MURDER IN THE MUSKRAT CAMP
© By W. T. Block
(click here for W. T. Block web page)
Surely no other crime affected the citizens of Cameron Parish, La., as did
that of a brutal double slaying on the edge of Sabine Lake at Johnson's Bayou on
New Year's Day of 1925. It occurred during the heyday of the fur-trapping years,
when one could have run from Blue Buck Ridge to Grand Chenier, stepping only on
the tops of muskrat beds.
The victims were Archie A. Byrd of Nederland, Tx. and John Springer of Lake Charles, both of them respected fur buyers and officials of the Brown-Rosenthal Fur Company of New York. Byrd was also a former city marshal at Taylor, Tx. In 1924 the fur company leased 15,000 prime trapping acres of the Stark interests 62,000 acres of marsh lands in Cameron Parish, and it built a number of cheap "trapper shacks" near the edge if the lake.
The mid-1920s was an age of no improved roads into Cameron, and no
shelled roads or mechanical devices elsewhere, such as marsh buggies in use. A
trapper lived of necessity near his traps, either in a houseboat or a shack in the
marsh, from whence he could carry his traps into the marsh or his rat catch out of
the marsh on his back. Each man in camp trapped on "shares," the fur company
claiming every third rat caught on their lands, and it held the option to buy all fur
caught by its trappers. And each trapper was assigned a tract of land in the marsh,
its size dependent upon the number of traps he owned.
One of the Brown-Rosenthal trappers was a quarrelsome man from Orange,
named Ned Harvey, who was well-known in Cameron for his violent nature. On the
day of the murders, Harvey had quarreled with Springer over a choice tract of
marsh land, that Springer had assigned to another trapper, named Otto Sykes.
Springer fired Harvey and told him to pack his gear and leave.
Harvey left and returned to his shack, where a French couple, Mr. and Mrs.
Adonile Schexsnaider, cooked meals for the camp. Harvey loaded his double-
barreled shotgun with buckshot and returned to the headquarters building, where
Byrd and Springer were eating supper. Harvey fired his first shell at Springer
through the screen door, and before he left, he fired two rounds of buckshot into
each victim's body. Apparently Harvey planed to kill Sykes too, but upon hearing
the shots, the latter hid in a clump of sea cane, while Mrs. Schexsnaider hid under
For a week Johnson's Bayou was an armed camp, the posse of officers being
unaware that Harvey had escaped to Orange, where he later surrendered to the
sheriff, who was a close friend of Harvey. The latter waived extradition and 2 weeks
later he was locked up in the Cameron jail to await trial. His trial lasted all day and
until midnight of Feb. 11, 1925, in Judge Thomas Porter's court.
Harvey's trial and subsequent execution 2 years later attracted the biggest
throngs of people that Cameron had ever seen up to 1927. Jurors arrived from
outlying areas on ox-drawn sleds, on horseback, and passage on the Calcasieu River
steamer Rex Boreallis was sold out weeks in advance.
Harvey took the stand, pleading self-defense. "Men of the jury," he
appealed. "I did not want to kill that man Springer!"
"Then why did you do it?" shouted G. T. Hawkins, the prosecuting attorney.
"I did it because they would have killed me if I hadn't killed them first!"
In the end, the shot through the screen door and other evidence and
testimony convinced the jury of Harvey's premeditation and guilt. About midnight
they returned a verdict of guilt and punishment to be death by hanging.
However, two long years expired while Harvey's lawyers appealed to the
Louisiana and United States Supreme Courts, the guilty verdict and sentence being
upheld in each case. Harvey had spent the time in the Calcasieu Parish jail, and
eventually a judge decreed that Harvey should hang on Feb. 25, 1927.
Because the Rex Boreallis had been booked to capacity, officers had to
engage a private launch to bring Harvey from the Lake Charles jail back to
Cameron, where Sheriff John Miller had constructed a gallows outside the
courthouse. Accompanied to the site by Rev. R. H. Wynn of Lake Charles, Harvey
professed a religious experience. As he approached the gallows, he appeared quite
pale and limp, and he had to be assisted up the steps. After the noose was drawn
tight around Harvey's neck, the sheriff sprung the trap door, thus swinging the
murderer into eternity. His body was interred in the Jett Cemetery in Orange