Some men from right around here put together a cavalry and rode up. And they got a two-pound cannon and brought it down on a boat, the first ironclad ship ever to sail on the Red River. They took it off the boat at Montgomery and wheeled it down, and they had to get a Union soldier to show 'em how to use it.
And on Easter Sunday they set it up there and just fired the hell out of that courthouse. Killed a bunch of blacks, drove 'em out. Ben Littlepage up there still has that cannon, sittin' on his front lawn. When I returned to the genealogy library the next day, the man with the white moustache handed me an eyewitness account of the riot, written fifty-four years after the event by one John I.
McCain, of Montgomery, Louisiana, a white man who asserted with perfect confidence that the Colfax Riot was "one of the most important events in the history of the nation. Back at the public library in Colfax, the librarian, Doris Lively, dug up more than a half dozen theses and term papers about the riot, written by local residents many years after the event.
Most reiterated some of the starker details from John I.
McCain's reminiscence—the vandalizing of the baby's coffin, the torching of the courthouse roof, the shooting of the white men sent to negotiate peace, the slaughter of the blacks fleeing the burning courthouse. Most also mentioned an epilogue that McCain left out of his account: that a large number of blacks—estimates ranged from about twenty to sixty—who surrendered and were taken prisoner were, that same night, shot or hanged.
None of the authors expressed any dismay or even surprise that the prisoners were executed. One, Manie White Johnson, wrote in her master's thesis, "Privilege was given to the negroes to bury their dead but as only a few came to do this, most of the bodies were thrown into trenches, 'buried as it were in the graves dug with their own hands. Whites I met in Colfax told a story remarkably similar to those old accounts minus, for the most part, the racially loaded language , adding the modern detail about how the cannon involved could still be found in town, sitting on Ben Littlepage's lawn.
Local blacks, without exception, told me that all they knew was that there had been a big riot in , and that a lot of blacks were killed in it.
In these riot photographs, even though they constitute the background, the buildings take on the valuable status of owned spaces, victims of destruction. As time moves forward we find ourselves attempting to recover its fragments. A Dream of Riches: the Japanese Canadians, Already having blown it's credibility over the issue of digging to prove bodies or not, several weeks ago the Commission decided to split the difference on the "was Tulsa Bombed" question - and presenting both sides of the issue. What accounts for the powerful interplay between the damaged properties and the human subjects in the visual formations in these photographs?
Several whites recalled that in the s, when the town was excavating the site of the old courthouse in order to build a new one, they disinterred the skeletons of blacks killed in the riot. Dru Richards, then the assistant publisher of The Chronicle , Colfax's weekly newspaper, told me that one day, as a child, he was playing in the rubble and found part of a human skull. I found nothing about the Colfax Riot in any number of encyclopedias, and at the time only one reference to the event on the entire Internet—three sentences on a site maintained by the Louisiana State Museum, in New Orleans.
The last word came to me from no less an authority than the then mayor of Colfax, a white septuagenarian and lifelong resident named Connie Youngblood. But I will tell you two things about the riot: First is that the story about the blacks starting the whole thing by throwing out that baby in the coffin is just pure nonsense. That never happened. The second is that the next day the whites went to the blacks and said that if they had participated in the riot and if they stepped forward now, they would be granted pardons. So a bunch of the blacks came forward—I don't know how many, maybe a hundred—and the whites shot them instead.
Toward the end of my visit to Colfax, I took a walk through the town cemetery, which lies across Main Street from the library and the courthouse. Like many small-town southern cemeteries, it is one of the nicest spots in town—granite stones, chiseled and polished, interspersed with solid, proud slate markers more than a century old, all of them widely and evenly spaced apart. And, as in many small-town southern cemeteries, every last person buried there is white.
There is not, I've been told, a racially integrated burial ground in all of Grant Parish. I strolled slowly through the cemetery, perusing names and epitaphs, pausing for a moment to inspect a new grave that had been dug that very morning. Glancing up, I spotted—across all the neat rows of neat headstones, and standing near a stately old tree—a marble obelisk, a dozen feet high, towering over every other marker. I made my way over to it, picked some lichen off the weathered inscription, and squinted in the afternoon sun to read it.
As I was leaving town for the last time, I passed by Ben Littlepage's house.
I decided I'd stop and see the famous Colfax Riot cannon, envisioning, somehow, a grand old armament of the kind I had seen in abundance at West Point and a half dozen Civil War battlefields. I pulled into his driveway and looked across his front and back lawns, but it was nowhere to be seen; I figured it must have been carted off.
I was about to go when Mrs. Littlepage drove up. I told her why I had come, and asked what had become of the riot cannon.
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