Forward Thinking

'Jewish' County and the Texas Prosecutor Murders

By Michael Kaminer

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David Spangler Kaufman

The sprawling Texas county where two prosecutors have been shot in recent weeks has the unlikeliest of Jewish roots.

Kaufman County, a 780-square-mile jurisdiction just 20 miles southeast of Dallas, is named for David Spangler Kaufman. He holds a place in history books as a lawmaker in the Republic of Texas and was the only Jewish Texan to serve in the U.S. Congress until the 1970s.

The county, in which dog bites and escaped cows usually make up the police blotter, has made national headlines for the shocking recent killings of local law officials. County district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found shot to death inside their home in the Kaufman County town of Forney on Saturday.

UPDATE: The Texas prosecutor and his wife who were shot at their home on Saturday each suffered multiple gunshot wounds, and sheriff’s deputies found cartridge casings next to their bodies, according to an affidavit reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday.

On Jan. 31, one of McLelland’s lead prosecutors, Mark E. Hasse, was shot and killed in a parking lot as he strolled to his office at the county courthouse.

The murders took place in an area named for a Jewish pioneer who did his home state proud. According to the Texas State Historical Association, David Spangler Kaufman (1813–1851) was a “lawyer, Indian fighter, and politician.” Pennsylvania-born, Princeton-educated Kaufman began his legal career in Natchitoches, Louisiana, in 1835. Two years later he settled in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he continued practicing law.

Kaufman “occupied a number of important positions in the republic and state of Texas,” the Historical Association explains. Between 1838 and 1841 he represented Nacogdoches County in the House of the Third Congress of the republic of Texas; he served as speaker in the Fourth and Fifth congresses. From December 1843 through June 1845 he represented Shelby, Sabine, and Harrison counties in the Senate of the republic of Texas.

Texas president Anson Jones named him chargé d’affaires to the United States in February 1845; he served as Texas’ first US representative until his death in 1851. “No other Jewish Texan served in Congress until the 1970s,” the Association notes.

Kaufman died in Washington, D.C., and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery there. In 1932 his remains were moved to the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Kaufman County and the city of Kaufman are named for him.


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