Petition to Governor Porter
The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision to hang Jo and Teek for the murder of Russell Allison. Just before Judge Sneed pronounced sentence, he asked the brothers if they had anything to say. Teek once again proclaimed his innocence and announced "I will have it written out by someone who understands how to fix up such thing and send it to the Court." Judge Sneed cut him off by saying:
"If you can make these matters plain to the Governor, there might be some hope for you yet."
With this statement, the Brassell family and their lawyers conceived a plan to petition Governor James D. Porter to commute the brothers' sentence to life imprisonment in the state penitentiary. While the Brassell family and friends collected the required signatures, Attorneys John P. Murray and Erasmus L. Gardenhire drafted the following application letter.
March 6th 1878
To His Excelency
James D. Porter Gov Etc
Permit me most urgently to commend to your favorable consideration the application of Joseph and George A. alias Teke Braswell for communtation of punishment from a judgement of the Supreme Court at Nashville at the December term 1878 (sic) of to be hanged on the 27 March 1868 (sic) for the murder of Russel Allison to imprisonment in the penitentiary for life.
These young men at the time of commission of the alledged murder were not twenty one years old were mere instruments in the hands of one Dobson Johnson who concocted the sheme and whole history is not wanting in any circumstances to complete his reformy. His is by his own confession a Rober a murderer for money a thief and has committed perjury.
He was enlisted by the state to give evidence against the accused his accomplices one orders sentences of death for that first offence while he is turned loos on society without the slightest punishment.
The execution of these young could not add to the dignity of respect ?ability? of the law with these ?honor? ?diry?. The other testimoney was ??? court without his to the connection we refers you to the record on file in the Supreme Court Clerk's Office.
We correctly ask your hone to spare the life of these young men time will perhaps develop fact in their favor opportunity for when motion will be afforded. They would be punished effectively by a life in prison.
I am yours
John P. Murray
E. L. Gardenhire
The petition itself started out with the following headers:
To his Excellency James D. Porter
Gov & C
We the undersign are your petioners most Respectfully asking your excellency to commute The punishment assigned by the Circurt Court of Putnam County and afirmed By the Supreem court of Tennessee against Joseph & G. A. allis Teek Brassell to Confinement in the Penitentiary for Life instead of Execution on the 27 of March 1878 all which your Excellency will pleas answer your patroners.
This petition is just simply to reduce the punishment of death to that of the penitentiary to wit in case of the Braswell boys, and save the life that we all love so dear. this is not to inure nor harm the opposing party but through mercy which we are taught in holy writ do unto others as you would them do unto you.
By 10 March 1878, the family had obtained the necessary signatures. Jim Brassell arrived in Nashville with the application and the petition. In their 10 March 1878 issue, The Daily Americanreported that there were over 400 signatures from citizens in Putnam County. Later, on 19 March 1878, it revised its earlier report saying that the petition had "received relatively few signatures."
On 11 March 1878, Jim and Reverand John P. McFerrin, a pastor of the Tulip Street Methodist Church of Nashville, who had been ministering to the brothers, visited Governor Porter and presented him with the paperwork.
Attorney General George H. Morgan heard from a friend in Jackson County that his name had been forged on the petition. Incensed by this claim, he immediately wrote the following letter to Governor Porter:
Smithville Tenn March 14, 1878
Hon James D. Porter
A friend in Jackson County has sent me record today that he has seen a petition for commutation of the punishment of the Braswells, sentenced to be hanged in Putnam County on the 27 Inst. with my name signed to it. I have neither signed nor authorized any other person to sign for me,any such petition, nor can I be induced to do so.
I write to notify you that if any such petition should be prosecuted at the execution office with my name, it is a forgery.
If such should be presented please notify me of it.
Geo. H. Morgan
Atty Genl 5 Circuit
In the same manner, Judge Newton W. McConnell also heard that his name had been forged on the petition. He, too, wrote a letter to Governor Porter.
Smithville March 15 1878
To His Excellency
Jas. D. Porter
Governor, Dear Sir:
Having respecfully heard that my name is on a petition asking yout to commute the sentence of the Braswells to imprisonment for life, I take occasion to say that I have signed no such petition nor have I authorized any one to do so for me. Neither has Atty Genl Morgan signed any such petition.
N. W. McConnell
Fearful that their names had been forged to the petition, many citizens of Putnam County went to William J. Isbell, who by now the Trustee of Putnam County, and asked him to obtain a list of names appearing on the petition. Mr. Isbell wrote the following letter to the Governor:
March 15st /78 (sic)
To his Excelency Jas D. Porter Gov
Sir I write you a few lines requesting a favor if it can be granted lawfully I learn that there has been or will be a petition Present to your Honor by James Braswell from this County with several hundred names to said petition for the perpose of having his Brothers Jo & Teak, who are no sentenced to be executed at this place on the 27 of this Inst changed to Imprisonment for life,
and the reason why that I desire a list of those names is this We learn that they have a geat many names added to their list that was not authorized to be put there and they have requested me to try to secure a list from you if possible.
If your Honor please write me at once what you can do and I will pay all necessary expenses for the list of said names.
W. J. Isbell Trustee of Putnam County
While awaiting the Governor's decision, Jo and Teek wrote a letter home to their family. They agreed to allow The Daily Americanto publish their letter.
Davidson County Jail, March 15, 1878
We will now write you all a few lines, as we promised you when you were hear. Rev. John P. McFerrin delivered that petition to the Governor last Monday.
We sent a note to the Governor to come and see us. We understood this evening that he has gone home and has our papers with him. He lives in West Tennessee. He will be back soon. As soon as we see him we will write to you. I think we will see him this week.
We have had a great many visitors to see us this week. It seems like everyone thinks our case is very doubtful.
Rev. J. P. McFerrin, of Tulip-street Church, Edgefield, and a number of ladies have been to see us several times. They come in our cell and sing and pray for us. We have the prayers of about 2,000 people here in the city and Edgefield, and we pary for ourselves all the time. We don't want you all to trouble and grieves yourselfs about us. If we are hanged, it will only beat us out of a few days here in this troublesome world.
We hear that a large umber of ladies and gentlemen will be here this afternoon from South Nashville to sing and pray with us.
We hear from Mrs. Mell, every few days. She seems to be a good friend of ours, and has sent us some nice presents.
W. E. Armstrong, the artist, sent one of his men down, the other day. I think his name was Patterson, and he took our photograph. I think they are very good. We. Will bring them up to you all when we come to Cookeville.
We will write to you again on Sunday. God bless you all.
Joseph L. and G. A. Brassell
Governor Porter studied the merits of the petition for about a week before issuing a reply. To familiarize himself with the case, he read The Daily Americanarticles "The Record of Doom" and "Dining with the Braswells."
On 18 March 1878, the reporter from T he Daily Americanvisited Governor Porter at 7pm just before he was to leave for Memphis. The reporter asked if he had reached a decision on the Brassell Case, and Governor Porter replied
"Yes, I have. I have determined to let the law take its course. I have carefully read their statement in the American, the record, the opinion of the Supreme Court, together with the briefs of the lawyers for the State and defense, and find I can reach no other conclusion."
On 19 March 1878, the Brassells were formerly informed that Governor Porter had refused to commute their sentences. Upon receiving this news, they were very disappointed and had lost all hope of a reprieve. All legal avenues to save them from hanging had been exhausted.
Last Days at the Nashville Jail
After the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the Brassells' death sentence and set the date of their execution for 27 March 1878, interest in the Brassell brothers reached a fevered pitch -- not only from the citizens of Putnam County, but also from the state of Tennessee and even the rest of the country. At the Nashville jail, the brothers saw a continuous stream of newspaper reporters, members of religious organizations, family, friends, and just plain curiosity seekers. They did not lack company during the day.
People from all over the state clamored for details of their incarceration, and the newspapers responded with almost daily reports of their activities - particularly as the day of execution grew closer. From these newspaper accounts, we learn more about their lives and incarceration.
06 March 1878 - Wednesday:A reporter from The Daily Americanspent the day at the jail with the Brassells and asked if they would describe their "wild cat" experiences when they were distilling illicit whiskey.
Jo:"I reckon I can; before we were arrested we made out living by it. I have made many hundreds of gallons of illicit whisky."
Reporter:"Please explain the Process."
Jo:"Certainly. We take either a lot of meal or mashed corn, and scald it with boiling water, or beer, if we have it convenient, and after stirring it, let the same remain until it has cooled down -- generally twenty-four hours. Then the tub is nearly filled with water, and it begins to ferment. After the fermentation takes place, it is skimmed and placed in the still for distillation. The first time it goes through it comes out as strong as alcohol, but becoming weaker each time it runs through the still, until the proper proof whisky is obtained."
Reporter:"What is the cost of making illicit whisky?"
Jo:"every bushel of corn will produce two gallons and a half of whisky, and the price of corn in Putnam county very seldom reaches fifty cents a bushel. The whisky is usually sold for froma gallon."
Reporter:"What size stills are used by the 'wild cat' distillers?"
Jo:"The stills usually run by them are of one hundred gallon capacity."
Reporter:"Can you give some idea of how much money is made in the business?"
Jo:"Previous to our arrest my brother and myself would averagea week."
Reporter:"How many illicit distilleries do you think there are in Putnam county?"
Jo:"I think there must have been at least two hundred when we were brought here. There were five in a circuit of one-half mile near the one we owned."
At this point, Rev. Dr. D. C. Kelley arrived at the jail and wanted to be alone with the prisoners. The reporter left.
15 March 1878 - Friday Afternoon:Rev. Dr. William Madison Leftwich (See the Historic Elm Street Methodist Church), accompanied by forty young ladies and several young men from his congregation, visited the prisoners to hold a religious service for them., pastor of Elm Street Methodist Church
Jailer Yarbrough brought seats out into the yard for the young ladies to sit. Shortly afterwards, the brothers came out.
The services were opened with a number of Gospel Songs, followed by the reading of scriptures from the 5th Chapter of St. Mark and the 3rd chapter of St. John. The young ladies sang I am So Glad that Jesus Loves Me.Dr. Leftwich offered a fervent prayer for the souls of the condemned men. The ladies then sang Singing with Angels,and another prayer was offered by P. L. Hedrick. The services were concluded with a benediction.
As the Brassells were taken back to their cell, several of the young ladies began to cry.
16 March 1878 - Saturday Afternoon - Nashville Jail:The reporter from The Daily Americanspent the afternoon talking with the Brassells about the day they were captured. The reporter rang the bell, and Deputy Green Morrow answered. Stating that he wanted to interview the Brassells, the reporter was locked in the cell with them. Having introduced himself, he explained that he wanted to get their statement about the murder. They replied that there were not giving a statement. After conversing for a while, Jo changed his mind and decided to give an account of how they were arrested instead. Eventually, Teek chimed in and added details.
Around 3pm, the steward came in and requested that the Brassells hand him their tin plates. He returned shortly thereafter with platters of cornbread, potatoes, greens seasoned with bacon, and roast beef with rich gravy.
Teek said "It is three o'clock and that is our dinner time here." The brothers extended an invitation to the reporter to join them for dinner.
The reporter replied "Thank you, but I fear it may cut your rations somewhat short if they are attacked by three instead of two persons."
"Not at all," came the reply, "and if there is not enough we can get more; they give us plenty to eat here. It is plain, substantial food, but well cooked -- as good a diet as a man could wish to have. Besides, we never eat all they give us. There are some prisoners in jail, however, who can dispose of a whole platter full, but we don't see how they do it."
While giving this explanation, the brothers spread copies of The Daily Americanon the floor and set the platters on the newspaper. All three men squatted around the platters and used their fingers to eat. The Brassells offered the reporter a spoon - forks and knives were not allowed in the jail cell - but he declined wishing to partake in the meal in the same manner as the brothers.
As the conversation continued, the brothers described their lives before and since being incarcerated.
Born in Barren County, Kentucky, Jo was 23 years old. Although he studied his alphabet in school, he actually learned to read and write during his incarceration. Since 2 February 1878, the day of the Supreme Court decision, he had transcribed the entire court record and had indexed it.
Also born in Barren County, Kentucky, Teek stated that he would be 21 years old on the 18th of next December. Unlike his brother, he attended very little school. However, he, too, has learned to read and write while in jail. With great pride, he revealed "I am a splendid cipherer, and there is not a sum in Ray's Arithmetic but what I can work. I learned all this without any assistance and within the past five months."
Both brothers knew the court testimonies by heart. They then informed him that there were three petitions circulating in Putnam County asking for their sentence to be commuted to life. These petitions would be presented to Governor Porter in a few days.
At one point during the interview, Jo said "Look ahere, Teek, you didn't give him your poetry."
Teek replied "No, I didn't. Wouldn't you like to have it?"
The reporter said that he would have no objection to hearing it.
Teek looked at the wall as if trying to remember the lines, "Bless me I don't believe that I can dictate the lines. I had them written down on the slate, but they have been wiped out, like some people get wiped out from the face of the earth."
Jo: "Can't you write them out again?"
Teek: "Well, I reckon I can."
Teek rubbed his left hand across his forehead, grabbed the pencil, and began filling up one whole side of the slate.
Teek: "It's pretty dark up here and I don't reckon you can very well read it, not begin used to the place."
Reporter: "Oh, yes, having been in here just seven hours, have got tolerably used to prison life."
Teek: "But I'd better read it out to you."
Reporter: "All right, drive away."
With this, Teek began to recite his poem.
Johnson is like Job's war horse--
To the sound of Maxwell's trumpet
He answered at a far off distance, ha! ha!
There was something of pride in the peerless hour,
Whatever may be the way in which death may lower,
Fame is there to tell who bleeds
And honors I on daring deeds;
Time alone sets all things even;
There never yet was human power
Could evade if unforgiven
A faithful search with patience long
Will show the men who did the wrong.
How would such man before you stand
With his stolen meat and bloodstained hand?
After his recitation was complete, he smiled and said "All those ideas are not mine. I read something of that sort in Prentiss work, and I borrowed a few of them to get off a good thing on Maxwell and Johnson. Maxwell, you know, prosecuted us, and we haven't any very great affection for Maxwell. Johnson turned State's evidence against us to save his neck, and that last verse is a swinger on him. It's a two-edged sword, and it will make Johnson wince when he reads it." Then both Brassells laughed at the imaginary image of Johnson being uncomfortable.
After having spent the entire afternoon with the prisoners, the reporter left at 6:00pm.
When the reporter arrived at the jail earlier that afternoon, he stepped into the Office and asked Sheriff Francis M. "Frank" Woodall if the Brassells would be transported to Putnam County by steamer or by rail.
The Sheriff laughed and replied "By a balloon."
"Engage me a seat then, for I could wish to take passage in no easier conveyance." responded the reporter, chuckling.
The Sheriff was keeping plans for departure a closely guarded secret to prevent their friends from attempting a rescue.
16 March 1878 - Saturday Evening - Cookeville:The reporter from the Cookeville Chronicleand others rode out with Sheriff Campbell J. Bohannon during the evening to select a suitable site for the gallows to be built. The place selected was about 1/2 mile southwest of the courthouse on the property of Thomas J. Shaw.
17 March 1878 - Sunday Afternoon - Nashville Jail:Around 3:30pm, a huge crowd assembled outside the front of the jail to witness the brothers' baptism. Noisy and tightly packed together near the jail yard door, members of the crowd jockeyed for the best position to view the ceremonies and to catch a glimpse of the condemned men.
Sheriff Francis M. Woodall, anticipating an unruly crowd, hired Captain Yater, Sergeant Tignor, City Marshall Pitman, Deputy City Marshall Willard, and Policeman Tom Hobson, in additional to all jail officials, helped maintain decorum.
Seats had been improvised in the yard for the comfort of the ladies. About 200 ladies were admitted to yard. Then men were admitted a few at a time until there were nearly 500 people assembled in the yard.
At 4pm, Rev. John P. McFerrin and the prisoners appeared in the courtyard.
The hymn Amazing Gracewas lined out by Rev. McFerrin.
The Rev. preached from the 2nd Timothy Chapter 4, verses 6, 7 & 8:
6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
During his sermon, he said that the sins of the Brassells had found them out. If the sins of everyone in attendance had found them out, they might find themselves in a similar predicament as the prisoners.
After concluding the sermon, Rev. McFerrin baptized Joseph Lewis and George Andrew Brassell. Although both brothers seemed deeply affected by the religious ceremony, only Jo was found openly weeping. Many ladies shed tears throughout the services.
Rev. John B. Hamilton offered a short prayer and the doxology. As the prisoners were returning to their cells, Jo told the Rev. Hamilton goodbye and said "I hope to meet you in Heaven."
The brothers told the reporter from The Daily Americanthat this was the most solemn occasion of their lives and that they were grateful for the interest in their eternal welfare. It was reported that Teek slept very little that night.
A few days before 21 March 1878:Three Edgefield boys, who were visiting the brothers in jail, asked "Are you guilty?"
Teek replied "Boys, never drink any whisky; it was whisky that brought us to our fate."
The Trip Back to Cookeville
The plan to escort the Brassell brothers back to Cookeville for their date with destiny was kept a closely guarded secret by all involved. Attempts by reporters to get officials to divulge details were met with evasiveness and jokes. Rumors were rampant that friends of the Brassells would attempt a rescue during the trip.
The brothers were scheduled to be returned to Cookeville during the afternoon of Thursday, 21 March 1878. Earlier that morning, the brothers had nearly 400 visitors including a reporter from the Chicago Tribune.He reported that they were in a lively mood -- unless someone mentioned either the religious services or the upcoming execution. At one point, Teek took the reporter's silk hat and hung it on a projection from the seams in the limestone wall. Then he grabbed the hat, placed it on his head and began to dance around. He danced over to a mirror in the window, gamely remarking: "This kind of hat would be all-tired becoming to me if I just had a black suit to match and jeans pantaloons."
Around 4pm-5pm, it was time to leave for Cookeville. The armed escorts were Sheriff Woodall, H. D. Martin, Sam Green, W. A. Cook, James Ross, Deputy Sheriff Joseph R. McCann, W. H. Johnson, Charles Blake, G. Burnett and W. H. Miller. Deputy Sheriff Joseph C. Bockman, from Putnam County, was also on hand for the trip. After hearing rumors of a rescue attempt, more than 100 friends of the Allisons eagerly volunteered their services to the Sheriff Bohannon to help guard the men during the trip. Tensions were running so high that it was well understood that a single pistol shot could result in horrible bloodshed with a loss of an estimated 20-25 men. Regardless of the consequences, officials were determined to do their duty.
The party left the Nashville jail in a hack (See Map of Trip while on the River)and was driven up the river to the boat dock where they boarded the Steam Ship, Celina . The arrangements had been so shrouded in secrecy that even people living near the jail did not notice anything unusual. Only the employees of the jail knew the trip details. At the start of the trip, the Brassells were in a good humor, because they had assumed they would be traveling by land where a rescue attempt would be made along the way. Once they realized that they would be traveling by steam ship, their spirits immediately fell.
While aboard the Celina,guards took shifts making sure that they were guarded around the clock. Teek talked incessantly on the trip. Jo, however, barely spoke and only spoke only when asked a question. They slept very little - instead preferring to smoke, to chew tobacco and to drink whiskey. Teek spoke indifferently of shooting nine men, claiming that whiskey was to blame in each case. He refused to give any details saying that his adventures would soon be made public. As they got closer to their destination and no rescue attempt materialized, Teek began to stare the guard's pistols with a open desire to make a grab for one.
On the afternoon of the March 23 1878, Sheriff Woodall sent a letter to Deputy Sheriff Tim Johnson with the following message:
We are getting along very well, but very slow. It is now one o'clock, and we are ten miles below Hartsville landing. The boat is very much crowded. Our prisoners seem very restless and reckless. George says if I will take the handcuff off of him, we will have to shoot him. I never saw one evince such a determination to get away. My boys all felt the importance of the occasion and watch close. George talks a great deal about what he had done. He got hold of a rope under his bunk and pulled it out and showed Sheriff Bohannon how to tie a hangman's knot, and told him that he had tied that kind of a knot around one negro's neck, that he had had it tied around his neck once. He suggested to Sheriff Bohannon that it would be well to grease that rope it if was the one that he was going to use next Wednesday. He asked Joe McCann to loan him his pistol, and let him show how well he could use it, saying that he could beat any man he ever saw shooting a pistol.
It is the opinion of most of the passengers that live up in that country that they are guilty beyond a doubt. Sheriff Bohannon and his deputies are very determined to execute the law. I expect to come home as soon as I can. I am well, and do not fear any trouble.
Back in Nashville, citizens anxiously awaited news from Cookeville. A large crowd of folks assembled at the Nashville wharves on Sunday afternoon as the steamer Dora Cablerdocked. Word had gotten back to Nashville that the Brassells had escaped, and they wanted to know if the news was true. Major L. T. Armstrong, a passenger on the Dora Cabler,stated that at 9am on Saturday morning they had passed the Celinaabout ten miles from Gainesboro. All of the men, both guards and prisoners, were well. However, the prisoners, who were kept in irons, appeared restless and uneasy.
The steamer Celinadocked in Gainesboro late in the afternoon of Saturday, 23 March 1878. The trip down river took a full two days. After docking, someone informed Sheriff Woodall that a sister, brother and several friends of the prisoners were waiting at Brooks Landing, just below Gainesboro, with a plan to rescue them. To prevent any mischief, Sheriff Woodall refused to allow anyone to board the steamer.
Jesse L. Dorch, with the help of Jackson County Sheriff Richard V. Brooks, provided the escort party with three wagons to travel from the dock at Gainesboro to the Cookeville jail. Sheriff Brooks, William H. Young, James C. Ray and Joseph T. West joined the group as they traveled to Cookeville. A plank was placed across the middle of one wagon as seats for the prisoners. Once underway, their "seat" broke and dumped them into the wagon floor. Teek, quite exasperated, remarked "God damn the luck," then got up and said he often said things that he should not say.
Final Days in Cookeville
Saturday Night, 23 March 1878
After the prisoners were safely tucked away in their jail cell, the reporter - believed to be James Cope - from the Cookeville Chroniclepaid them a visit. He introduced himself and told the brothers that if they wished to make a statement that he would gladly publish it in his paper. They informed him of the following:
- They had a pleasant trip from Nashville to Cookeville.
- They were treated well and had been since their incarceration at Nashville.
- The newspapers reporters' interest in their case were nothing new to them as they had daily visits from reporters since the Supreme Court Decision in February.
- They had changed their way of living and were baptized into the Methodist Church by Rev. John P. McFerrin, of whom they spoke highly.
- They had no statement at this time, but they might have one Sunday afternoon.
Sunday, 24 March 1878
After Sunday School was over at one of the local churches, class members went to the jail to visit the Brassells. Laughing and appearing in a good mood, the prisoners shook hands through the jail bars with those that they knew. They requested and were granted a religious service. The prisoners appeared delighted with their newfound notoriety.
The Sunday School class sang Let Us Pass Over the Riverand Rest Under the Shade.During the singing, Teek appeared to be crying. David L. Dow offered a fervent prayer for their souls. After the prayer, the song, I am Glad That Jesus Loves Mewas sung. Jo joined in the singing and kept time with his foot. After the last stanza was sung, Jo remarked that it was sung too slow and would be better if they sang it a tad bit faster. After more pleasantries were exchanged, the prisoners returned to their cell.
The Brassells' public image in their final days was one of repentance and salvation. However, the reporter from The Daily Americanexpressed his doubt in their sincerity as he had seen the men constantly drinking whiskey in their cell. During the Sunday afternoon service, someone observed Teek drinking vigorously from a whiskey bottle. Later when Teek gravely warned his friends about the evils of drinking, someone asked him why he had whiskey in their cell?
Teek shrugged and flippantly replied "Oh, we hain't long to live and we must get the good of it while we can; if we were let out o'here, we would never taste a drop."
The Reporter from the Cookeville Chroniclereturned to the jail around 2pm hoping to get their statements. However, he was unable to do so, since family and friends were visiting at this time. At least one sister and one brother were at the jail visiting. The reporter returned again around 7pm and spoke with the prisoners for only a few minutes. Due to the sheer number of visitors that day, they said they were unable to prepare their statement.
Monday, 25 March 1878
Their father, Egbert H. Brassell, and their brothers, Jim and Buck Brassell came to visit Monday morning. Official allowed only Egbert and Buck to enter the cell. The prisoners were delighted to see them. They inquired of their father where he kept his shop now, what sort of tobacco crop he had last year, and what crops does he expect to raise the coming year. Both prisoners told their father that they wished to be buried at home under an old tree where there was currently a soldier's grave.
Jim was denied entrance and was not happy about the situation. When he demanded entrance to the cell, Sheriff Bohannon sternly informed him that he would neither be allowed into the cell nor to speak privately with the prisoners. Incensed, Jim hotly informed the Sheriff that he did not want to rescue them. He then boasted that if he wanted to rescue them, he could do so very easily. Sheriff Bohannon laughingly replied that any party attempting to take them from the jail would "have some fun" first.
Later on when speaking with a reporter, Jo had stated that many times in the past that whiskey and bad company had brought him to where he was now. When the subject of money was brought up, he declared that it struck him very sensitively that money had put him in his present condition. Upon the topic of the buying of friends, he commented that "friends who have to be bought is not worth a cent." His experience had taught him "that such were neither friends in deed nor friends in need."
That afternoon, the Brassells sent for Henry P. Davis, the Putnam County Court Clerk, and requested that he write at their dictation a sketch of their lives to be published and sold after their deaths for the financial benefit of their parents. Although most of their family members opposed this idea; the prisoners, thinking that their life histories would sell by the thousands and would yield an enormous profit, persisted. Davis agreed to this task with the hope that the prisoners would make a full confession. Unfortunately, they never confessed.
Davis spent all day Monday and several hours on Tuesday writing down their revelations - thirty pages in all. The details included reminiscences of fights, shootings and robberies.
The Daily Americanpublished an abbreviated version of their exploits after the hanging.
- At ages 3 & 5 years old, they found their father's whiskey bottle in the spring house, got drunk and swore.
- For their amusement, they killed a scorpion and threw it across the road to frighten passing horses to make them throw and to kill their riders.
- They caught two little "negroes" and hung them until they were almost dead.
- In 1867, they beat a Negro woman with a rock because she objected to them drinking water out of the bucket instead of using a dipper.
- In 1868, they shot a Negro woman for stealing a watermelon. She supposedly died.
- They shot Billy Reese in the back for taking a watermelon.
- In a dispute over a pistol trade, Teek filled Carroll Minton full of buckshot. (See Minton, William Carroll - 22nd Tennessee (Barteau) Cavalry)
After moving to Putnam County,
- They began distilling illicit whiskey.
- At first, they only drank "singletons." Then they became confirmed drunkards.
- They robbed a man named Skelton and tore up things in his house.
- In 1875, Teek shot a circus man at Carthage in a "drunken row."
- In December 1873, Teek shot Allen Sexton because of an old grudge but did not kill him.
- On 16 July 1875, Teek and Jo along with six other men attacked the Smithville jail and rescued Monroe Wittimy, who was charged with illicit distilling.
- In March 1875, they began dealing in counterfeit notes on the National Banks of Paxton and Canton, IL and one at Chicago.
- A few days before their arrest, they purchased a tool kit specifically designed to counterfeit silver dollars and half dollars. Since their arrest, they had their tools destroyed.
- For a time, they were successful at counterfeiting. However, when John Slyger and William Goss were arrested by the Federal Government, their operation came to a screeching halt. Slyger was bound over to Federal court, but Goss fled the country.
There was more to write, but they concluded the narrative with the following words: "There are a great many other things that occurred, but our time being so short we cannot give them. The time our departure is at hand, and we are ready to be offered up."
Tuesday, 26 March 1878
All was relatively quiet in Cookeville even though there were persistent rumors that a rescue attempt was eminent. Friends of the Brassells had declared that they would "burn the town over their heads and rescue the prisoners."To prevent such occurrence, the jail was guarded by picket of men - both day and night. The streets leading to the jail were guarded, as well. Each evening, the guards met to assign positions and change their sign and countersign. At any sign of trouble, an on duty guard would ring the Academy Bell. Upon hearing the bell, off duty guards were to grab their guns and rush to the jail to defend it.
Around 2am Tuesday morning, SOMEONEfired at the guards stationed on the West side of town, and they returned fire. Eight or nine shots were fired in rapid succession. The commotion was heard by guards at the jail, who were itching for a fight, and they prepared to do battle. The police force, by prearrangement, abandoned their stations and ran to the public square. The Academy bell was rung, awakening all who lived in town. The off duty guards grabbed their guns - without dressing - and ran to the jail. Within 15 minutes, 40 - 50 men stood at the jail ready to do battle. With great excitement and with the anticipation of a fight, people began gathering in the streets.
Officers soon discovered that it was just a false alarm. They theorized that someone had fired a pistol either for their own amusement or for some other unknown reason. Citizens, who lived in town, heard the disturbance and later remarked "that a dose of ague cure might have been advantageous to them, at that time."
After the cause of the commotion was determined and the perceived danger had passed, the rest of the night passed without incident.
Mary, the boy's mother, and Amanda, their sister, came to visit in the morning and were allowed in around 1pm. As soon as the women laid eyes on the boys, they began to cry. Teek said to them for God's sake not to weep for them, that they were innocent, their lives had been sworn from them and they were bound to die. Their only request was for their family to prepare to meet them in Heaven. After spending time together, Mary and Amanda left. The women's visit caused Teek to shed his first tears.
Later in the afternoon, Revs. John P. McFerrin, T. Summers McFerrin, N. B. S. Owen and C. E. Heriges arrived from Nashville along with several other ladies to hold religious services. Hymns were sung by the congregation and Rev. C. E. Heriges offered prayer.
Time was slowly ticking away for the doomed men.