Come all my friends and near relations;
Come and listen unto me.
I will sing about two men,
About two men that’s to be hung.
‘Twas on the eighteenth night of December,
In eighteen hundred ninety-five,*
‘Twas the night they did the murder
For which they had to give their lives.
One says, “Father and dear mother,
Won’t you both remember me,
When I’m dead and gone forever,
And my face no more you’ll see?”
“We were held long in this prison —
No one came to go our bail** —
God will aid and assist us
Now to break the Gatesville jail.”
And when started from that prison
And the guards surrounded them —
“I must die and I’m not guilty,”†
‘Twas the answer Jim made then.
Ed was tall and fair complected;
Jim was low and very neat.
They were pale and very silent,
And their lips did seem to meet.
One says, “Lord, oh, do have mercy
On those who swore my life away.”
They tied their wrists and their ankles,
Placed black caps upon their heads.
The trapdoor fell and left them hanging,
Between the earth and the sky.
It was for a dreadful murder
These two men were made to die.
They’s cut down, placed in their coffins,
Delivered over to their friends,
Who were there for that purpose,
To receive them at their end.
Come all young men, now take warning;
Live, oh, live a sober life.
* The crime(s) for which Leeper and Powell hanged actually occurred on the evening of December 17, in 1889. Two armed outlaws waylaid some farmers returning to the country after they sold their cotton in Gatesville; a J.T. Mathis was mortally wounded in the resulting firefights, lingering until December 18 before he finally succumbed. (Another man named W.H.H. Harvey was wounded, but survived.)
** Actually, Ed Leeper’s mother was a prosperous Tennessee matron who spent liberally on her son’s defense; the men’s appeals, even challenging the legality of the entire Texas penal code, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — quite unusual for the time. But it is correct that they did not have bail: the enormity of the crime, and the fear of inviting a lynch mob, saw them behind bars and under heavy guard from the time of their arrest hours after the robbery.
This is not to say that Mrs. Leeper’s efforts were wholly without effect:
From the Dallas Morning News, September 30, 1891.
† Since the attack took place under cover of darkness, nobody could positively identify the assailants. Leeper and Powell, well-known local ruffians, were suspected at once and the suspicion appeared circumstantially supported.
Both men did continue to assert their innocence on the scaffold: “I die innocent and I die game for the crime of some one else,” in Powell’s words. (Dallas Morning News, September 30, 1891)