Blessed By The Sins Of A Father
My Journey Down a Rabbit Hole
BLESSED BY THE SINS OF A FATHER
Like most of America, I spent the better part of 2020 trying to find projects to occupy myself while I tried to keep isolated from the rest of the world. One of those projects entailed digging into my family history. Both my parents passed away years ago but I still recall tidbits of stories my mother passed on to us. Luckily for me, my sister actually jotted down some notes pertaining to these long lost ancestors.
One of these notes indicated our great great grandfather was hung for stealing a horse. No further information was available, not even his name. It just didn’t have the ingredients that instilled pride like stories of Native American blood lines running through our veins. Thus, that little branch of the family tree was cut short. But, it intrigued me the most. Even those blemishes in family history played a part into my existence.
So, I set out on a cyberspace trek to find the truth. After a few hundred hours of digging into records on Ancestry.com, newspaper archives, and with the assistance of a historical records researcher, I uncovered the truth about my great great grandfather, Samuel Meredith Hall.
On the evening of May 23, 1899, in the small community of Aley, Henderson County, Texas, a group of men stormed the homes of James Humphries and his two sons. With their weapons drawn, the mob of men cursed and yelled at the families as they ransacked the homes looking for a man accused of murdering a constable the year before. Unable to find the fugitive, the vigilantes kidnapped the three men from their homes and rode horseback into the countryside known as Trans Cedar.
There the group of men found a tree and strung the three men up by their necks, hoping to scare a confession out of them as to the whereabouts of their friend. Alas, things didn't go as planned and the horse ran out from under Mr. Humphries hanging him on the spot. Well, the mob discussed the situation and decided they could leave no witnesses and went ahead and hung his two sons as well. Being as they were all hanging from the same limb, two of the victims' boots were touching the ground. So, a couple of the fellas grabbed their legs and bent them at the knees, tying their feet up behind their thighs.
Now, lynchings were somewhat common place in Texas back then. But, the governor and law enforcement statewide were trying to do away with that old west lawless mentality. So, the local sheriff began an investigation into the murders. Shortly after, Captain Bill McDonnell of the Texas Rangers was also involved in the case along with a half dozen sheriff's from surrounding counties.
After all was said and done, three of the lynchers, two brothers named Greenshaw and another man named Polk Weeks turned states evidence against their cohorts in exchange for their own freedom. The freedom of one of the Greenshaws, however, was short lived. He was shot outside the courthouse by a family member of the victims and he died a week or two later. Nevertheless, when the judge's gavel was slammed down for the last time, eight men were on their way to Rusk penitentiary with life sentences.
One of those men was Sam Hall, a 41 year old with a wife and six children to boot. Sam's decision to participate in the criminalistic and evil deeds that fateful night not only resulted in the loss of his victims' lives and left their children and wives without fathers and husbands. But it left Sam's wife and children without a husband and father as well. While he was slaving away as a convict, his dear wife Mary was left to fend for herself and raise their children on her own.
Of course the speculations on motives for the murders were as wide as Texas itself. According to the leader of the mob, Joe Wilkinson, and a couple of his cohorts, the Humphries were good friends with a man named Patterson. Patterson was suspected in the murder of a local Constable, the year before, and he had gone into hiding. Well rumors were circulating that the Humphries were harboring this fugitive. So, Wilkinson and a few of the men concocted this plan to go to their homes and threaten them hoping to discover the whereabouts of Patterson. Their threats and intimidation escalated and resulted in the murders of the three Humphries.
But, it was also said in the trial that Wilkinson had pressed charges against the Humphries months before and claimed they stole his hogs and sold them. The Humphries were aquitted of the charges and Wilkinson wasn't happy about it. A few people claimed he swore he would get revenge.
Someone also claimed the lynchings had nothing to do with any of that and it was all over the fact that the Humphries knew about moonshine stills the lynch mob were operating and had threatened to turn them in.
The event and subsequent trials were covered in newspapers all over the state and a few major papers across the country even mentioned it. But, the Dallas Morning News covered the most, and had articles covering most of the court proceedings. There were testimonies from townsfolk, the families of the victims and even a couple of the defendants gave testimonies. Of course the three stool pigeons gave their testimonies because that was part of their bargain with the district attorney.
Strangely, nobody had much to say about Ole Sam other than, "Sam? Yeah he was there." One of the fellas went as far to say that the first time he even met Sam was that fateful night. In all the testimonies about alleged secret meetings between a few of the members or plans of murder, Sam's name was never mentioned, at least not in any of the articles, books or court documents of Appeals that I have come across.
In fact Sam didn't even stand trial, after the first couple of boys were found guilty, it was decided that the rest should plea out and get their sentencing over with to save the state some money. So, that's what happened, Sam pled guilty and was thrown into the mix with the others and received a life sentence.
As I stated earlier, Sam left behind a wife and six children. One of the children, being fourth from the oldest, Lena Ethel, was around 10 at the time this whole mess occurred. A few years later, in 1905, she went and had a child with a youngster named Carl, who wasn't but maybe a year older than herself. Of course, they got hitched and moved off to Carl's old stomping grounds of Rising Star, Texas where he was born and raised. They started having more young’uns and began raising a family of their own, while Sam was tucked away in prison as property of the state.
When I initially slid down this rabbit hole and discovered what really happened to my great great grandfather, I assumed he died in prison since he received a life sentence. But as I dug deeper, I discovered that was not the case. It turns out Sam received a governor’s pardon and was released from prison ten years later.
After his release, Sam wrote a letter to the governor and thanked him for the pardon. The return address was a P.O. Box in Cisco, TX. I still don’t know what became of old Sam after that. But I’m not climbing out of this rabbit hole until I find out.
Sam Hall made some bad decisions on that evening back in 1899, and tore his family apart. The choices he made forced his wife and children to make their own choices that would set their lives in different directions and would eventually lead to my birth on May 23, 1972, exactly 73 years from that fateful night. Thus, I was blessed by the sins of a father.