Although his early years go unrecorded here, Webb was sufficiently educated and popular to be named as the first lieutenant of the Claiborne (for Claiborne County) Greys as his Confederate company was known. The Greys were also Company D of the 19th Louisiana Volunteer Infantry, a regiment organized at Camp Moore on November 19, 1861. Webb initially was named company’s first lieutenant and later raised to captain, a title he kept throughout his life. Shown here is the uniform he would have worn as a Confederate officer.
Webb and the 19th Louisiana saw lively action during the Civil War. After New Orleans was seized by Yankee forces, the regiment retired to Corinth, Mississippi, and fought in the battle of Shiloh in April 1862, losing one-fifth of its strength. Becoming part of the Louisiana Brigade, the unit was engaged at Chicamauga where they lost 153 of their 350 officers and men. With continued heavy fighting in the Atlanta Campaign and the Battle of Nashville, the 19th Louisiana became so depleted of men that it was consolidated as part of a new unit called the Pelican Regiment. Webb’s decimated company had to be joined with two others to form a new company. Within weeks it surrendered at Gainesville, Alabama. Through it all Rufus seems not to have been wounded or fallen seriously ill.
Returning to Monroe, Louisiana, Webb engaged in business, becoming a wholesale liquor dealer with an address at 105 DeSiard Street. It apparently was a successful activity with a sizable regional customer base. Rufus was known for packaging his goods in crock jugs with a considerable variety in their sizes, shapes and labels. Shown here are just five from a larger array. They ranged from shouldered jugs in a single yellow glaze to ones with a brown Albany slip tops. They also included a bailed stoneware container with a black underglazed label. I find one label particularly interesting in which Webb identified his firm as “limited,” a British term that described corporate liability.
Webb also packaged his whiskey in glass bottles. Shown here is a flask and detail of a logo embossed “R.P. Webb, Wholesale Liquors, Monroe, La.” Interestingly, the base of the bottle is embossed, “design patented, Pat. Aug. 9, 1898." Webb’s flagship brand was “Red Bud Whiskey,” as shown here on a giveaway shot glass. He does not seem to have bothered to trademark the name.
Another of Webb’s brands was “Post Office,” a label that incurred the special wrath of prohibitionist forces. About 1910 he issued an advertising circular featuring a large picture of a whiskey bottle that read “Post Office.” At one side was a picture of a post office with Uncle Sam smiling and pointing toward the whiskey. The circular read: “We all have confidence in our great government. We honor Old Glory, the flag of our country, and when we find Uncle Sam’s O.K. and stamp on everything we have confidence in it.” (Quite an about face for a former Confederate officer.) The circular went on to imply that the government green tax stamp on the bottle was a guarantee of its quality.
A temperance journal, in a critique of whiskey advertising, roundly condemned Webb’s ad as the very worst it had seen in all of the United States. The anti-alcohol publication objected to the patriotic message Webb had sent, the implication of government approval, the misleading reference to the tax stamp as a guarantee of quality, and the official sounding brand name. Webb countered when he asserted: “We have been permitted to use this name 'Post Office,' and the brand is fully protected by law.”
Webb clearly was making full use of the Monroe Post Office and Southern Railway Express to bring his liquor to customers throughout Louisiana. Although the state generally was hostile to any prohibition of alcohol, some central and northern parishes (counties) and towns had voted “dry” through local option. Among them was Shreveport. One pro-liquor publication, asserting the futility of such local bans, pointed out that any individual in such a place could have a gallon of whiskey a week shipped to him: “Such a farce is the law in this State that Monroe, La., alone, shipped 3,000,000 drinks into Shreveport last Christmas, according to L. I. Kahn, Commissioner of Public Utilities of Shreveport.” Many of those drinks came through the courtesy of Rufus Webb.
Shipping into “dry” areas, however, could be tricky,. In 1902 Webb sent his "drummer,” a salesman named George L. Shields, into the Louisiana parish of Winn where a local alcohol ban prevailed. While Shields was taking orders for liquor in the town of Winnfield, he was arrested for violating local ordinances. Webb also was named as a defendant. Both men were convicted but as Webb never showed up for the trial, only the salesman faced a penalty. With the obvious backing of his boss, Shields appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court. By a decision to which one judge dissented, the Court determined that because: 1) Webb was a lawful liquor dealer in a “wet” county, 2) the transaction had taken place through the mail, and 3) no money had changed hands in Winn County, the law had not been broken. Shields was declared “not guilty” and let go.
Unfortunately, too little is known about Rufus Webb’s personal life. He was married and in 1894 local papers carried the story that his wife was lying “dangerously ill” from pneumonia at the Webb home. “Though the best medical skill and nursing is employed yet her relatives and friends entertain grave doubts as to her recovery.” Several weeks later the same newspaper was “glad to state” Mrs. Webb had recovered.
The story about Webb’s fondness for shooting alligators from a riverboat came from the descendant of one of his companions. A great-grandson told of how his ancestor would join Capt. R. P. Webb on a Sunday afternoon excursion on a riverboat moving from the town of Sterlington down the Ouachita River to Monroe. They would stand in the bow of the boat and shoot the ‘gators, then tether them to the craft, and take them along home. He added: “Trouble was they stunk up the town of Monroe downstream a few days later with dead alligator carcasses.” Asked to quit bringing in dead 'gators, Webb and his companions obliged.
With the coming of National Prohibition and nationwide federal control of alcohol sales, R. P. Webb Co. Ltd. was forced to shut down. That business setback did not send the now quite elderly Rufus into retirement. A 1922 publication noted that Capt. R. P. Webb was now working for the Louisiana State Conservation Department in Monroe, monitoring natural gas wells. Still, it must have been relatively dull employment for a man who had been forced during his lifetime to give up three loves: fighting Yankees, shooting alligators, and selling whiskey.