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History: THE BOSSIER PARISH COURTHOUSE GONG

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A bit of interesting trivia was recounted in The Bossier Banner issue for July 16, 1936.  The paper’s editor told how a courthouse gong came to be and why the gong was rung.

“A welcomed visitor to the Banner office one morning last week was Mr. Jake Seabaugh, one of the oldest and most respected residents of Alden Bridge.  He was in town on business and took time to call by and chat for a while.”

“He tells an interesting story, about the metal triangle, used to call folk to court, or to announce the court’s opening, at the Court House in Benton.  Many fold, no doubt, have never heard the story.  Others, who may have known it, mayhap have forgotten all about it.”

“It seems that the late J. T. Watkins, later to become an able member of Congress, from this district, always insisted that persons having business in his court (he was then judge of the Bossier-Webster District and a resident of Minden) be punctual at all times.  During a particular session of the Grand Jury term of court, at which Mr. Seabaugh sat on the jury, the old Judge had fined several jurors and witnesses for being late.”

“It so happened that one morning the judge arrived after the appointed hour for opening court.  In all fairness, he solemnly proceeded to assess a $15 fine against himself.  (This was about 1896).  A few moments later he ordered the then Sheriff, the late Alec Thompson, to purchase the metal gong, in triangular form, which is still used [1936].  However, at the time, the Sheriff was instructed to beat the gong 30 minutes before time for opening court, so the folk could be forewarned.  Now, the practice is to sound it as court opens.”

The Free State of Bossier, a single issue newspaper published on September 27, 1900 described the Honorable J. T. Watkins.

“Judge of the Second Judicial District, [J. T. Watkins] was born in the parish of which he is now a resident, at Minden, on January 15, 1854, being a son of Hon. John D. and M. F. (Morrow) Watkins; the first a native of Kentucky and the latter of Georgia.  Judge Watkins received a most thorough education in the Minden Male Academy and in Cumberland Tenn. University.  He was a brilliant orator and has medals offered by the faculties of these institutions for the best declamation and orations.  After completing his studies at college he entered his father’s law office and was a close student for two years; during July, 1878 he was admitted to the bar and became a partner.  After successfully practicing for thirteen years he was elected District Judge during April 1892, and has since filled that office.”

“Judge Watkins has ever been a hard worker and close student; [a] lifetime of earnest endeavor in pursuing the profession in which he has been engaged, coupled with strict integrity [and] honesty of purpose and liberty, has placed him among the highly honored and successful men of North Louisiana.  Long may the judge live to reap the rewards of his labors.”

The Bossier Parish Library Historical Center archives are filled with intriguing historical facts about Bossier Parish.  Plan to visit soon.

Ann Middleton is Director of the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center. She can be reached at (318) 746-7717 or amiddlet@state.lib.la.us.