Hanging Went Without a Hitch

By Terry Shulman - 1906 Newspaper Article

When William Wilcher, the first white person to be executed in Rockbridge County, was hanged at the county jail on Aug. 3, 1906, it was not the culmination of a long, dramatic murder trial fraught with emotional pleas and angry testimony. It was all very matter-of-fact.

Even the murder itself was low-key. When the 23-year-old Wilcher was asked by a reporter why he did it, the condemned man replied that he had shot and killed his friend Henry Smith because the latter refused to go coon-hunting with him. Simple as that.

Wilcher had confessed to the murder right off, precluding the need for a lengthy trial. With the execution scheduled and the scaffold prepared, his last evening was spent calmly smoking cigars and chatting with visitors, telling them as they departed, "God bless you, I hope to meet you in a better world."

The next morning Wilcher was led into a small, canvas-covered enclosure, where he ascended the gallows steps, it was noted, "without a tremor." To one observer he was "the calmest man in the room." When asked if he had any last words, Wilcher said he was ready to go.

At 6:20 a.m. the drop fell and Wilcher plummeted the requisite 9 feet to his death. A few minutes later a doctor pronounced him dead. An easier, or less eventful, execution couldn't have been imagined.

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