“Blackleg” Richard Pryor and A Killing In Catahoula Parish, LA

On 27 July 1852, the Woodville Republican (Woodville is in Wilkinson County, MS) reported on two homicides in Catahoula Parish, LA. These were really nasty killings where a group of men laid wait in the tall grass and behind trees waiting for their intended victims and then when their had them within shooting range, they apparently killed them while they were still seated in the buggy in a one-sided barrage of gun power. Oh yes, there was a Pryor involved!

Reading stories about the murder of these men it brings to mind mountain-men feuds. It started in 1848 between an unidentified woman and Charles Jones who was living on Black River near St. John R. Liddell. The woman shot Jones in the presence of Liddell. Jones went away for 4 years then returned with a man named Richard Pryor. The feud erupted again, leading to the event where Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins were waylayed and killed on the road to Trinity– allegedly killed by St. John R. Liddell. It was all a horrible case of mistaken identity because Liddell thought he was killing Charles Jones’ friend Richard Pryor!

Just so you know, these weren’t poor hill folk. Liddell was the owner of a large plantation, he had attended the military academy at West Point, and he was a friend of the future Confederate President, Jefferson Davis (see Wikipedia). Did Liddell’s position reflect later in the damaging testimony about Pryor’s character?

By 1854 the case of the State of Louisiana vs. St. John R. Liddell was in front of a Grand Jury and there’s some interesting testimony about nasty characters, smeared honor, Glen and Wiggins’ buggy was previously owned by Richard Pryor (see report in 14 June 1854 The Independent, Harrisonburg, LA ).

Witness Grant Lincecum stated he “is very well acquainted with the man Dick Pryor; has known him, off and on, for many a year.” Lincecum is on the 1850 Census in Catahoula Parish he was born 1798 in Georgia. His profession was recorded as MD– is that a medical doctor? Wouldn’t be interesting to know how their paths had crossed in the past? Perhaps there would be a clue to the identity to Richard Pryor!  The witness further testified “Pryor was a notoriously bad character–he was a gambler and a horse-racer. Witness believes that he was the worst man that ever went unhung. Witness did not testify before the Grand Jury which found this bill.”

Another witness, Mr. Laningham stated, “Pryor, Sam Smith, Emerson, Glenn and Wiggins were in the habit of coming to Trinity armed, and making threats against Liddell and his friends.”

Why did one newspaper account refer to Pryor as a “blackleg”? Well the testimony of C.C. Waters states “On the same day, Pryor, while standing on the gallery of Mr. Robb’s store, offered to bet one thousand dollars that Maj Liddell would be killed in less than twelve months from that time, and offered to give two hundred dollars to any man that would get him the bet.” He also swore, “Pryor offered to shoot the top off of the head of any of Liddell’s fighting friends who would show themselves.” Then “At one time saw Pryor and Sam Smith get their guns and go up the street towards the Saw-mill , witness believes to hunt Capt. Phillips” (a friend of Liddell’s).

Felix Robb describes Pryor as quite the colorful character: “Pryor had been but a short time in the country**, only a few weeks, and left soon after Glenn and Wiggins were killed. Pryor had no property here: witness understood that Pryor spoke of buying or of having bought some land somewhere in this Parish, but believes it was a a pretense. Pryor was a notoriously bad character, given to gambling, rioting, and fighting.”

I know you may be running login to an online census record to ID Richard Pryor. I’m thinking we can already ID him from other accounts of a hot-headed Dick Pryor.  I really don’t look for all road to lead to Tennessee but I think on this trip we’re going there again! Remember sweet old Miss Jane H. Thomas who had memories of a Dick Pryor who engaged in horse racing in Nashville? (see post). Of course there could be 2 Dick Pryors who were gamblers and horse-racers. What are the odds?

And could he be the same Richard Pryor who was using enslaved boys as jockeys at his racetrack near Nashville and maybe in Montgomery County, TN? (see post). There are just a few Richard Pryors on the 1850 Census who could possibly be the one who showed up in Catahoula Parish.

Now, because it’s always fun to know how things turned out– what ever happened to St. John Liddell? Well the feud between Liddell and Charles Jones reignited in January 1870 over a real estate deal when John Nixon was shot by C W Carmack, a cashier at the Citizens Bank. Carmack had done a slick property sale for Charles Jones without notifying the firm that employed Nixon as an agent. An article published in the Ouachita Telegraph mentions that Nixon had $20,000 in life insurance — that’s quite a chunk of change at that time. It must have been a dangerous area to be doing business.

Liddell was killed a couple weeks later. He had boarded a river boat and had sat down to dinner. Charles Jones boarded the same boat and when he came in Liddell attempted to take a shot at him, but Jones shot first, killing Liddell (read more online). Liddell also had a chunk of life insurance:

NEW ORLEANS, March 22, 1870.
To Gen. Dabnov H. Maury, Agent of Piedmont and
Arlington Life Insurance Company
My Dear Sir:– Accept my thanks for the prompt and agreeable manner in which your company has acknowledged and made payment on the policy taken out by the late Gen. St. John R. Liddell for the benefit of his daughter, Mrs. Louisa Liddell McMillan. Cordially commending your company to the confidence of your people. I remain, very respectfully, yours,
W. P. McMillan, M.D.
The Ouachita Telegraph (Monroe, LA), 30 April 1870

** I read several articles published in Louisiana newspapers which use “country” to denote locale not that some one was from a foreign country.