Excerpt from The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson

excerpt from The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson

April 1, 1875 Drunken Bride, Texas

I have been to hangings before, but never my own. Still it should be some comfort to me, that except for the noose around my neck, and the drop that will take my life, I know exactly what to expect two days hence. I know there will be a crowd like there always is at a hanging; picnics, baskets lined with checkered cloths, the smell of fried chicken, and the noise of children. There will be, like there always is, a preacher, and a group of white women dressed in black, singing me to their god.

I expect the day of my execution to be a beautiful day. It hasn’t rained lately, but that could change. Some old Indian could show up, do a rain dance, and the whole thing might be postponed. I doubt it though. I’ve never seen a hanging rained out. It seems to me like the white god smiles on a hanging, just like he smiles on making money.

There will be plenty of opportunity for making money on the day of my death. Merchants selling warmish lemonade by the dipperful from a barrel, food for those who didn’t bring their own, slices of pie and cake for dessert, trinkets to commemorate my demise. And there should be, I hope, at least one industri­ous young boy out in the crowd, hawking souvenirs, competing with the adults’ business, selling miniature nooses with my name written across them.

I saw those little nooses when I was just a boy, at the hanging of a man named One-Eyed Jim. Jim was a slave who killed his overseer in the middle of the night while the man slept. Jim used a shovelhead and his bare hands, and rumor had it that he killed the very man who took his eye out. I was nine, maybe ten years old, the day Jim got hung, and a slave myself, owned then by a man named Roland Surley.

I was brought along that day to help out Surley’s lady friend, Miss Fannie Sims, with the picnic. I was there to carry the bas­ket, spread the quilt, fetch things, and if she got too hot, whisk a big fan back and forth to cool her. I saw the white boys wind­ing their way through the crowd calling out, “Nooses. Get your souvenir nooses right here.” Roland Surley flagged them down and bought a little noose to give to Miss Fannie, but she thought it was maudlin and refused to accept it, so he flipped it to me. “Here, Persy, I reckon it’s yours.” A little noose with the name One-Eyed Jim written in lumpy ink letters across the rope, a me­mento of that day that I have kept all the rest of my life. It’s dirty and grimy now, and the letters are faded away, but all the same I keep it.

I’m picturing those little nooses at my hanging, and the little white hands that ought to be making them. Maybe two boys working on it together, debating which of my names to use, then ending the argument by making some of each. I figure on at least a dozen with my slave name, Persimmon Wilson, and another dozen with the translation of my Comanche name, Twist Rope. Kweepoonaduh Tuhmoo.