The story started on May 5, 1847, when Alfred Stansberry of Bayou Shaver and his family went to Bayou Chene to dine with Harman and his family. The meal went well enough, but, according to the Planter's Banner, "after dinner a dispute arose and some severe language was used -- excited no doubt by whiskey."
Stansberry went to his boat to get his gun. But Hartman's gun was closer at hand and "in the presence of the wives and children of both parties" Hartman shot Stansberry dead.
Hartman was taken to jail in Franklin, where he was visited by Robert Wilson, editor of The Planter's Banner.
"The building is of stone and brick," the editor reported. "The whole is enclosed by a fence twelve feet high of two inch planks nailed closely together. ... Rats and mosquitoes were pretty annoying, but he heat was not very oppressive."
Hartman told the editor he thought he was justified in shooting Stansberry because he was defending "not only himself, but his wife and children." His wife, meanwhile, bringing two small children with her, rented a small house near the jail for $5 a month, and began taking in sewing to support herself.
"She passes our office every day with her two children," Wilson wrote, "on a mission of love to her husband. She, his 'ministering angel,' remains some hours daily in his cell, sewing. The poor thing ... is quite young, but pale and emaciated by sickness. ... We hope the ladies of Franklin will not allow her to suffer."
The editor's request apparently was honored; she told him later that three ladies of Franklin had adopted her cause.
"One sends me milk every other day for the children, another sends me vegetables, and another sends me sewing," she said.
Hartman was tried in the first week of October and found guilty of manslaughter, a verdict apparently viewed with mixed emotions by the newspaper editor.
"Truly the way of transgression is hard," Wilson wrote. "The unfortunate Hartman must now serve a term of twelve years in the state penitentiary, where he will become hardened in sin, and whence he will be sent forth again friendless and destitute, with a stain on his character which will render it difficult to obtain honest means of support. He will be driven to the companionship of vice and crime. ... But worse than all, the innocent must suffer for the guilty.
"He leaves to the mercies of a cold-hearted world a delicate wife and ... infant children. Poor woman, just as we write ... she is on her way to the jail with a cup of coffee for her wretched husband. In his greatest misfortune, she would not abandon him. She is still his ministering angel. ... The State has deprived her of her husband and her children if their father. Is it not the duty of the State to support them?"
The state didn't feel the obligation, but others apparently did.
According to the newspaper, the jurors who convicted Hartman "contributed liberally" to a fund to take care of her before passing sentence on her husband, and the collection continued at a Franklin store.
By the time Hartman left for prison on Oct. 18, $84.50 had been put aside for his wife and children.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.