Eliza Jane: The story of the attempted assassination of Pearl Rivers continues

Published 7:23 pm Wednesday, September 8, 2010

By Don Wicks

 Part 2

  In part one, Eliza Jane Holbrook was attacked and nearly killed by her husband’s ex-wife, Jennie Bronson. After the attack, Jennie was arrested but was soon out on bail.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

 She immediately filed suit against Holbrook on the validity of the divorce, which eventually wound up in the Louisiana Supreme Court. Eliza Jane filed a civil suite for damages. As part of her recovery, Eliza and her husband went on a short vacation, returning to find that Jennie had moved into Eliza’s house.

 It turns out that Holbrook had given Jennie the house in a “notarial act”, and after the divorce, rescinded the act and sold the house to Eliza. Jennie brought her papers to a judge sitting in for the regular judge and convinced him to decree Jennie as owner and issued an injunction against the Holbrooks’ against interference.

  On returning, the sitting judge refused to evict Jennie, saying that Eliza Jane had title and it was a matter for the police, not the courts. The police refused to take action, so Eliza issued another suite to have Jennie evicted, but the woman was able to remain in the house for several months before the court acted.

 In the meantime, Eliza and Holbrook moved into a hotel and then a residence on Prytania Street. During that time, Eliza still feared for her life, but with friends gathered around her, she compiled poems for her first and only publication, “Lyrics”, which was published by Lippincott in 1873.

 One more event occurred which added both spice and grief to our heroine. Willie Harrison, her first love when she was 15 and attending Amite Female Seminary in Liberty Mississippi, showed up.

 The school romance and lifelong friendship is chronicled in letters from Eliza to Willie and housed at the Tulane Archives. The Liberty romance had been squelched by her uncle, Judge Leonard Kimball, isolating Eliza at the Hermitage in Hobolochitto (Picayune).

 Incoming and outgoing mail was intercepted, but Eliza did manage to see Willie one more time in New Orleans on her brother’s steamboat and gave him a promise ring, asking him to work hard, don’t drink and in three years, when they would be of age, they would marry. The Civil War began and Willie enlisted. During the war he married another woman.

 When Willie called on her, Eliza was glad to see a friendly face from olden times, but was taken aback when Willie tried to renew the relationship, he a married man with children and she a married woman.

 Her rebuking letters to him brought tension but did not end the friendship. In one letter she asked him to help her re-enter her house to retrieve her writings and personal things. In another she asked him to sit with her in court. He even showed up to help Eliza when Holbrook became ill with a mild stroke.

 Apparently, the relationship between Eliza and Holbrook was growing cold and in another letter to Willie, she stated that Holbrook didn’t love her, never did and never will. We don’t know if Willie followed up on Eliza’s requests. We do know that all her early unpublished poetry and correspondence has apparently been lost to, and probably disposed of, by “that woman.” 

 Several of the trial transcripts are on file at the Main Library in New Orleans, but at least four are missing, including the one that chronicled most of the action. For some reason the newspapers did not carry the disposition of any of the cases at the time they were adjudicated, except for the Supreme Court, which found Eliza’s marriage to Holbrook was valid.

 A month before the trial, Jennie Bronson showed up at Eliza’s house and insulted and abused her and several others. Her bond was forfeited, she was arrested and let loose on another $1000 bond shortly after.

For the results of two trials, we know that in one of the civil cases, and in the criminal case, Jennie Bronson was found not guilty, which seems a travesty of justice, but considering the Reconstruction jury (mostly freed slaves and northern radicals), the stature of Jennie Bronson, a beautiful runway model type, the lack of support by Holbrook, and Eliza’s quiet demeanor and fear of the “woman’s” wrath, one is greatly disappointed, but not surprised.

     Holbrook died in January, 1876, leaving Eliza the bankrupt newspaper ($80,000 in debt). Instead of accepting the $1000 offered by the bankruptcy court, Eliza chose, against convention, to accept her inheritance, and with the business manager, her future husband, George Nicholson, they turned it around to be the premier journal of the South during its worst period in history, Reconstruction.