The Nov. 30, 1878, edition of the “Pioneer of Assumption” listed a number of deaths from an epidemic.
The scribe, Prosper Davaine, apologized for the delay in reporting them. In making the list, it seems he caught ill himself.
“I send you the general list of the sick and the victims of the epidemic that we have in the 5th district only. I would have liked to send it to you a little earlier, but as I was kept in bed for a few days, I was obliged to wait until this day. You will oblige me a lot by publishing it in your journal. At the same time, please send me a copy of the diary when it prints.”
Dead at Labadieville
Widow Joseph Graziani
Dr. Paul Verriere
Mme Fabien Ducos
Sidney McNeil, child
Stephens McNeil, child
Emile Delaune, child
Vve Leafroi Chedotal
—- Boudreaux, deaf-mute
L. Lovinsky Aucoin
Jean Marie Gantz
C. Francois Rendo
Mme Auguste Delaune
Arthur Gauthier, child
Arthur Naquin, child
Deceased at Brule Labadie
Mme Adrien Barilleaux
Vve Francois Boudreaux
Francois Jor. Boudreaux
Mme Clairville Peltier
Trsimond S. Boudreaux
Emilie Gauthreaux, child
Mme Theodule Gros
Mme Augustin Boudreaux
Victorine Arsement, child
Mme Francois Jor. Boudreaux
Emile Boudreaux, child
Augustine Olivier, child
Emilie Blanchard, child
Philomene Hebert, child
Mme Emile Talbot
Jn Bte Gros
Mme Louis Talbot
Mme Alexandre Blanchard
Deceased in the district
Mme Edouard Prejean
Emilie Prejean, child
Telesphore Prejean, child
Ernest Use, child
Alcee Bergeron, child
Marie Melancon, child
Victoria Bergeron, child
Alcee Melancon, child
Eva Melancon, child
Levy Melancon, child
4 children of —- Miller, of Garner
Mme Edouard Martin
One child of Jos. Robertson
Gustave Maillet, child
Family legend has it that my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Montet Giroir, came from a well-to-do family who lost everything with the conclusion of the Civil War. Certainly, they didn’t have any money after the war. The family lived very hand to mouth.
I wondered if the Montets really were prosperous and dug through old newspapers and succession records to find out. The succession records talk of a sugar house and property (this was after the Civil War so no slaves at that point). Newspaper accounts refer to an Aurelie Plantation in Assumption Parish that belonged to the Montets.
I’m pretty familiar with the swath of bayou road between Plattenville and Thibodaux. I travel it regularly to see family. The big plantation home in the area is Madewood, which belonged to the Pughs. I’d never heard of Aurelie.
At this point, I should point out – once again – that the mention of the word “plantation” in the family tree likely doesn’t mean that your family once lived at Tara. Plantation is another word for farm. Sorry.
But I went in search of Aurelie anyway. Elizabeth’s father came from a large family who lived near Plattenville. One of his brothers was Zephirin Montet. It was Zephirin who launched Aurelie, which he named for his wife.
Zephirin was actually Zephirin Rosemond Appolinaire Montet. He was a prosperous planter in Assumption Parish. His grandson Numa Montet was a U.S. congressman.
It appears that the extended Montet family called Aurelie home. The Assumption Pioneer – still in circulation to this day – recorded Zephirin’s sister-in-law Pauline Truxillo Montet dying at Aurelie in 1886.
I don’t know if Elizabeth grew up on Aurelie or if she grew up on a neighboring property. I remember my grandmother talking about the Montet home, but she never clarified if it was the Florentin Montet home, the Zephirin Montet home or the home of Florentin and Zephirin’s father.
What I suspect is that Aurelie originally was the property of Elizabeth’s grandfather (father to Zephirin and her own father, Joseph Florentin). It seems likely that the property got divvied up when the old man died, and Zephirin called his portion Aurelie for his wife. Perhaps Zephirin’s portion was a real money-maker – or maybe he added to it and expanded the acreage.
A similar arrangement happened after my husband’s grandfather died. Each child got a portion of the family farm. The entire farm still is in his descendants’ hands to this day, but it’s not really intact. Instead, it got sliced up into thirds for his three children. One of those thirds has been more profitable than the other two-thirds. It’s the luck of the draw.
From the succession records, it seems that the Montets shared a sugar house (where sugar was boiled into syrup). It appears that Zephirin and Florentin got shares in the sugar house when their father died. I’ll have to dig up Joseph Philippe Montet’s succession record, which most likely is in French, for clarity.
In 1912, Aurelie changed hands. The National Real Estate Journal described the sale as one of the biggest real estate deals of the month. The Montet Company Ltd. sold the plantation on Bayou Lafourche to Joseph Webre. At that time, the plantation included 600 acres, including 500 acres in cultivation, residences, cabins and a sugar house. The sale was speculated to be $50,000.
Other accounts name the buyer as John Webre, who died in 1915. It looks like Numa Montet bought the family property back temporarily and then sold it to an Edmond E. Webre.
I’m still in search for more on Aurelie. An old map of Assumption Parish probably would help.
According to Family Tree Maker, Joseph Ashley Schwartz is related to me thusly: He’s the brother-in-law of the brother-in-law of the first cousin three times removed. It’s not a very solid connection, and I guess I should be thankful. Joseph lived a rather sordid life.
Joseph was the son of Robert Schwartz and Cora Talley, who settled in New Orleans. His father sold newspapers at night and worked for the city at day. Robert and Cora divorced when their youngest child was just a baby. Both quickly remarried and built blended families of step siblings, half siblings and full siblings that made the Brady Bunch look like a small clan.
Robert’s second wife was Mary Louise Boote. She was still a teen-ager when she fell in love with a traveling salesman named Snodie Munsell. Snodie stuck around long enough to father daughters named Rose, Ruth and Ruby before abandoning the family. Distraught, Mary Louise disappeared for a short time – just long enough for her worried mother to contact the police and the newspapers – but she pulled it together, found Robert and remarried.
But back to Joseph, who would die by the hangman’s noose in New York. Joseph married Mary Louise’s daughter Ruby after she got pregnant. They had a son whom they named Joseph Ashley Schwartz Jr. Shortly after the birth, Joseph left his wife and new baby. He wrote Ruby from Mobile and told her he’d found another girl. Apparently the new romance didn’t stick.
Joseph kept heading north until he ended up in New York.
In New York, Joseph was booked for assault and robbery. He managed to escape the Tombs in 1933, but got into a gun battle with detectives that left his friend William Clark dead. Soon, Joseph would have more blood on his hands.
Despite the wife and child back home in New Orleans, Joseph struck up a romance with clerical worker Anna Downey (some newspapers identified her as Helen Downey) in New York. Anna would describe Joseph as a perfect gentleman who wouldn’t let her say the word ‘damn’ because it wasn’t something a lady said. Joseph and Anna had some kind of a sham wedding. Then Anna got pregnant, and they decided to get married for real. There was just one problem (besides the wife back in New Orleans).
Joseph was in prison for murder and robbery. He supposedly held up a beer garden and killed a man named Charles Theuner.
The wedding took place at the prison with Anna’s sister and a newspaperman serving as witnesses. Newspapers loved the story of the condemned man and his beautiful bride. Pictures of the wedding were published across the country, including in New Orleans.
Ruby saw the photos and showed them to her stepfather. Then she raced across town to show them to her mother-in-law. One thing puzzled them.
The papers described a marriage between Anna and a John Collins. John looked very much like Joseph Ashley Schwartz.
Ruby went to the newspapermen, who seized upon the fresh angle to the story. John Collins denied from prison that he was Joseph Ashley Schwartz, and Anna said it couldn’t be true. Anna also threw in that – by her math – John couldn’t possibly be the father of Ruby’s baby or the man that Ruby had to marry because she got in trouble.
Anna also minimized John Collins’ criminal record. By her reckoning, police get your name for one little thing and then pin everything on you. Poor Anna.
Joseph’s family was left wondering if John Collins was their Joseph – although they couldn’t have scratched their heads for too long. Joseph had written his sister letters and signed them John Collins. Although … how did she know who that was when she got the letters? Did he sign them “John Collins (you know, Joseph Schwartz)?” Curiouser and curiouser.
Ruby sent a letter to Joseph in Sing-Sing. The warden returned it, explaining that John Collins denied knowing anyone named Joseph Ashley Schwartz. Ruby decided to let the matter drop. After all, she reasoned, Joseph was condemned to death so she’d soon be a widow with no reason to pursue a divorce.
If you look up the list of people executed in New York, you won’t find Joseph Ashley Schwartz. Instead you’ll find the name John Collins, who was one of four men to go to his death in the electric chair on May 29, 1936.
Joseph – or John – was 25 when he died. He supposedly told the guards “Let’s go” as they strapped him to the electric chair. At the prison gates, Anna clutched their four-month-old baby and sobbed.
Later, upon being woken and told about the execution, Ruby was unsympathetic. She reportedly shrugged her shoulders and showed no emotion. She also told reporters that Anna had fixed her own little red wagon.
I was wondering the other day if there were any Louisiana connections on the Titanic. I found one but don’t get too excited.
A Miss Alice Compton of Lakewood, N.J., and New Orleans was reported by the Asbury Park Evening Press as rescued along with her mother. Alice’s brother, Alexander, perished.
The only problem is that there wasn’t an Alice Compton on the Titanic. Alice was Sara Rebecca Compton (the newspaper got her name wrong). She died in Miami in 1952. I can find no indication that she ever lived in New Orleans so that probably was just something else that the newspaper got wrong. More likely, the newspaper meant to say New York, where Sara was born.
But don’t take my word for it. The Times-Picayune went out and questioned the Comptons of New Orleans in 1912. According to the paper: “None of the Comptons who live in New Orleans know the family of the same name that was aboard the Titanic and are unable to account for them or to say who they are.”
The search for the Titanic victims’ New Orleans roots didn’t end there. A Sen. C.C. Cordill of Louisiana wondered if they were connected to the Comptons of Tensas Parish. Apparently a daughter of Judge Stacey married a Wilbur Compton of Botnay Bay plantation in Tensas Parish. The marriage produced a number of children, including brothers who became prominent businessmen in Mississippi and had families who were rumored to travel abroad.
Despite the sleuthing and speculating, the Comptons of Titanic were not from New Orleans or Tensas Parish. Sara’s father was born in New Jersey. His mother was born in New York, not Tensas Parish. The Comptons of Titanic were not descended from Thomas Wilbur Compton and Emma Stacy of Tensas Parish.
So it’s doubtful Sara was of New Orleans just as it’s doubtful that a New Orleans shipyard telephone operator named Rosemary Eller ever set foot on the Titanic.
Eller emerged in 1944 claiming to have been born Helena Yates and rescued from the Titanic. Her story was that she was rescued from the ship, taken to the New York Baby hospital and later unofficially adopted by the Starks (or Stark or Starke or Starkes) family of New Orleans.
Here’s the problem: There was never a Helena Yates on the Titanic. The only Yates aboard was a gambler, and he seemed to have been a con artist who lied about being on the Titanic. Regardless, if he was onboard, he probably wasn’t toting a baby.
But back to Rosemary.
From reading the historical records, it appears that Rosemary didn’t know she was adopted until both her parents were gone. What probably happened is that she was orphaned – or abandoned – at a young age. Somehow, she found her way to New Orleans into the arms of a family who had recently lost a child.
Maybe her birth mother dropped her at the foundling hospital with a fantastic story about the Titanic that was written into the hospital records. Who knows.
Here’s the story of Rosemary Eller.
Rosemary was taken to a foundling hospital in New York on April 23, 1912. Supposedly, a nurse brought her in and said she was a survivor of the Titanic. The shipwreck would have been the talk of New York at the time.
Already, though, the story starts running off the tracks. The Titanic, obviously, sank in April 1912. Eller later claimed she was six months old when the Titanic sank. When she died, her birth was recorded as Sept. 27, 1910. So she was actually a toddler when she was taken to the foundling hospital – not six months old.
In 1915 or so Rosemary was baptized as Helena Yates at St. Vincent’s Ferrer Church (this is all according to Rosemary). Interestingly, the foundling home baptized other children at St. Vincent’s before putting them on the Orphan Train. Hmmm … By 1920, Rosemary was living in the household of John and Mary Burke Starks in a rented house at 1110 Felicity St. (it’s now a parking lot) in New Orleans.
Her adoptive father died just before Christmas 1920. He had been a farmer and an ice dealer. He and Mary had many children, including a little girl named Mary Rose who died in 1913. It wouldn’t have been surprising if they adopted a child to fill that terrible void. Mary was past childbearing age by the time Rosemary joined the family.
Interestingly, the 1930 census lists Rosemary’s birthplace as New York. At that point, the Starks, minus John, were living at 2622 Magazine St.
In 1944, Rosemary made the noise about being a Titanic survivor. The story made a small splash and then disappeared without a followup.
Rosemary moved to California and died there, in Oakland, in 1962. She left behind three children and six grandchildren. Her obit listed her as a loving mother and a dear brother. Poor Rosemary.
Hopefully, she was able to discover her real story even if it wasn’t as glamorous as being rescued from the Titanic.
Thibodaux was in a state of repressed excitement yesterday over the dastardly murder of Mr. Julien Vergnole, an event unprecedented in the history of that section of Lafourche and one which has stirred up the wrath of its citizens to such a pitch that summary vengeance is threatened the perpetrators in the event of their being apprehended. The account of the murder was published in The Times-Democrat of yesterday, and was a correct statement of the principal facts in the case.
Claudet plantation is situated three-fourths of a mile above the town of Thibodaux and was purchased a little over two years since by Mr. Vergnole, he removing at once to his purchase and making his home at the plantation. During the two years Mr. Vergnole resided on the Lafourche his genial manner and kindly disposition made him a host of friends. The business training he had acquired as a merchant of this city stood him in good stead in his new vocation as a sugar planter, and while he was very firm in his dealings with his employees, he was also generous and just. Some time after taking possession of Claudet he discharged the overseer and replaced him with the present manager, Mr. Thompson Barillieux. The new overseer, ascertaining that a number of the resident hands were indolent, and as he terms it, “spoilt,” he immediately proceeded to order them from the plantation. This action on the part of Mr. Barilleaux (sic) caused considerable feeling among the employees, they attributing it altogether to the new owner, and their dismissal was in all probability the cause which led to the killing of Mr. Vergnole.
The morning following the murder found numerous parties of men scouring the neighborhood of the plantation in a search for the assassins. A number of footprints were discovered in the rear yard and were followed for a short distance, when all trace of them was lost. Deputy Sheriff Rich Frost made accurate measurements of the footmarks, which from their size and shape led a number of searchers to believe they belonged to white men. This theory was soon abandoned by the majority, although this idea is still held to by a few.
SUSPECTED PEOPLE ARRESTED
Deputy Sheriff Frost, a few hours after daybreak Sunday morning, arrested and jailed three negroes named Jos King, Jos Crossing and Cornelius Crawford, the latter being the old man who put in an appearance in answer to the agonized screams of Mrs. Vergnole a few minutes after the shooting, and the others were arrested on suspicion, they being two of the former laborers on the plantation discharged by the overseer.
Later in the day, Mr. Frost arrested three white men, tramps, they being seen in the company with the negro, Crossing, near Dr. Meyer’s office when the messenger arrived from the plantation. The man Crossing was also witnessed at 9 o’clock the night of the murder in company with Jos King and the negro Crawford walking through the streets of Thibodaux. These facts, together with Crawford’s opportune appearance so short a time after the shooting, were considered so peculiar that the entire lot were arrested. Dr. Meyers said, however, that Crawford assisted him in his examination of Mr. Vergnole and showed no traces of excitement or fear.
Who was Julien Vergnole?
He married Emma Marie Aimee Riondel in New Orleans on June 27, 1891. He had arrived in New Orleans after sailing from France at age 35 in 1878. He initially settled in New Orleans, where he made his living as a commercial merchant.
Julien and Emma had one child: Jeanne Laurance, born July 28, 1892, in New Orleans. This was the child who was with her mother when Julien was shot. Little Jeanne was not even 2 when her father died.
After her husband’s death, Emma and her daughter Jeanne moved in with Emma’s stepfather and mother at 629 St. Peter St. in New Orleans.
Emma and Jeanne later moved to California but soon returned to Louisiana. It appears that Jeanne never married.
What is probably the correct clew (sic) to the murder, and one which will receive a thorough investigation, is a report of a conversation which took place fully two months ago near the market place in Thibodaux and which was overheard by a resident of that town. The conversation did not appear of much importance to the listener, she thinking it mere idle talk, and consequently thought no more of it until it was vividly brought to her remembrance by the murder of Mr. Vergnole. It appeared that several negro men and women were discussion (sic) that gentleman and evidently becoming excited by the subject of their discourse, spoke very loudly. One of the women, her feelings getting the better of her discretion, cried out: “I don’t care. This man Vernole comes up from the city and wants to play big and smart out here in the country with the people on his plantation. He’s mighty smart, he is, and ought to be killed.” One of the men answered to the woman, saying: “You shut up and never mind about that. We are the ones to attend to that part of the business.” The party then walked away and the rest of the conversation the listener did not catch.
Acting on the information received, Deputy Sheriff Frost arrested three negro women named Eva, Dora and Melinda King, but subsequently released them, they not being identified by the person giving the information. It was also ascertained that a former employee of the plantation by the name of Joe Ellis had been disputing some months ago with Mr. Vergnole about a lot of hogs belonging to the former which were damaging the land and which Mr. Vergnole had ordered off, together with their owner. Ellis is at present, or was, living in a neighboring parish and had been in the neighborhood of Claudet recently.
THE WIFE’S ACCOUNT OF THE TRAGEDY
In company with Mr. Frost, the reporter drove out to the Claudet homestead to view the scene of the assassination and get such additional facts as would throw some light upon the motive for the killing. Many rumors were rife in the town of Thibodaux and the opinions were equally divided, some attributing the crime to a purpose to rob, and others to a fiendish desire for downright and premeditated murder.
Reaching the residence and ascertaining the willingness of the bereaved widow to receive him, the reporter entered the house and was shown the room wherein the killing took place, and the broken blind and window through which the fatal bullet was fired. In the rear of the bedroom is a small gallery, accessible by a series of high steps leading into the yard and separating the main dwelling from the kitchen and cistern. The murderers were evidently acquainted with the location of the rooms and the familiar with the habits of the inmates and entering the yard, secured a bar of iron from a scrap pile near the house, reaching the gallery by the steps described and at once attacking the window blinds made an aperture, breaking the glass and firing the first shot. What followed can best be described by the statement of Mrs. Vergnole, who, with tears streaming down her face, told the horrible story of a loved husband’s assassination and her sudden and terrible widowhood.
“My husband had retired a little earlier than was his usual custom, as he was feeling tired from a day of considerable worry. He was shortly aslepp and tiring of remaining up alone, I took my little girl and also went to bed. This was about 9:30 o’clock. Falling asleep, I was suddenly aroused by a crashing noise and as I opened my eyes and raised up from the bed I saw the flash from the pistol and heard the report and the next instant the glass from the window, shattered by the impact of the bullet entering the sash near the foot of the bed, fell to the floor.
“I at once sprang to the floor, and seizing my child ran into the adjourning room, expecting every moment to be shot. My husband also jumped out of bed, and grasping his pistol, although I tried to keep him away from the window and follow me, approached the window and asked: “Who is there: what do you want?” A man’s voice answered him, saying: “We will show you” and at that very moment the second shot rang out, breaking a second pane of glass and my poor husband crying out: “Wife, I am shot and badly” ran into the next room and sank on the floor.
“I was crazy. I knew not what to do. My husband lay there dying and the men were still hammering at the window blinds. I felt that we were lost and I called out for help as loud as I could, although I knew there was no one in the house but an old colored woman who slept upstairs. My screaming must have frightened the men away, for the noise ceased and I heard their footsteps going off the gallery and into the yard.
“By this time, the old woman up stairs was aroused and came down, and after a little while her husband, Cornelius Crawford, came to the house from the levee. He said he had heard the shots as he was on his way from Thibodaux and also my screams and came to see what was the matter. I sent him to awaken the overseer, Mr. Barilleaux, and when he came, with one or two of his men, I sent him to Dr. Meyer at Thibodaux.
“When I first awoke I distinctly heard the men talking, and I think the voices were those of negroes, and if I could hear them again I believe I would know them. There was a light in the room during the shooting.
“It was horrible. I am sure they tried to kill us while we were asleep, and the one who fired the shot was kneeling on the gallery as the first ball struck the window sash quite high and at an angle from the broken blind. I do not know why anyone should have done this, as to my knowledge my poor husband had not an enemy in the world. The only person with whom he had any altercation that I know of is not in the parish and if he were I would never suggest the idea of his committing the deed.”
Dr. Meyer said to the reporter that he had been called to attend Mr. Vergnole, the summons reaching him several hours after the shots had been fired. He had diagnosed the wound as fatal and endeavored to sustain life as long as he could. The pain from the wound was very intense and he had administered opiates to quiet the patient.
Dr. Stark, the coroner, made an examination and found that the bullet had penetrated the abdomen, severing the intestines and lodging in the spine. At the request of the relatives, Dr. Stark did not make a more extended examination.
From information gathered in Thibodaux there is every indication that a large reward will be offered by the planters of Lafource and also by the police jury, for the apprehension of the murderer. An effort was made by the sheriff to procure a pair of bloodhounds to follow the track of the men, but his efforts to secure the dogs were unavailing.
In connection with the death of Mr. Vergnole it is interesting to note that many of the dwellings in the French quarter of this city are decorated with crepe in respect to his memory.
Mr. Vergnole was a very handsome man and was about fifty years old.
ARRIVAL OF THE BODY
The body of Mr. Julien Vergnole, merchant and planter, who was assassinated at his plantation near Thibodaux in Lafourche Parish reached the city yesterday morning on the California express of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The remains were accompanied by his father-in-law, Mr. Bouchoux; his brother, John M. Vergnole. When the train pulled into the depot, there were a large number of the dead man’s relatives and friends present to take charge of the body. It was removed from the baggage car, placed in an undertaker’s wagon and driven to the residence of his father-in-law, 196 Royal street, from which place his funeral will take place at 10 o’clock this morning.
A reporter visited the house during the day. The body, encased in a handsome metallic casket, was in the front parlor. Around it sat the grief-stricken relatives and numerous friends. The high esteem in which the murdered man was held in New Orleans was demonstrated by the large number of friends who visited the house with expressions of condolence for the family and take a look at the features of their friend who had been so suddenly and brutally robbed of his life by the assassin’s bullet.
Mr. John M. Vergnole, brother of deceased, who left New Orleans and hastened to his brother’s home upon receipt of the telegram notifying him of his critical condition, was interviewed by the reporter. He said that when he reached the bedside of his brother the latter was speechless, consequently all he could learn of the assassination was what his frightened sister-in-law had heard and seen during the few moments that intervened between the time they were awakened by the breaking of the shutter and the shooting of her husband before her eyes. Of course the work of the murderers was so quick and the lady’s excitement so great that she saw or heard but little. When they were awakened by the breaking of the shutter with the piece of iron her husband jumped out of bed and rushed to the window. His advance in that direction brought forth the first shot from the assassin’s pistol. Evidently intending to see if possible who the midnight marauders were, and undaunted by the first shot, he went close up to the window. As he did so he exclaimed: “What do you murderers want; you assassins, what are you trying to do?” A voice from the outside replied, “We will show you what we want when we get to you.” His sister-in-law did not recognize the voice that made these remarks. “The piece of iron,” continued Mr. Vergnole, “which was used in breaking the shutter, and which was left by the assassins in their flight, proved to be a portion of an old pump on the plantation.”
He did not believe that the object for the murder of his brother was robbery. He is
convinced that his life was taken in a spirit of vengeance and by persons well acquainted with the habits of his murdered brother and his wife. They knew that both were in the habit, except in grinding season, of retiring very early. His brother was in the habit of going to bed about 8 o’clock, and his wife would follow him as quickly as she could get her baby to sleep. Both were generally in bed by 9 o’clock. Of this fact, Mr. Vergnole was satisfied the assassins were aware, otherwise they would not have been at their bloody work as early as 10 o’clock, but would have waited for a later hour. After all that medical skill could accomplish was done to save his brother, and leaving his last hours to be watched by other relatives, he started out to do all in his power to learn, if possible, some clew that might run to earth the assassins. The reason for believing that there were three in the murdering party was because of the sound of the different footsteps that Mrs. Vergnole thinks she heard as the parties left the gallery after firing the fatal shot.
“Three negroes,” said Mr. Vergnole, “were arrested because they had been discharged a week ago off the plantation.” He did not think that they were prompted to commit such a crime as they were discharged by the overseer of the place and his brother had nothing to do with the transaction. His next move was to notify the sheriff of the parish of the shooting of his brother. The sheriff did not appear in person, but sent a deputy to his brother’s house to represent him. The deputy upon his arrival looked around the place, examined the footprints on the gallery where the murderers were supposed to have stood when they fired the shots. He then conversed with a number of persons and left, promising to return with blood hounds to see if they could get on the scent of the murderers. Up to the time that he left yesterday morning with his brother’s body for New Orleans neither sheriff nor dogs had put in an appearance.
As he was leaving with his brother’s body for New Orleans yesterday morning he was informed that a white girl had made a statement that some time since, while marketing in the Thibodaux market she saw a negro girl conversing with two negroes. As she approached the trio she heard the girl remark, “Vergnole has got to die.” One of the men answered, “And we are the two that are going to do it.” The white girl said she was not acquainted with either the negro girl or the two negro men, but was satisfied that she would be able to identify all of them if she saw them again. The neighbors, who were doing all in their power to
ferret out the murderers, had heard of this story and were investigating it for what this statement was worth. In conclusion, Mr. Vergnole said that he was convinced that his brother’s murder was the result of a conspiracy and he believed that he knew who was at the bottom of it. He knew the motive, but in the absence of any direct evidence he would not mention names until the proper time in his opinion arrived.
I pity any one with the main line of Frioux to trace. It could be Frioux, Fryou, Frillot, Frero or goodness knows what else.
I first came upon the name after discovering that my grandmother’s godfather, Oleus Oscar Montet, had been married before he married my Aunt Louise.
I always felt a little sorry for Oleus. He was always described to me as a very nice man who would give my mother and her sister fruit (a precious thing for a poor family). And he was married to Aunt Louise, who was never described in kind terms. Oleus and Louise had but one child, Paul, who died in his teens.
Ten years before he married Louise, Oleus married Josephine Frioux. She died a little more than a year after the wedding. My guess is that she died in childbirth, but I’m guessing because no one ever told me about Josephine. I stumbled across her in the Catholic record books.
Josephine’s father was Apolinaire Frioux. Her mother was Philomene Gautreaux. Josephine was the only daughter in a family of four children. When she was 14, her father died. Her mother died five years later. Josephine herself was only 20 when she died. I don’t know much about Josephine’s little family. One brother died young. The two other brothers moved to Texas. Frioux/Fryou/Frillot has been a tough name to trace.
The name Apolinaire was interesting to me, though, because Oleus’ mother had a sister who married an Apolinaire Frioux. I wondered if it could be the same man and if he had two families. It turns out he had three families (but all in a respectable way).
I hadn’t been able to make the link until I found a succession record for Celestine Aucoin, Oleus’ aunt and Apolinaire’s second wife. I knew Celestine died in the yellow fever epidemic. I didn’t realize that she had enough property for a succession to be filed.
In 1880, Apolinaire went to the Franklin courthouse to report that Celestine had died on September 24, 1879, leaving behind one (surviving) child, Florestine. Apolinaire wanted to get married again (only a year after burying poor Celestine) and needed to separate out Celestine’s property for their daughter.
Here’s the inventory:
A tract of land lying and being in the parish of St. Mary having two acres front on Bayou Boeuf and containing about 44 superficial acres more of less with adjoining tract to the rear line appraised and valued at $350.
Nine heads of horned cattle.
One small Creole mars (I have no idea what this means).
Total=$452, half of which went to Florestine.
If you read successions, you read a lot about family meetings. I doubt they were as formal as the legal papers make them sound. Regardless, in one description of a family meeting, it was revealed that Apolinaire wanted to marry a Philomene Gautreaux and that it would be his third marriage.
So now I know that Apolinaire was Oleus’ father-in-law and uncle.
Vacherie, La., Aug. 25 – Realization of the full extent of the tragedy which fell upon their peaceful little parish Sunday afternoon slowly is forming in the minds of the residents of St. James Parish.
Grim death, riding rampant on the wings of a ‘twister’ left in his wake eight dead, several dying and many injured as a result of the destruction of St. Philip’s Hall, three miles from Vacherie on the river road and about 40 miles from New Orleans.
Five thousand persons this afternoon attended the joint funeral services at St. Patrick for seven of the eight victims. Rev. Father Fontaine of St. Philip’s Catholic Church and nearly a score of other priests from nearby points conducting the services. The church was far too small to accommodate the crowd, but as many as possible entered it and the others grouped themselves about the building.
Seven caskets containing the bodies offics. The body of Florence Fernandez, one of the victims, was taken to Gretna for burial.
The list of dead follows:
Stephen A. Haydell Sr., 63 years old, part owner of Laurel plantation and the father of 10 children.
Mrs. Stephen A. Haydell Sr., 59.
Stephan A. Haydell Jr., 34, member of the St. James Parish School Board, manager of Laurel plantation and one of the foremost young business men in St. James.
Arthur Hubbell, 40, clerk in the general plantation store and father of five children.
Virginia Hubbell, 29, sister of Arthur Hubbell.
Burchman Waguespack, 21, druggist, son of Dr. Lionel Waguespack and brother of Rene Waguespack, former United States district attorney at New Orleans.
Marie Louise Troxclair, 5, daughter of Fabian Troxclair of St. James.
Florence Fernandez, 7, daughter of Dr. J. R. Fernandez.
Seriously, perhaps fatally wounded, are Mary Haydell, sister of Stephen Haydell, and Belphor Haydell, brother of Stephen Haydell Sr.
NOTE: BELFORT DID DIE OF HIS INJURIES; MARY SURVIVED.
More than a dozen others were painfully hurt, among them being Albert Haydell, another son of Stephen Haydell Sr. Albert Haydell suffered a broken arm, internal injuries and surgeons say a possible fracture of the spine.
Miss Mary Haydell, whose injuries were so serious that she could not be moved far, was taken into the home of Father Fontaine, near the scene. Little hope is felt for her recovery, though she is still conscious. Her chief worry seems to be the well being of her mother and father.
‘Why don’t mama and dad come?’ she has asked many times.
They are not going to tell her why – for a while yet.
Tales of heroism of those who died, those who were injured and those who fought furiously for the lives of the stricken ones will go into the history of St. James Parish to be told and retold for generations to come.
Of how some of the doomed met death and of how Father Fontaine, Drs. Lionel Waguespack and J.R. Fernandez and others battled for the lives of others in the face of irretrievable loss in their own families makes a story St. James can well be proud of.
This afternoon St. James, worn out from a night of vigil over the deceased and administering to the injured, buried its dead amid the deepest spell of mourning and despair this parish ever has known. One simple service comprised the obesquies of those whose lives, one minute joyous in anticipation of a gala evening at St. Phillip’s church fair, were the next minute blown out by the breath of death in the shape of a whirlwind.
It will be many days before the survivors of the awful calamity recover from the shock. Some of the stricken families never will. Indeed, two families were partially wiped out. Those two are the Haydell and Waguespack households.
Theirs had been the moving spirit in arrangements for the fair, and the hand of destiny had beckoned them to be early to see that everything was in order. Had the whirlwind struck two hours later than it did, it must have buried several hundred persons instead of the three score who were in the building at the time.
Many relatives and friends of the Haydell and Waguespack families were also early arrivals. In fact, most of the families in this section of St. James, through intermarriages or by blood, are related, and it is little wonder the St. Phillip’s hall disaster has bereaved the entire parish. The business and social partnership, which Stephen Haydell Sr. and Ramond Waguespack formed many years ago, under the firm name of Waguespack and Haydell they extablished Laurel plantation has grown so much that the two families are considered one.
And few sadder blows ever visited one household.
Nearly half a century ago Stephen Haydel, an ambitious farmer boy, begun his career in St. James Parish.
He had seen his parish prosper, had worked hard, managed well, saved and himself had prospered.
He had seen his few acres grow into hundreds of acres; then had seen them become more important when he merged with his friend Ramond Waguespack, himself on of St. James’ most energetic builders.
Life had treated Stephen Haydell kindly in return for his faithful work and he was kind to his fellow man, showing his appreciation for his success in business, his stalwart sons, beloved wife and beautiful daughters. Though he continued active in the administration of many features of the plantation business, he gradually was turning over his part of the work to his sons and he and his wife devoted much of their time to community work.
It was with pride they had seen a tiny chapel grow into the original St. Phillip’s church and with added pride they had seen the new church recently erected and the old church converted into a hall.
Then, came the time for the holding of the church fair, which provided the last fair to be held in St. Phillip’s Hall.
Stephen Haydel Sr. had seen his wife and daughter and other womenfolk of the parish preparing days ahead for the fair. He had helped them and his sons and all his relatives had helped, and the anticipated success of the fair was only another of the many good things he was to get from life.
So there was an early gathering of those most interested in the success of the project. They wanted to arrange the ice cream, candy and pop booths, fix the beaches, prepare a stage for the little play, which was to be held Sunday night and complete all details. Father Fontaine, rector of St. Philip’s church, was here, there and everywhere, working like a beaver with his friends toward the same end. It was his flocking giving the fair and, therefore, was his fair.
Scant attention was paid to the black, ominous-looking cloud which was seen hovering low on the horizon across the Mississippi river.
Big drops of rain which predicated the approach of a heavy downpour fell and created only additional joy, even though the threat prompted the removal into the hall of benches, booths and chairs, which were outside on the lawn in front. St. James had seen little rain in three months, and almost any inconvenience was to be put up with if the soil could be drenched.
Stephen Haydell had walked hurriedly into the hall when the first sheet of rain fell and there was a smile on his face as he addressed Albert Haydell, one of his sons.
“I hope we will get a little of this down at the plantation,” he said. Laurel plantation is about a mile nearer Vacherie than St. Philip’s.
Just then Father Fontaine, whose home is a hundred feet in the rear of the hall and about the same distance to the side of the new St. Philip’s church, noticed one of the windows in his home and blown open and he scurried across to close it.
At the same time, Albert Haydell, who was helping to close some of the doors and windows of the hall, remarked how the sky suddenly was becoming overcast and that black clouds suddenly had taken on a fringe of dirty yellow, which spread an unnatural light over the vicinity.
Then the rain fell in blinding sheets, driving down the road before a strong, but apparently not dangerous wind.
And then, as if dropping with the weight of a stone, that black cloud hurtled downward, whirling wind and rain around in a literal maelstrom of destruction.
Directly over St. Philip’s Hall it settled and its first blow staggered the gigantic wooden structure.
“I was returning from my home just as I saw the whirlwind strike,” said Father Fontaine “and the next second it seemed the roof split asunder and, caught in the irresistable eddy of the whirlwind, both sides of the building collapsed and in another few moments the whole thing was levelled.”
Crumbling walls, falling timbers and avalanching debris hurled the threescore persons who had been huddled in the shelter of the hall. Some were smothered to death; others suffered broken backs or broken necks.
All happened in much less time than it takes to tell. According to those who escaped unscratched from the falling building, it hardly seemed ten seconds between the first shock and the time when shrieks of the crushed and dying mingled with the dreadfu roar of the whirlwind which, within another few seconds, seemed to list as if to survey its work of devastation, gave one last demonical cry and circled off into space. Several unroofed houses, fallen fences and mangled trees were left as mute evidence of where the whirlwind now and then dipped back earthwards after leaving the ruins of St. Philip’s behind.
For a few seconds, then, the ones who were fortunate enough to have been unhurt, and the few who had not been in the building were stunned. But only for a few seconds. Then, desperately they sent out calls for help and more desperately fell to work, in the driving rain, to tear the timber and ruins off those pinned beneath the wreckage.
Within a few minutes men came from every point and they worked until blood poured from their torn hands.
Dr. Lionel Waguespack, who, in some miraculous way had escaped unhurt, rushed to the side of his won, Burchman, just as the latter was pulled from beneath a timber.
Conscious to the last, Burchman intimated there was no hope for him and begged his father to forget him and attend to those whom help would mean much. The young man had been standing by the side of his sweetheart, and at the crash had pushed her aside just as a heavy timber bore him down. The girl suffered only a slight scratch, a table and some benches saving her from the weight of the other timbers.
Dr. Fernandez, whose family was there, for a second was speechless and numb with sorrow as his little daughter Florence as pulled out of the wreckage and it was seen there was no hope for her. Then another younger daughter was rescued from beneath some timbers and when Dr. Fernandez saw she was only slightly injured, he forgot his own terrible misfortune and, with Dr. Waguespack, heroically bent to the task of administering to the injured ones who most needed it.
It took more than an hour of frantic work to make a thorough search, recover the dead bodies and rescue those who were pinned beneath the ruins.
The exception was Miss Mary Haydell who, with others was rushed into Father Fontaine’s home.
The body of Miss Florence Mary Fernandez was sent to Gretna and will be buried there Tuesday morning from the home of her uncle C. E. Thomassie.