Historically Speaking: Mayor John L. Hart

By Jessica Gorman

If you know much about the history of Minden, you’ve probably heard the story of the election of 1872. It is said that in that election the Democratic candidate, a native of Minden, died just days before the election. Instead of voting for the Republican candidate, considered to be a carpetbagger, many voters of Minden chose to elect Chaffe’s Bull as mayor. The Republican candidate was then appointed mayor by Governor Warmoth. So far, I’ve been unable to find any contemporary sources documenting this story but mostly I wondered about who this “carpetbagger” candidate was that the people of Minden must have thought so poorly of that they would rather elect a bull mayor. He has been identified as John L. Hart. 

The term carpetbagger was typically used to describe someone who moved to the South after the Civil War for the purpose of obtaining political office. John L. Hart only seems to fit this definition in that he was born in Ohio around 1832. I don’t know much about his early life, but he moved to the South prior to the war and by 1860, he was living in Red River County, Texas with his wife Mary and their three children Edward, George, and Clara. All three children were born in Texas placing the Harts there at least as early as 1854. Mr. Hart owned and operated a saloon in Clarksville. In 1870, the family was living in Minden. Three additional children, Susan, John, and Jessie, had all been born in Louisiana suggesting that the Harts had been residents of the state, and possibly Minden, no later than 1863. 

Not only had John Hart been a resident of the South for nearly twenty years prior to 1872, he also served in the Civil War as a Confederate soldier. Pvt. J. L. Hart, of Minden, is recorded as being listed as a prisoner of war paroled at Shreveport in June 1865. 

In Minden, Hart owned a hotel and restaurant, possibly known as the Webster House. He served as mayor of Minden in 1872. The following year, he served as a member of a board of health during an outbreak of smallpox. He is also listed as having been a member of Minden Lodge No. 51. The only piece of evidence that I have been able to find to suggest any possible animosity toward Mr. Hart is the fire of 1872 that destroyed eight businesses in downtown Minden. The fire, believed to be arson, originated in the kitchen of Mr. Hart’s restaurant and quickly spread to nearby structures. While some have speculated that the courthouse of the newly-formed parish had been the target of the fire, sources indicate that the courthouse had not yet been constructed in 1872. One source indicates that, at the time of the fire, an agreement had not been reached about where the courthouse would be constructed. Another indicates that the courthouse was under construction in 1873. 

Whatever the circumstances of the fire, John L. Hart did not remain in Minden much longer. By 1875, the family had moved to Shreveport. Mr. Hart was serving as a Shreveport police officer. In the early morning hours of 13 June 1875, he responded to a disturbance at a house of ill-repute. This disturbance had been caused by Corporal Thomas Murphy of the 7th United States Cavalry who was stationed in Shreveport. Hart encountered Murphy and a woman at the corner of Crockett and Milam. Murphy approached Hart and shot him through the abdomen. Hart was found lying in a pool of blood and taken by the police chief for medical treatment. He died around 2:30 that afternoon. 

In a newspaper article reporting the death of John L. Hart, he is described as a man who “earned the respect and esteem of all who knew him” while living in Minden. As a police officer he “was always regarded as an able, efficient and fearless officer, a good, true and upright citizen and a man without an enemy.”

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