Always for the Underdog: Leather Britches Smith and the Grabow War
By Keagan LeJeune
(University of North Texas Press, $29.95, hardback)
The 1803 Louisiana Purchase doubled America’s size. It also left one small border area in legal limbo. When the United States and Spain disagreed over who owned it, they pulled back their militias to avoid war and left the area ungoverned. Soon, the tiny Free State of the Sabine was formed in pine forests along the Sabine River that now separates Texas and Louisiana.
Also known as the Louisiana Neutral Strip, the Free State of Sabine became a haven for outlaws, and it remained so for many years after the boundary dispute was settled.
Keagan LeJeune’s informative and entertaining book focuses on one “good” fugitive in the lawless area, Leather Britches Smith.
In 1912, Leather Britches — a man with a murderous reputation and plenty of weapons — sided with union workers against lumber mill operators during a violent, fatal clash that became known as the Grabow Riot or the Grabow War. It was part of the bigger Louisiana-Texas Timber War that raged from 1911 to 1912.
The author is a professor of English and folklore at McNeese State University. He lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and has served as president of the Louisiana Folklore Society.
— Si Dunn