Historically Speaking: A case of sabotage?

By Jessica Gorman

Around 3:45 on the morning of 2 April 1941, a railroad crew noticed flames at the fertilizer plant of the Minden Cotton Oil & Ice Company. This building was located on Shreveport Road next to the railroad tracks. It took the fire department about an hour to control the flames. Owner and manager of the plant, J.B. Snell, was burned on his foot and ankle when “he stepped into a pool of fertilizer lava which had formed when the heated fertilizer came into contact with water used in fighting the fire.” He was taken to the Minden Sanitarium for treatment of his injuries. Fire Chief John David sustained a minor burn to the hand as he rendered aid to Mr. Snell.

Initial suspicion centered around three “hoboes” who had reportedly been sleeping in the building and had been witnessed boarding a train. Railroad car inspector, Henry Stratton, reported that he had been informed by another “hobo” that he had heard the three men talking in the woods near the fertilizer plant. “The trio, he stated, remarked how easy it would be for Hitler to take the United States through sabotage and mentioned how simple it would be to destroy the paper mill at Cullen.” He said that one of the men left and then returned stating that “everything was fixed.” The other two responded with, “We had better get out of here before the thing goes off,” before catching a northbound train. That afternoon, the three men were arrested at Cullen on suspicion of sabotage.

The men were identified as Jacob D. Jones, G.S. Gaunt, and Albert Taylor. They met at Winnfield and came to Minden the previous afternoon. Both Jones and Gaunt had criminal records. Jones had been arrested in Houston and Shreveport for vagrancy. Taylor had been arrested on various occasions for vagrancy, shoplifting, larceny, and had served time in federal prison on a narcotics charge. It is unclear what the outcome of the investigation was.

By July, work on the new fertilizer plant had begun. Advertisements for the “new enlarged modern fertilizer plant” appeared in September. That same month, J.B. Snell was finally able to return to work after recovering from his injuries. 

(Jessica Gorman is the Executive Director for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum, Webster Parish Historian, and an avid genealogist.)