Deputy Sheriff S. Mayo was shot and killed in Opelousas in September 1870 when he tried to serve a court order on James G. Hayes, who had been elected sheriff in a popular vote. Mayo was the deputy of Dr. James Thompson, who had been appointed sheriff by Gov. Henry Clay Warmoth. The governor did not recognize Hayes's election and many of the people of St. Landry Parish didn't recognize Thompson's appointment.
According to an article in the New York Times, immediately after the shooting, Hayes surrendered and was placed in jail. "Whether charged with murder or homicide, we do not know," the Times reported.
His two boys, "mere children," were incarcerated with him because "from the first, he and his friends feared assassination," according to the report. Hayes thought "the presence of the children would touch the heart and avert from his purpose the villain who might be hired to undertake the blood deed."
It didn't work. Theophilus W. Evans, a jailer, shot Hayes through a jail window with a double-barreled shotgun "even while his victim slept between his children."
In a "confession" published in the Opelousas Courier Evans allegedly claimed that some of Deputy Mayo's family got him drunk and urged him to shoot Hayes. He was put into the same jail where Hayes had been confined. There, he began to worry that someone might do to him what he'd done to Hayes--apparently with justification.
On the evening after he was locked up, about 100 men, "armed and mounted," according to the Opelousas Courier, "presented themselves in good order" in front of the jail and demanded that Evans be turned over to them.
"Resistance to such a force was out of the question," the Courier reported, "and the demand was acceded to. ... Evans was taken from his dungeon and conducted to a tree on the Court House square adjoining the jail, and there summarily hanged in the presence of a crowd which had gathered when the news of the approach of the horsemen was known. . . . The ... drama was enacted ... very quietly, without threats, and without any demonstration whatever.
"After this act of summary justice, the actors and spectators silently withdrew," the Courier said. "Comments are now unnecessary."
Claudius and Henry Mayo, the deputy's kinfolk named by Evans, immediately denied anything to do with Evans or the shooting.
They characterized Evans as "a miserable vagabond" who would not hesitate to lie "with the rope around his neck when he saw around him a large body of armed men whom he knew to be friends of Captain Hayes." In a letter to the Opelousas newspaper they challenged "any one to say they have ever seen or known of either one of us drinking with him at any time or place.
"We hereby ... solemnly assert our innocence of that assassination in any manner, shape, or form," they said.
Their contention seemed to be substantiated in another confession published after the hanging, in which Evans said they had nothing to do with it.
In that confession, he said, "I was drunk and crazy from the influence of liquor when I killed Captain Hayes. Nobody advised me to do it." He said he'd been told that a group of men were talking about dragging him from the jail and hanging him, and that he thought it might save his neck if he implicated others.
That apparently ended the violent episode, and Dr. Thompson apparently took office as sheriff and later served for four years as parish recorder, a position akin to the modern clerk of court.
According to his biographer, "He died in 1885, after a life full of exciting events and general usefulness."
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.