Reprinted in the Putnam County Herald, 19 August 1937, Page 3.
This is the ninth installment of this series of republished items from the old "Cookeville Chronicle," which began publication In Cookeville on October 5, 1877, with Carnes and Cope, editors and publishers.
"Local News" Issue of April 4, 1878
We promised our readers, last week that as our account of the proceedings on the 27th were so condensed, on account of the short time we had to prepare it, we would try it again this week, and now proceed to comply with our promise.
We were awakened from our sleep Wednesday morning, to find the streets of Cookeville almost impassable with the immense throng that had, gathered and were anxiously waiting, to witness the execution of the two brothers, whose crime, trial and execution excited the mind of the public to a greater extent than any like occurrence known in the records of on state. In fact, it is without a parallel, two brothers hanged on the same gallows for the murder of two brothers.
We, in company with other reporters, visited the jail Wednesday morning and asked admittance into the cell, which was granted, and soon we were face to face with two men who, in a few hours, were to be ushered into an eternity the realities of which we all, sooner or later, will have to try. While in the cell Teke had but little, or nothing to say concerning the crime, except that he was innocent. Jo said he had, all the time, been denying it, but that it was no longer of any use and that he had acknowledged it all the night before. That he was in the crowd that went to Mr. Isbell's house, on that memorable night, and killed Russell Allison. The crowd was composed of four persons, himself, Dobson Johnson, Doll Bates and another person whose name he did not propose to reveal. He was asked if Teke was not that fourth person, whereupon Tete (sic) interrupted by saying that Jo did not propose to say that he (Teke) was along, and Jo gave no response. Jo continued, that he was under the influence of liquor, and did not remember firing but one ball, he was the man that shot at Mrs. Isbell. He was confident that Johnson was the man that killed Russell Allison. Bates shot at the dog. After they had left the house a few hundred yards, they stopped and were talking about what they had done, when Bates and this fourth person proposed to go back and kill all of the family, as they had been recognized, and he and Johnson refused to go. They did not go there for the purpose of murdering but to rob, and expected to get the money from Mrs. Isbell. Here the ministers, four in number, entered the cell for the purpose of holding religious exercises with the doomed men, whose earthly course was so nearly ended, and we bid them both adieu and took our leave.
A few minutes before 11 o'clock an almost impenetrable guard, consisting of about two hundred armed men, were stationed along the street leading from the jail up to the public square. At 11 o'clock the prisoners were brought from the jail and placed in a wagon containing their coffins and which was to convey them to the place of execution. Just in front of the wagon were a number of the guards whose business it was to clean a way through the eager throng, and immediately in the rear of the wagon, were those who represented the press. Just back of them was Amanda Braswell, on horseback, ready and waiting with the gazing populus, to march in solemn procession to the place where her doomed brothers were to look for the last time upon earth and, earthly things. The word was given and the immense throng moved slowly, with little or no disturbance, to the place of death. At about 11:30 they arrived at
which had been erected about one half mile southwest of Cookeville. The guards soon succeeded in clearing a ring, some 20 or 30 feet in diameter, to be occupied by the reporters, ministers and officers of execution. While the scaffold and rope, were being made ready. Amanda Braswell dismounted from her horse and embraced her brothers, weeping as though her afflictions were more than her soul could bear. The prisoners requested her to leave the spot and witness not their execution. All necessary preparations were now completed, and the prisoners slowly and calmly ascended the scaffold, where they found themselves in the gaze of about 15 thousand people. They were followed and joined upon the scaffold by Rev. J. P. McFerrin and his brother, T. S. McFerrin. The latter opened religious services by reading Paul's 3rd Epistle to the Romans. Rev. J. P. McFerrin their behalf, after which he made a then offered a fervent prayer in few pointed remarks, well suited for the solemn occasion. He said that we were there to witness the verification of that divine law which says, "The wages of sin is death." Thanked God that there was forgiveness of sin, and that he could preach a gospel that could save everybody. A man need not be damned because he is a murderer, drunkard or adulterer. Though our sins are as scarlet, there is atonement which can make them as white as snow. Warned all young men especially against drinking, keeping, bad company, etc., and sighted the two unfortunate men as an example of the end to which it inevitably leads. He would say nothing concerning the prisoners as they had a message to deliver and he hoped they would say, something that would sink deep into the hearts of those who heard them, that they might be deterred from the path of sin. Praying the blessings of the most High upon his hearers he bid then adieu.
Rev. McFerrin was followed by Rev. John H. Nichols, who said that occasions like this was not brought about by the proceeding of a day, but that little sins were at the foundation, the beginning of those crimes which our law punishes with death. His remarks were principally addressed to those who have the training of children, beseeching them to train up their children in the way they should go. At the conclusion of his remarks he bid the prisoners adieu, and commended them to the all prevailing mercy of God.
An appropriate hymn was then sung by the ministers, followed with prayer by the Rev. T. S. McFerrin, at the conclusion of which the ministers left the scaffold, and the prisoners were informed that, if they had anything to say, they could now speak. Joe arose and said: "Gentlemen and Ladies: I will say a few words to you, if you'll give me your attention. I am here today, and what is it for? Murder. What is the cause? Drunkenness, wickedness and the love of money. And there are hundreds here day traveling the same road to perdition. I will give you some advice Boys, don't drink whisky. Young men, take warning from this. It has brought me here, and it may put you in the same condition if you follow my course. Be good to one another. Go to meeting and keep the Sabbath holy. I bid you all farewell and want you to meet me in Heaven."
Teke said: "This is a solemn hour. It is told me I must die. I am ready prepared and willing to die." After a considerable pause, he continued: "I hope to meet you all In Heaven." He kept his position with his face towards the crowd for some time as if he intended to say more, but did not.
Mr. Isbell here approached the scaffold and asked if they were not both at his house the night Russell Allison was killed. Joe said, "Yes, I was there." Teke said he was innocent and knew nothing about it. The old man still insisted, telling them that there was no hope for them now, and to te11 him all about it. Deputy Sheriff Bockman here read the opinion of the Supreme Court and the death warrant in their case. Their feet were then fastened together by means of a rope tied around the ankles, end their hands tied behind them. The white caps were then placed over their faces, and Sheriff Bohannon put the rope around Teke's and Dept. Sheriff Bockman around Jo's neck. All things were ready, and the Sheriff was about to let the drop fall, when they asked him for a few minutes longer, that the caps might be removed from their faces they permitted once more to look upon the immense throng surrounding them. Their request wee granted and the Sheriff told them he would give them every minute the law allowed. After the cape were taken off, Joe looked et the crowd a few moments and said: "Boys let this be a warning to you." Here Mr. Isbell again approached them and asked Teke to tell him the truth, and put the question, "Wasn't you at my boom that night?" Teke did not answer Mr. Isbell, but tuned to the audience and said: "All of you in hearing, listen! I have this to say, I am a innocent ma, and have got to die for what someone else has done. I am paying another man's just debt." Mr. Isbell then asked Joe if Tete (sic) was in the crowd that was at his house that night. Joe replied: "Don't press: me on that." The caps were now being replaced and Mr. Isbell still continued to press the question on Joe, when cries of disapproval were heard all through the crowd, saying, "Don't press him to far." When everything was arranged on the scaffold and the Sheriff getting down, Teke said: "Let us know when you go to let us fall." The Sheriff said: "You have only 5 minutes." Here both stooped to see how far they would, fall, saying they wanted it to be sure to break their necks. The Sheriff told them as each minute passed rapidly away and when the last half minute was called, Joe said: "Farewell Mr. Bohannon." Mr. Bohannon said:, "Goodbye Joe." Teke: "Lord have mercy on those who swore my life away." Joe: "Lord Jesus, be with me." I At precisely 1:30, the Sheriff said, "Look out boys," at the same time cutting the rope that supported the two fall doors; and with one dread crash the work of death was done, the doors gave way, letting the two unfortunate men fall from time to eternity, prepared or unprepared. Thus ended the earthly career of the two brothers whose pathway in life ran so nearly together. Here the throng and perhaps trembling thousands witnessed the verification of the law which says. "Whosoever sheddeth mans blood, by man shall his blood be shed," and saw two men in the vigor of youth and prime of life pay the penalty for the violation of that ancient and divine law, handed down to Moses by God himself, which says: "Thou shalt not kill."
His Last Letter
"On Tuesday night the 26th inst., his last night on earth, Joseph Braswell wrote the following letter to his parents and family:
March 26th, 1878
My Dear Father, Mother
Sisters and Brothers:
I wish as my last testimony, to say to you all that what you did for me in this awful case, you did thinking I was innocent. I have often told you so and thought I would rather lose my soul than acknowledge it, but my soul is precious and I cannot go hence with a falsehood on my lips. I do not want you all to think hard of me for not telling it to you before now. I want to meet my God in peace and can no longer assert by innocense. I expect to go to Heaven. My trust is in Jesus my Savior. I hope you all will meet me there. I want you all to attend Church, to keep the Sabbath day holy, lead a new life from this day, be friendly with those who swore falsely against us, forgive that you may be forgiven. I have no in will or malice towards anyone on earth. Meet me in Heaven for I am doing all I can to go there.
(NOTE: Spelling, punctuation, etc., in the above is reprinted just as it appeared in the original paper. Ed.)