In the past I have dedicated an entire column to the history of the “hitching lot” in downtown Minden. That lot was for many years the subject of a local legend that claimed it had to be used for hitching animals or else reverted to the property owners. The legend was entirely false and eventually the lot was used for different purposes. In today’s column I will cover several other local legends or traditional stories containing varying degrees of truth. In some cases, I have been responsible for circulating incorrect information. One of these situations reinforced in me the importance of verifying any information I wanted to print.
In the early 1980s, I published an article on the turbulent events of 1933 in Minden. Shortly after it was published, I had the chance to speak with the late Webster Parish Historian, Thomas Lorraine Campbell. Mrs. Campbell was pleased with my work, but the first thing she mentioned was an error at the very start of my article. I had labeled Charles Veeder, Minden’s founder, as a German immigrant. She quickly informed me that Veeder had been born in upstate New York and was of German heritage, but not an immigrant.
At the time, I thought it was strange that she would pick on such a minor point. In the ensuing years, I have come to realize the problems such a small mistake could create. That article was published and sent in a Journal to many of the libraries in Louisiana. Anyone reading that article that wanted to research the founding of Minden would take an entirely incorrect path, seeking information on Charles Veeder coming to the United States through immigration records. Literally months could be wasted looking for the non-existent records of immigration, when in fact Veeder’s family had been in North America for nearly a century before his birth. I learned the lesson, what you write down as history, often becomes history, so it is vital to make sure of your facts before you set them down as a permanent record. Let’s look at some of the not exactly accurate Echoes of Our Past that circulate in our area.
There are two common misconceptions about the statue of the Confederate soldier that stands in Confederate Park. The first originated in a newspaper account that contained incorrect information. That article stated that the statue was modeled after a “Mr. Wiley Pevy,” the first Webster Parish soldier to die in World War I. In fact, there was no “Wiley Pevy.” The local American post is named the Wiley-Pevy Post after William Wiley and Andrew Jackson Pevy, two Webster Parish men who were among the first casualties of World War I. Their pictures hang in the Legion hall here in Minden. Another misconception is that the statue was dedicated to their memory. The statue was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy of Minden and was dedicated on Lee-Jackson Day in January 1933. It was to honor the Confederate soldiers and was unveiled by Alberta Glass, Minden’s last surviving Confederate veteran.
The second misconception is that the statue was modeled after any local resident, it was not, but was merely an image of a typical Confederate soldier. I also helped provide a little misinformation about the statue in my article on 1933. The first newspaper stories indicated that the nearly new statue was unharmed by the May 1 tornado. Later I learned the statue was blown from its base and the bayonet attached to the rifle was broken off in the fall. I have recently received a picture of the toppled statue and as for the broken bayonet; it has never been replaced and remains missing today.
In the modern age of the Internet, erroneous information spreads faster and seems to get added credibility since it is seen in a “published” form on the Net. A few years back a discussion on some Webster Parish discussion boards concerned a German POW camp located “near Minden” during World War II. Various posters, citing the memories of family members, have placed this camp near the Harris Community, near the Louisiana Ordnance Plant, and in the vicinity of Caney Lake. In fact, there was never a POW camp located in the immediate Minden area. There were only 6 such camps in the entire state and the only one north of Rapides Parish was Camp Ruston, located at Simsboro in Lincoln Parish. The confusion over this situation arises because the prisoners at Camp Ruston were trucked to work on area farms and were often seen in this area. On at least two occasions, escaped prisoners were captured in the Minden area. So, while we did have contact with German prisoners, the POW camp was more than 30 miles east of our town.
Historical confusion goes back to the beginning of our local history. Many people have heard the story that the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812 created Lake Bistineau. While this is not an impossibility, Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee was created by the quakes; it is not true of Bistineau. Francois Grappe, a pioneer settler is documented as living on Lake Bistino as early as 1787; and in 1806, the Freeman and Custis expedition sent by President Thomas Jefferson charted the lake and sent back extensive descriptions to
Washington. What does seem likely is that the aftershocks of the quake did perhaps increase the surface area of Bistineau, but they did not create the lake. This story is a case where a well-researched Internet site provides the correct information. Joe Hinton has a web site: http://www.lakebistineau.com/history/. This site is full of wonderful information about the history of Bistineau and is a must-see web site for anyone interested in local history.
Some local misinformation is understandable. In the area bounded by Lewisville Road, East and West, Elm, and W. Todd, there are several streets named in honor of Presidents of the United States. Also, in this area is Buchanan Street, which is not named after President James Buchanan; instead it is named after William Buchanan, founder of the Louisiana and Arkansas railroad. That street was developed as the railroad shops came to Minden in 1923 in the area behind the Ferguson home, then the home of Joseph G. Ferguson, Buchanan’s brother-in-law, and today the Stewart Center of the Webster Parish Library. Most of the first residents of Buchanan Street were employees of the L & A Railroad.
Another street bears a technically incorrect name today, because of the misreading of a map, over a century ago. According to letters written by members of the Isaac Murrell family, who lived on the corner of Spann and Pennsylvania, 1st Street, which led to their home, was originally “I” street. The Murrell children were allowed to name the street running in front of their home and chose Pennsylvania Avenue because it sounded impressive and the President lived on Pennsylvania Avenue. At some point prior to 1900, when a map was being transcribed the “I” was mistaken for a “1.” Later streets used that as a basis for the creation of 2nd and 3rd streets. Nevertheless, originally, we had no numbered streets on the local map.
A third street error is in the area surrounding the Minden Cemetery. If you look at the street sign on the short street running on the eastern edge of the cemetery you will see it says “Rephart” street. That name always puzzled me until a few years ago I had the chance to look at a map from the 1920s, shortly after the “new” section of the cemetery was dedicated on the area where formerly the mill quarters for the Minden Bodcau Mill had been located. On that map the street is clearly marked “Red Heart Street.” When the transition occurred, I am not sure, but it explains the strange surname that never appeared anywhere else in local records.
Another confusion, more common years ago, was the name of our local baseball stadium, Griffith Stadium. When Griffith Stadium still stood in Washington, D. C. as the home of the lowly Washington Senators, many people were confused why Minden chose to name its stadium after the home of one of the least successful franchises in Major League Baseball. In reality, the local park was named in honor of B. F. Griffith, Sr., former sheriff and local businessman, who had been the key individual in the creation of the Webster Parish fair. Griffith owned and operated a horseracing track on the site of the current field and it was decided to name the municipal baseball stadium in his honor for his many contributions to Minden, including donating the land where the park was located to the city. The source of the name is indicated by the fact it is actually Griffith Memorial Stadium.
I found another piece of misinformation about Minden’s past on an Internet site. This particular story has never been circulated locally, but I am sure has been used in various academic works across the country. A comprehensive list of lynchings of African-Americans has been prepared and posted on several different websites. Unfortunately, we do have several of these events correctly cited as happening in Minden or the local area, the last coming in 1946. One citation is incorrect, interesting, and reflects a common problem of jumping to conclusions without evidence. That list also includes the name of Linc Waggoner as being lynched in September 1894. I have covered that celebrated case in earlier columns, as it was one of the most brazen vigilante efforts of its day. However, Linc Waggoner was white, and racial motivations had no part in that killing. Someone compiling the list evidently saw a man, named Abraham Lincoln Waggoner, being lynched in the South and assumed he must be black.
I have also mentioned in earlier columns the confusion that involves two celebrities from Minden, Gene Austin and Ben Earl Looney and one unrelated star, Gene Autry. For many years the story has circulated that Gene Autry once lived in the rock house located on the east side of Highway 371, just south of Cooley Creek. In fact, Gene Austin, the biggest recording star of the 1920s, did own a house that stood on the Sibley Road, inside Minden. Looney, a world-renowned artist from Minden, lived for a time in the rock house. Gene Autry did come to Minden once on a promotional tour, but never lived anywhere near Minden. The confusion comes from the similarity of the names of Austin and Autry and the fact that whoever started the story remembered “somebody famous” lived in the rock house.
The last item I want to mention is not so much an incorrect story but a lingering mystery of our past. It concerns John Murrell, the pioneer settler of Claiborne Parish. He shares the same name with the famous outlaw known as “Reverend Devil,” who was also named John Murrell. Both men were from the same section of Tennessee and their lifespans overlapped. Speculation exists that perhaps they were one and the same, or that the outlaw was a son or brother of “our” John Murrell. Several local researchers have worked and are working on this problem. I currently have a well-researched article that claims the two John Murrell’s are closely related and cites several sources as proof. While at the same time I obtained a thesis from the Louisiana Scholar’s College located at Northwestern State University that submits, with excellent sources, that there was no possible connection between the two men. While the strongest primary sources make it clear these were two different men, that other story does have some evidence in its support.
Hopefully some of these false stories will be corrected and some of the mysteries will be solved. Just don’t believe anyone that tells you that Wiley Pevy and Gene Autry were close friends who lived in Minden. That is not an “Echo of Our Past.”
Minden Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald.