Lena Pendergrass

 

       “The romances and tragedies of life are not all recorded in the books we read, but they are being enacted around us every day. Sometimes the curtain is lifted and we see them, but hundreds of them on every side remain hidden from our eyes.”


        1903 March 20: (Bonham News) Murdered Girl’s Life a Strange
Story. An Interesting Murder Trial. Evidence All Circumstantial, But Much of It Very Strong.

        In the latter part of February, 1902, some hunters found the dead body of a young woman hidden in an upright hollow log, one end of which was buried in a sand bar on Red River, north of Mulberry. The log or stump was surrounded by a dense growth of young cottonwood trees, was in an isolated place, and the find was an accident.

        Sheriff Youree was notified, and went down and removed the body, part of which was in a fair state of preservation. It was no trouble for parties living near to identify the body as that of a young woman named Lena May Pendergrass, who had been for a year living with a Mexican named Thurman Ford. On December 22, 1901, she had suddenly disappeared and nothing was heard of her until the body was found. Ford was suspected of the crime, and the sheriff went to work on the case, and succeeded in getting a perfect chain of circumstantial evidence which seemed to fix the guilt on the suspected man. He was indicted by the grand jury, arrested and placed in jail. It is not the intention to deal with the evidence in this article, as the case is yet in court, but a brief history of the sad life of the murdered girl will be interesting.

        Those who knew Lena May Pendergrass in life describe her as a very beautiful woman. Her mother, whose name is now Mrs. Mary Anandi, and who lives in this city, is of Indian and Caucasian blood—her mother being Indian, her father an American. Lena’s father was a white man.

        The mother says that when her daughter was a little less than twelve years of age, she was kidnapped by a Spaniard who became infatuated with her. At the time she was stolen her mother was living near Cameron. Her father had died when she was a baby, and the mother had married her present husband, who is a Mexican. The child was left at home while the mother was helping her husband saw timber nearby. The little girl took the bucket and started to the spring to get some water, when she was seized and carried away by the Spaniard. On returning home the mother found her gone, and at once suspected the cause. Failing to find her, officers were at once notified, and search was made, but the child was never found. The mother had some $750 and all this money was spent in search for her child. Trace of her was found; and, when her abductor, who was a gambler, had carried her from place to place, but he succeeded in keeping out of reach. Just how she escaped from his is not known, but she came here with a young Mexican known as Mexican Jim. These two picked cotton on the river, and were to be married. They worked for Ford who became very much attached to the girl, who was then some fifteen or sixteen years old. Shortly before Mexican Jim and she were to be married, Ford had Jim arrested on a charge of assaulting one of his little girls. Jim lay in jail here for several months, and when the grand jury met, it refused to indict him because there was no evidence against him, and he was released. The girl stayed at Ford’s house with the family, never leaving it alone on but two occasions, and one of these was on the eve of her death. Then it seems that she had gone to a neighbor’s to seek a home, as something had gone wrong at Ford’s. She spent one night with the neighbor, and then started back to Ford’s to get her clothing. She was seen on the way to his house, and then her life’s history ended in mystery to all save the one who murdered her. She was never seen alive again to any one who can be discovered. The evidence against Ford is all circumstantial, but it is a perfect chain of evidence, and points very strongly to his quilt.

        The mother heard of her child’s death through the newspapers. At that time she was living in Indian Territory. She wrote here, got a description of the girl, and became convinced that it was her daughter. The murdered woman knew she had been stolen, and after she escaped from her abductor, had tried to find her mother. She had moved from Cameron, and the daughter could not find her. The mother, who now lives here, has been attending the trial of Ford....



        [from Court records]  It was shown by the

testimony of J. F. [John Franklin] and M. F. “Dock”

Bramlett that Mrs. Casey was not in position to know

the facts which she claimed to know. She swore that

she got her information from a dream she was

dreaming, when the defendant was passing her

house in a covered wagon, at midnight, on the night

of the day, on which Lena Pendergrass disappeared,

yet she says that she never told anybody what she

saw or dreamed, except her husband, and a woman

who has never testified in this case, and of whom

nothing was ever heard by the State or defense, until

this trial, and neither her husband nor said woman

was in attendance at this trial.


        photo: Bramletts: Hugh Thomas,“Dock” and Samuel Cole (1905)

       

        Mrs. Casey swore on this trial that she followed deceased down the road on that Sunday afternoon, and that she saw and spoke to the two Bramletts, witnesses for the State, as she followed deceased down the road; the two Bramletts swore that they knew Mrs. Casey at the time, and would have known her had they met her on that occasion, but that they neither saw nor spoke to her. It is apparent to the Court, who heard this woman testify on the two trials of this cause, that her mind is unbalanced, and that her testimony ought not to be relied upon by the jury. As to the testimony of Bedwell, it was positively and directly contradicted by the testimony of J. G. Kirk, whose testimony was unmistakably corroborated and reinforced by the circumstances detailed by him in connection with his testimony, to wit:

        Bedwell swore that about dark on the evening on which deceased was last seen at Rich’s, and on the road by the Bramletts, he, Bedwell, was at Defendant’s house and that while standing in the door, something which he took to be blood and water dripped from above on to witness’s coat and hat, that he had never brought the coat or the hat to the Court House, nor had the same inspected for the purpose of determining whether or not it was blood, although the witness was closely questioned on the last trial of this cause for the reasons why he had not done so; the witness Kirk swore to facts which show that it was not Sunday night of December 22nd that Bedwell was at defendant’s house, at which time he gave defendant orders to bring to Bonham, but it was on the following Friday night, December the 27th, 1901; the only witness who testified about the blood found at the defendant’s house, who was in any manner qualified to judge of such matters, was Dr. A. D. Looney, a practicing physician, who swore that he saw what he took to be blood, but that he would not swear it was blood, that nobody could tell blood without a microscope, and he did not examine it with a microscope; no witness in this cause swore that what they took to be blood was human blood; the testimony of J. E. Roache, Tom Roache and M. M. McCremmon was that they examined the same substance which some of the other witnesses took to be blood, and all three of these witnesses swear that in their opinion it was grease and not blood.

        Defendant submits to the Court that the testimony in this case falls far short of that cogent character which the law demands in order to sustain a conviction for crime.


Maude Bramlett’s Telling


        Yes, we stayed in Fannin County three years. Dad rented a farm and he made his last crop in 1906. While [we were] living there, a Mr. Aderholt came by our house one night, on his way from visiting a Mexican family. While sitting in the front room of the Mexican’s house, he said he saw blood dripping through the ceiling. The house had an upstairs and an old man had killed a pretty Mexican girl that had been living with his family. He had killed her with an axe that evening and put her in his buggy and took her down on Red River and put her body in an old hollow tree. The tree had the top rotted-off and it still stood but was hollow and he just crammed her body down in this old stump. So one Sunday eve a bunch of young folks were down on the river picking up pecans and some one climbed up a tree close by this stump and saw this girl and reported it. I saw this stump. Dr. Loany [Looney], our doctor there, had the stump in his office. He also had one of her plaits of hair and a piece out of the floor where the blood was. I don’t know what they did with the old Mexican man. He was working for a Mr. Roach, a wealthy old man. He may have got him out with some of his money.


        1908 Christmas Day: (Bonham News) [Roustabout observed] Thermond Ford of the Mexican gender, hauled a mixed load of yam potatoes, turnips and red pepper to Denison last week. He got remunerative prices. All clear gain. So much for diversifying and Mexican shrift....