Joe T. Cawthorn

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Joseph T. "Joe" Cawthorn​

Louisiana State Senator for
Caddo and DeSoto parishes​
In office
1940​ – 1944​
Preceded by J. C. Heard​

Roscoe C. Cranor​

Succeeded by Riemer Calhoun​

Lloyd Hendrick​

Born October 1, 1911​
Selma, Grant Parish, Louisiana​
Died November 11, 1967 (aged 56)​
Lake Charles, Louisiana​
Resting place Mt. Olivet Cemetery in DeSoto Parish, Louisiana​
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Merle Sloan Cawthorn​
Children Melody Merle Cawthorn ___​
Residence Mansfield, DeSoto Parish​
Alma mater Oak Grove High School
(West Carroll Parish)​

Louisiana State University
Law Center​ (Baton Rouge)

Occupation Attorney; Businessman

Joseph T. Cawthorn, known as Joe T. Cawthorn (October 1, 1911 – November 11, 1967),[1] was an attorney, businessman, and a Democratic politician from Mansfield in DeSoto Parish in northwestern Louisiana. He was affiliated with the Long political faction of state politics


Cawthorn was born in the unincorporated Selma near another rural community, Georgetown, in northeastern Grant Parish. He graduated from Oak Grove High School in Oak Grove in West Carroll Parish, Louisiana in West Carroll Parish in northeastern Louisiana. In 1932, he received his law degree from the Paul M. Hebert Law Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.[1]


In 1940, Cawthorn was elected as the state senator for a district encompassing both DeSoto and the neighboring and much larger Caddo Parish.[2] In his one term, during the administration of Governor Sam Houston Jones, Cawthorn chaired the Senate Finance Committee but became a persistent critic of Jones, after Jones split politically with former Governor James A. Noe of Monroe, Cawthorn's political mentor. Cawthorn accused Jones of "waste and inefficiency" in state government.[3]

In 1944, Cawthorn did not seek re-election to the state Senate but instead ran a strong though unsuccessful race for attorney general of Louisiana against fellow Democrat Fred S. LeBlanc of Baton Rouge, who carried the backing of the successful gubernatorial nominee, Jimmie Davis. Known for his singing career too, Davis was elected that year to the first of his two non-consecutive gubernatorial terms. By then, Cawthorn was allied with Earl Kemp Long,[4] the former and future governor who ran unsuccessfully in 1944 for lieutenant governor, a post that Long had also held from 1936 to 1939 under then Governor Richard Leche. Cawthorn and other Long-endorsed candidates had led in the first primary[5] but fell short in the runoff election as J. Emile Verret of Iberia Parish defeated Long for lieutenant governor.

In May 1946, Cawthorn was convicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana for his role as the attorney in an income tax evasion and jury tampering case against businessman William T. Burton, former Governor Noe, and Marcel F. La Branche, a juror. Cawthorn, Burton, and La Branche were found guilty and each sentenced to two years in prison and fined $10,000, but Noe was acquitted. The three lost their appeals before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans. As a result of his conviction, Cawthorn was disbarred.[6]

In October 1964, Cawthorn was appointed to head the Johnson-Humphrey campaign for DeSoto Parish.[1] However, the parish voted 75.9 percent for the Republican Goldwater-Miller slate. Goldwater was only the second Republican since 1876 to carry the Louisiana electoral vote.[7] Cawthorn also sat on the steering committee of the Johnson campaign for Louisiana's 4th congressional district,[1] in which U.S. Representative Joe Waggonner, a Democrat from Bossier Parish, was unopposed for his second full term in office.​

In a suit heard in 1966 seeking to reclaim $160,000 to the estate of her late husband, Blanche Long, the widow of former Governor Earl Long, indicated that on or about August 20, 1960, Cawthorn delivered $6,000 in cash in Marksville in Avoyelles Parish to Long. Some two weeks later, Long died after victory in a campaign against fellow Democrat Harold Barnett McSween (1926-2002) for Louisiana's since disbanded 8th congressional district.[8]

Cawthorn was later reinstated to the practice of law. He owned the Melody Ranch at Mansfield and operated Mammoth Finance Company in Shreveport. He was also a petroleum investor.[1]

Sudden death

​ Shortly before his death, Cawthorn had been the defense attorney in Bossier Parish for the former rodeo star Jack Favor (1911-1988), who was falsely accused and convicted in 1967 of the 1964 murders of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Richey, operators of a bait stand near Haughton. After a seven-year period of incarceration at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in West Feliciana Parish, Favor was exonerated in a second trial in 1974. After Cawthorn's death, the co-counsel, James B. Wells of Bossier City, who believed in Favor's innocence, continued to represent his client. The exoneration of Favor required a lawsuit against the then warden at Angola, C. Murray Henderson, Jr. (c. 1920-2004)[9] and a request before a federal judge to grant a second trial on the premise that the trial court judge, O. E. Price, along with Bossier Parish Sheriff Willie Waggonner, the chief deputy and successor as sheriff, Vol Dooley, and District Attorney Louis Harvey Padgett, Jr. (1913-1980), had illegally conspired to rig the trial to convict Favor despite knowledge of his innocence.[10]

Cawthorn died on Veterans Day 1967 of a sudden illness in Memorial Hospital in Lake Charles, where he was stricken while on business. A week before his passing, Cawthorn had been defeated in a Democratic primary for a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives for DeSoto, Sabine, and Red River parishes in a two-member district by incumbent Joe Henry Cooper of Mansfield and subsequent Judge John S. Pickett, Jr., of Many in Sabine Parish.[1] Though defeated for the legislature, he had won in the same election a seat on the Louisiana Democratic Executive Committee for the 38th representative district.[1]

Cawthorn and his wife, Merle Sloan Cawthorn (1919-1998), had a daughter, Melody Merle Cawthon (born c. 1954). He is interred at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in DeSoto Parish alongside his brothers, W. B. Cawthorn (1900-1963) and Fred Cawthorn (1908-1940).[11]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Joe T. Cawthorn obituary, Sabine Index (Many, Louisiana), November 16, 1967.
  2. Membership in the Louisiana State Senate, 1880-2024 (Caddo and DeSoto parishes). Louisiana State Senate. Retrieved on June 16, 2020.
  3. The Shreveport Times, January 10, February 11, 1942.
  4. Louisiana election returns. Miami (Oklahoma) Daily News (March 1, 1944). Retrieved on June 18, 2020.
  5. Return of Long Faction in Louisiana. Big Spring (Texas) Daily Herald (January 19, 1944). Retrieved on June 16, 2020.
  6. Louisiana State Bar Association v. Cawthorn. (July 3, 1953). Retrieved on June 16, 2020.
  7. Shreveport Journal, November 4, 1964, p. 1.
  8. Blanche Revere Long v. Frank Matthews. (1966). Retrieved on June 16, 2020.
  9. Jack G. Favor v. C. Murray Henderson, Jr., Warden, Louisiana State Penitentiary. (May 16, 1972). Retrieved on June 16, 2020.
  10. "List of Louisiana Wrongful Convictions Overturned since 1966, The Baton Rouge Advocate, November 23, 2003.
  11. Joe T. Cawthorn. Retrieved on June 16, 2020.