I wrote about Sidney and Annie over three issues of Louisiana Road Trips Magazine in 2012. I put most everything I knew about Sidney and Annie Saunders in those articles. They are two of the most fascinating characters in Ouachita Parish history!
Back in March, 2007, I wrote my very first Road Trips Article about Sidney and Annie Saunders. I was limiting myself to only a small article and had to cram a lot of information in a small space! When I was trying to think about a topic to cover, I thought about revisiting Monroe’s Black Sheep couple and telling a more detailed account of their lives spread out over several issues! I give you, the sad tale of Sidney and Annie Livingston Saunders!
His statue stares sternly towards the heart of downtown Monroe. Clutched in one hand is a stone scroll with the words of an ordinary marriage license engraved on it. Many people have asked who this man was. Ask a long-time resident of Monroe and you will get varying tales. “He was an arsonist.” “He made his money off gambling and prostitution!” “He never married his supposed wife!” “He committed suicide.” Some of the stories have a small kernel of truth. Some have been proved false. Here are the facts as known so far.
Sidney W. Saunders was born in Mississippi in 1846 to the union of James and Sarah Saunders. When he was very young, his parents and his siblings moved to Morehouse Parish Louisiana. By the 1860 census, Sidney and his six brothers and sisters were orphans. Unfortunately, the Morehouse Parish courthouse records have been lost to fires and there is no known headstone in the area for the couple.
Sidney’s older siblings apparently raised the younger children and Sidney finished his childhood in the sleepy little town of Bastrop. War clouds loomed on the horizon. Young men in Morehouse Parish were eager to join the army to “lick the Yankees” before the war was over. Sidney was no exception. While still a teenager, Sidney joined the Confederate Army as a Private in Company B., Third Louisiana Infantry, known as the Morehouse Guards. During the 28th day of the siege of Vicksburg, Sidney was slightly wounded. After Vicksburg fell, Sidney became a prisoner of war and was paroled to go home.
After the Civil War ended, Sidney settled down in the booming town of Monroe. He soon became a wealthy grocer and saloonkeeper. He would take out large ads for his Grand Street Grocery, selling only the best quality items and “very lowest cash prices to be found at any store in Monroe.” The local newspaper even ran a little paragraph on its own saying, “Competent judges say that the “Velvet” whisky kept by S.W. Saunders is about the best whisky to be found in town.”
On the night of December 30th, 1871, a devastating fire started on the second floor of Sidney’s saloon which eventually consumed most of the town. The entire downtown business district of Monroe was in ruins. The fire was ruled an accident.
Rumors flew that Sidney also made his money gambling, which was socially unacceptable at the time. Sidney was considered low-classed and most of the town looked down on him. One rumor said that Sidney made some of his money in prostitution. This particular rumor may be true. In February of 1879, a fire broke out in a building occupied by Emma Clifton, a local madam. Towards the end of the article, in an almost, “Oh, by the way!” tone, were the following words, “The building was owned by Mr. S.W. Saunders, insured for $1500.” The rumor mill roared to life when Sidney came back from a trip in 1875 with a “wife” on his arm. Her name was Annie E. Livingston. With them was a little boy they claimed to be their son Willie.
Part II tomorrow!