Susan Leffel, widow of David Miller Leffel
In this post, we will revisit and ponder the letter written by Susan Leffel on 11 Jun 1869 to 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. See previous post about the letter.
To our knowledge, Susan’s letter is the only surviving document written by a widow of a 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 Emeline 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 and 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's 1869 letter to Governor Edmund J. Davis of Texas, can be found in the Texas State Archives. Our impression is that a shy, timid woman did not write that letter. 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. 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.” 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.
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.”
Susan’s final plea for help can’t help but tug at the heartstrings:
“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 June 1869. And, Susan's whereabouts are not known after that time.
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 men who harassed 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.
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 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 State of America, her "beloved Country and Government" that she "loved so dearly."