Contributed by klstacy_home
Description: To Avenge The Skelton HonorDate: September 23 1894
Newspaper published in: New York
Page/Column: Page 3, Columns 1-5
================ Section 6, Page 3, Columns 1-5 =================
TO AVENGE THE SKELTON HONOR
Dark Story of the Unfortunate Loves of Pretty Annie Skelton, of Scottsboro, Ala., and the Murder That Came from Them.
TRAPPED BY HER BROTHERS
Banker Robert Boss Driven Like a Wild Beast Into a Fen and Coldly Shot to Death.
FAITHFUL JOHN FREEMAN
In Spite of Her Reported Escapades He Still Loved Annie, and Sow, They Say, He Has Married Her.
RUIN IN TWO HOUSEHOLDS
Sensational Trial Growing Out of the Story to Begin This Week—a Judge Impeached and Accused
SCOTTSBORO, Ala., Sept, 18, 1894.—In the Court House of this quiet old village, on Monday next, three men will be placed on trial for their lives; three men who, up to a fatal Sunday morning in last February, had lived the quiet, uneventful existence of country boys, unstained by blood and untouched by scandal.
Their names are James, Robert and "Tot" Skelton, and they are brothers. Out In the village graveyard is a white tombstone upon which is the name of "Robert C. Ross."
It is for the murder of this man that the brothers will be tried. Somewhere in Texas, bearing the name of a man who has always loved her, and who took her to his arms when the world's condemnation fell upon her, lives Annie Skelton, now Mrs. John D. Freeman. She is a sister of the three brothers whose hands are stained with the blood of Robert Ross. It was for her sake that the crime was committed, and it is for her sake that the boys will stand up on Monday next to face whatever penalty the law may inflict upon them.
It is the old story of love and passion, condemned by the laws of God and man. It is the story of a beautiful girl, who, disappointed in the love of one man, fled to the arms of another as a means of getting out into the world where she might forget the past. It is the story of wrecked hopes, wrecked lives and blighted careers. The holocaust of passion has passed over two honored family names, and the stain, while it may be lived down in the lapse of years, will be bared again by the recording angel, and Justice, such as only God can give, will be meted out to the guilty and to the innocent
THE BELLE OF THE VILLAGE
Everybody around Scottsboro will tell you that Annie Skelton was a beautiful girl. All the villagers remember her from the time she wore short frocks and a long schoolgirl braid down her back. In her early youth she was pert and pretty, in her teens she was beautiful, cultured and ambitious. She was the youngest of a long line of sons and daughters, and all her life was the "baby" of the family, loved and petted and idolized by the others. It is the depth and strength of this idolatry that has caused the prevailing sympathy for the three slayers of Robert Ross, in, all the county the Skelton family was at once the wealthiest and most aristocratic. All the luxury in the way of dress and environments that money could buy was Annie Skelton's. From her infancy she had never wanted for any material thing that goes to make life happy.
It may have been this very pampering that usually moulded the vague dreams in the young girl's head into a desire for wider experience and a greater knowledge of the world. All the novels she read intensified her longing to see more of life. Under her luxurious surroundings Annie Skelton grew up to be a queenly, but an imperious girl. From the time she wore long dresses she had any number of boyish sweethearts, but with these she was not contented. She badgered them, teased them, tyrannized over them and dreamed on. There were but few of the rural Scottsboro swains who were not scorned, moth-like, by the fire of her loveliness. She had that fascinating nature which combines a tantalizing indifference with the greatest cordiality. Those who knew her best understood the intense but unstirred deeps of her nature. They knew that if she ever fell in love it would be with her whole heart and soul. It is these intense natures, after all, that make the world's history of love and war.
When Annie was seventeen years of age her favorite cavalier was John D. Freeman. His connection with the later tragedy was merely incidental. He was a plodding, faithful and sensible fellow, who endured Annie's Innocent flirtations with other young men in silence. He was the patient "Philip," who. In after fears, when the girl's life was wrecked and she had lost all hope, took her to his home and gave her his name.
Freeman was devoted to the girl, despite all her coquetry, and later on in her life, when the rumors of one or two escapades In Chattanooga, where she often visited, reached his ears, he laughed them down. Not a word did he believe of the stories of the wine that she drank or the hours that she kept. And later still, years afterward, when Annie Skelton lay in a hospital at Cincinnati, wrecked in health and ruined in reputation by the exposure of her story after the murder of Ross by her brothers, John Freeman still maintained that she was an innocent girl who had been made the victim of cruel circumstances through a designing villain. Through all the horrible drama this man's love shines out, bright and unsullied. The lover's instinct may have been wrong and the harsh judgment of the people right, but, in any event, the devotion of Freeman to Annie Skelton through all her early indifference and flirtations and through her later troubles and indiscretions forms one of the strangest elements of this story.
IN SEARCH OF A HERO
As time passed on Annie Skelton's desire to see the world grew until her home life became almost unendurable. She dreamed of it constantly and teased her mother about it. Knowledge had made her unhappy. Scottsboro had become too cramped for her. She wanted a hero for a lover. Not one of her Scottsboro sweethearts was a hero. In her eyes John Freeman was commonplace. The rest of them were mediocre. Thus it was that at the age of eighteen she received a letter from a girlfriend in Day's Gap, a few miles from Birmingham.
Did she want to come there and teach music? They would have such lovely times. Did she want to fly? Was it not just what she had been waiting for? Was not Day's Gap the gateway to the great world? There she would find her hero, and the realization of her romantic dreams. She did not care for the money to be earned by music teaching. Her mother would give her all of that she might need. She wanted to get away, anywhere, everywhere. She was tired of the old home and the old surroundings.
There were tearful conferences with her mother, and pleadings and reproaches. Then, at last, her mother sighed and choked down her grief and let her go. Just as mothers have done since the world began.
With a heavy heart the mother watched the packing of the trunks, and with dim forebodings she listened to the gay songs of the light hearted girl as she flitted from room to room gathering up her belongings. Then at last the time came when the "baby" and pet of the household was driven away to the station and was whirled off on the train to Day's Gap.
The old home never seemed the same after Annie left. There were no songs and no sunshine. The piano was seldom opened, and the tail brothers came and went about their daily tasks with never a comment on anything lighter than the state of the weather. They, too, missed their happy hearted sister more than they cared to tell.
This visit to Day's Gap was the turning point in Annie Skelton's career. It was here that the match was applied to the inflammable material of her character, that burned her life into a bed of ashes, yet, through all her sad and short career, she bore in her character the capacity of better things.
Not long after her arrival at Day's Gap Annie Skelton met her hero. It was here that she was introduced to Mr. J. C, Musgrove, now United States Marshal of the Birmingham district. On her part the acquaintance ripened rapidly into the deepest and most passionate adoration. On his part—well, he was handsome, careless and debonair, and it is possible that he did not care for her as deeply as other men had. It is strange how this very carelessness in some men hinds them all the closer to souls by whom they may be idolized.
For a while Annie Skelton was intensely happy in this Infatuation. Her letters were brimful of animation and high spirits. She had everything she could possibly wish for. She was “seeing her world'" and was consequently contented. Then Annie's letters took on a sadder tinge. They became shorter and dealt in commonplace subjects. After a long silence there came a letter containing the simple sentence:—"Mother, I am tired and am coming home."
So the old house was brightened and burnished up for Annie's homecoming. The mother sang the old simple church tunes of her girlhood and the tall brothers slapped each other on the back and spread the good news among the overjoyed sweethearts down in the village. Annie was coming home. To nobody in the entire population did these simple words mean more than to John Freeman. What did he care for a few innocent flirtations! Annie loved him best of all.
A few days later a white faced, hollow eyed girl alighted from the Birmingham train. It was Annie Skelton and she had "seen the world.”
"What is the trouble, Annie; you look out of sorts?" inquired her mother.
"Nothing, mother," she said. "I guess I’m just tired."
ANNIE HERSELF AGAIN
Then the days at the old home rolled on in the same fashion as of yore, with the exception that Annie Skelton was changed. She sat around in a listless way, often with her eyes full of tears. In vain her mother begged her to tell what was the matter. Annie said it was nothing.
Then all at once she blazed out into a wonderful spirit of recklessness. She sung as much as of old, but her songs were shrill and high. She was feverishly unquiet. She was the life of every party she attended. She was her old self. The resistless desire to see the world returned—to go out into the great, swirling highways of life and forget the past, in which her heart had been buried.
It was at this period that the man who lies under the white tombstone out in the village churchyard came into her life. I cannot say where she first met Banker R. C. Ross. Even her people do not know. He glided into her existence so gradually and quietly that the ripening of their acquaintance into friendship, and from friendship into something that at least imitated love, was scarcely noticeable.
The meeting of these two was the most fatal incident in the lives of each. If Fate had kept them apart each would have been happy to-day, and untold misery would have been averted. Deep are the ways of the three Fates. Grim is the knife of that old hag Clothis, the last of the three, who cuts the thread of human life.
Ross was essentially a man of the world. He was not a native of Scottsboro, and was clearly out of his element. Born at Neilsville, Wis., September 21, 1853, he had lived there and at Lacrosse until 1879, after which he went to Iowa, and finally moved to Alabama in 1875. On June 1 of the year following, he was married to Miss Ida Ross, a cousin, in St. James’ Church, at Eufaula, Ala. Five children were born to them.
Ross was a man of wealth. He came into Annie Skelton's life, and with his fascinating manner and stylish appearance he brought the atmosphere of that world into which she was eager to go. He was a part of it, and she loved him as such—nothing more. For him the beautiful girl supplied that association which he missed in the little country town of Scottsboro. He recognized her as a jewel whose lustre would not be paled by any woman in the most fashionable assemblage. Contrasted with her surroundings she was a bright star in a murky heaven. She was dazzling. He cultivated her acquaintance. He was assiduous. He was devoted. He gave her handsome presents, which she accepted graciously. Her acquaintance offered a relief to his bubbling love of pleasure and excitement, which was no doubt corked up as in a bottle at his home, for he said to the girl. In one of his letters:—
"My wife is so wrapped up in her household cares, her kinsfolk and her children that I am little more than a boarder in my own house."
THE FAITHFUL LOVER
In the meantime plain, honest John Freeman was still Annie Skelton's admirer. He called upon her whenever she found time to receive him, and loved her as patiently and devotedly as ever. Up to this time there had not arisen a whisper regarding Ross and Annie Skelton. How their intimacy could have grown to such an alarming intensity without attracting the attention of her brothers has been a mystery to them and to everybody else. It is possible that at that time they looked upon Annie's recklessness as a harmless relief from her former drooping spirits, and they gave no heed to it. But it was a thing done before they were aware of it.
It was in the middle of summer, during the world's fair, that the Skelton family became aware of the dangerous friendship existing between Mr. Ross and Annie. Her family at once decided to send her away on a visit to her sister, Mrs. S. B. Kirby, of Little Rock. Ark. Ross manifested the greatest regret at their parting. Annie had been consumed with a desire to visit the world's fair. He was going to Chicago.
She could go with him. He proposed it. She rose to her feet, startled and gasping at the thought. She would do anything for excitement. The idea of such an adventure fascinated her. She told him that she would think it over. A woman who hesitates is lost.
Ross plainly saw the danger of such a trip, but he could not resist the temptation. He brought the subject up in conversations again and again. Still the girl would not consent. The afternoon of the day previous to the one set for Annie's departure came without his having obtained the girl's decision either to go or stay. That afternoon they met again by chance in the Post Office. At the rear of the place was a small room where they could sit own and talk without being observed. Ross and Annie went back into the room and sat down. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon. The hours passed and still they sat there, engrossed in earnest conversation. Four o'clock came and went: five o'clock, and finally the shadows of evening crept down over the hills. Then Annie Skelton got up and went out and hurried home, with her head swimming and her brain on fire. She had given Ross her decision.
The latter went his way in a sort of feverish, nervous happiness. He knew the danger, had calculated upon it, and was willing to take the risk, with the coolness of a desperate gambler.
The next morning Annie Skelton took the train for Memphis. On the same day Ross took the train for Chattanooga. Their ways seemed far apart. Their departure aroused no comment. Did they meet In Chicago? The plaintiff, which in this case is the people, will deny it. The defense will try to prove that they met at the world's fair, as an evidence of Ross' guilt in the seduction. The proof in part will be that, although the ride from Scottsboro to Little Rock should have taken but a day. Miss Skelton did not arrive at her sister's house for more than a week after her departure from her home, during which time her trunk was being held and storage charged upon it by the station agent at Little Rock. About the time she arrived at Little Rock, Ross made his appearance at Scottsboro. People interested in the case have formed their own deductions regarding this.
In one of the letters written to Miss Skelton by Rosa after this trip he says: -
"Do you know, it is almost Impossible for me to realize that we were together once for six whole days? I remember one afternoon we did not go out and it grew dark, and you said. 'Oh, where has the afternoon gone to?' Do you remember? I do. It was the happiest afternoon of my life.”
LETTERS IN EVIDENCE
These letters written to Miss Skelton while she was at Little Rock were strangely enough the last link in the chain that was to drag her to disgrace and him to death. Because of their character and their importance in the coming trial a few of the dozen or more which will be put in evidence are here given:—
MY SWEETHEART:- It seems to me that this has been the longest day. I haven't had time to write a line to you. Mrs. W. A. Coffey's mother is very sick, and Mr. C. and Harris have been at home all day leaving all work on me, and it has kept me busy, and not it is nearly dark. Your letter came this morning and made me so happy. I am beginning to believe that my sweetheart does love me a little, anyway. I am sorry I spoke of my scheme, for it may not turn out as I hope, and I have built so many plans. It is this: -- My father was at one time one of the wealthiest lumbermen in Wisconsin and owned a great deal of land. When he failed he had over 200,000 acres. One tract was on the Chippewa River, but was too far from the river to be valuable, as timber was at that time all floated to market. There were 16,000 acres in the tract, and he mortgaged it for $10,000. The parties that held the mortgage said that so long as interest was kept up they would not want the principal. I thought there was some money to be made, and I bought the lands, subject to mortgage. I kept up the interest all right, but in the meantime two railroads have been built near the land. These roads made the land more valuable. The parties who held the mortgage saw it and foreclosed. I could not get the $10.000 and had to let it go. A few months ago a friend of mine discovered a defect in title which would make the mortgage void, and we are now looking it up. My brother-in-law has employed counsel to look it up. Our lawyers say that we can recover the land. The land is worth from $150,000 to $200,000, and I expect, after dividing with Dock and paying everything. I would have from $50,000 to $75,000 left. The parties I have to fight are wealthy, but Dock, who is on the ground, says we have a pull for it.
Now, I have always tried to be honorable, and would not want to do a menu or dishonorable thing, but my wife is so wrapped up in her household cares, her kinsfolk and her children that I am little more than a boarder in my own house. She is a good woman and has always been a good wife, but I don't think she would miss me much if she had a comfortable home and an income that would keep her. If I get out all right in my land business my scheme is to leave my home and what I have here and the interest on my money will make them easy. You know my home is pleasant and I don't think they will grieve for me.
Then I would take my sweetheart and my land money and go to South Dakota, get a divorce and marry the girl I love. Then we could locate somewhere—I don't like the South as well as I do the West to do business in.
I build such big plans and think everything looks bright to me! Then comes the thought that I may get beaten in my lawsuit and all looks black. My wife is just as good as she can be, but i don't love her as i do you. Now, that is my scheme; I believe it will work, though it may be sometime yet. I will depend on you to carry out your part if it does work. If I can get out of here, leaving my folks comfortable, with the little sweetheart I love better than anything on earth I believe I can be happy. I could not be happy, however, if Mrs. R. and the children were not provided for. I don t see anything wrong li. this. I don't think it right to live with a woman if one don't love her. I believe in you and think you would be a good, true wife, would you not, dear? Now you have all I know. I can only wait and hope. Can you still say you will do your part? I sent you "Lucille" by express to-day, as I heard you say you liked it. Also send you a little calendar. Want you to look at it and think of your own loving BOB.
My OWN DEAR DARLING: - I am sorry that Sunday went by without my being able to write to you. Really. I want to go to you. Met ------ on the train Saturday. He was going to Chattanooga—on a whiz,
I imagine. He had a jag on and was very rocky. Asked me when Annie Skelton was coming home. He said he was very anxious to see you, as you had promised him something. Said the way you could kiss a man was immense, and that he had kissed you all he wanted to, but wasn't going to be content with kisses next time. Of course, I believe be was lying—don’t believe you ever allowed him to kiss you. It made me feel badly to think I was not in a position to resent his lies. Ah, what would I not give to be able to put myself in a position where it would be my right to defend you on all occasions! I wrote you about taking a drink with Bob. Felt badly afterward, but you must forgive me this time, and I won't drink any more. I want to treat you just as honorably as I would have you treat me. If you can't come home In February I'll go West to see my darling.
You ask me to write you often, but I don't think you read the Letters I write you. I have asked you twice if you would wear a plain ring if I would send it, but you don't answer at all, and I am mad about it. Why don’t you say no if you don't want to wear it? Lovingly. BOB.
TUESDAY, 5:30 P. M.
MY DARLING:--I have just gotten in from a disagreeable ride and am cold and tired. I must write to thank you for the sweet little letter that came this morning. Really, dear, if you surprise me a few times more I will believe that you really do love me. This morning, as I started to Langston, I went by the Post
Office and was so pleased to find your letter of Sunday. Wasn't I proud? You are a darling little girl, and I love you so dearly.
If you can't come home In February can't you meet me in Memphis?
In going to L. to-day I went over the road we drove over the night you first let me kiss you. That little kiss the first night don't count. It makes me find lonesome. I saw so many of the places to-day that were dark that night. Don't you know that it is almost impossible for me to realize that we were together once for six whole days? I remember one afternoon we didn't go out and it grew dark and you said: -"Oh, where has the afternoon gone to?" Do you remember? I do. It was the happiest afternoon of my life. Oh, what would I not give for another such trip! I loved you dearly and did everything I could to please you, but now I would know better how to please you. Dear, we did not know each other the night I found you in the hall as we do now.
Do you expect to spend next summer here? If you do I will try to boom Fern Cliff and get somebody to take it, but if my scheme works, neither you or I will want to engage board at the Cliff. I leave you, my darling, as ever, lovingly, BOB.
DECEMBER 21, 1893.
Your sweet letter of Tuesday came last night. Is it necessary for me to say I was glad to get it? Oh, my darling, how time drags when you are away. Surely you will come home in the spring. I envy J. D. F. in being with you, though I am the lucky one, for you love me. My dear, I like John very well and I think he loves you, but don't think he is the kind of a man to make a woman happy. And as I think my scheme will work, please don't make your plans about marrying him just yet. And you must not neglect me while John F. is with you. While I believe in you, I can't help being jealous if I don't hear from you. It is so natural to love those near us best. What is that quotation - "When we are far from the lips that we love, we make love to the lips that are near." But it won't be that way with you, I know.
I will look for the photos in a day or two. With oceans of love for my own darling, I bid you a loving good night. BOB.
WHAT MRS. KIRBY FOUND
These letters came pretty regularly to the home of the Kirbys in Little Rock, but as Annie had a great many sweethearts they aroused no special comment beyond a Joke now and then. One day Mr. Kirby opened one of these letters by mistake. He did not read it, but turned it over to his wife at once. She proved to be not so scrupulous. She took the letter and started toward the parlor with it. At that time the patient and faithful John Freeman was with the girl, having run over from Huntsville to call upon her. Mrs. Kirby paused at the parlor door, turned the letter over and over, wondering who it was from. She hesitated and at last her curiosity conquered. She read the letter.
That was a fatal moment for Robert Ross and Annie Skelton. All unconscious of the impending tragedy, the gay laugh of the young girl rang out upon the air, and pierced the heart of Mrs. Kirby like a knife. Furious with her sister for carrying on such a correspondence, above all with a married man, she ran to Annie's room, opened her trunk and hunted frantically for the letters which she knew must lie there. They were found and read. For a while Mrs. Kirby sat like one in a dream. What was to be done? She was a Southern woman, and to her Southern blood nothing seemed possible except that her sister’s dishonor should be avenged and avenged at once. There should be no delay. But who would do it? Her brothers, of course. They would settle the little matter as it should be settled. Quickly she made up her mind. The letters were tied in a package and forwarded to her brothers back in Scottsboro.
What the feelings of these brothers were when they learned what had happened can only be imagined. Annie, the baby, and their pet. The shame of it all, and the pity of it all, when they had loved her so! The brothers held a consultation. They decided to get their sister home at once. They went about it very quietly.
In the home of her sister at Little Rock one day Miss Skelton received this message:—"Come home at once. Mother is ill." While hastily packing her belongings Miss Skelton missed her letters. There was a scene between her and her sister. Mrs. Kirby, in her righteous wrath, told what she had done with them. Terror filled the girl's soul. She understood then the meaning of that telegram.
"Oh, what have you done, 'Dove?' What have you done?" she cried. "You have broken my heart and ruined my life!"
Her sister bore the reproach grimly and in silence, while Annie sobbed and moaned in grief. The girl knew what was coining. That afternoon she kept her face buried in the pillows of her bed and cried.
ROSS WAS WARNED
When she had grown somewhat calmer she made up her mind as to her future. Naturally she turned to the one man who had caused all the trouble. She wanted to see him. Though she did not love him as she had-once loved another they were partners in misery. She telegraphed Ross to meet her in Memphis. The next morning she started from her sister's house ostensibly for home. She never reached there. Ross was absent from Scottsboro one day, just at that time. He met the girl in
Memphis and heard from her lips the whole story. He knew then that he was a marked man. He returned to Scottsboro, but he knew that it was at his peril.
The brothers waited day by day for their sister, but she did not come. Matters were coming to a crisis. Vague stories of one kind or another began to leak out among the townspeople. Ross realized his peril and rapidly made arrangements to leave town. A few days later he left for a trip through Georgia on business.
The brothers of Annie Skelton had sworn to kill him if he ever returned.
Understanding nothing of all this trouble Mrs. Ross wondered at her husband's continued absence, and constantly entreated him to return. These entreaties were made all the more poignant to him by the information conveyed in her letters that a child was about to be born to them. This circumstance of her delicate condition overcame all fear of danger, and he returned home on Tuesday of the last week in January. The child was born on the following day. The visit was a fatal move for Ross. While in Scottsboro on this occasion he was not seen outside of his house. But the Skelton boys had heard of his presence in town. They also knew that he was going away soon again, for the reason that he had disposed of some of his property at Scottsboro. They knew that he was getting everything in readiness to join their sister wherever she was, get a divorce from his wife and go with Miss Skelton to some Western State and there settle down with her. This seeming intention was to them too it should not he carried out. In order to prevent his escape they set a watch on his house.
Ross understood just how matters were. He knew that the net was drawn closely about him, and that the chances wore against his escape, but he determined to risk it. To remain meant death, to go meant at least a chance for his life.
Early on Sunday morning, February 4, he arose before daybreak, and in a drag, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Bloodwood, and two men as attendant and driver, started across the country to take the train at Stevenson, Ala., seventeen miles away, not wishing to risk his life by being seen in boarding the train at the station in Scottsboro.
Swiftly the emissaries of the Skelton boys aroused the brothers of the wronged girl to action. Through the mists of the morning there arose the clank of arms and the rattle of buckle and spur. Two hours after Ross had started on his journey the race of death began. Annie Skelton has four brothers, but only three of them were engaged in the pursuit. They were "Jim," "Bob” and "Tot." The last of the four men that sped along the road to Stevenson with shotguns across their pommels was John Skelton, a cousin, whom the other three had induced to accompany them. No time was to be lost. The horses lay down to their work, and they were soon flecked with foam. Away in front, four or five miles or more, Ross rode on in his buggy, chatting pleasantly with his brother-in-law, and feeling happy over his escape. There was plenty of time before the arrival of the train at Stevenson, and they went along leisurely, unconscious that their pursuers were coming up so rapidly.
Back at Scottsboro the news soon got abroad that the Skeltons were chasing Ross toward
Stevenson. The greatest excitement prevailed. The whole story was out, and those who were blessed with any sort of Imagination added to the harrowing details.
Ross had a brother-in-law named Ed. Ross, a young man about twenty-one years of age. The Skelton boys also had a brother-in-law, named John B. Tally, then Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Alabama. Each of these men learned early of the flight and pursuit. All the morning Judge Tally remained about the telegraph office. To friends who spoke to him about the Impending conflict. Judge Tally said that he was waiting to see if anybody sent a telegram of warning to Stevenson.
Everybody about Scottsboro was impressed with the probability of a terrible tragedy, and a crowd gathered at the depot to learn the first news of it. At a late hour young Ross came up. It had occurred to him that he ought to warn his brother-in-law. Accordingly he wrote a message, addressed to R. C. Ross, at Stevenson.
It was as follows:
"Four men on horseback, with guns, following. Look out."
Judge Tally either saw this message, or accurately divined its contents. He immediately wrote this message, addressed to the operator at Stevenson:—"Don't let warned party get away."
LOCK A RAT IN A TRAP
These two messages came to the operator at Stevenson, one after the other. He had heard of the impending trouble, and knew what it meant. But not for a moment did he suspect that the tragedy was so near at hand.
Taking the two messages in his hand, he walked out on the station platform. Away down the lane he could see the drag containing Dr. Ross, his brother-in-law, Bloodwood, and the two attendants. There were strange foam flecked horses over in the brush, but he did not see them. The Ross party drove up to the depot and alighted. No one was in sight. The morning was quiet, and the peacefulness of a
Sabbath in the country reigned. The church bells were ringing.
Suddenly, through the Sabbath stillness broke the sharp crack of a rifle. Then came another and another, until a regular fusillade was raging.
The horses attached to the drag began to rear and plunge and finally went tearing madly away. At the second or third shot Ross jumped into the air and fell on his face. The negro driver fell beside him. Down the street Bloodwood was running for his life. Scrambling to his feet the negro also took wildly to his heels. Only Ross was left upon the ground. He was a game man. Those who peered out with white faces from places of safety saw that he was badly hurt. Yet slowly and with labored effort he drew his gun from his pocket, staggered to his feet like a drunken man and reeled over to the side of a small oil house belonging to the railroad company. There, leaning with his back to the house and bracing himself to keep from falling, he looked about him to find his assailants. They had not yet been seen. He knew that his death was upon him and that he could not avert it.
Bewildered by the rapidity of the shots and by the variety of directions from which they were coming, he knew not what to do. With his brain reeling and his senses groping through the mists of death, he turned this way and that, watching, as best he could, for his enemies. Men stood and watched him, unable to do anything to help him. Hot tears started to their eyes at the sight of the agony on his face. The scattering fusillade was kept up for five minutes. At last John Skelton, the cousin, walked up behind the oil house and around the corner. Ross had heard a noise around the other corner and had turned his half blind eyes in that direction. John raised his gun and fired. The ball crashed through Ross’ head and he fell. Then, as he lay there quivering, Robert Skelton walked up and shot him again.
So Robert Ross died and the honor of Annie Skelton was avenged.
After the shooting, John and Bob Skelton turned and walked up to the platform. Then "Jim" and "Tot" came up.
"Where is he?" asked one.
"He is around there, dead," was the reply.
"Well, we have done what we came to do,” said the other, with a smile of satisfaction.
Afterward it was learned that the Skelton boys had dismounted from their horses a short distance from the town, and, taking a short cut across the fields, had arrived at the station in time to lake positions at the four corners of the ground surrounding the station. In this way Ross was caught in a sort of cul de sac.
Over at Scottsboro, seventeen miles away, the crowd was still waiting for the news. It came when the operator came out and handed Judge Tally a message. It read, “Ross is dead. None of us hurt.”
The Skeltons came back to Scottsboro, gave themselves up, and were confined in the jail at Scottsboro. Early In March they had a preliminary hearing and were admitted to bail in the sum of $7,000 each. Jim and Robert gave bail. John and "Tot" could not do so and were taken back to jail. Sometime during April they made a daring escape. "Tot" was recaptured, but John is still at liberty, and will not figure in the trial next week.
JUDGE TALLY IN TROUBLE
Prosecution was commenced against Judge Tally after the preliminary hearing for the purpose of impeaching him. The case was heard before the Supreme Court at Huntsville in July. That court reserved its decision until Thursday, August 9, when it delivered its opinion in a lengthy and remarkable document, finding Judge Tally guilty of aiding and abetting in the crime of murder, thus disbarring him from the Bench or making him liable to indictment for murder. This indictment, however, will be answered by himself alone, and he will have a separate trial from the Skeltons.
In the trial of the Skelton boys, which is to come up on Monday at Scottsboro, it is thought that an effort will be made to have a continuance, but lawyers of the prosecution say that they will be able to defeat that effort, and the case will, therefore, probably be heard. It will attract great attention, both by reason of the sensational testimony to be introduced and by reason of the celebrated and distinguished legal lights employed on each side.
Never since the time she left Little Rock, ostensibly to go home, up to the day after the tragedy, had Annie Skelton been heard from. All that time she had been living in comfort at the Gibson House, Cincinnati. The details of the tragedy were sent out to all the papers on that fatal Sunday. The next morning Miss Skelton sent down to the office of the Gibson, as was her custom, for a paper. It was in this way that she first learned of the great trouble and disgrace that had come upon herself and family and upon the family of her lover.
For weeks her nervous forces had suffered great strain and anxiety. She had expected something like this. Under the sudden shock of the news she gave way immediately. Dangerously ill within an hour, it became necessary to telegraph her condition to her people. Mr. S. N. Kirby of Little Rock went to Cincinnati, and the young girl was at once taken from the hotel to Mrs. Mary Howard's private hospital in Clinton Street, where she had absolute quiet and the best medical attention obtainable. Slowly she came back to life and strength, and in the latter part of April was able to be taken to her home.
All the summer she has remained at the residence of her mother in the suburbs of the town, being seldom seen by any one and walking out only in the evenings. Sometime in July the patient, faithful John Freeman went to Scottsboro, where he remained until the middle of August. During this time he saw Annie Skelton constantly. In August he left for Memphis and a few days later Miss Skelton went away with her sister, Mrs. Kirby on a visit, it is said, to her sister in Little Rock. But it is asserted, and has not been denied that Mr. Freeman and Miss Skelton were married either at Little Rock or at Memphis on the day after the young girl's departure from Scottsboro, and that they are now living In Texas.
SHE TRIED TO SAVE HIM
When Ross was travelling in Georgia, and just before his return home, he wrote to Annie that owing to his wife's illness he could not remain away, but that he felt it was death to return unless he had a letter from her to her brothers, exonerating him from any blame as to her conduct and absence.
Deeply moved by the situation, the girl sat down and wrote a remarkable letter to her brother. It will be produced at the trial. It is as follows:-
MISS SKELTON'S LETTER
CINNCINATI, Ohio, January, 1894.
BOB—I trust you are all satisfied now that you have disgraced me. It always seemed to me that this was what you wanted to do. But what is your object in swearing you will kill Mr. Ross, when you know that he is not the one that wronged me. If you want to kill the man that ruined me, then kill J. C. Musgrove. But you will not do this, as Jim has an appointment under him.
What good will it do to kill anyone? It will only make bad matters worse. You all knew last summer that Bud Musgrove did this, for I told more than one of the family that I could have anything of him I would ask. He wronged me and then I was reckless.
Mr. Ross went with me at my own invitation, and if you kill him you will have to suffer for it. If you are bloodthirsty and must kill somebody, then kill Bud Musgrove and I will send you the letters to justify you in so doing.
But I would advise you to let matters rest.
You will never be worried with me at home again. And now, for mother's sake, don't bring more disgrace on the family.
Don't you think it would have been best had Dove never stolen my letters? It cannot possibly do any good and has certainly made lots of unhappiness. Oh. Bob have you no mercy on a girl away from home as I was, in Birmingham, two years ago, and who loved as madly as I loved Bud Musgrove? After his marriage I was reckless and felt that there was nothing in this life for me.
Perhaps it will be some consolation for mother to know that I am in college and am not leading the life that Dove said I would lead when she ordered me to leave her house. No. I have sinned enough and will kill myself before I will lead that kind of a life.
Now I tell you, let matters rest. I realize that I can never come home again, but am going to live so that I can see my mother again in this life and ask her forgiveness.
Do nothing rash, for it will only bring me before the public where, I trust, none of you want to see me.
Bud Musgrove is the one who has made my life what it is but his life could never make me what I once was.
Thus ends the story of the girl who wanted to see the world. Death, shame, dishonor and a life full of ghostly memories were in the path she had chosen. It is well, however, that after the storm there has fallen a certain degree of peace in the patient, faithful love of John Freeman, which has shone through the dark clouds of the drama like a guiding star.