Notes from the History of Madison Parish Louisiana

By William M. Murphy

Published by the Louisiana Polytechnic Institute Department of Printing - November 1927

Madison Coordinator's note: The late Mr. William M. Murphy of the Louisiana Bar and prominent citizen of Madison Parish died in 1935 and is buried in Silver Cross Cemetery at Tallulah. His wife, Minnie, was the author of several articles on Madison Parish, including the Biography of Rena Cox Boney and one on the 1927 flood that was published in the August 1927 Atlantic Monthly. "Miss Minnie", as she was affectionately known, died in 1957 and is also buried in Silver Cross Cemetery at Tallulah. RPS


This sketch was prepared at the suggestion of the Tallulah Book Club, a body organized by a little band of Madison Parish women in the year 1902, now grown into an important civic and literary force in the parish, and affiliated with the Federation of Women's Clubs of Louisiana.

The Social Science Department of the Louisiana Polytechnic Institute has generously interested itself in the essay to the extent of publishing it on their press, and Professor David M. Amacker of that institution has been kind enough to make a number of helpful suggestions on the form of the manuscript.

For this generosity and interest both the College and Mr. Amacker have the grateful thanks of the author.


Almost unheralded in the outer world, the people of the Delta, from its settlement to the flood of 1927, have been visited with a peculiar poignancy by romance, adventure, tragedy. The memory of the pioneers, men and women made of the stuff of empire-builders, who cleared away the forest, dyked out the Mississippi and founded a cotton kingdom in the alluvial plain is still cherished among their descendants; and tradition is rich with their achievements.

To do full justice to this stirring epic, to draw complete portraits of the vigorous personalities who have contributed whether spectacularly or inconspicuously to the life of the lower Mississippi Valley would require time and space beyond the command of a busy man of affairs. The author has confined himself to the one Delta parish of Madison, which he knows thoroughly, through residence there, participation in its political life, access to its court records and personal acquaintance with many of the later figures in its history. Limitations of space have indeed prevented exhaustive treatment even in this restricted field.

President Wilson has wisely said: "The history of a nation is only the history of its villages writ large"; and one may confidently believe that the general reader as well as the student of Mississippi Valley or of Louisiana history, political and social, finding in these "Notes" the engaging story of a small segment of the great valley will gain clearer insight into its history as a whole and into a unique phase of American life.

D. M. AMACKER. Louisiana Polytechnic Institute. Ruston, Louisiana


Five national flags have floated over the territory lying within the bounds of Madison Parish; but we cannot even conjecture how many aboriginal tribes during preceding ages may have sojourned here or held its soil by their prowess in battle. We only know that both the Ouachita and the Tensas tribes of Indians were found on or near these grounds by the first white settlers; and that long ago, far before the records of written history begin, other tribes or nations ruled its land; people who must have been both numerous and industrious, since they could build with such primitive tools or implements as they are thought to have used, the remarkable "Indian Mounds" which stand as mute witnesses of the past existence of unknown men and of unknown ages.

The daring Spanish explorer, Fernando DeSoto, who came out upon the east bank of the Mississippi some hundreds of miles north, probably near the present city of Memphis, was undoubtedly the first white man to look upon the wooded shores of this parish, as he floated southward on that stream to meet his death a little further down its current.

Of the five flags that have waved over the soil of Madison Parish, there first appeared the French fleur-de-lis, white emblem of the Bourbons; then the Spanish banner, and next the French Tricolor of Revolution and First Empire. The tricolor was in turn followed by the Stars and Stripes, which was replaced for a time by the Stars and Bars of the Southern Confederacy; and again came the Stars and Stripes as the standard of a reunited people.

Geographically, the history of the parish begins properly with the Louisiana Territory, that vast indefinite area claimed by France and extending from the Alleghenies westward to the Rockies and from the Gulf of Mexico to the region around the Great Lakes. The Territory was divided in 1721 under Governor Bienville into nine districts, one of which was called New Orleans, and embraced what we now know as the State of Louisiana, including Madison Parish. But many legislative acts affecting its territory were to be passed before Madison should be named and bounded as it is today. By an Act of the Territorial Council of Orleans in 1805, its area was placed within the "County of Ouachita"; and by the same legislative body, the southern part of it was taken from Ouachita and added to "Concordia County" in 1809. In 1811, all that country lying south of a point opposite Vicksburg, Mississippi, was given to Concordia, and all north of this point running up the Mississippi River to the Arkansas line, was made into a new county and named Warren.

In 1814 the Louisiana State Legislature annihilated Warren County, giving its southern end to Concordia Parish, and its northern end to Ouachita Parish, the law-making body at this time abandoning the name of "county" and substituting for it the designation of "parish" for such political sub-divisions. In 1832 a strip eighteen miles wide now nearly all belonging to Madison was added to Carroll, a newly created parish to the north.

But six years later in 1838, a new parish was carved out. It began at Shipp's Bayou on the Mississippi River and extended north to the Carroll line. Thence it extended west to Big Creek, thus embracing some of the present parishes of Richland and Franklin. This large new parish was named for a former president of the United States; and so the Parish of Madison came into existence.

In 1839, a little slice was removed from its northern end and given to Carroll, and all of the land west of Bayou Macon was taken from it. In 1846, a strip three miles wide was cut from the southern part of Carroll and attached to Madison. Neither patient seemed to thrive under this last operation, for no more than one year elapsed before the wound had to be reopened; in 1847, the Legislature clipped a little segment from the northern extremity of Madison and grafted it back upon Carroll.

Fourteen years passed without further interference with its boundaries. But in 1861 all of its lands lying south of Bayou Vidal were taken from Madison and given to Tensas, leaving to Madison the contour and area which it retains to the present time: it's dimensions are roughly twenty-five miles north and south by thirty across from east to west, thus embracing about four hundred thousand acres of land. Much of that area it may be recorded is still covered by virgin forests of hardwood timber, chiefly oak, red gum, ash, elm and cypress.


The first parish seat was established at Richmond, on the bank of Roundaway Bayou, some two miles south of the present town of Tallulah. Richmond was an active little city until a great hostile army marched its destructive way through the length of the parish. Its battalions passed over Richmond's streets, applied the torch to its buildings, and left not a house to mark the site of Madison's first capital.

Patriotic officials and citizens had, in advance of the coming of Grant's army, removed from the court house the public records and temporarily concealed them in the back country to the west, thus saving from destruction the evidence of land titles, law suits, marriages and other public documents and books. Later these records were stored in a dwelling which still stands on the east bank of the bayou in the present town of Tallulah, where they remained until the parish seat was removed in 1868 to the town of Delta. So that this residence, now occupied by Mrs. Lane, was practically the seat of government for the Parish for a period of about five years. The building and the residence, which stands on Crescent Plantation, are now the only buildings in the parish that were in existence prior to the Civil War.

The line of Railroad which traversed the parish from east to west was built in the late 'fifties by the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Texas Railroad Company and was the first railroad built in north Louisiana. To the reader it may seem strange that the road was not run through Richmond, which was then the largest and most important town in the parish or in this part of the country.

But that is another story--a tale tinged with romance. Tradition has it that the line had been surveyed to run through Richmond over a route most favorable for its construction; then the chief engineer building the road, met a certain lady, a charming widow, the possessor of large plantations; he was unmarried at the time. The railroad running through Richmond would miss her plantations by a few miles; but if the line could be changed a little to pass some miles to the north, it would traverse her properties and greatly enhance their value. Could not the change be considered? The matter could but receive the most serious consideration on the part of the gallant engineer under the circumstances. True, if the line were to be diverted, Richmond would feel the hurt, and likewise true that there were no towns to be touched by the railroad if a new route were adopted. Yet the wishes of so interesting a woman were not to be lightly ignored.

The survey through Richmond was abandoned; the road was built on a line some miles further north running across the widow's fertile fields and then her interest in the kind engineer suddenly and permanently waned. At this turn of fortune the railroad man apparently began harking back in memory to a former love; for when he established a little station where the line crossed Brushy Bayou, he named that station for the sweetheart of his younger days--Tallulah--and the town which grew around it was destined in later years to become the parish seat.


But to return to the earlier period of the parish history. This part of Louisiana had been settled by people coming from the older states, who began moving here in the latter half of the eighteenth century while the Territory was under the dominion of Spain. The influx was slow at that time, for we have records of a census taken in 1769 of Ouachita, which, then embraced the present Madison parish, showing that there were only 110 inhabitants in the whole district of Ouachita. Another enumeration in 1788 showed 232 people, "about one half slaves." Later, in 1806, Governor Claiborne made a report in which he said, "Concordia is settled exclusively by Americans." Concordia included what is now Madison.

Governor, Claiborne in the same report deplored "the great loss and suffering in that part of the country caused from the overflows of the Mississippi River." From this comment we are reminded that dwellers in its alluvial lands have always lived under the menace of the Father of Waters-as they do unto this day.

That "Americans" were not considered to be desirable settlers, in the opinion of the Spanish authorities ruling Louisiana at that time, because of their religious and political views, is indicated by a report made upon the subject by the then incumbent Roman Catholic Bishop of Louisiana, Don Luis de Pentalvert y Cardenas, who expressed himself as follows:

"The emigration from the western part of the United States and the toleration of our government has introduced into this colony a gang of adventurers who have no religion and acknowledge no God; and they have made much worse the morals of our people.

"A lodge of free masons has been formed in one of the suburbs of the city and c6unts among its members officers of the garrison.

"Their secret meetings, on fixed days on which they perform their functions as well as other circumstances, gives to this association a suspicious and criminal appearance.

"The adventurers I speak of have scattered themselves over the Districts of Attakapas, Opelousas, Ouachita and Natchitoches.

"They employ Indians on their farms and have frequent conversations with them and impress their minds with numerous maxiums in harmony with their own restless and ambitious temper and with the customs of their own western countrymen.

"This evil, in my opinion, can only be remedied by not permitting the slightest American settlements to be made at the points already designated. The parishes which were religiously disposed are losing their faith and their old customs."


Madison Parish, as a part of the Territory of Orleans, later the State of Louisiana, has lived under the celebrated "Black Code", a body of laws promulgated by Governor Bienville, in the year 1774, and adopted principally to regulate the rights, duties and punishment of slaves; it was continued under the Spanish domination, and with modifications during the statehood of Louisiana until slavery was abolished.

A brief mention of some of its provisions may be of interest. A striking note of religious domination and restraint imposed in favor of the Catholic creed, the only religion which it recognized or tolerated, runs all through the Black Code; and though ostensibly it was enacted for the control of the blacks, its framers seemed to be in haste to cast the mantle of protection about the church, for its very first clause declared that all Jews should be expelled from the colony.

Negroes placed under the supervision of other than Catholics were to be confiscated.

Negroes found working on Sunday or holidays were to be confiscated.

All Negroes were to be buried in consecrated ground.

Negroes were not to carry any kind of weapons or big sticks.

When a slave was executed for crime, the state was to compensate the master for the market value of the slave.

Negroes were not to gather in crowds, even at weddings - a provision which no doubt seemed to the darkies a very cruel one!


While no great battles have been fought on the soil of Madison Parish, there was a serious skirmish near Milliken's Bend between the Confederate forces, composed of a detachment of Morrison's Cavalry, and a body of Federal troops in the War Between the States. Toiling armies have tramped over its surface and delved in its black loam. Grant and Sherman landed their legions at Milliken's Bend; and, bent on the capture of Vicksburg, sought to transport their forces by water below that city in order to reach the east bank of the Mississippi and surround that beleaguered stronghold. The guns from the cliffs of Vicksburg, however, threatened to make the attempt so costly that other expedients had to be tried.

General Sherman sought to turn the waters of the Mississippi into the channel of Walnut Bayou so that his transports might pass along that stream and through other bayous which lead into the river further south. To that end he tapped the river at a point called Duckport with a canal running westward; but the Mississippi refused to be thus diverted from its accustomed course and failed to furnish sufficient depth of water for the desired effect. With some water running into this canal, a number of war boats were being floated into it when the river began to fall, so leaving the vessels stranded in the mud. Abandoned, their hulks fell away by decay in the course of time.

The canal has since become filled up by overflow deposits and is almost obliterated; in only a few places its outlines can still be seen.

The traces of another and greater undertaking of that kind remain to furrow the soil of the parish, as a reminder of the Civil War. This is Grant's canal, dug near the town of Delta, opposite Vicksburg.

When General Grant assumed command of the forces operating against Vicksburg, he likewise tried to solve the problem of getting his army, guns and supplies below that city by changing the course of the Mississippi and floating them down through the new canal. To that end he excavated an immense canal across the base of the peninsula of land which projected from Delta on the west toward Vicksburg. At that period, the tip of the peninsula was separated from this latter city only by the channel of the river which was comparatively narrow there. Consequently vessels passing down the Mississippi were directly under the Confederate guns.

Though Grant's canal was made both wide and deep for its entire length of several miles, the big river, again refusing to aid the gods of war, failed to supply enough water to float his vessels, and the second attempt likewise came to naught. Grant was a resourceful as well as a determined warrior, however, and, while apparently diverting the foe with his efforts to change the stream of the Mississippi River, he slipped his fleet of transports past the forts of Vicksburg in the nighttime with few casualties.

The lines of this canal can be plainly seen, and often, passing strangers stop to view it. At the time of its building it was considered to be a mighty undertaking and attracted more than nation-wide interest. Madison Parish thus holds within its bounds one of the most Impressive relics of the great War Between the States.

What Grant and Sherman failed to do with all their resources, the river did of its own might thirteen years later, when in 1876 it cut for itself an opening through this point of land, shifting its channel several miles to the west, and leaving a big section of Madison Parish soil at the very front door of Vicksburg. This land, though lying east of the river, is still in Madison, and causes sore trial to the law officers of the parish because of the favored retreat which its willow wilderness offers to bootleggers, distillers and other undesirables.


While it may not be claimed that the parish has produced statesmen of national reputation yet a family resident there furnished an able United States Senator in the person of Hon. James M. Downs. A Representative in Congress from this district, General Frank Morey - though he was of northern birth and came south with the Federal army - made his home in the parish for a number of years after his term in Congress. He several times sought re-election, but this part of the state had by then turned its back on the Republican party with which he was allied,

In addition Madison has had her full share of other types of interesting characters, a few of whom should be mentioned.

It is said that Bayou Macon, the stream which forms the western limits of the parish, derives its name from the leader of a robber band, which operated in and at times made its home in the wooded fastnesses of the parish and preyed upon the stream of immigrants journeying west from across the Mississippi River in the second quarter of the last century.

Many of these home-seekers were well-to-do planters and brought with them their slaves, live stock, money and other property, thus affording attractive prey for Macon, whose habit it was suddenly to appear from cane-brake or thicket at the head of his robber crew, fall upon the unwary traveler and take liberal toll.

Tradition has it that another important stream flowing through the parish, takes its name from a bandit leader of that period, Robber Joe, whose real name and antecedents have not been transmitted by authentic history. He was said to be a tall longhaired swarthy villain with a following of cutthroats who took tribute from the traveler and were the moving spirits of many a dark exploit. The name of Joe's Bayou in the western part of the parish attests his renown.

Another picturesque character of a somewhat different sort was Captain Joe Lee, whose activities in this parish during the Civil War were outstanding. Captain Lee had been a member of the celebrated Quantrell band of guerrillas, who operated in Missouri and Kansas and some of whom had come further south as the war progressed. He and others of the band reached this vicinity.

He commanded a troop of independent guerrillas having headquarters in the parishes lying west of Madison; and his activities were largely directed to raiding the camps and straggling detachments of the Federal forces then occupying Madison parish. His little following were daring and well mounted, and clad themselves in Federal uniforms. This disguise enabled them to approach and surprise the enemy, capturing horses, arms and prisoners, and shooting the foe who offered resistance; but it made them liable to court martial and execution in case of capture. They did not intend to be captured however, and as far as is known none of them ever was. It is current tradition that in a night raid upon the Federal camp at Milliken's Bend with intent to abduct General Grant, Captain Lee almost succeeded in his undertaking.

By living witnesses who knew Lee, he is described as a handsome man above six feet tall, in the early bloom of manhood, with fine military bearing. At the close of the war he went to New Mexico, where he became a well-to-do ranchman. Whether or not he is now living, it is certain that he was alive not many years ago.

There lived in the parish another man of more than passing interest, whose history is linked with the locality: General Elias S. Dennis, a commander in Grant's army, who was quartered in the Vicksburg area and came to Madison at the close of hostilities.

Before the war General Dennis was United States Marshal for the State of Kansas. This was a most difficult position to fill in those days of violence and bloodshed arising from political bitterness over the slavery question. Indeed, from its riots that state had already gained the appellation of "Bloody Kansas".

Dennis was a tall man, with pleasant, delicate features, and long hair worn in curls flowing over his shoulders. He had already married the mother of Slade, a typical western character, or at least now famous as such from the picture of him which Mark Twain drew in his book "Roughing It"; and when the General took up his home in the parish following the war, here again a kind widow so much admired him that she willed to him her plantation. At her death, however, the will was proved to be defective, and from it the General took nothing. He married a prominent lady of the parish, who had also been widowed, and lived in Madison for many years, being elected to the office of parish judge, and afterwards to that of sheriff.

In his old age, he returned to his native state of Illinois, and settled down to live with a son on a small farm. There he died some thirty years ago.

Another character who drifted into the parish with the Civil War, was a certain Captain Hawkes. No one seemed to know where he came from nor anything of his history, and he never spoke of his own past. He was a lawyer by profession, but enjoyed only a very small practice; and was usually penniless and dressed in clothes that were threadbare or torn. He was a testy little man, quick to take offense and to resent affronts, real or imaginary. Rumor had it that he was of aristocratic English family and this theory apparently found some support in the fact that he kept and cherished a book of the British peerage.

The Captain, it was thought, had never been married. He lived here and there with various families in the parish, occasionally appearing at the parish seat mounted on a small pony which he owned. Numerous race riots occurred in the state following the Civil War, and Captain Hawkes' hobby was rioting. Wherever a riot took place, there Captain Hawkes was sure to be found in the forefront of action. He was also fond of duels and was an authority on the code duello; if not able to participate as a principal, he would at least make an effort in any affair of honor to act as a second.

He served in the Legislature from the parish from 1888 to 1892 at a time when the Louisiana lottery was said to be using money lavishly to control legislation in its behalf. He was opposed to the lottery cause, and though impecunious, he was considered incorruptible. Later he went to live in New Orleans, where some twenty-five years ago he was run over by a wagon and killed.

In 1865 the name of a Madison parish man came to be heralded throughout the United States owing to a tragedy that arose in events of the civil war. The Confederate government maintained at Andersonville, Georgia, a prison for captured Union soldiers. Food, clothing and medicines became scarce; and at times it was not possible to furnish these prisoners with the comforts or even the necessities of life. As a result they became mutinous to such an extent that some were fired on by the guards and killed.

After the Union forces took Andersonville and its garrison, it was charged in the north that the prisoners had been starved, cruelly treated and shot down without cause. A wave of indignation swept over that part of the nation, and a hue and cry went up for vengeance and for the punishment of all officials and other persons supposed to have been responsible for conditions at the prison where, out of the 50,000 Union soldiers who had been confined there, about 13,000 had died.

A well known encyclopedia gives the following, under the heading, "Andersonville, Ga.":

"After the war, the superintendent of the prison, Henry Wirz, was tried by court-martial, and on the 10th of November, 1865, was hanged, and the revelations of the sufferings of the prisoners was one of the factors that shaped public opinion regarding the south in the northern states after the close of the Civil War."

So, upon this authority, a citizen of Madison parish, by his conduct was thought to have been partly responsible for the fateful policy enforced by the North upon the South during reconstruction; for that Henry Wirz was the Dr. Henry Wirz who had enlisted from the little town of Milliken's Bend in this parish, and whose neighbors there knew him as a competent physician and an inoffensive man. Oddly enough it was another of Madison's citizens, Major George C. Waddill, then a Confederate officer, who had detailed Dr. Wirz for duty at the Andersonville prison.

The records in the courthouse show that Worth, the celebrated Parisian costumer, at one time owned a large tract of Madison parish land, transferred to him by the father of Miss Cora Urquhart, who afterwards became Mrs. James Brown Potter and distinguished herself on the stage in this country and in Europe. Tradition has it that Mr. Urquhart deeded the land to Worth in liquidation of a large sum due to that eminent couturier for wearing apparel furnished to Miss Urquhart. That lady, it may be said in passing, is believed to have been born in the parish, on the Araby plantation, then owned by her father.

Some years ago, President Roosevelt, while on a hunting trip in an adjacent parish, stopped at Tallulah and made an address to a large and appreciative audience. White as well as colored citizens of the parish were present to hear him in great numbers.


Whenever their country called, Madison's sons have shouldered their guns and gone to war. She sent her full quota of fighting men to aid the cause of the Confederacy: the Madison infantry, composed of the best of the young manhood of the parish; and the Madison Tips, a body so-called from the fact that they were recruited from Irishmen working on the levees, many of whom came from County Tipperary. The Tips were famous fighters and relished a melee for its own sake; when no enemy could be found they fought each other, or accepted the gage of battle wherever offered.

The present generation of young men in like manner flocked to the standard of their country in the World War, and most served in France. Some returned with official honors; some with gassed and wounded bodies; others of them gave their lives.


The United States Government Experiment Station at Tallulah in Madison parish, is in some respects the only one of its kind; and in any case is believed to be the largest of its kind in the country.

Placed under the Entomological Bureau of the Department of Agriculture, it directs its most important efforts against the cotton boll weevil. It studies the insects' habits and any means of lessening its ravages or of effecting its destruction. Among the methods under trial is the application of poisons by aeroplane dusting. A number of planes and a well appointed field are part of the station's equipment. In its laboratories and fieldwork, a force of some one hundred and twenty-five workers are employed during the cotton season. Information about cotton pests and the condition and growth of the plant is gathered from all over the south; and the data and advice contained in the bulletins issued are the last word upon the subject and are looked for and followed by the cotton interests of the whole country.

Now that the poultry products of the country have attained such enormous proportions, exceeding in annual value as they do either cattle or wheat production by some two hundred million dollars, it may be pointed out as a further fact of interest in the agricultural world that the hens of Madison parish are making records for themselves in egg production. In a twelve-months egglaying contest conducted by the State Agricultural Department, with fowls entered from all parts of the state, the hens entered by Dr. R. L. Roberts of Tallulah, led all other contestants, one of his White Leghorns having laid twenty-eight eggs in the month of May, and one hundred and sixty-seven in seven months.

Samuel H. James, a son of Madison parish, was a pioneer in pecan growing. Near Mounds, in the parish he had planted about the year 1880, an orchard of 125 acres, which is believed to have been the earliest attempt to cultivate improved varieties of pecans on a commercial scale in Louisiana or elsewhere. His orchard and its products came to be known all over the country and its success gave great impetus to improved pecan culture.


Though the parish has not produced any literary figures of outstanding merit, it has furnished several writers whose work is very commendable.

For example, Mr. S. H. James, mentioned above in connection with pecan growing, wrote a book called "A Woman of New Orleans", in which his characters were drawn from living persons, apparently with too great vividness and accuracy, for upon their earnest solicitation the book was suppressed. Afterwards, in 1890 he published another book which he called "A Prince of Good Fellows." Pointing out in the introduction of this book that "in 'A Woman of New Orleans', the characters were taken from real life, a fact that caused no little trouble," he proceeded to deny that the figures in the new book were real persons, but admitted that some of them were based with modifications upon certain persons in the parish. The older residents are able to recognize several, for the whole scene of the action is laid in Madison, where people and customs are depicted during the period from the great yellow fever visitation of 1878 through the disastrous overflow of 1882. The novel is written in excellent style and deserves very favorable criticism. A passage on page 145, referring to the yellow fever pestilence of 1878 is quoted to demonstrate Mr. James' powers of description:

"It is the last day of November now, and no frost yet. Men and women have been praying for it for weeks, just as those dying of thirst in the desert pray for flowing waters. But their prayers have been in vain, and frost has delayed its arrival for more than a month after its usual time of appearance; as if it, too, were desirous of adding to the ruin that was upon us. One heavy frost would put an end to all the suffering, and stop the fever but the frost will never come, it seems, and men and women go on dying like so many flies-life has become so cheap!"

The pages of that book may serve to recall to living men and women memories of the dread pestilence which carried away so many of their friends and neighbors.

Mr. James was a class-mate of Woodrow Wilson at the University of Virginia, and wrote the class essay, published in the university magazine, for which he received a gold medal, Mr. Wilson being among the unsuccessful competitors for the prized honor. He attended the University of Heidelberg, and graduated in law at Tulane University. He practiced law, edited his hometown paper and wrote books; but he found his real métier in developing the pecan. He lived in this parish until his death in 1924.

Miss Mississippi Morris, another local writer, published among her productions, a novel, "Toward the Gulf," a book which attracted attention by its graceful style as well as its atavistic motif. Miss Morris lived on the "Bending Willows" plantation along Willow Bayou, until her marriage with Mr. R. T. Buckner of New Orleans.

Mrs. Jeanette Coltharp, native of the parish, wrote a book entitled, "Burrill Coleman, Colored," a well written narrative of some tragic happenings in the community. Mrs. Coltharp was a Miss Downs, and a niece of former United States Senator Downs of this state. Some years ago she went to Shreveport, where she now resides.


Sporadic cases of yellow fever no doubt occurred in the parish in the earlier days of its history, but it has suffered under four major visitations of that dread disease. In each of the years1866, 1874, 1878 and 1905 an epidemic levied a tragic toll of lives. That of 1905 was practically confined to the town of Tallulah and its vicinity. Here it was of a virulent type; out of a total of seventy cases among the whites there were eighteen deaths; among the negroes, there were five deaths out of a hundred cases.

Conditions became so serious as to attract the sympathy of the whole country toward the stricken community, and a number of physicians and nurses from elsewhere volunteered their aid in the treatment and care of the sick. Among the number were Dr. Chas. Chassaignac of New Orleans, who organized the war on the pestilence, and Dr. C. C. Bass, of the same city, both of whom nobly sacrificed their private and professional affairs in order to devote themselves to the suffering community. Dr. Lomax Anderson of Port Gibson, Mississippi contributed not alone his service but his life, for here he contracted the fever and died from it.

Before the end of summer the town became so generally infected that the health authorities ordered its evacuation, and residents not ill with the fever were taken away on relief trains which stopped outside the town to take them aboard, all normal train service through the town having been long since suspended.

Here for the first time in this country, a raging epidemic of yellow fever was completely stamped out during the mosquito season of the year, and a clean bill of health given to the town in the early autumn. This remarkable achievement was due to the scientific application of the knowledge that the mosquito is the only carrier of the germ of the disease.

There were numerous Tallulah heroes and heroines in that trying time, whose unselfish devotion will always be remembered by their fellow-citizens: Doctor Geo. H. Ogbourne, Doctor George W. Gaines, and the many men and women in private life, who treated the sick, nursed the dying and buried the dead, whether friend or stranger, with no thought of reward except a sense of duty well done. And these are not forgotten.


The Mississippi River has washed over alluvial Louisiana as far back as records go. We have already mentioned the report of its damage made by Governor Claiborne in the year 1806, in which he deplores the losses in North Louisiana from overflows.

The first great inundation which occurred after levee building became general in the state was that of the year 1882, which covered all the alluvial lands in the northern part of the state and much of those further south. This calamitous event is often spoken of yet by the older residents.

In April, 1912, the Alsatia levee only three miles north of the parish line gave way, flooding all the low lands south of that point and west of the Mississippi, with a sea of water from one to fifteen feet in depth.

But the record breaking flood and crowning disaster to the parish and to the state was that of 1927, when the Cabin Teele levee a short distance from Milliken's Bend (for more on Milliken's Bend see "Curtains for the Bend") gave way on May 3. This disaster happened at 2 o'clock p. m., and the Cabin Teele waters quickly united with the floods pouring through the western part of the parish from breaks in the Arkansas River levee system. The double volume rolled southward and added its mass to the tide rushing in through breaks in the Central Louisiana levees. This great overflow swept over the lowlands of Louisiana lying west of the river to a greater depth and remained longer than any previous inundation in its history.

We have seen that the modest little town of Milliken's Bend, whose site has long ago been eaten away by the shifting Mississippi is connected with four events of historic interest:

Grant's invading army landed there and established headquarters in the campaign against Vicksburg.

There a battle of the Civil War was fought.

The town was the home of Henry Wirz, who was executed following the Civil War as heretofore mentioned.

It was the site of the initial crevasse in the levee system of the state in the great 1927 flood disaster.

Fame enough, it would seem, is thus afforded to that erstwhile unpretentious village.

Serious though the damage is from the 1927 inundations, compensation will doubtless come out of it. The country seems to have realized that only the National Government can control the great river, and that it is the duty of that government to take, charge of the hitherto insoluble problem.

When that policy becomes operative and the floods no longer threaten, a day of prosperity will dawn for Madison and the other alluvial parishes which will be reflected throughout the whole state.


The period from 1830 to 1860 saw the greatest influx of immigration into the parish, coming mainly from the southeastern states and attracted by the fertile black lands of the Delta. The newcomers cleared away the heavy forests and planted the "new ground" in the favored crop then as now---cotton. They cleared all the lands fronting the watercourses in the western part of the parish -such lands being the highest and most desirable for cultivation in alluvial regions - to form a continuous line of plantations along the banks of those streams. Wealth, population, land values continued to increase until they reached their highest peak about the year 1861, the zenith of Madison's prosperity.

Then came the destructive Civil War, followed by the demoralizing Reconstruction period, with its era of political misrule. Few buildings were left standing; there was no labor to cultivate the fields; plantations lay abandoned. A large part of the acreage, especially along the western bayous still lies fallow after the lapse of nearly seven decades.

Nevertheless, great progress has been made in recent years. Drainage canals have been dug, good roads constructed, fine schoolhouses erected, herds of improved livestock have been accumulated, and progressive farming methods have been adopted. A new era of permanent prosperity has come, to be checked indeed by the flood of 1927, but checked only for the moment. For many disasters here in the past have been overcome by the courage and enterprise of these people, who drawing inspiration from the splendid achievements of their forebears since the coming of the first settlers, face the future with confident hope and unconquerable spirit.


The Origin of the "Parish" In Louisiana

Under French and Spanish rule, a parish was a locality attached to or served by a local church or by a priest, the term being used in an ecclesiastic sense, as in some countries, for example England, at the present time. It is from this circumstance that the local political subdivisions of Louisiana came to be called parishes, while similar divisions in the other states are designated as counties. The peculiarity is not however without an interesting legislative and political history; for under the Territorial administration of Governor Claiborne and his associates-"Americans" as the Creoles then called them - there was an actual division of the Territory into counties; and only after Louisiana became a state of the American Union was the designation of county dropped and that of parish substituted.

It might be supposed that if the "American" influence had been strong enough under Territorial rule to cause the establishment of the country, the same influence would be yet stronger to maintain that status after Louisiana became a state. Such however was not the case.

Claiborne was Governor of the Territory from 1803 until its admission into the Union. He filled the position under appointment of the President of the United States. The law making powers were vested in the Governor and "thirteen of the most fit and discreet persons of the Territory", who were appointed annually by the President. From this condition it will be readily inferred that the "American" influence was potent in political affairs. Nevertheless during the whole period of the Territorial government, and afterwards, there was constant friction in political matters between the "American" and "Creole" elements, owing to differences in political traditions as well as religious beliefs and customs.

The Governor and the legislative body being appointed by the President, the "Americans" naturally were favored in the selection of officials; consequently they controlled all departments of the government. The Creoles and colonists complained that though largely in the majority as citizens and residents, they were to a great extent, deprived of a voice in public affairs.

Judging from the record of legislation on the subject, it would seem that the choice of the names "county" or "parish" in districting the Territory (and subsequently in districting the state) developed into a warmly contested issue. Claiborne and his associates were accustomed to the "county" and used that term in legislative and governmental matters, while the Creoles, who were for the most part adherents of the Catholic Church and its customs, knew their local church with its priest as the center of the ecclesiastical "Parish". Their homes were in certain named parishes, the limits of which, to be sure, might not be well defined geographically, and might not be specifically, or at all, designated by legislative act. The citizen, nevertheless, knew his parish and objected to seeing it obliterated and called a county or made part of a county and so designated.

Apparently the struggle over this question was waged at every session of the Council. Sometimes the advocates of "county" won; sometimes those of the "parish". At other sessions both names were used as if by compromise, in order that each faction might have a taste of victory.

These suggestions seem to be borne out by an examination of the early legislation. In 1805, for instance, Governor Claiborne and the Council divided the Territory into twelve counties. In 1807 when the people had acquired more voice in legislation, through an elective House of Representatives acting with the council, those bodies jointly designated nineteen parishes "for court going purposes". But while parishes might exist for the purpose of forming court-going districts, the county still existed as a political unit, and we find Chapter XXII of the Acts of 1809 defining the limits of "Concordia County". In Chapter X, page 34 of the Acts of 1811, it is provided that this same Concordia County be divided into two "parishes", to be known as Concordia and Warren parishes. But the counties were not yet eliminated. In the Constitution of 1812, there is mention of several, including that of Orleans; though reference is also made to the parishes of St. Bernard, St. Mary, St. Martin and Plaquemine.

Since Louisiana soon afterwards became a State and was governed by a legislature elected by its own people, a large majority of whom were not "Americans", the word "county" appeared no more in its legislative annals.

By an Act of the State Legislature approved February 28, 1814, the boundaries of various parishes were fixed. One of them, "Warren", (formerly embracing part of the territory of the present Madison parish) was abolished, part of it being annexed to Ouachita and the rest to Concordia. The contest was ended.

Parish boundaries have been altered since, but the "parish" itself remains to distinguish the local governmental district of Louisiana from that of the other forty-seven states.

© 1999 Richard P. Sevier (