Digging holes here and there in American history.

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Monday, April 20, 2015


How the troublesome pest ignited violence against lawmen

      Lost in the recent national controversies over the use of force by law enforcement are the sacrifices made by police officers in protecting their communities. Men and women sacrifice their lives each year chasing bank robbers and murderers but also while performing mundane tasks like checking on a stranded motorist. In the early 1900s, a number of officers in the rural South died enforcing a law many farmers viewed as federal government overreach.

     From 1906 to the early 1940s, federal and state governments engaged in a war against a cattle tick that caused a devastating fever. The law required farmers to carry their cattle to community dipping vats where the animals were immersed in a chemical solution to kill the ticks. Many stock owners resisted, claiming transporting the cattle led to injuries, the chemicals sickened them, and the time and effort of the process was an annoyance. Cattlemen expressed their frustrations by refusing to dip, dynamiting dipping vats, burning the property of pro-dippers and government employees, and hurling threats that eventually escalated to assault or murder. Destruction of vats continued into the mid-1930s, but eventually government dissemination of information on the economic benefits of tick eradication led many skeptics to withdraw their opposition to dipping. 

     In the remote rural South, from the piney woods of south Georgia to Louisiana, resistance to mandatory treatment of cattle was strong and at times violent. Farmers who raised cattle largely for their own use rather than shipment out of quarantined tick-infested areas viewed the mandates as unnecessary involvement of federal, state, or local officials in their lives.  In Louisiana, the dispute reached deadly proportions on April 21, 1936, when 43-year old Grant Parish Sheriff Wyatt Luther Nugent and Deputy Delmer Lee Brunson were murdered.

     Nugent had served two terms as sheriff of Grant Parish and had been re-elected just days before in the general election. Brunson had worked as a deputy under Nugent for eight years. Nugent, former clerk of court for the parish, was beginning his ninth year as sheriff.

     Claiming dipping sickened cattle, 41-year old Walter Johnson and his father refused to permit their stock to be dipped. On the morning of April 21, Sheriff Nugent served an order from the Eighth District Court commanding the younger Johnson to show cause why he should not be kept from interfering with officers. That afternoon, Nugent and Brunson accompanied federal range riders to Johnson’s property in the Aloha community to load the cattle for transport to the dipping vat. From a hidden position in the woods, Walter Johnson opened fire on the range riders. Brunson and Nugent attempted to capture Johnson by circling behind him. Hearing a series of gunshots, the range riders hid nearby for an hour before advancing with caution into the woods to discover the lawmen’s bodies. Walter Johnson had escaped.
Sheriff Nugent

     After completing autopsies, Dr. J. H. Sandifer, Grant Parish coroner, announced the two lawmen were killed with a shotgun. Nugent suffered a shot to the head and Deputy Brunson died from three shotgun blasts.

     A massive manhunt ensued with Sheriff U. T. Downs of Rapides Parish, Sheriff Bryant Sholars of Winn, and Sheriff Henderson Jordan of Bienville heading posses of local citizens scouring the area. Two Aprils earlier, Jordan teamed with other lawmen to kill Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The officers located a truck belonging to Johnson on a country road about one-half mile from the scene of the shooting. The manhunt progressed slowly for the numerous state police troopers and sheriffs engaged in the search since Johnson had fled into a nearly impenetrable swamp around Lake Iatt north of Colfax. 

     The suspect’s 84-year old father Sam Johnson was arrested as a material witness and spirited away from Colfax to an undisclosed jail in another parish, largely to protect him from retaliation. 

Deputy Brunson
     Bloodhounds from the state penitentiary at Angola arrived the next day but heavy rains during the night had obliterated Johnson's trail. General Louis F. Guerre, head of the state police, hurried to the scene to direct the manhunt. Later in the day Johnson was captured in the swamp. Officers detained him a jail outside Grant Parish also—away from the enraged locals who already had lynch fever.

     On April 23, the Colfax Baptist Church held a double funeral for Sheriff Nugent and Deputy Brunson.  Sheriffs of the neighboring parishes served as pall bearers, including Downs and Sholars, Sheriff Bill Payne of Natchitoches Parish and Sheriff Floyd Jones of Red River. Nugent was interred at Liberty Chapel Cemetery north of Dry Prong and Brunson was laid to rest in nearby Bethel Cemetery.

     Nugent left behind a wife and ten children ranging in age from three to 21. Brunson was also married and the father of three children. Lydia Nugent was appointed to succeed her husband as sheriff, a common courtesy in Louisiana to maintain the income of a family of a deceased office holder.

     Walter Johnson was convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Friday, March 6, 2015


So much to see and do across America, I will never get to it all and probably you won't either.  Here's a few spots I've visited in recent years.
Stations of the Cross Shine, San Luis, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes.  The way to see California, Utah, and Nevada
(at least their dust) while standing in Colorado.

Waterfall in Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colorado.  The waterfall
is actually around the bend in the center.  Water too cold to reach it!

Guard tower, Camp Concordia, Kansas.  One of the few structures
remaining at this former World War II prisoner of war camp.

Chimney Rock, western Nebraska.  One of the landmarks used
by wagon trains headed to Oregon and other points west.

One of the many dioramas of 1930s industry and agriculture at the
 Louisiana State Exhibit Museum, Shreveport, LA.


     Eugene Bunch wasn’t just a train robber.  He was “jovial, jolly and gay – a typical bandit, who thought his profession of road agent a brave and proper one,” according to the railroad detectives who chased after him.   He reportedly tipped his hat to female train passengers and declined to take their handbags. He was equally courteous to his male victims but did relieve them of their wallets.  Express agents noted he never raised his voice when he threatened to blow their heads off if they didn’t open their safes. His take from a host of robberies was estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
     For five years, from 1887 to 1892, Bunch stayed a jump ahead of a bevy of railroad detectives as he robbed trains in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida.  His home  in Washington Parish near the Pearl River provided plenty of remote hiding spots if the law got too close.

     Eugene F. Bunch was born in Mississippi in 1843 to well-respected parents. The family moved to Tangipahoa Parish in his youth and ensured he received a good education. During the Civil War, he enlisted in the 3rd Louisiana Cavalry and apparently served well in the campaigns around Baton Rouge and Port Hudson, although he developed serious drinking and gambling habits.
     At the close of the war Bunch returned to Tangipahoa Parish and opened a school at Amite. He married a Louisiana girl, Flavia Flynn, in 1869.  School teaching didn’t agree with him—probably because of his excessive drinking—so Bunch loaded up his pregnant wife and moved to Gainesville, Texas in 1874.
     Bunch taught school briefly in Gainesville before being elected to three consecutive two-year terms as the Cooke County clerk.  He apparently used his position as an insider

Friday, December 12, 2014


In 1944, the Navy rescued Louisiana Tech and its football program.

World War II turned collegiate athletics upside down as young men swapped athletic uniforms for military ones, joining the service to fight in North Africa, Europe and the Pacific.

Louisiana Tech was not immune. Student athletes who would have been playing college football instead were serving their country, forcing Bulldog football to be discontinued during the 1943 season. Professors were joining the cause as well while coeds were signing up with the Red Cross, the WACs—Women’s Army Corps—and the Navy WAVES—Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
V-12 sailors and Marines and other students leaving chapel, Louisiana Tech, 1944

Legendary Bulldog head coach Joe Aillet even changed roles in 1943 as the University put football on the backburner as the flames of war spread across the globe. Aillet did his

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


The year 1955 saw American consumerism skyrocket with the opening with the first McDonald’s Restaurant and the debut of Disneyland. Fast food, including the first TV dinners, and canned Coca-Cola attested to the growth of the country’s standard of living since World War II. Ownership of a car became the mandatory status symbol for American families. But the development of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union troubled everyone.

In the 1950s, the Cold War was steadily building with many Americans convinced nuclear war with the Soviet Union was inevitable. Some military officials even advocated a first strike to take out the Soviets, although it would mean the annihilation of some American targets in retaliation.

In 1955, the U.S. military conducted a large training exercise encompassing a substantial portion of Louisiana. The purpose of “Operation Sagebrush” was to evaluate the effectiveness of military operations in a nuclear war. The largest joint Army and Air Force maneuvers since World War II involved nearly 150,000 troops.

A provisional army, meant to represent U.S. forces, was built around the 1st Armored Division and an opposing force was created around the 82nd Airborne Division. Air Force bombers, fighter planes, and other aircraft crisscrossed Louisiana’s skies, stirring great interest among the many citizens who had never seen a helicopter.

Many communities throughout Louisiana were inundated with troops and airmen. Ruston saw the arrival of an ordnance detail of the Air Force’s 727th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron in October before the maneuvers began. As many as 700 airmen

Monday, August 25, 2014


 A carpetbagger endures north Louisiana resistance

      When white Southerners referred to “carpetbaggers” in the years following the Civil War, they had in mind men like Marshall Twitchell.
      Born in Vermont, Twitchell joined the Union army at the start of the war and fought in many of the major battles in Virginia. Severely wounded at the battle of the Wilderness when a bullet entered his skull through his eye, he was left for dead by army surgeons. After a miraculous recovery, Twitchell served as an officer for a black regiment composed mainly of ex-slaves. Unlike other carpetbaggers who journeyed into the South after the war, often to exploit and loot the defeated Confederate states, Twitchell became an agent of the Freedmen's Bureau in Sparta in Bienville Parish to assist emancipated slaves in their transition to freedom.
Marshall Twitchell
      Twitchell met and married a local woman, Adele Coleman, the daughter of prominent Bienville Parish planter Isaac Coleman. Twitchell acquired land on Lake Bistineau and down the Red River to Coushatta, where he established a veritable Yankee colony of his Vermont relatives at a plantation called Starlight.
      In 1868 Twitchell entered local politics and, with the support of newly enfranchised black voters, was elected as a Republican to the state senate. He was responsible for the creation of Red River Parish with Coushatta as the parish seat. Twitchell appointed blacks to local government and placed his three brothers-in-law in the choice posts of sheriff, tax assessor, and clerk of court.


     The recent efforts to integrate women into America’s combat units signify a far different attitude than the enormous resistance they faced during World War II.  Female participation in the U.S. Armed Forces during the global conflict was a major turning point in the military’s relationship with women. 
     Facing a worldwide, two-front war, the United States followed the example of Great Britain and supplemented it all-male fighting force with women in numerous noncombatant roles. Women served in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps, Women's Army Corps (WAC), and in the Navy (WAVES), Coast Guard, and Marine Corps. Although not officially members of the armed forces, Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) provided critical support for the war effort by ferrying airplanes. Other women worked with the military through organizations such as the American Red Cross, the USO, and the Civil Air Patrol.
     At the beginning of World War II, the United States had no facilities, staff, or regulations in place to handle enemy prisoners. Hastily constructed POW camps popped up across America, mostly in the South and Midwest.  One of the largest was near Ruston but its first inhabitants were not enemy POWs but some of the first American women affiliated with the U.S. Army. Due to the initial slow influx of captured soldiers, the facility first served as a basic training base for the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. 
     President Franklin Roosevelt set a goal of enlisting 25,000 WAACs by June 30, 1943. WAAC recruiting exceeded the objective by November 1942 and the sole training center at Fort Des Moines, Iowa reached its capacity.  New training centers opened at Fort Devens, Massachusetts; Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia; and Camp Ruston.
New WAAC recruits arrive at Camp Ruston, 1943.  (U.S. Army photo)

Sunday, December 15, 2013


These are photos from some of my travels to historical sites over the past four years.

National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia

Re-creation of the assault on Ponte du Hoc, Normandy, France on D-Day
National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, VA

Grave of unknown Confederate soldier, Petersburg National Cemetery
Confederate soldiers and black Union troops were buried side by side.

Recreated fort at Petersburg National Battlefield, VA

Saturday, July 13, 2013


     Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. performs nearly 30 funeral services each day.  Most of burials are military veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the current Middle East conflicts or their spouses.
     March 9 was no different with one exception—one funeral was held to inter two sailors in what was most likely the last burial of Civil War casualties at Arlington.  The sailors were members of the crew of the famed Union ironclad USS Monitor.

     Designed by John Ericsson in June 1861, the Monitor was an armored ship with the first-ever rotating turret atop a hull that barely cleared the water. Its high-technology vibrating lever steam engine was groundbreaking technology as well. Ericsson hurried his ship’s completion, assembling it in 118 days at the naval yard in Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


     I recently visited one of the 750 prisoner of war camps established in the United States during World War II.  While there's not much left of Camp Monticello, Arkansas, many of the features of the facility are still evident in a thick pine forest.  Most WWII POW camps in the U.S. have been completely razed with no trace remaining.
     Camp Monticello housed Italian prisoners of war captured in North Africa and Italy.  Other camps housed German prisoners and the few Japanese who allowed themselves to be captured.
     After the war, most camps were dismantled immediately, with the buildings provided to other government entities or sold to the public.
      Here are some photos from my exploration:
POW camps were like small cities, with their own  utilities--water, electricity, sewer system.  Camp Monticello is dotted  with fire hydrants and other remnants of infrastructure.

      See more and enlarge the photos...

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