grande Ecore to Bayou Rigollette du Bon Dieu and cut a new channel to Colfax. A rocky marl floor in the river halted shipping at this point and in dry weather provided a natural bridge for all east and west traffic. Stores sprang up here and the landing became a trading center for Winn, Grant and Bienville parishes.
"NO MAN'S LAND"
Hostilities between French and Spanish settlers had created a frontier "no man's land" between the holdings of the two nations. In the Grant and Winn area this buffer strip extended westward to Winnfield and on the other side of the river to Robeline sector, and through this no man's land ran the famous Indian trail, the Natchez Trace, literally "Notches Three," which extended from Tennessee and Mississippi into Texas and Old Mexico.
During the Civil War, Admiral David Dixon Porter, commanding the Eastport and several other war vessels, sailed up Red River and began to shell the town of Montgomery. As the warheads burst all about, Mrs. Elizabeth Harrison ran out with a cloth and gave the Eastern Star signal of distress. Almost instantly the firing ceased.
By this time federal dredges had blown out the rocky floor in the river at Montgomery, and Porter and his flotilla moved on up stream to Grand Ecore.A few days later he returned with his fleet but lost the Eastport below Montgomery. The old hull of the federal ship is still embedded in a sand bar.
Colfax gradually grew into a sugar and cotton center with large plantations on every side. In 1868 when Grant became a parish, cut out of Winn and Rapides, it was the northern most sugar producing center in the state.
Because its plantations had been worked entirely by slaves, the Reconstruction Days found more Negroes in the settlement than whites, causing the great friction in parish elections.
Backed by the rifles and bayonets of union troops, newly freed Negroes and carpetbaggers were oppressing the Southern whites, even to the point of over throwing elections. Radicals, located throughout the state, raised the former slaves to frenzies of hate against their former masters. As a result of this carpetbaggery, the Colfax Riot was to occur, with the killing of about 150 Negroes and clamping further oppression the whites.
The self installed William Pitt Kellogg, union backed governor of Louisiana, apparently fearful of losing his office if the whites were allowed more freedom, is give the blame in the souther viewpoint of the 1873 battle.
An unidentified "Republican," in an interview for a New Orleans paper, nine years later disclosed that he had sat in the governor's office when representatives of both parties of a disputed Grant parish election appeared before Kellogg. Speaking to each separately, the governor gave both sides, the white supported party which had won the election, and the Negro and carpetbagger minority party, a set of commissions, instructing them to "resort to violence" if necessary, to hold their offices according to the Republican. The white officials moved into the courthouse but were promptly driven out by a large number of Negroes. The whites then decided to hold a meeting in Colfax to determine action but were prevented by another large band of threatening colored men. Meanwhile, frightened by the actions of the bands of Negroes, white residents of the town fled. The Negro armed bands then broke into the deserted houses looting and committing other acts of violence.
Outraged Southerners from other parishes, hearing of the acts of violence, marched to the support of the outnumbered Grant parish white men. The Southerners advanced on the Negroes and outflanking them threw the colored fighters into confusion, after which the Negroes retreated to the Colfax Courthouse.
The Negroes had fortified the courthouse well, but a wooden shingled roof was its undoing. The whites set fire to the roof, and a white flag appeared from a window of the courthouse. A Committee of the whites advanced to make hurried terms of a surrender. Then shots rang out from he courthouse and the members of the committee fell, three of them mortally wounded.
The outraged white citizens, seeing their leaders shot down after the white flag was raised, fired upon the colored fighters as they poured out of the rapidly burning courthouse. Others were hunted down individually.
The Colfax riot had regrettable effects afterward. Union troops and marshals clamped down on the area and arrested some of the white participants in the fighting. But the men were defended by top members of the New Orleans bar without charge, and little penalty of consequence was laid down for most of the men of the famous riot.