By Jessica Gorman
While looking for information about the Minden Brick Works, I came across an interesting story that involved a potential threat against Minden in the early 1900s.
In mid-December 1905, Shreveport was abuzz with speculation about a letter containing threats of robbery, murder, “dynamiting of a bank in Minden and possible burning of the entire town.” While some believed it to be nothing more than a hoax, others were fearful for the safety of those threatened. Mrs. Libbie Merritt told he following story about the origin of the letter.
On the afternoon of December 14th, Mrs. Merritt was walking behind three men near the Union Depot on Louisiana Avenue in Shreveport. Mrs. Merritt overheard one of the men say, “we had better scatter out now, so the cops won’t get us,” before one of them dropped a letter. A witness observed her retrieving the letter and informed one of the men that she had picked it up. The man confronted her, but Mrs. Merritt denied being in possession of the letter before stating that she would not give it to him because he had not dropped it. The man even offered payment in exchange for the letter, but Mrs. Merritt refused, and the man seemed to give up.
Mrs. Merritt continued, but near her home on Davis Street, the man confronted her again. This time he threatened to kill her. He then proceeded to hit her in the face before two men intervened causing the man to flee. She had intended to take the letter to the police but was now so afraid that she related the story to the mail carrier and asked him to take the letter to Shreveport Chief of Police G.F. Gerrald.
Chief Gerrald examined the letter and immediately sent officers in search of the men. The letter, claiming to be written by a member of a Russian gang, included several threats. The first being to rob and blow up a bank in Minden, claiming that dynamite had already been hidden nearby. Consideration was made to blow up the entire town as a diversion while the bank was robbed.
Next, the letter revealed a plan to rob and murder businessman J.W. Atkins that Saturday night and murder Judge W.P. Hall the following week. Afterward, the gang was to meet up before returning to Europe the next month. A reference was also made to a desire to assassinate President Theodore Roosevelt.
While his officers were searching the city, Chief Gerrald contacted authorities in Minden. Reportedly, they revealed that dynamite had been stolen from the Minden Brick Works. It was also claimed that a man in Shreveport had been paid to lead the men “to a place in the woods from which they could get to Minden.”
Shreveport Mayor Andrew C. Querbes expressed his skepticism but felt that there was sufficient evidence to consider the threats credible. Differing accounts were given as to Chief Gerrald’s opinion. The Shreveport Journal quoted him as having enough evidence to deem it a joke that had gone too far and cost the city money. He denied having made such a statement. His rebuttal in the Shreveport Times explained that his words had been taken out of context and were in response to a man who had stated that he believed it to be hoax. Reportedly, the sherriff’s office was convinced that it was entirely the work of someone playing a joke on the Shreveport Police Department and that no such gang existed.
The following day, Mrs. Merritt made a public statement in response to the public scrutiny of her story which had begun to show inconsistencies such as whether the man had struck her on the face or the chest. It was also revealed that the men who had scared away the gang member never actually saw him.
At the same time, Chief Gerrald had received confirmation from Baton Rouge that a second letter referred to in the first, that was to have been left at Baton Rouge and addressed to “Mr. Richardson, Cotton Buyer,” had been found there at the post office. Claims had also been made that a woman matching the description of one believed to be involved with the gang had taken a train to Mena, Arkansas.
Saturday night came and went without an attempt on the life of J.W. Atkins. The investigation continued. While Minden officials remained on alert for a possible bank robbery, none occurred. Another letter brought to the Shreveport police, stated that the man who had dropped the letter had been killed and thrown into the Red River.
The next week, it was announced by Chief Gerrald that enough evidence had been collected to prove the whole plot a hoax and the work of a woman believed to be suffering from a mental condition. Handwriting comparison of all the letters was made as well as a comparison to other samples of the woman’s handwriting. The woman’s name was not revealed, but interestingly, Mrs. Libbie Merritt had filed suit against the City of Shreveport just months before.
Disappointingly, we have no known accounts of this incident that relate the response of the citizens of Minden.
(Jessica Gorman is the Assistant Director and Archivist for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum in Minden and is an avid genealogist.)