In last week’s Echo of the Past, we looked at the continuing problems of security at the 2nd Webster Parish Jail, built in 1884. At the conclusion of the article we were discussing the worries about the safety of the infamous Webster Parish outlaw, Linc Waggoner, who was awaiting trial for horse theft, and had been moved to Ouachita Parish for security until the time for his trial.
On Saturday, September 8, 1894, Waggoner was returned to the Minden jail in preparation for his trial. Officials felt that he would be safe in the Minden jail for the two nights left before his trial. Apparently, the Monroe officials did not recognize the seriousness of the warnings issued to the Webster Parish Sheriff. Around midnight on that Saturday night, the promised vigilante action by the men of North Webster Parish began. It would prove to be eerily similar to the previous assault on the jail in 1885.
A mob of more than twenty men rode into Minden from the north. They tied their horses on the Berry plantation, (around the present-day intersection of Broadway, Homer Road, Elm and East and West), and formed military ranks marching down Broadway toward the jail (located approximately on the site of today’s city offices in City Hall). The following account of what transpired is taken from the Shreveport Times of Tuesday, September 11, 1894.
“When citizens started out of their houses toward the jail they were met by armed sentries and forcibly driven back. On all sides the jail was guarded by armed men, who had taken possession of every avenue that led to it. One man, Mr. John Sandlin, avoided the sentries and went to the Presbyterian Church and rang the bell to arouse the citizens. He also fired his pistol several times. Deputy Sheriff Reagan was a mile away at his home and heard nothing of it. Before the Sheriff could be appraised of what was going on the mob had accomplished its horrible and most cowardly work.
“After the mob had cut its way through the brick wall of the jail, six or seven masked men came through the aperture, all heavily armed, and made their way upstairs to the upper tier of cells. The attackers were led by a man who appeared to be perfectly familiar with the interior of the jail . . .
“In this cell, as in others, there was a triangular ventilation flue in one corner, which was constructing by riveting a heavy piece of iron across the closed corner of the cage. This piece of iron extended from the ceiling of the cell down to within 12 or 15 inches of the floor. Into this flue, Waggoner had squeezed himself and by standing erect and reaching up could get his fingers into some openings above that enabled him to pull himself up until his feet were almost out of sight.
“The men, who had lanterns, flashed a light into the cell and asked for Linc. The other prisoners told them he was not in there. They went farther, and moved everything to show that Linc was not in there. The lynchers swore that they knew he was in there and threatened to shoot or dynamite the whole outfit if they did not produce him. Frightened to death, one of the prisoners gave away Linc’s hiding place.
“The prisoners were ordered, under pain of death if they refused, to drag Linc down, out of the flue. This, two of them proceeded to do, grasping him by the feet and by main strength pulling him until his finger holds above gave way. When they had him partially out, one-man shot at Waggoner legs, and missed him. Waggoner exclaimed: “Lord have mercy on my people, gentlemen let me talk.” One man said: “Yes, if you will call no names on the outside.” Another man objected to any talk.
“Then followed one of the most heartless and diabolical murders that men could be guilty of. The other prisoners were ordered to stretch out and hold Linc close to the open bars within a few inches of the muzzles of the pistols of the two lynchers who had been delegated to shoot him. These two men were squatted on their haunches, with the muzzles of their pistols resting in the opening of the bars. Waggoner, helpless in the hands of two powerful men, one of whom,
Patrick, had both hands in his powerful grasp and Linc’s head securely under his left arm, and the other man holding both his feet off the floor, commenced to curse his executioners, and told them if they would give him a pistol and a man’s chance he would whip the whole mob . . .
“When the man holding Linc’s feet was so exhausted he had to let go, the third prisoner was ordered to take his place. While this change was being made the executioners said: “Boys when you get ready you will shoot.” Patrick’s hand had slipped down over Linc’s left breast and he was told to move it up out of the way as they wanted to shoot Linc in the heart. One ball penetrated his heart. Twelve balls in all were fired into Waggoner’s body. When the executioners were satisfied their victim was dead, they told the prisoners to drop him and made them remove the clothing from the upper portion of the body so they could see the wounds.
“Then the few men who had come into the jail went out through the opening they had made, a signal was given and their captain called out: “Fall in by twos!” With military precision they marched out of town north by the Germantown Road. Out about a mile or more they mounted their horses and proceeded on north. Parties who went out on that road next morning followed the trail for ten miles or more. While the men were marching out of town on foot, one citizen counted twenty-one in ranks. Whether or not there were more is not known, but it is thought there were not. The mob accomplished its bloody work in less than 30 minutes.”
In addition, the Times account of the Sheriff’s actions, is supplemented by local tradition. The newspaper story mentions that the Sheriff was not informed until the mob had finished its work and could take no action. The reason he was unable to take action is not mentioned. According to traditional accounts, the Sheriff, knowing the men who had warned him were deadly serious about killing him, either heard the alarm sounded by Sandlin or was warned by someone else of the mob’s approach. Realizing that he and his deputies would be incapable of stopping the mob, and that a live Sheriff, capable of leading a posse was better than a dead hero, the Sheriff fled to the Goodwill Store and hid in a coffin until the “coast was clear.” (Goodwill’s store, owned by the great-grandfather of Governor Mike Foster was the 19th century equivalent of a department store, selling all types of merchandise including coffins and served as a funeral home for Minden.)
Thus, yet another tragedy had taken place in the Webster Parish Jail and the facility had been left with severe damage from the forced entry by the mob that killed Waggoner. For some reason, the Police Jury seemed reluctant to repair the facility, perhaps in hopes that yet another jail could be constructed. Yet, for several years the jail was left in its damaged state and the problems of security only worsened. It is rather curious because during this time Minden was greatly modernized. In 1902, the City Council banned the future construction of wooden buildings in downtown because of the risk of fire. The Minden Lumber Company came to town and supplied electricity to the town. In 1905, a brand-new Webster Parish Courthouse was constructed. So, Minden’s public image was greatly improved, but the damaged jail remained.
Finally, at its meeting of May 14, 1909, the Webster Parish Police Jury approved a resolution to build a new jail, dedicating a portion of the existing property taxes to cover the construction costs. On May 19, 1909, a contract was officially let with the Pauly Jail Building Company of St. Louis to construct the new jail at a price not to exceed $17,214.40 – an amount equal to the dedication of 2 mills out of the present 10 mill property tax to be paid out over three years. Later, on June 14, that contract was extended to six years, raising the cost to $17,800. Work on this jail moved swiftly and it was completed in November 1909 and placed into service on November 16, 1909.
The third jail is the “castle-like” structure that many local residents remember. It would not be the scene of any on-site tragedies like its predecessor, but it was the place where John Jones was released into the hands of a lynch mob in August 1946. Still after nearly four decades of service, and likely neglected maintenance during the tight money years of the Great Depression, the jail was once again a major problem.
Minden and Webster Parish had grown during those years, by 1950, the population of the parish had reached 35,000 and Minden was approaching 10,000, so the demand for jail cells had increased. While that had been somewhat ameliorated by the opening of the Webster Parish Penal Farm to house prisoners in 1928, still crowding was a problem, as were the security and the upkeep on the prison.
In January 1947, the City of Minden began discussing building a city jail. as the condition of the parish jail was so poor that the city did not wish to lodge prisoners in the facility. Parish health authorities have several times visited the parish jail and urged changes. After that resolution, the Parish Health Unit supervisor and the editors of the Webster Review visited the jail for an inspection. The officials recommended many changes made to make it more sanitary as they found the present condition endangered prisoners health.
In September 1947, the Webster Parish Grand Jury found both the Webster Parish Courthouse and Jail to be substandard and urged the financing and erecting of a modern courthouse and jail as soon as building conditions justify the construction.
After repeated discussions of the problem and having the jail either condemned or labeled substandard by several consecutive Grand Juries, the parish finally began to tackle the problems with the courthouse and jail in February 1950. At its meeting that month, the topic of building new facilities was discussed. Ward Four Police Juror Calhoun Garland commented that the “jail would not hold anyone who desires to escape.” It was decided to begin informal surveys of civic groups and plan public meetings to gauge support for a tax to construct the new buildings. In October of 1950, Webster Parish voters by a margin of 5 to 1 approved the construction of a new $1 million courthouse to include a jail. Original plans called for the courthouse to be constructed on the old hitching lot just west of the existing courthouse (today that hitching lot is the parking lot where the marquee for the Minden Civic Center is located); however, it was decided that the space was not sufficient. At this point a deal was made between the City of Minden and Webster Parish. The City turned over the land that made up the Minden City Park to the Parish. In exchange the City was awarded the old Courthouse and the old Jail. This exchange sparked an ongoing controversy regarding the fate of the bandstand/gazebo and the fountain in City Park. Eventually the fountain was relocated to Victory Park and the bandstand was torn down.
The City of Minden made plans to use the old Courthouse as Minden City Hall – a purpose it would fulfill until 1970, but had no use for the old jail. Because of that decision, the third Webster Parish Jail was torn down, shortly after the new Jail in the courthouse was opened in January 1953. This ended the 80-year saga of free-standing Webster Parish Jails that have been our topic for the last three Echoes of Our Past.