Where does one find cause to ignore some historical facts? A better question might be, when can one find justification for intentional ignorance? At times, there can be strong temptation to ignore something even when it is plainly historical. This is especially so when the facts are egregious.
Such contemplation brings me back to my Loyola classes in Theology, specifically the discussions of vincible vs invincible ignorance. Painfully back, I might add.
My head does begin to ache, and so perhaps I should get on with the subject at hand, that being about justification. It must be understood, then, that I am referring to the vincible kind, as we have no choice in the invincible sort.
I do not claim to be a genealogist. In fact, I’m not sure that I like genealogy as a discipline, even though I might like those who pursue the field. I personally have felt the coldness of the many genealogical books that I have hefted from library shelves. And it goes without saying that many of the tables in the third floor of New Orleans’ main library (“the Louisiana room”) are crowded with avid horticulturists of family trees. But the books tell no stories: sure, there are dobs (dates of birth) and dods (obvious), and bps (baptisms, of course), and many connecting lines and boxes – horizontal for brothers and sisters, and vertical for children, grandchildren, etc. Sometimes there are codes, like cn1jl3, followed by cnlj14, and so forth. Fortunately, there is usually an Introduction to explain the code, and it is written in prose form.
But to restate my gripe, there is no story.
I prefer real history, stories about people, the color of their skin and even hair, when known; who married whom and why; whether money was involved; judgments of why someone would shoot his adoptive father; descriptions of how pretty was the town and who founded it, and on and on.
True to this formula, how could I possibly ignore the story of Arthur Guerin much longer? In all honesty, there is hesitation on my part. Actually, I may have been able to claim invincible ignorance if I had not recently found the old notebook which I had used a long time ago to take down the facts as found on microfilm of the Times-Picayune of the late 1800’s. Whether I had purposely secreted the notebook with the hopes that I would forget it, I cannot say.
Anyway, I have now found it, and the truth must be known. It is, after all, factual history, and we must go where the facts lead.
To tell the truth, I was not intentionally looking for information on the likes of Arthur Guerin, and I had no knowledge from hearing the accounts of the family genealogists that such a man had existed. I do not know if he truly was in my ancestry. Not being an iconoclast by nature, I must have been searching for something else when I found articles on Arthur Guerin. It will be up to those in the family to account for whether they knew of Arthur, and if so, did they intentionally delete him.
For that matter, in all my readings of local history of that time, I had only found one mention of a Guerin that might have been better ignored by a genealogist. That was Paddy Guerin, mentioned in Asbury’s The French Quarter. That history tells of New Orleans in the late19th century, when it was afflicted with hoodlums, members of “a score of well-organized gangs of burglars, pickpockets, and sneak thieves.” Paddy is listed among “burglars and cracksmen.” Somewhere else, I read about a Guerin – maybe Paddy – who was a Whig.
But in all candor, and with due attention to the exigency of reporting history as we find it, I think we can dismiss old Paddy. This is for one obvious and incontestable reason, that being that with a name like “Paddy,” he surely must have been one of the Irish Guerins and therefore no kin. I have never heard of any Irish Guerins, but it is reasonable to assume that there might have been.
Besides, he was only what we would call in 20th century parlance “just a third-rate burglar.”
And so on to Arthur. The source for the following notes and quotes is the Times Picayune. The findings began with a happy note.
July 2, 1869
“Yesterday the jury in the case of Arthur Guerin returned a verdict of acquittal. The testimony disclosed the fact that the homicide was committed in self-defense, or in the serious apprehension of violence from the deceased.”
(Question: Did our forebear really invent the first-strike doctrine, 130 years before the Bush administration?)
July 29, 1869
“Shooting affray. Almost a tragedy.
“About half-past 10 last night a difficulty occurred near Clay Statue on Canal Street, between Arthur Guerin and a man named McLaughlin, in which 9 to 10 shots were exchanged. Neither of the combatants were [sic] injured but one of the shots took effect in the heel of a German, on the opposite side of Canal Street, but inflicted no dangerous wound.
“It appears that there has been a serious misunderstanding between Guerin and McLaughlin and both were prepared for a hostile encounter when they met. The immediate cause, however, of the affray, no one could get rightly at. As soon as the firing ceased, Guerin proceeded leisurely into the Crescent Billiard Saloon, and from there went out, no one appears to know where. At all events, up to 12 o’clock, neither of the parties were [sic] arrested. It is singular that no one else was hurt, as nearly a hundred persons were around, and the shots were fired in the midst of them.”
July 31, 1869
[The following is an edited version.]
Shooting on Canal Street
The parties engaged in the recent shooting have been refused bail by Judge Gastinel, and are being held subject to recovery of the party accidentally wounded. An affidavit has been made against both Guerin and McLaughlin by the father of the wounded man. It is not, however, pretended that either of them shot at him purposely.
It was noted that the area of the event was a dangerous one, running from Common, to St. Charles, to Canal, and that scarcely an hour passes without some sort of strife.
August 4, 1871
Shooting in Criminal Court
Guerin was shot in criminal court on Orleans Street by two policemen. He was shot twice. Apparently, he was not on trial, but was present as an observer.
For many years, Guerin had a reputation as a desperado. He is believed to have killed many men; nobody knows how many. He had been tried three times for murder, but always managed to escape any penalty.
[Though not in my notes, I seem to remember that there was on the part of the policemen a vendetta against Guerin.]
August 5, 1871
[A long article, for which I have only these scant notes.]
Guerin was about 40, the son of Creole parents. [I guess that shoots the Irish hypothesis.] He had started to go wrong when he joined a gang in the 1853 political commotions. He was one of a group called the Red Warriors.
August 8 and 10, 1871
Essentially same information, but also indicating that Guerin was “sinking fast.”
August 11. 1871
Guerin was “Improved!” but still paralyzed.
I could find no follow-up to the August 11 account.
The last article having been written 140 years ago, I think we can safely report the death of Arthur. Thus, Morte d’Arthur.
That’s all there is to report from that tattered old notebook. Is there more to be found? Probably, but I’ll leave it to the genealogists so that they might be able to put a little spice in the family tree.