1885 Letters · Harvey Keith's Murder

August 7, 1885 letter to Oscar & Mary Ann Keith from Orendo & Susan Sikes

August 7, 1885

To: Oscar & Mary Ann Keith

From: Orendo & Susan Sikes, Keeler, MI

A letter of sympathy in regard to the murder of their son.

Keelersville[1] Aug 7th/85

Dear Bro & Sister Keith[2]

We are so sorry for you & hasten to express our sympathy. You are indeed passing under the _____. May the grace of God be sufficient for you & He has promised it shall if you trust in him. Your sorrow for the two daughters[3] whom you have laid in their graves within a few years is nothing to be compared to this.[4] No doubt you felt at the grave of each of your dear girls that your cup was full not knowing what was in store for you that would take you almost beyond endurance. We often question why such things are permitted to happen but our short sightedness cannot find a solution so we can only trust believing “the Judge of all the earth will do right.” Do not understand me to imply that God has in any remote way assisted in bringing this about. No, there can be no Providence in such revolting inhumanities but he permits rather than break a natural Law to prevent.

Your sons crime if crime it was was amenable to the Law & no person can take the law into his own hands & make out what he terms justice to the offenders revenge is the motive & not justice; as is very evident in this case. Parents cannot always control their children, do the best they can but always Love them & any wrong; they feel deeply. According to the newspapers statement your son was young, these women were married women the greater the shame to them. We may not know what temptations they used to lure him to his destruction The Law ought to act promptly in this case & show the public _____ under any circumstances ought well be punished.

You have our entire sympathy. We can only commend you to Him who tempers the wind to the shore lamb[?] & who does not even let a sparrow fall without His care & are not one soul of more value then many sparrows. There are so many precious promises but when our hearts are crushed with a great sorrow we are liable to feel they are not for us & at such times the prayers of Christian people for the afflicted sustains & holds them up as it were until the heaviest is past & the heart & brain can act again. Christian sympathy is what we extend to you at this time & pray the dear Father to sustain & comfort you as no Earthly friend can.

Fraternally O.M. Sikes & Wife[5]


[1] 1860, 1870 & 1880 census records list his home as Keeler, Van Buren County, Michigan

[2] This does not appear to be a familial relationship, but rather a Christian or neighborly connection

[3] Their two oldest children had died of consumption: Jessie “Nettie” Keith, age 22, on March 13, 1879, and Catherine “Katie” (Keith) Randall, age 20, on May 3, 1882

[4] Their third child, and oldest son, Harvey R. Keith, was murdered on July 28, 1885

[5] Orendo M. & Susan Sikes


This letter is among several which were loaned to Jim & Ruth (Stankey) Keith, probably back in the 1980s, by Ella Nola (Curtis) Eaton, whose husband, Clifford Eaton, was the great-great-grandson of James “Oscar” & Mary Ann (Batey) Keith. This is a photocopy of Ruth’s handwritten copy of the letter. Note: Jim Keith is the great-grandson of Charles Luke Keith Jr., who was James “Oscar” Keith’s uncle.

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