By Jessica Gorman
Old newspapers are one of my favorite historical sources. While researching a topic, I try to take time to skim the pages for information that provides context to the events of a particular time period or for other information that may be of interest for both current and future research projects. While the front-page headlines bring significant events to our attention, the community columns and social pages provide insight into the everyday happenings and the lives of the people. It can also be quite entertaining to read the humorous and sometimes “gossipy” tidbits that are thrown in here and there.
In 1890, a local newspaper commented on what was perceived as a threat of invasion of “the pine hills of Webster and Claiborne” parishes by “Texas fellows” seeking “Louisiana wives.” In 1881, the death of Christopher Chaffe’s favorite horse, Bert, was considered important enough to be reported. Complaints were made later that same month about “the odoriferous atmosphere circulating just below the Baptist Church” (located at the corner of Broadway and Lee Streets) due to “the carcasses of every dead animal for some distance around” being “thrown into” “those large gullies in that part of town.” Considering Bert’s status as Mr. Chaffe’s favorite horse, I would assume he was not among the carcasses mentioned.
From newspapers, we learn that Harrison’s store in north Webster Parish was the site of at least two murders. There is also the story of Dr. P.J. Marks, supposedly a “traveling dentist,” who came to Webster Parish, married a fifteen-year-old girl and was then tried and convicted of bigamy after it was learned that he was already married.
The comings and goings of local residents were often mentioned in the newspapers. Felix Drake’s “purchasing tour for his house” in 1883 has been referenced as part of the history of his home on Broadway. However, a closer examination of newspapers from that time reveals the proper context of this trip as being for his “business house” and not for his home as local merchants would make seasonal trips to purchase new inventory for their “houses.”
A 1935 article reports the mysterious case of a charred skeleton found at the Minden Compress. The skeleton was determined to be that of a child between the ages of twelve and fourteen believed to have been murdered. So far, no indication has been found that the case was ever solved.
Newspapers record the development of our parish from the days of the steamboat and stagecoach to the coming of the railroad and the growth of industries. A poem published in the Webster Signal in August of 1900 describes the industrialization that was occurring in Minden at that time.
Fair Minden on the Hill
Hurrah! Hurrah! For Minden!
She’s looming up at last;
‘Tis really surprising,
To see her rise so fast.
Others may talk about their country,
They may boast just as they will;
But there’s no place now more attractive,
Than Minden on the hill.
For years she has been struggling,
To march to the front;
At last she has succeeded,
Without one fatal grunt.
Business is improving,
And our hearts with gladness thrill;
Let’s shout, Hurrah for Minden—
Fair Minden on the hill!
Down in the low, green meadow,
Out on the west of town,
You can see the brick men trotting,
And can hear the hammer’s sound.
The workmen now are busy,
Constructing the big oil mill,
And other great improvements,
To Minden on the hill.
Down in the lovely valley,
Where once the daisies sprung;
Where the birds in early springtime,
Their notes most sweetly sung;
With other enterprises,
There’ll be a great saw mill,
Down in this little valley,
Near Minden on the hill.
There’s a little factory,
For manufacturing staves,
Located in the valley,
Near the sleeping grave;
Blow away your whistle,
And the morn’ with music fill,
And shout, Hurrah for Minden—
Fair Minden on the hill!
Not all yet that’s coming,
To make the dark night bright;
Just wait a little longer,
We’ll have electric lights.
Then you may talk about your country,
You may boast just as you will;
No place will look more lovely,
Than fair Minden on the hill.
I hope to learn and share much more “lost” or “forgotten” and sometimes misinterpreted bits of the history of Webster Parish found in our local newspapers.
(Jessica Gorman is the Assistant Director and Archivist for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum in Minden and is an avid genealogist.)