Thursday, February 18, 2016

February 23, 1877: Cage

Today we learn about a lynching in Louisiana through the pages of The Louisiana Democrat (Alexandria, Louisiana) dated February 28, 1877:


For the first time in the memory of the oldest inhabitant of our Parish, lynch law has been administered in Rapides. The circumstances which led to the summary punishment of the criminal as we learn them are as follows:

On the evening of the 22nd inst. after dusk Maj. Geo. O. Watts, who lives a short distance below Alexandria rode to town, hitched his horse to a rack and went aboard the Bart. Able, then at the wharf on her way down. When he came ashore ready to go home his horse was missing from the rack, and on inquiry he learned of someone having ridden him off while he was on the boat. He borrowed another horse, and armed with only a small pistol he started down the Bayou Robert road after the horse thief, and found out at the toll gate that a man on a horse answering to the description of his had passed through half an hour before. The gate keeper and others described both the man and the horse, so that even before the thief was captured it was known who he was. Maj. Watts followed him and by some means found himself at the Baillio store about nine miles from town ahead of the thief. He started back and met him in the lane of Gov. Moore's upper place. He demanded a surrender and the man surrendered and Maj. Watts had started him back to town ahead of him afoot, when seizing an opportunity the thief and assassin, turned and fired two shots at the Major, one of which took effect in his right breast just above the nipple and it is now thought passed through the lung. Disabled by the first shot as he was, Maj. Watts fired two shots in return without effect, and the horse thief and would be murderer escaped. The Major made his way back to the store, when a carriage was procured and he was brought home.

Early next morning as soon as it was known, a party with a deputy Sheriff started in search of the criminal who had in one night committed two foul crimes. It was known from the description given that he was a young man who gave his name as Cage, and who said he came from Wilkinson County, Mississippi, and had been around town for some days ostensibly seeking employment.—A part of the Sheriff's posse got on the trail and tracked it to the Lodi sugar house, when after at first refusing to surrender he was finally captured and brought to the Parish Jail.

That afternoon he was carried to Maj. Watts' residence where he was lying in a very critical condition, and he recognized him at once as the man he had caught on his horse the night before and who had shot him. Other parties also identified him who had the night before seen him leaving town on Major Watts' horse. This could be more readily done, as the night was a bright moonlight one. He was again placed in Jail and after that we must let the Jailer tell the next step in the tragedy of blood. His statement under oath will be found in another place. From that it appears that in the night a party of men came to the Jail, overpowered him and took away the prisoner. The next thing known to to [sic] the public was that the man Cage was found in the morning hanging to a limb of an oak tree, on the river bank about one mile below town.—The place was visited by many of our people to see how speedily punishment had followed the double crime and we heard but one sentiment expressed that it was a terrible punishment, but that it was just and deserved by the criminal. For eight long years our people have seen criminals bid defiance to the law with impunity and they have suffered in silence. They have seen men whose hands were red with blood, either escape entirely or by legal quibble elude the clutches of the law, and they have said nothing. They have seen murderers, thieves and robbers undergo the farce of a trial before inefficient judge and ignorant juries, and come out eager to commit other and greater crimes, and they have borne the repitition [sic] of crimes till patience has become exhausted. Maj. Watts is one of our most esteemed citizens whose manly qualities and courteous manners have won for him the hearty good will and favor of our entire community, and the thought that he was likely to lose his life at the hands of a desperado who seemed to have before him neither the fear of God nor man, excited our usually quiet and peaceable people to such a pitch as we have rarely, if ever seen before. The necessity of taking the execution of the law out of the hands of its officers, is a painful one, but "self-preservation is the first law of nature," and when such men as Cage are allowed to go scot free after committing such crimes as he had, no man's life or property was safe. The hand of the assassin might take the one, or the thief the other without fear or punishment. The theory underlying all governments, is, that the citizen gives up to the State a certain portion of his individual freedom and pays to it a specified amount of his property in return for its protection of his life and property, and when the State or the law, which is the representation of its Sovereignty, fails to afford the necessary protection, the citizen in his individual capacity must protect himself. The lesson just given ought to be a salutary one to evil doers and will doubtless have the effect of stopping crime which seemed to be alarmingly on the increase. Our Jail is now full of criminals as shown by the jailer's fees amounting to $299 for last month, and two more were brought in, we are informed on the night Cage was taken out.

Happily there can be no pretext that politics had anything to do with this. Maj. Watts is no politician, never ran for any office and took only the interest that every good citizen takes in the welfare of the country. Cage was a white man, and if he had had anything to do with politics he had probably been a Democrat.

The remedy was a severe and terrible one, but the body politic of our Parish was a dangerous and desperate one and required the use of a powerful medicine. Let us hope that the lesson will be heeded, and that it may be long years before it becomes necessary to teach such another one.


I am the Jailor and one of the deputy Sheriffs of the Parish of Rapides; on the night of the 22nd of February, I had gone to bed, I had heard that Webb Taylor, deputy Sheriff, James Moore and Dave Paul had gone in pursuit of the man who shot Major Watts. Some time in the night, I suppose about 12 o'clock, Mr. Moore, Webb Taylor whom I recognized, after calling and rousing me out of bed, told me there were two prisoners on the road, and to be ready, that they would be there in a few moments they thought; I replied to them that we had got the man that had shot Major Watts; Moore replied to me, God damn him, keep him safe, and don't let him get away. I got up thinking that Dave Paul and Joel Neal would be along; Webb's reply was that he would be along in the morning.

I kept going backward and forward to the gate occasionally to see if the two prisoners were coming; leaning up against the facing of the door looking down the Bayou Robert road to see if the two prisoners were coming, having the keys of the Jail in my pocket, a lamp lighted in the house, and a pistol in my hand, waiting to receive the prisoners, when they came. I looked to my left, I saw at the corner of the Jail yard something black, that I had taken to be a cow; I noticed it, and it appeared to squat down; after noticing awhile, it then got up. I hailed to it Who is that? it dodged then back behind the Jail yard, i spoke, I'll be damned if I don't see who you are. I walked to the corner, with my pistol in my hand, I saw a gun about 5 or 6 feet from the corner presented across the street; some man or woman dressed in man's clothes, asked me who are you, I replied Cole Calvit; he said you are the man I want, and grabbed me, demanded my pistol, they took it, then started back one or two steps, and demanded the keys, I told them the keys were int he house. I went to the jail yard, two or three holding me, with their shot guns in their hands and ordered me "not a word." I observed to them, let me go in and get the keys; they held me back and would not let me go in; I then replied to them to let me ask my wife to bring me the keys, he refused; finally the keys rattled in my pocket; they took me, marched me to the steps, and up the steps and showed no disposition to hurt me at all, demanded of me the keys, and asked what key fitted the door, and I showed it to him, and I unlocked the outside door myself; he then took the keys, went in, took another man with him, he asked what room the man was in, that was put in that evening, and I said the wooden room, and showed him the key to unlock the door, as I was overpowered and disarmed; he opened the door, and another man went in with him; there were two on the platform, and they were requested not to let me move; he called for Cage several times, I heard a murmuring. I heard some say, ain't you coming, finally Cage came. From the appearance from the door, he was pulled out, they carried him down the steps, told me to lock the doors, they locked the cell door; I told them not to turn out all the prisoners, one whispered to me, said to me, "you are dealing with gentlemen" I said that's all right, I am a gentleman too.

I have not seen the person until this morning when I saw him hanging to an oak limb, just below the town of Alexandria, and I recognized him to be the same man that I received in Jail yesterday evening, and who was taken out during the night.



Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.  

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