The Cottonwood Tree

By Bruce Cline, director of the Little Egypt Ghost Society

The mid 1800s were violent times for southern Illinois and 1874 would be one of those violent years. Early spring brought death to an unknown black man who was accused of robbing, raping and murdering a white woman in Carbondale, Illinois. The man was quickly arrested and locked up in the Jackson County jail in Murphysboro. The public was outraged at the heinous crime, and so an angry mob of about 200 men and women gathered around the jail. When it became evident that the Sheriff and Jailer were not at their post, the mob broke down the doors to the jail and forcefully removed the black man. The crowd, hell bent for leather wanting revenge, carried the frightened prisoner to a site near the old Mt. Carbon Bridge on the Big Muddy River just east of town.

They hastily hurled a short rope over a high branch of a cottonwood tree and Granny Patchett, a prominent lady from Murphysboro, was given the “honor” of placing the noose around the black man’s neck. Many referred to her as “good old Granny Patchett.” The Murphysboro Daily Independent newspaper reported that “the best people of Murphysboro were in the lynching party, and no one was arrested, though the state’s attorney made some fuss about it.” After the man had been left hanging overnight, a Murphysboro doctor cut him down and took the body to his office where he removed all the flesh. The doctor then reassembled the skeleton and displayed it in the medical office for many years. The whereabouts of the skeleton is a closely guarded secret to this day.

Thus is the story of the only recorded lynching in Jackson County, Illinois. Only the footings of the Mt. Carbon Bridge remain today and the cottonwood tree has long since been swept away by floods along the Big Muddy River. Several fishermen along this stretch of the Big Muddy River report mournful cries and wispy vaporous forms along the river banks. Could this be the spectral replay of a ghostly lynching that took place there almost 140 years ago?

———————

Bruce Cline is the Director of the Little Egypt Ghost Society based in Carbondale, IL. He is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army as a Corps of Engineers Officer. He is a former municipal, county and state law enforcement officer. Bruce lives in Carbondale, IL with his wife, Lisa and several cats and dogs.

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