Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Left me in a sad and mornful condition"

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 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 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."

Susan's letter to Governor Edmund Davis
Transcription can be found here.

Susan Leffel Letter 1

Susan Leffel Letter 2

Susan Leffel Letter 3


Anonymous said...

Susan Leffel's story is remarkable. Hopefully, you can find out what happened to her. Hate to think the bad guys won in the end. Maybe Susan married again and changed her name. What happened to all of her children? Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I find this whole affair quite fascinating and horrifying -- both at the same time. It seems as though the hangings caused much sadness and many tragedies for the families of the men who were hanged. One has to wonder about the aftermath of the hangings and the emotional burdens the families had to deal with -- perhaps for several generations.

Anonymous said...

Any information about the response to the letter by Governor Edmund J Davis? He was a "Reconstruction Governor" and should have done something?

Anonymous said...

Just found this site -- WOW!! Never learned about this in school....WHY NOT??
Lots of good research. Thanks. I will put this in my favorites list. Doing some research on the Civil War.
Wish you luck in finding more information on all the poor fellows who were hanged. Too sad about their families.

Anonymous said...

I'm having trouble posting this comment, so it may come through a couple of times. Sorry.
Has anyone figured out who the "James Anderson of Sherman" was who kept harrassing Susan and the other women? This Anderson guy is the one that should have been hanged not Susan's huband, David. David Leffel seems like a good guy but the Anderson dude sounds BAD. The confederates got it all wrong -- killing the good guys and letting the bad ones run loose.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comments. Susan Leffel was an amazingly strong woman, and to think she wanted to stay in Texas after the murder of her husband. Proud to claim her as a Texan.

Anonymous said...

It is remarkable that Susan's letter still exists! Reading her words, made Susan seem so real to me. She was amazing...I am proud to be related. Can't wait to share this when I visit with my family. They will love to hear about your blog and Susan!
And also Thanks for updating this comment for me. Chris

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. I am just starting to research my family and find this really fascinating. One has to wonder just how those poor women survived after their husbands were murdered. Someone should make a movie about their lives and struggles.

Anonymous said...

Reading this story brought tears to my eyes. It seems as if women have had to bear the greater burdens and sorrows throughout history. Susan Leffel was left alone to care for her family and all the while being harassed by the confederate brutes. Seems as if the law was not functioning in Texas at the time. I've read somewhere that the sons of the confederates are trying to tell a different story about what happened. How can they refute Susan's letter? or the stories of some of the other Hanging widows and children that are told on this blog? The men that were hanged did NOT get fair trials and should have been able to live and care for their families. A sad chapter in Texas history.

Anonymous said...

I've tried to assist with this before and I think my efforts were misinterpreted. Check Ohio. She returned to Ohio with her oldest son.

Anonymous said...

David Miller Leffel is my 3rd great-grandfather from Dayton,Ohio. His grandfather and great-grandfather are listed in the DAR. They were supporters of the American Revolution and gave their oath to serve and protect the new nation. Baltazar Leffel,David's great-grandfather,an immigrant from Germany was a patriot as was Baltazar's son,John Leffel. John's son was Anthony Leffel, David's father. Loyalty to the country was a strong trait in the Leffel family so you can understand David's last words: "I swore to protect the Union." (of the U.S.) A terrible injustice was committed in the hanging of these patriots. They need to be commemorated for their sacrifice. Sincerely, Karen Ebner