Stephen F. Austin State University

Gregg's 1878 Double-Hanging Drew a Crowd (June 2014)

Gregg's 1878 Double-Hanging Drew a Crowd
By Van Craddock

On a hot August day in 1878, some 4,000 folks gathered on a hill just east of Longview to witness Old West justice in the form of a rare double-hanging.

Guests of the Aug. 30 necktie party were Amos Ben Hadley, 23, and Diomed Powell, 22, convicted of murdering a Gladewater grocer-tavern owner in December 1877.

According to officials, the men were "well under the influence of liquor" when Hadley struck the victim "with a blow on the head with a stick" and then cut his throat "from ear to ear with the grocery cheese knife."

The men stole $50 and hightailed it to Fannin County, where they were captured and returned to Gregg County.

Convicted of murder in a February trial, Hadley and Powell were "condemned to be hanged by the neck until he is dead, dead, dead." At the time, Texas counties were responsible for carrying out executions.

On the appointed day, downtown Longview took on a carnival atmosphere as the crowd arrived "by horse and vehicles, crowding the streets at an early hour of the day," reported the Galveston Daily News. Some residents, however, were anxious over reports that the condemned men might attempt an escape.

"The arrival of 25 Choctaws to open a show led to the rumor that the Indians, of whom 400 were said to be in Sabine Bottom, would attempt a rescue," said the newspaper.

No escape was planned but Gregg County Sheriff M.L. Durham was taking no chances. He secured "two squads of men, 80 in all, to act as escorts" for Hadley and Powell.

"The prisoners showed spirit, though eating sparingly for breakfast, until they reached the gallows, where they were conveyed in wagons under strong guard and sitting on their coffins," said the paper. "They came from the jail dressed in white shirts and black pants and straw hats, each smoking a cigar, and did not show any evidences of weeping."

Hadley and Powell walked up the step "accompanied by a deputy sheriff and preachers, who again exhorted and prayed until they satisfied themselves that the prisoners were penitent."

Asked for any final words, Hadley told the throng that he was "prepared to meet death and feelingly pleaded for forgiveness of men and God." He said he'd been raised by a good Mississippi mother but had "deserted her care for bad company."

Hadley reiterated a tale he'd told at his trial: That a certain Gladewater saloonkeeper had hired him to commit the murder. Then Hadley said his friend, Powell, was "innocent of the crime."

Powell said he "forgave all and asked forgiveness" except for his lawyer, who Powell accused of "deserting him."

At that point, deputy A.A. Killingsworth read the execution order. Sheriff Durham adjusted the nooses and placed hoods over the men's heads.

"The trap was sprung, and at precisely 1:45 p.m. the two souls went into eternity," the newspaper reported. "(Powell) struggled awhile and all was over. Hadley died with no perceptible motion, save a short, sudden twitching."

As the crowd dispersed, some said they'd believed Hadley's contention that the Gladewater saloonkeeper had put him up to the foul deed. After all, they reasoned, "With the angels of death hovering over him, would not, in his penitent state of mind, he have clung to his assertion, often repeated, that he was hired to do the killing?"

Counties continued to be responsible for their own executions until 1923, when the final public hanging was carried out in Texas. The state then assumed responsibility for capital punishment, choosing the electric chair for its executions.