The Murder Of John Cherry and The Tragedy of Billy Melton, Spearsville, LA

Erin Antley – For The Love of History
October 28, 2018

Those who have followed me in the past have heard tell of this dark convoluted tale of Union Parish past. I can honestly say that I have studied up one side and down the other and I have no real good explanation for why the events occurred in the first place but it tore two families apart forever.

On the morning of April 18, 1884, Perry Melton and his oldest son, Billy were walking to work, having picked up some work with a local road crew. They passed the neighboring farm of John Cherry. John was working a horse that morning and apparently there had been some bad feelings stirring recently between the two neighbors. What started the argument, history does not record. It is said that Perry harbored some jealousy of John’s success and social status. John put the horse back into a paddock and faced his neighbor. From what I have read, Perry Melton was a big man, over 6 feet tall and imposing in demeanor. Billy, his son, in contrast was a fairly short dude but muscular and barrel-chested. Billy was also sort of simple minded. He wasn’t a bright fellow but he was of kind disposition and was known to be a friendly fellow. But he also did anything his dad instructed him to. John Cherry was said to be of about average size and build. He was 20 years younger than Perry Melton but was hardened by his time in the Civil War and his frontier life. Perry and John’s argument escalated. Perry began to walk away but then turned back saying he was going to kill John. John drew his revolver and fired at Perry twice missing him once and then hitting him in the left arm. Perry grabbed a stick of stove wood and started in to John. John yelled to his wife for assistance and she tore from the front door of the house with a long rifle. Billy, in a panic now, grabbed the rifle from Mrs. Cherry and in the struggle, smacked her fairly hard with a piece of wood he had grabbed. I honestly don’t believe he meant to inflict injury on her, only to stop his dad from being shot again. By this point, Perry had gotten the upper hand in the fight with John and told Billy to “hit him.” Billy did and his blow is what ended the life of John Cherry that spring morning. Once again, I believe that Billy would have not intended to kill John but probably didn’t know his own strength. Perry knew they had to run if there was any chance to survive the hangman’s noose. At the road he encountered a Mr. Rabun who was also a neighbor and told him what had happened. He instructed Rabun to go find a doctor to help John and Rebecca Cherry as he and Billy headed back to their own homestead. John was beyond help and Rebecca had a good sized knot on her head as well. (Another report states that Perry attacked John with a garden hoe and beat him to death with a railroad spike he found in the yard but that is not what the court records suggest.)

The next few days were sort of murky. We don’t know if Perry and Billy were already en route to Texas. There were rumors that they were hiding on Corney but I think this was just to throw off the posse that Perry knew was coming. This left his wife and kids in considerable bind as well as the wife and children of John Cherry. Perry and Billy were fugitives and trying to reach Texas as fast as they could.

Union Parish Sheriff BF Pleasant was not one to let things go. He soon saddled up a posse and began to trail the desperados west. By July, Sheriff Pleasant would capture and arrest Perry and Billy and bring them back to Farmerville to stand trial. They were convicted in November and sentenced to hang. The execution was delayed a couple times but finally set for June. Billy was deeply troubled by the events as anyone would be. He had not wanted to kill anybody and now he was sitting in jail with no hope. He met with the preacher when he came to visit Billy and Billy was baptized. The jailers took pity on Billy, in fact the whole community did. They knew Billy was simple and would never harm anyone. Many out of town papers had painted him as a brutal killer when it could not be further from the truth. Billy was a victim, too.

On June 19th, 1885 at 1:37 pm, the door swung from under Perry and Billy’s feet. Perry died immediately. Billy was not so lucky. His noose was caught around his chin and he dangled painful for several minutes before the hangman “re-adjusted the rope.” I take it they hanged him a second time…poor guy. The men were cut down and placed into pine coffins with the nooses still around their necks, the lids nailed shut, they were loaded into the family wagon with the children of Perry and his widow (Billy’s step mother) to make the 6 hour journey back to Spearsville by wagon. As a final request per Perry, they were buried in the family orchard.

The Melton family never spoke of the incident again. It wasn’t know among the family members until the 1980’s when a member began researching their genealogy and uncovered the story! The family moved and settled in Texas and lived out their days quietly and without further incident, probably wondering why Perry had flown into such a rage that morning and took Billy with him!

I don’t know where the bodies of Perry and Billy are buried but I would love to see. I am not even sure that whoever owns the old place now knows that they have two fairly famous outlaws buried in their back yard!


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