The History of Jackson Parish – Lawlessness during Reconstruction

Ever wondered when Jackson Parish began to be settled and why it was called such? What about how the town of Jonesboro actually got its name? Maybe you curious about how Jonesboro became the parish seat or even things like how the early settlers made their money or got around back. You are not alone. Over the next several weeks a series entitled “Blast from the Past” will be published exclusively in the Jackson Parish Journal designed to help shed a light on these questions and more. Historical references come from articles written in the newspapers of the day that often contained direct interviews with some of the earliest settlers.  This week – Lawlessness during Reconstruction!

Below is a continuation of the interview with W. W. McDonald, who was the second male child born in Jackson Parish in 1850 and at the time was 76 years old. He was a direct descendant of the McDonald family that today owns the Jackson Parish Bank in Jonesboro.

When asked to describe what life in Jackson Parish was like during the years following the Civil War, McDonald stated:

The years following the Civil War, better known as the “Reconstruction Years” was a lawless time in most of the south with “carpetbaggers” cheating Southerners out of their land causing ill will to be rampart. This led to many treacherous acts such as theft and murder being committed on a regular basis. Battles raged all over between the Southern Democrats, those in favor of the Reconstruction Government and the “Fusionists” or “Bourbon Democrats” who fought staunchly for the old ways of the south before the War.

Our people had very few disturbances with those who stole under the name of the Reconstruction government but many in neighboring parishes did, leading us to often come to their aid. We have always stood for law and order and are members of the predominating Missionary Baptists and Protestant Methodists with some Nazarenes sprinkled in.

That is not to say that we have not endured our share of lawless acts. The three that stand out most in my mind was killing of a family member in 1867, the burning of the courthouse in Vernon in 1868 and the murder of Henry Jones, who had been the Sheriff of Jackson Parish for 16 years.

My relative, W.B. McDonald was gunned down while in his hotel room at night in downtown Vernon by a cowardly man who shot him through the window. His assailant was never discovered but it was widely believed his death came at the hands of the “Fusionists” in the area who were against his political beliefs. The “Fusionists” or “Bourbon Democrats” as they were also called held staunchly to the old ways of the south and were of those who still waged their own war against the government.

The man that committed the arson act on the courthouse was also believed to be a part of the “cause” but never admitted to any affiliation with any group after he was caught and sent to the penitentiary. A temporary building was erected and later a more substantial one, but the loss of the parish records was keenly felt.

Sheriff Jones was killed while returning a criminal from Alabama. When he stepped from the train he was shot down by a mob who took the prisoner that was presumed killed as well since he was never heard from again. It was his family that the town of Jonesboro was named after as the Jones owned all the land around where the town was built. Until 1880, where the Town of Jonesboro sits ,was nothing but a forest but in 1886 the first effort was made to make it the parish seat.

Next week – The beginnings of Jonesboro!


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