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Crossing Lines: Junction City

By Wesley Harris (Claiborne Parish Library Historian)

Unlike any other town in America, Junction City is divided by two states, two parishes, and one county. Situated on the Arkansas-Louisiana state line, the community is actually two towns with separate governments, each electing its own officials. Junction City, Louisiana is divided in half by Claiborne and Union Parishes. Junction City,

Arkansas is located wholly in Union County. The multitude of jurisdictional lines has caused headaches since Junction City’s
founding in 1894 when Captain C. C. Henderson purchased a tract for a depot on the Arkansas Southern Railway. The railroad eventually extended south and led to the creation of Bernice and Dubach and the demise of the Union Parish town of Shiloh which was missed by the rails. Ruston became a railroad crossroads with the Arkansas Southern intersecting the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Pacific line, making it possible for a passenger to transfer and continue travel in any direction.

Legend and a smattering of newspaper reports paint early Junction City as a rowdy little town. In 1896 a town marshal was wounded while attempting to make an arrest. Lish Williams, a violent repeat offender, escaped. A deputy U.S. marshal tracked down Williams in Columbia and with an application of some force, took the fugitive into custody. Among other shootings and killings, two Junction City town marshals were murdered, one in 1916 and another in 1929. Drunkenness, the apparent cause of much of the violence, was condemned several times in the local paper.

The numerous jurisdictions complicated law enforcement. After committing a crime in Louisiana, the offender could slip into another parish or across the state line making apprehension by law officers more difficult.

In 1901, Junction City suffered a disastrous fire with thirteen buildings destroyed, including the bank and post office. The origin of the fire is unknown, but it is thought to have begun in a restaurant.

In August 1905, the governor of Arkansas placed the state under a yellow fever quarantine. For Junction City, especially its Louisiana residents, the decree caused chaos.

Guards on the Arkansas side enforced the quarantine and no one from Junction City, Louisiana was allowed to cross the street into Arkansas without going through considerable red tape. One man who owned a business on the Arkansas side but lived in Louisiana side had to move to avoid trouble with the authorities each time he crossed over.

The quarantine muddled everyday life for residents on the Louisiana side of Junction City. Junction City’s town well was in the center of Main Street. The handle to the well pump was in Arkansas. When someone in Louisiana needed a drink from the well, a
citizen in Arkansas had to pump the handle to get water. The Arkansas guards loitered around the pump and kindly filled the tin dippers of those on the Louisiana side. If Louisianans pumped their own water, they faced the likelihood of arrest.

Most businesses were on the Arkansas side. To purchase household provisions during the quarantine, Louisianans lined up along their side of the border and the merchants assembled on the other side to take orders for meat, flour, bread, and other goods. The orders were filled and at an agreed time, customers met merchants again who handed the purchases across the state line. The method was similar to some strategies used during the recent COVID pandemic.

The many dividing lines also created problems at election time in early Junction City.

A 1922 Shreveport Journal article reported, “Always in elections Junction City has a more or less severe political muddle because it is on the dividing line, and it is a difficult matter to separate the sheep from the goats, as it were.” The article told of a lawsuit by the defeated candidate for mayor of Junction City, Louisiana, challenging the election, claiming nine voters who did not live in Junction City cast ballots, 29 voters for the victor owed poll taxes and were ineligible to vote, and one voter did not live in either Louisiana or Arkansas. The suit failed.

Another jurisdictional flap arose in the 1990s over schools. Beginning in the 1920s, some students living in Claiborne and Union Parishes attended school in Junction City, Arkansas. The parish school boards provided buses, teachers, and other resources to help pay for the Louisiana students’ education in Arkansas. The amount of the contributions was renegotiated each year. In 1995, Union Parish withdrew from the agreement and students who once walked to school were bused to Bernice, Farmerville, and Lillie. By 2008, only 58 Claiborne high schoolers and 55 elementary students were attending Junction City schools.

In 2013, the Claiborne Parish School Board withdrew from the arrangement. The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a plan for up to 100 Claiborne students to continue to attend Junction City schools. The one-of-a-kind agreement allowed students to remain in Junction City rather than being bused to Claiborne schools. The funding was routed through a charter school that could accept students from across the state.

While the multiple jurisdictions have created issues over the years, for the average resident Junction City is simply Junction City. To those who love their small community, the state, county, parish, and town boundaries are just lines on a map.