WHAT BECAME OF DICK SHUCK 'S HANGING HOOD
Mrs. Rena L. Yancey, of Glencoe, Ky., sent the story of the hanging hood that shrouded Dick Sbuck's face on the day of his execution to Allan Trout's Trotline in the Louisville Courier-Journal. With her permission, part of her story follows. The story was related to her by the widow of Sheriff Thomas Gray, the oficial hangman. Mrs. Gray was Mrs. Yancey's mother-in-law, and she lived with Mrs. Yancey from the time of her husband's death in 1907 until her own death in 1937 at the age of 91.
Shuck's confession from the gallows identified a notorious gang that for sixteen years had been terrorizing the Kentucky River country between Frankfort and Carrollton. This confession led to the arrest of four of the gang - "King Jim" Simmons, the leader; his son-in-law, Bob Goodrich, and two of Bob's brothers, Joe and Sam. Forty days after July 27, 1877, the day Shuck was hung, a mob of citizens stormed the Henry County jail, seized "King Jim" and his three confederates and hung them from the bridge over Drennon Creek at the edge of New Castle.
The gallows on which Shuck was hanged was built a mile from Owenton on the Grate pike. On the day of execution a crowd a half mile square was packed around the scaffold, and along.the road back to town to the public square. Shortly after noon Shuck, Sheriff Gray, and the Rev. C. H. Humphrey, a Methodist minister, mounted a spring wagon at the jail and started for the place of execution. Armed troops with fixed bayonets forced a passage through the crowd. Shuck sat on top of a coffin for his last ride. They arrived at the scaffold at 12:45, at 12:50 Sheriff Gray read the death warrant. Then Shuck started his confession which was shortly interrupted by a torrential downpour of rain, the awful black storm clouds opened and spilled their fury on the scene of vengeance below. The minister opened his umbrella and Shuck and Sheriff Gray moved under it, and for twenty-five minutes the trio stood there in sheltered but tense silence.
The rain ceased, and at a suggestion from the crowd Sheriff Gray lowered the rope a trifle. He put a black hood over Shuck's face and fitted the noose snugly around his neck. The Sheriff had thought of resigning rather than officiate at the execution, but Shuck prevailed against that, saying he would rather be hanged by a friend. "Goodbye, Tom" said Shuck. "Farewell, Dick" said Sheriff Gray as he kicked away the first prop, then the second, that supported the death trap. Shuck's body dangled 26 minutes and 45 seconds before they cut it down.
Sheriff Tom Gray lived near the Yancey home on Possum Ridge in Owen County. He knew many unique stories and perhaps the strangest of them all involved Mr. Gray himself. It occurred right after he, as high sheriff, officiated at the hanging of Dick Shuck. This is the story. "As was the custom at legal hangings, they cut Shuck down and laid him in the coffin he had ridden on to the scaffold. Sheriff Gray took the hood off Shuck's face and, not knowing exactly what to do with it, dropped it in the pocket of his raincoat and forgot all about it. A few weeks later, urgent business called him to an isolated section of the county. He donned the raincoat, mounted his horse, and started out around midnight.
By wee hours of the morning he reached a strip of woods near Hallum, noted as a nesting place of hoot owls. The darkness was so intense he had to trust the instinct of his horse for guidance. Suddenly a big tree loomed directly ahead. The horse stopped. A big old hoot owl hooted defiantly: 'Who? Who? Who are you?' Ordinarily Mr. Gray was not afraid of men or beast. But, as he confessed later, the situation seemed too supernatural to suit him. He felt his spine tingle and his hair rise on end. At that moment Mr. Gray reached instinctively for a weapon. As his hand slid into the pocket of his raincoat he felt the death hood of the man he had hanged. The unexpected shock restored his confidence, and he was his old self again. So he spurred his horse forward and stopped directly under where the old owl was pearched beside a hole in the tree. Standing in the stirrups, he reached up and dropped Shuck's death hood into the hole.