Brief Biography of Judge Lewis
Thomas Charles Lewis, III (
30 July 1838– 12 Jan 1900) played a central role in both Union Parish politics as well as its newspaper business for over thirty years. Lewis worked as a Farmerville teacher, store owner, attorney, and newspaper editor/publisher/owner. He was the son of Rev. Thomas C. Lewis, II ( 3 Mar 1809– 28 Dec 1853) and the grandson of Ouachita Parish Judge Thomas C. Lewis (c1780 – 17 Oct 1819). The elder Judge Lewis settled in northeastern between 1805 and 1814 and was politically influential in Louisiana . Rev. Lewis worked as a Methodist minister and lived in Claiborne Parish in the 1830s when Lewis III was born, but the family settled in Farmerville in 1849. Later in life the younger Lewis described quite fondly his early memories of growing up in the piney hills of north Monroe . Louisiana
Lewis presumably studied law in the latter 1850s, and in the fall of 1859 the Union Parish citizens elected him as the Clerk of the District Court. He served as Clerk of Court between 1859 and 1861, when he resigned to join the Confederate army. After a medical discharge in 1862, he returned to Farmerville and resumed his duties as the Clerk of Court, serving through about 1867. In February 1866, Lewis helped to found the "Union Record" , the Reconstruction newspaper of Union Parish. The records do not indicate whether Lewis owned and operated the paper from the beginning, but evidence indicates he contributed to its publication in some capacity in the latter 1860s. By 1870 he owned, operated, and edited the paper, although he also operated his own private law practice in Farmerville.
In 1872, the Union Parish citizens elected Lewis as their parish judge. He served his full term, 1872 through 1876, a period marked by severe political strife throughout the South and especially in Louisiana. Many felt that his election was unfairly connected to the rigged election of the Louisiana Republican governor, and the overtones from this election haunted Lewis for the rest of his life. Union Parish politics became extremely nasty throughout Union Parish, with Lewis becoming the leader of one body of political thought, and his nemisis District Court Judge James E. Trimble becoming the leader of the other.
After their respective terms of office ended in 1876, Trimble returned to private law practice, and presumably so did Lewis. However, Lewis still had his "Union Record" to voice his political ideals. To compete with him, in 1878 Trimble founded his own paper, the Farmerville "Gazette". Although a Yankee by birth and a political novelty until 1868 (when he cast the only Union Parish Republican vote for President Grant), Trimble attracted a large following during the later Reconstruction period through his firm convictions and standing up to Judge Lewis and his group. The personal anomosity between Lewis and Trimble reached the point in 1878 and 1879 that both men swore vengence upon the other, armed themselves, and threatened to shoot each other on sight. After threats were made to Lewis' family, he ceased publication of the "Union Record" and moved south to St. Landry Parish.
By 1884, Lewis believed the danger to his family had passed, and he returned to Farmerville and purchased new printing equipment. In February 1885, he founded his next paper, the "Home Advocate" to compete with Trimble's "Gazette". Through their editorials, Lewis and Trimble resumed their former rivalry, which became heated by mid-1885. This situation continued through 1887, when Lewis' friend and fellow lawyer James A. Ramsey gave proof to Trimble that his negative editorials concerning Louisiana governor Nichols were inaccurate. When Trimble refused to publish a retraction, Ramsey publically criticized Trimble at a political rally. When Trimble casticized Ramsey in his next editorial, Lewis printed a note signed by many Farmerville citizens attesting to Ramsey's high moral character. This incensed Trimble, who armed himself and threatened to kill Ramsey if he came to town.
On 19 December 1887, Ramsey and Trimble had a chance encounter in front of Stein's store in Farmervile about 5:15 pm. After a hot exchange of words that drew a large crowd of men in front of the store, the two lawyers drew their pistols, five or six shots were fired, and both fell dead. A coroner’s investigation revealed that Ramsey died from a bullet fired by Trimble’s gun, but Ramsey’s gun had not been fired. According to tradition passed down in the Ramsey family, Ramsey’s nephew George McFarland was in the crowd of men gathered in Stein’s store watching the altercation between Ramsey and Trimble. After Trimble pulled his gun and shot Ramsey, McFarland, an excellent marksman, shot Trimble.
Trimble's "Home Advocate" did not survive many years longer. Perhaps influenced by Ramsey's death, Lewis moved to Ruston in 1890 and helped his son with the publication of the Ruston "Leader" until about 1894, when he returned south to St. Landry Parish, settling near the town of Church Point. Lewis died there in 1900.
The record shown below is Lewis' oath of office as Union Parish Clerk of the District Court. This record marks the official beginning of Lewis' career of public service to Union Parish.
The Beginning of Judge Lewis' Career
Thomas C. Lewis State of Louisiana Parish of Union
12th Dist Court
I Thomas C. Lewis do solemnly swear that I will faithfully & impartially discharge & perform all and singular the duties incumbent on me as clerk of the Twelfth Judicial District Court in & for the Parish of Union La according to the best of my abilities and understanding agreeable to the Constitution & Laws of the United States & of this State, & do further solemnly swear that since the adoption of the present Constitution of being a citizen of this State have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State or out of it with a citizen of this State nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons with a citizen of this state or aided or advised any person thus offending so help me god.Thos. C. Lewis
Sworn to and subscribed before me this 27th day of Dec AD 1859,
H. W. Ramsey, J.P.
A true Record Jan 7, 1860. Wm. C. Smith, Recorder
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