Written by Gene Barron
In December of 1887 a shootout occurred inside Daniel Stein’s store in Farmerville. The events that lead up to the shootout are well documented; however the actual shooting is not. There are no surviving local newspaper accounts, although the event was reported by over 50 major newspapers. The only descriptions of the event, however, have been handed down by the families of the participants and the families of the witnesses. Therefore the following account must be taken with a grain of salt and may not describe exactly how the tragedy transpired. With that in mind, we do know it happened and the following seems to be the most reasonable course of events.
James Etherington Trimble (February 22, 1834 – December 19, 1887), a Pennsylvania born Republican lawyer and widowed man came to Union Parish in 1858 to serve as principal of the Farmerville Male and Female Institute. During the Civil War he served as an engineer for the Confederate military. Trimble was also the co-founder of The Gazette, along with Captain John M. Ramsey, and served as editor until his death.
When the Louisiana constitution of 1868 gave the freed slaves the right to vote during Reconstruction, Trimble served as chairman of the board of registration and was given sweeping powers. It is unclear if his appointment was the cause, but several on the police jury resigned shortly thereafter, as did John Barrett who was serving as the jury’s president. Although some elected jurors wouldn’t take the oath of loyalty which demanded their support of the constitution and laws of the United States, Trimble, who didn’t want to interfere with the actions of his friends and neighbors, allowed them to take their seats. He began acting as a buffer, as it were, between the citizenry and the Radical Republicans.
Trimble became the Judge of the Eleventh District after his stent as chairman of the board of registration. When, three months after Lincoln Parish was established in 1873, United States Deputy Marshall Edgar A. Seelye began making wholesale arrests of Democratic leaders there. The action was denounced by Trimble in The Union Record as tyranny. When again in 1874 more mass arrests were made, Judge Trimble issued a writ of habeas corpus ordering the Marshall and others to appear in court. When the writ was ignored, both Lieutenant James Hogson and Marshall Seelye were arrested on warrants issued by Judge Trimble charging them with contempt of court. Because of Trimble’s action and his alignment against the radical Republicans, including Governor William Pitt Kellogg, a congressional investigation was requested. When Trimble testified before the investigating committee it became evident that he was a long time Whig who initially supported the Republicans but supported his Democratic friends and neighbors and thus he was censured but allowed to stay in office. Trimble was well respected in Union Parish.
James A. Ramsey’s (March 9, 1852 – December 19, 1887) was a prominent lawyer, a deacon of the Baptist Church and president of the Baptist Sunday School. He, also, was well respected in the community.
After Reconstruction, Trimble operated the Farmerville Institute often referred to as “Trimble’s School”. Ramsey’s children attended this school. At some point Trimble sued Ramsy for nonpayment of tuition, but in open court Ramsey produced a paid receipt which embarrassed Trimble. This seems to be the beginning of the feud between the two men. In the gubernatorial election of 1888 Trimble served as campaign manager for Samuel McEnery of Monroe while Ramsey served as campaign manager for Francis T. Nichols of Thibodaux. Nichols won the election. The confrontations during the election added to the conflict between Trimble and Ramsey that had started in the 1870’s. Both men, from time to time, made public statements attacking the honor of the other. Eventually Trimble, after drinking heavily, swore that he would kill Ramsey on sight.
On December 19, 1887 Sheriff Pleasant came to the Ramsy home at noon and informed the family of Trimble’s condition and warned Ramsey to stay home. Ramsey ignored this warning and the pleas of his wife and relatives and sought an open confrontation with Trimble to settle the dispute.
Late that evening Ramsey rode to Farmerville, tied his horse and started toward Daniel Stein’s store when he was met by Dr. W. W. Barnes who informed him that Trimble was inside and that there might be trouble. Again Ramsey ignored the warning and entered the store. There were about twenty people in the store at the time including some of Ramsey’s relatives, his first cousin George Ramsey and brother-in-laws, the McFarland brothers, who were all armed.
As soon as the two combatant’s eyes met they began shouting abusive connotations at each other. Trimble drew his pistol, lunged toward Ramsey and fired. The shot struck Ramsey in the heart and he was dead before he hit the floor, but Trimble fired again hitting Ramsey in the hip. Then it sounded like a young war had started when other shots rang out – some say as many as six or eight. The facts become cloudy at this point. Ramsey family lore says that the first shots were fired by the McFarland brothers, but that they missed their mark. Other shots rang out and then a single shot fires by George Ramsey. This shot hit its mark and killed Trimble. Then George quietly slipped away from the scene and few knew that he had ever been there. (George later confided to his family that he indeed shot Trimble.) Others at the scene reported that they couldn’t determine who shot Trimble. Some thought it was one of the McFarland brothers. It was reported that Trimble had been shot in both arms and in the left side of his head in the temple, which resulted in his death.
The next day both Trimble and Ramsey were buried an hour apart. One funeral was conducted by the Knights of Pythias and the other by the Knights of Honor. Both men were mourned by the community. Judge Trimble left a wife and seven children. Mr Ramsy left a wife and four children.
A grand jury inquest was held and everyone agreed that Trimble had shot and killed Ramsy, but no one would testify as to who had shot Trimble. As a result it was determined by the jury that Ramsey died “at the hands of the assailant before him” and that Trimble had been killed “by pistols in the hands of unknown parties.”
Gene has also written two historical books on Union Parish. I highly recommend both.