Connell Fort

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Connell Fort
Mayor of Minden, Louisiana, USA
In office
July 1922 – July 1926
Preceded by J. Berry Sandefur
Succeeded by Robert F. Kennon
In office
July 1932 – June 1934
Preceded by Henry L. Bridges
Succeeded by Henry L. Bridges
Minden City Council
In office
1900–1908
In office
1912–1920
Personal details
Born (1867-10-03)October 3, 1867
Bellevue,
Bossier Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died February 27, 1937(1937-02-27) (aged 69)
Minden, Louisiana
Resting place Minden Cemetery
Nationality American
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) (1) Ellie Miles Fort (married 1901-1913, her death)

(2) Jessie Boepple Fort (married 1920-1937, his death)

Children First marriage:

Miles, Thomas L., John L., Carlton A., and Owen Fort
Mary F. Barnes
From second marriage:
Bennard M. and George W. Fort
Katherine Virginia Fort Elliott

Occupation Businessman
Newspaperman
Religion Methodist

Connell Fort (October 3, 1867 – February 27, 1937) was a businessman and newspaperman who served as the mayor of the small city of Minden, the seat of Webster Parish in north Louisiana, from 1922 to 1926 and again from 1932 to 1934.

Background[edit]

Fort was born in rural Bellevue in Bossier Parish, located west of Minden, to Thomas Moore Fort (1820–1887), a lawyer originally from Twiggs County, Georgia, and the former Martha Ann "Mattie" Connell (1835–1927), a native of Columbus, Mississippi. The couple married in 1856 in nearby Fillmore, also in Bossier Parish. In 1872, Thomas and Mattie Fort moved to Minden to rear their family.[1]

In 1901, Connell Fort married the former Ellie Miles (1873–1913), a native of South Carolina. The Forts had a daughter, later Mary F. Barnes of Shreveport, and five sons, Connell Miles Fort (1902–1975), Thomas L. Fort, John L. Fort, Carlton A. Fort, and Owen Fort, all of Minden. John Fort (1906–1992)[2] and his wife, Louise B. Fort (1906–2000),[2] operated the former Fort's News Stand, which was located for many years on Main Street in Minden.[1]

In 1920, some seven years after Ellie's death, Connell Fort married the former Jessie Beopple. From that union came three more children. Bennard Moore Fort (1921–1945) died at sea during the World War II, attached to the USS Saratoga in the Battle of Iowa Jima.[3][4] The two younger Fort children were George W. Fort (1924–2005) and Katherine Virginia Fort, later Katherine Virginia Elliott (1922–2011), the last surviving child of Connell Fort.[5]

Public service[edit]

Connell Fort was a deputy in the second term of Webster Parish Sheriff Daniel Webster Pratt, who served from 1896 to 1900.[6] From 1900 to 1908, Fort, a Democrat, was a member of the Minden City Council, on which he pushed for the establishment of concrete sidewalks. In 1908, Fort and later Mayor J. Frank Colbert managed the successful gubernatorial campaign in Webster Parish of Jared Y. Sanders, Sr., of Franklin in St. Mary Parish in south Louisiana. Governor Sanders named Fort as the conservation agent for northwest Louisiana. Sanders left office in 1912, and Fort returned to the Minden City Council for another eight years. In 1914, Fort joined Colbert in the newspaper business in Minden. During Fort's second council stint, he pushed for the paving of the main business district of Minden.[5]

During the first term of Mayor W. Matt Lowe, councilman Fort supported the purchase of the municipal generating station after a fire in 1917 swept through the Minden Lumber Company and the former Minden Electric Light and Power Company, the previous owner of the station.[7] Minden is one of twenty municipalities in Louisiana in which residences and businesses still purchase their electricity from the city, with profits diverted to finance the costs of government.[8]

In 1922, Fort was elected to the first of his two consecutive two-year terms as mayor to succeed Mayor J. Berry Sandefur. During his mayoral terms, Fort worked to obtain the moving to Minden of the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway shop facility from its former location in Stamps in Lafayette County in southwestern Arkansas. The city paved ten miles (16 km) in concrete, and efforts were made to rid Minden of mosquitoes.[5] Natural gas lines were laid.[5] A bond issue financed the establishment of the city sewerage system. Modern fire-fighting equipment was also purchased during Fort's tenure.[5]

In 1926, Fort was unseated in his bid for a third term by 23-year-old attorney Robert F. Kennon, then the youngest mayor in the state. A native of Dubberly in south Webster Parish and the son of a downtown Minden grocer, Kennon did not seek reelection in 1928[9] but was instead elected as district attorney in 1930, judge in 1940, and governor nin 1952.

In 1932, Fort staged a comeback for a third term when he unseated Kennon's successor as mayor, Henry L. Bridges, a clothing merchant originally from Athens in Claiborne Parish.[10] Fort polled 709 votes to Bridges's 437 in the primary election held on April 12, 1932.[11] In his third term, Fort pushed successfully for further road construction, and the establishment of municipal parks and tennis courts. The year 1933, however, was devastating to Minden, with a tornado, the death of the sheriff, two bank failures, and a large fire, which damaged the health and caused the death the next year of Fire Chief Ben F. Turner, Sr. (1883–1934).[12]

Shooting of Brisco Nation[edit]

On Armistice Day 1933, Fort's son, John L. Fort, shot to death a city council member who had quarreled with Mayor Fort. The councilman, elected in 1932, was Abraham Brisco Nation, Sr. (1886–1933), a native Texan and a foreman of the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway with twelve children, at least one of whom, Oree B. Nation (1910–1936), died early in life.[13] Connell Fort and Nation engaged in a verbal exchange in the municipal tax office on the Saturday afternoon of November 11. Mayor Fort broke his cane across Nation. As Nation lifted the cane back toward the mayor,[14] John Fort pulled a .38 caliber pistol from his trousers and shot Nation, who died before he could reach the nearby Minden Sanitarium, since the Minden Medical Center. "I'm getting tired of you[r] treating my father like you have," shouted John Fort.[15][16]

Sheriff Oscar Henry Haynes, Sr. (1888–1969), transported John Fort to Shreveport, where he was to await presumed indictment from a grand jury.[15] Nation, meanwhile, was interred within twenty-four hours of his death in the new section of Minden Cemetery off Goodwill Street. Services held at the Nation home preceded the interment amid an overflow of mourners.[17]

Nation's children included D. Webster Nation, also a railroad man, and the educator, principal, and football coach Patrick Cary Nation (1918–2005), who lost a race in 1974 for the Minden City Council to current Mayor Bill Robertson. A Nation grandson, Billy Joe Booth, became a professional football player in Canada but died early in life in a private plane crash.[18] A granddaughter, Kathryn Diana Nation (1946–1968), daughter of Webster and Kathryn Watson Nation, died in 1968 in an automobile accident while commuting to her elementary school teaching job in Sarepta in Webster Parish, shortly before her pending marriage.[19]

Brisco Nation was succeeded on the city council by another railroad employee, Grady L. Hancock, an appointee of Governor O.K. Allen. Hancock said that he did not solicit the interim appointment, had no political agenda other than support for U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and would make an effort to work with Mayor Fort and the entire council.[20]

Meanwhile, John Fort was incarcerated for two years in Bossier Parish, within the 26th Judicial District, awaiting a true bill against him that the grand jury never presented. The district attorney at the time was the same Robert F. Kennon, who had unseated Connell Fort for mayor in 1926.[1] No indictment against John Fort was ever presented despite the testimony of two eyewitnesses to the shooting, John L. Garrett and J.R. Murph, then the secretary of the city council.[15]

Defeat and death[edit]

In the first primary election held on April 10, 1934, Fort was eliminated from his bid for a fourth nonconsecutive term as mayor.[21] Instead, former Mayor Henry L. Bridges was placed into a runoff election against his own evenutual successor as mayor in 1936, David William Thomas, a former university professor, journalist, and a native of Wales. In the runoff election held on May 15, 1934, Bridges handily defeated Thomas, 624 to 377.[22]

Mayor Fort's grave in the old section of Minden Cemetery
Cenotaph of Bennard Moore Fort who died at sea in World War II

Connell Fort was Methodist. Upon his death, Fort was interred in the original section of the Minden Cemetery in the Miles plot, where his first wife's family is buried. This plot is behind his parents' Fort section of the graveyard. In addition to his second wife and children from both marriages, Fort was survived by two brothers, Walton Fort (1857–1940) of Minden,[3] and Moses Fort of Louisville, Kentucky. Pallbearers included his business colleague and later mayor, J. Frank Colbert, and Judge Harmon Caldwell Drew,[5] who was subsequently unseated three years later in 1940 by then District Attorney Robert F. Kennon.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Earlene Mendenhall Lyle, The Minden Cemetery: A Peaceful Resting Place, Self-published, June 2004, p. 4
  2. ^ a b "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "Residential/Homes (A-L)". Minden Memories. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  4. ^ There is a cenotaph of Bennard Moore Fort in the Minden Cemetery.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Connell Fort Dies Saturday Night at His Residence Here: Was Great Civic Worker and Builder of This City," Webster Signal-Tribune, March 5, 1937, pp. 1, 6
  6. ^ List of Sheriffs of Webster Parish, Webster Parish Centennial Booklet, 1971, Webster Parish Police Jury publication
  7. ^ Marilyn Miller, Sons of Darkness Sons of Light (Many, Louisiana: Sweet Dreams Publishing Co., 2000), p. 177, ISBN 1-893693-09-0
  8. ^ "Government-Owned electric Utilities: Municipal Power Authorities and Electric Utilities54". dnr.louisiana.gov. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Robert F. Kennon Elected Youngest Mayor in State", Webster Signal-Tribune and Springhill Journal, Historical Edition, 1926
  10. ^ "Bridges Rites Held Monday: Former Mayor Succumbs to Heart Attack", Minden Herald, April 14, 1939, p. 1
  11. ^ Minden Herald, April 15, 1932, p. 1
  12. ^ "Harold Martin Turner". Minden Memories. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  13. ^ Lyle, Minden Cemetery, p. 67
  14. ^ Lyle, Minden Cemetery, p. 88
  15. ^ a b c "Fort Will Be Held in Caddo Parish On Murder Charges," Webster Signal-Tribune, November 14, 1933, p. 1
  16. ^ It is unclear why Fort was at first taken to Caddo Parish because even then Webster Parish was in the 26th Judicial District with neighboring Bossier Parish.
  17. ^ Webster Signal-Tribune, November 14, 1933, pp. 1, 6
  18. ^ Billy Joe Booth obituary, Shreveport Times, June 2, 1972
  19. ^ "Obituary of Kathryn Diana Nation". Minden Memories webpage. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Grady L. Hancock Succeeds Nation", Webster Signal-Tribune, November 21, 1933, p. 1
  21. ^ Minden Herald, April 13, 1934, p. 1
  22. ^ Minden Herald, May 18, 1934, p. 1
Political offices
Preceded by
J. Berry Sandefur
Mayor of Minden, Louisiana

Connell Fort
1922-1926

Succeeded by
Robert F. Kennon
Preceded by
Henry L. Bridges
Mayor of Minden, Louisiana

Connell Fort
1932-1934

Succeeded by
Henry L. Bridges