Written by Gene Barron
In 1984 Charlie Wheeler related a story told to him by his father about a recluse named Dick Holman. It seems that Charlie, as a young lad, was hunting hogs with his dad when they came upon the remains of an old homestead. His dad told him that this was where Dick Holman lived years ago. Behind the dilapidated cabin his father pointed to a depression in the ground about two or three feet deep. “That was meant to be a grave.” Wheeler told his son , “Old man Holman made his daughter dig her own grave with the intention of killing her and burying her in it when she completed it. Fortunately his cruel deed never happened.”
The tale was enough to make the young boy want to hear more and he asked his father why he would want to do such a thing. As they walked on, his father related this story to him.
According to Wheeler, in the latter years of the 1880’s, Dick Holman was the meanest man around. This was saying a lot, for ruthlessness ran rampant throughout Louisiana from the early years after the Civil War until the dawning of the twentieth century and sometime thereafter. No one knew where Holman came from. In his younger days it was rumored that he spent time with the Jesse James gang on several robberies, but his name is not among the forty-five known to have belonged to the gang over the years. It was also said that he had robbed the Marion Bank at some point. Some gold was taken but when the posse caught up with Holman they couldn’t find the gold and therefore no arrest could be made.
Evidently Holman came to Union Parish in about 1850 along with his wife, the former Harriett Odom, and their two children and settled near Ouachita City. By 1870 he and Harriett had divorced, but not before she had given birth for four more children, two boys and two girls. The Holman family was then living near Linville. (Harriett left the family and moved to Texas where she died in Upshur County in August of 1900.) On July 22, 1872 Richard L. Holman married Sarah E. Cook, a seventeen year old daughter of his neighbor.
As Holman grew older, he and his family settled into a life of seclusion.
No one dared to near the Holman place – except Thomas Jefferson Wheeler Sr., Charlie’s grandfather. Thomas was a wealthy man owning over 500 acres of land and a cotton gin. He also imported groceries and supplies by boat up the Ouachita River to Ouachita City to supply a lot of the goods for settlers in the area – including Holman.
One day in 1874 Holman’s unmarried daughter, Margaret, turned up pregnant. Holman was livid. In those days when something like that happened, someone was held accountable and had to pay. These were the days when the Nightriders and the KKK were about the only law enforcement there was in the area. Communities policed themselves. It was obvious to Holman who would have to pay if the word got out so he grabbed a shovel and dragged his daughter by the arm to a spot behind the cabin and made her start digging. When she had completed the grave, Holman intended to make her stand beside the grave, shoot her and let her body fall into it, so he wouldn’t have to touch her in the process.
The girl spent several days digging the grave and somehow, during the process, she got the word out as to what was going on. Several of the neighbors decided that they needed to do something about it. They asked Wheeler if he would help them, since he was the only man in the country that Holman trusted. They agreed, that if he would help, they wouldn’t harm Holman. Wheeler agreed and a plan was hatched.
On September 21, 1874 Wheeler approached the Holman cabin and called the old man out. When Holman walked out of the cabin four men jumped him. Holman, who was a powerful man, broke away and one of the men pulled a gun, shot and killed him. The community decided that Holman was unworthy of being buried in Liberty Cemetery so they buried him outside the fence – on his side. No one knew why they buried him that way but they did. Over the years the cemetery was enlarged and the unmarked grave of Richard L. Holman is now inside the cemetery.
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.