A Shootout on the Streets of Bernice

Written by Gene Barron

On April 20, 1908 Sheriff John W. Taylor and his Chief Deputy, James M. Underwood were called to Bernice in response to a shootout. The shooting occurred when Charles J. Morton, along with his wife, Anna, and their son, Charles Hester Morton, stepped from the coach of the northbound Rock Island passenger train which had stopped at the Bernice depot. William Floyd Barham and his son, Clem, stood across the street and to the west in the gallery of Barham Hardware store waiting for Morton to debark. All combatants were armed. Morton and the elder Barham were armed with repeating shotguns loaded with buckshot while Clem was armed with a pistol.

Charles J. Morton (14 Feb 1862-19 May 1920), who owned the hardware store on south main in Bernice, married Anna Hester, daughter of William D. and Laura Owens Hester. They had three children, Ellie, Charles Hester, and Adolphus Boatner.

William Floyd Barham (25 Jul 1856 – 9 Sep 1916) was a farmer living near Bernice. He and his first wife, Sue Ellen Morton (30 Sep 1859 – 11 Jan 1890), Charles Morton’s sister, had seven children – John Robert, Charles T., William Floyd, Stella, Dayton W., Clem Cheatham and J. M. After Sue Ellen’s death, Floyd married a Mrs. Martha J. Farley in Lincoln Parish on June 26, 1890. Then he married Alice W. Tait (5 Nov 1861 – 16 Oct 1935) on April 21, 1891 in Claiborne Parish by whom he had two living children, Emmett and Gertrude.

In the notes of the late Bernice historian, Twila Gresham Moore, she wrote that Morton was having an affair with Barham’s wife and Barham found out about it and vowed to kills Morton on sight. In fact shots were exchanged between Morton and Braham at some point, but no one was hurt. On April 20, 1908 it would be different.

It seems that Morton was returning on the north bound Rock Island passenger train from a visit in Texas with his wife and young son.  The train stopped in Dubach and while there someone discovered that Morton planned to have a confrontation with his ex-brother-in-law when he arrived in Bernice. Evidently this person wired Bernice to warn Barham of Morton’s intentions.

The train pulled into the station in Bernice at 11am. As Morton and his family stepped onto the platform he was supposedly armed with a Winchester pump shotgun. Barham and his son, Clem, were stationed in front of Barham’s store across the street about seventy-five yards south-west of the depot – both armed, Clem with a pistol and Barham with a shotgun, and waiting for Morton. No one knows for sure who fired first but soon all three men were blazing away. They empted their guns, reloaded and kept firing indiscriminately.

When the smoke cleared several innocent by standers were wounded and one killed. Thomas W. Clark, who had just assisted Mrs. Morton from the train, was hit in the back and shoulders and died in fifteen minutes. A. J. Blanche of Covington, Louisiana, sat in the smoking car when a bullet penetrated the car and lodged in his side. Mr. Blanche died in the Ruston Sanitarium on Wednesday following the shooting. The train conductor, W. S. Alford, was wounded in both hips and a leg. Thomas Reeves was wounded in the thigh. Blanche and Alford were taken to Ruston where they were treated at Sanitarium there. Another passenger whose name is unknown was also wounded.

Morton’s seven year old son, Charlie,  who was seriously wounded several times by buckshot, one of which touched his liver, was also transferred to Ruston where he where he underwent an operation. (Charlie recovered from his wounds.) Both Barham, who was hit twice in the leg, and Morton, struck once in the arm, were only slightly wounded and were treated in Bernice. Clem Barham was unharmed.

Immediately after the shooting, Clem fled to Dubach and hid in the woods for a time and Malachi Smith Green brought him food.  William Floyd was arrested at the scene. Clem was apprehended several days after the shooting.

On 27 October 1908, Clem C. Barham was acquitted of the killing of Thomas W. Clark and A. J. Planche. The trial of William Floyd Barham resulted in a mistrial. At some point a few months later there was another mistrial. In October 1909 the third trial of the state against W. F. Barham was held. The state was represented by District Attorney Roberts and attorneys Barksdale and of Ruston and attorneys Crow and Crow of the local bar. The defendant was represented by Attorneys Clifton Mathews and J. W. Elder. After a hard fought case, another mistrial was rendered.  No record can be found of another trial for Barham.

When William Floyd Barham died while living in Georgia in 1916, his body was brought back to Bernice by train for burial in the Shiloh Cemetery. Several Bernice citizens met that train and expressed their displeasure of him being buried in Union Parish. It seems that Barhom moved around a lot in his life, suggesting that he might have been hard to get along with. In 1876 the family lived in Dubach, in 1878 in Shiloh, in 1883 in Kimbletown in Claiborne Parish, in 1888 in Hico, in 1890 back to Claiborne Parish and then to Bernice.,

Mysteries remain as to the cause of the feud and if the killing of Thomas W. Clark and A. J. Planche was ever vindicated.

***This is a update of an article Gene wrote several years ago.***


Gene Barron 2 (2)

Gene Barron is a native of Spearsville, Union Parish, Louisiana. He has a genealogy database of 182,000 names,who are all connected to his family.

Gene has also written two historical books on Union Parish. I highly recommend both.



The Family of Spearsville

Lest We Forget The Barrons

Gene Barron on Amazon





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