Merryville legend preserved with roadside marker

The story of Leather Britches

LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The legend of Leather Britches, an outlaw who fought in the 1912 Grabow Labor Riot, is preserved on a roadside marker for Merryville visitors to see.

Members of the small rural community gathered together at the Merryville Museum on Friday to celebrate the unveiling of the roadside marker, the first in Louisiana to be part of the Legends & Lore series.

Historic Markers Map | William G. Pomeroy Foundation

A map of all National Historic Markers, including New York Historic Markers, Ohio Historic Markers, New York Canal Historic Markers, and Legends & Lore

The marker, which is paid for by the Legends & Lore Marker Grant Program, is distinguished by its rich red color with light beige lettering and border.

Leather Britches, alias of Charles Smith, was an outlaw who fought in the town’s union strike over a hundred years ago. He was killed during an ambush, and depending on who you talked to in Merryville, he died as a hero or an outlaw.

Merryville Museum
Merryville Museum (Source: KPLC)

“All I knew is he was a bad guy,” Jessica Ramirez said. “They shot him, and they put him in the jail right a couple of blocks away and then they buried him face down.”

Ramirez was one of a handful of locals who attended the unveiling ceremony, proud of the recognition.

“I mean unless you’re from this area, nobody knows,” Ramirez said.

The Legends & Lore grant program is part of the Pomeroy Foundation, which helps communities commemorate their local folklore and legends with roadside markers.

Josh Caffery, director at the Center for Louisiana Studies at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said having a marker puts Merryville on the folklore map of the United States.

“It reminds people of the history,” Caffery said. “The deep and interesting history of the area, you know. This museum and these people who work at the museum bring people into the community from outside, and they also serve as carriers of community memory.”

The fascinating figure was all author Keagan Lejeune heard of when he visited Merryville.

“Everyone always told me that I had to hear this story about Leather Britches,” LeJeune said. “He was a story that no one should forget.”

LeJeune is the author of the book, “Always for the Underdog: Leather Britches Smith and the Grabow War,” that examines Smith’s life and his historical connection to the Grabow War.

LeJeune said he couldn’t get enough of the story, which had plenty of bits and pieces he had to put together.

“I don’t have all the stories in the book,” Lejeune said. “There’s a lot about Leather Britches that’s not in the book, and I keep learning new stuff about him."

Louisiana’s rich history and legends should deserve recognition and be preserved, LeJeune said, admiring the marker behind him. “I think this is just a good first step for this place, that is so unique."

To apply for a Legends & Lore marker, visit here. Applications are accepted twice a year by the deadlines listed online.

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