Written by Gene Barron
James Taylor Spencer (21 Jan 1861 – 3 Oct 1915) and his friend, John Dean were attacked late Sunday afternoon, October 3, 1915. Spencer was shot and killed and Dean seriously wounded and Jesse Randall Pinchard (24 Oct 1859 – 24 May 1934) was arrested and charged with the shooting.
Spencer was a prominent citizen and successful business man and founder of the town of Spencer where he owned and operated a general store. He was also a farmer and land owner and considered as part of the elite of the community. His father had died sometime in 1863. Spencer family tradition has it that he died at the Battle of Richmond during the Civil War, although there are no records of him ever serving. Others say the Nightriders killed him because he was reluctant to join the army. In any event Spencer grew up not knowing his father and maybe not knowing what happened to him.
The John M. Pinchard family settled in Shiloh in the fall of 1850 and was in Claiborne Parish by May 1952. Jesse Randall, son of John, migrated to Colsen in 1910 or so. Jesse’s first wife died in 1894 and he married Louella Adcock on June 27, 1897. She was the daughter of Dr. Jeremiah Burson Adcock. Jesse Randall Pinchard’s son, James Perry, homesteaded forty acres of land joining the Spencer farm. On 28 Oct 1910 James P. Pinchard purchased the ME ¼ of NW ¼ of Section 32, T21N R3E from the government for $6.
By the 1900’s the lumber business was booming in Union Parish thanks to mills like the Union Sawmill and Summit Lumber Company. Union operated in eastern Union Parish and Summit in the western portion. Timber land became more valuable and J. T. Spencer wanted the forty acres next to him. He tried to buy the forty from Perry but he wouldn’t sell. Then he began trying to acquire the land thorough the courts claiming that Perry had not fulfilled the requirements of building a home and working the land. On the other hand, Perry claimed that he tried to build a house on the property but the house was burned and the barn was set ablaze with his mules inside.
When the Civil War ended, the former slaves of the Spencer family stayed on with the Spencer family as sharecroppers. They were considered by the Spencers as part of the family. When in 1914 just before Christmas, the Nightriders, which Pinchard was a member, began killing and stealing hogs belonging to their former slaves, Spencer became very upset. He demanded that the Sheriff take action against those responsible. Whether his feelings grew from the prospect that his father had been killed by them or not, the fact remains he hated the Nightriders and especially Pinchard so he cut off the Pinchard’s credit at his store. This action virtually put Pinchard out of the farming business.
In November 1914, a true bill was handed down by a grand jury in Shreveport against James T. Spencer, Lawrence Spencer, Victor Spencer, Howard Nolan (he ran the ferry at Ouachita City), O. J. Trout (he was the section foreman for the railroad) and James M. Spier (a well respected farmer), for nine counts of conspiracy ranging form July 1911 to June 1914 against James Perry Pinkard (Pinchard). The Spencer and Pinchard families had become bitter enemies after Spencer was arrested; members of both families began carrying weapons at all times. Spencer always had a body guard with him everywhere he went. It seemed that now it was just a matter of time before all out war erupted.
The indictments took a heavy toll on Pinchard when newspapers began to report that he was mentally unstable. Then when his cotton gin burned, which was located about 2 miles from Phillips Ferry, he immediately blamed Spencer. He immediately crossed the D’Loutre and headed for the Spencer store. He confronted Spencer at the store and threw down the gauntlet. He declared that he was moving his family bank across D’Loutre and if he ever caught Spencer on that side of the bayou he’d shoot him on sight and he stated further that if he, Spencer, ever caught him on the east side of the bayou he could do the same.
This action didn’t inconvenience Pinchard, but it was a problem for Spencer since he often had business in Farmerville and no way to get there except that he cross the D’Loutre.
Reverend Samuel Rate Nolan had, in the past, been Spencer’s pastor and he had great respect for his former pastor and in whom he could confide. Reverend Nolan had retired and was living at Antioch which is located about two miles west of Phillips Ferry. Spencer needed to talk with him so on Sunday morning, October 3, he decided to go see Reverend Nolan and noting Pinchard’s threat he asked his friend John Dean, who had spent the night at the Spencer home, if he would accompany him on the trip. Dean gladly told him that he would.
Everyone for miles around knew what was bound to happen if one or the other, Pinchard or Spencer, ventured on the other side of the bayou. When the two men arrived at Phillips Ferry, John Dean drove Spencer’s buggy onto the ferry and Ferryman Nolan pulled them off. Dean drove on and let Spencer off at Reverend Nolan’s house and he went on to Cross Roads to visit his girl friend while waiting for Spencer. Around 4 o’clock Dean picked up Spencer and they headed home.
They were not far from Pinchard’s home when Pinchard stepped out form behind a tree with a shotgun and ordered them to stop and at the same time fired at Spencer. The force of the blast hit Spencer in the face and chest and he was killed instantly. Dean bailed off the buggy and was hit by the second blast in his back. He was able, however, to get to his knees, draw his pistol, and get off a couple of shots at Pinchard as he made his get away. The site of the shooting was just above Cross Roads where the roadside park used to be.
Dean was able to get to his feet and saw another man holding a gun standing in the road down a piece from him. He managed to evade the second man and head for Charlie Nolan’s home. When he got there he saw Spencer’s buggy with the lifeless body of Spencer still slumped where he had fallen.
The sheriff was notified of the shooting and he along with a couple of deputies, A. L. Stancil and R. E. Gulley, along with the coroner, J. G. Evans, left for the scene. A few miles out of town they met Pinchard who was coming to give himself up. He confessed to the shooting but claimed it was in self defense. Later that day, Pinchard’s three sons, Perry, Jett and Evans, were arrested as accessories to the crime.
An investigation revealed two empty shells in Dean’s pistol while Spencer’s revolver was found in the bottom of the latter’s buggy wrapped in a sack. None of the chambers had been discharged. Investigation officers also found several cigarette butts behind the tree Pinchard had been hiding behind. Also a suspicious bruise on Spencer’s hip, which some speculated that it was from a blow made by the other man who had stopped the buggy and struck Spencer to sure he was dead.
In a coroner’s jury, Dean accused Pinchard of deliberate murder. According to Dean, Pinchard stepped out of the woods and began shooting at the two men. He said that Pinchard killed Spencer instantly and then turned on him and fired as he jumped from the buggy, striking him in the back. Dean stated further that by that time he had managed to get his revolver out and fired back at Pinchard twice who returned his fire as he made his escape.
Dean was taken to St. Francis hospital in Monroe the next morning for surgery. After being told by the doctors he had little chance of surviving, he made a death bed statement in front of three witnesses where he swore the statements he made were true. Infection set in and with no antibiotics available in those days, he died two weeks after the shooting.
James Taylor Spencer was laid to rest in Parks Cemetery.
On October 19 indictments were handed down against Pinchard and his three sons for killing Spencer and Dean. The prosecution decided to try them for two murders but in separate trials.
The trial for the murder of Dean got underway in Farmerville on November 23, 1915. After two days, a jury was finally picked and testimony got underway. The sworn testimony was read to the jury. Testimony continued through Friday and into Saturday. Closing arguments were heard and the case submitted to the jury. Judge J. B. Holstead charged the jury and they retired to deliberate. That night the jury returned and jury foreman, E. B. Harris read the verdict, “Not Guilty”.
The audience was shocked. Evidently with only two witnesses with opposing stories to testify left doubt in the jurors minds. Many were unaware of the feud that existed between the Spencers and the Pinchards.
The Pinchards were being held in the little two story jail in Farmerville and Sheriff Miller began to speculate that someone with a stick of dynamite could kill everyone in it if they had a mind too. The district attorney agreed to let the Pinchard brothers out of jail. Perry took a job at James Sawmill as night watchman.
Two weeks later on Saturday night, April 8, about nine forty-five Perry was shot and killed instantly by a load of buckshot to the chest at close range. The telephone line had been cut between Farmerville and Bernice so the sheriff was not notified until Sunday morning. Sheriff Miller went to the scene with a bloodhound and trailed the assailant through Spearsville to the state line where he lost the trail.
Laurence Spencer became the prime suspect until it was discovered that on the night of the crime he was in the Farmerville jail charged with being drunk and disorderly. Victor Spencer then became the prime suspect and was questioned extensively and released after a preliminary trial produced little evidence.
Pinchard was finally brought to trial for the murder of Spencer on Tuesday, April 26. The defense attorney was H. G. Fields. The state was represented by District Attorney Warren and two Dawkinses, along with Attorneys J. K. and E. O. Mahoney from El Dorado, Arkansas. It took two days to find twelve jurors acceptable to both sides. The case was hotly contested by both sides, but was concluded on Friday and the jury retired to deliberate. They returned announcing that they could not reach a verdict. The judge discharged the jury and declared a mistrial. Two weeks later Pinchard was released from jail on bond.
On July 28, 1916, about two weeks after the trail, Benjamin Thomas Doster was killed by a shotgun blast at close range near Spearsville. A resolution was drawn up by members of the community demanding “that the parties committing this crime be given a speedy trial and that justice be not blocked”.
Laurence Spencer heartily endorsed the resolution in a letter to the editor stating further that he noticed that some signers of the resolution sat on a jury, about nine months prior, heard evidence and rendered a verdict of not guilty to a crime just as brutal and cold blooded as this. He went on to reprimand them for not doing their duty and thereby setting a criminal free.
The second trial of Pinchard took place in Homer, Louisiana on Monday, June 11, 1917. The case went to the jury on Tuesday afternoon. They returned to announce that they were hopelessly deadlocked so the judge declared a mistrial. Pinchard was a free man. He would not be tried again.
It seems that public sentiment that law enforcement shouldn’t get involved in family quarrels was still in the back of the minds of some folks. Others, especially those west of D’Loutre, felt like a wealthy man with greed for more land anyway he could get it was of the worst sort. Members of both families lived in fear for years thereafter that one day another member of their family might be murdered.
Jesse Randall Pinchard died on May 24, 1934 and was buried in the Old Saline Baptist Cemetery in Bienville Parish.
Gene has also written two historical books on Union Parish. I highly recommend both.