Deadly Confrontation in Spearsville

Written by Dr. Timothy D. Hudson

In the 1840s, William and Mary Ward Jacobs moved from Lauderdale County Mississippi to Spearsville, where he worked as a farmer and mechanic in the 1850s and 1860s. By 1880, William and Mary Jacobs lived in Spearsville, where he operated a blacksmith shop. William Pinckney and Elsey Caroline Adcock Welch moved to Union Parish about 1865 from Drew County Arkansas. Welch farmed in 1870, but a few years later, he enrolled in the American Medical College in St. Louis, Missouri, where he received the Doctor of Medicine degree on 25 January 1876. Soon after he completed medical degree, Dr. Welch moved his family to Spearsville. In 1880, the Welches occupied a house that adjoined that of the two other physicians in town, Drs. Joab B. Spears and Thomas J. Tabor, and one house away from the Jacobs’.

George B. Welch, the Welch’s eldest surviving son, joined the Spearsville Baptist Church in June 1878, followed by Dr. Welch and his wife in November, and Dr. Welch’s step-son in December. In January 1880, the church filed charges against Dr. Welch for “drunkiness and swaring.” In April, he attended church and apologized, and the church forgave him. The next spring, the church charged and forgave Welch a second time for the same offence. However, in July 1881, the church charged him with “drinking to intoxication, and using profane languages” and excluded him from membership. However, his wife and children remained church members.

According to tradition passed down from that era, on some occasion one of Dr. Welch’s sons spooked Jacobs’ horse while he was riding, nearly throwing him. Jacobs then whipped the boy, causing Dr. Welch great offence. Shortly afterwards, early on the morning of Saturday, October 21st, Dr. Welch and Jacobs met in Spearsville and they “greeted each other in a friendly manner and during the morning went to a saloon and drank together. No spectator heard any quarrel take place between them and both men appeared to be in friendly spirits.”

About dinner time, Jacobs told his wife that he would go to Dr. Welch’s office and settle the matter. Soon afterwards, Spearsville residents heard the report of a gun. Apparently, as Jacobs neared his office, Welch appeared in the doorway with his shotgun and fired “the entire load of buckshot” into Jacobs’ body. According to eyewitnesses, “The people of town, upon looking in the direction the gun was fired, saw Jacobs lying dead in front of Dr. Welch’s office and Welch and his son retreating across a vacant lot back of the office, Welch carrying a gun in his hand.” Bystanders rushed to where Jacobs lay, forty feet in front of Welch’s office, his body pierced by twelve buckshot. No one in Spearsville saw Welch shoot Jacobs. However, given that several people saw Welch and his son running from the office immediately after the shooting, no one doubted but that Welch murdered Jacobs to settle his old grudge related to Jacobs’ whipping the Welch boy.

Dr. Welch and his son fled Spearsville, concealing themselves in the nearby woods. A posse went in search of them, and found the pair, but Dr. Welch “effected his escape from them by running through a thick woods.” One man fired several shots, but Welch absconded unhurt. Once word reached Farmerville, Sheriff Benjamin F. Pleasant sent several deputies with a posse in search of Welch, but he eluded his pursuers and escaped to parts unknown.

With Dr. Welch still on the run, the District Attorney immediately submitted the case to the grand jury, which indicted Dr. Welch for murder on Tuesday, October 24th. Still, Welch managed to evade all attempts to apprehend him. After remaining on the lam for a year, Louisiana Governor Samuel D. McEnery issued a proclamation on 1 December 1883, offering a $500 reward for Dr. Welch, dead or alive. Even with the reward, authorities received no word of Welch’s whereabouts. Caroline Adcock Welch and her children remained in Spearsville during the manhunt for her husband. The Welch’s daughter, Mattie, joined the Spearsville Baptist Church in May 1883, and their youngest son, Henry, joined the following August. In November, the church issues letters of dismissal to Caroline, George, and Mattie, and they left Spearsville. With still no word about his whereabouts, Gov. McEnery continued to issue proclamations offering rewards for Dr. Welch’s apprehension and conviction between 1883 and 1886, with the last one issued on 3 March 1886. No one knows what became of Dr. Welch, nor of Caroline and her children after they left Spearsville in late 1883.

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

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