When I first read about the massacre of 7 men in Calcasieu Parish amid a multitude of racial overtones on Aug. 1, 1891, I asked myself: "Is this a replay of the Orange County War of 1856?". At that time dozens of "Free Blacks," some of them quite wealthy, were rowed across Sabine River and told never to return. In 1856, twelve men were killed in Orange County over a period of one month, but in 1891, seven men were killed in Bear Head settlement in northwest Calcasieu Parish in one afternoon.
In 1855 Frederick Olmsted published in "Travels Through Texas," that Orange County's "Free Blacks" were "3 or 4 generations removed from black blood," and several of them had white wives. And there were several instances in Orange County court records, where witnesses were called to testify that was "considered to be a Mulatto," even though his facial characteristics and hair texture were that of a white person.
However, one need not testify that much envy and greed were the primary activists. In 1850, Aaron Ashworth was the richest man in Jefferson County (Orange County was separated in 1852), owning 5,000 acres of land; 2,570 heads of cattle, and several slaves. Several of his kinsmen were also considered well-to-do, so by chasing them across Sabine River into Calcasieu Parish, it left their land, cattle, and slaves subject to easy theft.
Although there were definite racial overtones during the Bear Head massacre of 1891, greed and envy were not involved. For one thing, there was a standing feud between Jesse Dyson and Jesse Adams. The underlying cause appeared to have been the segregation of work crews at the nearby logging camp into "white crews" and crews of men considered to be of "mixed blood."
Late in July, 1891, Jesse Dyson, who had been run out of Orange County in 1856, got into an altercation with an 18-year-old youth. That night a party of Dyson's friends arrived at the logging camp, where they ordered Jesse Adams to leave the camp by sunrise and never return. On Sunday afternoon, Adams and some of his friends, armed with "a general assortment of Colt jewelry," went to a nearby saloon, frequented by Dyson and his friends.
Dyson came out of the saloon and told Adams and his friends that they had probably come to settle the feud and not to buy whiskey. When Dyson raised his arm to his chest (although he was unarmed), Adams pulled a revolver and shot Dyson in the head, the bullet severing an artery, but lodging under the skin. Dyson was allowed to lie there in a large pool of blood for 16 hours before he died from loss of blood.
At the same moment, "there followed a regular pitched battle for a few minutes, both parties using revolvers, rifles, and shotguns." (Galveston Daily News, Aug. 6, 1891) When the firing ceased, Jesse W. Ward, Lee Perkins, Andrew Ashworth, and Marion Markle, lay dead, and 3 were wounded, Dyson dying 16 hours later.
An hour later Owen Ashworth and "old man Swan" arrived on the scene, apparently unaware of the shooting, and Adams and his friends killed both men. The next day, 3 of Adams friends, G. H. Morris, Rufus Morton, and 0llie Glossen, voluntarily surrendered to a deputy sheriff and were lodged in the Calcasieu Parish jail.
Since the Calcasieu Parish courthouse burned in 1910, the outcome of their trial probably remains unknown, but apparently the 3 alleged killers believed that they would be exonerated upon their plea of self-defense.
When Jesse Dyson left Orange County in 1856, he left behind and abandoned several hundred acres of land which in 1925 became the huge Orangefield oil field. To this day, Dyson's heirs believe that title to the oil field lands were stolen from their forebear by persons unknown to me.