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A guilty conscience needs no accuser

From the Mountains

Prison in the 1880s (The History Press)
The small Kentucky town of Campton, in Wolfe County, was bulging with visitors on July 25, 1885. Floyd Williams was to be hanged the following day for the murder of Pate Stricklin.

It was customary for doomed prisoners to be granted special requests within reason on the eve of their hanging. Floyd ate a large meal that he had requested and then smoked a cigar as he met with some reporters. They asked how he felt.

“I guess I feel as good as I have at any time in my life,” he replied. “Now that I learned to know Jesus I feel better than I ever have. I’m sorry for what I done. Everyone has to die. Some die young like me and some are lucky and live many years. Some babies die in their crib.

“It isn’t unexpected then that I will die. The only difference is that I have to die dangling from a rope. Some men die in bed. Some are shot and killed. Some die of consumption.”

The preceding night Floyd Williams met with Rev. J. R. Deering of Mt. Sterling. He got on his knees and accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, asking God to forgive him for his sins. A change came over Williams. The following day when Floyd awoke he had a happy countenance for the first time in months.

Floyd’s newfound conversion led him to make a verbal confession of his crime. He felt the need to confess his sins.

“I’m ashamed to confess to the terrible crime I committed,” he began uneasily. “I know that if I don’t God will hold me responsible. God will not let me get away with denying what I’ve done. The shadow of death is falling over me and eternity waits. I have to come clean about what I done.”

Floyd continued by saying that he was 21 years old and that his opportunities in life had been limited because of bad choices that he made. He had quit school and had been lazy for several years.

“My folks did all they could to get me to go to school and to do better,” he continued. “I wouldn’t lissen to ‘em. The sad condition I’m in is ‘cause I wouldn’t lissen to my mama and dad. If I had lissened to their advice I would be as free as the pure air in Heaven.”

Floyd went on to say this brought on his troubles with his family at a young age and it caused him to go out into the world and take up with the wrong crowd.

“I can see now that it was wrong for me to start running aroun’ with boys with bad habits. It wasn’t long before I started drinking likker. I kept insisting on going my own way but I know now it was the wrong way. It seems I ended up a bad boy who was drinking too much likker.

“In 1882 my mother moved the whole lot of us to the Joseph Graham farm in Wolfe County. That was me and mama, two brothers and a sister moved and lived a year on the farm. The way I was drinking it made me just useless. I wouldn’t mind my mama and I wouldn’t do much to help with chores on the farm. My drunkenness had control over me. All I could think about was drinking, playing cards and vile women. It ended up getting me where I am today.

“The following year my mother moved to Lacey Creek and that is where I met Mrs. Stricklin. She seemed to always have an eye on me and after awhile we became close friends. Her husband was away from home a lot. It continued on for about eight months.

Toward the end of that time Mrs. Williams asked Floyd to help her “get rid” of her husband.

“At first she wanted to put rat poison in his coffee but she either used the wrong thing or she didn’t use enough.

“Next she wanted to get him drunk and knock him in the head with an ax and report that I killed him in self-defense. I said I wouldn’t have anything to do with her plan but then he came home unexpectedly one night and caught me in his bed.

“She jumped up and hurried me out the door saying he would kill me if I didn’t leave. When he saw me he got madder than a hornet. He rushed after me with a pistol. He said he would kill me and pulled the trigger twice but both times the hammer just clicked. It didn’t fire. I felt like I was the luckiest man in the world.

“I had no way to defend myself ‘cause I had left my gun at home. I high-tailed it out of there before he could reload or find out what was wrong with his gun.” Read more next week when Pate comes looking for young Floyd Williams.

Copyright Jadon Gibson 2023. Jadon Gibson is a widely read Appalachian writer from Harrogate. His writings are both historic and nostalgic in nature.

Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.