March 25, 1887
I stand upon these gallows now, my thick brown three-piece suit over striped jailhouse sackcloth. My mustache’s a sloping roof, four inches on a side, overhanging my square jaw, my steady hands upon the lapel of this open coat.
My hair looks nice: combed to one side with a little dipping wave. I feel all my strength. At 38, a man still feels the wool in his blood, the fire in his limbs. The gallows give one a raised perspective: I’m looking down at four dozen people obliged to crane up at me with their healthy necks, anticipating the swift cracking of mine. Outside these high gray wood walls, a crowd gathers. You can hear their communication — talking, laughing, clucking — as a kind of distant sound-cloud.
In the six minutes I stand waiting for the words, lost in thought or no-thought; in the six minutes before my last words, I hear the preacher speak of God the father, I see my wife and my other wife, my children barely known, the woods and towns, the sun and snow, the crowds and cattle by water holes, the petty crimes, the iffy moves and excessive manliness — pridefulness more like it. I’ve enjoyed life. I’ve enjoyed health and vigor. Hiking, hunting, driving coach, driving spike, baling hay, moving free; laughing loud, grabbing a woman by her waist and dancing with her past pleasure and pain. They’ll hang me for sure now. The rope’s waiting, my audience is waiting, we’re all waiting.
A man ain’t nothin’ but a man. My crimes are many, but I knew and I kept to the hard limits. This crime you’ll hang me for’s not mine. This justice you’ll praise and lament is a miscarriage. Ah well, the sun sets for all us mortals quicker than we can believe, and you who stand so sure and clean in front of me will meet me soon enough upon that field where all our notions turn to dust and only love of life, other, and God the Light remains. Fare well, friends, I’ll greet you again in fairer weather.
Marion stood in five or six minutes as if in deep thought, and then began to talk. He spoke in substance as follows:
“You have been waiting sometime for me to say something. I am willing to confess that I am a sinner, the same as other men. I have made no confession and have none to make. Go to the court docket and find men who have been acquitted and compare my case with theirs. God help foes and friends. God help everybody. This is all I have to say.”
This was said in a clear, strong voice, and without emotion.
In 1891, John Cameron, the supposed victim, showed back up in Beatrice. I don’t know what Captain Nathaniel Herron, who’d shown such laudatory zeal and persistence in hunting down and eventually capturing Jack Marion (the alleged murder was an 1872 case), thought about the matter, nor if his wife (supposing he had one) gave him some pat about he did the best with what he knew. And what thought the Honorable Judge R. W. Sabin, who, annoyed at the stymied case, so diligently tracked down a star witness in Rachel Warren (Marion’s mother in law)?
And what felt Mrs. Rachel Warren, who testified that the corpse’s clothes were Cameron’s, and to whom the following exchange with the venerable Judge Sabin is attributed: Rachel: “He will kill me if I do [testify against Marion], I don’t dare.” Sabin “If you will tell the jury what you have told me, Marion will never harm you because he will hang.”? It seems she had her reasons for hating the accused, so perhaps she shrugged Cameron’s reappearance off as an unfortunate detail. Or maybe not. Maybe she took it to heart and reassessed her life.
Ah well, it’s hard to get everything right. We’ll keep trying to get human justice closer to divine justice, but a fundamental aspect of that endeavor is remembering that they will never be the anywhere near the same: so human justice should go easy; it should seek a path we can all walk together in the light of day. Ah well. Jack Marion can take some comfort in the old adage, “if justice were truly served on earth, who among us would escape the noose?”, by which logic his execution is an act of justice. But, really, that’s not how we want to proceed! Hanging each other all the time, I mean.
There’s a rumor, wholly unsubstantiated but wholly believed by many, that Icabod the Pure Love Salesman was seen to approach the exterior crowd, learn of the execution carrying on behind the tall gray-slat walls of weatherworn planks, set his wooden case on the dusty street, stand a moment hunched a bit towards the death sentence with eyes and mouth puckered, and then relax his demeanor with: “I’d run in there and offer the condemned some of our patented Pure Love, with which everything is OK and without which nothing is. But I sense that such heroics are not here needed and will retire to my chambers to say my prayers alone. Hangings abhor me.”
What are we doing here? What kind of ads are these? They support the main page of this website, which is an order form for an infinite supply of Pure Love. And they support , this silly Zazzle Store, which is mostly designs about Pure Love.
This post also alludes to a character in our upcoming “Love at a Reasonable Price: Volume 1: First Loves”; we’re not sure if we should tell people to buy this book or not, but we plan on releasing it in the springtime at From-Bartleby.com
Sources for this piece can be found here:
https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn94056415/1887-03-31/ed-1/seq-4.pdf [“Paid the Penalty at Last” – Marion’s quote came from here; per this Wikipedia Article, this is from The McCook Tribune. 1887-03-31. Retrieved March 12, 2012.]
https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn99021999/1891-08-04/ed-1/seq-5.pdf [“Hanged an Innocent Man” Omaha Daily Bee, August 4, 1891]
https://beatricedailysun.com/news/local/article_61d36ac4-eafd-5040-b374-4058e0643276.html [2008 article by Joelyn Hanson]
and http://netnebraska.org/article/news/1887-hanging-remains-nebraskas-most-controversial-execution. [2013 piece by Bill Kelly for Nebraska Public Radio – Exchange between Sabin and Warren comes from this one.