The Saucier-Post Tragedy
- story by Rebecca Orfila, photo Library of Congress
The truth can often be difficult to discern, even in these times of easy Internet research and a camera in every phone. When we look to the past with only a few historical sources to inform us, the needle moves from difficult to impossible. We can only color conjecture with a few ascertainable facts.
One tragic and notable incident that occurred in Bay St. Louis shortly after the Civil War is a case in point. Two men died — this we know for sure. They well may have lost their lives over a bit of untrue gossip, a sorry coincidence. Historians will never know for sure. All parties have been in their graves for over a century.
In 1870, during the lush and languid springtime in Bay St. Louis, rumors flew of unsavory behavior. Whispers were traded in barrooms, parlors, businesses and homes about a local doctor specializing in apothecary science and the pretty wife of a local hotelier. The doctor was but 27, the matron ten years his senior.
The cast of characters in this conflict echoes the names of well-established local families in Bay St. Louis and Shieldsborough during the 1800s. According to a bulletin from the New Orleans Advertiser reprinted on page one of the April 18, 1870 New York Commercial Advertiser, the lady involved in “improper relations” was the daughter of John B. Toulme.
Mr. Toulme was a town leader, successful merchant, and landowner, and the original founder and manager of the Crescent Hotel (also known as the City Crescent Hotel) located at 200 South Beach Boulevard. A short walk from the train station, the Crescent was a popular stop for passengers and visitors to the shore. Evariste Saucier took over management duties of the hotel following a stint (1867–1869) as the U.S. Postmaster for Bay St. Louis.
Church records show that the lady and her husband married October 1, 1851 with a 3-degree dispensation from consanguinity (they were second cousins who shared the same great-grandparents). She was 18 and her husband was 37. During their marriage, the couple had several children, the last born in 1868.
Dr. Christopher Columbus Post (b. 1844) was an 1861 graduate of Tulane University Medical School. After serving his time in college-related duties, he relocated to Bay St. Louis to practice apothecary science. He married well to Irene Whitfield (b.1850), daughter of William Alexander Whitfield, owner of Shelly Plantation. The plantation was located on the plot of land where the DuPont plant is now located.
As related in the New York and New Orleans newspapers, on the evening in question Mr. Saucier, along with a friend, went directly to his mother-in-law’s home and was told the lady had not been at the home that evening. Next, they walked to Dr. Post’s office, where they knocked on the locked door. The doctor answered the door and told Saucier and his friend that he was otherwise engaged. He closed the door without further discussion.
Undeterred, Saucier and his friend stayed in the neighborhood and watched as Saucier’s wife exited the building and headed in the direction of the hotel. A few days later, Saucier challenged the doctor to a duel, which Post accepted. Local law enforcement stepped in and arrested both men. Peace was kept for a few days.
The 1832 Mississippi state constitution strictly forbade dueling by “any rifle, shotgun, sword, sword-cane, pistol, dirk, bowie-knife, dirk-knife, or any other deadly weapon.” Seconds and physicians would be fined a sizeable sum and be imprisoned for three months. If a duelist was killed, the offending man would be arrested and tried on grounds of murder.
Upon their release from the local jail, Saucier and Post returned to their lives and homes; however, the unanswered matter of honor weighed heavily on Saucier. Within a few days, he communicated with Post and told him to leave town or face the consequences. Post ignored the ultimatum and maintained his presence in the community.
The Commercial Advertiser and New Orleans Bee reported that on April 7 around 7 p.m., Saucier waited and watched as the doctor exited the apothecary shop and walked down the street. Saucier surprised Post with several pistol shots in his direction. Post managed to get off one shot that hit Saucier’s hip before Post collapsed and died in the street. All of Saucier’s bullets had hit the mark.
The prognosis for Saucier was unknown following the street battle. According to the New Orleans Daily Picayune, Saucier died on April 12 of his wounds. Regarding the death notices and obituary published in several national and local newspapers, Mr. Saucier’s death was met with deep sorrow, while Post’s death notice was simply acknowledged in the New Orleans papers.
Following the deadly altercation, Mrs. Saucier moved her family to her father’s home in Pass Christian. In 1872, she married John Anthony Breath, a judge in the Hancock County judicial system.
As with all historical research, some questions cannot be answered. In question is the location of the street duel: some newspapers reported that the night’s events took place in front of the Saucier home, while others suggested the street in front of the Crescent Hotel, or the Masonic hall, or Post’s apothecary shop. As to the accusations against Mrs. Saucier and Dr. Post, we find no published confession by either.
Madeleine is buried in the Toulme family plot at Cedar Rest Cemetery in Bay St. Louis (Madeline Toulme Saucier Breath, Plot: S11-08). John Anthony Breath was buried in Masonic No. 1 in N.O. Post is also buried in New Orleans, in the Greenwood Cemetery (Plot 56, Cypress Hawthorne Cedar). No one knows Saucier’s final resting place.