A reporter for the Sun some time ago made the acquaintance of a gentleman in Livingston County, who is himself a living illustration of the carelessness with which an excited mob of men are accustomed to fool with a man’s life if they once get him into their clutches. The gentleman alluded to is now in the city, en route with his family to Texas, which State he will make his future home, and from him permission was obtained to make use of the following facts:
The most of our readers are familiar with the details of the murder of Marks, the Evansville commercial traveler, at a point between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, known as “The Narrows,” several years ago. The name of the murderer was Sullivant, and he was a merchant at the point named and was in the habit of buying goods of the firm for which Marks was traveling. Marks, on his rounds, called on him as usual. Sullivant invited him to spend the night with himself in the store. That was the last ever seen of the unfortunate “drummer” alive. His mutilated remains were subsequently exhumed from a grave near by, where they had been placed by Sullivant, who undoubtedly slew him for the purpose of robbery.
But with the strange fatality which so often pursues the perpetrator of a great crime, the criminal makes some blunder, which almost invariably makes his detection easy. In this case Sullivant sent a forged receipt for moneys paid and a receipted order for more goods. The firm, knowing that the documents were not in the handwriting of their agent, retained them. And when it was ascertained that he had disappeared, in the hands of detectives they at once furnished the clew which, in the end, secured the capture and conviction of the real criminal.
This is simply as a preface to the story of Mr. George W. McGee.
While the officers were searching for a clue to the whereabouts of Marks, some one, whose name McGee, to this day, does not know, artfully threw suspicioins on Mr. McGee. This suspicion was fanned and kept alive by Sullivant. The result was that McGee was one night taken from his bed by a mob of armed men, a rope attached to his neck, the other end of which was attached to the pommel of a saddle, and away he went. Arriving at a lonely spot in the woods–and one who has ever traveled the country “between the rivers,” as it is called, knows that there are many places in that locality peculiarly adapted to deeds of violence–the rope was detached from the saddle, and while these midnight marauders gathered around by the light of a lantern illuminated by the faint glare of one sickly candle, the line was thrown over the low-hanging branches of a tree, made taut, and McGee at the same time informed that he had better speedily make his peace with God, as he had but a few moments to live. He was urged by the leader to tell the whereabouts of Marks’ remains and, if any, his accomplices in the “taking off.” As McGee was entirely innocent of any knowledge of the dark deed, of course he could only answer that he knew nothing about it. His assertion, “So help me God, gentlemen, I never saw or heard of the man before in my life,” was answered by the remark from Sullivant himself, “George that is too thin!” Mr. McGee says that he distinctly saw the lantern wave twice in the air. He was lifted bodily from the ground into the air; he knew that he was being drawn up over the limb by the rope. There was no pain as long as he was ascending. When he settled back, however, with a slight jerk, his suffering was excruciating. He could feel his eyes turn suddenly into balls of fire and protrude from their sockets. He tried to scream, but no sound issued from his throat. His arms were unpinioned and he endeavored to raise his hands, so as to grasp the rope above his head, that he might relieve that terrible shortening of his breath, which seemed, at each muscular attempt at respiration, as if the air would escape from his lungs and force itself out through the pores of the skin on his breast and back. The muscles of the arm refused to obey his will. His joints experienced a sensation similar to that one would imagine the piercing of red-hot needles would produce. The knees twitched and jerked convulsively. All this in apparently a minute of time. Then a delicious sensation of “cool numbness,” to use his own words, commencing at his extremities, stole gradually over him. He lost all desire to save himself–he preferred to die where he was. Almost every act of his life–no matter how trivial–flashed through his mind with the rapidity of lightning. A distant roar, as of a faraway cataract, grew gradually more and more distinct, until the fearful noise was almost deafening, then changed with the rapidity of thought itself into the most delicious music he had ever heard. Everything became as light as midday (although he could distinguish nothing of his surrounding), and finally unconsciousness. “It was not absolute unconsciousness, either,” said Mr. McGee. “I cannot describe it intelligibly. I do not know of any words that would convey to you a correct idea of the sensation–I was myself, and I was not myself. I seemed to be sailing away through space, as you have seen a large bird float through the atmosphere, without the apparent motion of a wing or feather. Another thing that is indelibly impressed upon my mind, was the terrible, oppressive, horrible silence–worse than silence–stillness, that existed above, below and about me. Still I floated on and on, perfectly contented, asking for nothing, thinking of nothing, hoping for nothing; ever, and with increasing rapidity, moving on and upward.”
But gradually, continued Mr. McGee, this perfectly contented, devil-may-care feeling commenced to disappear. He became conscious of bodily pain again. It seemed as if iron bands had been tightened with screws about his head and chest. He consciously grasped for breath. He heard voices–the words undistinguishable at first; then one or two, here and there, he understood. At last, fully restored to consciousness, he heard his captors quarreling fiercely as to whether he should be strung up again or carried to the Smithland Jail. He was lying on the ground his throat bleeding from the cruel rope, which still encircled his neck. Water was brought from a creek near by and dashed over him. And at last he was mounted upon a horse, and still in a half dazed condition moved away.
He arrived at Smithland about daylight, was locked up in the Jail, where he remained three days and was then released, Sullivant taking his place. The latter is now serving out a life sentence at Frankfort.
“And,” asked the reporter, “you think, then, you came near starting up the golden stairs, Mr. McGee?”
“Starting,” answered that gentleman, “I was already halfway up. They needn’t tell me, sir, there is no hereafter–no next world! I believe I have been nearer to it than any man alive. I do not know what kind of a world it is, but of life after death I am satisfied. You know that all the while I was floating upward my body was dangling by a rope to the limb of a tree, practically, sir, practically, as dead–as dead as a door-nail.”–Paducah (Ky.) Sun