Grove Scene of many hangings

The South Reporter, Dec 16, 1965

The grove east of the Marco Products plant is the remainder of a large forested area that was at one time the location of legal executions of criminals in Marshall County.

According to “old timers” there was no certain place of execution; a favorable site was selected in the grove by the sheriff and a gallows was erected upon which the criminal was hanged on the appointed day.

There are no official statistics as to the number who were hanged in the grove but, from the time of formation of Marshall County until executions were made inside the jail or courthouse, there a great many hangings over the years in the grove. In the early years of the county, a murder was almost certain to be followed by a hanging, unless most extenuating circumstances could be proved and, if the criminal escaped the hangman's noose, a life sentence was imposed, and, in those days, a life sentence meant exactly that. It was not easy to escape punishment in the old days. About the only hope was in flight and, surprisingly enough, most of the criminals were apprehended. Sometimes a sheriff or deputy would follow a trail into Texas and, most times, brought the murderer back with him.

In the early years and on until after the turn of the century, executions were public and great crowds, including women and children, were present. People came from far off points in wagons, carts, buggies, and by horseback. Many came from so far away that they had to camp out one or more nights, and come into town the next day.

Date of the first execution is not known; however, a man named Steve Allen was executed in December, 1839. The location of the gallows was mentioned as “being in a large oak grove directly east of the courthouse, one-half mile, or slightly more, east of the courthouse”.

This reference was found in an old copy of a Pontotoc newspaper that was reprinted from the “Southern Banner”, a weekly then being published in Holly Springs.

Allen was described as a white man, about 36 years old, “very illiterate and sullen, yet he died on the gallows like a man, declining assistance and refusing to make a statement”.

Allen, according to the article, lived in the southwestern part of the county, “in a very remote and uncultured section of Marshall County”. The article stated that Allen became “involved with a neighborhood wench and wished his wife and child to leave, which very properly the wife refused to do, also because she had no place to go”. The article further stated that a neighbor woman calling to see Mrs. Allen “found her and the one year old child, a little girl, with their heads bashed in with an axe, which was all bloody and lying nearby”.

Continuing, the article stated that Allen was found several miles away in “an advanced state of intoxication”. Allen denied all knowledge of the crime but was arrested and put in jail in Holly Springs. After some weeks in jail, the article stated that Allen told the sheriff that he had left home the night of the crime and, about dark, had met a Negro man, one Cliff Williams, going towards his (Allen's) home. A check on the Negro disclosed that he had been sold by his owner in Memphis several months before, and was found with the new owner and “had no possible chance to be connected with the crime”.

This incident, according to the article, “heightened the suspicion against Allen, and seeing no further chance of an alibi, the murderer broke down and confessed and was duly and justly hanged”.

The article stated “several hundred people, man of them coming from as far as two camp nights away, witnessed the hanging, and seemed to get a great relief that the arch criminal had gotten his just deserts”.

After the close of the War Between the States, executions in Marshall County were by no means rare. Old newspaper files throughout the 1870s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, frequently contained notices of hangings; however, none of them received the interest of Allen's execution.

In the years immediately following the turn of the century, sentiment against turning executions into a Roman holiday prevailed and the legislature made executions private, attended only by officers of the law and official witnesses. Exact year when this legislation was passed is not remembered, but he last public execution in Marshall County was 1914.

The criminal executed then was on Hunter Jenkins, a young colored man who lived on the Deaton McCauley farm near Byhalia. Jenkins was executed for an unusually brutal murder, that of his own mother. He not only murdered his mother, but also butchered up her body.

There have been some executions in Marshall County since that of Jenkins; these took place in the jail and, after electrocution replaced hanging, at least one criminal was electrocuted in the courthouse.

It has been several years since there was an execution in Marshall County, although the death penalty still exists in Mississippi despite many efforts for its repeal.

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