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This Hanging Dreaded
By Macon Sheriff In 80's
The time of this story, one
moraine in the 1880's.
The place; The jail In Franklin.
The chief characters: Major
William H. Hlgdon "high sheriff"
?f Macon County, and Willie Mc
Mahan, convicted of murder in
the first degree, and sentenced
to be hanged.
This was the day for the hang
A vast throng milled about the
scaffold. Just outside the jail;
Willie McMahan could see the
scaffold from his window In the
Jail ? could see it, no doubt,
after that first chilling glimpse.
no matter how tightly he closed
The crowd watched In excited
anticipation as Sheriff Hlgdon en
tered the jail. He entered McMa
han's cell. He snapped the hand
made handcuffs on the doomed
They were the same handcuffs
he'd snapped on those wrists so
many times, for Willie McMahan
had been handcuffed each time
the sheriff had led him from the
jail to the courthouse, and back
again to the jail, during McMa
They are the same handcuffs
that now are in the possession
of John Hlgdon, grandson of the
sheriff of that day. The story,
told by John Hlgdon, Is vouched
tor by John Dean and E. J.
Carpenter. Mr. Dean remembers
the events themselves; Mr. Car
penter remembers the story as
It came from the lips of the late
Byard Angel, widely known author
ity on local history.
Mr. Hlgdon, Mr. Dean, and Mr.
Carpenter all agree on the main
points of the story, though some
minor details inevitably have been
lost during the three quarters of
a century that has hurried by
since that excitement-packed
TODAY we have the most modern equipment.
Why not have us make your picture in that beard or bonnet?
Better do it this week. You may not wear 'em again for
another hundred years!
Crisp's Studio & Camera Shop
Phone 182-R Franklin, N. C.
School's Out . . .
. . . but the Centennial's On, so
- / ,
Farm Home Supply Co.
PHONE 6 Near the River Bridge FRANKLIN, N. C
morning In the then tiny village
of Franklin. _____
McMahan, It Is explained, was
not a Macon County man. nor
had the murder occurred In this
county. McMahan had killed a
man named Buchanan. Just across
the line In Jackson County:
There feeling against the killer
had run high, and the trial had
been ordered moved to Macon.
The killer had been tried, con
victed of murder in the first de
gree, and sentenced to hang.
And this was the day for the
What McMahan's emotions were
as he heard the handcuffs' click,
and realized it was to be the last
time, nobody knows. But Major
Hlgdon later told what his were.
He was sick at the stomach.
He had never killed a man.
He didn't want to kill a man now.
He found this duty of a sheriff
so distasteful, in fact, that the
day before, as the same crowd
had milled about, watching the
completion of the scaffold, he
had offered $25 to anyone who
would take his place when it came
time to knock the block out from
under McMahan today .
And someone In the crowd had
called out that he would do the
Job, for $25! Who the volunteer
was Is not known. Nor is it known
today whether he was a man with
out feeling or merely a man to
whom $25, a big sum in that day.
seemed so large that no squeam
ishness should stand In the way of
his earning it. Whatever his mo
tives and feelings, this unknown j
man, out there in the crowd, had
agreed to relieve the sheriff of ]
the duty of actually dropping Mc
Mahan to his death at the end ,
of a rope.
The sheriff had not committed
himself. He could wait till today
to decide, he had thought yester
day, when the offer was called
out from the crowd.
And last night he had not slept.
On the one hand, was his repug
nance to the thought that any
man, except under the compulsion
of duty, would take a human life
? and would take it for $25: or,
thought the sheriff, for $2500, or
any other amount. On the other,
was the unpleasant knowledge
that this was one of his duties j
as sheriff, and that he had no [
right to dodge it. j
Just when he had come to the
decision that he himself would
be the one who sent Willie Mc
Mahan to enternity. Sheriff Hlg
don did not know. But at some
time during that long, sleepless
night, he had reached the decis
ion, because here he was, a few
; moments before time for the hang
ing, in McMahan's cell, snapping m
on the handcuffs, to take McMa
han out there in the bright sun
shine-sunlight that, suddenly,
would be blotted out for this hap
less man . . .
There! They were securely on.
Now to open the cell door and'
lead McMahan to the scaffold .
But what was that? Hoofbeats!
How fast they struck the sun
baked red clay street! Somebody
was riding hard.
The rider came swiftly around
the bend in the street, and gall
oped up to the crowd around the
scaffold. His horse was white with j
sweat. The driver himself seemed
out of breath with excitement, as |
he called out to the crowd:
"Where is the high sheriff?" I
And then, before any in the j
thunderstruck crowd could an
"Has Willie McMahan hung j
"No", came the reply, "but he's j
about to." |
"Thank God I'm in time ... I
Where's the sheriff?" i
"Here!" shouted the sheriff, I
hurrying out of the Jail, bringing ,
with him, perforce, a dazed Mc- ,
Mahan. ?"Here! What is it?"
Without a word, the courier
handed the sheriff a paper . . .
It was a commutation of McMa- 1
han's sentence, for death by hang- 1
ing to life imprisonment.
* ? *
Almost as strange as the story
itself is the explanation of why
the sentenced was commuted.
McMahan, the story goes, was
about to be arrested by a Jackson
County officer of the law for
some minor offense. Determined
not to be taken, McMahan whip
ped out his gun and fired at the
officer. But hi? bullets went wild
and struck Buchanan, a bystand
Thus, the then governor of
North Carolina appears to have
reasoned, there was no intent to
kill the man for whose murder
McMahan was tried. As far as
McMahan's intentions were con
cerned, Buchanan's death was an
accident. And without intent,
there could be no murder in the
Whether that is, or was, good
law, that was the conclusion of
LEAVE FOR CONFERENCE
Mr. and Mrs. Allan Brooks left
today (Thursday) to attend the
Provincial Layman's Conference
of the Episcopal Church at the
University of the South in Se
wanee, Tenn. They expect, to re
turn to Franklin Sunday.
Franklin has had at least four
churches for more than half a
1855 service was all right (or 1855 conditions.
But this is NINETEEN fifty-five!
We're proud that we have kept up with the times, and can
serve you today in our up-to-the-minute new restaurant.
We're proud, too, to be a part of such a good town as
MR. AND MRS. K. F. MONTAGUE
East Main Street ? Near River Bridge
It's been a long time since this was
the Indians' Country.
A long time since Franklin was or
ganized as a municipality.
A long time, even, since our business
was started, 'way back in 1927.
For 28 years we've been a pari of Franklin, sharing in its
ups and its downs.
We're proud to have had a part in its growth.
And if it were back in 1927 again, and we were about to
start a new business, we'd do just what we did then ? start it