Last Public Hanging in West Virginia

Jackson Herald
March 9, 1951

State's Last Public Hanging In Ripley 53 Years Ago

Report Of Execution Of Morgan At Ripley Is Re-Published As It Appeared In The Herald In 1897

The last public execution in West Virginia was that of John Morgan at Ripley on December 16, 1897 at a spot just south of the present football stadium at the new high school campus. Morgan had been convicted of the murder of the three members of the Pfost-Greene family.

The Herald published the story that week which was written by the special representative of the New York Sun who was here to cover the story for his newspaper. Editor Henry W. Deem said the story was "an extremely extravagant exaggeration of weird wonders but left out none of the details." Today we re-publish that story which a great majority of Herald subscribers will be reading for the first time. It was as follows:

W-e-l-, w-e-l-l-, the world is shet of John F. Morgan, I reckon"

That's the way they say it in Jackson county. W.Va. The Sun told briefly on Friday how the world became "shet", of Mr. Morgan by legal execution in the presence of 5,000 of the good people of the surrounding country gathered in a ten-acre lot - 5,000 people, on foot, on horseback, in wagons, up trees, and on fences. Some of them had started from their homes two whole days before. From as far away at Calhoun, two counties distant: from the upper edge of Meigs county in Ohio, from Mason and Kanawha and Wood counties, from 60 miles in every direction these people had come to the "shettin' out" of John F. Morgan.

Jackson county, in West Virginia, is not a county where great events happen frequently. Her people are ordinarily law abiding, save, perhaps, in the matter of distilling moonshine, and as anybody down there will admit, it's "no harm to beat the Government out'n bit of revenue" now and then. Once a year in the town of Ripley, or Jackson Court House, there is a county fair. This fair is the only event that ever draws a crowd to the county seat - hence the event of Thursday, when John F. Morgan was "shet out" was compared in every man's mind with the fair, and every man said:

"Well, now, I reckon, they ain't no two county fairs has ever drawed like this here hangin'."

Ripley, or Jackson Court House, as it used to be called and is now known to the postoffice authorities, is a little town of about 500 inhabitants. It is about 13 miles back from the Ohio River is that far off from the regular line of travel, and the nearest town of any size is Parkersburg, some 65 miles away. It is reached by a branch of the Ohio River Railroad known as the Mill Creek and Ripley branch, which is referred to out there as resembling a plug of dog-leg tobacco, dog-leg being the crookedest king of plug known. White the road is only 13 miles long, it takes anywhere from an hour to three hours for the single passenger train to go the distance. In West Virginia all hangings are public, and they are not infrequent. But - Jackson County has been a pretty law-abiding county, and up to Thursday, when John F. Morgan was "shet out" there had been but one hanging in the whole history of the county, and that was 47 years ago. Naturally Thursday's event was extraordinary.

Morgan was a shiftless sort of character who had been born in the county and was know to everybody. His father was a murderer before him, and escaped hanging only because he took refuge in a tree and the only way to get at was to shoot him. Morgan was harmless, or at least had always been harmless, as well as shiftless. For five years he had been with a family the head of which was Mrs. Chloe Greene. Two daughters and a son made up the rest of the family. On the night of Nov. 3 last, Morgan who it was known was in need of money, went to the Green house, slept that night with the son, and in the morning went with the body to feed the hogs. At the pen he picked up a hatchet, and with it killed the body. Then he went in the house holding the hatchet behind him, waited around the kitchen until the youngest daughter's back was turned, when he struck her down and proceeding into the dining room he crept upon the other sister, killed her with a couple of blows from the hatchet, and finally battered in the door of the bedroom where the mother was dressing and struck her dead.

It had happened that the blow he had struck the youngest daughter was not fatal, and after she had fallen and while he was killing her mother and sister, this other girl got up, fled from the house to a neighbor's and gave the alarm. Morgan escaped but was captured about 3 o'clock that afternoon and was taken to the jail in Ripley. He was indicted the following day. He was tried and convicted the day after that. His defense was insanity. He alleged that he had been driven to the deed by an irresistible impulse, and his wife and other people told of his queer actions for years past. His defense did not avail him. It is well that it did not because the people of Ripley were up in arms, and if he had not been convicted he would have been lynched without any question, because the mob gathered in the court room were in no mood for trifling and they were all neighbors and friends of the Greene family, especially the girls, who were good-looking young women and popular with all who knew them.

The Scene

The day after his conviction Morgan was sentenced to be hanged on Thursday of last week. That is a little more than a month from the day he committed his crime. Further and very great interest was aroused in his case all over the state of West Virginia by continued sensational developments. Within a month, he confessed no fewer than seven times. Each confession was different from every other one in so far as the motives were concerned, but each save the last, admitted the killing, and the last one, which was named last Sunday, named an accomplice in the person of one Anderson, who, Morgan said had been induced to killed the family by the younger daughter, who was in love with him (Morgan) and wanted to get the property so that she might live with him without working the rest of her life. In addition to these confessions, Morgan added largely to the interest in his case by fixing up a dummy in his cell a couple of weeks ago and walking out of the county jail. He way away only two days, however and when he was captured he said his was on his way back.

He still further added to the interest in his case by repeated oaths that he would never hang, and particularly that he would not hang on the day that Judge Blizzsard has declared he should hang. Sheriff Shinn of Jackson county swore with the same positiveness and as repeatedly that Morgan should pay the penalty of his crime in the presence of the biggest crowd that had ever gathered to witness a public hanging in the state of West Virginia: And to make his word good and in order that everybody who came to see the whole affair, the Sheriff accepted the use of a ten-acre lot on the side of a hill a mile from the village. The lot was a natural theatre. In the centre of it was an Indian mound that rose perhaps 25 or 30 feet above the surrounding land. On the very top of this land the Sheriff built himself a gallows and invited the populace to gather. It was in response to this invitation of the Sheriff that the populace did gather.

Wednesday afternoon the people began coming in. West Virginia roads are rough. At this season of the year they are muddy, and the only way to travel over them is on horseback. Every road that led into the town of Ripley by 6 o'clock on Wednesday evening was full of horsemen and horsewomen. Here and there was a great farm wagon loaded with one, two or perhaps three families. There was not room in the town of Ripley for the people to find lodging and the early comers camped out in the public square and in the fields surrounding the town.

As stated before, some of them had started two days in advance in order to see the show. All Wednesday night they kept coming. The little train on the Mill Creek and Ripley Railroad which arrived a5t 7 o'clock that night brought with it the greatest load of passengers it had ever carried. They were packed in box cars, on coal cars, on the engine, and the single passenger car was jammed to the point of suffocation.

The Crowd in Ripley

It was a jolly night in Ripley. A theatrical troupe consisting of two men and a woman had come to town in anticipation of the great crowd and hired the only hall there to give a theatrical performance. And a theatrical performance in Ripley is even rarer than a county fair. These theatrical people aimed that their play should be a sort of forerunner of the great event to come the next day. So they had it full of killing, and they would wind up by hanging a man on the stage, to the unquestionable delight of everyone who would get in the hall, including the Sheriff. After they play the hilarity continued. Ripley is a temperance town. It is against the law to sell any liquor there, but there isn't any law against drinking it and at every spot in Ripley where a crowd was gathered together there was a five gallon jug. When morning came Ripley had a "head on". Daylight showed the town jammed full of people and more coming from every direction every minute. Hundreds had camped in the ten acre lot near the scaffold.

Let the reader imagine a town built around a public square covering perhaps five acres. In the middle of this square is a brick building two stories high, 75 feet deep and 50 feet wide. Fill the square with people on foot, with men, women and children in every imaginable kind of country vehicle, and with men and women on horseback, some of the women with babies in their arms, put here and there in the crowd a black or white fakir, with a stand in front of him, loaded down with imitation silverware, gold watch chains, diamonds and every conceivable kind of spurious jewelry - imagine them all yelling at once, or singing or shouting and punctuate that part of the turmoil with the loud shrieks of a hundred or more youthful fakirs on foot, each with a bundle of printed matter in his arms and each shouting, "Last and only true confession of John F. Morgan." "Here you are, only 5, 10, 15 cents, as the case might be. The first confessions were the cheapest, the last cost a quarter. Just lay out this scene in your mind and you have a picture of the town of Ripley as viewed from the Court House steps at daylight Thursday. The man who was to provide the days pleasure for this crowd was shivering in his cell praying and singing alternately. At daylight the fakirs opened business. In front of the jail, within 15 feet of the cell where Morgan was confined, there was a Punch and Judy show, run by a Negro who wore diamonds as big as eggs. He had a banjo, too, and he was in the jewelry business.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he bawled after a song, "the old coon has come to town, and see what he's got. Here's this beautiful little pocketbook, worth twenty-five cents. We will put in this solid gold button. Then we will put in one pair of adjustable gold link cuff buttons. Here we have a beautiful gold stick pin worth a dollar of any man's money, and we will cap it all with a key ring and let you have it all for twenty-five cents."

Talk about business. Why, he could not fill up those pocket books one-quarter fast enough. The people just flocked to him and threw their money at him, and he sang on.

Near him was a Hebrew with corn salve, and he gave a dozen silver teaspoons and a box of salve for 50 cents. They threw their money at him. Below him again was another Hebrew with a miscellaneous collection of knick-knacks that he sold anywhere from 1 cent to $1. These are just three of the fakirs who were within hearing distance of the cell where John F. Morgan was confined.

As the morning wore on the hilarity increased. Counter attractions came. The whole square was surrounded with them. There were some sober people in the town of Ripley who didn't just exactly approve of the hilarity. One of them was the honorable Prosecuting Attorney. One after another he tackled the fakirs and denounced them. He came to the Negro.

"Oh," he said, " I know you people. You come around her a swindling us citizens. You're nothing but a buzzard preying upon the carcass of the public. I say you are a buzzard preying upon the carcass of the public. You have got not license."

"Ain't I?" bawled back the Negro, and he held the paper in his face and danced a jig or his box as he sang in a tantalizing manner..."Johnnie, get you gun, get your gun get you gun, There's a nigger up the tree and he won't come down. Oh, Eliza Jane, what makes you look so plain?" Then he went on with his song, swinging his banjo in the face of the Prosecutor.

At intervals, when the noise died out a little there could be heard coming from the jail a trembling voice, pitched in a high key, and two stronger voices singing:

My father looks up to Thee Thou lamb of Calvary, Savior divine. Now hear me while I pray, Take all my sins away Oh, let me from this day Be wholly Thine.

For an instant the crowd would be hushed. Then came the twanging of the Negro's banjo and in a stentorian voice:

"All coons look alike to me." "There was never such a bargain or, the shouting of a rival fakir, in your life, gentlemen. Never such a bargain in your life."

Nearer, my God to Thee
Nearer to Thee
E'en through life a cross that raiseth me
Still all my song shall be
Nearer, my God to Thee
Nearer to Thee.

"Oh, he's singin' for his precious soul," bawled the Nego once..."he's a-singin' for his precious soul, but I tell you, child he'd better make his peace with Satan, 'cause he's goin' to meet him in jus' about one minute - oh, Eliza Jane, what make you look so plain," and the crowd would shout and roar with laughter and again throw their money at him, forgetting temporarily the miserable wretch in his cell.

Eight o'clock came - then nine.

The crowd was greater. A wild rumor got around that the Governor had decided to respite Morgan. Then there was real excitement. Men gathered together in groups. They looked ugly and they talked ugly. The women joined them, and they were ugly, too. The Sheriff was on hand, the Sheriff's jury was on hand, and all his deputies were around, and, while they did not display any guns, they were prepared for anything. The Sheriff was appealed to, He said:

"Boys, he'll hang. Now, don't you fear, when Owen Shinn gives his word, he'll hang."

To the Sun reporter the Sheriff said: "Now, I tell you, I was goin' to hold this thing off until the afternoon train got here. You can see there's a train gets here at 12:40 and therean't any question but that it will bring a lot of people that wants to see this hanging. Now, I'd hold her off all right to accommodate them people if it weren't for the fact that I heard tell this morning that some of this feller's friends got out of town this morning on an early train and they're goin' to try to get the Governor to interfere. Now you know we ain't got no telegraph, and our telegraph dispatches they come by train, and if there's any telegraph dispatches comin' they might come on that 12:40 train. So I am going to have this thing over before noon. I won't stand any interference.

A Hanging A Certainty

To a Sun reader it might seem that this was bloodthirsty talk, but it was explained fully by one of the deputies who said:

"Now, I'll tell ye. This 'ere crowd came to see a hanging. Some of 'em started as much as sixty hours ago, and they traveled as much as a hundred miles to see a hanging. Do you see? And they ain't goin' to have their fun spoiled, and - and - and - well, I'll tell ye, there's going to be a hanging anyway, and the Sheriff he'd ruther have it done regular than to wait and take chances. Well, as I say, there's going to be a hanging anyway - you understand?"

Of course that was lucid enough for anybody to understand. But to go back to the fakirs again. Their shouting was louder, they worked the crowd more successfully hour by hour, they sang more ribald songs, more banjos came, and the stray hand organ wandered in and took a place right by the court house. While it played a waltz the trembling voice on the inside could be heard singing plaintively:

The mistakes of my life have been many, The sins of my heart have been more, And I scarce can see for weeping, But I'll knock at the open door.

And it was followed this time by a heavier voice, raised in prayer, that was plainly heard by those outside, a prayer pleading for mercy for this man, a prayer that was interrupted before it was half through, and was drowned by the renewal of the playing of the banjo and the singing of the Negro.

It was a scene as strange as any every witnessed. The attention of the crowd was divided between the jail and the fakirs. When the voices of those on the inside were in the ascendant, the crowd would sway toward the jail and listen. When the voices of those on the outside were in the ascendant, the crowd would sway back to them. Such was the scene until 11 o'clock. At that hour there was a commotion around the door of the jail and the Sheriff, bare-headed and surrounded by half a dozen of his deputies, stood upon the top most steps and addressed the crowd thus:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this hanging is about to come off. We'll start from this jail in a very few minutes and if you want to get a good place to see you better go right out there now. Don't wait, cause those that get there first will get the best places, and I'll tell you now there's about two thousand out there. You better hurry if you want to see."

He went back into the jail with his deputies, and the greater part of the crowd swung down the street and out toward the gallows. Five hundred or more stayed right where they were, however, and the cries of the man who was to furnish the show and the singing of the fakirs were again intermingled.

Upon the second floor of the jail the Sheriff was practicing on one of his deputies with a rope. He had never hanged a man before, and he wanted to be perfectly family with the business, so that he could acquit himself with the credit. He had a rope that had already taken four lives. He had the straps that had bound four other murderers when their lives had been taken. These were the instruments he was to use in the "shettin' out" of Morgan. Again and again he put his noose over the deputy's head and tightened it and loosened it, and tightened it, and loosened it until he was such an expert that he could do the job qu8icker than it takes to tell it.

About The Gallows

Leave the jail now, with the Sheriff still practicing, Morgan still singing hymns plaintively while the preachers prayed, and the fakirs still bawling their songs and go out to the gallows and look over the crowd there. The ten-acre lot was at the junction of the Ripley and Charleston turnpikes. As stated before the gallows was off an Indian mound. Around it has been build, ten feet distant from it, a heavy barbed-wire fence. Within this fence the jurors and newspaper reporters were to be admitted. The crowd must be kept without. At 11 o'clock there were not fewer than 4,000 persons gathered around the fence, pushing, shouting and raising Cain generally. On the outskirts of the town there was the same sort of fakirs as about the jail in town, and in addition to them were some three-shell men and some monte men. Here and there you could hear the voice appealing: "Come you seven; come seven, come eleven," as some crapplayer yelled to hold the crowd.

The trees in the neighborhood were filled with men and boys. Some of them had been there all night, they told the Sun reporter. The crowd stretched down the mound from the barbed wire fence into a gulley and up again on all sides. It was made up probably of two-thirds men and one- third women. There were hundreds who sat in their saddles, women as well as men, and some of these women carried their babies. Hundreds sat in big farm wagons. There were families of eight or nine children who ranged in age from six months to sixteen or seventeen years. Along the fence on the farm side of the field there were by actual count, 250 saddle horses tied. Along the fence on the other side there were 320 rigs of various descriptions; and scattered all over the field and surrounding country and on the hills on either side overlooking the scene ther ewer horses hobbled or horses and riders. Any spot in the neighborhood was a good spot to see the hanging, for as Sheriff Shinn assured the Sun reporter:

"I tell you, my boy, when you see that place you'll just say it's made for a hanging. It was intended for a hanging from the first. Why, it's a regular amphitheatre. That's what you call it, ain't it?"

In this crowd the women pressed as close to the front as the men did. Those who had come early had arrived before daylight, and some of them were within five feet of the barbed wire fence. It was fortunate they were not any closer, for every man who stood next to the fence was impaled on it, and when the crowd sung to the right the barbs tore him one way, and when the crowd swung to the left the barbs tore him the other, until every man in the line must have been in anguish; but these people were stayers. Anguish and personal wounds would not make them give up their places.

With all these thousands gathered around the gallows the roads so far as the eye could see in the every direction were still crowded with horsemen and with vehicles loaded down with people trying to see. Many of these late comers had repeating rifles. They had been to hanging in other counties where it is the custom to carry repeating rifles, but as Sheriff Shinn said, "the people of Jackson county are law-abiding and there won't be any trouble." That was a hint for them to leave their rifles at home, and they did mostly, although, of course they all carried their "popguns" with them as they called their revolvers. On one horse that the reporter noticed a man and his wife and daughter all were astride. The man had a rifle slung to the saddle in front of him. There were a dozen instances were two men were astride one horse, there were fifty where women carried children the saddle with them.

The Start From The Jail

In this great crowd the fakirs worked without hindrance from anybody. They still worked when the procession started from the jail. To take up again the story of the scenes in and about the jail: About twenty minutes after the Sheriff had made his first speech he came downstairs again. He said to the Sun reporter in explanation of the delay in starting:

"You see these people around here? Well, it would never do to bring that fellow out of jail while they are here, I've got to get rid of this crowd."

Then he turned to the crowd and said:

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to leave here in ten minutes. Now, if you want to have a chance to see this thing you'd better get right out there, for we are goin' fast."

Perhaps a hundred followed this advice. There was still 400 left, Sam Maguire, the chief of the jury, also made a speech. He succeeded in driving away 50 more. But the fakirs kept up their singing and the kept the rest of the crowd solid. The Negro with his Punch & Judy show had the most of it. The tremulous voice of Morgan in his cell accompanied by the heaviers voices of the two preachers who were with him, could still be heard occasionally. After the Sheriff's last announcement to the crowd he went to the cell himself and said: "Morgan, you've got to be ready in twenty minutes."

"All right, is," said Morgan, "I'll be ready. I want to let these people baptize me first."

"Why certainly," said the Sheriff, "anything that you like," and he retired.

A few moments later three wagons drove up to the side door of the jail. The first was a top surrey. It stopped in front of the jail door. Behind it came an open box wagon without any scats, but with a black coffin in the middle of it. This was for the Sheriff's jury. The other man who had been hanged in Jackson county had been compelled to sit on his coffin on his way to the gallows, but the Sheriff said that he thought this was an unusual hardship, and he thought it was better to put him in an easy spring wagon. The third wagon, like the second, was an open box wagon without seats. When these wagons drove up the fakirs for the first time lost their grip on the crowd. The 350 or 500 people rushed over and surrounded the wagons closely. Those on horseback of course, had the advantage. They drove through the others until the horses noes were in the wagons themselves.

In twenty minutes the door of the jail opened and the Sheriff appeared. Next to him, with his hands handcuffed in front, was Morgan. He was a little fellow, perhaps five feet four, cleaning shaved, and dressed in black from head to foot. He wore a standing collar and a black necktie. His suit was new, and by the way, it was the first new suit he had ever had in his life. His shoes were new, too, and, in spite of his position, it was written on his face as plainly as anything ever was written on a man's face, that he was proud of himself. Behind the Sheriff and Morgan came the two clergymen. These four got into the first wagon. Then the Sheriff's jury and the Sun reporter clambered into the second wagon, and stood up. The propriety of sitting on the coffin was discussed, and it was decided that is was more respectful to stand, even it f was at the risk of the neck of every man in the wagon. In the third wagon were eighteen or twenty other persons who had received special permission from the Sheriff to keep inside the barbed wire fence. They also stood. There way a cry of "Make way! Make Way! Make way! And 150 or 175 horsemen rode out and made way for the Sheriff's wagon.

Procession To The Gallows

Once out of the court yard and into the street the procession straightened out. It proceeded slowly because of the crowding and jamming. Ahead of the Sheriff's wagon and surrounding it closely there were men and women afoot, walking ankle deep in the mud. They kept their eyes on the prisoner, Riding outside of them along the edges of the road and behind them and beside the wagon containing the jury and the common and the invited guests were the horsemen and the horsewomen, riding recklessly, crushing against one another and an imminent danger every instant. Stretching out behind the procession were more horsemen and horsewomen and footmen and footwomen and boys and girls.

It was a hilly road to the gallows. It was a terrible ride, particularly for the men in the open box wagon who were standing. The whole crowd was shouting. Everybody warning everybody else. Thus the procession moved. It had proceeded not more than a hundred feet when the clergymen beside Morgan began to pray aloud and he repeated over and over in a trembling voice, "Oh, Jesus save me!"

"Hear im! Hear 'im! Shouted someone in the crowd. "Look at 'im. Ain't he scared?"

The voice of one of the clergymen sang:

The Savior comes and walks with me,
And sweet communion here have we.

Here Morgan joined in:

He gently leads me by the hand,
For this is heaven's border land,
Oh, Beulah land, sweet Beulah land,
As on the highest mount I stand .

This Morgan sang with vigor, and some of the crowd along the road joined in. His voice grew strong:

I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore,
My heaven, my home forever more.

The matter of appropriateness in the selection of hymns did not seem to strike anybody, Morgan himself looked a bit startled when he finished. He looked at each of the ministers. One of them started singing:

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the billows near me roll,
While the tempest still is high,
Hide me, oh, my Savior, hide
Till the storm of life is past
Safe into the haven guide
Oh, receive my soul at last.

"Oh, Lord, save me," cried Morgan, and then his cry was drowned by the frightened shouts of the footmen and the horsemen as a particularly ugly place on the roadway was approached.

Then there was more shouting, more yells of warning, and then again the voices in the Sheriff's carriage, Morgan's in the ascendant. He sang:

Traveling to the better land,
O'er the desert's scoring sand;
Father, let me grasp they hand,
Lead me on! Lead me on!

Out into the country the procession spread; the confusion now great and now little, with occasional silence save for the rumbling of the wagons and the hopping up and down of the coffin as the mud holes were struck. Now and again singing was heard, now and again sursing [sic] as this horse or that horse slipped, or this rider was crushed against the isdes [sic] of the wagons. The road to the gallows from the town winds around a bluff, and the gallows became visbile [sic] about one-quarter of a mile away. As the Sheriff's wagon wheeled around Morgan sang:

Oh, think of the home over there
By the side of the river of life.
Where the saints all immortal and fair,
Are robed in their garments of white.

And he followed it almost immediately with the song he had sung in the jail:

The mistakes of my life have been many,
The sins of my heart have been more,
And I scarce can see for weeping,
But I'll knock at the open door.

As the people in the procession caught sight of the gallows surrounded by 5,000 people there was a hubbub. "Exclamations were heard of "Look at the crowd! It beats the county fair!" and "Say, maybe people don't come to a hanging."

The crowd around the gallows caught sight of the procession at about the same moment and shouts could be heard from their direction. The people could be seen to turn and crane their necks to get a better view. Morgan stopped singing. The preacher stopped praying, The Sheriff edged over close to Morgan and got a grip on his arm. He wasn't taking any chances.

Into the field rode the Sheriff's carriage. Behind rumbled the open box wagon, and the jury and the invited guests, and the coffin, add besides and all around them the crowd, now numbering perhaps 500 on foot and on horseback. The Sheriff's carriage drove right up to the edge of the crowd. A half-dozen deputy sheriffs with revolvers strapped about their waists, shouted "Make way," but their voices were drowned by the exclamations of the thousands and by the shouts of the fakirs, who bawled away:

"Last and only true confession of John F. Morgan, the murderer. Here ye re." Or, "Fresh roasted peanuts, five cent a quart."

The gamblers cried: It's all right, good people. It'll be half an hour before they "shet him off" yet. Here's your fortune right here. Don't mind till you get him up there," and the like.

One Proud Woman

It was a difficult proceeding to force the Sheriff's carriage through the mob to the entrance at the barbed wire fence. It was finally accomplished. The Sheriff stepped out, Morgan followed him, stepped in front of him, and calmly walked up the steps in full view of everybody. Behind him came the two ministers. Then came the Sheriff and his deputy, and after them a young woman. She was a stenographer. She walked up the gallows steps and seated herself at the top to watch the proceedings, and cast on her were the envious eyes of every woman in the crowd. She was the stenographer who took the testimony at Morgan's trail, and the Sheriff had promised her that she should be the only woman permitted on the gallows.

It was a perfect day. The sun was shining brightly. It was warm. There wasn't a person in the crowd who didn't have a first class viewpoint. As Morgan stepped beside the rope the noose of which dangled on the floor of the gallows, there was hubbub all over the crowd. Then there followed a moment of silence and then a hubbub again, led by the bawling fakirs. Some of them yelled: "Slaughter the Greene family fully illustrated." Others: "Morgan's picture, 10 cents. Your last chance. He'll never have another took." And others: "Here's a full set of his confessions for a half a dollar."

Then there were exclamations, such as "Don't he look pale? Ain't he got nerve? Ain't he a brute? The world ought to be "shet" of him."

One old man who was impaled on the fence grabbed a reporter by the arm and said: "It's great ain't it? I'm 79. I hain't never seen a hangin' and tain't likely I'll ever get another chance. That's the reason I come. I'm from Calhoun county . Be you from Ripley, I reckon."

Mixed up with all this hubub of voices, too, there were the whinneying of horses, the barking of dogs, and the baaing of a flock of sheep over in the next field. As Morgan stood by the rope he bowed to all sides, turning completely around.

One of the ministers stepped beside him and, opening the Bible, for twelve solid minutes read from it. His reading was punctured by shouts of "hot roasted peanuts, 5 cent a bag!: and the like. It was also punctured by the squalling of fifty or a hundred babies, who were suffering in the crowd, perhaps from cold and perhaps from being squeezed nearly to death as they were held up by their mothers so that they might get a better view.

When the first minister finished the second one took his place for fifteen minutes he prayed, he recited the crime of Morgan. Every few minutes or so he would exclaim:

"O, Lord, in another minute this poor sinner will be launched into eternity."

"This, O Lord," he would say, "is a sad and mournful occasion Thou are about to take one from our midst."

Then he would repeat over and over: "This man, convicted of a crime, is standing on the line of time and eternity. His immortal soul is about to enter the unseen world, where the years are as the sands of the sea, as the leaves on the tree."

Morgan's Last Speech

It is only necessary to say, regarding Morgan's nerve, that at the end of fifteen minutes, he still had it with him. Once or twice during the prayer his knees were seen to shake, and each time it was commented on by the crowd. When the prayer was finally over the Sheriff stepped up to him and said: "John, do you want to make a speech? I will give you ten minutes if you want to do it."

There were one or two exclamations from below of "Speech, speech!".

Morgan shook his head at the Sheriff and said:

"Id like to say a lot, but I can't."

"Hot roasted peanuts, five cents a bag," shouted a fakir.

"He won't speech, but here's what he's got to say," shouted another.

Then a dozen or so in the crowd near the gallows hissed for silence as Morgan made his way to the edge, and, holding up his handcuffed hands, bowed and said:

"I - bid - farewell - I bid you all (choke) goodby." Then he paused. Raising the handcuffed hands up and down he said, a choke between each word: "This ought "God help and forbid any young men."

Another pause, during which he swallowed hard and went on:

"God help and forbid any young man going and acting as I have done. Goodby, goodby."

There was silence save for the squalling of the babies and the whinnying of the horses while this speech was being made. When it was over there were exclamations of "Good! Good!".

Morgan went around the gallows shaking hands with everyman. Then he went back to the rope, and the Sheriff pointed out the exact spot he wanted him to stand on. While the Sheriff was adjusting the straps Morgan looked around and as he recognized people he bowed to them and they shouted:

"Good-by, John, good-by."

Mingled with their voices came the voices of the fakirs: "Hot roasted peanuts, Five cents a quart," "Slaughter of the Greene family fully described." "Confessions of John Morgan."

Of those who yelled good-by there was one who shouted:

"Good-by, John. That's from your sister Ida."

Of the detail of the hanging nothing need be said. As the moment for the springing of the lever came the crowd grew silent - all save the fakirs who never ceased their yelling.

The man's neck was broken by the fall. There was silence for a moment after the fall, and then a babble of voices. There were shouts of: "I reckon you done well, Sheriff" and "The world is shet of him, Sheriff, and you done it, I reckon." Then there were queries: "Is he kicking? Is he dead?

These inquiries were necessary because the crowd inside the fence had closed ranks around the gallows and the people outside could not see. The Sheriff saw the difficulty and shouted out:

"You boys stand back, there, Give everybody a show."

Then there were shouts of "Good for you, Sheriff, that's right."

The End of The Show

The boys did stand back and the crowd had a show. The babble continued. At the end of four or five minutes some friends of the dead man yelled:

"Say, you've let him hang there long enough. Take him down."

Another cried out: "Yes, take him down, boys."

Another yelled to the doctors: "Hey doc, when he gets dead tell us, will you?"

The doctor turned around and said: "He's dead all right enough."

"He ought to have died five years ago," bawled back a voice.

"Yes, anybody that would kill a woman," supplemented another. "Give us a look at him," shouted another. "Ain't you going to take his hat off?"

Then they fell to laughing and joking with each other. The fakirs who had never for moment been silent, kept up their howling. For half an hour the body was permitted to hang, and everybody in the crowd stayed. Finally the Sheriff climbed up on the gallows and untied the rope from the beam. The body was taken down, and then for the first time the people started away. Teams were whipped up, each trying to go out into the roadway first, for the roads were narrow and it was impossible for one team to pass another: hence everybody wanted to be first in line. Men who had been standing rushed to their horses and climbed upon them. Women who had been standing clambered upon theirs also, and everybody headed for the roadway, swearing, jostling each other. The voices of the fakirs had lost their potency. Nothing would hold the crowd. They had seen the show, and wanted to get away.

Morgan's body was put into a coffin, lifted into the wagon, and taken back to Ripley, where it was locked in a cell, not because there was any fear that he might come to life, but there had been reports that it might be stolen, and it was too far from his wife's house to deliver it before dark.

Perhaps a thousand of the crowd returned to Ripley, and spent three or four hours there getting rid of the rest of their money on the fakirs who had not gone out to the scaffold. The Negro was still running the Punch & Judy show, varying it with his banjo and his song, The other fakirs were still shouting out their attractions, and they reaped the harvest. The stores did a good business as well as the fakirs. The crowd lingered. Those who could drank rum, and it was not until dark that those who had remained started on their long journey home, satisfied that the world was "shet" of John F. Morgan.

The celebration was over.

Crime and Punishment

West Virginia Archives and History