Murder and Vengeance

Written by Dr. Tim Hudson

William P. Mabry settled near Shiloh in about 1855, living on a farm on the western edge of Union Parish. By 1885, he was a man of sixty years. Late on April 19th, W. C. Henderson, Walter Ferguson, Jack Melton and Calvin Skinner met at nearby Pisgah Baptist Church and made plans to talk with an elderly black woman, Caroline Simley, who lived on Mabry’s farm with her young children and grandchildren. Their precise motives remain unclear, but they were obviously of a nefarious nature. When the men arrived at Ms. Simley’s house, Skinner called out for her to open the door. Frightened and afraid for her family, Caroline put on her dress and ran out of the house some thirty yards before falling to the ground. Ferguson ran up to her and hit her on the head with a stick. Skinner and the other men grabbed her and took her back into the yard, where Henderson hit her in the eye with his pistol. Hearing Caroline’s screams and the commotion from his house nearby, Mr. Mabry ran towards Caroline’s house, exclaiming, “Heigho! What is the matter? What are you doing there?” Henderson released Caroline, and he and Skinner ran around her house towards Mabry. Skinner fired at Mabry, and then all four men ran off into the woods. The bullet hit Mabry in the center of his chest, and he died soon afterwards.

Based upon Caroline’s testimony, all four men were soon arrested and charged. Henderson, Ferguson, and Melton were released on bail, but Skinner was denied bail. At trial that fall, the jury found Skinner and the others not guilty, because the only witness against them was a black woman. In that era, such testimony was not sufficient to convict a white man of murder.

Two years later, on the night of 23 December 1887, an assailant went to Calvin Skinner’s residence and fired at him with a shotgun loaded with buckshot, killing him. We do not know if the person who avenged William P. Mabry’s murder was ever identified.

 

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Dr. Tim Hudson is the mathematics department head at Southeastern Louisiana and an avid historian on Union Parish. Hudson is a Union Parish native and graduate of Farmerville High School.

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