The Hancock County Hanging
On December 16, 1896, Maried Hatfield was hanged for the murder of Jonas Trail, the account of which was detailed in an article published in the Knoxville Sentinel.
The newspaper article was reprinted by Earl H. Garland in 1966. Thanks to Mr. Garland's preservation of this priceless item from the past, we have an account of the only legal hanging that ever occurred in Hancock County, Tennessee.
HE MAKES A FULL CONFESSION OF HIS COMPLICITY IN THE MURDER OF JONAS TRAIL
Yesterday marked an important epoch in the history of our neighboring county of Hancock, as it witnessed the first legal hanging ever within its borders. Maried Hatfield, the youthful murderer of Jonas Trail, was hanged by Sheriff Buttry and his deputies about 1 o'clock p.m. upon a common scaffold erected about one half mile from the jail. The scaffold was erected upon a stout platform in which there was the usual trap door. This platform was surrounded by an enclosure 30 x 30 feet of heavy oak planks 10 feet high and located in a low place with hills on all sides. The condemned man was taken from the jail Saturday and baptized in a creek nearby, and then said he was ready to meet his doom. About 5000 people from the surrounding territory of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee viewed the hanging from the surrounding hills. When the scaffold was reached the condemned man utterly broke down and cried long and loud. In fact he was so broken up that he could neither stand up or talk, and the few words that he wanted to say to the crowd had to be said through the minister and others, and when the black cap was drawn he had to be held up by the Sheriff and his deputies until the drop fell. He was 22 years of age.
The attached confession was made Friday night last by Hatfield and sent to the Knoxville Sentinel by a special correspondent:
HATFIELD'S LAST CONFESSION - Sneedville, December 11, 1896
"I was along and participated in the murder of Jonas Trail. I went with the woman, Haney Jordon, on the night of the 25th of March 1896, to kill Trail for his money. Trail was selling liquor at a county "blind tiger." He had been to the Jordon woman's house something like one month before the murder and showed his money to Mrs. Jordon. She told me a few days after this that Trail had been to her house with about one hundred dollars and she wanted me to go with her and help her to get the money. The Jordon woman and my wife got me into this trouble. They both begged me to go with this woman Jordon and kill and rob Trail. I would not do such a thing again for the world. We went to the tiger and found Trail not there, but heard someone calling Trail at his boarding house. The woman and me hid and waited until Trail and a young man by the name of Sterling Allen, the man that we heard, and Allen got his liquor and went off. Trail started back to the house. We slipped behind him. The woman knocked Trail down with a stick and he fell on his face and she turned him over and cut his throat with a piece of case knife, ground to a sharp point. After she had cut his throat, he kept making a noise, and I hit him on the head with a rock two or three times to stop him from making a noise. Then we searched his pockets and got his pocket book and what money he had. I don't know how much money we got, as I can't count money. The Jordon woman counted the money and gave me seven dollars and ninety-two cents and said that was half of it. I got Trail's knife. I felt so bad after I had done this that I cried nearly all the time, day and night, and my conscience lashed me so I could not keep from telling it. I took the money and hid it, and after I was arrested I took the guards and officers and showed them where it was and gave it to them. I gave them the knife too. I am to be hanged on the 16th day of this month for the crime I committed and I blame no one with it but Haney Jordon, my wife, and Charley Collins. They are the cause of all this trouble. I only hate to be hanged for a crime that I could never have thought of, and let the one that is more guilty than me go free. I think Haney Jordon should be punished for this crime. She, the Jordon woman, was the only person with me when the murder was committed, but my wife and Charley Collins knew all about it, and they helped to lay the plans for the murder. And I believe Sterling Allen knew about it. I feel certain that the Lord has pardoned my sins, and when I leave this world, I will go to rest. I have no malice toward anyone. The jury that tried me done what they thought was right. Judge Campbell gave me a fair trial, and appointed the best counsel at the bar to defend me, and I have the kindest feelings for him. I think a great deal of Sheriff Buttry. He has treated me very kindly ever since I have been in Sneedville jail. Sheriff Groner and his jailer, Hoover Groner, treated me kindly all the time I was in Knoxville jail. I have nothing to say hard against anybody. I am going to be baptized tomorrow. I want all of the Trail's relations to forgive me for the crime I have committed. If I am hung I reckon it will be just. But I hope Gov. Turney will give me a life sentence in the penitentiary. This is all I want to say about the matter."
According to Maried Hatfield's niece, Mrs. Cora Mallicoat, he told his mother to tell everyone to "never trust a woman. They'd do the things and pack it on you."
The Sheriff Buttry mentioned in the article was Mitchell "Mitch" Buttry. He and many local residents felt Maried Hatfield should not be held responsible for the murder of Jonas Trail. Sheriff Buttry opposed the hanging and even attempted to resign his position as sheriff, but his superior refused to accept his resignation, leaving him with no choice except to carry out his sworn duty.