The Coushatta Massacre (1874) was the result of an attack by the White League, a paramilitary organization composed of white Southern Democrats, on Republican officeholders and freedmen in Coushatta, the parish seat of Red River Parish, Louisiana. They assassinated six white Republicans and five to 20 freedmen who were witnesses.
The White League had organized to drive out Republicans from Louisiana, disrupt their political organizing, and intimidate or murder freedmen to restore white supremacy. Like the Red Shirts and other "White Line" organizations, they were described as "the military arm of the Democratic Party."
In the period after the American Civil War, Marshall H. Twitchell, a Union veteran from Vermont who had led United States Colored Troops, came to Red River Parish, Louisiana to become an agent for the Freedmen's Bureau, having passed the administrative examination. He married Adele Coleman, a young local woman. Her family taught him about cotton farming. In 1870, Twitchell was elected as a Republican to the Louisiana State Senate. He appointed his brother and three brothers-in-law (the latter natives of the parish) to local positions, including sheriff, tax assessor and clerk of court. Twitchell worked to promote education and to extend public representation and civil rights to the former slaves, known as freedmen.
The White League arose in the Red River valley in 1874, first in Grant Parish and nearby parishes. It was a group of Confederate veterans whose stated purpose was "the extermination of the carpetbag element" and restoration of white supremacy. Most had been with the white militias that had taken part in the Colfax Massacre, but units later arose in other communities across the state. Unlike the secret Ku Klux Klan, the White League operated openly and were more organized. They intended to overturn Republican rule. They targeted local Republican officeholders for assassination, disrupted political organizing, and terrorized freedmen and their allies. One historian described them as "the military arm of the Democratic Party."
In Coushatta, the White League criticized Republican leadership. Members publicly accused Twitchell and his brothers-in-law of inciting what they termed "a black rebellion."
In August 1874, Thomas Floyd, an African American Union army veteran, was serving in the Louisiana State Senate as a Republican. On the night of August 25, he was murdered in Brownsville. When tensions arose, members of the White League arrested several White Republicans and twenty freedmen, accusing them of plotting a "negro rebellion". Among the White Republicans were Sheriff Edgerton, William Howell (the parish attorney), Robert Dewees (De Soto Parish tax collector), Homer Twitchell (a tax collector and Marshall Twitchell's brother), and three brothers-in-law, Monroe Willis, and Clark Holland; Marshall Twitchell was in New Orleans at a Republican state convention. Within two days, hundreds of armed Whites arrived in Coushatta.
After holding them hostage for several days, the captors forced the officeholders to sign a statement saying they would immediately leave Louisiana. While travelling out of the region, six White captives were murdered by a band of armed whites, led by Dick Coleman.
Elsewhere in Coushatta and nearby, Whites attacked numerous African Americans, resulting in at least four deaths. Levin Allen had his arms and legs broken before being burned alive. Louis Johnson and Paul Williams, two of the freedmen arrested by the White League, were hanged by Dick Coleman and his mob.
Although twenty-five men were arrested for the massacre, because of lack of evidence, none were brought to trial.
Violence continued throughout the state. The Coushatta massacre was followed shortly by a large White League insurrection in New Orleans, where they hoped to install the Democrat John McEnery as governor. He had been a contender in the disputed state election of 1872, in which both parties claimed victory. In the New Orleans "Battle of Liberty Place", 5000 White League members overwhelmed 3500 troops of the Metropolitan Police and state militia. After demanding the resignation of Republican governor William Pitt Kellogg, the White League took control of Canal Street, the city hall, statehouse and arsenal.
This armed rebellion finally forced President Ulysses S. Grant to respond to the governor's request for reinforcements to Louisiana. Within three days, Kellogg was back in office due to the arrival of Federal troops. The White League disappeared before they came. More troops arrived within a month to try to tame the Red River Valley. Grant's decision to send troops was probably too late to prevent further consolidation of Democratic power. In the 1876 election, white Redeemer Democrats gained a majority in the state legislature.
Two years later, when Twitchell returned briefly to Red River Parish, he was shot six times (two in each arm and one in each of his legs), perhaps by a local rival, James G. Marston or by Dick Coleman. His remaining brother-in-law, George King, died in he attack. Although Twitchell survived, his injuries cost him the loss of both his arms.
Another Marston in the area was Democratic state Senator B.W. Marston, who served from 1880-1884 and again from 1908-1909. Another Marston, Abbie Marston (1906-1976), married future Louisiana elections commissioner Douglas Fowler, who served from 1959-1980. Abbie Fowler was the mother of Jerry Marston Fowler, who succeeded his father in the elections commissioner position and served from 1980-2000.