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White League.

The aspect of affairs in several of the Southern States, particularly in Louisiana, was so unsettled in 1874 that there was much uneasiness in the public mind. Outrages of various kinds and murders were committed for the alleged purpose of keeping peaceable citizens from the polls, and an utter disregard for law was reported in many districts. In September, when these outrages were increasing in number and violence, the United States Attorney-General, with the sanction of the President, issued a circular letter to the authorities in the States affected, expressing his determination to take vigorous steps for upholding the laws and protecting the rights of all citizens of whatever class or hue; and the President directed the Secretary of War to consult and act with the Attorney-General in the matter. By vigorous action these disturbances were almost suppressed at the beginning of 1875; but they broke out with more violence in the summer of 1876, and appeared in increased strength during the canvass for President and Vice-President that year. The leaders and inciters of these outrages were members of a secret organization, alleged to be The White League, formed for the widely indicated purpose of depriving the colored citizens of the elective franchise.

The following is General Sheridan's report, together with an extract from President Grant's special message to Congress:

New Orleans, Jan. 10, 1875.
Hon. W. W. Belknap, Secretary of War:
Since the year 1866, nearly 3,500 persons, a great majority of whom were colored men, have been killed and wounded in this State. In 1868 the official record shows that 1,884 were killed and wounded. From 1868 to the present time no official investigation has been made, and the civil authorities in all but a few cases have been unable to arrest, convict, and punish perpetrators. Consequently, there are no correct records to be consulted for information. There is ample evidence, however, to show that more than 1,200 persons have been killed and wounded during this time, on account of their political sentiments. Frightful massacres have occurred in the parishes of Bossier, Caddo, Catahoula, Saint Bernard, Saint Landry, Grant, and Orleans. The general character of the massacres in the abovenamed parishes is so well known that it is unnecessary to describe them. The isolated cases can best be illustrated by the following instances which I have taken from a mass of evidence now lying before me of men killed on account of their political principles. In Natchitoches parish the number of isolated cases reported is thirty-three. In the parish of Bienville the number of men killed is thirty. In Red River parish the number of isolated cases of men killed is thirty-four. In Winn parish the number of isolated cases where men were killed is fifteen. In Jackson parish the number killed is twenty; and in Catahoula parish the number of isolated cases reported where men were killed is fifty; and most of the country parishes throughout the State will show a corresponding state of affairs. The following statement will illustrate the character and kind of these outrages. On Aug. 29, 1874, in Red River parish, six State and parish officers, named Twitchell, Divers, Holland, Howell, Edgerton, and Willis, were taken, together with four negroes, under guard, to be carried out of the State, and were deliberately murdered on Aug. 30, 1874. The White League tried, sentenced, and hanged two negroes on Aug. 28, 1874. Three negroes were shot and killed at Brownsville, just before the arrival of the United States troops in the parish. Two White Leaguers rode up to a negro cabin and called for a drink of water. When the old colored man turned to draw it, they shot him in the back and killed him. The courts were all broken up in this district, and the district judge driven out. [344] In the parish of Caddo, prior to the arrival of the United States troops, all of the officers at Shreveport were compelled to abdicate by the White League, which took possession of the place. Among those obliged to abdicate were Walsh, the mayor, Rapers, the sheriff, Wheaton, clerk of the court, Durant, the recorder, and Ferguson and Renfro, administrators. Two colored men, who had given evidence in regard to frauds committed in the parish, were compelled to flee for their lives, and reached this city last night, having been smuggled through in a cargo of cotton. In the parish of Bossier the White League have attempted to force the abdication of Judge Baker, the United States commissioner and parish judge, together with O'Neal, the sheriff, and Walker, the clerk of the court; and they have compelled the parish and district courts to suspend operations. Judge Baker states that the White Leaguers notified him several times that if he became a candidate on the Republican ticket, or if he attempted to organize the Republican party, he should not live until election.

They also tried to intimidate him through his family by making the same threats to his wife, and when told by him that he was a United States commissioner, they notified him not to attempt to exercise the functions of his office. In but few of the country parishes can it be truly said that the law is properly enforced, and in some of the parishes the judges have not been able to hold court for the past two years. Human life in this State is held so cheaply that, when men are killed on account of political opinions, the murderers are regarded rather as heroes than as criminals in the localities where they reside and by the White League and their supporters. An illustration of the ostracism that prevails in the State may be found in a resolution of a White League club in the parish of De Soto, which states, “That they pledge themselves under (no?) circumstances after the coming election to employ, rent land to, or in any other manner give aid, comfort, or credit, to any man, white or black, who votes against the nominees of the white man's party.” Safety for individuals who express their opinion in the isolated portion of this State has existed only when that opinion was in favor of the principles and party supported by the Ku-klux and White League organizations. Only yesterday Judge Myers, the parish judge of the parish of Natchitoches, called on me upon his arrival in this city, and stated that in order to reach here alive, he was obliged to leave his home by stealth, and after nightfall, and make his way to Little Rock, Ark., and come to this city by way of Memphis, Tenn. He further states that while his father was lying at the point of death in the same village, he was unable to visit him for fear of assassination; and yet he is a native of the parish, and proscribed for his political sentiments only. It is more than probable that if bad government has existed in this State it is the result of the armed organizations, which have now crystallized into what is called the White League; instead of bad government developing them, they have by their terrorism prevented to a considerable extent the collection of taxes, the holding of courts, the punishment of criminals, and vitiated public sentiment by familiarizing it with the scenes above described. I am now engaged in compiling evidence for a detailed report upon the above subject, but it will be some time before I can obtain all the requisite data to cover the cases that have occurred throughout the State. I will also report in due time upon the same subject in the States of Arkansas and Mississippi.

P. H. Sheridan, Lieutenant-General.

President Grant said in a special message to Congress, Jan. 13, 1875:

It has been bitterly and persistently alleged that Kellogg was not elected. Whether he was or not is not altogether certain, nor is it any more certain that his competitor, McEnery, was chosen. The election was a gigantic fraud, and there are no reliable returns of its result. Kellogg obtained possession of the office, and in my opinion has more right to it than his competitor.

On Feb. 20, 1873, the committee on privileges and elections of the Senate made a report, in which they say they were satisfied by testimony that the manipulation of the election machinery by [345] Warmoth and others was equivalent to 20,000 votes; and they add, to recognize the McEnery government “would be recognizing a government based upon fraud, in defiance of the wishes and intention of the voters of the State.” Assuming the correctness of the statements in this report (and they seem to have been generally accepted by the country), the great crime in Louisiana, about which so much has been said, is, that one is holding the office of governor who was cheated out of 20,000 votes, against another whose title to the office is undoubtedly based on fraud, and in defiance of the wishes and intentions of the voters of the State.

Misinformed and misjudging as to the nature and extent of this report, the supporters of McEnery proceeded to displace by force in some counties of the State the appointees of Governor Kellogg; and on April 13, in an effort of that kind, a butchery of citizens was committed at Colfax, which in bloodthirstiness and barbarity is hardly surpassed by any acts of savage warfare.

To put this matter beyond controversy, I quote from the charge of Judge Woods, of the United States circuit court, to the jury in the case of the United States vs. Cruikshank and others, in New Orleans, in March, 1874. He said:

“In the case on trial there are many facts not in controversy. I proceed to state some of them in the presence and hearing of counsel on both sides; and if I state as a conceded fact any matter that is disputed, they can correct me.”

After stating the origin of the difficulty, which grew out of an attempt of white persons to drive the parish judge and sheriff, appointees of Kellogg, from office, and their attempted protection by colored persons, which led to some fighting in which quite a number of negroes were killed, the judge states:

Most of those who were not killed were taken prisoners. Fifteen or sixteen of the blacks had lifted the boards and taken refuge under the floor of the courthouse. They were all captured. About thirty-seven men were taken prisoners; the number is not definitely fixed. They were kept under guard until dark. They were led out, two by two, and shot. Most of the men were shot to death. A few were wounded, not mortally, and by pretending to be dead were afterwards, during the night, able to make their escape. Among them was the Levi Nelson named in the indictment.

The dead bodies of the negroes killed in this affair were left unburied until Tuesday, April 15, when they were buried by a deputy-marshal and an officer of the militia from New Orleans. These persons found fifty-nine dead bodies. They showed pistol-shot wounds, the great majority in the head, and most of them in the back of the head. In addition to the fifty-nine dead bodies found, some charred remains of dead bodies were discovered near the courthouse. Six dead bodies were found under a warehouse, all shot in the head but one or two, which were shot in the breast.

The only white men injured from the beginning of these troubles to their close were Hadnot and Harris. The court-house and its contents were entirely consumed.

There is no evidence that any one in the crowd of whites bore any lawful warrant for the arrest of any of the blacks. There is no evidence that either Nash or Cazabat, after the affair, ever demanded their offices, to which they had set up claim, but Register continued to act as parish judge, and Shaw as sheriff.

These are facts in this case, as I understand them to be admitted.

To hold the people of Louisiana generally responsible for these atrocities would not be just; but it is a lamentable fact that insuperable obstructions were thrown in the way of punishing these murderers, and the so-called conservative papers of the State not only justified the massacre, but denounced as federal tyranny and despotism the attempt of the United States officers to bring them to justice. Fierce denunciations ring through the country about office-holding and election matters in Louisiana, while every one of the Colfax miscreants goes unwhipped of justice, and no way can be found in this boasted land of civilization and Christianity to punish the perpetrators of this bloody and monstrous crime.

Not unlike this was the massacre in August last. Several Northern young men of capital and enterprise had started the little and flourishing town of Coushatta. Some of them were Republicans and [346] officeholders under Kellogg. They were therefore doomed to death. Six of them were seized and carried away from their homes and murdered in cold blood. No one has been punished; and the conservative press of the State denounced all efforts to that end, and boldly justified the crime.

The House on March 1, 1875, by a strict party vote, 155 Republicans to 86 Democrats, recognized the Kellogg government. The Senate did the same on March 5, by 33 to 23, also a party vote.

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