Written for Louisiana Road Trips back in 2013:
August 22nd of 1909 was an exciting day in the little town of Monroe. A fire burned down Capt. L.D. McLain’s lumber mill, just north of where the old cotton seed oil mill still stands. It was estimated that the loss would exceed $100,000. People were also excited about the drilling going on at the Forsythe Park. Gas and salt water had been found and people were coming from miles away to see the burning gas and salt water flowing from the same pipe. The rumor was that oil or a major gas field was just a few feet further down and a blowout was expected at any time. Little did they know that the salt water and gas would be used to make one of the biggest tourist attractions in Northeast Louisiana called the Saltwater Natatorium. Something else had happened early that morning that caused Monroe residents to talk and speculate. An African-American man named Henry Staples was in a fight at the Iron Mountain Depot. Police Officer C.D. Newman was called in to arrest the fighters. A scuffle broke out with one of the suspects. Staples grabbed Officer Newman’s pistol and placed it point blank into the man’s side. The gun did not go off. Newman knocked the gun away and then with another gun, shot the man five times. By late afternoon, Staples was dead. A coroner’s inquest was called and the shooting was ruled justifiable. Little did Officer Newman know that the shooting would lead to one of Monroe’s bloodiest days in history.
The next day, a man named W. Stephen Wade arrived in Monroe from Pine Bluff, AR. That afternoon, Wade walked into the Ouachita-Monroe Gun and Bicycle Company store located at 208 DeSiard Street. He was looking for a gun that was “…quick action and easy to load.” After trying out several guns, Wade told the clerk he would be back the next day to make his purchase.
Tuesday Morning, August 24th, Wade went to a different gun store to buy buckshot. The clerk gave him bird shot by accident. This blunder may have saved dozens of lives. Wade then walked down the street to the gun shop he had been in the previous afternoon and looked over several guns again. He selected a double barreled breech loader shotgun and made his way out the door. The people who had encountered him said he was calm and cool with no signs of what he was about to do.
Ten minutes later, Wade made his way down DeSiard Street and turned left onto South Grand. Walking up South Grand for a block, Wade stepped into the doorway of the Bank of Monroe building and calmly began to fire at pedestrians. Each time after emptying his gun he would step back, reload and then fire both barrels again. Mass pandemonium erupted. People were jumping through screens and windows to escape the gunfire. Local citizens grabbed their guns and returned fire. Wade was finally brought down in a hail of gunfire. Left behind were thirty wounded, including Mayor Forsythe.
The men involved in the shootout were still enraged. Wade’s body was dragged to the New South Drug Store (110 South Grand) and swung from the awning. Coroner Surghnor was allowed to examine the body. The coroner’s verdict? “Came to death at hands of indignant citizens unknown.” Wade’s body was then taken down, and placed in a wagon. He was taken to a vacant lot next to the City Hall where there was a big pile of lumber. The News-Star described the scene: “Mayor Forsythe appeared just as the match was being applied and tried to dissuade the crowd from the act, but to no avail. He was standing near the pile of lumber when some one yelled to him that his clothes were on fire. As he jumped back several buckets of oil and a number of lighted matches started the blaze.”
For days afterward, African-American businesses closed before dark. The once packed streetcars that had night runs were virtually deserted. Leading African-American citizens, among them Professor M.J. Foster, addressed a letter to the town condemning Wade’s actions. On August 26th, the Naomi Colored Knights of Pythias Hall, near the Old City Cemetery was set on fire. It was put out by two police officers before major damage was done. For weeks afterward, citizens kept an uneasy peace in the normally sleepy little town.
Why did Wade open fire on the streets of Monroe? That may never be known. The newspapers of the day speculated that he had been drinking or was high on Cocaine. It was also speculated that Staples, who had been killed two days before was his half brother and the shooting was in revenge for his killing. Some said a secret society in Arkansas hired Wade to do the retaliation shooting to avenge Staples. A third rumor was that Wade had been cheated out of some property he was due to inherit. Whatever the reason, Wade’s actions that day still ring down one hundred six years later.