Written by Dr. Tim Hudson
After spending the night of Wednesday, 4 May 1881, at his father’s home near Shiloh, the next morning Elijah H. Ward arose early and visited his father’s bedside. E. H. Ward said “…my father…appeared to be very feeble. He was lying on the bed when I left him…”. Elijah H. and his son, Hillory H. Ward, then headed east towards Farmerville for the trial scheduled to begin that afternoon, May 5th. It seems unlikely that the Wards could have made the twenty-mile trip from the McLelland farm to the courthouse in Farmerville until late afternoon at the earliest, even if they departed very early in the morning, so they may have missed the opening arguments.
As the trial began on Thursday, Bailey’s lawyer James A. Ramsey attempted to have Ward’s testimony before Justice of the Peace Bolton thrown out of court, but the judge overruled Ramsey’s motion and allowed it. Henry Fain, the owner of the farm next to David Ward’s retirement home, testifies first, giving much of his detailed personal knowledge of the improvements Ward had made between 1867 and 1878. Farmerville mayor William B. H. Poer testified next, describing his conversations with McLelland about the arrangement. When the trial resumed the next day, Friday, May 6th, David Ward’s grandson, Hillory H. Ward, testified first. H. H. Ward had lived with his grandfather for several years and helped him work the farm, so he had first-hand knowledge of the farming operations. He spoke at length about the value of the many improvements his grandfather had made to the place, all at his own expense. Hillory even stated that he personally witnessed his grandfather give cash to Fred McLelland to pay for some of the improvements. Elijah H. Ward followed his son on the witness stand, questioned first by Judge Trimble and then by Ramsey. Ward gave the precise acreage that his father had cleared on the McLelland farm after moving there in 1867. After Elijah Ward’s testimony, the prosecution rested its case.
Ramsey then called several witnesses in Bailey’s defense who contradicted the testimony of Fain, Poer, and the Wards. Bailey’s witness T. W. Harper claimed that David Ward had not actually cleared any of the land. Under cross-examination by Judge Trimble, Harper admitted that his surveying skills were questionable, as he had no formal training, whereas Elijah H. Ward was the official Union Parish Surveyor. The trial concluded later that afternoon. After a brief deliberation, the jury foreman, Samuel Smith, returned the verdict to the court. Smith wrote, “We the Jury after considering the claims of the Plaintiff and Defendant Renders Verdict (for) Plaintiff Sum of Fifty five Dollars”. The next Friday, May 13th, Judge E. M. Graham issued his final judgment in the case, certifying the jury’s decision in Ward’s favor, and officially awarded him $55, far less than the $1210 originally requested. From David Ward’s standpoint, the court’s judgment certainly brought a rather bittersweet ending to the saga.
Despite his poor health during the May 1881 trial, David Ward held on to life for another year. The next spring, sixty acres of Ward’s new home (Ellen’s former home, the “McLelland old place”) was planted in cotton and corn by several sharecroppers, including Ellen’s former slaves Dan, Peter and David McLelland.
David Ward died on 4 May 1882 at his home eight miles west of Shiloh, one year to the day after Bolton took his testimony for his last trial against the Baileys. His sons took Ward’s body back to eastern Union Parish in a wagon and buried him by lantern light at night beside their mother in the Wards Chapel Cemetery, located on the edge of the government land he purchased in December 1837. Elijah Ward paid $110 for his father’s casket and having his grave dug. Ellen continued to manage her old farm for the 1882 growing season, with the black McLelland men tending to and harvesting the corn and cotton crops that year. Soon afterwards, Ellen moved in with her daughter, Sarah McLelland Taylor, wife of former Union Parish Judge John Taylor, on the Taylor farm east of Farmerville. She died there on 21 March 1884.
David Ward’s courtroom battle with his nephew, Thomas N. Bailey, over possession of his retirement home had a tragic epilogue long after the Louisiana Supreme Court made a final decision in the matter. The extended legal squabble between 1876 and 1881 that pitted uncle against niece and grandmother against grandchildren was argued by their attorneys, former Judge James E. Trimble and James A. Ramsey. By the latter 1870’s, the opposing lawyers had become the leaders of the bitter political factions within Union Parish. While these factions originated as an outgrowth of Reconstruction politics, Ramsey and Trimble also had a very personal feud. Ironically, they also lived in adjoining houses in Farmerville at the time they argued the Ward vs. Bailey court battles. Both also had public forums for their opposing political viewpoints: Trimble served as owner and editor of the “Gazette” and Ramsey was a close friend and political ally of Judge Thomas C. Lewis, former owner/editor of the “Union Record” and now owner/editor of “The Home Advocate”.
After their courtroom rivalry between 1878 and 1881, the Trimble/Ramsey feud increased in intensity during the 1880s, culminating in a shootout in Farmerville on 19 December 1887 that claimed the lives of both Farmerville attorneys.
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.