Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas 1862



In October of 1862 in Gainesville, Cooke County, Texas, 40 men suspected of Union sympathies were hanged by an extra-legal "Citizens Court," of which the majority were slaveholders. Two other men were shot trying to escape. North Texas (including Cooke and neighboring counties) was the center of opposition to secession from the Union. The opposition was fueled when the Confederate Conscription Act of April, 1862 was enacted with an exemption from the draft for the largest slaveholders. Those who were in opposition formed a Peace Party.
The Confederate Citizens Court consisted of a majority of slaveholders. Seven of the twelve jurors during Gainsville lynchings were slaveholders and they insisted on a simple majority rule in the decisions for execution. The slaveholder jurors alone could condemn a person to death! These men exerted power and influence far out of proportion to their numbers. The majority of slaves in Cooke County were owned by only 10% of the population. Two of the largest slaveholders in Cooke County were Colonel James Bourland and Colonel William C. Young.
Men were also killed in neighboring Grayson, Wise, and Denton counties. Most were accused of treason or insurrection, but very few had actually conspired against the Confederacy, and many were innocent of the charges for which they were tried.

David Miller Leffel, our ancestor, was one of the Union sympathizing citizens of North Texas who was charged with treason against the Confederacy by the "Citizens Court" in Gainesville, Cooke County in October 1862 and hanged in the Great Hanging at Gainesville.
Leading up to this tragedy, David's brother-in-law, William Boyles, encouraged him to attend a meeting of the "Peace Party" at the home of Rama Dye. At the meeting, the rescue of prisoners held by the Citizens Court was discussed. Fifteen men who attended the meeting Dye's home that night were later executed, David being one of them.
At his trial by the confederate "Citizen's Court", David states, "I was sworn by Wm Boyles, who gave me the signs, grip and password. I was sworn to support the old Constitution and Union." David Leffel was connected with the Ramey Dye meeting for the rescue of the prisoners. He and 19 other men were found guilty on Saturday, October 18 and hanged the next day.
David's hanging took place on Sunday, October 19, 1862. It is not known what happened to his body.
The Handbook of Texas Online has an article on the Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas 1862. Following is a link to the article: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/GG/jig1.html

Note: Through an antique dealer, I found an original copy of the Franks Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, dated 20 Feb1864, that contained the above illustration.

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