Tuesday, May 19, 2009


"Small Towns Struggle to Survive -
Town Leaves Legacy of Gun Smoke"

by Jimmy Hatten
(interview with Gus Thompson, Jr.)
[drawing by Sandra Guthrie Moore]
Seven saloons lined Main Street and blue smoke curled from the barrel of the gun held by the best shooter.
If the townspeople didn’t like the outcome, they strung up the victor from the gallows tree.
Parson Gulley, an aged preacher in 1937: “I’ve buried six of them men who’ve been hung on them limbs or from the gallery of the courthouse that sat betwixt the gully and the jail”.
This was pioneer justice in Floyd, the seat of government in the old parish of Carroll before it broke into East and West.
What had been the most important town in Carroll Parish, and after that West Carroll Parish, had virtually vanished by 1918.
The construction of a good highway between Delhi and Oak Grove did it. Business and residents moved four miles west to a newer village, Darnell, to share in the benefit’s the new road would bring.
For a time Darnell was called Floyd Crossing because of a new rail line, thus people came to call the faded town of Floyd by the name Old Floyd.
But from 1807 until more than 100 years hence, Floyd was one hell of a town.
It began piously enough. Moses Floyd, a young minister, organized a Methodist church and began practicing medicine.
Around that nucleus a trading post developed and the settlement grew. It prospered so well that when Carroll Parish was carved from Ouachita Parish in 1832, it was already a threat to the Carroll seat, Lake Providence.
By 1855, voters between Bayou Macon and Bouef River out numbered those east of the Macon.
They snatched the seat of government for Floyd and contracted for a two-story brick courthouse and jail for $3,100.
McKoin (author of “Between the Rivers”) said her family once lived in the old jail building. “They made a dwelling house of it. There were two rooms downstairs, and one large room upstairs and one large room upstairs. The bars were torn away, of course.”
“We leased it. It was the only brick house in Old Floyd then.”
Life in Floyd was a gamble throughout its existence.
“Thompson (Gus… being interviewed) tells this story: “A Mr. Griffin came here with his daddy to a store that belonged to a Mr. Hendricks right over there. They loaded five bales of cotton on their wagon and brought them back of Hendricks store.”
“Mr. Jess said his daddy suddenly pulled him down. A shootin’ started out right in front of that store and his daddy pulled him down behind that cotton.”
He said, “I thought it must have lasted longer than he thought it did.” He said his daddy told him it didn’t last but five or 10 minutes--all that shootin’ that was goin’ on.”
“And they went around to the front and there was five people layin’ there dead. They had rode them horses back and forth shootin’ people. This was a bad place. For what reason, I don’t know.”
Old Floyd today belies its legacy. A right turn LA 577 off LA 17 south from Delhi takes a motorist four miles to a broad expanse of greenery dotted with trees and a few scattered, modest houses.
“They’re all good folks living here -- every one of them”, says Gus Thompson.
In the early days, the people who lived between the Macon and the Boeuf were recognized as being a good deal different from those who lived between the Mississippi and the Macon.
What is now East Carroll Parish was home to affluent plantation owners: what became West Carroll was being opened up by a hearty band called backwoodsmen.
That’s the situation that existed at least up to the Civil War. The story goes that Jesse James and his gang that included Cole Younger were frequent visitors to the area.
“They had people here”, says Thompson. “They had an uncle who lived at Delhi. They came here when my wife’s great-uncle owned a store right there. Jesse, Frank, and the Younger boys came there many a night.”
“They had a big old fireplace there and they’d come in and lay down in front of that fireplace, but they never would pull their clothes off. They didn’t know what was coming next.”
“They were good people when they were here. They never bothered a soul… people down here didn’t look on them as … they were killers --- you know that as well as I do…”
No matter. They still were the stuff of legend. One story goes that as the Civil War was winding down, Quantrill’s Raiders, with Jesse in the lead, beat back a Union attack, thus saving Floyd.
Another says Jesse met the troops before they got to Floyd and convinced them that the village was so well defended they had no chance of taking it. The federals reversed course and left.
Still another has it that Union troops indeed laid waste to the town. One version says it was damaged very little.
Whatever happened, the new courthouse and jail as well as the hanging tree remained intact. [See note at bottom]
By the 1830’s boats were making their way up bother the Macon and the Boeuf.
After the courthouse was built in the 1850’s, the boats became better and the interiors plush -- red carpets for traveling professionals, politicians and the elite.
They came and went to the new state capital in Baton Rouge and visited friends and relatives in Lake Providence, Natchez, Port Gibson, New Orleans, Memphis, and Vicksburg.
Freight wagons made overland trips on better roads. And the men gathered Saturdays in Floyd to learn the news, talk about the issues, drink, gamble, pitch horseshoes and silver dollars and engage in horse racing.
The Legislature divided Carroll Parish into West Carroll and East Carroll in 1877. Lake Providence became the parish seat for the east.
Floyd remained the seat of West Carroll, but the handwriting was on the wall.
The election of 1915 deciding Oak Grove over Pioneer as the new parish seat was the clincher fro Floyd.
The new courthouse in Oak Grove opened in 1917.
Between elections, Floyd made one last claim to fame. A group of Floyd citizens formed a syndicate in 1900 and build a line to Kilbourne in northern West Carroll to connect at the Arkansas-Louisiana line with Valley Telephone Company.
Pransksters and vandals took the line down so frequently the endeavor was quickly abandoned.
McKoin said in her book that in the 1880’s when the seven saloons were located on Main Street, “There was much drinking and no man left his home without his gun.”
The litany of violence was appalling:
* “Johnny Anderson was shot down on the streets one night after he had escorted Miss Estell Hendrick to church. It seems everyone knew who did the killing, but on one came to trial even thought the Anderson family was among the best families in town.
* Charlie Williams and Lawrence Younger were killed without the benefit of trial because it was believed they had killed Tom Kees.
*Jeff Dunn was shot down while at the voting booth. He was about to be elected sheriff and ’old-times’ say there were those who did not want two Dunns as sheriffs.” Jeff’s father was the sheriff in East Carroll. There was no trial.
*The last shooting I heard about was Mansfield Crowe shooting Jim Herring while he was the mail carrier from Floyd to Oak Grove. Later, Crowe was elected assessor for the parish.”
McKoin wrote that when the courthouse was built at Floyd a deep-toned bell imported from France was erected
Dr. G. W. Patterson wrote to Mary Catherine Moss Thompson that the bell “could be heard for miles into the forest and this bell was rung for lost hunters whenever they had not returned.
“I was told this and many other tales about the bell, and it was my heart’s desire to grow, go on a hunt, get lost and be saved by the bell.”
He said in later years while living in Arizona he glanced at a Louisiana map and looked for Floyd.
“The first place I wanted to find was Floyd, the county seat of West Carroll Parish. There was no such town, “ he said. “It was gone.”"
My uncle by marriage, Ogden Coody, said that in the 1950’s saw a couple of 'blacks' hanging from the “hanging tree” in Floyd, La.
(I saw Gus Thompson's obituary in the newpaper in 2008)

1 comment:

  1. We are going to visit Floyd today. My great, great, great grandfather William Lucky Knox was Parrish sheriff in the 1850s