James DeWitt hanging

Submitted by: George Wolfford, from his book, "Carter County, A pictorial history"

Click here for a VERY LARGE version of the original photo

William DeWhitt killed his wife and was hanged in 1896. My grandmother, Sadie Belle (Forrest) Roberts, b. 1887, d. 1988, lived in the vicinity of Everman Creek where the murder took place. I'll tell you what she told me.

DeWhitt was considerably younger than his wife and had asked for a divorce. She apparently wouldn't grant it. For whatever reason, he killed her and hid her body. He denied having any knowledge of what had happened to her. He rode with the party searching for her during the daylight hours then, at night, moved the body to areas that had already been searched. Apparently he grew tired of this and placed her body in the vicinity of Spicy School, on Everman Creek, where my grandmother attended. A group of the younger school girls, my grandmother included, found the body "next to a > primrose bush." The search party came up on the girls just as the body was found. I'm unsure where Spicy School was because my mother has described it as being in three different locations on Everman Creek. I, however, believe the Spicy School in question was at the same site as the Spicy School I remember in the mid 1960s. It's no longer there but there's now a church very close to the site.

As I've said, Sadie and her family lived close to Everman Creek. Sadie, her father, Robert Forrest, and probably other family members were present for the hanging. Sadie said that her father was asked to help remove DeWhitt's body. This may be so because I was told that DeWhitt and his wife were buried in a hollow on Everman Creek. Coincidently, I lived in the only house on that particular hollow for a short time. One of my cousins who grew up on Everman Creek spoke of seeing the DeWhitt graves while hunting. I asked him this past summer if he thought he could locate the graves. He stated his belief that the area was now too overgrown to do so. Sadie stated that she, accompanied by a William Glass, had visited the> graves, and that they were in the hollow described above. I got the impression that Sadie was still a young girl at this time because seeing the graves caused her to be afraid to be alone for quite some time afterward.

There is disagreement on where DeWhitt and wife are buried. Don Meenach, who contributes much to cemetery records and preservation on the Carter County site, stated to me that he found a William DeWhitt listed as buried in a better-known cemetery in the Everman Creek vicinity but not where I described. I've taken several hundred photos of Carter County cemtery tombstones for Don to post on the Carter County site. You may indeed find William DeWhitt's grave listed in the records on the site.

Submitted by Joel Carter

William H. Dewitt/DeWhitt's was suppose to have been born in 1817 in Nicholas County Kentucky. I do have his son William H. DeWitt, b.1855 Greenup Co. Kentucky d.1917 Rowan Co. Kentucky buried in DeWitt Family Cemetery in Rowan Co. Kentucky.

Submitted by Cindy DeWitt

Click here for another version of the Dewitt hanging photo

"In the nineteenth century nothing was quite as exuberating as a  hanging. 
For most citizens it was a once in a lifetime spectacle that few would ever 
forget. Hangings were festive events that were always accompanied by 
drunkenness, ribaldry and all forms of vice. Pickpockets made as much in a 
day as they could make for months elsewhere.

Tickets were not sold to the executions, (promoters and politicians had not 
yet figured out this source of potential revenue) so there is no way to
accurately determine the number of spectators that were present but 
estimates were invariably put at between 3000 and 5000 men, women and 

In 1896, James Dewitt, a farmer on Everman's Creek, would be responsible 
for such an event being staged in Carter County. The previous November, in 
a fit of temper, Dewitt murdered his estranged wife during a quarrel. 
Dewitt hid the body and evidently hoped her absence would go unnoticed. A 
few days later a search party was formed and Dewitt, who was in the search 
party, would from time to time move the body around to elude the other 
searchers. Finally, the family dog led the party to the spot where the body 
lay and Dewitt broke down and told the truth.   G. Haney"

Grayson, Ky., May 21, 1896 - James Dewitt was hanged this afternoon in the 
presence of over 5,000 people. He murdered his wife on the first of 
November last, striking her with an ax. An effort was made to have his 
sentence commuted to life imprisonment, but he sent word to Gov. Bradley 
that he was guilty and did not want him to interfere. His last days were 
rendered miserable by dreams and visions of his wife, whose glaring eyes 
and screams of anguish haunted him, sleeping and waking His nerves were
shattered, and he ascended the scaffold shaking and trembling, being almost 
in a state of utter collapse. He did not make a speech from the gallows.
Dewitt's neck was not broken by the drop and his death was very slow by
strangulation. His struggles were awful, and some in the crowd fainted
with horror.

Photo courtesy of CARTER COUNTY A PICTORIAL HISTORY, by George Wolfford

Submitted by Glen Haney

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