Piney Woods Journal Correspondent
In the 19th century South, youngsters grew up learning crime does not pay and “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Yet, some still grew greedy hearts, leading them to take what belonged to others. For the victims, often the price came high.
John Cloud Rogers and his wife Elizabeth were respected citizens in 1884, living near Cadeville in southwestern Ouachita Parish. Rogers was 73 and Mrs. Rogers was 67. A married daughter lived about a mile away with one neighbor a bit closer.
On Saturday morning, March 8, Marietta Rogers Landrum treked down the road to her parents’ house and discovered their lifeless bodies. She returned home, barely able to alert her husband of the discovery in her grief and shock. James Landrum collected some neighbors to accompany him to the scene. The Monroe Bulletin called what they found “a spectacle, horrible and pathetic beyond description.” John Rogers lay across a chair in front of the fireplace with a bullet hole entirely through his head, his skull smashed in by some blunt instrument, probably an axe found nearby. Elizabeth Rogers lay across an adjacent chair near her husband with a bullet wound to the head.
The newspaper described the scene in graphic detail. “The floor was a lake of blood. The room was in great disorder and the bed torn to pieces. The old man’s pockets were rifled of their contents. The mattress had evidently been ripped open and searched for money, two thousand dollars of which was hidden in it in a canvas-belt, but which the murderers failed to find. Trunks, boxes, and every article that could afford a place of concealment for money, were bursted open, and the contents scattered around. Two horses, one a colt recently gelded, were missing, and also a man’s and a woman’s saddle. The old man’s gun was gone, besides various other articles.”
The crime suggested the perpetrator knew the old couple and two men were immediately named as suspects. John Mullican and John Clark were seen walking toward the Rogers house on Thursday evening, March 6. They were wanted men, having stolen three mules in Lincoln Parish a day or two before. In 1883, Mullican worked for Rogers for about six months, living in the house as one of the family.
As the investigation progressed, a Mr. Stuckey, the nearest neighbor, reported he heard two pistol shots from the direction of the Rogers house on the night of March 6. The same night another neighbor heard two horses pass his house at a rapid gait. Mullican and Clark had both disappeared.
Ouachita Parish Sheriff J. E. McGuire began efforts to apprehend the men who already had a two day head start. The sheriff telegraphed descriptions in all directions. Mullican was about 33 with dark hair and whiskers, considered “rather slow in his speech, and has a Hoosier appearance,” a description of the coarseness in manners, looks, and intellect. One newspaper account added the ambiguous statement, “He comes from Mississippi, and had been informed a few days before that a party of men from his old home were in pursuit of him, and would kill him on sight for what cause we did not ascertain.”
Clark, described as about 35 but looking younger, appeared “more genteel” than his companion. The news account noted, “He is a stranger, a waif, and bears no good reputation. Is supposed to have come here from Texas.”
Both were known as men of “hardened character.” Louisiana Governor Samuel McEnery, a native of the parish seat of Monroe, offered a $1,000 reward for the arrest and delivery of the murderers.
A posse was already in pursuit of the men for the mule theft. A respected former lawman led the group. James G. Huey had served as Jackson Parish sheriff before his Vienna home was taken in by the recently formed parish of Lincoln. With no office at the time, Huey vowed to do what had to be done.
Word reached the pursuers that Mullican and Clark were spotted Friday, March 7, about eight miles south of Vernon in Jackson Parish. The two were headed toward St. Maurice, the ferry landing on the Red River across from Natchitoches. In explaining the urgency of their journey, the two told someone who saw them that they were in search of horse thieves.
The posse turned its attention south. Guards took positions at the ferries along the Dugdemona River which the killers had to cross if they continued to the southwest. If they crossed the Dugdemona and the Red River, they could be out of reach of all but the most persistent posses. When one horse stolen from Rogers was recovered in Winn Parish, it was clear that was the suspects’ intent.
Meanwhile, two men passing through Delhi to the east of Monroe were suspected to be Mullican and Clark, and another posse was organized to pursue them.
A telegram from Natchitoches reported Mullican and Clark passed through the town on Saturday, March 8, the men inquiring how to reach Longview, Texas. A posse led by the Natchitoches Parish sheriff was in pursuit.
The trail grew cold in east Texas. Another posse had joined the chase, this one led by W. J. Rogers, son of the murdered couple. The pursuers lingered in the Marshall-Longview area hoping another sighting would put them back on the trail. The direction of the killers’ travel now to the northwest indicated they might be headed to the Indian Nation, a wild and ungoverned territory beyond Texas that could quite possibly ensure their successful escape.
In south central Louisiana, renowned St. Landry Parish Sheriff “Curley” Duson was convinced he had apprehended John Mullican. He vowed to hold the suspect until Ouachita Sheriff McGuire was satisfied that he had the right man.
On March 19, the posses received telegrams reporting Mullican’s capture in Pulaski, Texas, a tiny town on the Sabine River southeast of Marshall. Yet another posse was supposedly pursuing Clark from there. Only after the captured man was hastily lynched was it discovered he was not Mullican. A tragic misidentification had occurred.
The James Huey posse cornered Clark near Terrill, Texas on March 19. Learning Clark was holed up in a house, heavily armed and prepared to resist, some posse members approached pretending to be surveyors and asked for water. A constable with the party followed the woman who greeted them into the house and found Clark asleep. The officer jammed his revolver against Clark’s head and took him into custody without protest.
The posse led by W. J. Rogers captured John Mullican at Marshall, Texas. During the exhausting eleven-day chase covering two states and hundreds of miles, both stolen horses and John Rogers’s shotgun were recovered, having been traded along the way for food or assistance.The pursuers most likely wore out some horses as well and begged the use of fresh ones along the way to continue the chase.
With the captures in Texas and a Louisiana tendency toward impulsive execution of strangers for heinous crimes, the Bulletin pleaded, “This is no occasion for lynching, and we hope the indignation aroused by a horrible crime will not hurry our citizens into an act in violation of the law, which will surely be vindicated if the parties suspected are guilty. The moral effect of a legal conviction and punishment will be much greater than any that a mob acting in violation ofthe law could inflict.”
Separate trials were granted and spectators packed the Ouachita Parish courthouse each day as the proceedings were held back to back. Mullican’s trial wrapped up on the evening of Thursday, April 24 and Clark’s concluded at noon April 26. Both men had testified, implicating each other amidst stories filled with obvious lies. The juries found Mullican and Clark guilty of murder. The sentence execution by hanging.
After the verdicts were in and the killers returned to the jail, both made confessions Saturday evening. They were visited by Reverend W. A. Mason of the Baptist church, and Rev. B. F. White of the Methodist church. In preparing themselves to meet their fate, and with the knowledge they were soon to die, made a full confession. Rev. Mason took down their statements.
Mullican: “Some time ago Clark and I were working together; I had just been reading a yellow-back book about the James brothers. I said to Clark, speaking on the subject, ‘let’s go into that business,’ I was speaking in fun. Clark said, ‘all right, it’s a good business.’ After a little while Clark said, ‘if you are in earnest, let’s commence business at once.’ Right there we left work. Clark then told me he had belonged to such a gang in Texas. The first thing we did was to steal two mules from Mr. Spinks, sold them and stole more. We then separated, I going to Texas, Clark coming to the Ouachita River above Trenton. About a month ago we met, and the robbery of Mr. Rogers was agreed upon. As we neared the house, I told Clark I believed my heart would fail. He made fun of me, and said if I had gone in for money I must not stop for blood. It was agreed that both should shoot. I shot the old man rather on one side behind. The old lady threw up her hands and said something and I shot her. I was surprised when Clark did not shoot. He struck both the old people on the head with an ax. We then went to the kitchen and waited a half hour to see if there was an alarm. We came back and searched the house, but found no money. We were about to leave when I thought of searching the old man’s pockets. We got about thirty dollars.”
Clark’s confession was much the same as Mullican’s. “It was agreed that we should try to intimidate the old man; if we failed, then to kill him. I was surprised when Mullican shot, as I was waiting for him to try to scare him first; that is why I did not shoot, and then my pistol was out of fix. I struck the old man with the ax. The old lady was killed dead by the shot. I was a horse thief in Texas, and was sent to the penitentiary for four years, but got away in three days.
When I step on the gallows I don’t expect to feel one-tenth part as bad as I did after I had helped to kill those old people. I never did such a thing before, and my misery seems more than I can bear. I can’t sleep I am miserable. I want you to pray for me before you go.”
Early on Sunday, April 27 between 1:00 and 2:00, a mob estimated at 50 to 150 men gathered quietly around the parish jail in Monroe. Four masked men went to the room of Deputy Charles Brooks in the courthouse attic and demanded the jail keys. Brooks refused and the gang told him resistance was useless; they had come for the keys and were going to have them. Brooks threw them the keys and watched through a courthouse skylight as the mob went next door to the jail and removed Mullican, Clark, and a young black man named King Hill, convicted of the murder of Nick Milling, the assistant manager of the Magenta Plantation on Bayou Desiard. Just before Mullican’s trial began, Hill had been granted a new trial on a legal technicality, which may have prompted anger in the community.
The three prisoners were bound and gagged. King was hanged from a tree to the left of the sheriff’s office door. Perhaps in deference to their race, Mullican and Clark were hanged on another tree to the right of the door. After lynching the three men, the mob freed a white prisoner charged with murder in Madison Parish. It was all done quietly and matter-of-factly.
Sunday morning Monroe awoke to find the three still hanging from the chinaberry trees.
The Bulletin reported, “Opinion is divided as to whether the act should be condemned, or the mob thanked as public benefactors. The mob has cheated the law and justice of a full and complete vindication, but at the same time it has saved the people the spectacle of a harrowing, revolting public execution. Yet we desire, for one, to put the seal of our condemnation upon the act as unmistakable terms. It is hurtful to the material interests of the parish, in that it conveys the impression abroad that we are a lawless people, and consequently such acts impede our material advancement. It robs the law of its sanctity and the respect of the people for it, and morality and society of the good effect – the purifying atmosphere – that would have followed a vindication of outraged justice.”
Lynching after a guilty verdict and death sentence was atypical in 19th and early 20th century American jurisprudence but not unusual. Most occurred during Reconstruction through the 1920s and the victims were almost always black. With a conviction and imposition of sentence, the lynchers could hardly justify their actions by a lack of trust of the legal system. Perhaps the motivation was a prurient desire for some “hands-on” participation in administering vengeance.
The triple lynching was not the first time the citizens of Ouachita Parish had dispensed vigilante justice nor would it be the last.
A dozen prominent Ouachita Parish citizens prepared a written commendation of James Huey for publication in local papers, praising his “untiring zeal and watchfulness coupled with his unequaled fearlessness and ability which led to the eventual capture of the murderers Mullican and Clark.” He was thanked for commended “upholding the arms of justice” while their neighbors and acquaintances basked in the satisfaction of imposing their own brand of justice.
Wesley Harris is a native of Ruston who writes extensively on Reconstruction era crime. His books include Greetings From Ruston: A Post Card History of Ruston, Louisiana and Neither Fear nor Favor: Deputy United States Marshal John Tom Sisemore, available from amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out his Louisiana history blog at http://diggingthepast.blogspot.com