There are varied accounts of what actually happened at The Old West Saloon on Christmas night, December 25th, 1909, in Arnaudville, Louisiana. The end result, however, was not in doubt. Words and gunfire were exchanged and two prominent men in the community, friends even, were dead.
Ozeme Roy (1862-1909), a saloon-keeper, and Wade Higganbotham (unk. - 1909), a town constable, both died from bullets and pistol butts in an altercation between them outside the saloon that Ozeme owned.
In friendlier times, this eerily prescient photograph shows the two men playfully pointing guns at each outside the saloon.
I came across the story of Ozeme Roy quite accidentally while doing some research for a client. Ozeme was an auxiliary figure in the family inquiry I was conducting, but his story grabbed my attention and I wanted to learn more.
It was a story that had a great deal of newspaper press at the time. It was also a story that seemed to live on in legends, with varying degrees of accuracy, more than a century later.
Born on October 9, 1862 in Arnaudville, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, Ozeme Roy was a member of a large and prominent family in the area. His father was Solasti Cyprian Roy (1814-1890) and his mother was Adolphina Guilbeaux Roy (1836-1876).
Ozeme was one of at least five siblings (four brothers and a sister) and likely more. It appears as if his father was married twice. Here is a photo of unknown origin said to be of Ozeme (“Ozema”) and his three brothers: Adrien Roy (abt. 1860), Joseph Lucien Roy (1865-1935), and Clebert Roy (abt. 1872).
It is hard to know for sure, but these unsmiling men look like the hard living, rough and tumble sort, with Ozeme perhaps the most intense of them all. His short, no nonsense mustache and hat sets him apart from the others.
Newspaper mentions of Ozeme and the Roy family before his death in 1909 are mostly minor ones like jury duty notices or real estate transactions.
There are some more interesting and substantive newspaper mentions of Ozeme and his family too. For example, this article appears to detail the tragic fire deaths of Ozeme’s mother (Mrs. Cyprien Roy) and an unnamed (possibly Marie) sister of Ozeme.
In 1905 Ozeme was sentenced to 30 days in jail or a $100 fine for selling liquor without a license, presumably at The Old West Saloon that he owned and where he would eventually suffer a fatal gunshot wound.
The MOST interesting newspaper mentions of Ozeme, however, are related to that fateful Christmas in 1909. The duel was widely covered in newspapers throughout the state and even the country. Here is a sampling of the coverage with special emphasis on some of the most colorful headlines and quotes.
The Times of Shreveport, Louisiana reported “BLOODSHED IN THE COUNTRY” and detailed how both men made “liberal use of their revolvers”. In all it appears as if 11 shots were fired, all over some “tales” and objectionable words shared.
Word of the duel went beyond the local press. This article in The Houston Post picked up the story, reporting “DUEL DOUBLY FATAL: Both the Principals Were Killed in Saloon Fight”.
“CHRISTMAS TRAGEDIES THROUGHOUT LOUISIANA” reported The Times-Democrat in New Orleans.
This article gives some additional information about two “accessories” to the duel, Humain Hardy and Isaac Thibodaux. Light on specifics, the details suggest, again, that two lives were lost over an “ill-remark” alleged to have been made by Roy toward Higginbotham. Offended by the accusations, Roy called Higginbotham a liar and was promptly slapped in the face. Presumably, both mens’ wounded and whiskey fortified prides left them with no other viable honor defending option. Guns were drawn and bullets flew.
After the shots were fired it is said that Roy, “knelt on Higginbotham’s chest and crushed his skull with the butt of his revolver.” Not surprisingly, “Both men were known as fighters.” Like many fighters, they went down fighting.
Here were some briefer mentions:
“CHRISTMAS TRAGEDIES: Fatal Quarrels of Men Drunk — The Handy Pistol”
“DOUBLE TRAGEDY: Ozeme Roy and Wade Higginbotham Shoot Each Other to Death Near Arnaudville.”
My favorite comes from The Crowley Signal (Crowley, Louisiana) with a subheadline: “THE BABBLE OF A DRUNKEN MAN”. While it seems likely that Ozeme and Wade were drinking as well, this description of drunkenness appears to describe the accessories to the event, Humain Hardy and Isaac Thibodaux.
There were also a dozen or more articles detailing the settling of his Ozeme’s estate. Here are just a few. You can click the links for the full articles.
Here is the “Notice of Sale” of Ozeme Roy’s estate, to be offered on April 30th, 1910. I love the detail in this one that says there are selling a horse named “Daly” and another unnamed mule. It also mentions the name of a saloon, the “Ignace Kidder Saloon”. It is unclear if this is the same as the Old West Saloon or not.
Perhaps the most interesting newspaper mention of Ozeme Roy came almost a century after his death. In 2007 amateur historian Floyd Knott wrote his own history of the duel in the Teche News of St. Martinville, Louisiana.
Here is a clear and readable pdf of the full article.
Some highlights from that article:
Knott described “The Fifth Ward”, where The Old West Saloon was located, as:
“... famous for its bourre games in back of bars, cock-fighting, carousing, and when there was nothing more entertaining — fighting. Folks fought family, friends and others on weekends and by Monday were friends again.”
Unfortunately for Ozeme and Wade there was no Monday of reconciliation.
According to Knott’s researched account of the duel, based on interviews with “old-timers”, after hearing rumors of Roy’s offensive words, Wade Higginbotham:
“... entered the bar to confront Roy, it was dark and at first he did not see Roy but shouted ‘Let’s have one last beer together.’ Just then Roy entered the bar from the back room and Higginbotham asked him, ‘Did you curse me?’ To which Roy replied: ‘That is a lie!”
After faces were slapped, shots fired, and one skull “crushed” and brain “mashed”, Roy made his way outside. According to Knott:
“By then a large crowd had gathered in the bar and in the street. Roy, not realizing that he had been shot so severely, face the amassed crowd and declared in a deep Cajun voice:
‘Je suis le vainquer!’ - I am the victor!
These were the very last words that he ever spoke”
As I mentioned, I came across the story of Ozeme Roy quite accidently. In researching his story I had the good fortune to communicate with two of his living relatives, one of which was a direct descendent.
I spoke with a 2nd great grandson of Ozeme Roy’s. He said:
“He [Ozeme] was a businessman man. It is reported he had $700.00 dollars in his wallet when he died. He was friends with the Constable [Wade] who he killed. There was an ordinance not to pass with horses over the bridge after a certain time of night. Well I guess Ozeme did so. There were some instigators who provoked the constable to confront Ozeme. They emptied there guns in each other and Ozeme pistol whipped the man to death. He walked away and died at home.”
I also spoke with a woman whose 2nd great uncle was Ozeme Roy. Based on my research that I shared with her, she was able to contact the Vincent Darby studio that was mentioned in the Knott article from 2007. She reported back to me:
“Though Mr. Darby has passed the proprietor for the museum knew exactly who my 2nd great uncle was and the story of the shooting. Apparently it's still talked about to this day. She is getting a good copy of the article for me and also knows two gentlemen that are sons of patrons who were there the night of the shooting. She is going to put me in touch with them because they know the details of the shooting and families involved that were passed down. Now get this! She also knows who is in possession of the pistol my Uncle used that night! Apparently the Roy family is quite famous in that area. Oh just so you know and she confirmed, the saloon is named in this article. Old Western Saloon was really the name.”
It is hard to know for sure what exactly happened and why that Christmas night in 1909. Anyone with a first hand account of the evening, now 110 years ago, has been dead for several decades. The accuracy of second and third hand accounts are, no doubt, riddled with errors, omissions, fabrications, and creative interpretations.
But, in combing all the evidence available, one “truth” does seem to stick out: Neither of these men, friends, had to die on that night in this way. Tempers, alcohol, curiously fragile egos, and codes of honor all combined to prematurely end the lives of two prominent men. And even after a century, the story of their deaths pervades in unique ways through the collective memory of a slowly shrinking community.
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