The Natchitoches Populist
The People’s (or Populist) Party in Louisiana was founded in October 1891 to represent the interests of farmers and laborers in rural communities and to encourage pro-labor legislation. In addition to supporting national monetary reform (“free silver”), Louisiana Populists also called for reform of the state’s electoral and political system, which was then dominated by the so-called Bourbon Democrats.
One of the leaders of the People’s Party in Louisiana was Hardy L. Brian (1865-1949) of Winnfield. In 1890, Brian began publishing the Winnfield Comrade, one of the first Populist newspapers in the South. Four years later he established a second paper, the Louisiana Populist, in Natchitoches, a small town near the Texas border. Founded in 1714 as a French trading post, Natchitoches in the 19th century developed into an important center of Louisiana’s cotton industry. It was also located near a heavily forested region of Louisiana. The close proximity of farm and timber workers made Natchitoches an especially appropriate choice for Brian’s base of operations.
The Louisiana Populist, which replaced W. L. Shackelford’s Montgomery Mail as the official organ of the People’s Party in Louisiana, became one of the most important third-party newspapers in the state. The first issue, published on August 24, 1894, bore the motto: “Equal Rights to All, Special Favors Where Justice Demands.” Its editor declared that the paper would be “devoted to the education of the people upon the great economic issues of the day.” Brian reported on key elections of the mid-1890s, both local and national, as well as on major events in the labor movement. As with other Populist newspaper editors across the nation, Brian’s rhetoric was strongly opposed to banks and the gold standard. However, the Louisiana Populist also reflected how the People’s Party platform was modified to increase its appeal to white voters in rural Louisiana. In the paper’s very first issue, for example, Brian sought to cause defections from the Democratic Party by asserting that northern Democrats no longer favored white supremacy and encouraged bringing African American voters into the party. He also accused Louisiana Democrats of stuffing the ballot boxes with black votes despite the party’s entrenched policy of black disenfranchisement.
Although the Louisiana Populist dealt chiefly with politics, by 1895 it was reporting some local news, including activities of the Louisiana State Normal School, established at Natchitoches in 1884. In 1895, Brian reported on the movement to prohibit the sale of alcohol in Natchitoches, which he supported. That same year, the Louisiana Populist began to carry more advertisements, political cartoons, and fiction, plus a small number of marriage notices and obituaries.
Despite Brian’s efforts, the People’s Party never found much support in Louisiana. Abandoning his hopes for a political career, Brian published the final issue of the Natchitoches Populist (the title of which he had changed the previous year) on March 9, 1899. He returned to Winn Parish and became a civic and church leader. In 1916, Brian purchased the Winnfield Times, which he edited for two years.