Piney Woods Journal Correspondent
Allen Greene typified the Reconstruction-era “scalawag”—a local citizen who allied himself with the Radical Republicans who controlled national and state government to achieve personal political and financial aspirations. Scalawags were considered traitors to the South. They were just as bad, if not worse, than the carpetbaggers from the North.
Both respected and despised, Greene was a savvy businessman and generous and sociable neighbor. While he opposed Louisiana’s succession from the Union before the Civil War, he supported individual Confederate soldiers—his son fought for the South. Unlike most Unionists, he was a slaveholder. After the war, however, he was quick to side with the victors and create his own political dynasty in the heart of the Democrat majority. His choice of allies led to death threats and even a gunfight that left him wounded.
In 1872, federal troops were stationed throughout Louisiana to Federal troops occupied the region at the time, ostensibly to enforce Reconstruction, protect freedmen, and support U.S. marshals and local officials in enforcing the law. The fall elections for state and local offices were destined to be plagued by controversy and conflict and Jackson Parish was no different.
Judge Evander McNair Graham was a highly respected attorney and former Confederate officer who seemed certain to win the state senate race for the district including Jackson Parish. His support extended well beyond the parish seat of Vernon as he had served clients throughout the region and former soldiers from his command lived all over north Louisiana. No one expected Allen Greene to enter the race.
Greene waited until Election Day to add his name to the ballot, a move that upset many in the local electorate. The last thing they wanted was a scalawag elbowing into the election process at the last minute. With Greene at the polls in Vernon were his three sons William, Charles, and Jackson. Jackson Greene was a commissioner of the election at the polls, keeping a tally sheet. Charles had been appointed a United States commissioner to monitor the election. Since the supervisor was very slow in preparing the tally of the vote, Allen Greene decided to go home to Greensborough, his home west of Vienna and return the following day to examine the results. The count showed Graham garnering twice the votes of Greene and another candidate combined. However, Greene claimed victory to the outrage of the local citizenry. Longtime friends took offense and battle lines were drawn.
A confrontation between the Greenes and another local family broke out. Two sons of Captain J. Y. Allen, a highly respected Vernon resident, met Allen Greene and son Charles near the Jackson Parish courthouse. Gunfire filled the street as bullets replaced angry words. TheVernon Standard gave a brief account:
“A difficulty occurred here on last Tuesday between Charles W. Allen, Wm. J. Allen, Allen Greene and his son, Charles J. Greene, which resulted in the shooting of C. W. Allen and both of the Greenes. C. W. Allen was shot first by Allen Greene through the left thigh, just above the knee, and also through the right leg, breaking the bones of the same and shattering them badly. His wounds are very painful and serious, but are not thought to be fatal. Both of the Greenes were shot in the head but their wounds are not considered dangerous.”
Jackson Parish Sheriff James G. Huey and a deputy and Constable Spencer P. Colvin intervened before any fatal blows were struck. All four men were arrested and appeared the next morning before the judge—Greene’s opponent in the senatorial race, E. M. Graham. A preliminary examination was waived by the defendants and Graham bound them over to appear at the next session of the district court. C. W. Allen’s bail was fixed at $500, his son’s at $800, Greene’s at $2,000 and his son’s at $800. Since a fire at the Jackson Parish courthouse later destroyed the records of the incident, we do not know the specific charges or the ultimate outcome. Most likely, all the charges were eventually dismissed. In Greene’s extensive writing over the next few years, he mentions the shootout several times but never a court disposition.
The Greenes sent for federal troops immediately after the fight. The arrival of soldiers representing an army many locals had recently fought only served to increase the anxiety in town. Credit for maintaining calm and averting bloodshed was given to the local law officers.
Greene obtained affidavits from voters who claimed to have been intimidated along with accusations of fraud. It was no longer a matter of how many ballots were in the box but whether they had gotten there by fraud by denying persons the opportunity to vote. Based on these allegations, Greene claimed the election. The final decision was up to the state’s returning board.
The returning board examined the results of all Louisiana elections in November 1872 and in most of them ruled the Republican candidate the winner. The board approved and certified Allen Greene was the lawfully elected senator from the 19th District. The approved results by the board gave Greene substantially more votes than what had been tallied locally.
Greene’s first move as senator in collaboration with his son Charles, a state representative, was to secure passage of an act creating a new parish from portions of Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson, and Union to be named after President Abraham Lincoln. For the new parish, Governor William Pitt Kellogg appointed a slate of officers submitted by Greene. These included J.B. Ray as sheriff, a Republican originally from Ouachita Parish; Greene’s son William, as tax collector; son Jackson as tax assessor; and son Charles as parish judge. Other friends and fellow Republicans were appointed to other posts. As a sop to the local opposition, lawman Spencer P. Colvin, a well-known and respected Vienna resident, was appointed clerk of court as the sole Democrat officeholder. The parish seat was established at Vienna.
Total control of the parish by the Radicals led to talk of mass revolt but elder citizens counseled restraint and suggested a petition asking Greene, his three sons, and several other officials to resign. An overwhelming majority of Lincoln Parish taxpayers—white landowners—signed it. But the Radicals had the governor and the federal government behind them.
The situation nearly exploded several times. The removal of all parish records and offices from Vienna to Greene’s plantation several miles to the northwest incensed the population. Greene and his family were virtual prisoners as it was too dangerous to leave their home. The arrival of federal troops to arrest Huey—whose home was taken in by the new parish meaning he could no longer serve as Jackson Parish Sheriff—Colvin, and other purported leaders of the opposition came very close to prompting a bloody conflict. Each time it appeared the lid would blow off, someone backed down and a lethal clash never occurred.
Little by little the locals chipped away at Greene’s power. When federal troops were withdrawn from Louisiana in 1877, the Radicals lost power and nearly office in the state reverted to the Democrats.
Greene’s influence on north central Louisiana was significant despite the turmoil of the times. His appointment of freed slaves to political offices, the creation of schools for their children, and creation of jobs through his industries improved life for many. After his death in 1883, his tombstone would read, “He had a progressive mind and struggled hard build up his country; but alas, his ideas were far in advance of the community in which he lived.”
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 email@example.com.
Check out his Louisiana history blog at http://diggingthepast.blogspot.com