1878 Ward’s Chapel Bushwhacking

Dr. Timothy Hudson

In the nineteenth century, Port Union on the Ouachita River formed an important steamboat landing and commercial conduit for Farmerville, Shiloh, Spearsville, and the interior regions of greater Union Parish. Situated just below the mouth of Bayou d’Loutre on a bend in the Ouachita River, the location perhaps had a store operated by John F. Ailes in the 1830s. It became known as Parker’s Landing after John Parker took over following Ailes’ death in 1838. After the creation of Union Parish in 1839 and Parker’s death in 1843, the spot became known as “Port Union.”

Port Union consisted of little more than multiple warehouses to store baled cotton for transport downriver to New Orleans and perhaps a store or saloon. During the dry seasons when the water levels in the bayous fell too low for steamboat navigation, Farmerville and the interior of Union Parish had to haul their cotton to and goods from the Ouachita River, with Port Union being the most convenient landing on the river from Farmerville. To facilitate this undesirable land travel, the Police Jury prioritized construction of the “road from Farmerville to Parker’s Landing” in 1839, and later the maintenance of the “Port Union Road” between Farmerville and Port Union. In the twentieth century, after railroads eliminated the need for easy access to Port Union, the portion of the road nearest Farmerville became known as the Wards Chapel Road that we know today.

In the 1850s, three young men and their families settled along the Port Union Road between six and seven miles east of Farmerville; James Franklin Malon, Peyton Roan, and John Thomas Ward. James Franklin Malone was born in 1828 in Georgia and moved to Union Parish in the 1840s with his family. During the Civil War, he served in the “Stars of Equility,” Co. E, 19th Louisiana Infantry Regiment, a unit of soldiers from Union Parish that saw action in many of the bloodiest battles of the War while serving in the Army of Tennessee. Peyton Roan was born in 1825 in Alabama, and after the death of his first wife in the early 1850s, he married in 1856 to Leander Isabella Spigener. The youngest of the trio, Jack Ward was born in 1835 in Alabama and married in 1854 at the age of nineteen to Betsy Scarborough.

In the early 1870s, the Caroline Adams Meeks, a widow whose husband died of disease in 1864 as a Confederate prisoner of war in a Federal prison, moved her family from Arkansas and settled along the Port Union Road near the Malone, Roan, and Ward families. Caroline’s two eldest sons, John Sidney Meeks and Charles Lucas Meeks, were the same age as Malone and Roan’s sons, Wilburn Hezekiah Malone and Francis Marion Roan. All four were young men in their twenties.

On Saturday afternoon, 9 February 1878, James F. Malone left Farmerville and headed home along the Port Union Road. About dusk, when he had ridden to within three-quarters of a mile from his home, he passed the place of his neighbor, Jack Ward. Just as he rode to about three hundred yards from Jack Ward’s house, someone waylaid and assassinated Malone. Other than the murderer, no one witnessed the crime. Malone’s wife later wrote, “he was shot we found him dead.”

Coroner William S. Agerton held an inquest on Monday morning, and the jury determined that an unknown person killed Malone with a pistol shot. After the Coroner’s Jury returned their verdict, Hez Malone identified Francis Marion Roan as the murderer, prompting officials to arrest him on suspicion of murder.

Roan hired young Farmerville attorney George Allen Killgore, Jr. to defend him at the inquest held in February. Judge William R. Roberts attentively listened to over thirty witnesses who testified over a nine-day period, both against and in support of Roan. At the close of the lengthy arguments, Judge Roberts ordered Roan held until the April session of the District Court and had an arrest warrant issued for Samuel H. Spigener, Roan’s maternal uncle, as an accessory to the murder. In April, District Attorney Allen Barksdale presented the evidence to the grand jury, assisted by Farmerville attorneys William R. Rutland and James A. Ramsey, hired as special counsel for the State. Although the grand jury indicted Marion Roan for murder, at his trial held in Farmerville on April 12th, the trial jury found him not guilty. There is no record of any charges filed against Spigerner, a long-time Union Parish farmer and veteran of the Confederate Armny.

On April 4 th , a few days before Roan’s murder trial in the District Court in Farmerville and perhaps due to Hez Malone’s claims that Roan killed his father, an altercation occurred in which Malone charged that David Nolan, Jr. did “willfully and maliciously assault and beat” him. Malone charged his neighbors, John T. Ward and the Meeks brothers, with “aiding, assisting and abetting” Nolan with the assault. Ward at that time served as the local constable, and John M. Lee, Sr., a former sheriff, and John M. Lee, Jr., former deputy sheriff and the current tax assessor, served as Ward’s securities on his bond. This suggests that influential local citizens believed in Ward’s innocence. A jury found Nolan guilty of assault, leading Judge Roberts to sentence him to a $15 fine. However, the District Attorney dropped charges against John S. Meeks, and a jury found Charles Meeks and John T. Ward not guilty.

In 1880, James F. Malone’s widow, Susan, lived next door to the now-exonerated Francis Marion Roan and his own widowed mother. As an interesting epilogue to the story, in December 1882, Marion Roan married Nancy Scarborough Ward, the widow of Jack Ward’s brother and the sister of Jack’s wife, Betsy Scarborough Ward.

The surviving records give no clear indication of the motivation for Malone’s bushwhacking or the beating of his son. The mysterious murder of James Franklin Malone remains officially unsolved some one hundred forty-two years later.

The surviving records give no clear indication of the motivation for Malone’s bushwhacking or the beating of his son. The mysterious murder of James Franklin Malone remains officially unsolved some one hundred forty-two years later.

Dr. Tim Hudson is the mathematics department head at Southeastern Louisiana and an avid historian on Union Parish. Hudson is a Union Parish native and graduate of Farmerville High School.


Tell Us What You Think About It

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.