Tangipahoa Parish native Charles Morgan died April 13, 1902.
That bright Sunday afternoon, eight men met in an abandoned house in the woods near the northern edge of the Amite town limits. Charles Morgan, an adventurer home from the Indian Territory, met friends around a keg of beer to share tales of the Oklahoma prison where he worked, including those of his friend, a Chiricahua Apache leader called Geronimo.
Born Goyahkla (“One who Yawns”) in 1829, he earned the name Geronimo (“Sacred Warrior”) fighting against the Mexican Army. In 1851, Goyahkla and the other men of his village traveled from what is today Arizona to Janos in Chihuahua, Mexico on a routine trading mission. The men returned to find their homes burned and their families murdered by the Mexican Army. The legends say Goyahkla became Geronimo that day.
Charles Morgan grew up in Tangipahoa Parish. He weighed over 300 pounds and stood 6-foot-1. Friends described him as solid muscle.
In the 1890s, employment with the Illinois Central Railroad took Charles to New Jersey, where an oil company recruited the big man to go West. When the oil operation folded, Charles, by then supporting a wife and three children, took work as a prison guard instead of returning to Louisiana.
Today, we would call the “prison” at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, a reservation. It was officially a prisoner-of-war camp housing North America’s original residents. However, those who lived there had homes and farms, not cages. Prison employees also had homes inside the reservation. Morgan and his family lived next door to Geronimo and his new family, and both tribes became good friends.
In February 1902, the New Orleans Indian Association invited another Fort Sill resident to speak at various churches in South Louisiana. Rev. Walter C. Roe, a missionary and photographer, gladly accepted the opportunity to raise funds to improve the welfare of his congregation and to display his photos of Native American life. The association paid for his transportation, and for his safety, the minister commissioned Morgan to escort him to Louisiana.
While Reverend Roe toured churches and various other organizations, Morgan visited friends and family in Tangipahoa Parish. At his Amite City homecoming that Sunday afternoon, Morgan told his beer-drinking buddies about his friend, Geronimo, and how he accompanied his friend to the 1901 World’s Fair with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Geronimo was the last tribal leader to surrender to the US government, but he was not an Apache chief. Geronimo was a shaman, and his fellow tribesman believed he had supernatural abilities. Even today, they tell stories of his weather predictions and dreams or visions that proved true.
In one incident documented by Apache Jason Betzinez, several warriors sat around a campfire before a raiding expedition and Geronimo envisioned calvary troops attacking their base camp. Arriving home several days later, they saw Geronimo’s vision had been correct; soldiers had captured their encampment. “I cannot explain it to this day,” Betzinez wrote in 1901, “but I was there. I saw it happen.”
Morgan likely recounted similar stories for his friends, as they laughed and drank until one man in the group called him a liar.
The semi-weekly Times-Democrat newspaper recounted the event on April 15, 1902:
“Everything had proceeded quietly for several hours, although some of the revelers were considerably under the influence of liquor, when Morgan, who is a large and powerful man and rather fussy when drinking, became engaged in a row with James Stevens over something the man said.
“Stevens, who is a small man, submitted, telling Morgan that he was not looking for trouble. Stevens said it was dinner time, and if he did not hurry home, he would not eat. He left, remarking that he would come back later and help finish the beer.
“Witnesses said Stevens had been gone one hour before returning with a large man named William Shepherd Frierson. When the men started up the lane, someone remarked, ‘Here comes Stevens.’
“Morgan, who was sitting in a chair, one witness said, arose and declared, ‘If he comes in this house, I will kill him.’ The few persons in the room then left.
“Stevens continued his advance toward the house, and shortly thereafter witnesses heard shots fired, some in the house and some on the outside. The persons on the outside cursed the man inside as they fired.
“Morgan was shot four times, two in the lower part of the stomach, directly in the center and near each other; one in the left shoulder and one just in front of the left ear. He died before the sheriff and coroner reached the house.”
Stevens and Frierson escaped uninjured.
Louisiana Gov. William W. Heard issued a proclamation offering a $150 reward for both men. Arrested in Crowley the following year, Stevens and Frierson had separate trials in Amite City and both claimed self-defense.
Two juries of 12 neighbors set both men free.