Monday, June 4, 2012

"Left me in a sad and mornful condition"

Our direct ancestor, Susan Evaline West Leffel was the grandmother of Grandma Mabel Leffel Baldwin.  Susan's husband was David Miller Leffel, the father of Charles E. Leffel, and grandfather of Mabel Baldwin.  This October 2012 will mark the sesquicentennial (150 years) of the Great Hanging.  

Susan Leffel, widow of David Miller Leffel

On 11 Jun 1869, Susan Leffel wrote a very touching letter to Texas Governor Edmund J. Davis. Susan was the widow of David Miller Leffel, who was killed in the Great Hanging. In this letter, Susan asked the Governor of Texas for help against the continued harassment to her family and friends, who's loved ones were the victims of the Great Hanging at Gainesville in 1862.
Susan's husband, David Miller Leffel, was one of forty Union sympathizing citizens of North Texas who were charged with disloyalty and treason against the Confederacy by a “Citizens Court” in Gainesville, Cooke County in October 1862 and then hanged in the Great Hanging at Gainesville. At his mockery of a trial by the Citizens Court in Gainesville, David swore support of the "old Constitution and Union." He was then hanged for disloyalty and treason to the Confederate cause.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 20 Feb 1864
Susan’s letter may be the only surviving document written by a widow of a Great Hanging victim describing her feelings about the hanging and her experiences afterwards. Susan's experiences and feelings are probably very similar to those of the other widows and family members of men who were killed in the Hangings at Gainesville.

Background info on Susan Leffel:
David and Susan Leffel left Ohio where his family lived to move to the Texas frontier where most of her family lived. Susan Evaline West, daughter of Michael West and Susannah McKee, was born 3 Jun 1817 in Kentucky. Susan married David Miller Leffel on 3 May 1837 in Springfield, Clark, Ohio. After Susan's mother died in Ohio, her father, Michael West, and several of her brothers moved to Texas before 1848. Michael West and his son, Michael, had obtained land grants as colonists in the Peters Colony in Grayson County. An older brother, John West, was living in Red River County, Texas. Father, Michael West, died in 1858.  In his will, Michael West left his land in Grayson County, Texas to his heirs, which included Susan Leffel. Sometime right after the death of her father in 1858, Susan and David packed up their young family and moved from Ohio to Grayson County, Texas to claim Susan's inheritance of land left to her by her father. After moving to Texas in 1858, Susan sells the land she inherited to her brother and then she buys another parcel of land in Grayson County that she later sells to N. H. Holt. Most married women at that time did not buy and sell land on their own. Also, married women usually did not hold title to land if they had a husband living. Why isn't David's name also on the land that is purchased and then later sold? This suggests that Susan may have been independent, with a mind of her own. The decision to move from the Northern State of Ohio to a slaveholding state would set in motion events that would eventually lead to David's violent death.

Susan seems to have been a very strong, outspoken and determined woman. At the time Susan wrote the letter in 1869, she had been on her own as a widow for almost 7 years, while trying to care for her family. And, this was during the Civil War and the following reconstruction period. All the while, Susan was being continually harassed by some of the same group that killed her husband.

Susan starts her letter by recalling the arrest and hanging of her husband, David Miller Leffel. She refers to the citizens court as a vigilante committee and states that many of the husbands were “taken off by those nocturnal visitors and destroyed by the hanging.” Richard McCaslin states that the men were rounded up at daybreak on 1 October 1862, but Susan used the word "nocturnal" which indicates that it was still dark when at least some of the men were arrested.  Below is an 1864 newspaper illustrator's interpretation of the Union men being rounded up.
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 20 Feb 1864
In the letter, Susan describes her husband, David, as follows: "kind as he was" and "great source of my comfort and living". She was not only left in a “sad and mornful condition” after her husband was hanged, but since the end of the war Susan and others who had lost relatives in the hanging had been harassed and plagued by attacks. Members of their families had been arrested “without a sine of a rit or any showing of legal authority whatever.”

And, when Susan was robbed of “my many jewelry” and household items, no one was arrested. One has to wonder, just how a pioneer wife and mother came into possession of "many jewelry." Was the jewelry a handed down keepsake from her mother? Or, was the jewelry a gift(s) from her dear husband? Where was the law? Why did they not help a poor widow?

Just two weeks prior to writing the letter in Jun 1869, a dozen men came to Susan’s home to arrest her son on a charge of horse stealing "without a sine of a rit or any showing of legal authority whatever.” The rebel group fired a shower of 40 or 50 bullets as her son fled, but he was soon apprehended. One of the tormentors, Susan mentioned by name, James Anderson of Sherman. Then, the rebels came into her house and one of the party dragged Susan onto the floor from her sickbed and pistol-whipped her younger son. She sadly concluded, “I with maney others have lost hopes of protection from that party’s abuse by the beloved country and government that we loved so dearely. . . what to do, or where to go to hide from them I can not tell.

It is hard to know which sons Susan was referring to in the above statement.  Anthony may have been the  son being arrested, but that is just a guess.  John or George may have been the son referred to as being "pistol-whipped" by the rebels.  Charles had married a month earlier on 5 May 1869 in Cooke County.  James married a month later on 15 Jul 1869 in Dallas County.

This is Susan’s final plea for help to the Governor;
“It is indeed hart rendring that my husband, as kind as he was, and great sorce of my comfort & living should be hanged and his helpless family, (with many others) are as barbrsly treated as tho we were even aliving with the Indians; simply for them to take vengance uppon us because we were and are in favor of our Fathers Country and Government.”

In June 1869, Susan was living in Pilot Point when she wrote the letter to the Governor of Texas telling of the continued harassment by southern rebels. She cannot be found in records after that time.  Susan disappeared, her whereabouts are not known after writing the letter in June 1869.

Some questions we need to ask about Susan's disappearance from records after Jun 1869:
Did Susan die shortly after writing the letter to the Governor?
She mentioned she was "lying sick in bed" when James Anderson jerked her out on the floor. Did she die from the rough treatment of the ex-confederate rebel men who harassed her?
Susan said she did not know "where to go hide" from the ex-confederate rebel group.  Did they threaten her?
Did her tormentors come back after she wrote the letter and kill her for speaking out against them?

Susan's death or burial place is not known.  How sad!

One has to wonder why Susan stayed in Texas instead of returning to the North where her oldest son and several of her brothers lived? Was she determined to "stick it out" in Texas? It appears that she had hoped for peace and protection during reconstruction. In the last paragraph of the letter, Susan admits to finally losing "hope of protection from that partys abuse by the beloved Country and Government."

Susan must have believed in and loved Texas, and she was definitely patriotic and loved her country -- the United States of America! She mentioned being a loyal (lawiel) citizen and being loyal during the war. She called the United States of America, her "beloved Country and Government" that she "loved so dearly."

Below is an actual copy of Susan's letter to Governor Edmund Davis:

Page 1
Page 2

Page 3

Page 4 - Letter Cover

Transcription of Susan's Letter:
Pilot Point Denton Co. Tex, June the 11th 1869
{ To the Honorable Governor, Chief }
{ Executive of the State of Texas }
I wish to give you some statements of matters and facts of my condition and how I have bin treated: in the first place the vigilent committy hung my husband (at the time they hanged so many at Gainesville) on the account of his Union proclivities, and left me in a sad and mornful condition but still after I have had all that to endure and my family and many of our sympathizing friend (that the leader of their familys were taken off by those nocternal visitors and destroyed by the hanging:) are ever since the war as the carcas to the Eagel:) every now and then they will arest one or our party without a sine of a rit or any showing of any legal authority whatever: why sir some of their party came to my house & robed me soon after the war of my many jewelry and household plunder: (and nothing done with them & two of the party well known to us:) but thinking we would get protection after awhile; I still remained here and bore it, with many slanders and slams unjustly thrown uppon us by that party.
[Page Two]
Yet it seems that the lawiel [loyal] citizens will never scease to be maltreated and unsafe as they were during the war on the account of there lawielty [loyalty]; why sir it hasent bin two weeks since some of that dislawiel possie cameto my house, some 10 or 12, with foure sixshooters a piece and arested my son, without any legal athority, (with the plea that he had stolen a horse some 5 or 6 years ago)(of which charge is ever redy to prove his inocence) fired some 40 or 50 shots at him as he ran and arested him out in the field: a part of them came to the house: James Anderson of Sherman drew and cocked his sixshooter on a lady that I have a living with me, I was lying sick in the bed, he (Anderson) came to my bed with pistle presented and grabed hold of me jerked me out on the floor; from which abuse I came very neare diing for several dayes; He then turned and struck an other of my sons on the side of the head with pistle, disabling him from working out my crop; who was my only dependance to do anything: and roughly abusing another young lad that was at my house; and all with-out any cause at all, no one said or done one thing to them, but they cusing and abusing the Union Class of people generaly,
[Page Three]
It is indeed hart rendring that my husband, as kind as he was, and great sorce of my comfort & living should be hanged and his helpless family, (with many others) are as barbrsly treated as tho we were even aliving with the Indians; simply for them to take vengance uppon us becuase we were and are in favor of our Fathers Country and Government;I with many others have lost hope of protection from that partys abuse by the beloved Country and Government that we loved so dearly; if she can put down rebellion God knows she has had ample time it seems to me; and what to do or where to go to hide from them I can not tell But I thought it ment and rite that some of our Chief Officers shouldknow some of the particulars of the outrages of the enimys of our country.Yours Ever, Susan Leffel

[Page Four - Letter cover]
Pilot Point Denton, June 11th 1869
Susan Leffel relates the murder of her husband and persecution of herself, family & friends by ex rebels or rather extra devils.


Anonymous said...

I shared this blog post with my brothers and sisters when we were together. We read the letter and all agreed that Susan not only had a strong character but she was also a very brave woman. We decided she is one of our most fascinating ancestors. The mystery of what happened to her after 1869 just adds to the drama. Is there something we can do to help find out what happened to her? Some of us plan to visit Gainesville in October. Hopefully there will be a lot of Leffel descendants show up so we can meet some new cousins. Would also like to meet the author of this blog.:)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all the work on this blog. It is just stunning. Found so much information on my family. I even enjoy reading about some of the people who are not my ancestors.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful work clmroots. You have done a great job putting all of this together. Hope that someday you will find out what happened to Susan after she wrote the letter.

Unknown said...

Hello! I was thrilled to find your blog! Sarah Eleanor McCoy was the mother of my great grandmother Rosa (Rosie) Eveyn Leffel. Her father was John Wesley Leffel. My grandfather was her son Milos Leffel.