Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Wynn Island Plantation, The First 150 Years


*Blogger's note - I recently came across an old printed copy of this story, and decided to transcribe it for interested readers.  Note that it was written in 1982.

The Wynn Island Plantation, The First 150 Years, 1832-1982
by Billy Bob Wynn

SPECIAL THANKS TO Mrs. Glyn Briley WInk, for her help in preparing this book.

About the Author, ca 1982. Billy Bob Wynn was born in an old school house in Start, Louisiana, on February 21, 1931, the son of Joe Wynn and Nettie Mae Nolan.  He grew up at Crew Lake and Start, attended Start High School, spent 4 years in the Navy, then married Virginia Marie Bee on July 8, 1955.  He had one daughter, Terri Kay, born November 3, 1956, and one son Gregory Christopher born January 26, 1967.  Now self-employed, lives in Monroe, and loves Antique Cars and History.

In the early years of 1800 vast acres of land lay open and ready for homesteading.  Such a section was the land in and around Richland Parish, Louisiana.  Sparsely populated, rich virgin land was ready for any and all who could stand the hardships of clearing land, building homes, barns, smoke houses, and at the same time extracting a living out of the soil. The most popular means of travel from east to west in those days was by wagon train, and life was hard.  It was particularly hard when people left the train, and homesteaded lad, took a job or tried to make a living.

Even so, wagon trains were moving west at a fast rate, bringing people looking for an opportunity to have something better than they had.  With one of those wagon trains in 1832, was the Richmond Williamson Wynn family. Richmond Williamson Wynn, in March 1816, at the age of 26, married Mary T. Richardson, age 17, in Georgia. Six sons and one daughter were born in Georgia, and was on the wagon train to make the trip to Louisiana.  In 1832 Richmond Wynn was 43 years old, and his wife Mary was 34.  They had seven children all born in Georgia.  Joel Richardson Wynn, the first son, was born August 3, 1818. A son, Columbus Green, was born October 21, 1821.  A Son, Pearce Louis Wynn, was born September 1, 1823.  A son Felix Wynn, was born May 18, 1825. A son William T. Wynn was born March 13, 1827. A son, Richmond Williamson Wynn, Jr., was born March 4, 1829.  A daughter, Mary Elizabeth, was born September 9, 1830.   With all his possessions on this wagon, Richmond Wynn left the train 3 miles west of Rayville, Louisiana, and headed north with their wagon and personal possessions.  Just one-half mile north of what is now US Highway 80, at Start, Louisiana, they crossed Crew Lake, and a short time later, still heading north, the wagon pulled up at a spot near Lake LaFourche Bridge.  Thus began the homestead of one of the largest plantations in Louisiana at that time.  This was the Wynn Island Plantation.  So called because of the Wynns, and because it was in fact, an island.  Bordered on the south by Crew Lake, on the north and east by Lake LaFourche, and on the west by the Lafourche Swamp.  The Wynn Island Plantation covered 6,500 acres of land, and was solely owned by Richmond Williamson Wynn.  With a wife and 7 children, the oldest 14, and the youngest 2, Richmond Wynn undertook a task of monumental proportions.  First securing a place for the work animas, the family found it necessary to sleep in, and live out of the wagon until timber could be cut, and a suitable shelter erected.  A crude temporary home was built near what is now the Lake LaFourche Bridge.  Later a larger and better home was built near this same site.  In 1832, the WYnns were the one and only family living on this Island!  The nearest store, doctor or medicine was in Rayville, Louisiana, some 8 1/2 miles away.

On August 31, 1836, Robert Augustus Wynn was born.  This was the last child born to Richmond WIlliamson Wynn, then 46 years old, and Mary T. Richardson Wynn, 37 years old.  Robert A. Wynn was to become a First Sergeant in The Confederate States of America during the war between the states, serving in Company G, 15th Louisiana Infantry.  he is buried in the Wynn Island Plantation cemetery, north of Start. 

With the oldest son Joel Richardson Wynn, 18 years old, the family then cleared more land, planted more cotton, corn, hay, and beans.  The plantation was becoming more and more self-sufficient and self-supporting.  A trip to Rayville was then made more for pleasure than necessity.  

By the end of 1844, a large blacksmith shop had been built for making all plows, wagons, buggies, and hand tools, as well as repairing any broken equipment.  Later buggy springs and axles made in this shop were used to mark grave sites in the Wynn Island Plantation Cemetery, and are still there today, more than 135 years later!  The Wyn Island Plantation perhaps reached its pinnacle around 1850.  At this time over 200 slaves were owned by Wynns, who also owned over 100 mules and work animals.  On Saturday, April 19, 1845, at the age of 46, Mary T. Richardson Wynn died.  She was buried three days later in New Salem Cemetery. Richmond Williamson Wynn lived a little more than 13 years longer, until his death on August 9, 1858.  he was 69 years old.  He was also buried in the New Salem Cemetery.

The New Salem Cemetery is located in the northeast part of Wynn Island Plantation.  It is not clear why these are the only two Wynns buried there.  However, it is believed that this sectino of land was sold, or somehow lost just after the Civil War.  The Wynn Island Plantation Cemetery was then started.  All of Richmond Williamson Wynn’s children are buried in the Wynn Island Plantation Cemetery, north of Start.

Joel Richardson Wynn, then 40 years old, and his wife Malinda Justice, along with Columbus Green Wynn, then 37 years old, and his wife Martha Ajay, assumed leadership of the plantation.  

Things went well until the Civil War started.  During the battle of Vicksburg, at a time when Grant had all his troops on the west side of the Mississippi River, he found it necessary for his troops to live largely off the land.  While it is true that general Grant had orders to buy food and supplies from the farmers and merchants, this was not always the case.  Union troops of the 63rd Infantry Brigade, led by Second Lieutenant Victor E. Philips, were sent west as far as the Ouachita River to scout this area and prevent a build up of Rebel troops.  While crossing the Wynn property, these Union troops burned buildings, homes, cotton crops, and took cattle, hogs and chickens.  They also looted homes of money, silverware and other valuables.  Malinda Justice Wynn, with the help of some slaves, fled into a swampy area, and hid a large amount of jewelry, silverware and money.  This swampy area is just east of the old Ford Lucus home.  It was late at night before the troops left, and they could leave the swamps.  As bad as the war was on the South, this was by far the worst blow suffered by the Wynns.  The Plantation never really recovered from this setback, and the breakup really began after the war.  Most of the land was lost for non-payment of taxes.  Some was sold to raise money.  Some of the land was given by the U.S. Government to ex-negro slaves.  Abe Harris, grandson of a negro slave, lived until his death on Wynn Island, near the spot where the blacksmith shop once stood.  Jacob Wynn, my grandfather, and son of Columbus Green Wynn and Martha Ajay, was only 3 years old when the Civil War ended.  He lived his entire life, 41 years, 2 months, and 4 days on Wynn Island.  He farmed 40 acres of land, growing mostly cotton.  On December 12, 1888, at the age of 26, he married a 25 year old Florence Compton.  They had 10 children. Six boys and four girls.  All 10 children were born in a 13 year span.  Only four boys lived until adulthood.  The other six died from birth until 11 years of age.  Joseph Sanders Wynn, my father, was born on October 10, 1889, and died May 27, 1943.  Jacob A. “Jake” Wynn was born December 18, 1894, and died May 9, 1955.  Frank Elmo Wynn, Sr., was born August 6, 1897, and died January 13, 1954.  Perry Polk Wynn was born September 11, 1902, and died June 24, 1954.  

In the summer of 1902, Henry Gibbs and his family were sharecropping some land for Jacob Wynn.  The two men never really got along well from the very start.  But the following story will show what can happen when tempers flare, and people choose to settle things by force instead of reason.  

THE WYNN-GIBBS FEUD

A lot has been said about the Wynn-Gibbs feud, which took place on Wynn Island just north of Start, Louisiana, in 1902 and 1903, between the families of Jacob Wynn and Henry Gibbs, and others.  I remember as a small boy, my dad Joe Wynn, telling us over and over how this feud came about.  It has been 80 years since this feud took place, and as far as I know, nothing has ever been written about what happened.  Recalling from memory, and talking to at least a dozen other people in the last few years, I feel like I am completely qualified to give the following account.  At first my sincere thanks to the following people, who were kind enough to allow me to tape, record, and/or write an interview with them.  Mrs. Nettie Nolan Wynn, my mother, Mr. & Mrs. Frank and Jewel Swenson, Mrs. Sallie Griffin, Mr. Jimmy Robinson, Mrs. Gladys Monroe, Mr. Abe Harrie, Mrs. Mamie Lee Posey Wynn, who gave me some notes hand written by her late husband, Frank Elmo Wynn, Sr.  Two weeks to the day before his death, I talked for the third time with Mr. Reppond Malone.  It is most unfortunate that I did not have a tape recorder with me when we talked.  However, I took notes at these talks, which I will draw from now.  

Mr. Abe Harris is the same black man whose grandfather was a slave on the Wynn Island Plantation, and he really did not want to talk about the feud at all, for fear of stirring up additional trouble.  In the late summer of 1902, Jacob Wynn had a number of fine pigs in a pen on the edge of Lake Lafourche Bridge.  These pigs had been selected as the best for slaughter, and were penne dup to fatten them for buthchering when cold weather set in.  Of course, each day it was necessary to feed, water and look after these pigs.  This was Joe Wynn’s job, being the oldest son, and almost 13.  One day Joe noticed two of the small pigs were gone, and also noticed foot prints on the ground in the general area of the pig pen.   He told his father about this, and they hid in a spot near the pen and waited, but nothing happened.  They saw nothing unusual around this area.  Jacob Wynn decided that whoever took the two pigs did so at night or early morning.  So Jacob Wynn, his son Joe, and a friend, Oscar Malone, who was half brother to Reppond Malone, hid out most of the night and watched.  About 3am, they saw one man in a small boat, paddle across Lake Lafourche, and pull up near the pig pen.  He got out and pulled the boat up so it would not float off, sat down on the front end of the boat, and began to roll a cigarette.  When he lit a match, Jacob Wynn knew who it was.  “By damn thats Henry Gibbs.”  This was the only time young Joe Wynn could remember hearing his daddy swear.  This Henry Gibbs is not to be confused with another Henry Gibbs, living at Crew Lake, Richland Parish at that time, and whose son is the former State Representative Lawrence Gibbs of Monroe.

Henry Gibbs and his family were sharecropping some land across Lake Lafourche from Wynn Island.  The old house where they lived is still standing.  According to Mrs. Sallie Griffin, Henry Gibbs wife was a very polite and attractive woman, but she just happened to marry a bad man.  They had a large family, but she just could not remember how many kids there were.  

Jacob Wynn and Henry Gibbs had no love for each other even before this happened, and when the two met that night, words flew hot and heavy. Jacob accused Gibbs of taking the two pigs, and coming back across the lake for more of the same.  Henry Gibbs claimed he was running a trot line, and had just stopped to rest, but upon checking his boat, he had no lines, hooks or bait, nor was there a trot line in the water.  Henry Gibbs was beat up that night in a fist fight with Jacob Wynn, and was told, “Don’t come back here again, or I will kill you.”  As was customary in those days, the Wynns had a smoke house located some distance from the main house, and it was used to cure and flavor meat.  A full winters supply of pork was hanging in the smoke house by late November 1902.  As was later discovered, this meat was poisoned with arsenic.  I have heard two stories on how it got into the meat.  The first being that Henry Gibbs fed the arsenic directly to the hogs while they were penned up.  The story was that hogs could eat arsenic without any ill effects, but once the meat of the hog was consumed by humans, the poisonous effect took place.  I tend to discount this story for the simple fact that Henry Gibbs would know the Wynns would be watching the area around the pig pen, and the chance of being caught was too great.  Before he died, my father, and others I talked to, said that the poison was injected into the meat while it was hanging in the smoke house.  The fact that this meat contained small holes resembling needle marks was later confirmed by a doctor from New Orleans, who was sent to Richland Parish to make an investigation.

About two weeks before Christmas, 1902, a lot of people on Wynn Island began to get sick from eating this meat.  Before they could find out was was causing the illness, 35 people were sick and confined to bed.  Jacob Wynn was so sick, he could not “walk to the kitchen for a drink of water.”  One of the most unusual things to happen as a result of this sickness involved Frank Elmo Wynn, Sr., a son of Jacob Wynn.  Frank Wynn was a small boy, 4 1/2 years old at the time he became ill.  He was first put to bed and given whatever medication was available.  But like most of the others, he became weaker and weaker, and in just a short time he became “stiff and cold to the touch,” and no heart beat could be felt.  Also, all visible signs of breathing had stopped.  It was not customary to embalm people in those days, so Frank Wynn was placed in a homemade coffin in the Wynn home.  One person passing by the coffin to pay her respects was Old Aunt Adline, a colored woman, whose grandparents had been slaves on the Wynn ISland Plantation.  As she stood and looked at “Mr. Frank” she began to tremble and then saying over and over, “Mr. Frank’s alive, Mr. Frank’s alive.  I know I saw his eye lids moving, I just know I did.”  It was at this point that someone placed a small mirror close under Frank Wynn’s nose, and it began to show moisture from his breath.  His breathing was so weak this was the only way it could be detected.  What Aunt Adline saw was the quarters which were placed on Frank Wynns eyes to keep them closed, move just ever so slightly.  Because of her keen observation, a doctor was called into the room, and Frank Elmo Wynn was revived.  He lived a full life from that day in January, 1903, until his “second” death 51 years later, not more than 100 yards from the spot he was thought to be dead the first time.  He married Mammie Lee Posey, and was the father of two children, Florence Wynn and Frank Elmo Wynn, Jr.  

In February 1903, a meeting was held in the home of Jacob Wynn.  At this meeting, along with Jacob Wynn was Oscar Malone, Josh Wynn, and “three or four close friends.”  Young Joe Wynn was in the house, but was not allowed inside the room.  He could hear only a few words of what was said but knew something bad was about to happen to Henry Gibbs.  Every man in the room was very mad.  Eleven year old Lizzie Wynn died about a week earlier, and four year old John Wynn was to die in two weeks.  Jacob Wynn was getting weaker by the day, and would die in five weeks, on March 15, 1903.  The time to act was now.

Two men hid in some plum bushes one night, about a half mile from Lake Lafourche, waiting for Henry Gibbs to ride by on his horse.  He had been to the Crew Lake store most of the afternoon.  It was a Saturday night, and he was on his way home.  A light rain fell, and lightning danced across the dark skies as Gibbs came near.  One of the men raised a 12 gauge double barrel shot gun to his shoulder, and took careful aim and fired.  Just as he did so, Gibbs horse moved to one side, maybe because of the lightning, but causing the buck shot to hit him in the chest at an angle.  Also the front pocket of his overalls was full of lemon drop candy, and this took up some of the force of the shot.  However, Henry Gibbs was knocked off the back of his horse, but not really hurt that bad.  He lay still in the road playing dead.  He was in pain, but could hear the two men talking not more than 20 feet away.  They walked over to him, looked down, and then walked away.  Gibbs did not dare open his eyes, so he never saw the two men.  He waited a little while, then managed to get back on his horse and make it to his house.  He recovered from the buck shot, and after the case went to court, he moved his family to Ashley County, Arkansas, in the fall of 1903.  This writer has, in the last few years, traced down the descendants of Henry Gibbs and talked with them.  Most of them live in Ashley County, just north of Crossett, Arkansas.  There is no animosity, and none was intended, I traced them down for mere curiosity.

Who were the two men with the shot gun? Which one pulled the trigger? We know the two men were Oscar Malone and Josh Wynn.  That’s for sure! Who pulled the trigger? We’ll never know for sure.  They both confessed to the shooting, and spent a year and a day in jail.  They both served time from Saturday night until Monday morning, and were allowed to work during the week.  In my opinion, Josh Wynn, who was not married, and was the brother of Jacob Wynn, and hated Henry Gibbs.  Two Wynns had died, and Frank and Jacob Wynn were near death.  This gave me him every reason to kill Henry Gibbs.  On the other hand, Oscar Malone grew up with Jacob, Josh, and the other Wynns, and they were just like brothers.  A few years after Josh Wynn died, Oscar Malone was asked “Did you shoot Henry Gibbs that night, or was it Josh?” He answered, “Only two people know for sure, one is dead, and I ain’t talking.”

I think Oscar Malone was an eye witness, and Josh did the shooting. The shot gun used that night was a 12 gauge double barrel imperial shot gun, Serial No. 714, made in Belgium.  This shot gun was purchased by Jacob Wynn in December, 1889.  It has been handed down for four generations, and is now owned by my son, Greg Wynn, of Monroe, Louisiana. 

Four people died, one man was shot, two men spent a year in jail, and one entire family was forced to leave the state, all because of two small pigs!

After Jacob Wynn’s death on March 15, 1903, Florence Wynn and her four sons, Joe, 14, Jake, 9, Frank, 5, and Perry, 6 months, continued to farm on the Island.  Three and one-half years later, on August 13, 1906, Florence Compton Wynn died at age 43.  Joe, nearing his 17th birthday, worked the farm, and took care of his three brothers, the youngest, Perry, being 4 years old.  As he would tell me later, “I had help from all over the Island.”  About a year later, for some reason, 10 year old Frank was sent to a children’s home in Alexandria, Louisiana.  I don’t know the details, but Joe was able to get him back from the home in just a short period of time.  Joe Wynn was married twice, the first time to Isilene Kennedy, and they had one son, Joe, Jr. He was married the second time to my mother, Nettie Nolan Wynn, and they had one son, Billy Bob Wynn, and one daughter, Barbara Wynn.  Joe Wynn worked for the Illinois Central Railroad as a carpenter for 28 years, and died on the job in Shreveport, Louisiana, May 27, 1943.  Jake Wynn married Anne Applegate, had one son Jake, Jr., and worked for the Sheriff’s Department in Shreveport.  He died on May 9, 1955, in Shreveport.  Perry Poke Wynn married Willie Brown, and had one son, Mike.  Perry joined the Navy at age 15, and retired after 31 years.  He died in Mangham, Louisiana, on June 24, 1954.  Frank Elmo Wynn, Sr., the only one of the sons to stay and work the Island, married Mammy Lee Posey, had one daughter, Florence, and one son, Frank Elmo Wynn, Jr.  Frank Jr. farmed until his “second death” on January 13, 1954.  Frank Elmo Wynn, Jr. is better known as Elmo Wynn, and his family are the only descendants of Richmond Williamson Wynn, now living on Wynn Island.  Only a very small percentage of the original 6,500 acres of land is now owned by the Wynns, and this is owned by Elmo and Mike Wynn.  So ends the rise and fall of a great plantation.

References
Wynn, Billy Bob. The Wynn-Island Plantation; The First 150 Years. 1832-1982. N.p.: Self Published, 1982. Print.

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