A Shootout on the Streets of Bernice

Written by Gene Barron

On April 20, 1908 Sheriff John W. Taylor and his Chief Deputy, James M. Underwood were called to Bernice in response to a shootout. The shooting occurred when Charles J. Morton, along with his wife, Anna, and their son, Charles Hester Morton, stepped from the coach of the southbound Rock Island passenger train which had stopped at the Bernice depot. William Floyd Barham and his son, Clem, stood across the street and to the west in the gallery of Barham Hardware store waiting for Morton to debark. All combatants were armed. Morton and the elder Barham were armed with repeating shotguns loaded with buckshot while Clem was armed with a pistol.

Charles J. Morton (February 14, 1862 – May 19, 1920), who owned the hardware store on south main in Bernice, married Anna Hester, daughter of William D. and Laura Owens Hester. They had three children, Ellie, Charles Hester and Adolphus Boatner.

William Floyd Barham (July 25, 1856 – September 9, 1916) was a farmer living near Bernice. He and his first wife, Sue Ellen Morton (September 30, 1859 – January 11, 1890), Charles Morton’s sister, had several children – John Robert, Charles T., William Floyd, Stella, Dayton W., Clem Cheatham and J. M.  After her death, Floyd married a woman named Martha in Lincoln Parish on June 26, 1890. Then he married Alice W. Tate (November 5, 1861 – October 16, 1935) on April 21, 1891 in Claiborne Parish by whom he had two living children, Emmett and Gertrude.

No one knows the cause of the rife between Morton and Barham but one could surmise that it might have had something to do with the circumstances of the death of Sue Ellen or ever resentment that Barham had remarried only 6 months after her death. In any event, it was said that there had been bad blood between the two men for years. If fact shots were exchanged between Morton and Barham before, but no one was hurt. On this day it was different.

It seems that on April 20, 1908 Morton was returning on the south bound Rock Island passenger train from Texas with his wife and young son, who had gone there for a visit. The train pulled into the station in Bernice at 11 am. As Morton and his family stepped onto the platform he was supposedly armed with a Winchester pump shotgun. Barham and his son, Clem, were stationed in front of Clem’s store across the street about seventy-five yards south-west of the depot – both armed, Clem with a pistol and Barham with a shotgun, and waiting for Morton. No one knows for sure who fired first but soon all three men were blazing away. They emptied their guns, reloaded and kept firing indiscriminately.

When the smoke cleared several innocent bystanders were wounded and one killed. Thomas W. Clark, who had just assisted Mrs. Morton from the train, was hit in the back and shoulder and died in 15 minutes. A. J. Blanche of Covington, sat in the smoking car when a bullet penetrated the car and lodged in his side. The train conductor, W. S. Alford, was wounded in both hips and a leg. Thomas Rives was wounded in the thigh. Blanche and Alford were taken to Ruston where they were treated at the sanitarium there. Another passenger whose name is unknown was also wounded.

Morton’s seven-year old son, Charlie, who was seriously wounded several times by buckshot, one of which touched his liver, was also transferred to Ruston where he underwent an operation. Charlie recovered from his wounds. Both Barham, who was hit twice in the leg, and Morton, struck once in the arm, were only slightly wounded and were treated in Bernice. Clem Barham was unharmed.

On October 27, 1908, Clem C. Barham was acquitted of the killing of Thomas W. Clark and A. J. Planche. Evidently Planche died days after his being wounded. The trial of William Floyd Barham resulted in a mistrial. At some point a few months later, there was another mistrial. In October 1909 the third trial of the state against W. F. Barham was held. The state was represented by District Attorney Roberts and attorney Barksdale of Ruston and attorneys Crow and Crow of the local bar. The defendant was represented by Attorneys Clifton Mathews and J. W. Elder. After a hard-fought case, another mistrial was rendered. No record can be found of another trial for Barham.

Mysteries remain as to the cause of the feud and if the killing of Thomas W. Clark and A. J. Planche was ever vindicated.



Gene Barron 2 (2)

Gene Barron is a native of Spearsville, Union Parish, Louisiana. He has a genealogy database of 182,000 names, who are all connected to his family.

Gene has also written two historical books on Union Parish. I highly recommend both.


The Family of Spearsville

Images of Union Parish


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