"What say you, Frank Ford?" Judge Johnson asked the Negro called before the bar of Justice.
Ford mumbled, "I have nothing to say."
The Judge's voice thundered the words. "Frank Ford, I order you confined to Tillman County Jail until the 12th day of June when between the hours of 5:00 and 8:00 a.m. you shall be taken therefrom by the Sheriff in said County and hung by the neck until you was dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . and may God have mercy on your soul."
What was it the Judge had said? Frank swayed, righted himself, and stared hard at the floor. The sickness that had been with him for the past few weeks had lifted a bit. But now blackness seemed to overpower him. He jerked upright as the Judge's voice rang out in the courtroom once more.
"The hanging of Frank Ford will be the first in the state of Oklahoma." Judge Johnson announced
"Wish I'd kept my ring," Frank babbled.
"What's that you say? Changed your mind about talking?" Judge Johnson questioned.
Frank didn't bat an eye. His finger caressed bare skin where once a ring, having the appearance of bone and smoothed by many wearings had rested on the finger of his left hand. His wife, his sweet Nancy, had given him that ring as a promise of her love. Now, the finger was bare. As bare as his life since Nancy was gone. Sweat poured down his collar as he was led back to the Fredrick jail.
The Fredrick Sheriff stopped to hand a letter pouch holding an official looking envelope to a rider. "Take this to Sheriff Frank Carter. Tell him come posthaste and bring the hanging rope."
Hearing the words, hanging rope, the judges words resounded inside Frank's skull, hung by the neck until you was dead . . . dead . . . dead. Suddenly, the condemned man stiffened, threw back his head and repeated Judge Johnson's lament, "Mercy on my soul."
The Fredrick Sheriff shoved Frank in the direction of the jail. "Your mercy will come at the hands of Sheriff Carter, an expert tie of the hangman's knot."
The jail cell was much like the one at Manitow, where he'd been housed those months since the murder of Nancy. After the door clanged shut, Frank sank to the cot, placed his head in his hands, and tried not to think about Manitow. But, shadows lurked in the corners of his mind. One of those shadows wore a badge. Even with his head buried in his hands, his eyes squeezed shut, and his mind blank, Frank could feel the hateful stare of deputy Sheriff Silas Stanley.
"I'll see you dead, you black bastard." Silas's threat hung in the stale, cold, air.
Frank groaned. Peeking through his fingers, he surveyed the cell. He'd not be surprised to find Stanley waiting for him. But the cell was empty. He stared up at the tiny window at the back of the cell where rays of light strained to get inside.
Frank fell back on the cot. Sleep claimed him. In his dreams, he walked once more with Nancy .
She whispered her secret lovingly in his ear, "A baby, yes, maybe a boy child."
Frank placed his large hands on each side of her cheeks and raised her face to his. The square face of the bone colored ring with four blackened dents shaped to look like dice, on his finger, symbolized their destiny. "When we going to have this baby?"
"On the Baby Jesus's birthday." Nancy crooned.
Clang, clang. Noise outside the window roused Frank from the depths of sleep. Where was he?
Clang, clang. Could it be men at work in the streets of Lawton, Oklahoma, where seven years before, he'd waited in the long line of lucky men and women, who held winning lottery tickets? Yes, surely that was it. Frank would never forget that day. Frank had tried to control his excitement but at odd moments the thought of sixty acres of land all his own would cause his face to break into a wide grin exposing white teeth against the blackness of his skin. The winning numbers were posted. One was his! Now, he and Nancy could get married.
Clang, clang! The noise came from the back of the jail breaking into his memories. Frank stood, stretched, and relieved himself in a far corner. He ambled to the back wall where the window waited, tip-toe high. Stretching, he looked out on the south east corner of west Grand and 4th street where a carpenter was at work building a gallows. A shudder ran the length of Frank's body. Cold sweat leathered him like a hard-rode steed.
A young boy raced past with a parcel of newspapers hung on his back. Waving The Frederick Leader he shouted, "Murderer sentenced in the district court last Friday afternoon. Get your paper! Read all about it!"
Frank escaped back to the cot and to the past where for a brief time he'd hoped to own sixty acres of land and live there with his sweet Nancy and child. Memories flooded his mind as tears scalded his face and truth pierced his heart. This world was not made for black men. Never was, and never would be. Frank was back at the land lottery headquarters watching a scene that was burned forever on his brain.
A tall, muscled, black man struggled against several white men, who were dragging him off the porch of the lottery headquarters.
"I won. I won me sixty acres." The black man protested.
"No black S.O.B. is going to own land in Oklahoma. Not if Silas Stanley has anything to say about it." Stanley ripped the paper from the man's hands and shoved him to the ground. It was then Frank saw the tin star on Stanley's vest for the first time.
The black man jumped to his feet, started toward Stanley, and shouted, "Give me what's mine. I won it fair and square."
Metal flashed, as Stanley whipped the gun from his holster, and fired.
Blood bubbled from the corners of the black man's mouth. He muttered, "No different, it's no different here, Lord." He slumped to the ground. Scarlet outlined his body in the dust before the deputy ordered men to drag the body away.
Frank backed away from the steps of the lottery headquarters which he's so joyfully approached minutes before.
Cole Younger, the only white man who'd ever been Frank's friend turned to stare hard at the black man. In the stare, Frank saw a warning to be cautious. As if Cole had spoken aloud, Frank heard the words, "Go back to the lean-to and wait."
As Frank turned to leave, he saw the Deputy stuff a crumbled piece of paper in his pocket.
"What you looking at?" Stanley's eyes disappeared into slits beneath the battered felt hat he wore low on his head. They settled on another black man, who might, or might not, be trying to claim some Oklahoma land.
Frank froze. His hand caressed the folded sheet of paper tucked safely inside his pants pocket. He tipped the battered brim of his hat in a show of respect. Keeping his head down, eyes averted, Frank started to shuffle away. "Nothing. Nothing at all."
He heard footfalls behind him.
A voice commanded, "The Sheriff asked what you's looking at Nigger?"
Frank recognized Cole Younger's voice. He turned to answer just as a hand grabbed his shirt and swung him around. Before he could speak Cole's fist caught him under the chin sending him sprawling. "Now get along with you, Nigger. And show a little respect when you're talking to the law."
Frank struggled to his feet. He watched as Cole tipped his hat to Stanley and strode off. Stanley spat on the ground near Frank, turned on his heel and left.
Frank knew Cole had just saved his life.
Back at the lean-to, Frank found Cole waiting for him. "Thanks Mister Cole."
"No thanks needed. You almost lost more than that worthless piece of paper you got in your pocket, you know?" Cole asked.
Frank stared at the ring his sweet Nancy had given him. He knew he'd never own land in Oklahoma and he'd never marry Nancy. Life just wasn't worth living. He pulled the lottery ticket from his pocket. "Here, you take it, Mister Cole. It'll mean something to a white man."
That night Frank listened as Cole explained over and over to him how they could both live on the land Frank had won in the lottery. But it would have to be in Cole's name. Frank would help work the land. He would have a shack of his own where he could bring sweet Nancy and they could raise their child.
"Thank you, Mister Cole."
"Don't thank me Frank. You'll earn every bit of it." Cole's eyes lit up with excitement. "Now, I can send for my wife and kids, too."
Frank and Nancy moved into the smaller of the two shacks Frank and Cole had built. The bigger one was reserved for Cole and his family. Nancy grew larger with child. She moved between both houses and kept the cooking and cleaning done. The day Claire and the kids arrived Nancy prepared a Thanksgiving celebration supper. Frank rode with Cole to pick up his family.
It all happened as Cole had explained until his wife, Claire, and their kids got there and Claire met Sheriff Silas Stanley.
Frank waited with the wagon as Cole rushed toward his family waiting for him.
Cole tipped his hat to Sheriff Silas Stanley, who stood by Claire's side being more than friendly. "Evening, Sheriff Stanley. I see you've met my wife, Claire, and our two sons."
Stanley moved even closer to Claire and picked up one of her bags. "You've got a sweet little woman, Cole. Be sure you take care of her." Stanley followed Cole as he loaded his family and their baggage onto the wagon. "Get your lazy butt off that wagon and help your Master, Nigger!"
Frank jumped from the seat and moved toward the baggage. "Yes Sir, yes sir!" When everything was loaded Frank ran along side until they were at a safe distance. Only then, did he jump on the back of the wagon.
Claire never accepted Frank and Nancy as anything but trash. It didn't bother Nancy, who was busy preparing for their child, who was but a month away. But Frank resented the extra work Claire piled onto Nancy. She left the kids behind and begged to go to town with Cole.
Frank liked Cole's two boys, Will and Jim. He hoped his son would be like them. Soon they followed Frank behind the plows. They helped feed the few animals they had acquired.
Claire's cheeks were blushed pink with excitement each time she and Cole returned from town.
Frank knew trouble was brewing. He and Nancy talked about it at night in the privacy of their shack. "That woman is going to be the death of Mister Cole. Don't she know her every word is Sheriff Silas Stanley. His name rolls off her lips like sugar."
But it wasn't Cole's death that Claire caused it was his sweet Nancy and their unborn babe. And he had to bear the blame.
Frank and Cole had been to the far side of their land fixing fence that day in December. They looked up to see Cole's son, Will, galloping toward them. "Dad, come quick! Sheriff Stanley is hurting Mama and Nancy."
Frank was on his horse and riding with Cole and Will close behind. Just before they reached the shacks Frank heard a shout from Cole. He looked back and saw Cole and his horse on the ground.
Cole shouted. "Go on! We hit a hole."
Will was hot on his heels as Frank pulled into the shacks.
Franks's breath left his body when he saw Nancy lying on the ground in a pool of blood.
"Help!" Claire's scream came from their shack.
"Leave my Mama alone." Jim cried.
Frank sank down on the ground by Nancy. He cradled her head.
Nancy's eyes opened. "I tried to help Ms Claire but that Sheriff shot me. You better help. He'll kill us all." Her body went limp.
Will ran into the shack as Cole rode into the yard.
"Mama! Jim!" Will screamed.
Sheriff Stanley ran out of the shack. He stopped short seeing Frank on the ground with Nancy's dead body. "You S.O.B. you killed her." Stanley's rifle butt caught Frank against the head.
Frank woke up in the Manitow jail.
On the day before his hanging Frank woke to find Cole Younger visiting him. "Mister Cole, you shouldn't be here."
Cole said. "Frank, I've come to get you out of here. Will and Jim will both testify that it was Stanley that shot Nancy."
"No, Mister Cole. It don't make no difference now. I appreciate it but I don't want to cause your family any more trouble. I'm going to meet sweet Nancy. It can't be soon enough."
Cole handed Frank a handkerchief. Inside was the ring Nancy gave Frank.
"That's the best thing you could have brought me."
Frank sat on his cot fingering the ring until he heard his jail cell being opened. He had another surprise. N. L. Fraley, who was his care taker at the Manitow Jail had come to say goodby. When Fraley left Frank gave him his ring.
Fraley promised he'd keep it in his family. One day he'd pass it to his grandson, Arnold.
Frank was the first person to be hanged with what was called "The hanging 'est rope in Oklahoma by Sheriff Frank Carter, who was said to be an expert tie of the hangman's knot. Frank would not live to see it but the rope lasted through every hanging that the state performed.
Carter was recognized as an authority and other Sheriffs often ask him to come and bring the rope.
The last time the rope was used was in Oklahoma County when it's victim was spared by Goveror Lee Cluce, who commuted the sentence to imprisonment.
The intended victim was taken to the State Penitentiary where he later killed a fellow prisoner as a result. He was one of the first to die in the electric chair in 1913 in Oklahoma."
The rope later was given to Gene Hamilton of Habart, the deputy sheriff, because Carter didn't want it in the same house with him.
Oklahoma's hanging rope is now on display in Oklahoma City.