R. Elza or “Elzy” Langford (b. 1876, d. 1918, s/o James H. and Mary Ann [Dameron] Langford), of Rockcastle County, Kentucky
RELATIONSHIP: R. Elza Langford is a great-grandfather of Shiron Wordsworth, who has shared some fascinating family lore about this man, as follows:
NAME: A nickname for R. Elza, according to Shiron Wordsworth’s letter to shb, 11 Feb 2006, was “Elzy.” –shb 9 Oct 2004 [Also called “Flint” by descendants, per this note from Shi Wordsworth to shb, 11 Feb 2006: “All you need is a cousin who nicknames family members and fails to report such confusing behavior. With all due respect to my gg-grandparents, James H. And Mary Ann Dameron Langford, I just never have liked the name they chose for the period and the end of their childbearing sentence. Somehow, the name Elza or Elzy as some called him just never fit that rowdy, Klan chasing great-grandfather of mine. So, I renamed him. I call him Flint. Seems to suit him better. Sometimes I call him what my grandmother called him which was Poppy. But mostly I call him Flint. Anytime you see Flint Langford, just translate immediately and know that I’m speaking of Elza Langford.” –shb 11 Feb 2006
ABT 1876–BIRTH: Elza’s birth year calculated by descendant Shiron Wordsworth from his death certificate, which places his death at age 42, of tuberculosis, as 1918 (see death information, below). –shb 12 Oct 2003
1880 CENSUS–CENSUS TAKER MISSED HIM: From letter by Shiron Wordsworth to shb, 11 Feb 2006: “Elza doesn’t even appear in that [meaning the 1880–shb] Census. Either the census taker was lax in reporting, or the widow, Mary Ann, had so many youngins’ she forgot to name one. Thanks be that in her obituary that appeared in the newspaper in 1908, Elza Langford is listed as one of her surviving sons or else there would be no ‘paper trail’ tying him to his parents. Flint was born in 1876, according to his death certificate. The information for that certificate was supplied by his brother, J.S. Langford, who was James Stephen or ‘Tip’ Langford.” –shb 11 Feb 2006
1898–HELPS FIRE FIFTEEN SHOTS AND MAKES NEWS FOR THE MT. VERNON SIGNAL: As posted on a RootsWeb site, accessed 27 Mar 2006, by shb: News item published 1 Apr 1898, in the Mt. Vernon Signal: “Wm Hundley has sworn out warrants against Elza and Pate [or “Peyton,” Elza’s brother–shb] Langford charging them with having fired fifteen shots at him last Saturday afternoon while he was standing on his father’s door step at Brush Creek Station. Hundley got his shot gun but was prevented by his mother from going out. In her efforts to take the weapon it was discharged and the load came near striking her. The Langford’s have surrendered to Squire Gatliff in Crooked Creek district.”
“The recent plotting and mapping of Mt Vernon and its streets from an old survey places many of our citizens in the postion of not knowing where they are at. Streets running North and South are called East, Middle and West streets. People who have labored under the impression that they lived on Main Street find themselves on Centre. Water street is marked from Spout spring to depot. Alphabet Davis and Mit Miller retired one night in their homes on Brooks street and awoke next morning on High Street. The Signal office was on corner of Main and Church streets but this map places us at the corner of Centre and Middle streets.” –shb 27 Mar 2006
[Note: I forwarded the above “1898” news item to Shiron Wordsworth, asking, “Have you seen this one?” After sharing the above, I joked: “All I can say is Elza and Pate must have had a few to have shot fifteen times and missed! 🙂 Yer cuz.” To which Shi replies, same day, 27 Mar 2006: “Yes, I have this information. And I have a theory about that shooting. I don’t think either Elza or Pate wanted to hit Hundley that night. I think they wanted to ‘encourage’ him to do something stupid. Then any retaliation on their part would get a better hearing in court. I have several reasons for thinking this.
“First of all, William Hundley swore out a warrant over this incident as reported in the April 1, 1898, edition of The Signal. In this same edition, it is reported that Elza and Pate truned themselves in to Squire Gatliff in Crooked Creek. The two didn’t wait for the law to come get them. They went to the law instead almost as if they were certain that justice, ultimately, was on their side. From Signal reports, I don’t think they were held in jail over this incident. But apparently they surrendered with a clear head knowing what the consequences might be.
“For certain Elza shot and killed Hundley. According to John Lair, Elza sent word that Hundly should not set foot in Brush Creek where, I assume, Elza was living at the time. Hundley apparently picked up the gauntlet that Elza threw down, and against the advice of his friends, he headed for Elza and Brush Creek. Lair said Hundley was dead within five minutes of stepping on Langford land. The Langfords were angry over the fact that Hundley shot and killed their good friend, John Lawrence. But…Hundley was dead in no time when the Langfords had a trespassing reason to shoot straight. At least that night, my guess is that no drink was involved.
“It’s possible that Pate and Elza had a bit to drink when they were shooting at Hundley on his father’s front porch. But Grandmom didn’t remember her father as a drinker. I can’t say about Pate. I know Tip wasn’t given to too much drink. All Grandmom remembered of alcohol the whole time she lived with him was the whiskey toddy he used to give her when she had a sore throat. She never saw him even remotely tipsy, let alone drunk. She often wondered why he kept whiskey in the house and concluded that whiskey was medicine back then.
And then there’s the little old lady’s tales of Elza, the ones she told to Grandmom about how Elza was never allowed to participate in county shooting matches because, if he did, there was no contest. So if Elza had been drinking when he shot at Hundley the first time, he must have been stewed like a prune. And his brother along with him. There’s just no way to know, but there is no indication from archive newspapers that Elza or Pate were ever taken into custody for being drunk and disorderly. And no mention in family lore of that tendency either. And if the family would admit to murder, alcohol seems tame compared to that assault on the law.
“Tip said that once Elza ‘marked’ one of his father’s killers. He pointed out to her a man who limped badly when Grandmom and Uncle Tip were strolling through downtown Mt. Vernon one day. He told her that Elza shot that man in the heel because he wanted him ‘to remember James Langford with every step he took for the rest of his life.’ If Tip was telling the truth, it stands to reason that you have to be a fairly good shot to hit a man intentionally in the heel. And you can’t be drunk to do that.
“Elza and Pate could have been drinkers. I will never know. But my guess is that they wanted to be clear headed at this time. According to another bit of lore from someone not a Langford, it was at this time that Elza was wearing a makeshift bullet-proof vest.
“Most, if not all, of this animosity arose after the Civil War. Elza’s Uncle Henry was murdered in November of 1897. John Lawrence was murdered in early 1898. These incidents took place within six months of those murders. If I had to guess, I would say Elza and Pate were putting Hundley on notice that there were some Langfords waiting for him behind nearly every bush.
“Maybe they were drunk that night on Crooked Creek. Or maybe not.” [My response]:
“Was this ever a great response to add to R. Elza’s notes! You made your case. I don’t think Elza and Pate were either drunk or accidentally missed. Some day somebody is going to do a movie about your great- grandpappy.
“Thanks for the great commentary. In those days, when the law could not be counted on to mete out justice, and people often had to take the law into their own hands, I’d stop short of calling Elza’s revenge for murder of his friend “murder.” I’m glad, as you say, that judgment is not our responsibility. I will be forever grateful to our Langfords for at least not being murderously boring–and does a certain descendant of Elza’s know how to tell their story!
‘Til next round, Sherlene” –shb 27 Mar 2006
1908–MENTIONED AS A SURVIVING CHILD IN MOTHER’S OBITUARY. See notes of brother Henry. –shb 8 Oct 2004
1900, OCTOBER 4–MARRIAGE TO MATTIE TOWNSEND.
1910 CENSUS: See notes of Elza’s brother J. S. “Tip” Langford for news from descendant Shiron Wordsworth that she had just found Elza in the 1910 Census. –shb 30 Nov 2003
FATHER JAMES KILLED BY THE KKK–ELZA SEEKS REVENGE! See notes of father James. –shb 11 Nov 2003
SON LEONARD A LAY PREACHER: See son James Leonard’s notes (I have him as son of Elza’s wife Mary E. Smith). –shb 3 Jan 2004
ELZA KILLED FRIEND’S MURDERER? Biographical notes from Shiron Wordsworth, as posted on http://www.fieldinglangford.com/otherlangfords/mtvernon/mtvernonweb/pafn04, accessed 9 Oct 2004 by shb: “D. B. Langford [who Shiron thinks might be a child of James H. Langford and wife Mary Ann and, therefore, her great-grandfather R. Elza Langford’s brother–shb] married Eliza Lawrence 19 May 1898. John Lawrence was Elza’s friend who was shot and killed by William Hunley. Eliza and John were brother and sister, as far as I can tell at this point. I know these names are confusing, but so are post Civil War feuds.
“John Lair reports the result of John Lawrence’s murder this way in his book, ‘Rockcastle Recollections’, (p. 71): ‘Elzy [Elza’s nickname] Langford, trouble-shooter for the Langford faction, sent Henley word to keep away from Brush Creek [where Elza was then living] in the future. Declaring that no man could bluff him, Hunley, against the advice of Sigmon and friends, got on his horse and rode to Brush Creek. Within five minutes of his arrival he had been shot and killed by Elzy Langford. During Elzy’s trial at Mt. Vernon, general firing broke out and Lafe King, ex-jailer of the county, was killed by Elzy, supposedly accidentally. The case was sent for trial, but some sort of compromise was reached and no trial was ever held. Records show that nobody was ever called to account for any of these killings.
“And all of these murders were the result of the murder of Henry Langford (Elza’s uncle) on election day, 1897! Does the gore never end? We think politics today are heated. Back ‘then,’ in Rockcastle County, it was hazardous to a person’s health. Republicans (Langfords, Paynes, Lawrences, Bethurums, etc.) shot or were shot by Democrats (Mullinses, Clarks, Hunleys, etc.). Election Day was always a huge event in Mt. Vernon, even in the 1920’s version of that town, the one my grandmother knew so well. Who might get shot by whom? People took their politics seriously in Rockcastle County.” –shb 9 Oct 2004
DESCENDANT CAPTURES THE MOOD: I learned from Shiron Wordsworth that she and a friend she calls “The Colonel” enjoy writing fiction based on fact, about their ancestors. I asked for the chance to read these and received this, by Shiron, 11 Feb 2006:
“It was midnight. The moon had played hide and seek with the clouds for an hour or more until it tired of the game and gave in. A slight wind ran its fingers through the leaves of the trees until they shivered at the touch. Across the hills not too far distant, the sky bared it’s teeth and growled low in its throat. There was a promise in the wind in spite of its gentle first touch. Soon it would wear claws. Soon it would tear through the trees drawing blood and breaking limbs. Something angry waited in the wind, some fury as old as the hills of Rockcastle and as secretive as the blood of her people.
“Flint Langford sat upon The Black and waited for the coming storm. It was The Black who had given him his nickname. Some imaginative local swore that he had seen Flint and The Black ride the hills of Rockcastle one night, The Black’s hooves striking fire from the rocks as surely as they fly whenever flint strikes iron. This same local, who had good reason to be afraid, said, “The Black is a devil, I tell you! It’s hooves are made of flint, and so is the man who rides him!” And so Flint Langford he became.
“The same wind that made a coward of the leaves lifted The Black’s mane, and the horse sidestepped and nodded as if he knew what the night might hold. Flint Langford leaned across the saddle and rubbed The Black’s neck. The Black turned his neck to Flint’s touch, then lifted his nose to the wind and snorted. The Black was not made to stand in the wind but to ride it.
“Flint spoke to him in whispers. ‘Easy, Black. Easy boy. Can you smell them? Can you smell the smoke of their fire? They stink, don’t they, Black? Smell just like fear they do. Cowards all of them! Dressed in their mama’s bed sheets too afraid to kill with their faces uncovered. You and me, Black, we don’t need our mama’s sheets, now do we? What we do, Black, we may do in the dark, but we won’t hide it come morning. James Langford’s name will not be forgotten in Rockcastle. Not ever!”
“The wind’s fingers were sharper now clawing at The Black’s mane and causing the leaves in the trees to tremble. Flint narrowed his eyes against the attack and spoke to both The Black beneath him and the night sky above him. ‘Let’s go, Black. We’ve got some sin to seek and a name to save. Come morning there will be one more man who will have to limp his way into hell. Count on it.’
“The clothes Flint wore were as colorless as The Black’s own flesh. Both horse and rider were shadow upon shadow moving through hills that the darkness had claimed for it’s own. The moon had turned to blood and judgement was coming to Rockcastle. It would arrive, in part, before morning.” –shb 11 Feb 2006
STOLEN KISS: Here’s another, written by Shiron, about her lady-killer ancestor–but first the introduction she sent along, at my request for “More, more,” 11 Feb 2006:
“Hi! If you are going to write about ancestors in stories there, by golly, better be some historical evidence as a foundation for imagination. Here’s the background for The Road to Somerset.’
“This tale about Flint has three sources. There was a very old lady who used to call my grandmother regularly in the late sixties. She wanted only one thing. She wanted to talk about Flint Langford. She wanted to impress upon my grandmother what he was like when she knew him. She talked about how handsome he was, how he dressed in a not-to-be-forgotten way, how he rode the finest horse in town, how his saddle had silver trimmings, how Rockcastle would never let him participate in any shooting matches, because if Flint Langford entered the match, there simply was no contest. These conversations could last an hour or more.
“My grandmother was the soul of graciousness and was always kind to this woman, but she was puzzled as to why this old lady wanted to talk for hours about her daddy and only her daddy. She never wanted to talk about anyone or anything else in Rockcastle County, just Flint. Mom and I laughed and suggested that the lady had once been in love with him if only from a distance. Flint’s daughter didn’t know whether to be incensed at our suggestion or not. After we suggested the obvious to her, she seemed to feel as though she were caught in some sort of love triangle between her daddy and the elderly woman. But the calls continued until the woman died. Flint always sat in this aging woman’s memory at the top of Mt. Vernon’s Town Hill, and she always wanted to talk about the sight of him. So these conversations are the first source.
“The second source came from an unusually cryptic comment in the newspaper as it reported on the trial of Flint Langford for bringing someone to justice on Langford terms if not in terms of the county’s code of justice. The report on the trial ended this way: The courthouse was crowded nearly every day during the trial; many ladies being present.” ( The Mt. Vernon Signal, June 10, 1898) This comment was unlike any I had seen before in that newspaper. It reminded me of the old woman’s conversations, and made me wonder if she had been in the crowd.
“The third source is the Colonel himself. He named Flint’s horse ‘The Black,’ and no amount of argument that the name already had a place in literary history would change his Langford mind. In some discussion or the other, he asked me to write a yarn about Flint and the old lady. This story is what happened as a result of his request. So there you have it…fiction with a hint of fact based on the life of the man I call Flint. Flint Langford’s great-granddaughter, AKA Rowdy” –shb 11 Feb 2006 [Shiron Wordsworth’s story, below]:
“The Road to Somerset
“I was thinking about the time they took that wild thing named Flint Langford over to Somerset because they thought he couldn’t get a fair trial in Mt. Vernon for shooting and killing Lafe King. If I remember right, the judge or one of the lawyers took sick and the case was dismissed by an order that came down from Frankfort. This would have been in about 1899 or so. Maybe as late as 1900.
“Wonder if the Pulaski Langfords wanted to dig a storm shelter and hunker down until that rascal quit dragging the Langford name through the mud with his wild doings? Who could blame them? I wonder if they even knew Flint was a cousin of theirs a few times removed.
I’ll bet that piece of vanity known as Flint Langford showed up in court dressed to the nines with a silk tie and his hair slicked back in a huge auburn wave, his mustache curled just so on the ends, and his green eyes surveying the ladies at the same time that they scalded his accusers and any prosecuting attorneys that got in his way.
“If he was out on bond before the court proceedings, I’ll bet he rode The Black over to Somerset, silver shining in the sun on that fancy saddle. For all I know he stayed in the finest hotel in town. That sounds like him…up to his ears in alligators and him swimming among them like they were nothing more than a mess of catfish.
“Or maybe he stayed at a boarding house in town, one run by a widow woman who, by the time he left town, sent him packing with a tear in her eye, and home baked goodness in his saddle bags. He could be a charmer. At least that’s what I’ve been told.
“And who was that sweet young thing in the high-necked, lace-edged blouse with a pink skirt on and her waist cinched to nearly nothing who watched him ride past her and who found the audacity to wave to him ever so slightly right there in front of God and everybody? I’ll bet the Black stepped sideways and nodded his head to her. Flint probably nodded a polite goodbye and grinned until his face found that sort of crease in his cheek that women find so irresistible and that he owned and made use of liberally. Was that sweet young thing the widow woman’s daughter? Did Flint take that young lady for a ride outside town on the day the lawyer took sick? Did they picnic on mama’s fried chicken? You can bet he stole a kiss. Probably took the linen napkin and pretended to swipe at a crumb at the corner of her mouth, pretended that he needed to get close enough to see it clearly, set the whole thing up innocently enough so that she never knew what was coming, and never forgot what happened next.
“I’ll bet he rode out of town just like he had conquered it, on a horse handsomer than he was, sitting tall and fine in a saddle so silver studded that only a peacock would think it wasn’t gaudy. Flint Langford never took that sweet thing’s virtue, not in the strictest sense of the word. He only stole a kiss. But he left a fallen woman in his wake nonetheless.
“I’ve been told that she married a man who worked the railroad and that she was a good and faithful wife to him, at least from all outward appearances. Would it have mattered that sometimes she pretended that the railman had green eyes, that his hair was the color of autumn, and that there was a crease just north and east of his mouth when he grinned the right way? I don’t imagine she shared those thoughts, but, yes, they would have mattered, and they may have been cause for her repentance.
“I can see Flint Langford on the day he left Somerset a free man once more. He must have stopped just beyond the town limits and hauled on The Black’s reins to turn him back toward the town and toward the child-woman he had left there. He’d come a long way chasing his daddy’s killers. The courtroom in Somerset wasn’t his first experience with the law, and it wouldn’t be his last.
“Beyond a century of years, I can see The Black, restless and straining for the bit, see him as he dragged one hoof through the dust and snorted his disgust at this halt in the middle of nowhere. The Black understood those times when stillness was necessary. He could sense it in Flint when they rode in darkness through the hills that were home chasing rats and killing snakes, two-legged rats and snakes but rodents and reptiles just the same. The road home stretched behind them, and for all The Black could tell this was just some useless stop in the journey when the both of them could be riding the wind back to Rockcastle. Muscles in The Black’s neck rippled, and he sidestepped in that impatient dance he always did when he could barely tolerate Flint’s orders.
“Flint reached down and rubbed The Black’s neck. ‘Whoa you ornery thing! Give me a minute here. I need to say my goodbyes.’
“Flint looked down the road he’d just traveled, and narrowed his eyes against the sunlight to see where they both had been. There was a grin on his face that had nothing to do with contempt for the law or escape from it. He thought about the color pink and how becoming it looked on certain flowers of the feminine sort. He thought about fried chicken and how tasty the crumbs could be. Pulaski County had been good to him. Yes, indeed it had! After a time, he spoke to The Black. I can hear him through a bend in time.
“‘So…you ready Black? You ready to head back to Rockcastle?’ Something in Flint’s voice told The Black that the waiting was almost over. The Black danced a time or too and nodded that elegant head of his just as if he understood every word Flint Langford said to him. Flint grinned at nothing and ruffled The Black’s mane.
“‘You know what? I love you almost as good as I love flowers and fried chicken. Almost, Black. But not quite.’
“With that Flint turned the horse toward Rockcastle, leaned across his saddle, and gave The Black rein enough to ride the wild wind on the road that led back home, back to Rockcastle and further still…all the way from yesterday into today, and I expect as far as tomorrow.
Lost somewhere in the bend of time a fragile, aging woman is young again. Her pink skirt is starched to perfection, the lace of her blouse lying like snow against the blush of her skin. Age spotted hands reach for the telephone, but she sees no imperfections. The connection is made. Flint’s daughter is on the line. The old woman speaks, and as she does, he rides past her once more on The Black’s broad back. He nods once more and grins. Without thinking the woman traces the corner of her mouth with a hand that trembles with age but also with the force of memory. There’s no wayward crumb hiding at the corner of her mouth. Only a wayward kiss.
“‘Mary Ann, did I tell you about the time your daddy…'”
“Here’s the Colonel’s reply. I copied it from the email he sent me after reading the nonsense above. He’s flattering and I’m appreciative of his encouragement. But flattery is not the reason I saved his comments. I saved them for another reason altogether. I know nothing about the roads leading out of Somerset or a place called Sugar Hill. Nothing. But maybe Flint spoke to more than The Black that day. And maybe I heard his whisper.
I’m working on this, but I still haven’t quite figured out why your writing stirs such deep emotion in me.
I read this with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. (But you told me you prayed to be able to write in thus such a way, didn’t you?)
You also brought Flint and The Black to life in such a way that I could see them in my mind’s eye as they stood atop Sugar Hill,
looking back over the landscape toward Somerset. And you were correct, they would have been looking west with the sun in their eyes.
You see, I have a slight advantage by knowing the area. Not only do I see Flint and The Black, but in my mind’s eye, I can visualize them against the backdrop of those beautiful, green, rolling hills just east of Somerset.
Wouldn’t you love to have a picture of the thin-waisted lady in the pretty pink skirt. Wowee!!
You sure have a way with that quill & ink child, you surely do. You’re such a craftsman with words that I think you should consider changing your name from Shiron Wordsworth to Rowdy Wordsmith. Keep ’em coming and I’ll keep on enjoying ’em more and more. –shb 11 Feb 2006
1908, FEBRUARY 27–MARRIAGE TO CARRIE LAY: R. Elza Langford married Carrie Lay on the same day their daughter Mary Ann’s husband was born, according to a letter from descendant Shiron Wordsworth, sent shb 11 Oct 2003. A letter from Shi, 8 Feb 2006, says “I’ve also learned that Dock Langford (brother to tip and Elza) was a Justice of the Peace in Rockcastle and that he married Carrie and Elza at his home in 1908.” –shb 9 Feb 2006
1908–SHOT IN HEAD AT AGE THIRTY-TWO: See letters about this incident in these PAF notes. –shb 13 Nov 2003 [Note: See notes of Leonard W. Bethurum, RIN 50982, and attached photo of L. W. Bethurum’s law office, where Elza was shot. –shb 13 Jan 2004
E-letter from Shiron Wordsworth to Allen Leigh, with copy to shb,
“Allen, this tale I’m sharing has sources other than family tradition, although family tradition is where I first encountered it and found its most colorful aspects. The central facts of the event can be read on the internet at the Rockcastle County Archive page in the section where the Mt. Vernon Signal has been transcribed. You can go to the May 1, 1908, edition of the paper on that website to see how the newspaper covered it immediately after the fact. There’s no problem with copyright infringement with what I tell here. This is the stuff of family lore. The newspaper account merely confirms what I’ve written. I have John Lair’s newspaper article from the 1980’s in my possession, but as far as I know, that’s not available via the net. Here goes…
“The year 1908, was a hard one for my great-grandfather, Elza Langford. It began with promise. On February 27, he married my great-grandmother, Carrie Lay. Carrie was his third wife. The first two, Mary E. Smith and Mattie Townsend had both died on him. Rockcastle County, Kentucky, was haunted, literally, by a few would-be ghosts: diphtheria, scarlet fever, pneumonia, measles, whooping cough, tuberculosis. And childbirth was a chancy thing at best. It was hard to keep a healthy wife with such an abundance of ‘visitors,’ who came to call, uninvited. But third time was charm–Carrie would outlive him if only by a short span of time.
“In 1908, Rockcastle County still held memories of other ghosts, ghosts that arose after the Civil War, still bent on vengeance. The war didn’t end in Rockcastle County just because Lee signed the surrender. Rockcastle County had an active KKK in the later half of the 19th century, and the Langfords crossed swords with them on more than one occasion. Elza’s father had been killed by the KKK. He was dead before 1880. Family tradition says that Elza had a hard time forgetting his father’s murder. More than one Langford said that he swore to avenge his father’s death. From what I can discover, Elza Langford was responsible for the death of five men. He was tried for two of the murders and acquitted. The other three appear to have had no consequences for him.
“Justice in Rockcastle County failed miserably at this time. There were more than a few deaths due to guns fired in the heat of the moment or as the result of long-standing, festering resentments. I can’t find more than one case where a conviction was the result. If your father, your uncle, and your best friend were all murdered, as Elza’s were, the law was not there to insure justice. I don’t excuse Elza’s decisions to take the law into his own hands. I only know that he was not alone in the choices he made. Many other Rockcastle men did the same. You made your own justice or you got none. And right or wrong, Elza Langford was not one to allow his family to be threatened or harmed with no consequence whatsoever.
“About the time that Elza married Carrie, he had a falling out with another local man by the name of Dave Clark. Who knows what the dispute was about. Maybe Elza called Dave a coward. Maybe Dave had called Elza a liar. The fact is that they were on the “outs.” Shots were fired. Elza was wounded in the arm. The two sides agreed to disagree, and promised to lay down their arms.
“On the morning of April 25, 1908, about six weeks after marrying Carrie, Elza was in Mt. Vernon. According to family tradition, he had a bad headache that day and went into the law office of his friend, Judge L. W. Bethurum, for some quiet. He sat down and placed his head in his hands. Dave Clark must have been watching because he entered the office and fired at Elza…at least three shots. Eza sustained a wound in his arm and his shoulder. But it was the direct hit in the head that appeared lethal. [Note photo of L. W. Bethurum’s law office, where this happened, as attached to Elza’s media file–shb.]
“Elza was carried to the jail residence and laid out on a table. A Doctor Pennington of London, Kentucky, happened to be riding into town just as the fracas occurred. Dock Langford, Elza’s brother, asked for his assistance. Doc. Pennington along with a couple of Mt. Vernon’s own physicians examined Elza. All three agreed that Elza was a dead man. Convinced that the operation would hasten Elza’s death, the doctors opted for the operation anyway. There wasn’t much to lose and maybe something to gain. According to The Signal, the surgery began at 8:00 am.
“My grandmother told me the story of the shooting when I was a child. There was one part of the tale that I found morbidly fascinating. She said that the doctor took the extruded brain material, put it on a dinner plate, covered it with another, and had one of the bystanders run the plate down to the nearby spring to keep it cool until he was finished cleaning the wound and could replace the brain matter. As I grew into an adult, I became skeptical of that part of the saga. I figured it was only a tall tale that grew out of a sad family story.
“Then in the early 1980’s, John Lair, Rockcastle County’s self-appointed historian and founder of The Renfro Valley Barn Dance, did a series of articles on the events that shaped Rockcastle County. His articles ran in The Mount Vernon Signal. In one article Lair recounted this event. He said that he was a boy at the time and in town the day of the shooting. One of his friends called several curious youngsters to the spring, Lair being one of them. Said he had something exciting to show them. Once at the spring the young “newsman” showed them the plates and lifted the top one. Lair remembered seeing a grayish-pink mass on the bottom plate. Lair says that he, himself, saw Elza Langford’s brains on a dish. So much for doubting family legends! Skeptical descendants, take note! Sometimes, sometimes, mind you, a family’s tall tale can be gospel!!
“Family legend goes on to say that Doctor Pennington used a hammer and chisel from the local hardware store during the surgery, and that eventually he called for the plates and replaced the part of Elza’s mind that had been so unceremoniously lost that day. He then stitched Elza back together and pulled the skin over a small opening in the skull which had been shattered by the headshot. At noon, to everyone’s surprise, Elza awoke. He knew everyone around him. He could speak and seemed rational although “restless.” And, of course, his headache was much, much worse.
“Elza spent about six weeks in London, Kentucky, at Doctor Pennington’s Institute so that the surgeon could give him immediate attention during the recovery process. Grandma Carrie visited him at least once. The Mt. Vernon Signal records that she did, anyway. Elza lived until 1918, and although he never again wore the mantle of blood avenger for the Langford clan, he did part his hair in such a way that a saucy auburn lock of it fell over the indentation left by Dave Clark’s bullet (ex-Sheriff Dave Clark). Four years after the event, my grandmother was born.
“My grandmother remembered that she liked to sit on his lap as a little girl and push back that devil-may-care lock of hair to see the memory Dave Clark left in Elza’s flesh. Who knows why children like to do the things they do? Maybe it remained a central part of the mystery of her own existence. Just a fraction of an inch deeper, and she would never have been able to tell me the story. And I would never have lived to hear it.
“There is a picture on my living room wall. It’s faded and cracked with age. Elza looks back at me with clear eyes and from the vantage point of his extraordinarily handsome features, features that are marked by “Cherokee” cheekbones, that trademark of all the Kentucky Langfords I’ve ever encountered. There on his brow is that lock of auburn hair, combed nonchalantly so that his secret could be kept from prying eyes and nosy neighbors. I’ve touched that lock of hair on more than one occasion; I’ll admit it. It almost feels that if I could reach through the glass and push the lock aside with my own fingers, I could see all the way beyond the mere facts of his life and into the heart of this man who is my grandfather. Oh, the questions I would have for him! As it is, he remains there on my wall staring back at me from yesterday, coloring my todays. Elza,…how I wish I had known you!” –shb
1918–DEATH/CERTIFICATE: E-letter from descendant Shiron Wordsworth to Allen Leigh, copied to shb, 12 Oct 2003: “Allen, I pulled out Elza’s death certificate and Leonard’s is probably correct. Elza died in 1918 at age 42. That would have made his birth in 1876, He was still a very young father, though, at age 16! I can hear my grandmother arguing right now that Leonard was not! 20 years older than she. Or maybe she knows the truth from her new vantage point. Shiron” –shb 12 Oct 2003
DIES AT AGE FORTY-TWO OF TUBERCULOSIS: Excerpt, letter from Shiron Wordsworth, 7 Oct 2003 (for rest of letter, see notes of Stephen Langford, RIN 33735): “”Wow…I’ve never heard that the Langfords were notorious robbers. It’s possible. Nothing in what I’ve discovered so far has suggested that’s the case, but I’m not discounting it. One thing is for sure. If you dig up ancestors, you better be ready for some ‘fragrant’ moments! The Mt. Vernon Signal from 1887 to 1911 records maybe one or two thefts, but they were almost the petty theft sort. Mt. Vernon didn’t even have a bank until 1900. But maybe Elza and his brothers Dock and Peyton didn’t mess in their own back yards. Maybe they roamed further in their expeditions.
“The story you were told in Crab Orchard and the story of my grandfather sounds too near the same. It’s hard to believe that two men had their gray matter served up on a dinner plate. If Elza really were a bandit, he sure didn’t leave Carrie and his two little girls comfortably well situated when he died at age 42. I do know that after he was shot by Dave Clark, his role as the hot-headed avenger came to a screeching halt. Maybe losing part of his mind caused him to rethink a few issues. Then, too, he had two baby girls to think of, and he began a five year battle with tuberculosis, the disease which finally took his life.” –shb 11 Oct 2003
DIFFICULTY LOCATING GRAVE: Note posted on the Fielding Langford website by Shiron Langford, biographical data for R. Elza LANGFORD: “BURIAL – Elza’s death certificate lists his place of burial as ‘the Langford B ground.’ I have seen other references to the Langford Burying Ground, and my grandmother was aware of such a place. Within the year before her death in 1993, Mother took her back to Rockcastle to try and locate the site. Grandmom was only six at the time of Elza’s death, and her sense of specific directions 75 years after the fact not very clear. Unfortunately, they weren’t successful in locating the family graveyard. There could be lots of pioneer Langfords in that graveyard, even the first Stephen Langford in Rockcastle County. It’s a shame that Rockcastle doesn’t attempt to locate and preserve that site, and that I’m too far away to do any real hunting. Some natives of the area knew about an old burial ground ‘back there somewhere,’ but they said it was grown over with weeds and not accessible. Most probably it’s now a part of some private property.” –shb 8 Oct 2004
BURIAL IN HENRY LANGFORD OR “DOC LANGFORD” CEMETERY: Rockcastle County, Kentucky Cemetery Records, by Jeanne Snodgrass Bonham, Patricia Heylmann Hiatt (Greenwood, IN: High Grass Publications), searched by shb at the FHL, Salt Lake City, Utah, p. 615: “HENRY LANGFORD CEMETERY, ROCKCASTLE COUNTY, KENTUCKY – LOCATION: Start at the intersection of Route #1004 and Cove Branch Road, take Cove Branch Road about 1.1 miles to house and narrow road on right, park car. The cemetery is about .75 mile from the paved road thru a couple of fields and way back in the woods. You will pass the Lloyd Russell Bullock Cemetery on the way. You will need to have someone who knows the cemetery location to lead you to it. The vinca minor is lush and the stones are difficult to find. Some stones may have been missed. RECORDED BY; Debra White Brown, Hobert Dooley and Jeanne Snodgrass Bonham; DATE RECORDED: 29 October 1984. The only graves listed in this cemetery are these:
“Matty Langford [This must be one of Elza’s wives, Matty Townsend–shb.]
23 Aug 1883 – 23 Aug 1905”
“Infant s/R.A. & F.A. Dailey [this is baby of Robert Arthur Daily and Fannie A. Langford (dau. “Tip” (James
Stephen Langford) and wife Donna (Childers)–shb]
born and died 3 Dec 1910″
“Dazie B. Langford [I don’t know who this is, and Shiron Wordsworth tells me she doesn’t know, either–shb]
19 Aug 1897 – 23 Jan 1899
“Information contributed by Richard Anderson Mullins – buried here, without a marker is:
Elzia [sic–shb] Langford (male), killed by Sheriff Will Mullins – no other information.”
“Information contributed by Hobert Dooley – Henry Langford [see my RIN 50856–shb], bro/Tip Langford, is also buried here. Long ago Mr. Dooley saw the stone and it was broken at that time. It may still be here, but covered by vinca minor and leaves.”
[Note: Up the hill and about 700′ beyond the Henry Langford Cemetery is the Slave Cemetery. Debra White Brown, Hobert Dooley and Jeanne Snodgrass Bonham record 29 Oct 984 that “There may be as many as 50 people buried here. Only fieldstone markers were found. Some of the old flowers planted on these graves still thrive. It is not known who the family or families were who claimed ownership of these people.” –shb 6 Oct 2004
GREAT-GRANDDAUGHTER SHIRON WORDSWORTH VISITS ELZA’S GRAVE: Treasure-of-a-letter to shb 7 Oct 2004:
“This past June, the 10th to be exact, I climbed a hill in Rockcastle County and stood where Gramps [R. Elza Lanford–shb] is buried. There was no way to distinguish his grave from his brother’s or his mothers. The Langford cemetery is a wild tangle of weeds and vegetation that grew higher than the head of the gentleman who accompanied me to the site and found it for me. That gentleman is 6’3” tall. He tried very hard to blaze a trail through that wilderness to see if we could happen upon the tombstones that we know are there. But it just was impossible. Every second step he took, I would have to pull thorns from his shirt so that he could take one more step. But I was there. It’s located on one of the most breathtaking sites in the county. The hills fold in on one another and the view is so beautiful that it almost hurts to look at it. The current property owners are delightful. They are an older couple who invited us into their home and offered us a coke after the hot work of climbing and trail blazing.
[Inserted here from a letter she wrote later–shb] “About snakes in the graveyard–if you could see what we waded through in search of tombstones! The humidity that day was about 150%. The day felt as hot as Hades. I didn’t know whether to look up to see where I was headed or down at my feet to see what I was about to set on. I have to give that Ph. D. credit. I don’t think even Stephen Langford, Rockcastle’s first resident, could have given a better show at blazing a trail through the wilderness. I asked [my guide] about the possibility of snakes, and he said they would get him first, so not to worry.]
“My guide and I were seated on the couch with a view of the mountains outside their storm door. I asked if they knew where Doc Langford’s farm was located since the cemetery bore his name. The kind woman said to me, “Child, this is Doc Langford’s farm and home.” I looked through the door after she gave me that news to see a beauty so spectacular and yet so gentle that even I was speechless for a moment. Suddenly I was ‘home.’ It was an amazing moment.
“Our hosts informed me that the county judge wants to have the cemetery declared a national cemetery. Why that should be, I’m not certain, but if he gets that done, it will be cleaned and maintained. Perhaps it’s because it’s a pioneer cemetery or perhaps it’s because that’s where Stephen Langford is buried. Who knows?
“After we paid our respects to the Langfords, my guide [Shiron doesn’t want his name used, so I’m making a substitution here–shb] took me to Berea College and into the archive section of the library there. He found a wild account of James Langford, Elza’s father, being chased by the KKK in the dark of night. The KKK wasn’t successful that night, but it was proof that the family tales were based in fact. He found a picture of Langford Station, Stephen’s home. I was surprised at how big and gracious it looked. I’m sure that originally it was log, but it had been covered in stone with a porch and pillars that suggested the Old South.
“My guide paved the way for me to get a picture made inside what had been L. W. Bethurum’s law office, the place where Gramps lost his mind one day [she’s referring to R. Elza’s brains getting shot out of his skull–shb]. I have a picture of me sitting almost exactly where he must have been sitting that day. Although it was made with a throwaway camera that had no flash, and it’s as fuzzy as all getout, it’s a picture I treasure. When we entered the building which is now an insurance agency, my guide said, “Ladies, you are about to hear a story that is incredible. Shiron, tell them what happened here in 1908.” When I shared the basics of the story, the receptionist said, “Oh, my Lord! No wonder the computers act up sometimes!” Their reaction gave me a giggle. I could almost hear Gramps chuckle, too.
“I’ve learned so much over the last few months. So many pieces of the puzzle have come together that it’s amazing. Most of the information has found me as opposed to me finding it. The coincidences are…well, incredible. For instance, my guide lives on the same block where Tip Langford’s daughter made her final home. For exercise he walks through the old Masonic Widows and Orphans Home. Reading the archive copies of The Mount Vernon Signal, I came across several instances where orphaned children were sent there from Rockcastle County. I walked those ground with my guide one morning, and could almost hear the voices of those little ones. Maybe most astounding of all is the fact that the current owners of the Charles and David Porter Bethurum property found me via the internet.
“In all the goodness of this discovery, there has been a certain amount of sorrow. . . ., but life goes on, and Langfords . . . endure. Through time and every circumstance, they endure,
just like the hills of Rockcastle County.
“Blessings to you, Sherlene,
“Shiron” –shb 7 Oct 2004
Letter from Shiron Wordsworth, Elza’s granddaughter, to shb, 7 Oct 2004:
[See notes of Elza’s brother James Stephen “Tip” Langford for first part of this letter that continues:
“Grandmom [this is Mary Ann Langford Steenbergen, R. Elza’s daughter–shb] always said that Elza was buried in the Doc Langford cemetery. The current property owners confirmed that fact for me. The old gentleman who owns the land said that was the case, and the cemetery site is just as my grandmother described it, in spite of the fact that it’s wildly overgrown. She even described a picket fence that once surrounded the cemetery. I mentioned that fact to the hosts, and they said there certainly was such a fence that existed at one time, but it had fallen down and been buried by the vegetation. I know that picket fences were common to cemeteries, but the mention of that fact resonated. There are other family cemeteries on this land which did not have such a fence. This old couple has owned Doc Langford’s farm for about fifty years. He even had a few Elza stories to share with me. His father was a friend of Elza’s, so I feel more than reasonably certain that I did locate the right site.
“Grandmom remembered her father’s death and his awful struggle with tuberculosis. And his death certificate confirms that Elza Langford died of tuberculosis. It’s signed by Dr. Monroe Pennington. Cox Funeral home has a record that Tip Langford bought Elza’s casket, and that he was interred in the Langford Burying Ground. It also says that he died July 11, 1918, and was buried July 12, 1918. His death certificate is #30857.
“It was [underlined] Dave Clark who shot Elza Langford in 1908, but Elza lived, in spite of the head shot, another 10 years. The newspaper gives a grisly and detailed account of the event, and the article was published within six days of the shooting. William Mullins and Elza Langford did, however, have a disagreement that landed them both in court. The ‘Mt. Vernon Signal’ records that plainly. It just doesn’t say what they were fighting over. ‘The Signal’ edition of June 3, 1898, says the following: ‘W. G. Mullins, Pate and Elza Langford case to go before the Grand Jury today.’
“In ‘Rockcastle County Recollections,’ a book by John Lair, it’s recorded that Henry Langford, Elza’s uncle, was shot by Sheriff Mullins on election day in 1897. His account agrees with my family’s story. ‘The Signal’ edition of June 2, 1899, records that Sheriff Mullins was tried for the crime and released because of a hung jury. My guess is that Elza’s conflict with Sheriff Mullins had to do with his uncle’s death.
[Shiron’s letter left me wondering if we were talking about the same cemetery, after what I gleaned about Elza’s burial in the “Henry Langford Cemetery,” where I did not read about Stephen’s grave. To my questioning, Shiron replied, 8 Oct 2004:
“I called the property owners where I found Elza’s grave. She said the cemeteries described are one and the same, so I did find the right site. It makes sense that the Langfords such as Doc, Henry, and Elza would be buried in the same immediate family plot. And it’s probably true that their parents are there as well. I’ll try to scan the pictures I took of the site and send them to you although the photos are deceptive in that you can’t really see how tall some of the vegetation is. There is one anomaly in the photos I took that I didn’t even recognize at the time as I was looking at the site. There is an unusual growth pattern that forms an arch. In looking at the picture, I wonder if that was the cemetery entrance with an arched gateway. Blessings! Shiron” –shb 8 Oct 2004
PHOTO: A photo of R. Elza Langford was sent shb, Oct. 2003, by his great-granddaughter, Shiron Wordsworth, who writes, 11 Oct 2003: “As I told Allen [Leigh, webmaster of the Langford website–shb], when I removed Elza’s picture from the frame, I was surprised at how many of the facial features are fading. He hardly has a chin anymore and the cheekbones are indistinct now. I really need to get it under some sort of filtered glass. But that lock of hair is very recognizable. Scroll down to the business card for Tip. [This photo/card of Tip shows on her scan when I open it, but did not transfer to my picture file–will ask for it, scanned separately–shb.] Tip was Elza’s brother. They shared similar cheekbones.” –shb 11 Oct 2003
YOUNGER PHOTO: Another photo of R. Elza Langford at a younger age was sent shb 13 Nov 2003 by Shiron Wordsworth (as also attached to his PAF file). Regarding this photo, Shiron writes: “I’m not really sure how long before the head injury this picture was made. I think it was probably several years before that event. The shooting occurred in 1908, when Elza was 32 years old. To me this looks like a much younger man, late teens, early twenties at most. His dress also suggests an earlier time to me. The tie in particular seems out of step with fashions of the early 1900’s. I had already planned to do a search at a couple of websites this afternoon during my lunch hour to try and determine a timeframe for that tie. I, too, would like some idea just how old he is here. If I get any guidance from my search, I’ll pass it along.” –shb 13 Nov 2003
PHOTO OF L. W. BETHUREM’S LAW OFFICE, WHERE DAVE CLARK SHOT ELZA: Attached to Elza’s media file is a photo of L. W. Bethurem’s law office, forwarded 12 Feb 2006 to shb, by Shiron Wordsworth. She writes: ” . . . . Here’s the photo taken of the law office in 1981. It’s not a good one, but you can see easily how someone could have opened the door and fired a gun without even entering the building. The office has been remodeled, but it’s still there. Today it’s the Mathis Insurance Agency.” –shb 12 Feb 2006
ELZA AGAIN MAKES THE NEWS: I used some of the material from Shiron, above, for my November Meridianmagazine.com column, which they featured, with Elza’s photo, as their cover story. It got a good response from readers Here’s the text:
M E R I D I A N M A G A Z I N E
by Sherlene Hall Bartholomew
“In my last column [word “column” made into a link–shb] I promised to share a wild, wonderful story I heard from Shiron Wordsworth, my newly-found Internet cousin in Texas, who is doing research on one of my family lines–the Langfords. This eerie family tale, for which Shi actually found documentation in old Kentucky newspapers hissed over the web just in time to levitate more family legends. You never can tell what you’ll find when you probe your family history.
“Flesh on Those Bones
“Family researchers have long known that obituaries are a great source of family information, though few bother to search out rich stores of local history found in other parts of early newspapers or to find sketches published by local historians at the time our ancestors lived there.
“Reluctant as we might be to take on the task of uncovering family skeletons, in our search to learn more about an ancestor’s identity, it can be rich, indeed, to learn that a local reporter wrote a story, putting flesh and even clothes on those cold bones. Better yet are court records, often referred to in newspapers that can be searched for even more detail.
“Sometimes we can find minimal information about an ancestor’s physical appearance in military records, which is always good to have. But the best description I’ve ever found about a relative came from a tally of his effects, as found in the possession of those who murdered him!
“We think the victim, Thomas Langford, was perhaps a brother of my Walker and Shiron’s Stephen Langford–all sons of Joseph, because a court record substituted Stephen’s name when it clearly was speaking of Thomas. Of course this all needs documentation, but for now, haunting similarities in family photos of descendants of both Walker and Stephen, leave little doubt that these Langfords are connected.
“I had found an early newspaper abstract about Thomas’ murder, but not knowing he might be linked to our family, simply filed it, hoping to find more information at a later date.
Then I met Shiron on the web, and she referred me to a book by Otto A. Rothert, The Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock (Southern Illinois University Press, 1996). Wouldn’t you know, our folks are in the chapter titled ‘A Terrible Frontier Story.’
“As the story goes, Thomas met up with the ragged, obviously hungry Harpes family, not guessing that they were some of America’s first serial killers of record. Taking pity on their sorry state, he brought them in with him to the local inn and paid for their meal. Having lost his discretion to too much brew, Thomas pulled out all his gold when he paid the bill and even named the sum he brought along to last him for the trip. For this, the ungrateful Harpes brothers later took his life. Witnesses of Langford’s kindness at the inn described the Harpes family, sending locals in their direction. Court records, as described in Rothert’s book, tell what happened next with marvelous detail:
“‘Joseph Ballenger of lawful age, and sworn, deposeth and saith that at about the 19th or 20th day of December 1798 he heard that a murder had been committed in the Wilderness on the body of a certain Thomas Langord, as supposed;
“‘that he, at the request of James Blain the Attorney General of this Commonwealth with others (including Thomas Welsh) went in pursuit of some persons suspected of being the murderers who passed through Lincoln County;
“‘that they went to the house of John Blain in Lincoln County where they heard that persons similar to those they were in pursuit of had left Brush Creek, a branch of the Green River, and passed over to the Rolling Fork of Salt River;
“‘that they pursued them and overtook five persons, the same who this day on their examinations were called Micajah Roberts, Wiley Roberts, Susanna Roberts, Sally Roberts, and Elizabeth Walker [names the infamous Harpes Brothers went by-shb];
“‘that after taking them into custody they proceeded to search them and found in their possession a pocket book with the name of Thomas Langford, a great coat, a grey coating cloth, a short coat – in the pocket of it were broken pieces of glass – a mixed colored long coat, a pair of breeches, a shaving glass, a whip, a pair of wrappers, and a horse, this day proved to be the property of Thomas Langford, said to be the person murdered in the Wilderness, and that they found also a Free Mason’s apron and many other things in their possession said to be the property of Thomas Langford.
“‘Further saith not.
“This is circumstantial, but when I later show you a family photo of my ancestor, James Harvey Langford, Sr. (who we hope to prove is related to the murdered Thomas), you will see that J. H. is sporting a Masonic pin! Such court record detail, indicating that Thomas carried with him a Free Mason’s apron, on that awful day, not only provides colorful detail, but clues that can be important to the continuing search.
“I found lots of copies of Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock on Internet new and used book outlets, if any of the rest of you want to read more about early frontier crime and justice. My copy came in two days, and I got to read about how one local judge described our Thomas Langford as “of a respectable family in Mecklenburgh County, Virginia, set out from this state for Kentucky, with the intention of passing through the Wilderness, as it was then called, by the route generally known as Boone’s Trace.” Did you get the part about his being “of a respectable family”? (I had to get that in, especially before you read what’s next.)
“In this book you can also read about how they dug up Thomas’ body to get a positive identification and how the Harpes brothers managed to escape prison, only to wreak some of the most horrifying crimes to ever hit frontier America.
“Yet, the awful truth about Thomas is no stranger than what I am about to tell you about Elza’s brains.
“This story comes from another Langford cousin Allen Leigh, who started an Internet conversation with Shiron, comparing family stories. The goal was to see if there was, indeed, a link between our Langfords and hers.
“My mother always said that you don’t believe or discount a family legend until you’ve garnered the facts. Even the wildest tale almost always has a grain of truth, so is worth pursuing.
“As regards our line, Allen told Shi about rumors on our side of the family that our Langfords were notorious robbers. He told her, in fact, about a family legend that one of our Langfords got in a gunfight, after which “one brother’s brains were coming out, so were put in ice water.”
Allen also checked mapquest.com and told Shiron that her Langfords in Mt. Vernon lived only fifteen miles from ours, known to be from Crab Orchard, Kentucky.
“Here are excerpts from Shiron’s responses to Allen’s accounts about our Langfords:
“Wow! I’ve never heard that the Langfords were notoriouis robbers . . . Nothing in what I’ve discovered so far has suggested that’s the case, but I’m not discounting it. One thing for sure: If you dig up ancestors, you better be ready for some ‘fragrant’ moments!
“The Mt. Vernon Signal from 1887 to 1911 records maybe one or two thefts, but they were almost the petty theft sort. Mt. Vernon didn’t even have a bank until 1900. But maybe Elza, son of Stephen, and his brothers Dock and Peyton didn’t mess in their own back yards. Maybe they roamed farther in their expeditions.
“Justice in Rockcastle County failed miserably at this time. There were more than a few deaths from guns fired in the heat of the moment, or as a result of long-standing, festering resentments. I can’t find more than one case that brought a conviction. If your father, your uncle, and your best friend were all murdered, as Elza’s were, the law was not there to enforce justice.
“I don’t excuse Elza’s decisions to take the law into his own hands. I only know that he was not alone in the choices he made. Many other Rockcastle men did the same–you exacted your own justice or you got none. Right or wrong, Elza Langford was not one to allow his family to be threatened or harmed, without consequence.
“About the time Elza married Carrie, he had a falling out with another local man by the name of Dave Clark. Who knows what the dispute was about–maybe Elza called Dave a coward, or Dave called Elza a dirty liar. The fact is, they were on the “outs.” Shots were fired, and Elza was wounded in the arm. Then the two sides agreed to disagree and promised to lay down their arms.
“On the morning of April 25, 1908, about six weeks after marrying Carrie, Elza was in Mt. Vernon. According to family tradition, he had a bad headache that day and went into the law office of his friend, Judge L. W. Bethurum, for some quiet. He sat down and placed his hand in his hands. Dave Clark must have been watching, because he entered the office and fired at Elza. There were at least three shots. Elza sustained a wound in his arm and his shoulder. But it was the direct hit in the head that brought him to the ground.
“Elza was carried to the jail residence and laid out on a table. A Doctor Pennington, of London, Kentucky, rode into town just as the fracas occurred. Dock Langford, Elza’s brother, asked for his assistance. Doc. Pennington, along with a couple of Mt. Vernon’s own physicians, examined the wounded man. All three agreed that Elza was as good as dead. Convinced that the operation would hasten Elza’s demise, the doctors opted for surgery anyway–after all, there wasn’t much to lose and maybe something to gain. According to The Signal, the surgery began at 8 a.m.
“My grandmother told me the story of the shooting when I was a child. There was one part of the tale that I found morbidly fascinating. She said that the doctor took the extruded brain material, put it on a dinner plate, covered it with another, and had one of the bystanders run the plate down to the nearby spring to keep it cool until he finished cleaning the wound and could replace the brain matter. As I grew into an adult, I became skeptical of that part of the saga. I figured it was only a tall tale that grew out of a sad family story.
“Then, in the early 1980s, John Lair, Rockcastle County’s self-appointed historian and founder of the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, did a series of articles on events that shaped Rockcastle County. His articles ran in The Mount Vernon Signal. In one article Lair said that he was in town the day of Elza’s shooting. One of his friends called several curious youngsters to the spring, including Lair, saying he had something exciting to show them. Once at the spring, the young “newsman” showed them the plates and lifted the top one. Lair recalled seeing a grayish-pink mass on the bottom plate that was identified by eye-witnesses of their placement, as Elza Langford’s brains.
“So much for doubting family legends! Skeptical descendants, take note! Sometimes, sometimes, mind you, a family’s tall tale can be gospel truth!
“Family legend goes on to say that Doctor Pennington used a hammer and chisel from the local hardware store during the surgery and that he eventually called for the plates, replacing the part of Elza’s mind that had been lost so unceremoniously that day. He then stitched Elza back together and pulled the skin over a small opening in the skull that had been shattered by the headshot.
“At noon, to everyone’s surprise, Elza awoke. He knew everyone around him. He could speak and seemed rational, although ‘restless.’ And of course his headache was much, much worse.
“Elza spent about six weeks in London, Kentucky, at Doctor Pennington’s Institute, so that the surgeon could give constant attention to his recovery. We know from the The Signal that Grandma Carrie visited Elza at least once during his rehabilitation.
“Elza lived until 1918. The photo of him that has been handed down in the family shows how he parted his hair so that a saucy auburn lock fell over the scar left by ex-sheriff Dave Clark’s slug. Four years after the shooting, my grandmother was born. -shb
[Photo inserted here, with title]: “R. Elza Langford 1876-1918, son of James, who was killed by the KKK (Shiron’s ancestors)
[Photo inserted beside that of Elza, with title]: “James Harvey Langford, Sr., 1831-1908, son of Fielding, first LDS convert in the Langford line–note James’ Masonic pin (Sherlene’s ancestors)
“Allen, the story you were told in Crab Orchard and the story about my grandfather sound too near the same. It’s hard to believe that two different men had their gray matter served up on a dinner plate!
“[And what about the above photos of descendants of Stephen and Walker-do pictures lie? Do you readers think these two men share common Langford genes?] Here’s what Shiron had to say when she first saw James Harvey’s photo:
“Now as regards the two photos I did get to see, when it comes to that of James Harvey Langford, Sr., I KNOW I’m not imagining a family resemblance. Genes don’t lie–those high cheekbones, the clear eyes–yep, we’re kin!
“Getting back to her chat with Allen about her notorious Elza, Shi confides:
“If Elza really were a bandit, he sure didn’t leave Carrie and his two little girls well situated when he died at age forty-two. I do know that after he was shot by Dave Clark, his role as a hot-headed avenger came to a screeching halt. Maybe losing part of his mind helped him rethink a few issues. Then, too, he had two baby girls to think of, as he began a five year battle with tuberculosis, the disease that finally took his life.
“There is, of course, more-these family legends have a way of going on and on. I think you’ve heard enough, this round, to satisfy your taste for frontier tales that are wild enough for the season.
“Next time we’ll share some ideas about how to find your Internet cousins and probe your own family lines.
“Submitted to Meridianmagazine.com, 30 Oct 2003
“Sherlene HallBartholomew, copyright 2003” –shb 2 Dec 2003