Many writers have written about the Rawhide Fight. The problem is, there's much disagreement. This is an attempt to use documentation and not hearsay to record the facts.
All agree on certain events. Yes, the community of Walnut Hill had built a school. Just
before the school was to open, it burned. The fire was started by a person or persons
who did not want to attend school.
It seems every event in history has a love story. According to some, a boy wanted to get
married to a sweetheart but with the building of the school, the father wanted his son to
attend school. In truth, farmers did not want to lose their farm workers to something
they viewed unnecessary- education.
A meeting was held to determine what to do next. Men were asked to leave their guns at
home, but many brought knives. A fight broke out between the two sides. There's
disagreement as to how many died. Most believe two. Those killed were wrapped in
The first area of disagreement is the date and year the fight took place. Few say 1850,
while most say 1851. The New Orleans Crescent (Sep. 9, 1851, page 2) newspaper
reported the fight took place on the 24th (Saturday). The Red River Republican (August
30, 1851), an Alexandria newspaper, reported the fight took place on the 23rd (Friday).
The Alexandria newspaper reported "23rd, Saturday last";, which was a Friday.
A Leesville Daily Leader 1955 article reported the fight took place on the 22nd (Thursday). Even though there is disagreement on the date, there is agreement the fight was in August, 1851.
Where did the fight take place? Some say at a trading post owned by William Burton
and Henry Hawkins, while others say at the home of James Groves. Burton moved into
the area in 1844 and Hawkins in 1848. They shared T3N, R7W, Sec. 34, where they built
a trading post on the east-west road from Hineston to Burr Ferry. The fact rawhides
were in abundance supports the trading post argument. James Groves lived in T2N,
R7W, Secs. 17 and 20, some 3 miles away from the trading post.
Who was involved in the fight? How many died? In Don C. Marler's book, The Neutral
Zone: Backdoor To The United States, he said five died, possibly six: Charles M. Weeks;
B. G. Harrison (Francis Harris); Henry Hawkins, owner of the trading post; James
Hardcastle, police juryman; and an unnamed Simon/Simonds. The sixth man was
Leonard Covington Sweat (postmaster of Walnut Hill) who was severely injured and carried away on a travois. The New Orleans Crescent newspaper reported two deaths,
Francis Harris and Charles M. Weeks.
What happened to the participants after the fight? Most of them left the state. James
Hardcastle moved to Milam, Texas in 1852 where he died in 1870. Leonard Sweat
recovered from his wounds and escaped to Texas with three standing warrants against
him. He moved to Trinity (1860) and Madison (1870), Texas. He was shot and killed in
1873, probably by law enforcement. Charles M. Weeks is buried in the Old West
Cemetery north of Leesville on Hwy. 117 in Kurthwood. The only Francis Harris burial
in West Rapides Parish is in Oak Island Cemetery, no year given. The last record on
Henry Hawkins was the 1880 Census, living in Cotile in Rapides Parish. The only
Simonds in West Rapides Parish was William H. Simonds, store owner and postmaster
in Boyce, who died in 1900 in Rapides Parish.
The trial of those accused in the Rawhide Fight lasted nine months. A newspaper article
on November 22, 1851 stated the trial was costing Rapides Parish too much money. It
was agreed Hardcastle killed Harris, but he escaped to Texas. No one was sure who
killed Weeks. Sweat could not be found. The trial ended on May 9, 1852 with all