Jefferson B. Snyder, Madison Parish, Louisiana Submitted by Dr. Wayne G. Elliott


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Madison Coordinator's note: Although this article does not completely qualify as a "biography", it comes close and, until something better comes along, is the best available. Judge Snyder died October 18, 1951 and is buried in Silver Cross Cemetery in Tallulah. RPS


Jefferson B. Snyder


From an April 1938 issue of the New Orleans Times Picayune

Tallulah, La. April 15, 1938. With a healed leg as his reward for months of patient invalidism and a constitutional amendment as a tribute for decades of public service, Jeff B. Snyder went to his beloved camp on Lake Bruin this week to enjoy his leisure and remember many notable good times he had at the camp.


The healing of the leg fracture permits Judge Snyder to get about again. The amendment to the state constitution adopted last fall by the people of Louisiana might well he entitled "An amendment for the Retirement of Jeff B. Snyder," although it does not mention him by name, Act 290 of 1938 adding section 59.1 to article 7 of the constitution reads: "All district attorneys, presently or hereafter, may retire on reaching the age of (80) eighty years if they have served continuously for 30 years immediately preceding their retirement and shall hereafter receive full pay for life.


Judge Snyder's 80th birthday on January 19 made that description fit him perfectly so he retired and now that his leg is well again he is back in his favorite camp.


Practically Unchallenged


For many years Judge Snyder was the virtual political boss of Madison, Tensas and East Carroll parishes. His leadership went practically unchallenged.


Born in St. Joseph, La., two years before the War Between the States, he witnessed in his early boyhood the chaos of reconstruction. When it came time for little Jeff to start to school, the family funds had dwindled appreciably. For five days out of the week he attended the local free school and on Friday afternoons and Saturdays he helped in his uncle's store. What little money there was left was spent on Bob, an older brother, who was given a college education. (He later became an outstanding lawyer and served for some time as lieutenant-governor of Louisiana).


Young Jeff was not satisfied with what the country schools had taught him, so he started studying law on his own hook. His progress was retarded a great deal by his outside work. At one time he held the job of toll keeper on a bridge, at another, clerk in a country store and, after white people had regained control of Louisiana, he was appointed deputy to a Democratic sheriff at St. Joseph. This was in 1879, when Jesse James and his gang appeared in Mississippi robbing the store of Grover and Whitcomb at Washington, in Adams County.


Shortly after the first robbery, the bandits descended upon Fayette, Miss., which is about 15 miles south of St. Joseph, and plundered the Johnson store there, taking $2000 in cash. Pursuit got too hot, so they crossed the river into Louisiana and took possession of some deserted cabins on the Kemp Plantation just below St. Joseph. These cabins had been left outside the levee when it had been moved back farther, from the encroaching river. They furnished an excellent rendezvous for the bandits and their tired horses. As soon as this hiding place was discovered, a posse assembled, young Deputy Snyder included, and started on its dangerous mission. They failed to capture the entire gang of robbers, but did manage to kill two of them. Judge Snyder loves to tell this story and with his wonderful capacity for embellishment, he makes a real "thriller" of it.


Moved to New Orleans


In 1893, Congressman Charles Boatner secured Jeff an appointment in the customhouse of New Orleans as naval officer so he, his mother and sister whom, he was supporting, moved to the city. This gave him the opportunities of completing his law course at Tulane where he passed his bar examination. After filling the four-year term as naval officer, he left New Orleans and made his home in Tallulah. Within a few years, he became district attorney and remained in that capacity until his recent retirement.


Diversified contacts, varied experiences and a shrewd sense of humor made Jeff Snyder one of the best yarn spinners who ever lived. After office hours, he loved to gather his friends about him for long sessions of storytelling. For this reason he maintained his fishing lodge about 30 miles south of Tallulah where everyone was welcome. Here came the governor of Louisiana, the United States senator, the hunter, the fisherman and the bootlegger. There were no invitations. Everyone just came. The neighborhood farmer would drive up with a load of vegetables as his contribution; the hunter, perhaps, would arrive with a pouch full of squirrels; the fisherman with a string of perch and the bootlegger with a jug of well-aged corn. Some brought this and some brought that and some came offering a priceless story. It was here that one of the most famous house parties ever staged in the South took place.


Just before the World war, a friend of Judge Snyder invited a group of prominent New York business men down for a week's fishing and hunting. In this group were Bob Davis, the man Pulitzer endowed to write his daily column, "Bob Davis Recalls," the late Ray Long, who was editor in chief of the Cosmopolitan and allied magazines; Dr. Ross McPherson, celebrated surgeon; Oswald C. Hering, widely-known architect who is now president of the D. K. E. chapter and edits its quarterly, and Irvin S. Cobb, well-known writer and humorist. With such distinguished guests to entertain, Jeff Snyder chose the most notable Louisianians and Mississippians to be present for the occasion, as he wanted his guests to meet the best the South had to offer. He also brought Holt Collier, the famous negro bear hunter and his pack of 50 dogs down from Greenville, Miss., just to add atmosphere. The woods were too dry for hunting. Jake Smith, a comical negro preacher from St. Joseph, who called himself the "castin' voter from Tensas parish" in carpetbag conventions, was imported to furnish more local color. There were about 70 people in camp including hunters and fishermen from the neighborhood and the negroes.


Talk Like Fireworks


Numerous skiffs were tied up at the landing pier awaiting the optimistic fisherman but the only fishing that took place occurred in the verbal form over the fragrant edge of a mint julep cup.


Conversational fireworks really popped as the accomplished storytellers got under way. The less gifted sat back, satisfied to listen; content to open their mouths merely for an occasional sip from the inevitable julep. The guests included men of college education and extensive travel, men who had every reason for a collection of top-notch stories with the whole world as a background. Nonetheless, their host, Jeff Snyder, a man who had practically educated himself and whose total wanderings covered only a small portion of the United States, view with or surpassed the best of them.


The party was a success in the true sense of the word. Everyone did just what he felt like doing when he felt like doing it. A poker game progressed from dawn to dawn; a crap game was no trouble to start; with the mere lift of a finger, the thirsty could summon a grinning black boy who immediately provided the desired drink.


One small effort in the way of hunting was made by Bob Davis, the renowned writer and globe trotter. He had a special gun of which he was exceedingly proud as there were only two in existence (the other belonging to the king of Sweden). For several days he'd been talking about hunting and tinkering with his gun. Early in the afternoon he dressed in complete hunting regalia and called Holt Collier to bring his dogs. About that time, Irvin Cobb stepped out of his shower wearing only a pair of loud trunks, looking for all the world like a broiled lobster and decided to join the party. It was a very warm afternoon and both Bob Davis and Irv Cobb had had some several toddies. The procession started out in fine style.


Snored Under Tree


They managed to get as far as the shade of a large oak about 100 yards from the camp where all lay down and went to sleep. Snoring under the tree lay an accomplished writer, a famous humorist and a negro hunter surrounded by a pack of 50 hounds of no particular breed. After their nap they returned to the camp with a wonderful account of a thrilling hunt in which a mammoth bear played a prominent part; a bruin so cunning that he eluded the South's best known bear hunter and 50 seasoned bear dogs.


Besides being a man of action and a veteran prosecutor of crime, Jeff Snyder is a versatile and industrious reader. He reads philosophy, biography, history and utter trash. On the same book shelf in his home you will find the best literature of all time side by side with the worst detective stories ever printed on pulp paper.


"Reading makes the full man, writing the exact man and speech the ready man." Jeff Snyder is all of these plus having a marvelous insight into human nature gained through a long life of intelligent observation.


This is the man Governor Richard W. Leche praised so highly last fall in urging the people of Louisiana to vote for the amendment which would retire him. The people did vote for it, so on January 19 when he reached the age of 80, District Attorney Jeff B. Snyder was retired at full pay for life..