Written by Dr. Timothy Hudson
Authorities described Ira D. Robbins, alias Commodore D. Lattineer, as a “noted desperado,” a violent and dangerous criminal accused of killing men in both Mississippi and Texarkana, Texas, an unspecified number of women, plus a host of other crimes. On the run from a Texas posse in February 1877, he sought refuge in the D’Arbonne Swamp, now inundated by the modern Lake D’Arbonne. Texas officials telegraphed the Union Parish sheriff that they expected Robbins was in the vicinity, and he formed a posse of local men to search the swamp, then frozen due to the frigid February weather. To escape detection, Robbins took refuge in the frozen waters, causing his feet to become “so badly frostbitten as to render locomotion exceedingly painful and difficult.” In this condition, Union Parish officials managed to apprehend Robbins without incident. The sheriff placed Robbins in the Farmerville jail and sought medical attention. To save his life, physicians had to amputate portions of both feet. The editor of Farmerville’s newspaper, “The Union Record,” wrote that due to Robbins’ deplorable condition, officials had moved him to the residence of Mr. A. J. Mashaw, “where he receives all necessary attention. Truly, ‘the way of the transgressor is hard.”
Robbins remained in Farmerville for a while to recover from the amputations, giving the towns people time to interact with him. The editor of the “Record” described him as “a genteel young man” of twenty-four years who was “respectably connected in Texas,” with a wife residing near Texarkana. After he recovered, Sheriff Pleasant had Robbins sent back to Texas.
Despite the loss of his feet, Robbins managed to escape from his Texas prison after only a few days, and he promptly returned to Union Parish’s D’Arbonne Swamp. Meanwhile, Sheriff Pleasant received a warrant for Robbins’ arrest from Mississippi on one of his murder charges there. Learning of the posse, Robbins stole a buggy and escaped to Arkansas. One of Pleasant’s deputies captured Robbins in El Dorado and brought him back to the Farmerville jail, awaiting extradition papers from Mississippi. Upon his second incarceration in Farmerville, a newspaper editor wrote of Robbins, “A plucky man this without any legs.”
Mr. Glasson, a Mississippi bounty hunter, claimed the reward for Robbin’s capture, but the Union Parish Sheriff Benjamin F. Pleasant disputed him, claiming the reward for himself and his deputies who captured him. After a standoff regarding the reward which the sheriff eventually won, a relative of one of Robbins’ victims came to Farmerville to help the sheriff return him to Mississippi for trial. The men decided to spend the night in Monroe, planning to catch the train to Jackson the next morning. Overnight in the Monroe jail, Robbins managed to find matches and start a fire, hoping to create sufficient commotion to effect an escape. His ruse failed, and the next morning, the group departed by rail for Mississippi as planned. Once incarcerated in the jail there, Robbins managed to send a message to his mother, asking her to send a file and knife to help him escape. Before his mother could arrive, relatives and friends of his victims decided to take matters into their own hands. At 9:00 one morning, a group of two hundred men formed in Westville, Mississippi to discuss what to do with him; by noon, the crowd had swelled to eight hundred. Without concrete evidence of his guilt, the mob dragged Robbins out of jail and attempted to coerce a confession. He adamantly refused, pleading to receive “the prayers of some Christian man; but that was refused, unless he confessed.” The ringleaders finally tired of the stalemate, and decided to place Robbins “before the tribunal of One Almighty Judge, there to answer as to his guilt or innocence, and receive His decree – He was swung (or rather dragged) into eternity without prayer, pity or remorse from those concerned in the hanging.”
The mob botched the hanging by tying the rope to Robbins’ neck before they had attached it to the tree limb. Several men then lifted Robbins up from the horse’s back as others tied the rope to the tree, but when he was put down, Robbins slid to the side of the horse and slowly strangled to death. Mortified observers wrote that his self-appointed executioners left Robbins’ body hanging for several hours, while they returned to their homes to “partake of their daily meal for which the scene had given them such a complacent, longing appetite; others to return to their wives and children, feeling as innocent and secure as if they were just returning from the field and plow…” After their lunch, a few of the men returned to cut down Robbins’ body for burial. At that moment, Robbins’ mother finally rushed into town. Despite riding thirty-six miles in six hours to reach her son, she only managed to arrive to see his body making its way to the cemetery.
Union Parish Sheriff Benjamin F. Pleasant stood to receive the reward of $1500 for his office by apprehending Robbins and returning him to Mississippi. However, the reward depended upon Robbins’ conviction, something the vigilante mob made impossible by lynching him. The Mississippi Legislature passed a resolution thanking Sheriff Pleasant for arresting Robbins in Arkansas and returning him to Mississippi, authorizing the sum of $400 as compensation for his time and trouble.
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.