Hardy Pioneers Founded Union Parish

Emmett J. Lee, Jr.
The Gazette
October 5, 1939

Section Was Settled By Immigrants from ‘Bama and Georgia

John Honeycutt Believed to Have Been First Settler in This Section: Was Awarded Land Grants from Spanish Government in 1790’s

Carved from a virgin forest, Union  Parish is one of the glories of Louisiana.

With ox-carts and axes they carved a tortuous path, those early followers of the sun. For West has always been the magic-direction toward the setting sue and it was during the “sunset” of the eighteenth century that the slow and dangerous westward movement of our trail-brazers began. Through the quiet mystery of virgin forests our national highways were being born.

In 1790 the territory that is now Union Parish was a more rugged wilderness than ordinary. In that year, John Honeycutt, according to tradition, pushed his way across the wilds of Alabama, Mississippi and into Northern Louisiana.

He settled here, trapping and living off the land. But, soon from the Eastern and Southern seaboard from the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi came other settlers to this area.

They were fleeing from the Eastern seaboard where the American Revolution and the rule of the Tories had reduced their lands to over-grown, over-worked fields. They were fleeing from the encroachment of new waves of migration from Europe. They were primarily hunters and trappers, they sought this new land as an expression of the fever that was to grip the people of this nation until the “western frontier” was pushed westward into the Pacific ocean.

Thus, close on the heels of John Honeycutt, pushed succeeding waves of migration that was to make Union Parish and Northern Louisiana what it is today.

Spanish Land Grant

According to a well-established tradition, Honeycutt in the year 1790 was granted a tract of land from the Spanish government, under whose flag Louisiana was then governed. The tradition goes that Honeycutt learned from a group of Indians camped at the mouth of Bayou Cornie, that a family of white people had settled close enough to be called “neighbors”.

Deciding that he needed a wife and being along in years, Honeycutt traveled the 15 miles according to the direction of a group of Indians and came upon the dwelling of a man named Feazel. Feazel had several daughters of marrying age so Honeycutt boldly asked the father for the hand of one of the girls. The father obliged and lined the girls up for Honeycutt’s inspection. He selected one and from this marriage, the first in this section, has come many of the prominent men and women in the history of this section.

More immigrants, pushed westward by the ever increasing hoard from Europe, spurred on by the dreams of large land tracts moved into this sector. About 1825, the descendants of wealthy families of the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia pushed their way into this new, fertile territory. They, too, had gone west to seek to replenish family fortunes or to make their own fortunes.

This wave of immigrants settled along the rivers and the bayous, selecting the richest lowlands. They were primarily farmers and lent the first note of permanency to the territory, which already was beginning to be fairly well populated. They were the typical family of that time. Working hard, trying to make a home out of the wilderness, they felled trees, cleared lands, built cabins and banded together from the Indians, who sometimes caused them trouble, and from the wild beasts.

These first settlers were mainly of Anglo-Saxon descent. Their religion was Baptist and John Wesleyan Methodist. They came in two-wheeled ox-carts, some on horseback, some on foot. They seemed to prefer lands and home sites along the Bayous D’Arbonne, Cornie and DeLoutre.

Territory Divided

In 1807, after the United States had taken over the Louisiana territory, the territory of Orleans, as it was then called was divided into 19 parishes, Ouachita being the most northerly. It was named for the Ouachita Indians who held this part of the country when it was discovered and explored by the French. Its history is most interesting, for it was owned and ruled by a savage king and emperor, within a short period of time.

The present parish of Ouachita comprises but a small part of the original District of Ouachita” during the French and Spanish regimes and of the “County of Ouachita” which when set apart by the territorial council of Louisiana in 1805 comprehended “all that country known and called by the of Ouachita settlements.” and which embraced within its original boundaries the parishes of Morehouse and Union and a part of Carroll.

Honeycutt Opened the Way for More Immigrants; Colorful History Is Told

Came by Boat, Horse, Wagon, on Foot to Great Virgin Forests in This Section

 

In 1839 Union Parish was created out of the northern part of Ouachita Parish. It has an area of 910 square miles, is situated in the northeastern portion of the state, and is bounded on the north but he state of Arkansas, on the east by the Ouachita River separating it from Morehouse on the South by Ouachita and Lincoln Parishes and on the west by Claiborne Parish.

“Upland Parish”

It is considered one of the good “upland parishes” and is mainly agricultural. The parish formerly was a great timber section, but most of the virgin timber has been exhausted in the past ten years. Some timber cutting in second-growth pine is sustaining the operation of several small sawmills in the parish. The Frost lumber interests, owners of larger sections in the parish, have inaugurated a plan of reforestation that will enable a constant supervised cutting to take place in the future.

Principal waterways of the parish include the Ouachita River, which forms the eastern boundary of the parish, and the Bayous D’Arbonne, Cornie and D’Loutre and their tributaries.

As Union Parish formed a part of Ouachita during the early history of Northern Louisiana the history of early settlements and developments in this section is primarily closely correlated with the early history of Ouachita Parish.

Among the early first settlements in Union Parish was that of Ouachita City on the banks of the Ouachita River in the eastern part of the parish. When first created, it was only a trading post. But, as time went on houses started to cluster around the post, starting a small but prosperous settlement that benefited both from inland and waterway travelers. A store was opened by a man whose name is remembered as Jones, thus giving the settlement a call for more immigrants to settle there in an effort to be close to the source of supplies.

Loch Lomond, also on the banks of the Ouachita River, was also one of the first settled places in Union Parish, if not the first.

Marion’s Settlement

Dr. Samuel J. Larkin, Col. John Hill, James Powell and Elias George are credited with the settlement of Marion about 1837 or 1838. Dr. Larkin and Elias George were pioneer preachers of the Baptist Church and it may be safely said that they implanted the church in Union Parish.

Other early settlers of Marion included Dr. John Taylor, one of the first physicians, a man named Sam Taylor and another named Livingston opened a store at Marion in the early ’40’s.

Spearsville settlement is believed to have started in 1842 or 1843, when Mr. Spears and his oldest son opened a store and later laid out a village, which later became known as Spearsville. Among the first early settlers of this town were the Barrons, Col Morgan and an individual called Pouncy. Joe Goyne opened a second store at Spearsville a few years later.

Shiloh was settled by the Heard and Fuller families. Honorable W. W. Heard, governor of Louisiana from 1900-04, being a descendant of the early Heards, Tubbs and Wade opened the first store there and a merchant named Clark soon followed with another one. For half a century this village was an important educational center and business center. For many years Shiloh was recognized as one of the educational centers of North Louisiana.

Name Parish Seat

When Union Parish was founded in 1839, some contention arose as to the name of a town for the parish seat. Some wanted to name it Woodville in honor of Mathew Wood, a first settler and president of the police jury. Wood, however, did not wish this and accordingly the town was named Farmerville in honor of Lt. Gov. W. W. Farmer. This man was one of the most distinguished produced by the parish and had a strong hand in conducting affairs of state in those days. He is buried in Farmerville, his grave being one of the first there.

An estimation of the population at the time the sector was made a parish is set at approximately 1,800.

On May 16, 1839 the first step toward the establishment of a parish government was made. The first police jury, composed of J. N. Farmer, Jeptha Colvin, Phillip Feazel, Matthew Wood, Needham Bryan, Bridges Howard and D. P. A. Cook, met at the home of William Wilkerson. Wilkerson’s home was located one mile west of Farmerville at the mouth of Bayou Cornie now known as Fork Ferry.

These first leaders of the parish had the difficult task of setting up the parish government and selecting the town site at this first meeting. The police jury named Matthew Wood as president, Thomas Van Hook as clerk, W. C. Carr, sheriff, Claiborne M. Smith, recorder, Thomas Van Hook was the district court clerk and John Taylor the first judge in the parish.

Early Meetings

Early the next morning the police jury filed back to complete its work. It still had to settle where the parish seat would be. They had a resolution to act upon, passed at the previous day’s meeting, which called for the selection of a site located in the central part of the parish.  The resolution said, in effect, that the parish seat must be located within five miles of the geographical center of the parish.

First work of the police jury on its second meeting on May 17, 1839, was to pass the following ordinance, “Be it ordained by the Police Jury of Union Parish, Louisiana, that the seat of justice in and for Union Parish, Louisiana, shall be called by the name of Farmerville”.

There was still much work to be done. For example, on June 3 the police jury met to appoint Thomas Greer, David Ward, and James Roane as assessors for the year 1839.

At this time, there was also formed an unusual sort of ex-officio police organization known as the “patrol”. Thomas Greer and J. M. Wilhite were appointed patrolmen for ward one. Their positions grew out of the exigencies  of the times, as it was their duty to see that none of the negro slaves left the plantation to which they belonged without a proper pass and the “patrol” also placed slaves under a curfew law, the “patrol” stipulating that the blacks be back to their master’s plantations by a certain hour.

Honeycutt Opened the Way for More Immigratns; Colorful History Is Told

Came by Boat, Horse, Wagon, on Foot to Great Virgin Forests in This Section

Public Roads

A committee was appointed to select and lay out a public road from Farmerville to some points on the Ouachita River. This reached the river at Ouachita City and for many years was noted for the large shipments of cotton exported down the river annually for hundreds of farmers from miles around hauled the fleece staple, a basic crop of the parish, there for river transportation on the many steamboats that plied their ways up the muddy stream.

Following this series of meetings, which saw the organization and founding of Farmerville the body adjourned to reconvene on June 14 for the purpose of laying out the town of Farmerville. At this meeting a ferry was established at the mouth of Bayou Cornie, the point known as Fork Ferry today.

At this meeting a proposal for the construction of a road from Farmerville to the ferry and another from Farmerville into Arkansas was passed.

The police jury next made a move now, regarded as odd, but quite reasonable in those days. It designated that a seal made by the impression of any coin of the United States should serve as the lawful seal of the court of Union Parish, sufficing at that time for the present pelican seal of the state. May of the antique records and documents of Union Parish reveal the use of this improvised seal made with an impression of the coin.

Task of Education

From the earliest days of the parish’s founding the task of education has been a major one with subsequent police jurors. That early body, striving so hard to do things right, appointed John H. Feazel, W. C. Carr, J. N. Farmer and Wiley Underwood as commissioners of public schools.

On July 17, the police jury gathered at the home of its president, Matthew Wood. Hardy woodsmen and farmers, they stalked into their leader’s house to continue the task of road building for the parish. In quick succession they passed measures that provided for roads from Horse Trough Creek to Farmerville and one from the mouth of Bayou Bartholomew as far as the DeLoutre toward Farmerville. These measures expanded considerably the road progress that the police jury had earlier made.

President Wood also presented the group with a bill for services rendered on the site of Farmerville. His bill provided for a $21 remittance for 21 days work and $45 for the digging of a well on the public square.

After an interim of over a month, the body convened again to pass another measure — as measure that called for the erection of the first of Union Parish’s three courthouses. That was on September 21. Specifications of the building in the first plans were 34 feet long by 26 feet wide, two stories high with the first floor 10 feet high and the second seven feet; frame building. On November 2, however, the body altered the plans somewhat. The new ruling specified a brick building 38 feet by 28 feet the second story to contain six rooms.

That all important building the jail was dealt with extensively by the group. In a time when there were no highly efficient police forces and when slaves were a problem the erection of the jail was one that had to be seriously considered.

Construction of Jail

With the thoroughness that had characterized the earlier resolutions the body called for the jail to be 16 feet square with double walls, each wall to be made of foot square timber with space between the inside and outside walls. This space was to be filled with oles loosely placed vertically end-wise so that nay prisoner attempting to escape who succeeded in cutting through the inner wall would encounter this baffling problem. As he cut through the poles they would ship sown from the upper part as it was cut in two, delaying the prisoner so that he would be caught at his task before he could escape. An ingenious plan to make the jail a real prison. The police jury was much concerned, as this plan shows, in preventing the escape of convicted criminals and others detained for investigation or trial.

They went a step further concerning the floor of this double-walled bastille. It was specified that the floors be comprised of two tiers crossed with a space of eight feet between floors and the second floor to be of foot square timber. Building contracts on both the courthouse and the jail were let to the lowest bidder.

The police jury also appointed W. C. Carr tax collector for 1839 with his remuneration five per cent of the amount collected. District and parish courts, at that time, convened at Carr’s home.

More Progress

“The succeeding minutes of the parish jury shows that the brilliant progress never lagged. More reads, better organization of the government, greater emphasis on education, all followed. The parish began to grow with more settlers coming in. With the coming of more people, the need of educational service grew. A meeting on November 11, 1846, shows that the police jury appropriated $400 for the public schools for the school year.

Then, throughout the following years, Union Parish forged ahead. It has furnished four governors, two to Louisiana and two to Arkansas. To Louisiana it has given a lieutenant-governor, a secretary of state, two state auditors, one registrar of the state land office, one commissioner of agriculture and many other state department heads.

Every locality with a history of long standing boasts traditions of famous fights and famous fighters. Union Parish in it 100 years of existence is no exception.

Romantic Figure

Most of the swash buckling type of adventurer of the day is recalled in the character of Alexander Keith McClung, a brilliant lawyer who became know as “The Black Knight of the Mississippi”. He received this “a la Robin Hood” title after he had placed 14 notches in the handle of his dueling pistol. Surprise ending of his life came from his own hand and from the same pistol that had taken the 14 lives, it is said.

But there are the fighters who fought for principles. They have fought their fights with every type of weapon and in every manner. Typical of one of the famous fights is one that occurred in the feud between the Harvey family and the Wood family. Col. Matthew Wood was first president of the police jury and was head of the Wood family. Peter Harvey, a boyhood chum, the mainspring of the other.

The Woods were stern Whigs, while the Harveys were staunch Democrats. In 1840, the Democratic Party nominated Martin Van Buren for a second term as president while the Whigs selected William Henry Harrison, whose battle cry in the campaign “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” is familiar to everyone.

In those days, politics were part of the family tradition. They took their voting privilege seriously and each man cherished his American birthright which gave him the authority to cast his vote.

In that election, Whigs hung coonskins at their gates to let passerbys know to which party they were affiliated. The coonskin was indicative of the headgear that the famous general had worn in his campaigns. The housewives entered into the affair also, hanging long strings of red peppers on the door facing to honor the presidential aspirant.

The Democrats in Union Parish did their advertising by hoisting a tall pole surmounted by a flag.

Whig Victory

Harrison went into office on a landslide. Whigs throughout the parish were jubilant. But their joy was short lived for the old general, wearied by his strenuous campaign, passed away. The shock spread over the nation and seeped into Union Parish where staunch supporter Wood, in political grief, wore a strip of black cloth on his arm for the former leader of his beloved Whigs.

Wood, with the mourning on his arm, so the story goes, dropped into town one day and encountered Harvey, who was seated on a corner of one of the stores.

“Good morning, Peter,” Wood greeted his boyhood chum.

“I will speak to no man who wears mourning for a grand old rascal as Harrison” Harvey succinctly replied.

Wood, enraged by the slur on his beloved general, drew his pistol and fired point blank at Harvey. The bullet struck a button of Harvey’s coat and glanced off , wounding him slightly.

Harvey rushed Wood and the two men grappled, Harvey securing the pistol and proceeding to strike Wood repeatedly on the head until friends and onlookers intervened. Willis Wood, son of the elder Woods hustled his father out of town and returned to see in what condition Harvey was in. In a few days, Wood left for Texas, as where he remained several years. He moved back, however, and settled near his son, six miles east of Vienna in Lincoln Parish.

Prosperous Parish

Union Parish’s history will compare favorably to that of any of the other 63 parishes in this state. It has been seeped in tradition and progress. Today, it is a prosperous farming and timber section. Its sons have constantly made progress from the early beginning that the first police jury in 1839 inaugurated. Its sons have spread throughout the surrounding country, some have left the parish to take advantage of the state’s educational institutions and have returned to give Union Parish. a richer heritage.

Area of Parish

The area of the parish is 582,700 acres with a population, according to the last census, of 20,731. It has 3.463 farms. Its soils are divided between uplands and alluvial formations. Principal crops are cotton, corn, hay, oats, vegetables and fruits. The parish has abundant resources in pine and hardwood timbers and is rich in natural resources. Livestock and dairying industries are rapidly increasing.

Principal towns of the parish are Farmerville, Marion, Bernice, Lillie, Junction City, Downsville and Linville.

The school system of the parish is exceptionally good. High schools are located at Farmerville, Bernice, Marion, Downsville, Linville, Junction City and Spearsville.

While the first 100 years of the parish are indicative of remarkable growth the progressive and civic spirit of Union Parish citizens is just as indicative of greater progress in years to come.

A parish that has been settled developed and sweated over like this one has is bound to continue it s record of efficient service to its state and nation. Hardy pioneers who blazed trial into this section must have known that some day a government would be organized, churches built, schools organized, towns and industries would be developed. They had the foresight to see that early organization of the government of this section was firm and sound, that it pointed toward the future development and growth of the parish. Today, a century later, we can reap the benefits from the work of those early pioneers.

Union Parish is one of the glories of Louisiana, our heritage.

 

 

 

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