Over time, tidbits continue to trickle in about Jacob Kirsch, the infamous one-eyed lynching saloon keeper from Aurora, Indiana. And yes, he just happens to be my ancestor. I love them colorful!
Recently, a gentleman, David, contacted me inquiring about Jacob and asked if perhaps I knew anything about Jacob’s relationship with his ancestor, Henry Hahn (Haun).
Henry, it seems, had served in the Civil War, came home to Aurora, Indiana and lived with his wife, Barbara, until sometime after the 1880 census.
Henry subsequently left, abandoning his wife and children. In 1911, after Henry died and was buried, his wife, who had never in the ensuing 25 years divorced her deadbeat husband, filed to collect a widow’s pension based on Henry’s Civil War service.
In Henry’s pension file was a deposition from Jacob Kirsch given on January 11, 1911 that Henry’s descendant very generously offered to share with me.
Not only is the deposition in and of itself very interesting, but it also contained Jacob’s signature – a wonderful find!
This deposition is the only existing narrative in Jacob’s own words. I’m presuming that his deposition in the 1887 lawsuit that stemmed from Jacob’s role in the lynching of an itinerant bricklayer that brutally murdered a man in Aurora was actually written by his attorneys. The preamble of that deposition says, “Now comes Jacob Kirsch…by his attorneys, and answer to said plaintiff’s complaints says that he denies every allegation…”
So, while that 1887 deposition clearly states Jacob’s position, I doubt seriously if it’s Jacob’s own “voice.” It sounds like “lawyer speak” to me.
However, the 1911 deposition given for Barbara Vogel Hahn reads differently.
I am 69 years of age. I am a hotel keeper by occupation. My post office address is Aurora, Dearborn County, Indiana. I have resided in the City continuously for the last 45 years. I first became acquainted with the soldier, Henry Haun, late in the sixties, and knew him intimately from that time until he left here. He left here a little more than 25 years ago. I have not seen him since he left. I also knew his widow, the claimant, Barbara Haun, before their marriage. Neither one of them had been married before their marriage to each other. I know this from having have known them both intimately before they were married. I knew the families of both of them. She was a Vogel before her marriage, and I knew her father well. From the time of their marriage until he left they lived here as man and wife. During that time I would see him as often as nearly every day. He was in business just a few doors below me and we were great friends. I have known and seen Barbara often since he went away. I know that she has lived by herself with her three daughters and that she has remained a good, true wife to him during all the time of his absence. She worked hard and made a great struggle to hold her little flock together. She has been highly respected in this community as an honorable, hard working woman. She has had a mighty hard time of it, and deserves credit for the struggle she has made. I do not know and do not believe that she has ever sought for any divorce between herself and him but that she has remained during all the years of his absence his true and honorable wife. I remember the occasion of his body being brought home here for burial last July. The body was taken to the house of her son-in-law, Louis Baker, where she now lives and has for a number of years. From there it was buried in Riverview Cemetery here. I have known her since that time and know and believe that she has remained and is today his widow.
You have just shown me B.J. #6. The signature is mine. You have read it to me. It is absolutely true and correct and I do not want to make any change or correction in it.
I am not related or interested.
I have heard this statement read. I understand it. You have correctly recorded all my answers to your questions.
Jacob Kirsch (signature)
Lending further credence to the fact that this is Jacob’s actual narrative is the statement at the end that says “You have read it to me. It is true and correct and I do not want to make any change or correction in it. I have heard this statement read. I understand it. You have correctly recorded all my answers to your questions.”
And one last tidbit, just in case there was any doubt. “I am not related or interested,” meaning of course, a financial interest.
After rereading this a number of times, the realization finally dawned on me that while Jacob could clearly speak English, he couldn’t read English. That’s why the document had to be read to him. His native language, of course, was German.
Jacob’s signature. Be still my heart.
Seeing my ancestor’s actual signature just takes my breath away. Signatures are so intimately personal – a last vestige of their presence on this earth.
As a bonus, Henry’s descendant also included a second signature where Jacob signed in addition to two other witnesses to another deposition given the same day.
For me, Jacob’s signature is the Holy Grail. It’s personally his, he wrote it, and it still exists today – the only thing of his personally that remains. Except of course for the DNA carried by his descendants. I’m still trying to find someone who descends from this line to test in order to determine which pieces of my DNA came from Jacob.
I know that Jacob touched this paper when he signed it, and part of me wonders if there isn’t just a smidgen of his DNA someplace, still lurking. Of course, even if there was, there would be no way to separate it from the DNA of the other people who handled this document. Nor would the National Archives be willing to let me do anything destructive to the paper – nor would I want to. But it’s a nice fantasy for a minute.
It seems like we’ve been so tantalizingly close to Jacob’s signature so many times, but never managed to capture one. Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, Jacob’s wife, even provided a “likeness” when trying to collect her own widow’s pension, after Jacob’s death, but we don’t know what that “likeness” looked like, because it wasn’t included in his file that was sent from the National Archives. For all we know, she might have traced this signature, although she would only have had access to this signature if a copy of this deposition was retained locally.
This deposition provides other valuable tidbits waiting to be excavated by the archaeologist in every genealogist.
It tells us that Jacob lived in Aurora continuously for 45 years, dating to 1866, after his own service in the Civil War. In May of that year, Jacob married Barbara Drechsel who lived in Aurora, and apparently, they never left. The couple and their young family were living in Aurora in 1870 and purchased a home there in 1871. Now, thanks to this deposition, we know that they lived in the City from the time they married in 1866 until the 1870 census catches up with them.
Friends and Abandonment
This deposition states that Henry was Jacob’s friend. Jacob refers to Henry as having “left” and “went away,” with no mention of stronger words like abandonment. I wonder why. Clearly Jacob understand the ramifications of Henry’s actions on Barbara and their children.
It’s interesting that Jacob painted longsuffering Barbara with a different brush, suggesting that she did what a “good wife” should do by not divorcing Henry after he “left.”
Jacob did say that Barbara lived by herself and “worked hard and made a great struggle to hold her little flock together.” Also that “she has had a mighty hard time of it.”
However, Jacob also says that, “I do not know and do not believe that she has ever sought for any divorce between herself and him but that she has remained during all the years of his absence his true and honorable wife.”
True and honorable wife? Is that how a woman betrayed by her husband is supposed to act, or was between 1885 and 1910? What about Henry? But then, this deposition really wasn’t about Henry, but about Barbara’s behavior. What did Barbara’s behavior after he left have to do with his pension and her ability to receive it?
My next question, of course, is why the heck she didn’t divorce the scoundrel? Perhaps she would have been vilified for the divorce while he got somewhat of a free pass for “leaving.” Times were different 132 years ago, and Jacob may have been answering questions in a way such that there was no doubt about Barbara’s fidelity. Jacob surely would not have wanted any stray rumors, if there were any, to cost Barbara that valued pension. Henry may have abandoned her in life, but in death, there was at least some amount of value left in the relationship. Barbara assuredly deserved that, even if it was nothing more than a consolation prize. At least she had the pension to help her through her elder years even though she appears to have sacrificed any possibility of happiness with a second husband or even a comforting relationship. Small consolation, I know, but certainly better than nothing.
What Happened to Henry?
Out of curiosity, I dug a little deeper and discovered exactly why Jacob testified as he did. It turns out that Henry Hahn was a resident at the US National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1909, just a few months before his death, where he is listed as both currently single and divorced. He listed his daughter as his next of kin, so he clearly knew she had married. He might have been absent, but he wasn’t entirely disconnected.
Barbara was probably required to provide proof that indeed, they were not divorced.
Had Henry not already been dead, she probably wanted to kill him, several times over, but I don’t think that counts.
Henry’s Leavenworth record also notes that he was discharged to Oklahoma, a long way to ship a body back to Aurora, Indiana. I wonder why Henry went to Oklahoma, who cared for him there and why he wasn’t just buried in Oklahoma.
Why Did Henry Leave?
Jacob testified that he met Henry in the late 60s, which of course meant 1860s, and that Henry “left more than 25 years before,” so before 1886. This suggests that Henry and Jacob were friends for about 20 years, owning similar establishments just a few doors apart on the main street of Aurora for approaching two decades. No wonder they were in Jacob’s words, “great friends.” It must have pained Jacob for Henry to run off and leave his family destitute. Did Jacob know more than he was telling? I’d guess so.
This surely begs the question of what happened to Henry Hahn to cause him to leave.
Yes, yes I know that Henry isn’t my ancestor, but I just can’t keep myself from digging. There’s a lot to be said for researching your ancestors acquaintances and neighbors, because you just never know what you will find, plus it allows you for just a few brief moments to become part of the neighborhood microcosmic environment where your ancestor interacted day to day.
“Hello Henry, how’s it going today?”
“Not so good Jacob.”
“Sorry to hear that. What happened?”
“Those danged well-drillers from Pennsylvania drank too much again. Barbara is cleaning up the mess now. I sure hope they pay their bill. It’s a whopper!”
“Ahhh, the joys of being an innkeeper. I sure hope they don’t come to my place.”
“I saw one of them flirting with your daughter…”
Note that in 1888, one of the danged Pennsylvania well-drillers would become Jacob’s son-in-law while still married to a wife in Pennsylvania, but that’s another story. Neighborhoods and the people in them are intertwined like vines.
While digging, I did find some hints as to why Henry might have left – and no, it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with another women – just in case you were wondering.
A tree on Ancestry carries a note that says, “March 4, 1885 – Left after losing everything. He was in saloon business. Left to find work as a cooper, his trade. Lived with his brother Charles and his wife Minnie in Louisville, KY for a few months.”
A few months apparently stretched to years, because Henry is still living In Louisville in 1891 and in Nelson County, KY in 1900 as a fisherman, although I’m not quite sure where he’d be fishing as a profession in Nelson County.
Henry’s parents died in Aurora in 1892 and 1893, and I wonder if he returned for their funeral and to see his family. Were his wife and children glad to see him, or angry? What about his siblings? What did his parents think of him leaving his wife to fend for herself with 3 small children? Was Henry shunned by the community, or welcomed as a prodigal son returned? Why did he leave again, assuming he returned for his parents funerals?
Did Henry send money home to Barbara as he could? It doesn’t seem like he was making any effort to hide if he lived with his brother. Louisville isn’t terribly distant – about 90 miles by road and both Aurora and Louisville are on the Ohio River.
Ironically, Henry may have been gone, but was still closely enough connected for his body to be brought back from Tulsa County, Oklahoma to his daughter’s home, which included his wife, and buried in Aurora after his July 1910 death. This just seems odd.
These various tidbits of information cumulatively make me wonder if Henry didn’t scheme to maliciously leave, but was suffering and perhaps unstable. Maybe he never intended to be gone forever. Maybe Barbara prayed for years that he would get better and return. Maybe the situation was simply sad, not intentional abandonment. Maybe that’s why she never divorced him, and he never remarried or had another family. Maybe Barbara loved him regardless and never entirely gave up hope.
Maybe that’s the Barbara that Jacob knew. Not angry, just sad – and maybe Jacob was simply sad for his friends too.
No matter how damning things appear at first glance, it’s always best to reserve harsh judgement of our ancestors, and their neighbors. By now, I simply feel sympathy for all involved and a little guilty about what I first thought of Henry. Of course, he still might be a scoundrel, but that jury is still out.
Curious, I was able to reconstruct some of the neighborhood and residents living in the various houses listed on the 1880 census in-between Henry Hahn and Jacob Kirsch. Next to Henry, we found Nelson, the photographer, then a railroad conductor, which makes sense since the depot was adjacent the Kirsch House. Next, we found a laborer, a cooper, a woman who kept a rather large boarding house, another cooper and a night watchman. Finally, we have Jacob Kirsch.
We also have a map of the area from about that time.
On this map, the French House is what would be renamed as the Kirsch House, beside the Depot, and I believe that Henry Hahn’s might have been lot 33 on Second Street, just a few properties south of Jacob Kirsch’s residence. Today, I think that’s the library.
An 1880 Indiana Gazetteer and Business Directory has this to say about Aurora:
AURORA. Pleasantly located on the Ohio river, in Center township, Dearborn county, 4 miles below Lawrenceburgh, the county seat, 25 below Cincinnati, and 90 southeast of Indianapolis. The place was laid out in 1819, was incorporated in 1848, and is now a flourishing business city, traversed by the O. & M. Ry. Owing to its superior transportation facilities, Aurora is quite an extensive manufacturing place, having the largest distillery in Indiana, and that, together with a large brewery, nail factory, brickyard, two saw mills, one furniture factory, two flour mills, a stave and heading factory, chair factory, and one foundry, comprise the principal manufacturing interests. Among the chief features of the place are its ten churches of different denominations, two handsome school buildings, seven hotels, a national bank, two weekly newspapers—the Independent and Saturday News—and a handsome opera house. The city, from its beautiful location, is very attractive and has an excellent fire department, is well lighted by gas, patrolled by police, and is, in fact, a very pleasant, thrifty place. Population 5,441. Liquors, hay, furniture, iron, nails, chairs and grain are the leading exports. Express, Adams and O. & M. Telegraph, Western Union. Mail received 8 times per day by rail, and 3 times by boat. John Walker, postmaster.
Among a long list of businesses we find:
- Epicurian Hotel, Henry Hahm (sic), proprietor
- Kirsch, Jacob, saloon and hotel
In the 1884 Gazetteer, Henry’s business isn’t listed, but Jacob’s is.
I wonder if Jacob felt badly that his hotel succeeded while his friend, Henry’s, didn’t.
The 1890 census is missing of course, but in 1900, we find Lewis Baker, the husband of Henry Hahn’s now-married daughter living what appears to be just 4 doors away from Jacob Kirsch, and next door to Jacob’s son, Edward Kirsch. I’m betting that Barbara Hahn tried to run the saloon and hotel herself until her daughter, Elizabeth, married in 1894 and then her new son-in-law moved in to help with the hotel. Barbara must have been relieved after trying to handle everything herself for more than 9 years. Being a single Mom is difficult under the best of circumstances, and Barbara’s clearly weren’t. Jacob obviously saw that, based on his deposition.
By 1910, the Louis Baker family had moved to another part of town and Barbara Hahn was living with them. I’d bet she was incredibly relieved to leave the innkeeper/saloon days behind her. Enough cooking and cleaning sunup to bedtime day after day with no end in sight.
Back to The Civil War
One last piece of information that did not prove terribly useful, but is interesting nonetheless, is that while both Henry Hahn and ostensibly Jacob Kirsch both served in the Civil War, they did not serve in the same unit.
According to Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, Jacob’s wife, he served in the Indiana 137th and Henry Hahn, according to his Fold3 index card served in the 134th.
There was a method to my research madness. While Barbara Kirsch claimed that Jacob Kirsch served, and she should have known, her pension application was denied. It appears that two different Jacob Kirsch’s Civil War records may have been combined, so some doubt about Jacob’s service still remains.
Therefore, if Henry Hahn had indeed served in the 137th, the unit Jacob supposedly served in, it would tell us that very likely our Jacob Kirsch had not. Why? Because in his deposition for Barbara Hahn, Jacob says that he met Henry in the late 60s, not in 1864 when Henry Hahn and presumably Jacob both served in the Civil War. Had Jacob served in the same unit with Henry, he would surely have said so. However, since the units in which they are reported to have served are different, it proves exactly nothing at all. Still, it’s a path I had to tread in search of those fantastic tidbits!
However, finding Jacob’s deposition for Barbara Hahn does give me hope that maybe there are other depositions yet waiting to be scanned and indexed at the National Archives, and someday the juicy tidbit that we need may yet surface to prove Jacob’s military service beyond any doubt. That would certain vindicate Barbara Kirsch’s denied pension application and allow me to honor Jacob appropriately for his service.
Today, I’m just incredibly grateful for Henry Hahn’s descendant, David, who was gracious enough to share Jacob’s deposition and signatures with me. David and I both learned things about our ancestors by combining our efforts that we would never have learned individually.
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