Here’s the solution to a family mystery that’s baffled everyone for decades:
Tyler Huffman, Federal Civil War veteran, was the son of Paul Huffman and Rebecca Crawford. They were my third great-grandparents. Rebecca is said to have died giving birth to Tyler.
It’s known that Paul Huffman was born in Canada on 4 Aug 1817, and died on 25 Jun 1892 in Rome, Henry Co., Iowa. In 1850 Paul Huffman was living in White Co., Indiana with his second wife, Azubah Washburn, whom he had married on 8 Apr 1841 in Fulton Co., Indiana.
But who were Paul and Rebecca (Crawford) Huffman? Where did they come from?
Paul Huffman married Rebecca Crawford in Halton Co., Ontario on 2 Feb 1837. The marriage bond is dated 25 Jan 1837. Paul Huffman was of Trafalgar Township and Rebecca Crawford is listed as of Esquesing Township. The marriage bond is found in “Upper and Lower Canada Marriage Bonds” at the Library and Archives Canada (Microfilm reel no. C-6786 Bond # 5791). Halton Co. is in southern Ontario.
This information enabled me to document the ancestry of Paul Huffman. Of Rebecca Crawford’s ancestry at present I have no information, but the name is Scottish.
Christopher Huffman, a loyalist of German descent, whose family had emigrated to NJ in the mid-18th century, initially settled in Sussex Co., NJ. Christopher Huffman married Anne Smith, daughter of Jacob Smith (UEL) and wife Elizabeth Lewis. He enlisted in the New Jersey (Loyalist) Volunteers on 26 Jan 1777 at Mansfield Township, Sussex Co. (now Warren Co.), seeing action as far south as South Carolina. In 1788 he removed to Canada, ultimately obtaining a land grant in Glanford Township, which is now in Wentworth Co., Ontario. Wentworth Co. is adjacent to Halton Co.
Christopher and Anne (Smith) Huffman had 6 children: Henry 2nd (1781–1862) m. Catherine — (1785–1858); Jacob (Jan 1786–4 May 1851) m. Elizabeth Finch (1786–1871); Elizabeth m. James Choat; Paul (ca. 1791–25 Jun 1869) m. Phoebe — (liv. 1851); Godfrey m. Eliza A. —; and Ann m. Elisha Bingham.
In the 1851 Halton Co. census, Christopher Huffman’s sons Henry Huffman and Paul Huffman were residing in Trafalgar Township. Henry was Episcopalian and Paul was Wesleyan Methodist. Their brother Jacob Huffman served as a private in the War of 1812, and also moved to Trafalgar Township where he assembled substantial holdings.
Wading through the offspring of the four sons of Christopher Huffman, and eliminating Godfrey as too young to have a son b. 1817, it became clear that the parents of Paul Huffman (1817–1892) of Henry Co., IA were Jacob and Elizabeth (Finch) Huffman. Jacob Huffman had a large family of 11 children and is credited with a son “Paul Godfrey Huffman.” Descendants of Paul Huffman of Henry Co., IA identify him as “Paul Godfrey Huffman.” Jacob Huffman’s large family explains why Paul Huffman left Canada in search of land on which to raise his own family.
Paul Huffman (1817–1892) was probably born in Glanford Township, Wentworth Co., Ontario. Upon relocating to the United States ca. 1838, he would have thought it politic not to mention his Loyalist ancestry. The Revolution had ended only 55 years earlier, and British outrages during the War of 1812 were still in the popular memory. The perception that the British favored the South during the Civil War, though in the event they remained neutral, did nothing to rehabilitate their reputation.
[Paul Huffman (4 Aug 1817---25 Jun 1892). Tombstone at White Oak Cemetery near Trenton, Henry Co., IA.]
Paul Huffman’s son Tyler was named after prominent politician John Tyler (below), nominated in 1839 as the Whig Party candidate for Vice President. Tyler became President on the untimely death of William Henry Harrison in 1841. “Tippicanoe and Tyler Too” was a popular jingle of the day. This suggests that Paul Huffman had actually moved to the United States not long after his marriage.
The early 1850s found Paul Huffman living in Crawford Township, Washington Co., IA.
(Detail of 1854 Iowa State Census Roll IA-122 Line 17 showing Paul Huffman living in Crawford Township, Washington Co., IA, with 2 males and 4 females in household.)
I located this material on Crawford Township in an 1880 history of Washington Co.
Here’s a truly obscure item. Paul Huffman briefly left Iowa and in 1885 was located in Delaware Precinct, Otoe Co., Nebraska (NE). Otoe Co. is in the eastern part of NE adjacent to the IA border.
(Detail of 1885 Otoe Co., NE State Census, ED 567, Page 8. Click on image to enlarge.)
The above record, of Paul Huffman the father, and David Huffman the son, recalls a family tale so tragic it must have broke Paul Huffman’s heart. It’s straight out of a Hollywood western—and it really happened. Paul Huffman left NE for Decatur Co., KS, and ultimately returned to Henry Co., IA.
[(1888). Defenders And Offenders. New York: D. Buchner & Co.]
The facts are these:
(Actual image of article from The New York Times of 13 Jan 1887. The Kankakee wreck was not connected to the wreck at Dunbar,Nebraska.)
(Forepaugh’s Circus was a major attraction. Click on image to enlarge.)
This story was printed in The Perrysburg Journal, Wood Co., Ohio on Friday 21 Jan 1887 and adds some details to The New York Times account. Friends of the engineer DeWitt blamed the wreck on labor unrest, but that proved to be untrue:
“S.D. Wilson, conductor of the wrecked train, says that fifty-two passengers were aboard of the train, and that their escape from death was almost miraculous. The engine landed fifty feet from the track, and the baggage-car, strangely, was carried as far beyond the engine. The throttle lever was forced through Dewitt’s right lung, and his face was scalded black. The express messenger is frightfully wounded. His skull is badly fractured and every bone in his face broken. A dispatch from Nebraska City to the Times advances the theory that the motive of the crime was robbery, there being $17,000 worth of bullion on the train. This theory is discredited here, however. An official of the road at this point says there is no evidence that the work was instigated by any Knights of Labor organization, but that the animosity of the ex-strikers toward Dewitt was well known. A special from Wyandotte, Kan., the home of the dead engineer, says Dewitt’s friends openly charge his death to the Knights of Labor. It appears that he was a delegate to a convention held at St. Louis last spring during the great Southwestern strike to determine whether the engineers should go out or support the strikers. Dewitt represented two districts, and cast two votes against the strikers. If he had voted for them it would have turned the scale. Subsequently he received several warnings not to run his engine, but he disregarded them. “
The newspapers used the spelling “Hoffman” instead of “Huffman.”
The Gazette: Fort Worth, Texas on Friday 14 Jan 1887 carried an account of the arrests:
“Two Arrests Made.
Nebraska City, Neb., Jan. 13.–David W. Hoffman of Dunbar and James W. Bell of Unadilla, Neb., were arrested at Dunbar yesterday afternoon, charged with having caused the wreck Tuesday night. Hoffman was recently a brake-man of the Burlington and Missouri road, while little is known of Bell. Both have been idling about for some time. Neither one is a member of the local Knights of Labor. Both were somewhat intoxicated when arrested, and Hoffman was badly frightened. The coroner’s jury returned a verdict this morning to the effect that the wreck was caused by Hoffman, Bell and others.”
According to the Sedalia Weekly Bazoo, Tuesday 18 Jan 1887, published at Sedalia, Missouri, the Dunbar train wreck had incited a mob:
It is learned that a body of men had organized at an early hour this morning to break the jail at Nebraska City and lynch the villains. Public sentiment was very much wrought up, and if reports are true, the necessity and cost of a trial will be dispensed with
The gentleman who participated in exacting the confessions from the accused, describes the mob as one that was worked up to such a pitch of fury that if they had caught sight of the prisoners, they would have made short work of them. The mob gathered around the jail and furiously demanded the surrender of the self-confessed villains, and threatened, in case of refusal, to break and burn the jail. The sheriff appeared in front of the jail and attempted to mitigate the rage of the mob, but his words only increased their fury. He was met with jeers and curses and missiles were thrown at him. In the meantime the prisoners had been removed and taken in a sleigh to Nebraska City. It is not improbable, however, that the transfer may result only in changing the locality of, and not prevent, the lynching, as the feeling of the people of Nebraska City is at fever heat.”
It appears that David Huffman and James Bell were removed from the jail at Nebraska City and taken to an undisclosed location elsewhere in the town.
Justice in Nebraska took no liberties with time. The Omaha Daily World for Thursday Evening, 7 Apr 1887 ran this:
“A Forced Confession.
Train Wrecker Hoffman Claims He ‘Fessed’ Only at the Point of a Revolver.
Nebraska City, April 7.–The trial of David Hoffman, one of the two Missouri Pacific train wreckers of Dunbar, began yesterday before Judge Chapman. Attorneys A.S. Cole and C.W. Seymour are defending and John C. Watson prosecuting. Hoffman’s counsel created a sensation by producing an affidavit signed by Hoffman, in which he claims that the so-called confession was forced from him in the Grand Pacific Hotel in this city at night by Missouri Pacific Detective Tutt and his associate; that Sheriff McCollum and his deputy, Joseph Huberle, took him to the Grand Pacific Hotel at night, where there were two or three strange men supposed to be Missouri Pacific detectives; that one of them held a cocked revolver to his head, a watch in his hand, saying that he would give him (Hoffman) just two minutes to tell about how the trains were wrecked at Dunbar; that all of the time the Sheriff and deputy were present and did not attempt to stop these men in any manner …; this ground the attorneys asked the judge to discharge the jury, as it had been drawn by a prejudiced Sheriff. The motion was overruled. They then asked for a separate trial, which was granted, and David Hoffman was put on trial. A jury was secured at 6 o’clock last night.”
This item from the Omaha Daily World for Saturday Evening, 9 Apr 1887 relates some testimony in the case:
“TURNED AGAINST HIM.
Hoffman’s Brother Does Not Shield the Train Wrecker—Startling Testimony.
Nebraska City, April 9—The sensation of the trial of David Hoffman, the Dunbar train wrecker yesterday, was the testifying of his accomplice Bell, who, as predicted, turned state’s evidence. He testified that he was in Dunbar the day of the wreck on business; got drunk, was arrested, and fined; he appealed to Hoffman, who was present, to pay the fine; Hoffman said he did not have any money, but would have enough the next day; Bell put up his team as security for the fine, and followed Hoffman around the town. He drank considerable, but Hoffman did not; Hoffman asked witness to go along down the railroad track; Hoffman broke open the Burlington & Missouri tool house and secured a crowbar and wrenches; both men proceeded up the Missouri Pacific track; when they arrived at the place where the wreck subsequently occurred, Bell sat down on the track and Hoffman proceeded to remove the rails; witness asked him what he was doing, and he replied that he was going to wreck the train and rob the express car; Bell remonstrated, and said that many people would get killed. Hoffman said he didn’t give a d–n, he had made up his mind and would carry it out; Hoffman removed the spikes and rail; saw the train approaching, when Hoffman pulled him down in the ravine; when the train jumped the track both ran.
The counsel for the defense endeavored unsuccessfully to break down Bell’s testimony. John Hoffman, a brother of David, testified that when he ran to the wreck he saw a man jump out of a ravine west of the track and run, he could not tell who it was, but it looked like Dave Hoffman’s form. The Missouri Pacific detectives testified that Hoffman made a voluntary confession to them without inducement, threats or force.
The citizens of Dunbar testified that Hoffman promised them that he would pay money due them next day; this on the day of the wreck. Hoffman was cool and unconcerned until Bell testified, and then uneasy.”
The Omaha Daily World for Tuesday Evening, 12 Apr 1887 carried this brief notice:
“Hoffman Hangs July 22
NEBRASKA CITY, April 12.–David Hoffman, the Missouri Pacific train wrecker, has been sentenced to hang on July 22, for the murder of Engineer DeWitt. Hoffman, who has appeared somewhat indifferent during the trial, broke down when sentenced was passed, and wept like a child. The Sheriff and deputy were obliged to support him to his cell.”
According to the Omaha Daily World of 22 Jul 1887, David Huffman was hanged at Nebraska City at 10:25 a.m. on 22 Jul 1887.
In its coverage of David Huffman’s hanging, the Omaha Daily World gave an account of his family:
“David Hoffman was born near Trenton, Henry county, Ia., on April 8, 1864. He resided on a farm with his parents until he was thirteen years of age, when he went to Fremont county, Ia., and worked for a farmer near Randolph for some time. He was in Fremont county off and on for nearly five years. After remaining in Fremont for about a year and a half he went to Phillips county, Kan., where he and one of his brothers farmed some, but most of the two years that he was there he worked for other farmers in Phillips and Decatur counties. He went from there to York and Filmore counties, Nebraska, where he and his brother John Hoffman farmed for nearly two years. Tiring of farming he drifted westward as far as Denver, where he worked one winter for a horse trainer named Hurne. Here is a period of his life he fails to fully detail …. [Huffman was thought to be implicated in cattle rustling.] After tiring of Denver he went back to Randolph where he remained until three years ago, when he came to Dunbar, Neb., and rented a farm with his brother John, and remained nearly two years. He went back last spring to Creston. Ia., and, with the aid of two brothers who were working on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, secured a position as brakeman on that road, which he retained but a short time. He then went to Taylor Station, eighteen miles east of Council Bluffs, Ia., where he clerked in a store and also worked on a farm about two months. On July 8, 1886, he came to Unadilla, this county, and began work on a farm with his brother-in-law, Taylor Fitch, near that place, where he remained until he went to Dunbar the day that the train was wrecked. His father and mother reside in Decatur county, Kansas. He has four brothers and four sisters living. Paul and Thomas Jefferson Hoffman are employees of the C. B. & Q. at Creston, Ia., and are highly esteemed by all who know them. Tyler Hoffman resides on the old homestead in Henry county, Ia., while John Hoffman, near whose house the wreck occurred at Dunbar, is now residing on farm in Nelson Co., Neb. His sisters are Mrs. Mattie Fitch, Elmwood, Neb.; Mrs. Rachel Norton, Randolph county, Ia.; Mrs. Mary Corney, Decatur Co., Kan., and Mrs. Rebecca Messer, Henry county, Ia.
“His father wrote him shortly after his sentence that he would much prefer to see him hung than have him go to jail for ten years like his partner, James Bell. Hoffman claimed to have a sweetheart residing at Hamburg, but she never visited him or wrote him letters…. He stoutly denied that he was guilty of the crime for which he was punished, and said that Bell was the one who removed the rail while he stood by and watched him, and that he was innocent of any wrong, but was too drunk at the time to take any part or fully realize what was being done.”
Train wrecking was a common method of robbing a train. In this case, it proved deadly, for both the engineer and the robber. David Huffman was the brother of my 2nd great-grandfather Tyler Huffman, and was atypical of the Huffman family generally. David Huffman’s crime was so sensational it was included in a book of outlaws. I suppose Paul Huffman’s words that “he would much prefer to see him [David] hung than have him go to jail for ten years like his partner [Bell],” is both a comment on what the father thought was David’s obligation to satisfy justice, and the evil of James Bell, whose role in the crime was more than he admitted.
So what of James Bell?
The Omaha Daily World of Thursday Evening 14 Apr 1887 ran this item:
“Bell Gets Ten Years.
Nebraska City, April 13.–James Bell, the accomplice of David Hoffman, pleaded guilty yesterday to train-wrecking at Dunbar and was sentenced to ten years in the Penitentiary. Bell seemed relieved when sentence was passed, particularly as Hoffman is sentenced to be hanged. The popular feeling was such that the Sheriff took him at once to Lincoln without trying to keep him over night.”
The Penitentiary at Lincoln was until after WWI the only adult correctional facility in Nebraska. In 1889 it housed about 400 inmates, of whom, presumably, James Bell was one.
The following biographical sketch of Elisha B. Huffman, son of Jacob and Elizabeth (Finch) Huffman, gives a detailed family history of the descendants of Jacob and Elizabeth (Finch) Huffman (click on images to enlarge). Homer, MN is in the far southeast of the state, on the bank of the Mississippi River.
(1895). Portrait And Biographical Record Of Winona County, Minnesota Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens of the County, Together with Biographies and Portraits of all the Presidents of the United States. Lake City Publishing Co. Chicago: Chapman Publishing Company, Printers And Binders. pp. 294–295
There is, in connection with Jacob Huffman, a lawsuit which provides contemporary evidence concerning his family, in:
Jones Esq., Edward C. (1853). Reports Of Cases Decided In The Court Of Common Pleas of Upper Canada; From Trinity Term 15 Victoria, To Trinity Term 16 Victoria Volume II. Toronto: Henry Rowsell, King-Street, pp.423–430.
It was a messy affair: Elizabeth (Finch) Huffman, widow of Jacob, asserted her dower rights to a property then occupied by James Finch, which property had been acquired during her marriage to Jacob Huffman. The property was extensive, consisting of a large tract of land and improvements, in Trafalgar, Halton Co., and seems to have included another, smaller lot. For his part, Finch claimed to have had a deed dated 28 Apr 1815 from Jacob Huffman, now lost, in which Elizabeth duly relinquished her dower. The court ruled for Elizabeth as Finch could produce no evidence. There’s nothing stating the relationship of Elizabeth (Finch) Huffman to James Finch, but surely they were related. It’s a case with implications on both sides of the Canada/USA border, because it illustrates what could happen when a wife didn’t legally alienate her dower. In this instance, James Finch had to satisfy Elizabeth (Finch) Huffman’s dower portion.
This passage, found on p. 425, proves the identity of Jacob Huffman, and his real date of death:
There are discrepancies in the available information regarding the descendants of Christopher Huffman. The broader outline seems correct, while some details are conflicting. Some of the dates in the Elisha B. Huffman sketch don’t match other data. One can only work with the facts at hand while being careful to correct the record with more accurate material as it’s unearthed. However, Elisha B. Huffman can be expected to have intimate knowledge of his parents and siblings.
As I examined the lives of Christopher Huffman and his family in Halton Co., Ontario, I realized how closely they resembled pioneers in the United States. These were the people who were the backbone of nations, who cleared the land, built roads, established courts of justice, and erected houses to their faith. In this there was more that bound together Christopher Huffman and Virginia pioneers like Abraham Fulkerson than set them apart.
The following marriages are also found in Halton Co, Ontario:
Charlotte Huffman to Alexander McKenzie, both of Trafalgar Township, 26 Dec 1835 (Charlotte was the dau. of Henry Huffman)
Susan Crawford to Charles Coote, both of Esquessing Township, 23 Mar 1831
Patrick Crawford to Elizabeth Madden, both of Trafalgar Township, 5 Apr 1833
Thomas Crawford (carpenter), of Trafalgar Township, to Barbara Watkins, of Esquessing Township, 1 Nov 1837 (Barbara was the dau. of Samuel Watkins)
To celebrate my Canadian heritage, these are the lyrics to the Canadian national anthem:
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
Newspapers can be crucial in reconstructing family history. “Chronicling America” is a free newspaper database operated by the Library of Congress. Check their website first before subscribing to a paid service.
An excellent resource for Canadian genealogical research is Library and Archives Canada website:
Another useful website is United Empire Loyalists: