In 1896, Richland Voters Elected This Young Drug-Store Salesman From Alto As Their New Sheriff: The Story of William N. Traylor

In 1896, Richland Parish elected its third Sheriff, William N. Traylor. The election however, was one of the closest elections in parish history, where communities divided and rival accusations reached a boiling point as election day drew near.

Sheriff William N. Traylor

William N. “Willie” Traylor, Jr. was born on November 3, 1861 to William Neil Traylor, Sr. and Louisa McIntosh Chapman, near Red Mouth, Louisiana. The Traylor family settled south of Alto, Louisiana around 1860 and held at least 200 acres, directly north of Prewitt Cemetery, neighboring lands held by Samuel Boughton. Traylor’s father enlisted in the Confederate army on July 7, 1861 and appears to have died soon thereafter, in 1862. Whether or not the father ever met his son, is unknown. Young “Willie” Traylor’s mother also died shortly after, and by 1870, at the age of 8, the son became an heir to considerable real estate and personal possessions. His estate was placed into a tutorship until he reached the age of adulthood.

In 1892, “Willie” Traylor, now 31, married Miss Ada Barrow Brown, of Claiborne Parish. The ceremony was held at the First Baptist Church of Alto.

He opened a drug store in Alto in the early 1890’s, and may have partnered with Dr. Sartor in this business venture. In 1893, one example of an ad placed in the local newspaper suggests that if “Plantation Cough Syrup did not cure you, it will not cost you anything. Guaranteed to cure.” – Sartor & Traylor, Alto

Traylor was also active within the parish Democratic party, and served as a delegate from his ward to the parish democratic convention in 1894.

Rival Factions Square Off

During the 1890’s, two competing political factions began to take shape in Richland Parish, all within the Democratic party. Leading one faction, was State Senator G.B. (Gershon Benbow) Brumby, of Delhi. Brumby had become powerful representing Richland Parish in Baton Rouge, and having good favor with the Governor, he was in a position to influence numerous appointments throughout the region.

Brumby, who had served as Clerk of Court, State Senator, and also as parish treasurer of Richland Parish, was a force to be reckoned with. His political position of influence was strongest in Delhi, where he resided for the bulk of his life. Brumby’s nephew, Dr. F.A. Brown, had also served as the parish treasurer, and he resided in Alto, giving Brumby additional political strength in the southern part of the parish.

Leading the other faction, was Sheriff Lem Scott, who had served as the second elected Sheriff of Richland Parish for almost 20 years. As the election of 1896 drew near, these two factions were finally set to collide.

In 1895, Brumby, in conjunction with appointments made by the Governor, formed a new Democratic parish executive committee, with the task of selecting the “slate” of nominated candidates for the party. He then called for a convention, open to members of all political parties, unlike previous closed party methods used in earlier elections. At this parish convention, Senator Brumby orchestrated the selection of himself as the nominated candidate for Sheriff.

The acting Sheriff Lem Scott, and supporters of the “Scott” faction, protested the entire process, and a new meeting was called by the “original Democratic Parish Executive committee,” as it had originally been constituted in the parish.

As tensions grew between the rival factions, and with two parish tickets for the Democratic nomination causing a problem for the voters, a “spirit of compromise” was suggested by Sheriff Scott. Both Scott and Brumby would each remove their names from consideration for the nomination, and new candidates would be voted on at a joint meeting.

Brumby agreed to this, and a new “meeting of the masses” was held, where several names were placed into nomination in hopes of gaining a consensus among those present. With a majority of the members being in the Scott faction, the name which was finally chosen as the new nominee, was young W.N. “Willie” Traylor. He was just 35 years old.

Immediately following the meeting however, Brumby again attempted to gather a separate convention of parish voters, with the motive of placing support behind his nephew, Dr. F.A. Brown. This rival group became known locally as the Brumby/Brown faction.

What resulted was a contentious election cycle in Richland Parish in 1896. The final results came in as follows:

WD 1WD 2WD 3WD 4WD 5WD 6WD 7Total

It was an ugly election, and harsh accusations were made from both sides. In the end however, William M. Traylor narrowly edged out a victory, receiving only 23 more votes (or .01% more) than his opponent, F.A. Brown, out of nearly 2,300 total votes cast.

  • Brown carried Wards 1,4,5,& 6 (Delhi, Alto/Archibald, Boughton, & Rhymes)
  • Traylor carried Wards 2,3, & 7 (Rayville, Girard/Crew Lake, & Woolen Lake)

The Richland Beacon-News’ account, described a colorful play-by-play of the events that occurred on Election Day in 1896.

Sat, Apr 25, 1896 – 2 · The Richland Beacon-News (Rayville, LA)

Notwithstanding the intense interest by every one in the election of Tuesday last, and the feeling of bitterness existing between many members of the opposing faction, there was perfect quiet at every polling precinct excepting at Girard where there was a little scrap which amounted to nothing. At every box the fight began early and lasted all day. At this box the polls were hardly open when the workers for the Brown-Brumby faction began to rush in the votes and for several hours their faces were radiant with smiles as they noted the fact that it was only occasionally that their opponents dropped a ballot in the box.

Everything was going their way and it certainly seemed that all the anti-Brown Brumby men were dead or else so badly crippled they couldn’t get out. By 9:30 o’clock a.m. almost the full strength of the Brown people had been polled but they still looked as if the earth was theirs and would be delivered nicely wrapped and tied with blue ribbons. But just about this time there were hurrahs heard to the north of town and in a few moments a procession of nearly sixty men appeared waving their hats and crying – “Hurrah for Traylor.” They marched in a body to the polls and mashed the life out of just that many Brown votes. The Brown people began to look pale and worn.

But while this first crowd was voting there was hurrahing for Traylor heard on the Alto road.

Very soon these enthusiastic supporters of the “anti-Brown ticket marched up to the polls and completely wiped out the majority Mr. Brown had had up to that time.

The pretty blue ribbon, the nice wrapping paper and the earth itself which the Brown men had previously so confidently thought theirs, had now disappeared from view and for about an hour they were seemingly paralyzed. In the meantime their opponents were getting in some good work and the votes were going in for Traylor and Summerlin. Then the Brown people recollected their scattered nerves and went to work again and made about an even break of it for the balance of the day in the hustle for scattered votes.

The counting of the votes was continued all night till eleven o’clock Wednesday when the final result showed that Traylor’s majority at this box was fifty-two and Summerlin’s two hundred and twenty.

Just about the time the count here was completed, returns from other wards had come in and showed Traylor’s majority to be 126 with the first, Delhi ward, to hear from. This ward had been conceded to Brown by a majority of 50 to 80, but none of the Traylor people believed it possible for him to overcome Traylor’s 126 majority. Yet they were very uneasy for they knew that elections sometimes show surprising results.

In about on hour the anxiously expected news came end it gave Brown 62 majority – making Traylor’s majority in the parish 58.

The Traylor men were now wild with joy and Brown’s friends correspondingly depressed. The hardest battle of ballots ever fought in Richland parish had been won, and it was won by the sheer determination of the people to regain their political liberty.

Following the election, Brumby left Richland Parish, and moved to Decatur, Texas. He died there in 1912, but his remains were brought back to Delhi for burial in the Delhi Masonic Cemetery.

Traylor went on to serve four terms as the Sheriff of Richland Parish. He is buried at Little Creek Cemetery, in Archibald.

Traylor’s Life Remembered Following His Death in 1931

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