Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bossier Bios: Lambert W. Baker

Lambert William Baker was born in North Carolina in 1818. In 1844, he married Martha Allen in Walker County, Alabama. Their first daughter, Theodocia, and only son, Percy, were both born in Jasper, AL. By 1849, the family had moved to Minden, LA, where they had four more daughters: Josephine, Alza Dora, Elizena, and Martha Cassandra. Their last child, Maniza Louisa, was born in Bossier Parish in 1860. Lambert, a republican, was elected as Bossier Parish judge in 1868 with 945 votes. He was re-elected in both 1870 and 1872. Richard Welcome Turner defeated Baker in the district judge election of 1876.

As a republican in Reconstruction-era Louisiana, Baker was known as a “scalawag” by the democratic majority of Bossier Parish. The term was mainly used in a derogatory fashion to refer to white republican Southerners who sided with Reconstructionist policies after the Civil War. Baker writes to Governor Warmoth in July of 1868, “I have not been molested, but hear threats of assassination in every direction and it seems to aggravate them that I treat such talk as a joke. My son [Percy] was assaulted on the 26th instant by a squad of cut-throats, with whom he was unacquainted, in the presence of Mr. Hill, sheriff of the parish, but he did not intercede to protect the life of a republican (of course not).” At the time of these threats, Baker’s seven children still lived with him at home. Maniza, the youngest, would have been about 8 years old. Sheriff Hill, who would go on to become US Marshal of Louisiana, wrote a letter to The Bossier Banner editor, William Scanland, proclaiming the account a falsehood. The Congressional review into the Presidential Election Investigation of 1878-79 mentions that Hill was one of the leaders during the Bossier Riots of 1868.

Baker’s political career came at a tumultuous and dangerous time in Bossier Parish. In 1868, an event known by several names (Shady Grove Riot, Bossier Riot, Bossier Massacre, and Gibson’s War) occurred in the parish. While the exact number of victims is not known, it is thought that around 200 black citizens of Bossier Parish were murdered and possibly another 100 wounded. Baker’s accounts of this time are recorded in the Session of the 44th Congress, known as “Use of the Army in Certain Southern States”.

“Bossier, This parish...has had enacted within its borders during the last six years some of the most atrocious murders ever put upon record by the historian's pen. As no language of mine can add to the extracts taken from official records and personal experiences hereinafter set forth, I shall simply give the statistics as I have been able to collect them, with the remark that, in my opinion, the "Bossier negro-hunt" or massacre, during the month of September, 1868, was, without exception, the most thoroughly wanton, unjustifiable, and in every respect uncalled-for slaughter of innocent and unoffending people, solely on account of their color and political sentiments, that ever occurred among civilized people.
"I have often conversed with men who took an active part in what is known as the Bossier Riot of 1868, and who participated at different places, and they place the number killed at from two to three hundred. Some say more than three hundred. Of that number two were white men and the balance were negroes. No prosecutions were had for that riot.”

Baker and his son Percy both went to the polls with their shot-guns in their hands, as they cast the only two votes for the Louisiana Constitution of 1868 in Bossier Parish. The Bossier Banner newspaper published an article noting that “only two white men in Bossier parish voted for the mongrel Constitution!...Who are the men of nerve among you?...Who are the two greatest skunks in Bossier!” At the time, Percy was a state representative from the parish, but this position offered him no protection. Both father and son report that election fraud was rampant in the 1872 election, and “wholesale intimidation was practiced throughout the parish. Terrible threats were made to revive the fearful election massacre of four years ago [a reference to the Bossier Riots], at which several hundred colored men were killed…A body of Ku-Klux, commissioned as constables, did the work.” Lambert writes to republican politician Stephen B. Packard that armed guards in Bossier Parish are well-known as members of the KKK, and claim not to be White-Leaguers, preferring to call themselves ‘Governor McEnery’s militia’.

In September of 1874, Baker wrote to Packard again and described a threat leveled against him by a White League committee. Baker was told to cease to act as parish judge and United States commissioner and ordered not to make any report of this threat under any circumstances. He was told that disobedience would result in his inability to leave the state and that he “could not live here twenty-four hours.” Baker told Packard that armed White Leaguers held the courthouse and had all elected officials under surveillance. The scope of the situation is not readily available as “outrages are daily committed but not reported by the papers. Anarchy prevails.” The newspaper that fails to report these outrages must be The Bossier Banner.

There is evidence that Baker’s political ideals made even small matters difficult within the parish. In 1875, he applied with the Police Jury to change the Bellevue and Fillmore road in front of his residence. The jurors rejected his application on the grounds that it would lengthen the road. Sheriff W.H. Hill, the same man who failed to intervene during the attack on Percy, submitted the report and reason for rejection.

Baker and his family continued to live in Bossier Parish. Lambert Baker died in 1902 and is buried in the Bellevue Cemetery. 

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