'William Leroy Norton, alias John F. Bedford, ca. 1888'
William Leroy (Leet) NORTON
alias Felix Brown
alias John F. Bedford
Ben N. Benson, M.D.
Copyright ã 2001 by Ben N. Benson, M.D.
All rights reserved.
The following was documented and generously submitted by Dr.
William Leroy (Leet) NORTON / alias Felix BROWN / alias John F. BEDFORD was born 6 Dec 1851 in Dry Ridge (?), Grant Co., KY. He died 11 Dec 1921 in Houston, Harris Co., TX and was buried 13 Dec 1921 in Glendale Cemetery (aka Harris Family Cemetery and Old Harrisburg Cemetery), Houston, Harris Co., TX.
This is the story of my grand-uncle, a restless young man
whose early teen years were influenced by the events of the Civil War
in northern Kentucky. The exact events
that formulated his character during those years are not fully known at
present. It is known that he grew up in a
loving family as the oldest of four siblings born to his mother, and
one half-brother born (just before Leroy’s life changes forever) to his
stepmother. Leroy’s father, George Hanan
Norton, was a gentle man by history, kind to his very core. He was a hard working farmer, and also a
surveyor, a trade that he apparently passed on to Leroy.
George, through out his life, gave away much of his worldly
goods, never letting a stranger pass his farm without extending him a
welcome and offering him food, drink, and shelter if needed. George was a Christian man, a member of the
Methodist Episcopal Church South in Dry Ridge, KY.
The Norton family by all known records supported the Union
efforts during the Civil War. These are
known facts of the character of George H. Norton. Against
this background, Leroy developed into a restless young man, with a
temper that would change his life forever. As
this story unfolds, one can see that he did not emulate his father’s
character. Leroy is known to have acquired
at an early age skills as a carpenter and surveyor, trades that he
would use at various times throughout his life.
In a closely guarded secret that existed for some 50 or more years, the story of Leroy was hidden from his nieces and nephews. Only his parents and siblings knew the story and of his whereabouts. I first heard of his mysterious disappearance from my aunt who had an interest in the family history. Most of her information came from a descendant of Leroy’s full brother, James. The details were few... Leroy, also known as Leet, was accused of killing a man as the story goes in an argument over property lines involving their respective farms. This occurred in the late 1870’s in Pendleton Co., KY. Leet’s family, most likely believing his innocence in the matter, went to great lengths to help him escape to Texas. It seems at that time, all persons wanted by the law took off to Texas. The family is supposed to have given Leet the fastest horse available, and then telegraphed ahead to relay areas to have fresh horses awaiting him all the way to Texas. [Sounds strange in the heyday of the railroad, doesn’t it?] This secret was so well kept by the immediate family for over the next half century that his nieces and nephews knew little of his existence. The family, especially his siblings, apparently had two motivations for their secrecy: 1) fear that Leet’s whereabouts would be discovered and he would be extradited back to Kentucky to stand trial, and 2) shame at having a murderer as a son and brother. Leet eventually ended up in Houston, TX, having changed his name, remarried, and lived out the rest of his life there, but without issue. Apparently Leet’s brother James and possibly his sister visited him at least once during his ‘exile’. This was story as it was told by James to his family following Leet’s death in the early 1920’s. [As you will see further on, this story as it was handed down was not entirely correct.]
Much of the actual details were lost in the ensuing years and but have recently come to light by research done by myself over the last few years. When I was told the story in the late 1980’s, I began to re-read old family documents and letters given to me some years before by my aunt (Leet’s niece). There were a number of strange letters from two different men who didn’t fit any known members of the family. I thought it strange that so many letters were saved from these two individuals unless they were close family friends or a hitherto unknown relative. After careful study of the letters, I began to notice a pattern of details that fit into my lost grand-uncle’s story. Several letters had key information, taken out of context, meant little; but in the light of other letters, formed a pattern of family communication and secrecy that lasted nearly fifty years. One final piece of the puzzle came to light recently in a legal document my aunt gave me in the mid-1990’s where the family sought Leet’s signature on a document to settle his father’s estate. The fact that this nice family, strong in the Christian faith, kept this secret was due to strong family ties and a belief in Leet’s innocence. The facts as they unfold reveal that Leet turned his life around over a period of years and lived out the remainder of his life as a good citizen.
I will start the early story of Leet’s life with the
following known items. From his
grandfather’s bible, William Leroy Norton was born on 6 Dec 1851. The assumed birthplace is Dry Ridge in Grant
Co., KY, as this was the location of the family home.
In the 1860 Grant Co. census, William Leroy is listed as 8 years
old, living with his parents. No mention
is made of him attending school during that year. He
is listed as born in KY. In the 1870 Grant
Co. census, William L., is 19, and is listed with his parents in
Williamstown. He was born in KY, attended
school during the year, was literate, and worked as a farm laborer,
probably on his father’s farm. Research
turned up a marriage license and minister’s returns in Pendleton Co.,
KY for Leet’s marriage to a Catharine Tanner of Pendleton Co. on 30 Sep
1875. The license was issued on 25 Sep
1875. They were married at the minister’s
house, and the returns give the witnesses [not legible] and the
minister’s name [looks like Thomas Stephens, M.G.].
Catharine is subsequently referred to as Kate in letters that
Leet writes in later years. Additional
research uncovered a deed to a parcel of land, dated Sep 16, 1876, on
the state road in the town of Knoxville, Pendleton Co., KY. It is obviously a city lot, 6 by 7 poles which
contains 11,434.5 Sq. Ft. or slightly more than a ¼
acre (.2625 acre) or a ‘rood’ as it says in the deed. He bought it for a total of $35, paid to J. H.
Johns. The property was bordered on one
side by land belonging to James Middleton. [Make
note of this name as it is mentioned later on.] The
deed is registered in Deed Book Z, p. 470-471, in Pendleton Co., KY. These are the known facts surrounding his
A digression at this point seems appropriate to tell what little is known about Leet’s wife, Catharine. Catharine (Kate) TANNER was the daughter of M. D. L. TANNER and Eliza J. TANNER of Pendleton, Kentucky. Catharine was born about 1857/1858 in Indiana or possibly Kentucky. She later died in Florida in Jan 1888 [See below]. Kate had three known siblings, one being James Tanner who figures into events mentioned below. In the 1860 census, Catherine is listed with her parents in Pendleton Co., KY. She is 2 years old and was born in Indiana. In the 1870 census, Catherine, age 12, is listed with her mother in Pendleton Co., KY. She attended school during the year, can read, but cannot write. She is listed as born in Kentucky at this census. [Note change in her birthplace from 1860 census] As mentioned below, she and Leet apparently had at least one child, James [see below].
About this time, it is a matter of record that Leet’s life changes. The following items have surfaced to tell of his ‘wild’ side. [I wish to thank the Pendleton Co. Historical Society for finding and providing these crucial documents that set the stage for this story.]
The following is the text of an indictment from the Pendleton Co. Criminal Court, The Commonwealth of Kentucky, against W. L. Norton, for malicious shooting and wounding, with intent to Kill. The Grand Jury of Pendleton County accused W. L. Norton of this crime. “This occurred on __ May, 1876, and that he willfully and maliciously shot at and wounded B. F. Porter, with an intention to kill him, with a gun loaded with a leaden bullet ____ ____ ____ (many words) ____ that he did not die _____. Witness: B. F. Porter, T. J. Black, and Binket Mashow[?].” [The blanks represent illegible entries on the document as it exists today.] [Note that this is the year before the events described in the story that follows. The outcome of this indictment is not known.]
To add to the problem, the following item was found in The
Falmouth Independent of Falmouth, Pendleton Co., KY, dated
Thursday, Apr. 5, 1877:
“The Killing of M. H.
“We are called upon this week to chronicle one of the most outrageous murders ever committed in Pendleton County. Martin H. Brand, the unfortunate victim, was a resident of Covington, aged about sixty. He had recently obtained a verdict for a tract of land, about one hundred acres, in this county, near Knoxville, upon which different parties were living and who had to be dispossessed by the sheriff. For the purpose of obtaining possession of his land, Mr. Brand came to Falmouth on Wednesday last, and in company with Deputy Sheriff Mullins went out into the neighborhood of Knoxville where they remained over night. On Thursday they went on the ground, finding that all the parties had given up possession except a man by the name of Morehead, who lived upon part of the one hundred acres obtained by the verdict from the widow Tanner’s place. Brand had proceedings delayed until [the] next morning, having in view the renting of the place to Morehead and others. They returned to Knoxville, where they remained over night, and on Friday morning, no arrangements having been made by which Morehead could remain on the place, they started to dispossess him. It is two miles from Knoxville to the place occupied by Morehead, going by the county road. Across the place of a Mr. Middleton it is a short distance nearer. Mr. Brand started by horse back by the county road, whether to see a Mr. Slater or because of an unfriendly feeling between him and Middleton, it is not known, and the deputy sheriff with a team started the near way. About two miles from Knoxville, on the road to the Morehead place, there is a small out-house and upon Mr. Brand arriving opposite it, a distance of 45 feet from it, he was shot in the head and it is supposed instantly killed. Two men working a short distance from the house heard the report and saw him fall from his horse. They ran a short distance back from where they were at work, summoned a neighbor and went to where Brand was lying and found him dead. Immediately after the killing two men were seen to come out of the house and run up a hill, to the south of the house. One of the parties leaving the house was recognized as John Donnelly (alias James Williams.) The men who went down where the murdered man was lying sent word to Knoxville, also to Deputy Sheriff Mullins. Donnelly was arrested in Williamstown about 1 o’clock that day by Deputy Sheriff Kelton(?). When arrested he had belted upon his person, unconcealed, a revolver. He was brought back to Knoxville, where Squire J. L. McKinley and a jury held an inquest upon the body of Brand. The verdict of the jury was to the effect that the deceased came to his death by a gunshot, fired from an out-house, near the land claimed by John Donnelly, by said Donnelly or by some person unknown to the Jury who was with said Donnelly.
“After the inquest, Squire McKinley and Deputy Sheriff Mullins brought Donnelly to the place and lodged him in the jail. Shortly after leaving Knoxville he made a confession to the officers who had him in charge. He said that his friends had ‘gone back on him and he would go back on them.’ He said that he was in the house, but did not do the shooting; that Lee Norton shot Brand with a shotgun, and that he held himself in readiness to use his pistol if the first shot did not kill him; that he and Norton met at this out-house according to a previous agreement for the purpose of killing Brand; he was to go and borrow a shot gun from James Tanner and go to this house where he would be joined by Norton.
“On Friday night Deputy Sheriff Mullins returned to Knoxville, arrested Lee Norton who was brought to this place and lodged in jail.
“Donnelly is an Irishman, aged about 65 years, and claims to have bought the land upon which he lived from O. D. McManama, and which is included in the tract lately gained by Brand. He had repeatly [sic] threatened Brand. Norton is a young man, 25 years of age, son of Geo. H. Norton, Esqr., a very worthy citizen of Grant county, and the son-in-law to Mrs. Tanner.
“COURT OF INQUIRY”
“On Monday last at one O’clock the above parties were brought before G. W. Jameson, Police Judge of Falmouth, for preliminary trial, which is at this writing (Wednesday morning) still in progress, the Commonwealth's witnesses only having been examined, J. T. Simon, County Attorney, is prosecuting, and Col. Duncan and W. W. Ireland are defending Norton and J. H. Fryer, T. C. Buckley and John Barker are defending Donnelly. The evidence for the Commonwealth is strong and will in all probability result in the holding over of both parties to the Criminal Court. The examination of witnesses for the defense will hardly be completed before Thursday noon.”
[It is interesting to note at this time that justice moved fast in those days. The murder occurred on Friday, the accused were apprehended quickly, and the Court of Inquiry in the Falmouth Police Court started on the following Monday. This was not a ‘Grand Jury’ hearing (see below). Also of interest, as borne out in the transcript of the inquiry, both defendants were examined simultaneously, and that the defendants had multiple attorneys (Norton had two and Donnelly had three). Many witnesses were called.]
I have a copy of the hand written transcript of the Court of Inquiry (over sixty-five pages, some of which I had a very hard job of reading due to the poor spelling and penmanship). Basically, the testimony is the same as in the newspaper account except that no one recognized Leet Norton, although several said that the second man could have been him. There was no doubt that Donnelly was there because he was recognized. He indeed stated that Leet did the shooting. There were many witnesses, including Leet’s brother‑in‑law, James Tanner. Most of the witnesses place Leet in Knoxville, building a house at the time of the murder, although he might have been gone for a very short time. There was no consensus on what he was wearing or that any of it matched the clothes of the second man. At the end of the transcript, there is a summation by the Commonwealth that sounds much like that following a criminal trial, not just a Court of Inquiry, asking for life imprisonment or the death penalty, as governed by the evidence. This confusion stems from the poor quality of part of the transcript, and the fact that there was only one date entry, that of the third day of the inquiry. An addendum to the transcript stated that Donnelly (Donally) was found guilty and sentenced to prison for four years. No mention was made about the outcome of the trial for Leet nor was anything stated about where he was.
“Norton and Donnelly in Jail.”
“The examining trial of Lee Norton and James Donnelly (alias James Williams), charged with killing the late M. H. Brand, came to a close on Thursday evening last. The proof in the case was of such a nature as to warrant their being held to answer at the Criminal Court. An application for bail was made, but refused.”
The following week in the paper (19 Apr 1877):
“Bail Refused Norton and Donnelly.”
“The trial of the habeas corpus case
of Norton and Donnelly, applicants for bail, before Judge Perkins, on
Friday last, resulted in the prisoners being remanded to jail to await
the action of the grand jury.”
In the 4 Oct 1877 issue of the paper, a listing of ‘Indictments’ handed down by the Grand Jury (?) has as its initial indictment: John Donnally and Lee Norton, murder. There is no mention of where the defendants were or if they were still in jail.
On 18 Feb 1878, the February Term of the Criminal Court of Pendleton Co. convened in Falmouth, the Honorable George G. Perkins, presiding, and the Honorable W. W. Cleary, the Commonwealth’s Attorney. Among the cases heard was the Donally case, and a jury was impaneled. Two witnesses’ testimony was heard. By 20 Feb 1878, it was to the jury (reported in the 21 Feb 1878 issue of the paper).
The following week’s (28 Feb 1878 issue)
“Four Years in the
“Old Jimmy Donnally has had his trial and is
sent up for sour [sic] [four] years. Our
readers remember the circumstances of the death of M. H. Brann [sic],
near Knoxville, in this county, on the ___ of ___, 1877.
Donnally, no one believes did the killing, but the proof was
most positive as to his being accessory to it. He
procured the gun, went to the building, from which Brann was shot, and
was seen to leave after the killing. This
with other evidence was conclusive. The
sentence was the lightest that could be given him.
Donnally is about 65 years of age and very frail.
“Lee Norton, the party against whom the proof is very strong as to the killing, remained in jail with Donnally until after the continuance of the case, when he escaped and has not been heard of since.”
An interesting note was found in the same issue of the paper: The jurymen in the Donnally case publish a card thanking Judge Perkins for courtesies shown them while confined with that case. This expression is heartily seconded by all who have in any way been connected with Judge Perkins’ court. He has made a most excellent presiding officer, and is deservedly popular in Pendleton County.
The above mentioned card of thanks was also
listed on the same page:
“We, the jury in the case of the Commonwealth vs. James Donnally, feel ourselves greatly indebted to Judge Geo. G. Perkins for the kind attention and many courtesies shown us while having this case under consideration, and hereby tender him our most sincere thanks. J. M. Smith, P. A. Lightfoot, P. H. Thompson, J. L. Fryer, J. W. Thomas, T. W. Thomasson, H. Atwell, J. N. Nolin, J. Lawrence, W. H. Hathaway, Chas. Kidder, and J. A. Hendricks.”
At this point, the story of Leet’s other life starts. As noted in the above newspaper notice, Lee Norton, as he was known to the paper, had escaped shortly after the habeas corpus hearing for himself and James Donnally and had not been heard from since. A search of the census of 1880 did not find Leet nor Kate in Kentucky, or any of the other places he was suspected to be. In like manner, I did not find Leet listed under either of his known aliases.
About this time, a man comes on the scene known as Felix Brown. I have eight letters written by him to my great-grandfather George H. Norton and to my grandmother, Jennie. He refers in the body of the letters to George as “father” and to Jennie as “sister”. At first, these references were confusing and I thought that I was dealing with a here-to-fore unknown ‘adopted’ son. Only after extensive analysis of these letters along with other documents did I realize that Felix Brown was Leet’s first alias. There were also several interesting letters to George H. Norton concerning the personage of Felix Brown. I will show in the ensuing letters how I linked Felix and his later alias (John F. Bedford) to Leet Norton.
Felix Brown’s letters start June 11, 1877 from Knoxville, TN. [This is less than two months since the time of the habeas corpus hearing.] He writes to his uncle [not directly to his father], and asks him to contact his father to send him some money. He is going on to Texas. He asks for J. F. W.’s address [from later letters, this is his friend in Texas, John F. Wayland]. He requests that his wife write to him. He states that he is working at the trade [carpenter] for $1 per day but pays $4 a week for board. [Knoxville has been marked out (possibly by the recipient to conceal origin of the letter) but it is assumed by the content of the letter.] He apologizes to Jim [his brother], Jennie [his sister], and Fannie [his step-mother] for leaving without saying goodbye. He states that he had to sell the mare for $15, and it was a hard sell at that price. [This supports part of the story of leaving the area on horseback. It also suggests that the family may not have been so much involved with his departure (failure to say goodbye) as suggested by the story passed down through his brother’s family.] He states that Knoxville is a nice town, but he doesn’t like the people. He mentions Morristown, TN [north of Knoxville], but didn't stay there because they would not pay him enough for his skills. He is currently building stairs in a brick building in Knoxville, but will finish them in one week and doesn’t have any additional work lined up. On the 18th of June, he writes again asking for money, asks his wife to write and that he is going to Texas. His work in Knoxville has run out.
The next letter is on 28 Jun 1877, written from Memphis, TN. [In like manner, Memphis is marked out by a different quality of ink, and it shows through, as seen some 120+ years later.] He states that he received his family’s letter of the 17th of June on the 20th in Knoxville. He left Knoxville on the 21st by train. After 300 miles, his money ran out and he walked the last 200 miles to Memphis in five days. He begged his food and board along the way as there was not any work. He stated that he held his head high and he looked to God to supply him a place to sleep at night. In Memphis, he found just enough work to get himself board, but not enough to save up for a ticket. He asks again for money, and for Kate to write him. He states that he has not been spending his money foolishly. The next letter is dated July 4th, 1877, is also from Memphis, TN. He states that he got his wife’s letter, it having been forwarded from Knoxville. He is still talking about money, and how times are hard in Memphis. All of the farmers in the area are idle because of heavy rains and flooding. He states his appearance is bad, like some old railroad [bum] because he has not had enough money to get his clothes washed. He sold his knife to get paper, envelope, and stamps for his letters. He wants $20-25 so he can get on his way. He tells his dad that if need be, ask some of his friends for it. He wants to get to Texas, to make a home for himself and his darling wife. He laments that everyone is enjoying the 4th, but he is not. He wants to go to Texas and be with J. F. W. [John F. Wayland...see later letters.] He states that if Kate will not come, he will return home today even if “they kild [sic] me.” [He is obviously referring to the possible conviction and penalty that awaits him if he were to return home.]
In support of Leet’s attempt to hide his true identity, there is a letter from a M. D. Rhodes, who apparently put Felix [Leet] up during his stay in Memphis. He is writing to George Hanan Norton of Williamstown, KY [He assumes that he is the Postmaster there]. He complains that the money order he [George] sent for $30 dollars was not stamped and the Postmaster in Memphis would not cash it. Felix sold it for a discount price, and left without paying his bill of $7.60. He asks George to speak to Felix’s father about his behavior, and that he boarded Felix for 15 days, that he was sick, and could not work. He wants to be reimbursed, and he will say no more. Otherwise he may have to do or say something about him. He even sent a stamp to be used in the return mail for the reimbursement.
There are several letters from Felix dated 15
July 1877 and 7 Aug 1877, stating he is located at Macomb in Grayson
Co., TX [which is about 15 miles west of Sherman, TX].
He talks about staying and working for John Wayland, who is a
family friend. Felix talks about the
wonderful crops, the friendly people, and that he can make $2.00 a day
as a carpenter. He refers to Kate, and
that he will send her some money to come to him in Texas in September. He states that Wayland wants Kate and Felix
[Leet] to keep house for him, and that he wants Felix to share‑crop
with him the next year. The second letter
is mailed from Sherman, TX to a T. F. Thomas of Dry Ridge, KY. [T. F. Thomas is the older brother of Fannie
Thomas, Leet’s stepmother.] In both
letters he begins “Dear Friends” but later in the text, he says “Dear
Father” or “Paw”. He refers to his trip
through Knoxville, TN to Memphis, TN and the trouble with his money
order in Memphis and how he had to sell it for less than face value.
[He never mentions George specifically as father, but tied in with the
other letters, it is hard to believe that he is not writing to George
H. Norton, his father.] He also refers
again to his wife, about sending her money to come to Texas, and help
keep house for Wayland. He states that he
is to help build a house for Wayland near Sherman [in Macomb], TX. He writes that he wishes that George “would
tend to the case and try to avoid a true bil [sic] if you can.” [This suggests there is some sort of criminal
activity that he is trying to avoid. This
fits the story well.] [Analysis of these
two letters suggests that both were really to his father, but that the
second was sent to his step-uncle, T. F. Thomas, who then would deliver
it to George so as to help hide the whereabouts of Leet from the
authorities.] In another letter to George
dated 12 Aug 1877, Felix is upset that Kate and George are arguing. He wants them to be friends.
He states that he now has a house for Kate and himself, and he
will send money to have her come and join him, and that she is to bring
all of his books. He mentions that he has
gained some weight and is fatter than he has ever been.
He refers to the above letter that he addressed to T. F. Thomas. He also states that he mentioned to Kate his
location in one letter and that future letters will be “unaddressed”
[no return address]. George is to tell
Kate that Felix [Leet] is located some 200 miles north of where he
actually is. [It is interesting that Felix
does not want Kate to be aware of his exact location.
Maybe he is afraid that she will not be able to keep a secret.]
On 15 Oct 1877, Felix Brown is still in Macomb in Grayson Co., TX. He is writing to George Hanan Norton and again addressing him as father. He states that brother James [James Archibald Norton] is now there with him. [There in a letter to George from James A. to his father in the same envelope and on the same type of paper as Felix’s letter. It is dated the same day as Felix’s letter and refers to F.B. as looking well.] Felix goes on to ask George to go visit Kate and see when she can come and join him in Texas. He will send money for her to travel alone. He states he would like to come home and see her because he is so lonesome for her and she is so dear to him. He states that he feels safe here in the Sherman area.
This ends the letters from Felix Brown. I had read these letters years before but had not put them in the proper perspective. I thought that they were hilarious, and that they were from a close friend of the family or an ‘adopted’ son, as he usually asked for money, and he referred to George as “father”. I thought this to be a term of respect from a young man to an older man whom he respected as a father. Only when I heard of the ‘dark family secret’ did I begin to make the connection. Finally, when I got the transcript of the inquiry and located the marriage license to Catharine Tanner did I make the final connection.
In like manner, I have a number of letters from a John F. Bedford to George and Jennie, calling them father and sister respectively. I had only scanned these letters, not thinking much of them and not wanting to spend a lot of time trying to tie this ‘stranger’ to the family. On the surface, I had originally identified John as yet another ‘adopted’ son, possibly a young man befriended by my great-grandfather. A closer analysis of these letters (in view of the information listed above) revealed yet another alias for Leet. Time has passed since we heard from Felix in Texas, some seven years. He is now located in Florida. Events during the interim are unknown. Events have dictated that he relocate and change his alias to John F. Bedford, the name he uses for the rest of his life.
There are several letters from J. F. [John] to George H. Norton in 1888 stating that he was working as a civil engineer in Florida. One letter includes a newspaper clipping suggesting that he is the construction superintendent of the erection of a railway depot in St. Petersburg. Other letters refer to a ‘Kate’ as his wife. Leet was married to a Catharine. Felix Brown also referred to a wife named Kate in his letters. This is additional evidence that Leet, Felix, and now John are one and the same.
A further review of the letters from Florida written in 1888 and 1889 gives an insight into what he is going on in his life. In a letter dated July 13, 1888, he mentions that he is recovered from his misfortune, namely, the loss of his child, James [?], in the fall [?] of 1887, shortly after the son’s arrival in Florida. Then in January of 1888, Kate died. He states that they were both well cared for and “nicely laid away”. J. F. includes a business card, several newspaper clippings from the Oakland Sun, and an unlabeled picture which I feel is J. F. Bedford [the picture bears strong family resemblance to my grandmother, Jennie, and also to her first son, George]. He goes on to write that in addition to the railway depot mentioned above, he supervised the building of the hotel for the railroad, and also a half mile long pier or wharf for the train to transfer goods to and from ships. In the fall of 1888, J. F. asks Jennie to label her letters as originating from Shelbyville, Indiana [return address]. This is apparently where he is telling people he is from as he still fears extradition back to Kentucky. He talks about sending money home to repay (?) debts to the family, but that he hasn't been paid in some time. The company still gives him some work, but by January and February 1889, cash is scarce in the area, and most work in paid for by barter. He works part-time running a grocery store. Also, he apparently traded or sold a piece of land to buy a horse and wagon and is renting it out to haul items by the day. By spring, he is talking about the orange groves and that he has in a garden, and hopes to sell some of his produce for cash. He mentions to Jennie of his impending marriage to a pretty young woman, who has her own money. He states that he has not told her anything [about his past], and requests that Jennie not mention anything in her letters that might suggest anything. He states that she has her own home, fully furnished, and that she is well educated. Her parents live in the area, and have a large grove of 1000 fruit bearing trees. Her name was Sallie Allen. I located the marriage license, issued on 22 March 1889, and it states the marriage was on 27 March 1889 in St. Petersburg, FL between John F. Bedford and Sallie Allen. No ages or places of origin were noted on the license. It was performed at a Congregational Church [?]. St. Petersburg was in Hillsborough Co. at that time.
Another digression at this point seems appropriate. Sallie Fitzhugh ALLEN is the daughter of Dr. William M. ALLEN and Mary W. WATTS. Sallie was born about 1 Nov 1865 (based upon the 1880 and 1900 census reports) in Middleton, Hardeman Co., TN. She died 16 May 1943 in Bay City, Matagorda Co., TX and was buried 17 May 1943 in Bay City, Matagorda Co., TX. Sallie was the eighth of nine children. Her father and youngest brother died in Sep 1881. Her mother, Mary, then took Sallie and two other single daughters and moved to the St. Petersburg, FL area. In St. Petersburg, the widow Allen met and married a local man of means. [See details below] This explains the surroundings that Leet [John F. Bedford] describes in his letters to the family about his new bride’s home. Research into Sallie’s background shows that Sallie was about 23 years old when she married J. F. Bedford. They settled into her house, which was well furnished. Looking back to the 1880 census in TN, Sallie is living with her parents in Middleton in Hardeman Co., TN. She is listed as 14 years old, and attending school. She is listed as born in TN. [This makes her birth year as about 1865, instead of 1871 that is on her death certificate. This also correlates with the 1900 census data listed below.] From the wife of a descendant of one of her sisters, Sallie and her siblings were suppose to be related through their mother to General Robert E. Lee [relationship yet to be determined]. [Note that Sallie’s middle name is Fitzhugh, a family name in the Lee family.] I will have more to say about Sallie later.
We loose track of John F. Bedford for another nine years. When we find him again, he is in Jennings in Jefferson Davis Parish, LA. It is the winter of 1898-99 and Leet [John F. Bedford] has been in Cuba surveying. [The time frame was toward the end of the Spanish-American War, after the Battle of San Juan Hill. His exact activities in Cuba are unknown other than ‘surveying’.] He worked there for about three months but returned because it was not safe. [He and Sallie had planned to go to Cuba to live and work.] He has returned to his wife by mid February of 1899. He then started to do some carpentry work in Crowley in the adjacent parish of Acadia. He talks about he and his brother-in-law having raised a crop of rice last year and they are planning to do the same again this year. He states in the letter of 13 Feb 1899 to Jennie that he and Sallie have received the photo of her new child, George. He states that they have no children. He talks about wishing to come for a visit but he cannot because he has been gone for a while and he and the brother-in-law need to plow and seed 175 acres. He asks for his brother James to write, and invites Jennie and her family down for a visit. There is also a letter written by Sallie, his wife, to Jennie. She states that baby George looks a lot like his uncle J. F. or Mr. B. as she calls him. Unlike her husband who spells and writes phonetically and never uses periods in his letters, Sallie’s letter is written with perfect spelling and grammar, and her handwriting is excellent. [It is not known if Jennie ever visited her brother in exile, but it is known that his brother James did visit him on at least one occasion between 1900 and the time of his death.]
We now can look at census reports to get a different aspect of the man, John F. Bedford. The 1900 census finds Leet, alias John F. Bedford, is 48, born in Dec 1851. He gives Indiana as his birthplace and that of his parents. He has been married eleven years. He works as a carpenter, has been employed 9 months during the last year. He is literate. He and Sally [note spelling] live in a rented house on Ave. H., Crowley, Acadia Parish, Louisiana. [Note that his gives an false birthplace for himself and his parents, still fearing the long arm of the law.] In the 1910 census, J. F. Bedford, is 55, born in Indiana as were his parents. [Note that he is still fearful of discovery and continues to hide his origin.] He has been married for 20 years and this is his second marriage. He is fully employed, working as a house carpenter. He is literate. He owns his house, but it is mortgaged. He is located in Houston in Harris Co., Texas. In the 1920 census John F. Bedford states he is 67 years old, and he is listed with his wife, Sallie F., living on Ave. C., South, Magnolia Park City [a suburb of Houston] in Harris Co., Texas. He is literate, but is currently unemployed. He gives Kentucky as his birthplace and that of his parents. [Fear of arrest must be small at present.]
Let us now look at the set of documents that pulls this whole story together. These documents were uncovered in items my aunt sent me during the latter part of my sorting out of this information but proved to be the pivotal documents to tell me I was on the right track. On 8 July 1914, W. L. Norton and his wife, Sallie F. Norton appeared before a Notary Public in Harris Co., TX. This was in reference to the issuance of a general warranty deed for the transfer of Leet’s part of the George Hanan Norton homestead to Fannie Norton [Leet’s stepmother], Frank C. Norton, and Carl T. Norton [Leet’s half-brothers] so they could settle with the creditors of George H. Norton’s estate. This homestead is on the Knoxville and Dry Ridge Turnpike in Grant Co., KY. The deed was recorded in Grant Co., KY on July 24, 1914 with the Clerk of the County Court. This document was preceded by a letter dated 27 Jun 1914 [containing proof that J. F. Bedford is an alias of William Leroy Norton] that Leet writes to his half-brother, Claud Norton [Frank C. Norton]. In it he addresses Claud as brother, and refers to the transfer of his share of the Norton homestead to Claud and his mother. He refers to Jennie and Jim [his full siblings] and the price given them for their share of the homestead. He then requests that a quiet claim deed be drawn up and sent to Houston so that he and Sallie can sign it before a notary using the Norton surname as well as his birth names so that it will be correct. He then signs the letter J. F. Bedford, and gives his rural route number and box number. Shortly there after, the warranty deed is signed in Houston, and by the end of July 1914, the final deed of transfer is executed in Grant Co., KY. [see above] It is apparent by this time in Leet’s life that he is not as fearful of the law finding out his location. Also, the filing of the warranty deed was in another county (Grant), not where the events occurred that forced his exile (Pendleton Co.).
To tie up loose ends as to his later life (after 1900), I found the following information. A search of the Houston City Directories [Houston Public Library, Texas Room] reveals the following: John (Leet) and Sallie arrived in Houston after mid1900 (they were still in the Louisiana when the 1900 census was taken) and before the publication of the 1903-04 directory. There are no listings in the 1900-01 or the 1902-03 directories. The first entry for John is in the 1903-04 directory. [The abbreviations listed below are as they occurred in the city directories.]
From these entries, we see that Leet (John) was working as a carpenter most of the time. He apparently developed a special type of hammer which he manufactured and marketed through a small company that he owned. In various years, he was listed as a civil engineer, a contractor, a builder, etc, probably reflecting his construction skills and possibly his skills as a surveyor.
public records record his death. His
obituary from the Houston Chronicle is dated
Monday, Dec. 12, 1921. “Funeral
Services for J. F. Bedford, Aged 70, who died at 10 a.m. Sunday at his
7816 Ave C, will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Chapel of the C. J.
Undertaking Company. Burial will be
in the Harrisburg Cemetery.”
death certificate, # 33998, is
interesting. It gives his name as
J. F. Bedford. There is no date of birth given but his age is listed as
[This is correct since he had just had a birthday several days
death.] It lists his birthplace as
Kentucky, and that he was retired. The
name and place of his parents states “don’t know”.
The informant was his wife, Mrs. J. F. Bedford.
Time of death is given as 9 am on Dec. 11, 1921 at his home.
Cause of death was myocarditis and pulmonary tuberculosis.
It indicates that he had been sick for about four months.
No autopsy was performed. It
states that ‘auscultation’ was used to determine the cause of death.
Burial was on Dec. 13, 1921 at the Harrisburg Cemetery and the
was C. J. Wright and Co.
A search of the grounds of the Glendale Cemetery [Harrisburg Cemetery] does not reveal the gravesite of John F. Bedford. In talking with the caretaker of the cemetery, a Mr. Richard See, he states that there is no identified gravesite for John F. Bedford. However, in an old card file on persons buried in the cemetery, there was a card labeled just ‘Bedford’ indicating that there was a person of that last name buried in the cemetery, but nothing else is known from the records as to where in the cemetery he is buried.
is now appropriate to complete the story with the rest of Sallie F.
story, as she became a part of this exile and witnessed Leet’s struggle
stay a part of his family, yet hidden from the authorities.
It is not known when she found out Leet’s secret, but by the
1890’s, she was obviously aware of his background.
Why they did not have any children is also not known.
Sallie was 15 years junior to Leet, apparently in reasonable
as shown below, she lived to be over 77 years old.
review of her census data is as follows. In
the 1900 census, Sally F., 34, is listed with her husband,
Leet, alias John F. Bedford. She
states her birth month and year as Nov 1865.
She has been married 11 years, and has no children.
She gives Tennessee as her birthplace, and Alabama as the
her parents. She is literate.
She lives in Crowley in Acadia Parish, Louisiana.
In the 1910 census, Sallie F., age 40, is living with her
alias J. F. Bedford, on Payne St. in Houston, Harris Co., TX. She states that she has been married 20 years,
was born in
Tennessee and her parents in Virginia. [Note different info on parents
she has only aged 6 years since the last census.] She
is literate. Census
taker notes suggest that this is her first marriage but the second for
She states that she has had no children.
The 1920 census finds Sallie F. is 52.
She lives with her husband, Leet, alias John F. Bedford, on Ave.
South, in Magnolia Park City in Harris Co., Texas.
She is literate, works as a dressmaker, at home, on her own
She gives Tennessee as her birthplace but Virginia as birthplace
A review of the Houston City Directories shows that she arrived in the Houston area by 1911-12 period when she is first listed with her husband. She most likely arrived when he did or shortly afterward but did not appear in the directory until the above noted entry. Her own specific listings came as the widow of John F. Bedford.
A search of the
1943-44 and the 1946-47 directories did not reveal any entries.
That would correspond with the information that follows.
review of the 1940-45 Index to Texas Death Records, Roll # 1, at the
Library of Genealogical Research in Houston reveals a Sallie F. Bedford
Matagorda Co. on 16 May 1943. The
death certificate # 23636 reads: Sallie
F. Bedford died on 16 May 1943 at 3pm in Bay City, Matagorda Co., TX.
She had a left hip fracture of three weeks duration, and a
diagnosis of decubitus ulcers and senility.
From the certificate, she had lived there for only one month.
It gives her birthday as 1 Oct 1871, making her age 72 years, 7
and 15 days old. [In truth, she is
actually 5 years older, having been born in 1865 as listed in the 1880
census reports.] She is widowed and
retired. It gives her place of birth as Middleton, TN, the daughter of
Allen (born in TN) and Mary W. Watts (born in VA).
Informant was a Mrs. Jack Erwin of Bay City.
Sallie was buried in Bay City on 17 May 1943, and the
undertaker was Taylor Bros. in Bay City. I
suspect that she may have been a nursing home since no address was
given and so
much is known about her background. No
cemetery was listed in Bay City on the death certificate.
An inquiry made to the Taylor Bros. Funeral Home in Bay City, TX revealed that she is buried in Cedarvale Cemetery on Golden Ave. in Bay City, TX. The grave is in Section 1, Block 24, Lot 4, Space 2. The grave is unmarked. The informant listed on the death certificate was a Mrs. Jack Erwin (Mrs. Pearle Erwin) who is the daughter-in-law of Mrs. Margaret Allen Erwin, the sister of Sallie F. Allen. The funeral home letter goes on the contain copies of the original funeral bill, personal history of Sallie, and gives the name of three living siblings [at the time of her death]: 1) Mrs. Maggie Nance of Bay City, TX, 2) Mrs. C. H. Keller of Hermosa Beach, CA, and 3) Mr. T. D. Allen of Wisconsin. The minister was the Rev. Marvin Vance who gave a grave side service. She was a Methodist. It lists her permanent address as 7827 Capitol Ave., Houston, TX. Five pallbearers were listed. Her sister, Mrs. M. L. Nance, of Bay City paid for the funeral. An obituary was included from The Daily Tribune dated Monday, May 17, 1943:
Sally F. Bedford”
Sally F. Bedford resident of Houston passed away in Bay City May 16th
at the age
of 71 years and was buried in the [sic] morning at 10:00 o'clock,
in charge. Mrs. Bedford is survived by two
sisters, Mrs. Maggie Nance
and Mrs. C. H. Keller of Herniosa [sic] Beach, Calif. and one brother
[sic] Allen of Wisconsin.”
from Sallie’s niece-in-law, Mrs. Pearle Erwin, revealed that Sallie
will on the back of a campaign card for Roy Hufheinz who was running
in the Houston area. It stated “I
leave everything to my sister, Maggie Nance” [Maggie Nance was Margaret
Allen Erwin Nance.] A Houston paper
stated that it was the shortest will ever probated in the Harris Co.
that time. Additional information
on Sallie and her family comes from Mrs. Erwin.
After Sallie's father died, Mary Allen, sisters Margaret Lee and
Caroline, and Sallie moved to St. Petersburg, FL.
They traveled by train, boat, and stagecoach to reach their new
This was apparently the thing to do in that day and time (going
Petersburg) for a widow with three single daughters.
Mary and Margaret Lee worked as seamstresses, while Caroline and
both taught school in nearby Clearwater, FL.
In St. Petersburg, Mary met and later married a Mr. Coxe, who
large orange grove. [Note that this
links with the letter of John Bedford [Leet] sent to his family about
family having a large grove.] [Mr.
Coxe had some children by a prior marriage and their descendants still
the St. Petersburg area.]
Archibald Norton Bible, located in my files.
Family letters (multiple) and original documents, abstracted
located in my files.
Marriage records of Pendleton Co., KY.
Marriage records of Hillsborough Co., FL.
5) Various US census reports for Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Florida, researched and abstracted by the author.
Newspaper clippings from Florida papers contained in John F.
letters, now in my files.
Death certificates from Texas Department of Health.
Personal communication with several family members.
Pendleton Co., KY court documents supplied by Pendleton Co.
News article from The Falmouth Independent supplied by
Pendleton Co. Historical Society.
Additional articles from the microfilm archives of The
Independent obtained from the Reprographics Dept., M.I. King
of Kentucky in Lexington, KY.
Houston City Directories, located in Houston Public Library,
John F. Bedford’s Obituary from the Houston Chronicle,
Public Library, Houston, TX.
Personal visit to Glendale Cemetery, Houston, TX, and
Texas death records index located in The Clayton Library, Center
Genealogical Research, Houston, TX.
Funeral records including obituary from the Taylor Bros. Funeral
Bay City, TX.
Updated and revised. 10 Feb 2001
Leroy "Leet" Norton Page 2
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