Bernice Historical Society
Bernice Dots #21
By Cathy Buckley
1940 – 1941
Bernice began its 41st year with both excitement and sadness. The town had a reputation from its earliest years of being a town where drunkenness often ended badly for the consumer of such substances. On this particular night a 25 year old resident of Bernice in a drunken condition, decided it would be fun to take a gun and go into town and fire some shots into the air. The town marshal George Wise was summoned and the two met on Main Street where shots were fired but the gun was taken from the culprit who then ran to his own home in an attempt to find another gun and in the process fired two shots at his wife when she tried to stop him from leaving. She failed in her attempt to stop him from leaving in the family car. After driving a couple of blocks he turned around and attempted to return to his home but Wise stopped him and ordered him to vacate the car. The man did open the car door but came out shooting with Wise returning fire.
Marshal Wise received one shot to the stomach and three in one leg. His culprit was shot in the chin. Both men were sent to the Ruston Sanitarium where the young man died from his injuries.
Within a few hours of this incident former State Senator E.B. Robinson and his wife of Bernice were killed instantly in a car accident outside of Dubach. The other car in the accident was driven by a traveling salesman from Memphis who lost control of his car on the slick highway and hit the Robinson car head on.
Robinson had come to Bernice from Shiloh where he had been a store owner and leading citizen of the town. When he came to Bernice in its earliest years he became very active in the establishment of the business section of town. He erected a two story building which housed several offices and small businesses. He also served for many years as President of the Union Parish School Board and served as state Senator for 8 years and was one of the “17” Senators who voted against the impeachment of Huey Long.
In August J.M. Talbot resigned as Mayor of Bernice after serving for 26 years. George D. “Sport” Grafton was then appointed by the Governor to serve out the remainder of Talbot’s term. Grafton was 26 and was the youngest mayor the town had ever had. He was, at the time of his appointment, a coach at Bernice High. His father, William F. Grafton had been mayor in Bernice from 1906 to 1914.
The winds of war were felt to be blowing in America in 1940. In Bernice 344 men registered for service on one day in October. School was dismissed so teachers could assist in the registration. Mayor J.M. Talbot led a parade through Main Street and was followed by Boy Scouts, teachers and throngs of boys and girls.
Before the end of the year the longest serving mail carrier in Union Parish retired. He was Wes Shackelford of Bernice who had been delivering the mail since 1907.He literally saw letters grow wings! His first route was a 20 mile route he covered on horseback or if the roads were not muddy in a two wheel cart pulled by his horse.
In an interview given the day before his retirement Shackelford stated that in his earliest years the only newspaper he delivered was the Shreveport Times which came three days a week. In the 1920’s he bought a car and changed to a 45 mile route and delivered over 6000 pieces of mail each month and sold on the average between four and five dollars worth of stamps each day. I have delivered just about everything he stated, even letters that were “airmail”.
January of 1941 brought good news to the Bernice Volunteer fire department. Equipment ordered several months before finally arrived and the old light plant building was remodeled for housing the equipment. Doyle Ferguson was named chief of the volunteers with Don Lomax as assistant chief. Other members were Clyde C. Colvin, J.C. Aiken, Hugh Colvin, Brodie Green, Clifton McIntosh, Elvis Orrin, George Lindsey, Frank Walton and Taft Burns.
In preparation for military maneuvers scheduled in the state in 1942, Southern Bell Telephone crews strung 375 miles of wire from Alexandria all the way to the
Arkansas line. The extension of lines would help not only the military but the area citizens as well.
The year 1941 ended with the nation reeling from the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor and the citizens of Bernice concerned over those from Bernice serving in the Navy who had not been heard from since the attack. Listed in a Shreveport Times articles were three Bernice sailors who had not contacted family members since the attack: Deal Thaxton, D.C. Strickland and Alton Hamilton.
********************************************************************************************* Cathy Buckley is a native of Union Parish and lifelong citizen of Shiloh. She served as Principal of Spearsville High School for many years until her retirement. Cathy is now the director of the Bernice Depot Museum and a active member of the Bernice Historical Society.