HANGED BY MISTAKE: THE PROBLEM WITH GOSSIP
As the hemp rope was tied to its high limb for his execution, the victim cried out, Please let me go. I didn’t steal that horse. I bought it and if you’ll give me some time, I’ll prove it!
Listen to him plead! one of the mob sneered. Well, we ain’t gonna let him go. Anyone who steals horses around Tombstone is gonna get their neck broke!
In a few minutes the accused was swinging by the neck, and the members of the hastily assembled lynching party were swaggering home, broad smiles of satisfaction on their sunburned faces.
The smiles, however, didn’t last long, for it was soon discovered that the dead man was indeed innocent. He had merely, through ignorance, purchased a stolen horse. Although everyone who had taken part in the hanging was sorry, nothing could be done to undo their mistake. The victim was dead.
Those who visit Tombstone, Arizona will be shown this man’s grave in the famous Boothill Cemetery. His last resting place is near that of many of Arizona’s worst criminals who were murdered or hanged in the 1880s. Over each grave, in the carefully preserved cemetery, there is the original marker on which is chalked in crude letters the cause of the man’s death. One of the markers bears the word, Murdered; another marker says, Legally Hanged; another, Found Dead on the Streets. The marker at the foot of the grave of the man accused of stealing a horse carries the grim sentence, Hanged By Mistake.
A poem was written about the unfortunate man, and today it is reprinted on some of the curios in Tombstone. This is the way it reads: Here lies Pepper Tate Hanged by mistake He was right We was wrong But we strung him up And now he’s gone.
Well, the days of old Tombstone are history. People don’t go around with shootin’ irons at their hips anymore, and there are few lynching parties, nevertheless, there are still many who are hanged by mistake by means of their idle talk.
More than one of God’s workers has been hurt because of someone’s foolish tongue. There are souls who will miss heaven because of some gossip that has been passed on by professed Christians. Would it not be a terrible thing to know that you had caused some soul to be lost? How can we guard against such a tragedy?
In the first place, we should leave all judgment to God. He does not make mistakes. If the mob in Tombstone had left the hanging to the authorities, the man would have had a trial.
In the second place, we should not go around saying evil things of anyone.
In the third place, discount all rumor. Sometimes in idle conversation, one plus nothing equals ten. Rumors, if harbored, frequently become roomers and they never pay any rent. Instead, they cause a lot of damage. I once heard an African preacher speak on this subject to his congregation. W hen you hear a bad story about someone, he advised, don’t let it go in one ear and out the other, for if you do, it will cause serious trouble by going through your head! He then took hold of the big hole that had been stretched in his ear in his heathen days and said, I try and let all rumors go through this hole in my ear.
Most of us are not equipped with big holes in our ears for the rumors to pass through. We can’t help hearing them. But we can refuse to repeat them. A good brake to help one keep from harming others in this fashion is to remember that it is hard to bring a man back to life after he has been hanged.