Rabalais: Plaquemines Parish’s “Little War of 1943”

On June 1, 1943, the Sheriff of Plaquemines Parish, Louis Dauterive, died suddenly. Instead of an orderly transition amid a period of mourning, the sheriff’s death ignited an ugly conflict between Gov. Sam Jones and Judge Leander Perez, the parish’s undisputed boss. Jones and Perez were bitter political enemies, with Perez having little regard for the governor and Jones attempting to use the governor's office to erode Perez’s power and influence at every opportunity.

According to the state constitution, the governor would have the sole authority appoint an interim sheriff to serve until the regularly scheduled elections in 1944. Perez, an ally of the Longs, had been used to his preferred candidates getting plum state appointments. Jones instead picked a candidate that had repeatedly run against Perez to fill the sheriff’s seat. The Judge was outraged and filed lawsuits to halt the appointment of the new sheriff.

With his legal action pending, Perez installed Plaquemines Parish’s coroner as the interim sheriff and posted armed deputies on highways at the parish line, turning away non-residents. At the courthouse in Pointe á la Hache, more armed deputies barricaded themselves inside, turning the building into a makeshift fortress.  

In response, Gov. Jones called out the National Guard, while Perez likened the governor to a dictator and encouraged residents to arm themselves.

The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in Jones’ favor, but Perez was not deterred, shutting down the only road into Pointe á la Hache. Traffic was diverted to the Judge’s property, where he personally determined who could travel on to the parish seat.

Fed up, Jones declared martial law on October 9, and sent the National Guard in to install his appointee as sheriff. The guardsmen encountered minimal resistance, arresting the troublesome deputies while Judge Perez fled via boat. At the courthouse, important documents and equipment was destroyed or hidden to keep it out of the hands of the new sheriff.

The National Guard would occupy the courthouse until the elections in 1944, when Perez’s chosen candidate for sheriff won by a four-to-one margin.

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