The Murder of John Wadell Cherry

Erin Antley
August 9, 2013

Within the gates of the Spearsville cemetery lies the grave of John Wadell Cherry. Born 05/13/1845 and murdered in front of his own farm on 04/16/1884 by father and son, Perry and William Melton. The Melton’s apparently had a verbal argument on the morning of April 16. Cherry, a former Rebel soldier, pulled his side arm and fired a couple times, only managing to wound the elder Melton in the arm. The Meltons overpowered Cherry and disarmed him. Mrs. Cherry ran to the aid of her husband and one of the Melton men hit her with a large stick, leaving her helpless and semi-conscious. The Meltons then turned on Cherry and beat him to death, using the same stick to crush his skull. The Melton father and son quickly returned home, gathered their things and fled to Texas. (Some reports state that the men were hidden by their family in the Union Parish area for a few weeks and then escaped to Texas.)

Union Parish Sherriff Pleasant captured the men in Palo Pinta County, TX. They were brought back for their trial and were swiftly convicted. The execution was scheduled for April 1885. The attorney general granted a last minute stay and the hanging was postponed. During this time, the men were housed in the old Farmerville jailhouse. The prison guards became convinced that the younger Melton, William AKA “Billy” should not be hanged. They felt that he should have been convicted of manslaughter because he had been compelled to participate in the beating of both Mr. and Mrs. Cherry by his father, Perry. It is said that Billy Melton spent much time weeping in his cell but eventually became resigned to his fate. The testimony of Mrs. Cherry (who by many accounts was both tiny and pretty) regarding the death of her husband and senseless attack of herself is what swayed the court to vote for the hanging of the Perry men. Initially, sympathy ran high with her. In time, sympathy turned for Billy Melton, and many locals felt that he was a victim of circumstance. At any rate, the execution was rescheduled for June 19, 1885. Billy dried up his tears and faced his fate like a brave man.

The Meltons mounted the gallows silently and without tears that afternoon. Billy had been baptized in the jailhouse a few weeks earlier by a local minister. They were allowed time to pray and repent. The hanging commenced at 1:40 pm that afternoon. Perry Melton was pronounced dead by 2:07 pm. Unfortunately, Billy’s noose failed to work properly and he was hanged for a number of minutes before the officials realized that he was unlikely to die in the position that he was in. They “adjusted” his rope (i.e. they hanged the poor bastard again). He was hanged for a total of 31 minutes before he was pronounced dead and cut down. The family had a local mortician ready two wooden coffins. The bodies of Perry and Billy were placed in the pine boxes and nailed shut. The heartbroken Melton family carried the bodies of the deceased back to their farm near Spearsville and buried them in the fruit orchard as was Perry’s last request. (In a wagon…in June, it would have taken at least 6 hours to get there!) I have heard that the graves are still visible today but I do not know who owns the old farm. Apparently, the family did not discuss the hanging of the two men again for at least 100 years. A descendent began genealogy research and discovered a remarkable family story!

What is the truth behind the murders? Nobody living knows for sure. It is said that Cherry and the elder Melton had some sort of feud going. He gave only vague reasons for the murder. Did Billy participate willingly? And in the end, poor Billy had the worst death of any of them. It did nothing to help the sentiment of the public. Sympathy already ran high with Billy and for his execution to be so brutally painful, it rubbed salt in an already festering wound.

Gene Barron also wrote an article about this. You can read it at The Murder of John W. Cherry

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