Billy the Kid of Pointe Noir

 

            Remember the American epic outlaw heroes, Frank and Jesse James and the Cole Younger gang?  What about Billy the Kid and his gang?  The one thing they had in common were newspapermen like John Edwards of Kansas and other journalist out west who wrote glamorous articles in dime novels about their crimes.

One must ask what was going on in America during this time period.  Why all the violence?  It was after the War Between the States and reconstruction, which lasted from 1865 to 1877.  It was violent times; southerners didn’t trust the Federal Government because they had just lost the war.  They were intensely disgusted with the banks when they were informed their Confederate money was worthless.  And they despised the railroads that were buying their property below the fair market value to build their rail lines for westward expansion.  Many southerners believed that if Lincoln would have lived, the period of reconstruction would not have lasted as long, nor would it have been as hard on the south.

In the early 1880s, southwest Louisiana was still very much a wild frontier.  For the most part a large portion of land was unpopulated, and a considerable amount had not been fenced in.  It was open range, cattle roamed freely, which led to cattle rustling.

Octave Thibodeaux, a thirty-one year old farmer from Pointe Noir, near Church Point, Louisiana was a regular participant in the illegal activity.  His friends and neighbors were grateful for Octave supplying the beef because without it many would have gone hungry.

Apparently Octave wasn’t good at his profession because according to Acadia Parish courthouse records, Octave was charged no less than four times for larceny beginning on April 25, 1888.  His first indictment cost $75.00, which was a considerable amount back then.  Finally on October 9, 1889, Octave was sentenced to twelve months in the state prison.  Records indicate that Hebert Jaunice was also charged in the crime but the court found him not guilty. 

Octave and many of his friends and neighbors perceived what he was doing was a great and noble cause.  Some regarded Octave as a kind of Robin Hood, borrowing from the rich that could afford it, and giving to the poor.  Octave was also very much like Billy the Kid of the Wild West; he didn’t know when to stop his life of crime.  Billy desperately tried living up to the romanticized character, which the newspaper reporters were portraying. 

Fear is a great motivator of change.  According to family stories once Octave was released from prison he immediately resumed his unlawful stunts in the cattle business.

According to oral tradition one day a train killed a cow that belonged to Octave.  “It was one of my best milk cows,” said Octave with an impish grin as he reported the incident to the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The railroad wasn’t buying any of it.  In fact, they flatly refused to reimburse him for the cow, stating the cow had no business on railroad property.  Octave swore to the railroad officials that they would pay one way or another, and it would cost much more than the price of a cow. 

Unlike Billy the Kid and Jesse James, Octave didn’t have anyone to embellish his stories.  The newspapers were writing their articles and printing the unvarnished, hard hitting truth.  They weren’t interested in creating a larger than life character.  They just wanted the crimes to come to an end.

On Saturday, November 16, 1894 Octave and his younger brother, Auguste “Nago” Thibodeaux broke the railroad switch lock and cocked the switch points that led into the Mallet Siding.  For good measure, they inserted blocks of wood behind the switch points to make certain they would not return to their normal position due to vibration. The first train to come by was an eastbound passenger train that left Crowley earlier that afternoon.  The ensuing derailment resulted in loss of life.  Fortunately, the passenger train was nearly empty when it derailed; not many passengers were hurt.

It is uncertain just how it was determined that the Thibodeaux brothers caused the train derailment.  As Ms. Gercie D. Daigle, a local historian and resident of Church Point said, “There was no CSI in those days.”

Hugh Geiger, a twenty-six year old fireman from Ashland Kentucky was killed in the train derailment.  Joseph Mauldin, the engineer suffered multiple serious cuts and scrapes along with internal injuries, but would later recover from the trauma.  William Jackson, brakeman had minor injuries.  He fell to the ground exhausted at Eunice after running four and a half miles to fetch Dr. Joseph.  The doctor was dispatched to the scene on a railroad handcar.

Octave and Auguste Thibodeaux’s court date was Friday, March 28, 1890.   Octave was found guilty of murdering Fireman Huge Geiger and was charged with section #784 and sentenced to be executed inside the enclosure of the Acadia Parish jail.   Auguste was charged with manslaughter and sentenced to fourteen years in the state prison for his part.  

On December 1, 1895 Octave made his escape from jail without being detected.  He stole a horse and made his way to Leesburg, now called Cameron.  He had every intention of boarding a steamer for Mexico, but for reasons unknown he changed his mind. 

Like Billy the Kid when Sheriff Garrett urged him to go south to Mexico, Billy said, “In Mexico I’m just another white guy among a bunch of Mexicans but here I’m somebody.”  Maybe Octave felt that way too.

While in Leesburg friends informed him that Sheriff Lyons and a deputy from Acadia Parish was there searching for him.  In the distance a bell buoy was clanging hollowly the way it does when the sea kicks up and the air becomes damp and heavy.  The deputy actually arrested Octave, but he wasn’t certain of his identity.  One of Octave’s friends helped by convincing the deputy he had the wrong man.  Dark clouds were boiling and churning, and somewhere behind them thunder began grumbling.  Suddenly a bolt of lightening zigzagged across the southern sky.  The deputy pulled his hat down tight and decided he best go find the sheriff and when he left, Octave and his friend had a good laugh at the deputy’s expense.  The outlaw immediately headed back towards Acadia and St. Landry Parish. 

Clemile Jaunice, a friend and relative of Octave, allowed the fugitive to hide out at his house a few days before traveling to the Atchafalaya River with another plan of going to Mexico.

At 8:00 a.m. on February 8, 1896, the day before Octave was to leave for the Atchafalaya, he noticed a large posse of lawmen surrounding the house.  Octave didn’t want anyone in the house to get hurt, especially Clemile’s small children.  Again he displayed similarities of Billy the Kid; they both loved children, especially orphaned kids.

He went out back into an open field taking his Winchester rifle with him.  The lawmen were a bit hesitant to approach Octave; they remained back and outside of shooting distance.  Octave was reported to be an excellent shot with a rifle.

Finally, after a long stand off Octave stood his rifle on the ground, placed his hat over the barrel, and motioned for them to come closer so they could talk.  When the deputy got within hearing distance; Octave said he would surrender if they paid him for his rifle.  Octave later said, “I got the money before they got the gun.”  Octave knew he would not need money where he was going; he gave it to the Jeanis family.

By this time nearly everyone was happy to have Octave Thibodeaux’s reign of terror come to an end.  Most thought his early crimes were justified but when it escalated into violence they turned against the once benevolent outlaw hero.

The front-page headlines of The Crowley Signal dated February 8, 1896 read:  “Thibodeaux Captured.  The Escaped Train Wrecker Again Behind Bars.”

A representative with the Crowley Signal interviewed Octave while he was behind bars in his jail cell.  The journalist asked how he managed to escape from jail.  Octave took great pleasure in describing the events of his great escape and how he played the trickster when he baited Deputy Anding at the parish jail.  Beginning on the first day of his arrival, Octave remained in his bunk pretending to be sick and not going out into the corridor with the other inmates.  Anding didn’t hesitate; he immediately checked on Octave and was content to learn his prisoner was sick.  This went on all week.  Octave knew from past experience at Angola, to beat the system it required patience, a lot of patience.  When Saturday evening rolled by Octave arranged a makeshift dummy by using a pillow and blanket on his bunk with his hat in position as if covering his face and head while asleep.  Octave then went into the corridor and hid above the water tank.  When everyone returned to their cell, Deputy Anding made certain all the cell doors were locked.  He made a cursory inspection of all the prisoners including the notorious Octave; fortunately his cell was dark.

Early Sunday morning Deputy Anding went upstairs, gathered a few prisoners to go downstairs and retrieve water for the main prison population, and as he did Anding left the door unlocked.  Octave knew it was human nature to be complacent, a force of habit to leave the door unlocked since the prisoners were locked in their cells from the night before.  And as they say, the rest is history. 

Like many of the outlaws in the Wild West, Octave made sure the reporter spelled his name correctly.  He was quick to point out the error in an article of the St. Landry Clarion dated February 22, 1896, which spelled his name without an “E”.

A gallows was erected at Crowley for Octave’s execution.  Numerous friends and family members wrote letters and signed petitions to the governor of Louisiana, asking to spare Octave’s life.  Fortunately it was an election year and Governor Murphy James Foster, the first one, commuted Octave’s sentence to life in prison. 

The scaffold was dismantled and stored at Crowley, only to be loaned to Lafayette a year later for the Blanc brothers’ execution of April 2, 1897.  The two Frenchmen had savagely tortured Martin Begnaud, the proprietor of a general store in Scott, by plunging a three-sided file fifty-two times into Begnaud’s body after robbing him of thousands of dollars.

Ernest and Alexis Blanc admitted they were enamored with Billy the Kid, and were fascinated with the articles in the yellow or dime novels, which portrayed the outlaw and the Wild West frontier as being mysterious and exciting.       

On October 25, 1898, Octave Thibodeaux died of pneumonia at Angola State Penitentiary.  He was thirty-five years of age. 

Auguste Thibodeaux served out his time in prison then moved his family to Texas where he continued his life of crime in the cattle business.