Sherlene\’s G-LOG

Making Sense of the Census (Fording the Langs, at Present)

Thomas Langford, b. abt. 1782, m. Elizabeth Mitchell, Killed by Harpes Bros. 1798?, of Virginia

Note: If anyone out there can provide documentation about parents of the Thomas Langford who was murdered and/or the Thomas who was son of Virginia Assemblyman Benjamin Langford (of Pittsylvania County), please respond, so we can solve this dilemma once and for all. Notes compiled so far are below:

NAME: Also spelled “Langford.” I have also seen the name spelled Langfort/Lankfort and Ann Langford says she found in Sussex County, England spelled “Lanckford.” –shb

RELATIONSHIP: After some wavering back and forth about how Thomas fits into the Langfords, Shiron Wordsworth and I are now of the opinion that the Thomas Lankford who was murdered by the Harpes Brothers was the son of Benjamin Lankford, of Pittsylvania County, Virginia (who served in Virginia’s General Assembly). Since Thomas was murdered in 1798, he is not mentioned in Benjamin’s will that was proved 17 Sep 1810. –shb 17 Apr 2006

SAME THOMAS AS ID 67032? See notes of Thomas’ presumed sister, Mary Lankford Todd, for genealogical notes found in an old attic that seem to tie Thomas to Mary Lankford Todd in some sort of close relationship–we’re now thinking they may have been brother and sister.] –shb 19 July 2006

See a Thomas Langford, b. 1822, ID 67033, of Patrick County, Virginia, as listed in the 1920 Census. He is of interest because Mitchells live not far away from him (supposedly the Thomas who was son of Assemblyman Benjamin married Elizabeth Mitchell). –shb 17 Apr 2006

THOMAS DIED FROM FALL OFF A HORSE? In response to both my and Shi’s request of Barry Wood for his reference that made him think the Thomas who was murdered was Pitt Ben’s son, he writes, 16 July 2006: “The ref. on Thomas is a secondary (or tertiary) source, found at post 91 on the Langford genforum. There, Andy Langford noted that Art Hall reported that Thomas Langford, son of Benjamin, had died from a fall from his horse while on his way to visit his sister Mary Todd in Kentucky.

“Andy didn’t cite Art’s original source . . . , so we may need to take this somewhat on faith until the information can be traced to a contemporanous source.

“Note that Art characterizes the cause of Thomas’s death as a fall from his horse as opposed to a murder.” –shb 16 July 2006

A GRANDSON OF PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY BEN? E-letter from Shi Wordswortth to shb, 16 July 2006; “The birth date [I have it at 1782–shb] for this child named Thomas would be perfect if he were Pitt Ben’s grandchild and not his son. I think this is a grandchild.

“I have somewhere that Henrietta Booker, Pitt Ben’s second wife, was a contemporary of his, not a much younger woman. While Pitt Ben could have fathered a son in his early sixties, would Henrietta Booker Langford have been able to give him that child at nearly sixty? I suppose it’s remotely possible, but is it probable? This Thomas Langford is Pitt Ben’s grandchild. I would just about bet the farm on it.” –shb 16 Jul 2006

1788–THOMAS JOINS THE MASONS: E-letter from Shi Wordsworth to shb, 25 Aug 2006: “The Rockcastle Langfords joined the Maccabees. Too many Klan in the Masons in Rockcastle. 😉 [I had copied her into a note I sent Ann Langford, suggesting that since my ancestor, James Harvey Langford, Jr., sported a Masonic pin in a photo I have, and since news accounts said that the Thomas Lankford who was murdered by the Harpes Brothers wore a masonic apron, that perhaps we should search out masonic records for informationa bout our Langfords–shb.]

“And that’s no joke, either.

“In Terry’s information I found the notation of when Thomas Langford of Pittsylvania joined the Masons [Terry Smith sent us spreadsheets where she compiled Langford information from all kinds of databases–what a collection!–shb] . The year was 1788, but I can’t remember the exact date. This means that Thomas was at least 21 in 1788, making his birth year at the latest 1767. And moving ahead, he had to have been at least 31 when he was killed by the Harpes, Dec. 12, 1798.

“Stephen Langford would have been about 52 years old when Thomas was killed. I would say that makes him too old to be Thomas’ brother, but on my Lyons side of the family, my great-grandmother was 24 years older than her youngest sister. And…they had the same mother. So it’s possible I guess.

“Then, too, Thomas may have been born before 1767. At least we’re closing in on him! Keep circling the wagons!

“Rowdy Shi” –shb 25 Aug 2006

ORIGINS PITTSYLVANIA OR MECKLENBURG? There are two accounts for Thomas’ origins, before he came to Kentucky and was murdered by the Harpes brothers. There is also a question in my mind about whether the account meant he was from Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, or from Mecklenburg County in Virginia (check out). –shb 6 Nov 2003

1797–DECEMBER 11-12–STAYED NIGHT AT JOHN FARRIS’ TAVERN/INN: As recorded in chronology of John Easom Farris (brother of Johnson Farris, who m. Jenny Lankford, daughter of Joseph Lankford–see his notes): “12 Dec 1797 Thomas Langford spent night (at John Farrises Tavern/Inn), next day murdered by “Terrible Harpes.” –8 Apr 2006 [I had his death date as 12 Dec 1798 (see below), but this note would seem to indicate it was actually the 13th. ‘Have since writing this, found Daniel Trabue’s account (see above) that says Thomas stayed at the inn the night of Dec. 11-12, which would set his date of death as the 12th, after all–shb.] –shb 17 Apr 2006

1798, DECEMBER 12–MURDERED NEAR JOHN FARRIS’ TAVERN (ON THE WILDERNESS ROAD, SOUTH OF HAZEL PATCH, NOT MANY MILES FROM OLD CRAB ORCHARD, IN LINCOLN–NOW ROCKCASTLE) COUNTY, KENTUCKY). Genealogical Abstracts from 18th-Century Virginia Newspapers, by Robert K. Headley, Jr. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Cop., Inc., 1987), p. 200: “LANGFORD, Thomas, of Pittsylvania Co. suspected of being murdered on his way to Ky. last Dec. 12 by two men and three women supposed to be of the name of ROBERTS (KG [King George] 2 Jan 99, VGGA [The Virginia Gazette and General Advertiser] 22 Jan 99, Arg 22 [Jan] 99) [name also given as LANKFORD].” –shb 14 Aug

2006, JULY 16–MORE ABOUT BURIAL OF THE MURDERED THOMAS: E-letter by Shiron Wordsworth to shb, 16 July 2006: “I had a chance to read further in Rothert’s book today. Look at page 75. There it indicates that Thomas’ body was taken to the Lincoln County Coroner and that Abraham Anthony had buried Thomas after an inquest on the body.

“John Farris’ deposition says that he heard of a man being killed on the Wilderness Road, and that he got a court order (for the exhumation apparently) and in the company of David Irby and Abraham Anthony ‘who buried the said Thomas Langford as he supposed, raised him and inspected him…and that the whole visage of the person, by him and others raised, answered his idea of Thomas Langford, but he knew him more particularly by the loss of a tooth in the front part of his jaw.’

“So who was the murdered stranger that James Farris got $3.00 for burying? [I had sent her a court record detailing Farris’ payment for burying a “stranger”–shb.] Maybe he got that payment because he helped to rebury poor Thomas, but I guess we can’t be sure. It makes sense that it would be for reburying Thomas, but I guess it’s not perfectly clear at this point. There’s this to consider, too. There was a man named Peyton also killed by the Harpes on the Wilderness Road before Thomas. That murder happened in what I think would now be Knox County. Could this be a case of the other tavern owner named John Farris, the one in present day Knox County, burying this Mr. Peyton? Why didn’t our ancestors number their children instead of naming them? Rats!

“I would also like to have those references about the dead Thomas being Ben’s son [Barry Wood seemed certain of this–I have written for his reference–shb]. That would be fantastic! Yesterday I ran across some message board that said that Ben’s son, Thomas, died in 1787, which would be 11 years before the death of the Wilderness Road Thomas. Naturally there were no sources listed for this information, so if you get the real skinny, give me a yell!” –shb 16 July 2006

JUDGE/JUSTICE THOMAS TODD PRESIDED AT HARPES TRIAL? I wrote Shi Wordsworth of news from Terry Smith that the prominent relative Thomas’ sister Mary went to live with, after her husband Richard Todd’s death, was Judge Thomas Todd (and sent her material I had found on him). Shi’s response, 15 Aug 2006: “I knew that Thomas Todd had given Mary Langford a home after his brother’s death [well, for crying out loud, why didn’t she read my mind to know that I didn’t know that and tell me, so I could have quit wondering–shb]. I’m also suspicious that this same Thomas Todd was the state’s prosecuting attorney in the trial of the Harpes for murdering Thomas Langford [I had noticed that and wondered, myself, so for crying out loud, I guess we get together on some things–shb]. Thanks for the links!” –shb 15 Aug 2006

IS BENJAMIN LANKFORD, OF PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, VIRGINIA HIS FATHER OR GRANDFATHER? From e-letter by Shiron Wordsworth to shb, 6 Apr 2006: “I bought a fantastic book today! It’s called Westward into Kentucky, The Narrative of Daniel Trabue, edited by Chester Raymond Young and published by The University Press of Kentucky. I’m sure Amazon has it. Trabue’s young son was also murdered by the Harpes. Remember? [Note: Dan ordered it for me for my birthday, and it IS immensely fascinating reading–shb.]

“Anyway, in the editor’s bibliography he cites original sources from the times, such as Kentucky newspapers from 1799, the Kentucky Executive Journal from the years 1796 – 1799, and the Draper manuscripts. Something in these original sources caused the editor to draw the conclusion printed in his footnotes that… The murdered Thomas Langford was the son of Benjamin Langford of Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

[Here is the account of Thomas’ murder, as noted in the index of Westward into Kentucky: Page 195 (Notes to page 146 of the book), and the accompanying footnotes. He writes, in the chapter titled “Violence on the Kentucky Frontier” about how “They [meaning the Harpes brothers serial killers–shb] had not traveled much Further before a Jentlemon Fell in company with them on the Road by the name of Lankford [footnote 12]. Mr. Lankford saw them at some house on the Road [footnote 13]. They found out Mr. Lankford had Mony and a very likely horse, etc. At a convenient place in the woods they killed him and thowed him out of the road and covered him with logs. Some cow Drovers found the Dead Men [footnote 14].”

[11. The murder of three men–a peddler and two Marylanders–had occurred in two isolated spots on the Wilderness Road near the Cumberland River. The missing portion of the text may refer to the first of these crimes, probably committed by the Harpes; 12. Named Thomas, this young man was a son of Benjamin Langford, a wealthy farmer of Pittsylvania County, Virginia; 13. Located on the Wilderness Road south of Hazel Patch, this house was the tavern of John Farris, Sr., where Langford had spent the night of December 11-12, 1798; [Note: This Johnson or John Farris, Sr. was married to Jean/Jennie Lankford, daughter of my ancestor, Joseph Lankford–shb.] 14. The press reported that two men found the body of Langford on December 14, after noticing some freshly mangled bits of a human skull by the roadside near Rockcastle River. After a search the corpse, hidden under pieces of decayed wood, was discovered beside a lot some forty yards from the road. The Virginian had been killed two days earlier; . . . . 17. The Harpes were captured on Christmas Day near Carpenter’s Station, a settlement about two miles from the site of present Hustonville; 18. Imprisoned at Stanford, they were brought before the Lincoln County Court of Quarter sessions on January 4, 1799. The judges held that the evidence was sufficient to remand them to the Danville jail to await trial for murder before the District Court in April; . . . . 24. John, the second son of Daniel Trabue, was twelve years old when murdered. Probably early in April 1799 the Harpes killed John in Green (now Adair) County not far from his father’s house, northwesterly of present Columbia. The lad had been sent on an errand to a grist mill and, returning home with a sack of flour and a bag of seed beans, was taken on the trail. His body was cut into pieces and thrown into a sinkhole, where the remainrs were found sometime before April 25.”–shb.] Getting back to Shiron’s letter:

“I’ve seen this conclusion before in genealogies but without a single reference to support that conclusion. This reference certainly isn’t a paper trail, but it does say that some researcher dealing with original sources concluded that this is the case.

“When I read this, I stood up and did the Virginia Reel. And that’s hard to do without a partner!

“There is mention of John Farris’ tavern near Hazel Patch, Kentucky, too, but I haven’t had a chance to get into that info yet. According to current research which is the absolute proven truth, the original Hazel Patch is right over the border in Laurel County within spitting distance of Rockcastle.

“Maybe you already know about this book, but it’s new to me. It’s an eyewitness account of daily life in Kentucky at the time when Stephen / Benjamin / Joseph were living there. I feel like I’m going to be able to walk around in those Langfords’ shoes (or boots, or moccasins…whatever!). I think I’m going to be able to see Kentucky through their eyes by reading this account. And that’s news that’s just too good not to share!

“Your cuz,

“Rowdy Langford, head up and hiney down on the trail of dead Langfords!” –shb 6 Apr 2006

MORE ABOUT THE HARPES BROTHERS: The Men, Women, Events, Institutions & Lore of Casey County, Kentucky, collected by W. M. Watkins (searched by shb, July 2006, at the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah (Call No. 976.966/H2w), p. 125: “The Notorous Harpes” – We find the following (greatly condensed) in Collins’ History concerning Micajah (Big Harpe) and Wiley (Little Harpe) Harpe. Since these notorious murderers once passed through Casey County we will give a very brief history of them:

“In the fall of 1794 or 1795 a company consisting of two men and three women arrived in Lincoln County and encamped about a mile from the present site of Stanford. The appearance of the individuals was wild and rude in the extreme. Big Harpe was larger than the average man. His form was bony and muscular, his breast broad and gigantic. His clothing was uncouth, shabby and dirty; his countenance was bold and ferocious, exceedingly repulsive, showing villany and ungovernable passion. He was an outlaw destitute of all the nobler sympathies. The other man was smaller in size. The females were coarse, sunburnt and wretchedly attired. Big Harpe had two wives and Little Harpe one.

“The men stated that they were emigrants from North Carolina. They spent a day or two in rioting, drunkenness and debauchery. When they left they took the road to Green River. The day after their departure, a report reached the neighborhood that a young Virginian by the name of Lankford had been robbed and murdered on the Wilderness road. Suspicion immediately centered on the Harpes. Captain (Devil Jo) Ballenger and a few bold men started in pursuit. Oiwing to a heavy snowfall the trail was difficult to follow but they were finally captured in a camp on Green River near the spot where Liberty now stands. They were taken back to Stanford and examined but afterewads sent to Danville for trial. The men broke out of jail. Next heard from they were near Columbia, where they killed a small boy for a bag of meal. The Harpes shaped their course toward the mouth of Green River, marking their path by murders and robberies of the most horrible and brutal character.

“The country through which they passed was at that time very thinly settled, and for that reason their outrages went unpunished. They used an ax to dispose of one family. At another time a little girl was the victim of these monsters, who killed for pastime.

“Big Harpe was finally killed by the husband of a woman who was killed and burned by him and his brother. Big Harpe’s head was cut off and put on a sapling in Webster County. The place is yet known as ‘Harpe’s Head.’ Little Harpe escaped at the time Big Harpe was killed in 1799, and joined Mason’s band of outlaws who worked between New Orleans and Tennessee. He killed Mason for the reward offered for him, but was recognized as one of the band and executed.

“The wives told that their husbands had once been put in jail in Knoxville under suspicion when they were innocent. When they were released they declared war against mankind, and determined to murder and rob until they were killed.

“A large reward was offered by the governors of Kentucky and Tennessee for these most brutal monsters of the human race.

“The following is taken from Collins’ History of Russell County: ‘One of the “Harpe” band, as he appeared in 1802 to a since distinguished Methodist preacher, is thus minutely described.

“‘Returning, I saw the cabin (now in Russell County) pretty well filled with men and women. Although it was late in November, many of them had neither hats nor bonnets on their heads, nor shoes on their feet. I took my stand opposite the door, read a hymn and began to sing. While I was singing, a remarkable man made his appearance, so distinguished from the other men that I will give some account of him. He was a very large man, with strongly marked features. From the muscles of his face I perceived that he was a man of strong natural courage. He had a high forhead, very wide between the eyes, with a broad face; his eyeballs were remarkably large, showing a great deal of white. He fixed his eyes upon me, and looked as if he were searching my whole person. Had I not been used to seeing rough men on the frontier of Kentucky I should have been frightened. I looked him fully in the eye and scanned him closely. His hair appeared as though it had never been combed and made me think of Nebuchadnezzar and his head like eagle feathers. He wore no hat, neither had on shoes nor moccasins.

“I was sure he had distinguished himself, someway, which made me anxious to find out his history. I soon found out that he was a brother-in-law to the infamous robber, Micajah Harpe, a character so well known in the history of Kentucky. No doubt they had been together in many a bloody affray.

“‘He joined the church and several years later was holding on his heavenly way.

“For a complete history of these monsters, read Collins’ History under Hopkins County. We include this chapter to illustrate that in the good old days all people were not good and how difficult it was then to catch criminals.” –shb 10 Sep 2006

READ ALL ABOUT IT! From letter by Shiron Wordsworth to shb, 11 Feb 2006:


“Are you awake yet? Well, get up, girlfriend! We’ve got ancestors to ‘unbury’ the way they unburied poor old Thomas in 1798, just so they could prove who was dead. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why there’s still an argument about who got killed on the Wilderness Road.

“Yesterday, the Colonel [her tag for John Robert or “Bob” Langford–shb] sent me an article by some crime writer that said John Langford was murdered. And at the Langford message board yesterday, people were chasing that rabbit all over Virginia and North Carolina. Now we have three Langfords dead in the tales that are circulating: Stephen, Thomas, and now John. Will somebody near Lincoln County, Kentucky, just go to the courthouse and read the affidavits, please? I’m sure the court record will prove it was Thomas who died. His missing tooth proved who he was for crying out loud! It’s bad enough to lose a tooth and then be killed by a bunch of fiends. But when folks won’t give you the honor you deserve as the rightful victim of America’s premier serial killers…well, that just rips the knickers to shreds!” –shb 11 Feb 2006 [Note: She goes on to remind me that in “The Outlaws of Cave-in Rock, Rother, p. 66, says the Harpes Bros. also murdered a pedlar named “Peyton” (shades of another Langford relative, by marriage). I ordered the book on Amazon and recommend it as interesting reading for any Kentucky Langford researcher–shb.] –shb 11 Feb 2006

STORY TOLD BY LANGFORD COUSIN: E-letter to Allen Leigh from Shiron Wordsworth (a descendant of Stephen Langford, brother of Walker, we believe), with copy to shb, 11 Oct 2003: “Hi Allen,

“Glad you like the rowdy Kentuckians, and I return the favor with my Utah kin!

“I found the record of the will of Joseph Langford by doing a Kentucky search at I typed in Joseph Langford and Lincoln County to search their databases. The facts of the will were listed just as I gave them to you and no more. The dates were right for this to be our Joseph. Kentucky was still pretty raw wilderness at this time, so I made the assumption that this was Stephen and Walker’s father. Maybe that’s not the case, but it fits time wise. It fits with regard to location, too. And how many Joseph Langfords could there have been in Kentucky, and in Lincoln County in particular when the Indians were still a threat? So far I’ve only found references that imply, at least, a single Joseph Langford in Kentucky, in Lincoln County, in the 1780’s. Lincoln County is one of the parent counties to Rockcastle.

“Kentucky, unfortunately, hasn’t done as good a job as Virginia in getting documents online. I haven’t yet been able to find a way to access the will via the net. It looks as though that will have to be a hands-on examination. Whether or not that Will Book is still in Lincoln County, I just have no idea. More probably it’s with the other Kentucky archives in Frankfort.

“And Allen, I need for you to change one thing for me, please. I gave you the census date as 1800 for the record to be kept at Stephen Langford’s home. Actually it’s the 1810 census. I guess I had a senior moment when I was typing that info for you. Originally I came by this information at USGenweb where that census has been abstracted by Gina Abney in July, 2000, edited and formatted by Kelly Courtney-Blizzard, August 2000. The actual census is preceded by the orders which state that a copy of the record is to be kept “at the house of Stephen Langford.” Wonder what in the world we Rockcastle Langfords did with that thing? Some over-zealous housewife probably tossed it about 1880.

“There’s another fact I don’t think I’ve shared with you. If I have, please forgive me. When Rockcastle County was incorporated, the citizens were ordered to meet at the home of Stephen Langford. That info is easily obtained several places. The state of Kentucky has a site where orders for county formations are online. And the Rockcastle County KYGenweb page has it as well if I remember correctly. I think the Rockcastle County website which is just general information about the county also displays a copy. And one of those sites displays a timeline in which the first event listed is: 1790, Stephen Langford leads the first settlers into Rockcastle County. Someday one of us will get our hands on that will!

“There’s something else I wonder if you know anything about. I purchased a book at Barnes & Nobel about six years ago called The Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock , by Otto A. Rothert. I bought it because it was local history from the Bluegrass. It’s a reprint by Southern Illinois University Press of a book originally published in 1924. What a surprise I got when I found a lengthy and detailed account of the murder of Thomas Langford in December, 1798, near Crab Orchard, Kentucky. He was the victim of the Harpe Brothers, Kentucky’s (and probably America’s) first serial killers. Rothert says that Langford had journeyed from Pittsylvania County, Virginia, to this area because he had relatives in that part of the country and was thinking of purchasing land and relocating. A David Irby had traveled from Virginia with Thomas as far as Frankfort where they parted to conduct their separate business. When Irby got news of Thomas’ death, he came to Crab Orchard, had the body exhumed, and identified the corpse as that of Thomas Langford. I can find “Irvys” in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, so that’s a pretty good confirmation considering the state of spelling back then. Anyway…have you heard anything of this story? Do you know anything about who this Thomas Langford was? If not, and if you can locate a copy of this book, I think you will find it fascinating reading. I certainly did.

“Thanks again, Allen

“Shiron” –shb 11 Oct 2003

“OUTLAWS OF CAVE-IN-ROCK”: Per Shiron’s letter, above, we ordered the book, and it arrived today (16 Oct 2003). I type here the part that involves Thomas Langford, who has since been identified as a son of Benjamin Lankford, a “Gentleman,” slave holder, and County Justice (certainly related to our ancestor, Joseph Lankford, though we cannot yet prove the connection).

Otto A. Rothert, “The Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock,” talking about the murderous Harpe Brothers, starting with the second paragraph of p. 67: “The villains continued along the Wilderness Road and one night, in December, 1798, arrived at a public house kept by John Farris in what is now Rockcastle County, not many miles from Crab Orchard. [By the way two of the Langfords married Farrises–so there was a family connection to this inn, as well–shb.] With them came Stephen [sic–I think the author meant to say “Thomas”–shb] Langford, of Virginia, who was on his way to Crab Orchard to visit a kinsman and to consider making that locality his home. Langford probably had not met the Harpes until that morning. The story of what took place after they met was related about a quarter of a century later by Judge James Hall, who, in his day, ranked among the best living authors in America, and whose statements were then, and have been ever since, cited as high authority. His story of their encounter with Langford was first published in August, 1825, in ‘The Port Folio.’ After making some slight revisions in his ‘Story of the Harpes’ he republished the sketch in 1828 in his ‘Letters from the West,’ from which book his account of the Langford tragedy is here quoted:

“‘In the autumn of the year 1799, a young gentleman, named Langford, of respectable family in Mecklenburg 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. On reaching the vicinity of the Wilderness, a mountainous and uninhabited tract, which at that time separated the settled parts of Kentucky from those of Virginia, he stopped to breakfast at a public house near Big Rockcastle River. Travelers of this description — any other indeed than hardy wood men — were unwilling to pass singly through this lonely region; and they generally waited on its confines for others, and traveled through in parties. Mr. Langford, either not dreading danger, or not choosing to delay, determined to proceed alone. While breakfast was preparing, the Harpes and their women came up. Their appearance denoted poverty, with but little regard to cleanliness; two very indifferent horses, with some bags swung across them, and a rifle gun or two, comprised nearly their whole equipage. Squalid and miserable, they seemed objects of pity, rather than of fear, and their ferocious glances were attributed more to hunger than to guilty passion. They were entire strangers in that neighborhood, and, like Mr. Langford, were about to cross the Wilderness. When breakfast was served, the landlord, as was customary at such places in those times, invited all the persons who were assembled in the common, perhaps the only room of his little inn, to sit down, but the Harpes declined, alleging their want of money as the reason. Langford, who was of a lively, generous dispositon, on hearing this, invited them to partake of the meal at his expense; they accepted the invitation, and ate voraciously. When they had thus refreshed themselves, and were about to renew their journey, Mr. Langord called for the bill, and in the act of discharging it imprudently displayed a handful of silver. They then set out together.

“‘A few days after, some men who were conducting a drove of cattle to Virginia, by the same road which had been traveled by Mr. Langford and the Harpes, had arrived within a few miles of Big Rockcastle River, when their cattle took fright, and, quitting the road, rushed down a hill into the woods. In collecting them, the drovers discovered the dead body of a man concealed behind a log, and covered with brush and leaves. It was now evident that the cattle had been alarmed by the smell of blood in the road, and, as the body exhibited marks of violence, it was at once suspected that a murder had been perpetrated but recently. The corpse was taken to the same house where the Harpes had breakfasted, and recognized to be that of Mr. Langford, whose name was marked upon several parts of his dress. Suspicion fell upon the Harpes, who were pursued and apprehended near Crab Orchard. They were taken to Stanford . . .’

“The killing of the two Marylanders and the peddler was not known until many weeks thereafter. The report of the murder of Langford spread like wildfire. ‘The Kentucky Gazette,’ January 2, 1799, in a characteristically brief paragraph gave sufficient details of the discovery of the body on December 14 to impress its readers with the seriousness of an act of barbarity that might be repeated by the Harpes at any time. ‘We also learn,’ says this paragraph, ‘that Mr. Ballenger is in pursuit of them, with a determined resolution never to quit the chase until he has secured them.’

“Captain Joseph Ballenger, the organizer and leader of the pursuing party, was a prominent merchant of Stanford, Lincoln County. He and his men trailed the Harpes and their women to the neighborhood of what was then Carpenter’s Station, a settlement near the present town of Hustonville and about eight miles southwest of Stanford. There Ballenger discovered them sitting on a log, evidently confident that no one could detect their whereabouts. [12F] The pursuers rushed on them so suddenly that resistance or escape was impossible. [footnote 5–which I type here: “After killing Langford the Harpes probably continued to travel along the Wilderness Road until they reached Crab Orchard, from which place radiated, besides the Wilderness Road to Cumberland Gap, at least four other routes: the Louisville route, the Frankfort and Cincinnati route, passing Logan’s Fort (or Stanford) Danville, and Harrodsburg, the Maysville route, and the Tennessee route. Crab Orchard, being a converging point of roads, many travelers going east waited there until a crowd of a dozen or more was organized, thus assuring each a great safety in making the trip through the Wilderness. Settlers passing through the Wilderness going west usually left home in a crowd sufficiently large to protect itself. [123.] Langford, as is shown later, met the five Harpes in the Wilderness and, notwithstanding their appearnace, he doubtless felt that they would at least serve as protection in the event of danger. The Harpes, after killing Langford, probably passed through Crab Orchard and continued northwest via the Frankfort road, toward Stanford and in or near Stanford turned west for the purpose of misleading anyone who might pursue them as that course threw them toward both Tennessee and western Kentucky.”]

“The five prisoners were taken to Stanford, placed in jail and, about ten days later, tried before the Court of Quarter Sessions.

“Hall’s story of the frontier tragedy, based on personal accounts that had survived for a quarter of a century, has already been given. It is brief and is correct as far as it goes, but while Hall was hearing it from the lips of men who had it from those concerned with the vengeance of the law, there lay in the custody of the records of the backwoods court of Lincoln County, the grim details of that crime of base ingratitude and cruelty in solitude which so shook the Wilderness. They had lain there forgotten more than a century when they were found and examined in 1918. Yellowed with age, written with the goose-quill pen of that period in a penmanship characteristic of the pioneers, a jumble of half narrative, half legal style, much of which, however, is in use in courts today, these records of a terrible episode in history are eloquent with interest.

“The piling up of item on item of court forms, of testimony laboriously written out and signed, of official jail accounts for the handling of the criminals, tells in its own way eery detail of a crime committed in fancied obscurity yet which by a series of fortunate circumstnces, was to blaze into a notoriety that set all the West on fire with fear and horror. One who holds these long-forgotten records in his hands and curiously searches them could, with patience and without the aid of imagination, build up a story of frontier life and the people who lived it. The story would show that the power of observation exercised by some of the pioneers was equal to any ascribed to a Sherlock Holmes. It would be a story of chance incidents woven into chains of circumstances that were to reveal crime with unerring certainty — a story of the capture of the criminals, of their life in jail, and of the destiny by which each of the three women involved was to have her only child born to her in that frontier jail, the branded fruit of awful parentage. The mute entries in pounds, shillings, and pence for every item, set down on these yellow pages without malice or comment, tell their part of the story as implacably ad dispassionately as fate itself. [footnote 6: “In 1799 Stanford was a frontier settlement of less than 200 persons, including slaves. In 1780, when Lincoln County was formed, Logan’s Fort or St. Asaph’s became the seat of justice In 1787 (on land presented by Colonel Benjamin Logan, a site about half a mile east of the fort, where the brick court house now stands) the county erected a log court house thirty feet long and twenty feet wide, with a small jury room on each side, the structure forming a T. Near it stood a log jail of two rooms, each twelve feet square. [28.] In these log buildings the Harpes were tried and confined.”]

“These records show that all the Harpes gave their name as ‘Roberts,’ except Betsey Harpe, the supplementary wife of Big Harpe, whose name is given as ‘Elizabeth Walker.’ Five witnesses appeared against them, two of whom — John Farris and his daughter-in-law, Jane Farris [I think she is mentioned as a Langford by Shiron–shb] — lived in the house near Rockcastle River, where Thomas Langford, or Lankford, was last seen alive. The fugitives were captured December 25, 1798. On January 4, 1799, they appeared before the three judges of the Lincoln County Court of Quarter Sessions, as it is so recorded, by Willis Green, the clerk, on the twenty-second page of the Record Book marked ‘September 1798 – March 1802:’

“‘At a court called and held at Lincoln Courthouse on Friday the 4th day of January 1799 for the examination of Micajah Roberts, Wiley Roberts, Susanna Roberts, Sally Robers, and Elizabeth Walker for the murder of Thomas Langford.

“‘Present Hugh Logan, William Montgomery, and Nathan Huston, Esquire [the three judges who presided].

“‘The said [naming the five prisoners] were lead to the bar in custody of the Sheriff and charged with feloniously and of their malice aforethought murdering and robbing a certain Thomas Langford on Wednesday the 12th day of December 1798 on the road leading from Kentucky to Virginia through the Wilderness, and denied the fact, sundry evidences were therefore examined and the prisoners heard in their defense.’

“Five witnesses appeared on behalf of the Commonwealth. The statement of each is written on looseleaves and signed in the presence of Thomas Montgomery, the official notary, and all were therefore in a form to be turned over to a higher court should it become necessary to do so. The affidavit of Captain Ballenger, who lead the pursuing party, is here quoted in full:

“‘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 Langford, 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 had 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 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; 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.’

“David Irby, in his sworn statement, explained that: ‘he and Thomas Langford set out from Pittsylvania County in Virginia for Kentucky, they traveled five days journey together and sometimes one paid their traveling expense and sometimes the other, all of which Thomas Langford marked down in his pocket book. Before they crossed Inglish’s Ferry [Ingle’s Ferry in what is now Montgomery Country (sic–shb), Virginia[ they got a half bushel of oats which the deponent paid for and also their ferryage at Inglish’s Ferry in Wythe County (Virginia) the deponent purchased a cheese which Thomas Langford set down in his pocket book, he says that the pocket book now before the examining court is the said pocket book which Thomas Langfor had when they traveled together in Tennessee State. [The trail from Virginia to Cumberland Gap extended into northeastern Tennessee before reaching Kentucky]. The deponent and Thomas Langford separated when they agreed to meet at Frankfort in Kentucky; the deponent heard in Kentucky that the said Thomas Langford was murdered on his way to Kentucky, he set out towards the place where the crime was committed and went to the place where the person who was killed as buried and he, the deponent, and John Farris unburied and raise dthe decedent and found him to be Thomas Langford.’

“What Irby saw and heard he further declared convinced him that the murdered man was no other than his recent traveling companion.

“John Farris Sr. swore that on Tuesday night, December 12, 1798: ‘a man came to his house on the Wilderness Road who called himself Thomas Langford and who, after he had told his name, he recollected to have been acquainted with in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, in the youth of Thomas Langford.’

“He said his guest remained all night and started the next morning for the settlements. In the meantime, Faris had: ‘an opportunity of viewing his clothing and actually did very curiously examine the outward clothing of the said Thomas Langford.’ A few days later he heard that ‘a man was killed on the Wilderness Road, and on inquiring into the circumstances he was induced to believe that the person murdered was Thomas Langford . . . but not being fully satisfied that the person found dead was Thomas Langford, he went to the coroner of Lincoln County, obtained from him an order — the said coroner having before that time held an inquest on the body — and in pursuance of the said order, in company with David Irby and Abraham Anthony who buried the said Thomas Langford as he supposed, raised him and inspected him . . . and that the whole visage of the person, by him and others raised, answered his idea of Thomas Langord, but he knew him more particularly by the loss of a tooth in the front part of his jaw.’

“His daughter-in-law Jane Farris, wife of William Farris, also identified various things found in the possession of the outlaws as the property of the murdered man. She evidently observed the actions of the travelers closely, for she states: ‘Thomas Langford had on leggins at her house and as part of the list of one of them was torn Susan Roberts sewed it to the leggin with white thread. She adds that the five prisoners and their victim came to the house together and ‘All appeared very cheerful with each other, Langford seemed to be somewhat intoxicated, he had a small glass bottle which was filled with whiskey at their house which Micajah Roberts and Wiley Roberts paid for.’ The six left the Farris house together, but shortly before leaving ‘there was some misunderstanding between Thomas Langford and Micajah and Wiley Roberts . . . and Mr. Langford said to Mrs. Farris, in the presence of all, that he would not offend her for all in his saddle bags which was worth five hundred pounds.’

“The statement made by Thomas Welsh, who was in the pursuing party, is practically the same as Captain Ballenger’s. He, however, adds ‘there was none of the alteration in the great coat at the time of the finding . . . and must have been made by the criminals since they were taken into custody, they having, for several days after they were taken in custody, the possession of the great coat.’

“There is nothing in the records to indicate what as said by the prisoners when they were heard in their defense. The decision of the court was that the five prisoners ‘ought to be tried for the urder of the said Thomas Langford before the Judges of the District Court holden for the Danville District at the next April Term, and it is ordered that they be remanded to mail.’

“Thomas Todd, the prosecuting atorney, in the requirement of the law, ‘acknowledged himself indebted’ to the Governor of the Commonwealth ‘in the sum of ten thousand pounds current money’ should he fail to appear before the judges on the first day of the April term of the Danville District Court then and there to prosecute the prisoners. The witnesses ‘acknowledged themselves severally indebted . . . to the sum of five hundred pounds current money’ should they fail to appear and give evidence on behalf of the Comonwealth. [footnote 7: “A perusal of the account kept by Joseph Welsh, the sheriff of Lincoln County, reveals many interesting facts. John Gower against the Commonwealth of Kentucky runs: ‘For making a pair of handcuffs for Wiley Roberts 9s. And putting on and taking off when committed and before trial 2s. 6d. To putting on and taking off the handcuffs after trial and before removal to the District jail 2s 6d,’ making a total of 14s. For this same service on Micajah Roberts, Gower received, respectively 2s. 6d; 1s. 3d., and 1s. 3d., a total of only 5s. [There are other bills I won’t detail here–shb.] . . . The total of all these accounts is a little more than L35. or what would today be about $175.00.”

ANOTHER ACCOUNT: Query answered, as found on “the web” by shb, 6 Nov 2003:
Boards > Localities > North America > United States > States > Virginia > Counties > Albemarle
Subject: Re: Robina Langford/Lankford
Author: Nancy Cumberland Palmer
Date: 22 Apr 2002 7:10 PM GMT
I have information from an old book I am reading about a story of young man of wealth named Lankford who was murdered in VA aprox 1802 by 2 Harpes brothers from NC. They were caught with the mans fine linen shirts marked with his initials, one with a bullet hole in it, they also had his gold. They were put in jail and escaped. Makes me think if he was old enough to travel alone he might have been born aprox 1775-1780. I hope this is of interest to you, there are so many Lankford messages, dont know why I singled out your name.The book is by Henry Howe, HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS OF THE GREAT WEST. 1855. Happy hunting. Nancy.” –shb 6 Nov 2003

2006, JULY 16–STILL DEBATING THOMAS’ IDENTITY: E-letter from Shiron Wordsworth to shb, 16 July 2006: “I had a chance to read further in Rothert’s book today. Look at page 75. There it indicates that Thomas’ body was taken to the Lincoln County Coroner and that Abraham Anthony had buried Thomas after an inquest on the body. John Farris’ deposition says that he heard of a man being killed on the Wilderness Road, and that he got a court order (for the exhumation apparently) and in the company of David Irby and Abraham Anthony ‘who buried the said Thomas Langford as he supposed, raised him and inspected him…and that the whole visage of the person, by him and others raised, answered his idea of Thomas Langford, but he knew him more particularly by the loss of a tooth in the front part of his jaw.’

“So who was the murdered stranger that James Farris got $3.00 for burying? Maybe he got that payment because he helped to rebury poor Thomas, but I guess we can’t be sure. It makes sense that it would be for reburying Thomas, but I guess it’s not perfectly clear at this point. There’s this to consider, too. There was a man named Peyton also killed by the Harpes on the Wilderness Road before Thomas. That murder happened in what I think would now be Knox County. Could this be a case of the other tavern owner named John Farris, the one in present day Knox County, burying this Mr. Peyton? Why didn’t our ancestors number their children instead of naming them? Rats! I would also like to have those references about the dead Thomas being Ben’s son. That would be fantastic! Yesterday I ran across some message board that said that Ben’s son, Thomas, died in 1787, which would be 11 years before the death of the Wilderness Road Thomas. Naturally there were no sources listed for this information, so if you get the real skinny, give me a yell!” –shb 16 July 2006 [Note: I have Pittsylvania County, Virginia Thomas, son of Benjamin, as b. in 1782–doubt he died at only age five–shb.]

MORE ABOUT THOMAS’ MURDER. As posted on the RootsWeb message board at, accessed 5 Aug 2006, by shb:

“From: <>
Subject: [TNCLAIBO-L] Farris’s Tavern, the Harps, Stephen Langford
Date: Sat, 4 Dec 1999 01:55:05 EST

Subj: Farris’s Tavern, the Harps, Stephen Langford
Date: 12/03/1999 5:38:27 AM Pacific Standard Time
From: (Donald Chesnut)

“From Russell Dyche’s Laurel County Kentucky. This material is
copyrighted. See previous note about copyright.

“John Farris’s Tavern, The Terrible Harpes, And Stephen Lang[f]ord – I have said, and the official notice of the opening of it indicates, that the building of The Wilderness Road marked the beginning of peaceful passage through ‘the Wilderness’. That is only relatively true. At times, civilized men may be as dangerous and be even more cruel than the savage
Indians, as this incident will show.

“The Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock, by Otto A. Rothert, long time secretary of The Filson Club in Louisville, is a story about the terrible Harpes–Big Harpe and Little Harpe. One incident told by Mr. Rothert had it locale in Laurel county–at least the beginning of it–at the tavern of John Farris, Sr., and of his son William and daughter-in-law Jane. There will be more
about John Farris in another article. But now to the Harpes. [This entry is quoted, above, so I am not repeating it here, though this next part merges with Rothert’s text, though I think it has a different, unidentified source–shb.]

“Two Old Friends Meet In 1798

“Stephen Langford [It was Thomas–shb] of Virginia came to Kentucky. A traveling companion as far as Cumberland Gap had been David Irby, and separating there they agreed to meet at Frankfort. Old Lincoln county records, found in 1918, disclosed what happened after that. Langford had followed the Wilderness Road, passing the junction of the State road leading off toward Madison county, and stopped at John Farris’s station west of Little Rockcastle river in late evening, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 1798, and spent the night there. John Farris, Sr., was a friendly man and in their conversation that night he and Langford were drawn closer together when they learned they once had been neighbors back in Virginia. As related by Mr. Rothert, John Farris, Sr., later swore ‘a man came to his house on the Wilderness road who called himself Langford and who, after he had told him his name, he recollected to have been acquainted with in Pittsylvania county, Virginia, in the youth of Thomas Langford.”

“Others Came At Breakfast Time

“Early Wednesday morning other travelers came to Farris’s Station as they were about to have breakfast. There were two men and three women in the group, all unkept, and, according to their story, pennyless. But even so they were not turned away. Inadvertently, Langford had said or done something that displeased Jane Farris, and disclaiming any mischievous
intention said that he ‘would not offend her for all in his saddle bags, which was worth 500 pounds.’ Langford paid for the strangers’ breakfasts and the six left together for the Settlements at Crab Orchard.

“But Langford never got there. A few days later, men driving a drove of cattle to Virginia found a dead body of a man beside the Wilderness Road. The Farrises recognized it as Stephen Langford. How could they have known that the strangers eating breakfast with them on that fateful morning had been the Harpes, the terrible killers?

“The alarm was sounded and the chase was on. The Kentucky Gazette of Jan. 2, 1799, mentioned the discovery of the body on Dec. 14, and added, ‘We also learn Mr. Ballenger is in pursuit of them, with a determined resolution never to quit the chase until he has secured them.’ In the meanwhile, Ca[pt. Joseph Ballenger, a Stanford merchant, had found the
Harpes near Carpenter Station, now Houstonville, on Christmas day. Their examining trial got under way at Stanford, Jan. 4, 1799, with Esquires Hugh Logan, William Montgomery anbd Nathan Huston presiding judges, and Willis Green clerk. Among the evidence was a Free Mason’s apron Ballenger had found. The Farrises recognized the defendants and recited the happenings at their station. David Irby had come over from Frankfort and he and John
Farris had ‘unburied’ the body and found it to be Langford. The Harpes gave their names as ‘Roberts’, except Big Harpes’ wife called herself Elizabeth Walker.

“The five were held to the District Court and taken to the Danville jail, from which the men managed to escape. The jailer’s record had more about two of the women, who had added to the population of their clan at State expense. ‘Feb. 8. Betsey Walker, she being brought to bed by a son the previous night,’ and “March 7. Susanna Harpe, brought to bed by a daughter
the preceding night. Paid cash midwife for ditto 18s.’ Sufficeth to add here that the women were finally released, to join their men in a depredating forage through Southern Kentucky to their final notorious rendezvous at Cave-in-Rock on the Ohio River. Violent deaths awaited the terrible Big Harpe and the terrible Little Harpe.” –shb 5 Aug 2006

THOMAS LIVENS MERIDIAN COLUMN: I told about Thomas’ murder in my November column, published on, as follows: [To see column in published format, with photos, find it on Google or click on ]:


“Strange Family History Tales
From Internet Cousins

“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 similaries 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. (we hope to prove he 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.

“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 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 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.

[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)

“Shiron, still:

“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, 30 Oct 2003
Sherlene Hall Bartholomew, copyright 2003

THOMAS AGAIN MADE THE NEWS: I talked about Thomas Langford again in my column, published on 2 Dec 2003, as follows: [To see column, in published format, with photos, click on ]:


“Gold Diggers, We!

“By Sherlene Hall Bartholomew

“After reading my last column <;, Internet cousin Allen Leigh wrote to ask whether I planned to tell you readers about treasure in “The Search” of a more concrete sort.

“I guess gold was on Allen’s mind since, as discussed in that column, the deputies who rounded up the Harpes Brothers for murdering our Langford relative Thomas found his personal belongings in the robbers’ possession. But all the gold that Thomas displayed at the Inn–for which he was murdered, was nowhere to be found!

“My first instinct was to tell Allen I intend to keep to myself all secrets about gold to be found. However, since James Jackson, another ancestor who buried treasure, was called to head the “Order of Enoch” (United Order) in the early Toquerville, Utah area, I suppose that, staying true to his legacy, I can tell you about his gold.

“(The United Order, in case you didn’t know, was an early effort by ‘The Saints’ to share and share alike, with the rich and poor voluntarily sharing their resources, so that all, while equally yoked in labor, could enjoy an improved standard of living. Some of those in the Order turned out to be Latter-day Ain’ts, so the practice finally went down, as it likely would today.) I do admire James, though, for heeding the call and at least trying to make it work.

“According to Toquerville town historian, Dr. Wesley P. Larsen, [i] James owned five hundred acres–more than anyone else in town, getting a beautiful yield from his land. It’s my guess that he was invited to head up the Order because he stood to give more than most, with all this sharing.

[Here a photo was inserted, with title “James Jackson, Jr. 1826-1897 with 1st wife Annis Bedford”]

“Known for his disciplined industry, James was one of those few who were prosperous enough to be invited to enter the practice of polygamy–before it was made illegal, that is. Besides his first wife, Annis Bedford (my ancestor), he was also sealed at the Endowment House in Salt Lake City to two additional women, Martha McFate and Sarah Ann Stapley. His three wives bore him twenty-five children, for whom he provided well.

“Always one to magnify his legacy, James made sure his daughter Rose Ellen, my ancestor, continued the practice. When James Harvey Langford Jr. came asking for Rose Ellen’s hand, James granted it–on condition that James also marry her older sister, Mary Lydia, the same day.

“And that’s how the never-boring Langfords came into our family!

[Photo inserted: “James Harvey Langford Jr. with Rose Ellen Jackson,on their wedding day, 27 Mar 1884, St. George Temple”

“[Do you see a similarity between James Harvey, Jr.’s photo here and Elza Langford’s image, displayed at the head of my last column [link made of word “column–shb].

“I don’t know how those early pioneers made a living out of all that sand. Our car battery went dead near the Toquerville Cemetery and in that blazing heat, I wondered how anybody lived long enough to die and be buried in that place! James must have had great faith to accept the call when Brigham Young sent him and others there, as called to the ‘Wine Mission.’

“Practical man that he was, Brigham declared that if the Gentiles were going to buy wine, they might as well buy it from ‘the Mormons.’ Since the Word of Wisdom was not as emphasized then, it might be said that it was not only Gentiles who helped the industry prosper, but we won’t go into that now. The important point is that James Jackson’s grapes were a good source of income, as were other products of his fields and orchards. As Larsen relates: “Like many other Dixie pioneers, James hauled, with team and wagon, fresh fruits and vegetables to nearby towns, principally the mining towns of Silver Reef in southern Utah and Pioche in eastern Nevada. He received five cents per peach, which at that time was a large price. His son Jesse Jackson relates:

“Highway Robbery

“‘Through the years, James Jackson spent considerable time traveling between Dixie and Salt Lake City by team and wagon, hauling dried fruits, sorghum, wine, etc. Then he would bring home clothes and other household items for his large family. Among the things he brought home was a large box of shoes, called “ankle-jacks,” of assorted sizes from which each boy could select his own size. . .

“‘One time Father took . . . one of these trips to Pioche with a load of produce. After selling out and making preparations to return home, Father noticed some men watching him. See, in those days there were no greenbacks, the money being all in gold and silver. He carried his money in a buckskin bag. Being suspicious, Father nailed the bag of money on the underside of the “reach” of the wagon.

“‘Sure enough, when they had traveled some distance from Pioche, they were held up at gunpoint by this group of highwaymen who ransacked the wagon thoroughly, but could find no cash and so had to let Father proceed.’

“James might as well have let himself get robbed, for all his family realized of that and his other gold. It was exciting for our family that day in 1995, when Wes Larson walked us through town to show us the now white-stuccoed home at 132 North Toquer Boulevard that James Jackson Jr. built, in which my ancestor Annis lived (he built a separate home for each wife). Unfortunately, the house seemed deserted; its windows staring blankly back at ours.

“As we stood there, Dr. Larsen pointed out a lot to the right of the house that also belonged to James. Explaining that there was no bank in town, he retold a legend I had heard before–that James buried his gold in that empty lot, but died without telling his family where to find it. Larsen said folks in town dug all over that lot, trying to find where that gold was planted. I poked around a bit, myself, but it didn’t sprout up and present itself to this worthy descendant.

“There’s another reason cousin Allen has gold-dust on his brain. Shiron Wordsworth, another Internet ‘find’ I mentioned last time, had written him a letter, also copied to me that I guess I’ll let you in on. Writes Shiron:

“Noises in the house

“Will the coincidences never end? Rockcastle Langfords have their own delicious combination of ghosts and gold. Grandmom had two Langford ghost stories. The one I’ll share with you here involves Liberty Langford, Elza’s grandfather.

“According to our family legend, Liberty buried his cash money for safekeeping. To keep it completely safe, he told nobody where it was buried–not even relatives. Unfortunately he was suddenly stricken in his old age and rendered unconscious before he could tell anyone where the gold was buried. And since he could neither read nor write, he didn’t have the option to leave a note as to where the Langfords could uncover his hoard. Shortly after his stroke, Liberty died.

“A few nights after his death, there were strange and persistent noises in the house, including banging in the fireplace, the sound of footsteps walking the hall–the usual sensations ghostly visitors evoke to make their presence known. These noises continued night after night. Grandmom said that Liberty’s daughter mentioned the disturbances to some fellow citizens of Rockcastle. Well, I guess! One night of such fun would have motivated me to relocate–and pronto!

“The good citizens of Rockcastle assured her that this was her father, trying to communicate with her, and that when the noises began again, she should say, ‘What in the name of the Lord do you want?’ Liberty’s ghost would then be compelled to answer her.

“Plucky Langford that Liberty’s daughter May was, this sounded like a good plan. The noises did come again in the night, and this time May spoke up: ‘What in the name of the Lord do you want?’ This time Liberty came through. He told her specific directions about where to find the cash, telling her to go a certain number of paces to a large tree and to dig down so many feet to a large rock. Beneath the rock, a few feet down, the gold would be found.

“According to Grandmom, Langfords dug all over Pine Hill and under every tree that could possibly be described as large. No treasure. Grandpa Liberty must have felt that he’d done his duty–he never banged in the fireplace or walked the halls, after that. I guess he thought that if his children were too dense to follow directions, the problem of the lost gold was theirs.

“It’s not odd that Liberty should have buried his money. Mt.Vernon didn’t have a bank until 1900. A body had to stash the loot somewhere, and to leave it lying around the house in Rockcastle County would have been foolish, indeed. The 1870 census says that Liberty’s real estate was worth $2500, and the value of his personal estate, $1,000.

“Liberty was still alive in 1880, so I assume that he might have added to the cash between 1870 and 1880. The Mount Vernon Signal during the time span between 1887 and 1911 records an incident where a farmer’s plow turned up a stash of gold. I don’t think it was Liberty’s because no tree was mentioned in this newspaper account, and I’ve seen Pine Hill–you wouldn’t want to try to plow it! The discovery of buried gold does prove, however, that people buried their money before there was a bank in Rockcastle.

“So now we have Thomas’ sterling in Crab Orchard and Liberty’s cash somewhere on Pine Hill. And, Sherlene, you say your relative’s stash is in the desert? What are we waiting for? I say, ‘LET’S DIG!’

“By now you know the real treasure involves new cousins found–not to mention learning more about our kin. So let’s dig, indeed! We promised last time to tell you how to unearth these fascinating cousins, while probing your ancestry. It’s so easy. Here’s how:

“I found most of the fascinating Internet Hall cousins I told you about in other columns by posting a query on the Allen County, Ohio website. Many counties now include a link on their site for county history and genealogy, where you can post a query. It is important to read other queries relating to your surname–some reader may have already answered your question.

“For example, I thought it would be fun to try and find out more about this Thomas Langford who was murdered, so I looked for a Mecklenburg County, Virginia website by doing a search on Google for ‘Mecklenburg County.’ After entries came up, I noticed that the fourth site listed was ‘Mecklenburg County, VA Genealogy,’ which helpfully explained that the county was formed in 1765 from the Lunenburg County seat. There was a section titled ‘Shortcuts to Neighboring Counties of Mecklenburg’ that also could be very helpful to researchers. The site advised me that I was their 147,809th visitor!

“Looking through other listings on this county site, I found a ‘Queries’ link, which instead of routing me to a local page, as did my Allen County search, forwarded me to a search on, where I could access a Mecklenburg Message Board or ‘All Boards.’ Not finding anything that seemed to apply on the Mecklenburg search, I tried ‘All Boards.’ In the “Search” box I listed “Langford.” Up came 2,000 queries! That was more than I wanted to search through, so I did another search for ‘Thomas Langford,’ which still brought up a very long list, so this time I got more detailed and tried ‘Thomas Langford murdered.’ To my great interest, a reader there volunteered an account about his murder by the Harpes brothers that reported a new item of Thomas’ clothing, found in the possession of the robbers–an expensive white-linen shirt, with the victim’s initials embroidered on it, through which a bullet-hole had traveled. As source, this helpful reader indicated another history I can read, detailing the event. In this account, the robbers supposedly did have Thomas’ gold in their possession!

“Another interesting item that came up at Google were entries for a Mecklenburgh County in North Carolina.

“So I looked for Langfords there in case, by chance, this Thomas came from there, instead of Virginia. There I found an account of a George Langford who was hanged for killing his wife, after which various members of his family moved out of state! I think I’ll go back to searching for my people in Virginia.

“I need more information to post an intelligent query about this Thomas Langford, so will see if I can learn more about him first. It is most helpful to those relatives who would like to trade information, if we keep our questions simple and are as specific as possible about the ancestor involved, as in: ‘I am looking for the parents of my 3rd ggf Peter Staley, b. 19 Jan 1794 in Berkeley Co., VA, d. 16 Jan 1854 in Lafayette, Allen, Ohio. He m. Hannah Hall, thought to be the daughter of James A. Hall and Keziah Kain.’ It is also helpful to indicate your willingness to exchange family and research information.

“Researchers all over the world can now pick up the names in your query, as they search the Internet, looking for their ancestors. As they respond to your question, you can compare information and identify those who are new-found cousins. As you correspond back and forth, you will soon become friends with some, sharing fascinating information about everything from talent and temperament proclivities to recipes that have come down in the family. Shiron Wordsworth and I recently compared notes, only to learn that skin cancer is prevalent in both our Langford lines–another indication that we are related and reinforcement to schedule regular visits with our dermatologists. In such ways, ‘The Search’ not only brings life, but can even save life!

“Mann’s the MAN!

“Alan E. Mann, A. G., is a popular speaker at BYU family history/genealogy conferences. I attend as many seminars of his as possible, because he makes computers and the Internet sound logical–even to a non-techie like me (actually, the problem with computers is that they’re too logical-especially for . . . er, creative types like me, but that’s another story).

“Making his teaching accessible even after-the-fact, Mann posts the main points of his lectures on the net for his conference audiences, updating his syllabus with new or changed links and emerging, cutting-edge information.

“At this year’s confab, Brother Mann gave a seminar titled ‘Internet Search Techniques for Genealogists.’ One section in this talk, ‘Use Unknown Relatives,’ tells how to contact others also doing research on our lines and names specific sites where we can find them. He has graciously consented to let me share his copyrighted site with you, even though it is technically there for conference attendees who have paid for the privilege. Find his very helpful suggestions and read it all at <;. Then tell us about what you find!

“Uniform approach

“While doing all this, you might want to wear the official genealogist’s uniform. A few years back, Cyndi Howells, indefatigable compiler of the famous ‘Cyndi’s List,’ was a featured speaker at BYU’s Genealogy/Family History Conference. She walked out on the stage, before a packed assembly hall, in her bathrobe and pink, bunny slippers! To roaring applause from a knowing audience, she declared: ‘I find it entirely fitting, at a conference like this, to model the standard genealogist’s uniform.’

“She was, of course, referring to the fact that once we are possessed by this magnificent obsession, we family historians have a hard time remembering to eat, never mind get dressed in the morning! After all, we dig for buried treasure of the lasting sort!

“Sherlene Hall Bartholomew, copyright 2003

“[i] Compiler of five spiral-bound volumes about Toquerville, Utah history, Dr. Wesley P. Larsen was our informative, gracious guide through the town and cemetery. Besides introducing us to his own local and family histories, we also brought home his “Field Folio of Indian and Pioneer Medicinal Plants.” Dr. Larsen is retired Dean of the College of Science at Southern Utah University. He was a contract biologist with the Atomic Energy Commission and an Associate Program Director for the National Science Foundation. He taught field biology at the College of Eastern Utah and was then teaching Elderhostels at Dixie College. As an amateur historian, he has an abiding interest in Indian and pioneer medicine and folklore of southern Utah and northern Arizona. He has been self designated as Shaman for the now extinct Toquit Band of Paiute Indians living along lower Ashcreek. His home occupies the former site of Chief Toquer’s village.
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“© 2003Meridian Magazine <;. All Rights Reserved.” –shb 2 Dec 2003

September 11, 2006 - Posted by | Genealogy, Uncategorized, Virginia Langfords

1 Comment »

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