MORE ON THE DEATH OF NORMAN FRISBY
There are several accounts of Orlando Flowers’ murder of Norman Frisby, the uncle of his wife, Gertrude. All of them differ somewhat depending on which family is doing the talking. The following three were related by:
RPS December 2005
Frisby Family Version
The Frisby family version is based upon a letter dated December 16, 1863 from a grand niece of Norman Frisby to her husband, after Frisby died on November 25, 1863. The letter was transcribed by Ann Marie Anderson, the great granddaughter of the letter-writer and was supplied by Joe Morse Gravelle, the great grandson of Orlando Flowers. An excerpt of the letter follows:
"December 6th, 1863, Home, Sunday
My Dear Husband,
I have a sad, sad occurrence to relate. The death of Uncle Norman! The sad intelligence of his death reached us on Tuesday last. He was killed by Orlando Flowers. Oh! What an atrocious deed! --He has left behind a helpless wife and eight little orphans, seven of his own. Last Spring the Yankees passed through that portion of the country, committing all sorts of depredations, among others they took Orlando Flowers prisoner. This man married my cousin Gertrude, Uncle Alvah's daughter. She knew the man she had pledged herself to, indeed was better acquainted with his character and habits than we were, and we knew enough. Uncle Norman told her that she was throwing herself away, etc. But still she married him. After Mr. Flowers was taken prisoner, all of his neighbors moved to Texas, indeed that whole section of country was deserted. My Uncle thought that it would not do to leave Gertrude there all alone and told her so. She was anxious to go with them into Texas, and remained there until about six weeks ago, when Uncle Norman and family came home leaving Uncle Alvah and family over there in charge of all the negroes.
Ten weeks ago Orlando Flowers, returned from being released by the Yankees, and everybody there said that he had taken the oath. Ascertaining there that Gertrude was with Uncle Norman in Texas, he followed her there, remaining with Uncle until he was ready to return to Louisiana with his family, when Mr. Flowers came in company with him.
These men never cherished any particular friendship for each other, indeed mutual dislike was felt, though this feeling never betrayed itself in conversation. When Uncle Norman arrived at home he found but little there, that he had left there. His mule and cattle had all strayed. So, on the 25th of November, he and Uncle Tom with some negro boys, went out in search of them.
Mr. Flowers had recently rented a place on the Bayou Macon, where he resides with his family. That is, with Gertrude, whom he married last January and a little boy about ten years of age, his son by a former marriage. It is believed that he rented this place in Madison (Parish) to get within the Yankees lines, for he does not wish to be troubled by the conscript officers. He lives 15 miles below Uncle Norman's.
Uncle passed Mr. Flower's house early in the morning, it was on his return home that the horrible affair took place. The Ferry is just in front of Mr. Flower's house, Uncle was about to cross on his return home when Mr. Flower's saw him and hailed him. On coming up, he accused Uncle of stealing his mule. Uncle Norman denied that charge, and Mr. Flower's told him he lied, upon which Uncle sprang towards him and collared him.
Uncle never carries a weapon of any kind about his person, and Mr. Flowers was well acquainted with that fact. On seeing Uncle coming toward him, he took out his Bowie knife and stabbed him three times. So it seems the murder was premeditated, for he wore no scabbard and the knife was so sharp it had cut his pocket. Uncle was rational to his last breath and calling Mr. Flowers to him, told him that he would rather be there, dying as he was, than in his place. Mr. Flowers replied that Uncle was always speaking evil of him and he was determined that it should be stopped. Among his relatives Uncle has frequently spoken of Mr. Flower's disgusting ways, and little meanness that the man is frequently guilty of, but Uncle is prudent and did not slander the man, only so far as to relate his own troubles as connected with Mr. Flowers, so he replied, "You know, Orlando, that I have never spoken anything but the truth, and have not told the half of that I might tell." He told Gertrude that the murder was premeditated, but she tried to defend her husband, and told Uncle that she did not think so, that he had not mentioned Uncle's name that morning. Uncle fainted away several times from loss of blood, and died in 45 minutes alter he was stabbed. He died on the River bank. Where that affair took place.
Aunt Ann was immediately sent for, but he was dead before she arrived. She is in great distress and has sent for Aunt Adeline and Mr. D. Harrison, as she much needs their sympathy and advice. Aunt is now making arrangements to go over. Mr. Harrison cannot leave home at present as his negroes are giving him some trouble. Uncle made his will sometime ago. Mr. D. Harrison is executor. His brother Col. Isaac Harrison is second and Uncle David third. Three men that Uncle Norman esteemed above all others. Col. Harrison intends to deal with the man himself--and hopes to arrest him soon.
This offence will not be lightly passed over. Measures are now being taken to avenge the widow's and the orphans' wrongs. Oh! How horrible the blow, so little expecting it. How could the act that robbed her of her husband, and those children of a Father! Not many Fathers take the pains with their children that he did with his. How dearly they loved him and how they reverenced him. Now, alas he is forever lost to them. I know that Aunt Ann is inconsolable. She has not that hope and comfort, which has supported many similar soul trying positions. Her affections up to this time have been centered on temporal things, that transition brings of this world. Now may she turn her heart to Him in this hour of need and trial, and acknowledge His hand, and humbly submit to His wise dispensations. He above can comfort her. He alone can pour into her bleeding bosom the balm of consolation.
Immediately on committing the murder, Mr. Flowers made his escape leaving wife and all. He is among the Yankees, where he thinks justice cannot reach him. I have given you the particulars of that horrible affair, and now that I have finished it, I feel better. Their's (sic) the dinner bell! Just in time.
Good-by (sic) Dearest, your Loving
This version of the Frisby murder was told to Mrs. Margaret Killian Malik in 1980 by 98-year-old Mrs. Enos LaBorde who was supposedly told by Orlando Flowers himself. The story was corroborated in 1981 by an older newspaper clipping which included an interview with a son and son-in-law of Orlando Flowers. This information was received from Joe Morse Gravelle, a great grandson of Orlando Flowers and now deceased.
"Norman Frisby wanted to buy the land held by Orlander (sic) Flowers and John E. Hall. Orlander had married a niece of Frisby but that did not keep Frisby from being mean to Orlander. John E. Hall finally sold his land to Frisby who was building a huge cotton farm in 'The Swamp.' Orlander refused to sell. Frisby antagonized Orlander and accused him of stealing his mule. The mule was not marked and had wandered into Orlander's herd and Orlander didn't know where it came from, nor whose it was. Orlander tried to explain this to Frisby but Frisby, bully that he was, took his whip, intent on whipping Orlander. Orlander told Frisby not to whip him, but Frisby was angry. Orlander had a large knife in his belt (as most did in those days) and threw the knife (called a 'dirk') at Frisby. Frisby was hit in the chest near the heart and died propped-up under a tree on the east side of the Bayou Macon across from Dave Killian's place at Crockett Point."
The following is from Chapter 10 of James Martin Willhite Jr.’s excellent article My Family and the Tensas. Chapter 10 concerns the visits of Mose Martin, an ex-slave and itinerant preacher, who after several visits to the Willhite home, recounts his eyewitness view of the Frisby killing. The entire chapter follows:
“One cannot become involved in a discussion concerning the history of the Tensas River Basin without eventually getting around to the subject of Norman Frisby and Orlando Flowers. When people get together and discuss the two men their conversation always centers around Frisby, and Flowers is mentioned only as "The man who killed Frisby”.
What I am going to write in this article is not something I read in a book or newspaper. It is information given my family and myself by an old black man named Mose Martin. I do not claim that everything he said is true nor do I vouch for its validity. All I can say is that my family and I believed every word of it to be true.
In order to appreciate Mose one would have to know him as we did. Shortly after we moved to Flowers Landing we noticed that every Sunday morning about eight o'clock a tall man riding a big white horse would pass our house going toward West Wood. Then about two o'clock he would come back by going back up the road toward Newell Ridge. If any of us kids were out near the road he would tip his hat and say "Good day, Master sir". He always kept riding and never stopped to talk. Somehow Dad found out he was a black preacher and his name was Mose Martin. He was so light skinned one would never have guessed he was black.
One hot summer evening Mother, Dad and several of us kids were on the front porch. Mother was reading a newspaper to us, as she often did on Sundays, when Mose came riding up. He rode right up the end of the porch, removed his hat, gave a deep bow to all of us and said,” Master Jim, Sir, it is very hot. My horse is hot and thirsty. Could we please have a cool drink from your pump and cool awhile in your shade? Dad said, sure you can. Just help yourself. Drink all you like and rest as long as you wish. I was sitting on the end of the porch next to the pump. I made a swift dash for the pump and barely beat John A. to it. We had a gourd dipper that always hung on the pump and John A. got it. We always kept a foot tub under the spout of the pump and I pumped it full for the big horse. John A. caught the dipper full of cool water and handed it to Mose. He drank it dry and refilled a couple more times. The big horse drank two foot tubs full of the cool water.
After they had their fill of water Mose led the big horse right up to the front steps and said, "My name is Reverend Mose Martin. I am the pastor of two churches. One on Newell Ridge, the other at Tensas Bluff. Every Sunday morning I ride my horse to Tensas Bluff and conduct church services. Then I ride back to Newell Ridge and conduct services there. It is a ten mile ride each way. I am eighty four years old. I sometimes wonder how long I can keep it up." Mose rested a short while then he got on his horse and left. Dad asked him to come by anytime, that he was always welcome.
After that day almost every Sunday Mose Martin stopped by our house and visited. It was on these visits that we learned about Orlando Flowers and Norman Frisby.
The very next Sunday Mose stopped by our house. This time he came about one o'clock instead of two o'clock. He said he had some things he wanted to tell us and needed more time to visit before he had to be at church that evening. He turned to Dad and said, “Master Jim, Sir, I am an old man. I know a lot of things. If I am allowed to talk to children like yours I can tell them many things they would not otherwise know. They can pass the information on to their children and know it is the truth. Do you mind me talking to your children?” Dad said, go ahead. I would like to hear it all myself. Mose said, Thank you, Master Sir. Dad said Mose, you do not have to address us as Master. Just call me Jim, or Mister Jim. Mose said “I have always been taught to address white people as master. I would be more comfortable if you would allow me to call you Master. Dad said, do as you wish.”
Mose seated himself in an old rocking chair and started talking. The first thing he said was, “I am a former slave. My mother and I belonged to Master Norman Frisby. My mother was in charge of all the house slaves and she and I lived in the main house with Master Norman and his family.” The he stopped and said, "It was not really the main house we lived in, but a small two room house that was attached to the south side of the main house." Then he continued. "Madam Anna (Master Norman's wife) was very young and inexperienced. She depended on my mother for almost everything. She often said that if she did not have my mother to help her she would go back to Mississippi where she came from.” With that Mose stopped talking. He sat for a long time as if he was considering what to say next.
Finally he said, "God has been good to me. He allowed me to be born to a good mother. He also allowed me to be raised in the main house with my masters. He saw to it that I was provided a good education. I was provided the same education the Master's children were, and taught by the same teacher. God gave me all of this for a reason. He expected me to go forth in this world and preach the Gospel. And that I will do until the day I die.” Mose sat for well over an hour telling us stories about his childhood as a slave. Finally when he got up to leave he turned to us kids and said, "We will continue our lesson next Sunday.” And so we did. The next Sunday and for many Sundays thereafter he was always there, promptly at one o'clock, ready to tell his stories to his new found family of children.
One Sunday when Mose was ready to start telling his stories Dad said, "Mose, tell me about Orlando Flowers. We know he was an important man but we have never heard much about him.
Mose said, “Master Orlando Flowers had more to do with the settlement and development of this area than Master Frisby. He and his family moved from Sharkey County Mississippi to Tensas Parish in the late 1840's. This was several years before Master Norman Frisby arrived. He established his empire on the banks of Tensas River about one mile down river from the mouth of Mill Bayou. He built a steamboat landing just down the hill from the cotton gin and called it Flowers Landing. It was not long before the entire Empire was referred to as the "Flowers Landing Plantation" By the time Master Frisby arrived into the area Master Flowers had already carved out a sizeable plantation and was making money raising cotton. He also raised mules, lots of them. He raised the mules, broke them to the plow and saddle and sold them to other plantations from Memphis to New Orleans. With a good steamboat landing, a new gin, plenty of rich land and over fifty slaves he was destined to prosper. And he did.” With that he dropped the subject of Flowers. He told a couple short stories about his childhood and left, reminding us he would return next Sunday.
As time passed it became obvious that Mose's little stories were taking on a more religious aspect. Each story he told contained certain morals that he often reinforced by quotes from the Holy Bible. His lessons (as he called them) were becoming more like a Sunday School class than a lesson in history. After Mose left one evening Dad and Mother discussed this and Dad said, "We are all learning a lot from Mose. The things he is teaching us are an important part of our history. We will do nothing to discourage him."
One Sunday morning we woke up to a cold wintry day. There was a light foggy misting rain. The radio said it might snow. We didn't think Mose would come in that kind of weather. We were wrong. Promptly at one o'clock he rode his big horse into the yard. Dad told me to put the horse in the barn and feed it some oats. Someone dragged the rocking chair into the house and placed it near the wood burning heater. Mose pulled off his overcoat, scarves, gloves and boots and seated himself in the rocking chair. Mother served him a hot cup of coffee and before long he was warm and comfortable.
Before Mose started talking Dad said, “we have heard a lot about Norman Frisby. We have heard dozens of stories about his entry into the big woods of the Tensas and how he attempted to build a vast empire there. We have also heard many versions of why and how he was killed. Can you tell us about him?” Mose turned to Dad and said, "I can tell you all about Master Norman. I was his slave from the time I was born until his death when I was twelve years old. The story of Frisby is not a pretty one. I am not sure your children are old enough to cope with it." Dad said, “my children are young but they are strong. They can cope with anything so long as it is the truth.” Mose said, “I am a man of God. I speak nothing but the truth. If you think they are old enough to understand, then I will tell them about Master Norman.” Dad said they will understand.
Mose leaned back in the old rocking chair and closed his eyes a few moments, then he said, "I don't remember living in Mississippi. I was only three years old when we moved to the big woods of the Tensas. What I know about Mississippi was told to me by my Mother and other slaves at later times. Mother said that about five years prior to our moving to Tensas, Master Norman started selling off all of the land and other property he owned in Mississippi and buying land in the Tensas. When he had bought enough land to start building a plantation he decided to move there and devote his full time to building an empire in the big woods of the Tensas.”
“Mother said the day we moved it was like a grand finale, or a huge parade. She said there was a big boat landing somewhere near Port Gibson and two huge barges and two tug boats were at the landing. Master Norman had assembled a convoy of wagons, buggies, horses, cows, mules and everything else he needed to survive in the big woods. She said the convoy extended from the river to at least a mile back up the road. With the two huge barges and tugboats making trip after trip it took all day to move the convoy across the Mississippi River. That night we camped on the Louisiana side of the river. At the break of dawn we continued our journey. The second night we camped somewhere on Newell Ridge west of Newellton. Again we broke camp early and continued our journey. We arrived at Flowers Landing around noon. Master Flowers was expecting us and had prepared food for Master Norman's family and all his slaves. Master Norman was restless and rushing everyone around. He wanted to reach his destination before dark. As soon as we had lunch the convoy moved on. Madam Anna and the children, my mother and I stayed at the Flowers home. Master Norman led the convoy down river from the Flowers home to Fox's Landing (which is a short distance down river from what is now known as West Wood Plantation) where he crossed the Tensas River on a shallow shoal then north to the location where he was planning to establish his headquarters.” Mose paused for a few moments and then he said, "As I have said, I was only three years old when all of this took place. This was told to me by my Mother and other slaves in later years."
With that Mose changed the subject. He told a couple of short stories then got up to leave. I went to the barn and got his horse. He put on his winter clothes, climbed on the big horse and rode off.
When Mose arrived the next Sunday he continued the story about Frisby. He said his mother told him that Madam Anna and her children, my mother and I stayed at the Flowers home about a month while Master Norman and the slaves built the main house. She said some of the tracts of land Master Norman had bought during the past years had houses, barns and slave quarters on them which they tore down and used the material to build the headquarters buildings. When the main house was completed Master Norman sent a big boat down the Tensas River to the Flowers home and brought Madam Anna and the rest of us home. Then Mose said, “This was to be my home the next fifteen years which was well after the civil war ended."
Mose again reminded us that he was only three years old when they arrived at the headquarters on the bank of the Tensas and he didn't remember much about it. As time passed and he grew older he learned to appreciate the skill in which the entire headquarters complex was laid out and constructed. He explained in detail every building in the complex, its size, shape, type of roof, and which direction it faced relative to the main house. Every building blended with every other building to form one huge complex. It was a most impressive sight.
Dad asked Mose to tell us about Frisby's gold and the silver bell that is supposed to be buried somewhere in the big woods. Mose said, "Master Jim, Sir, there was never any gold buried in the big woods. Master Norman had a lot of gold but it was never buried anywhere. He kept all his gold in a big brass trunk in the main house where it was readily available to buy material for the mansion he was building and finance the operation of the plantation. All of that talk about Master Norman loading his gold on a wagon and he and two slaves carrying it to the big woods and burying it is all lies. They say the two slaves dug a deep hole and put the gold in it. Then Master Norman killed the two slaves and put them in the hole with the gold and covered it up himself. They say he did this to keep the slaves from telling where the gold was buried. It's all lies. It just did not happen."
Then Mose continued, "As for the silver bell. At that time the civil war was raging in all the states east of the Mississippi River. The union army was on the march burning and scavaging everything as they went. Master Norman had about a thousand pounds of silver coins. He carried them to a place in Natchez, Mississippi that made bells. He had them melted down and made into a huge plantation bell. He brought the bell home and hung it near the main house. He stained it with Pokeberry juice. This made it look like an old rusty bell. If the Union army came they might not determine it was pure silver. When Vicksburg fell to the Union, Master Norman carried the bell deep into the big woods and buried. It. One of the slaves that helped bury the bell told me he marked the spot where the bell was buried by driving an iron rod into a tree pointing south toward the spot. Then he went west of the hole and drove another iron rod into a tree pointing east. Where the line of sight crossed was where the bell was buried." Dad interrupted Mose and asked, "How big are the iron rods?" Mose said, "They were about half inch rods." Then Dad asked, "How far is it from one rod to the other?" Mose said, "About forty yards.." Dad said, "I think I know the spot you are talking about. If so, I have a trap not more than ten yards from one of the rods." Mose said, "If you find the rods you have found where the bell is buried."
Mose went back to his story and said, "Madam Anna had more gold than Master Norman. She kept almost all her gold in a bank vault in Natchez, Mississippi. When the Union Army was closing in Master Norman, Madam Anna and four slaves went to Natchez and brought all of the gold to the plantation. Master Norman knew a man who lived in Franklin Parish that made his living escorting people from Louisiana to Texas. He knew all of the roads, trails, and river crossings. Master Norman went to see the man and made arrangements for him to escort a wagon to some town in Texas. After Master Norman was satisfied the man could be trusted he told him the wagon would contain a huge amount of gold. The man said if that was the case they had better get together and do some planning. He said he would be at the main house in a couple of days.
When the man from Franklin Parish arrived he and Master Norman went directly to the barn where the wagons were kept. They picked out the strongest wagon there and rigged it for a four-up mule team. They cross layed the floor with two by sixes and floored it with heavy lumber. They left the two middle boards loose to be nailed down later. They called this a false floor. They put a heavy canvas wagon cover on it. The man from Franklin told Master Norman he would need two slaves that could shoot a muzzle loader, two extra mules, and two extra wheels. He also needed a small amount of furniture, some bedding, cooking utensils and dishes. All of this was provided and placed in the barn so it could be loaded in a short time. When all of this was done Master Norman and the man from Franklin went into the main house to talk money. Master Norman gave him a small bag of gold coins and said the bank in Texas would pay him the rest of what he owed when the gold was delivered. Master Norman gave the man a bill of sale for the two slaves. With all of this done the man from Franklin left saying, "I will see you at the Crocket Point crossing early tomorrow."
That night instead of going to bed, Master Norman, the two slaves,, my Mother and I loaded the gold under the false floor of the wagon and nailed the two loose boards down tight. We loaded all of the other things the man from Franklin said we needed. When it got daylight the next morning Master Norman and the two slaves left the main house headed towards Crocket Point. Master Norman returned to the plantation late that day alone. The two slaves did not return. The fact that two slaves left the main house with a wagon load of gold and never returned gave credence to the rumor that Master Norman had killed them and buried them with the gold. This was a ball faced lie."
With that Mose stopped talking. He stood up and walked out on the porch. He stood on the porch looking across the small field. It was as if he was in deep concentration. Finally he returned to the rocking chair and continued talking. He said, "About a month passed and Madam Anna had not heard anything about her gold. She was becoming worried about it. Finally one day a letter came. It was from a bank in Texas. Madam Anna read the letter and layed it on the desk. She had a slave saddle her horse and she rode off to the mansion where Master Norman was working. My mother read the letter. It was addressed to Madam Anna. It said that two hundred and seventy thousand ($270,000.00) dollars worth of gold had been delivered to the bank and was deposited in her name."
Dad asked Mose, "Did Frisby have any gold?" Mose said, "Master Norman kept about fifty thousand dollars in gold coins in the big brass trunk in the main house. When Vicksburg fell to the Union Army, Master Frisby sealed off one side of one of the dual fire places and put most of his gold in it. It stayed there until his death." With that Mose got up and left, saying he would return next Sunday.
When Mose left Dad said,"I know where there is an iron rod driven into a huge Gum tree about seven feet from the ground. I wonder if it is one of the rods Mose was talking about. My trap line runs right near the tree and I have a trap setting within twenty yards of it. When I pass there tomorrow I will look for the other rod." When Dad returned home from his trapline the next day he said he found the other rod and the arrangement was just as Mose had described it.
When Mose arrived the next Sunday he knew exactly what he wanted to talk about. He started by saying, "Master, Jim, sir you told me your children were strong enough to hear anything to long as it was the truth. I am sorry to say that what I am going to tell them is the gruesome truth of how Master Norman died.
It was sometime in late fall. Almost all the crops had been harvested. There was a small field of corn near Tensas River at Fox's Landing that had not been picked. About nine o'clock in the morning one of Master Orlando's slaves arrived at the Mansion and told Master Norman that about twenty head of his mules had crossed the Tensas River at Fox's Landing and were destroying his corn field. He said if he didn't get them out he was going to start shooting them. Almost all the slaves were already in the fields harvesting the crops. Only eight slaves were working at the Mansion. Master Norman, the eight slaves and I went to the barn and saddled our horses and headed for Fox's Landing. When we arrived Master Orlando was there yelling, cursing and raising all manners of hell. Master Norman told him to shut up and he would get the mules out of the field. We rounded up the mules and drove them to the shallow ford where they had crossed over. When we got them near the water they broke loose and ran back into the corn field. This happened three times and each time Master Orlando pitched another curse fit. On the fourth try we got the mules near the water and Master Norman roped an old lead mule and led him across the river. The other mules followed. Six of the slaves drove the mules to the headquarters. Master Norman, the two remaining slaves and I went back across the river to see how much damage was done to the corn field. Master Orlando and about ten of his slaves met us on the river bank. Master Orlando started in to give Master Norman a good cursing. Master Norman told him to shut up a couple of times but he just got worse. Master Norman got really mad and rammed his horse into the side of Master Orlando's horse. The horse fell down. Master Norman jumped off of his horse and started beating Master Orlando with his quirt. Master Orlando wrestled Master Norman to the ground. They rolled around on the ground a short time. Soon Master Norman quit fighting. Master Orlando stood up and rolled Master Norman over on his back. A huge volume of blood was gushing from his chest and his throat was cut. Master Orlando held a hunting knife in his right hand and blood was dripping from it. Master Orlando pulled off his coat and spread it over Master Norman's face. Then he got on his horse and he and his slaves rode off without saying a word. I sent one of the slaves to the main house to tell Madam Anna what happened. Madam Anna, my Mother and two slaves brought a wagon and carried Master Norman's body back to the main house. After the funeral Madam Anna sent a wagon to the mansion and brought all of the tools and stored them in the barn. She said, "We will not need them there anymore."
Then Mose said, "What I have told you today is the Gospel truth. I was there and saw it all." Then he got on his big white horse and left.
I again remind anyone who reads this story to keep in mind that these are not my words but the words of Mose Martin as he told my family and I sixty years ago. My family and I believed every word of it to be true then and we still believe it to this day”
 Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.