US Deputy Marshal Henry Frank Griffin
The purpose of this research is to possibly expand limited information available about the life and death of a United States Deputy Marshal Frank Griffin. His name appears on several officer down memorial documents, with substantial missing information. Previous researchers have painstakingly collected important facts which have served as a springboard for this continuation. The author of this research document inadvertently ran across the Officer Down Memorial website page in 2010, and for reasons unknown, began to review historic records.
There are possible inconsistencies contained in newspaper articles written within the weeks following USDM Griffin’s death. The event is recorded in several instances to have taken place in Galveston, Texas but logic and other documentation pointed towards Tyler, Texas as the place. The spelling of the name Flynne varies widely, Flyn, Flynn, Flynne, Flinn… the correct spelling is Flynne.
Goal stated at beginning of research: If enough reliable information can be obtained through this research, a THC historic marker should be placed near the site USDM Griffin was murdered. If the exact location cannot be determined then a marker should be considered in Oakwood Cemetery, Tyler, Texas, the final resting place of USDM Griffin.
Henry Franklin (Frank) Griffin was born in Tennessee around 1841. He served in the Confederate Cavalry with the rank of private, H Woods Regiment, being paroled in Citronelle Alabama May of 1865. His pre-war residence is noted as Rodney, Mississippi, a booming river bank City, at least until the river changed course, leaving Rodney a ghost town. A simple CSA foot marker at his grave in Oakwood Cemetery in Tyler notes his service. After the war it is not known how or why Frank chose the Smith County, Texas area as his home, there were at that time Griffins living near the northwest and southeast corners of Smith County but no evidence of a relation has been found.
Frank was living in the Starville Community in 1870 along with his wife Margaret Elizabeth Niblack Griffin. Starville was a thriving town during the 1860’s and even prospered during the next decade after the war had concluded. Frank was a farmer by trade, his wife’s family, the Niblacks, were also prominent farmers in the immediate area. During this time period the U. S. Department of Justice or Marshal’s Service, would employ field deputies who were locally networked at no salary, just fee and reimbursements.
The United States Marshals Office in Texas was established December 29, 1845. The Western District of Texas was formed on February 21, 1857 which ran eastward across Texas and included Tyler. Oddly, Tyler and Galveston were in the Western District of Texas during the 1870’s, today Tyler is appropriately included in the Eastern District of Texas. Thomas F. Purnell was appointed Marshal of the Western District of Texas December 21, 1869, he was re-appointed January 14, 1874. After his term had expired around 1878 he served as Vice Marshal to his successor, Stilwel Russell. It is not known the circumstances or reasons why Frank Griffin became a US Deputy Marshal under US Marshal Thomas Purnell, or even when he became a Deputy Marshal.
John Flynne, Sr., and his wife Elizabeth were either born in Ireland or England, depending on the census year recording 1860 or 1870. John was an educator, listed as “Professor” in two censuses and was involved in community activities during the early 1870’s. In 1850 their residence was in Georgia, their youngest daughter Louisa was born in Georgia about 1867. Like Frank Griffin, the motivation or attraction that brought them to Smith County may never be known.
In mid year 1869 it became critical to secure a railroad line for the benefit of development and sometimes survival of a City. The forefathers of Tyler sought to attract the Southern Pacific Railroad line into Tyler by forming a committee of prestigious movers and shakers. Of the fifty or so committee members, Professor John Flynn was included. This was the beginning of the process that would conclude in 1877 when the first train arrived in Tyler along the Tyler Tapp Route.
John Flynne was appointed postmaster of Tyler June 21, 1871 for the pay of $860. Under his direction the Post Office was relocated from west of Broadway to east of Broadway in a small yellow framed building refered to as the “Carolina House”. Evidently John Sr. traveled out of town frequently leaving other family members in charge. During this period of time in East Texas there were numerous complaints and major problems with mail deliveries or non-deliveries.
John Sr.’s two sons Thomas and James apparently were left in charge of the Post Office. About October 4 an investigation commenced revealing possibly thousands of dollars were stolen from the mail, many letters were discovered opened, and even evidence of an attempt to fire the building. This resulted in the initial arrest of the Flynne brothers by U. S. Marshal Purnell.
Friday night, September 27th, U. S. Marshall Purnell arrested Thomas and James Flynne on the charge of “robbing the mails”. Mr. Goff a mail agent with the U. S. Postal Department had conducted the initial investigation. By the next day the Flynne brothers had escaped incarceration or had been simply let out. During this decade, the Smith County jail was either not very secure or politics left the building unlocked and unattended as numerous “escapes” took place. It is worth mentioning the County constructed a new jail facility on East Erwin in 1880.
The Flynne’s house was located two miles north of Tyler near Black Fork Creek. The creek meanders from east to west, containing small low areas of swampland and thick forest. This provided Thomas and James a convenient hiding place after their initial arrest by Marshal Purnell and their escape, or allowed escape. A local search for the two was being conducted but without success.
A Special Agent of the U S Post Office Department had arrived in Tyler and had obtained information indicating the Flynne’s were still in the neighborhood. Efforts were made unsuccessfully to locate them. Based on developing information Marshal Purnell was convinced the Flynne’s would be at their mothers house on Saturday night, October 5th and planned to make an unannounced visit.
At about three o’clock on Sunday morning Marshal Purnell met with about a dozen Tyler citizens, including U S Deputy Marshal Frank Griffin, and formed the posse. They rode north the two miles from the square to the Flynne residence and quietly secured the perimeter. As daylight unfolded the posse’s presence was announced and admission was demanded.
Mother of Thomas and James, Mary Flynne, first refused to allow entry into her home but reconsidered after conversing with the US Marshal. Marshal Purnell and his Deputy Griffin entered the home and began a search of the first few rooms. Mrs. Flynne was adamant the two sons of their interest were not present and the posse was following a “cold trail”. After searching the front rooms, the Marshal continued dialog with the family, keeping them occupied while the remainder could be searched.
U S Deputy Marshal Frank Griffin proceeded to the rear of the home which contained a shed room, upon crossing the threshold he was met by a blast of twelve to sixteen buckshot to his chest, discharged from the dimly lit corner occupied by Thomas and James Flynne. He immediately fell, dead.
Marshal Purnell retreated through the front door and into the yard to join the remainder of the posse. Attempts were made to persuade the murderers to surrender peacefully but all refused. An order was given to burn the occupied house. Attempts to set the fire were unsuccessful as the Flynne women would extinguish it before it could catch, but after about an hour the fire began to take hold.
As the house began to blaze the family tried to negotiate a surrender of the boys. They would give up if the Marshal would “pledge his word that no violence should be done to the boys”. The Marshal obliged and upon extinguishing the fire, the murderers gave up their weapons and themselves. The Flynne brothers were shackled and led behind the body of Griffin for the two mile walk, south, back to town and secured again in the Smith County jail.
At the time Thomas and James Flynne were arrested, two other Flynne brothers were also jailed. Actual names do not appear but it could be reasoned who the other two were. John Flynne, Sr. and wife Elizabeth had five boys in the household in 1870. John Jr. (b abt 1849), Thomas (b abt 1851), James (b abt 1852), William (b abt 1854), and Lucian (b abt 1855). One account notes that two of the brothers were twins, if this is correct it may have been James and Thomas or William and Lucian.
John Jr. has very little written record, at the date of Frank Griffins murder he would have been about 23 years old. James and Thomas are named numerous times for Frank Griffin’s murder, no other family members are directly implicated. Lucian was the youngest son of John, Sr., was appointed to the U. S. Naval Academy at West Point, then went on to serve a long and illustrious career in the U. S. Navy. It is mentioned he was here on leave at the time of Frank Griffin’s murder. William seems to have been well educated and later accompanied his father to St. Marys College in Galveston. If one brother had to be excluded as a suspected jail detainee it would be William. This would leave Thomas and James charged with murder, John Jr. charged with petty theft, and Lucian charged with resisting the United States Marshal when his brothers first escaped.
The grand jury process began with the murder charge being filed on November 27, 1872 in Smith County, Thomas and James were both named. Eight witnesses were listed on the indictment, the US Marshal Purnell and presumably members of the Marshal’s posse. Ed Sharp, Foreman of the Grand Jury, went to great lengths to describe the event, presenting it in a manner such that the Flynne’s were guilty beyond any doubt. He reiterated several times how the twenty dollar shotgun “loaded and charged with gun powder and leaden balls” was discharged into the breast of Frank Griffin. The Flynne’s mother, at least two sisters and possibly two brothers were home at the time Griffin was murdered, but none were listed as witnesses. The indictment was certified January 16, 1873 with the notation it was to be forwarded to Henderson, Rusk County, for a change of venue. The change of venue request affidavit was affirmed by 61 year old Joseph Valentine, local grocer of modest means and an acquaintance of John Flynne, Sr and a J. M. Fair.
Aftermath – The Flynnes
John Flynne, Sr. - As the nation celebrated it’s first one hundred years in 1876, political parties were hard at work gearing up for the election, the south being of particular interest. Professor John Flynne, Sr. probably had strong political views and was mentioned as being a Republican. At this period during reconstruction, Tyler and it’s southern heritage were primarily Republican, the North (the US Government) had interjected Democrats into office and/ or Republicans that shared Democratic ideologies. The National Democratic Convention was to be held in St. Louis Missouri June 28, 1876. An entire book, THE CAMPAIGN TEXT BOOK, WHY THE PEOPLE WANT A CHANGE, THE REPUBLICAN PARTY REVIEWED, Its Sins of Commission and Ommission, was compiled, citing numerous reasons why the Republican party was not the right choice for the nation.
An entire section of the Democratic platform book was dedicated to “Republican Mismanagement; The Post Office Department”. While John Flynne, Sr. had served as Post Master for Tyler for about ten months from 1871 to 1872 at a pay (presumed annual salary) of $870, he was absent from his duties often. He would leave his family members in charge which may have led to his two sons, James and Thomas, being charged with robbing the mail and attempting to set fire to the post office. John Sr. however, is listed twice in the Democratic parties book as having swindled the government out of a total of $2,271.07. It might be noted too that the Tyler post office was relocated during his tenure and no distinction was made if the amount was a loss of revenue due to expenses incurred or if it was truly missing funds.
Professor John Flynne, Sr. was on staff at St. Mary’s College in Galveston, Texas from about 1880 and until his death from a stroke in February 1882. Son William was initially a student there and later assumed teaching duties. It is unknown if John Flynne, Sr. was buried in Galveston, the hurricane of 1900 erasing any record or if he had relocated.
Elizabeth Flynne – During the arrest of her two sons, Mrs. Flynne attempted to shield her family from the lawmen outside and was instrumental in their unharmed surrender. It appears her and John Sr. were separated often, either through his frequent travels or for some other reasons. After the event of October 6th, no information indicating Mr. and Mrs. Flynne were together has been found. She ended up in Navarro County, near Corsicana, around 1890. She died in March of 1891 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Corsicana, Texas along with son Lucian and daughter Mary.
John Flynne, Jr. – John C. Flynn, February 4, 1851 – January 19, 1938. Buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas.
Mary Flynne – Mary (or May) never married and was living with her sister Ida in Fort Worth in 1907.
James Flynne – James William Flynn, September 4, 1856 – August 2, 1920. Buried Oakwood Cemetery, Navarro Co, Tx.
William Flynne – William was listed in the 1880 census as living with his mother Mary in Corsicana, Texas. Shortly after, he joined his father John Sr. at St. Mary’s University in Galveston where he was enrolled as a student in 1880. He later became a teacher of mathmatics.
He went on to become known as Professor Flynne and assumed the role of school superintendent in Brenham, Texas in 1881. He married Bettie Hutchinson in 1890 and the same year his home in Brenham burns.
Bettie resigned from the Brenham school system in October 1891. In September of 1892 William was elected superintendent of the Port Lavaca school system.
Professor W. H. Flynne moved to Lexington, Texas in 1893 serving as a principal in their school system.
William’s wife Bettie is listed in the City Directory as living in Houston in 1932.
Bettie Hutchinson Flynne died October 8, 1957 in Dallas County, Tx.
Lucian Flynne - He was arrested at the time of Griffin’s death for possibly aiding in the escape of his brothers the first time they were arrested. He was home on leave from the US Naval Academy but it seems this incident did not affect his 1870 appointment as he graduated in 1874. He had a long career, saw a lot of the world, and retired in 1898 with the rank of Lieutenant. He died in 1904 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Corsicana, along with his mother and sister Mary.
Ida B. Flynne – Never married and was living with her sister May (or Mary) in Fort Worth in 1907.
Julalia (Lottie) Flynne – In 1880 she was living with her mother Eliza (Elizabeth), brother William, and sisters Ida and Cecillia in Corsicana.
Cecillia Flynne – At age 26 she married Mr. O.H.H. Garrett, editor of the Brenham Banner newspaper in February 1889.
Aftermath – The Griffins
Margaret Griffin - In 1880 the widowed Margaret Griffin (now going by name of Maggie) and her 3 children were living with her mother, Mary Niblack. Mary had lost her husband Augustus Niblack on October 18, 1874 and had one son and two daughters living with her. There were a total of eight persons living in the household. Mary Niblack died March 8, 1888 and is buried beside her husband Augustus. With the death of Margaret Griffins’ mother, it seems the family dispersed. William reappears in the 1900 census and then 1901 upon his death.
Margaret is listed in several city directories as Maggie Niblack working for the railroad as a stenographer. She married Mr. John Green Chitwood, a deputy sheriff in Smith County, in December of 1885. The marriage lasted only about two and a half years with her passing in July of 1888 at the age of 42. Evidently she had twins, Maggie May Chitwood born in May 1888 and died in September and an unnamed son who died during birth, both are buried side by side in the Bascom Cemetery. Maggie is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Tyler near to, but not next to, her first husband US Deputy Marshal Frank Griffin. Their son William will be buried next to Frank later in 1901.
John Chitwood had been previously married (Rebecca died in 1883) and he died in December 1908, it is thought he is buried in Bascom Cemetery southeast of Tyler.
He was a jailer in 1900 census and 55 year old widower.
Bascom Cemetery lists “Children of J. G. & M.E. Chitwood:
Maggie May Chitwood, 28 May 1888 – 11 Sept 1888
Infant son – b. & d. 28 May 1888
It is interesting the change in names between the 1870 and 1880 censuses with the Griffin family. Margaret changes to Maggie, Charles to Charlie and Ada to Addie. Maggie Griffin’s brother Thomas Niblack, his wife Mattie and their son Henry lived in the adjoining residence.
Charlie Griffin – Unknown after the 1880 census.
Addie Griffin – Addie married Robert Frazier in Tyler in June of 1893. They had their first son Robert in June of 1894 and a second son, Frank Griffin Frazier, in October 1899. Shortly after Frank’s birth the family relocated to Waco.
Addie’s husband Robert died in 1916, Addie died in May of 1941, both are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Tyler. Their son Robert died in 1945 and son Frank died in 1960. It is known that Frank never married. Both brothers are buried next to each other also in Oakwood Cemetery in Tyler.
William Griffin – William was the youngest of the Griffin children, it appears he lived in the Tyler area and married Annie Mayfield early in 1900. In 1900 he was living with Oliver Loftin, a former doctor and local businessman, assumingly as his bookkeeper. Next door lived cousins William and Caroline Pinkerton, along their son Augustine.
William was active in the Woodman of the World organization and was very popular. One photograph was found, taken at his funeral, showing that a multitude of people were in attendance. William died in June 1901 and is buried next to his father Frank in Oakwood Cemetery, Tyler.
Reseacher: Mark Thacker