No Ill Feeling

"I have no ill will against any person on earth. I feel that I will go to heaven when I die. I wish everybody would prepare to meet me. I have been treated kindly by all who have had me in charge since my arrest. I have received no bad treatment f rom any of them. I want everybody to treat my people kindly for I know they are honest and make their living by hard work. They ought not to think hard of them on my account, for they are not responsible for my bad deeds, for they never encouraged me in any such, but on the contrary, always gave me good advice, and I am the only one in the family that has ever done anything for which they ought to be punished."

"As I have a great many relatives in East Tennessee, I wish to state that I am nearly 18 years old, in good health and weigh about 175 pounds."

"I desire that all the newspapers publish this, and particularly the Banner. I desire to be baptized between this and next Friday, which I have the promise of. I also desire to let the people know that Mr. J. M. Allen and T. N. Christian done this w riting for me by my request, on this, the 19th day of May, 1872."

John (His X Mark) Presswood, Jr.

G. W. Cameron, Jailer
J. M. Allen and T. N. Christian, Test.

"P. S. I want Sheriff Blackburn to get a good, strong rope so it will not break, for I want the thing all over with as soon as possible, and I don't want to suffer like Logsdon did. When the time comes I want the thing all over."

The Sheriff did have a good strong rope and young Presswood died quickly. His victim, Mrs. Billings, did not die so quickly, and her daughter, Inez, who Presswood thought he had killed, did not die at all.

Rachel Fowler Billings was about 36 at the time of her death. A daughter of William and Mary Fowler, she had married in 1854 Jason Certain, by whom she had one daughter, Inez, born in 1859. Jason Certain joined the Confederate Army and died during t he Civil War.

In 1866, just after the war ended, Rachel married Jim Billings, who was about 12 years younger than she was. Jim Billings had also served in the Confederate Army and was so strongly opposed to the Union that he never again wore anything blue, though he lived to be 91.

In the late fall of 1870, Jim had gone sown the Caney Fork River on a raft when his wife was murdered. After his wife's death, Jim Billings took his two young children with him to Nebraska, where they made their home.

Jim was married twice more and had several more children. He spent most of his life in Nebraska and Missouri, but in his old age returned to Dekalb County, where he died in 1936. He is buried in the Billings Cemetery in the Peeled Chestnut Community .

Rachel Billings' daughter, Inez Certain, stayed in Dekalb County with her relatives and in 1878 married Chartley Parker.

She has several descendants living in Dekalb County today. Inez and Chartley Parker had three daughters; Vella, who married Mr. Love; Zona, who married John Lockhart; and Willie, who married Will Hayes.

The last named, Mrs. Willie Hayes, gave her mother's recollection of the murder in the SMITHVILLE REVIEW of June 10, 1948, as follows:

Mrs. Billings' Murder
Still Vivid After 76 Years

The murder of Mrs. Jim Billings by John Presswood, Jr. is still as fresh in the memory of her descendants as if it happened only yesterday.

Those were the words of Mrs. Willie Hayes as she related the story as her mother told her many times before.

According to Mrs. Hayes mother, Mrs. Chartley Parker, who was the small girl Presswood spoke of, the confession did not tell the full story. It failed, for example, to mention two small children, ages 3 and 2, who watched as their mother was brutally slain. Neither did it tell of a small girl with two bleeding wounds in her head trying to comfort the babies and keep them from crying as their mother lay dying on the floor beside their bed.

Mrs Parker could never forget a man rushing for her mother as she reached for a shotgun, and how he struck her down with an ax, then cooly pressed the bit of the ax against the small girl's fingers to see if she were dead.

Neither could she forget the man washing his bloody hands in the family water bucket; staying at the scene of his crime for more than an hour to make sure he had done a good job of murder. But she lived to see him hang from the gallows and pay societ y for his crime.

After he had left the house, Mrs. Parker related, the children, Mollie, 3, and Dibrell, 2, were crying and begging her to come to them. She dragged herself up to where her mother lay and spoke to her, but all the brave woman could do was gurgle blood ily.

11-year-old Inez (Mrs. Parker) then half-dragged, half crawled to the bed where the children lay and Mollie, between sobs said, "It was John Presswood."

It has always been a mystery in the family how a three year old child could remember a face through so much excitement.

The following morning, Inez (Mrs.Parker) went to her neighbor, Mrs. Rigsby, and told them her mother was dead. She had a terrific struggle getting to the Rigsby home which was half mile from the Billings' home.

Soon friends began gathering to the Billings home and everyone was asking the young girl who did it. She knew all the time, or thought she did, but keeping it a secret until she saw someone she could trust.

Presswood's sisters plied her with questions. "How did he look? Was he about John's (Presswood) size? Who do you think it was?"

All these questions, coupled with the fact that everyone within miles was present except Presswood, shed a shadow of suspicion on him. Several of the men measured a footprint and measured Presswood's foot, but there was quite a difference in size.

Eventually Inez's uncle, Clebe Fowler, came and questioned her. She knew she could trust him and told him the whole story, including the name of her attacker. Presswood was quickly arrested and taken to Squire Love's where he was guarded overnight.

Mrs. Billings was beaten so badly that the women of the community couldn't stand to wash her face and comb her hair. Finally Jock Koger, known then as the bravest man in the county, volunteered to prepare the woman the best he could. Mrs. Billings w as then in her early 30s.

She hadn't had an easy time in her life. Her first husband, Jason Certain, father of Inez, died in camp during the Civil War and she married Jim Billings a few years later.

Billings was away from home a good deal of the time rafting on the river, and it was her duty to keep the farm going and rear the children. She was an outstanding woman and known far and wide for her hospitality and goodness.

The story is told that Billings arrived home about a week after the murder and went to the Smithville Jail with a group of men to see Presswood. They looked at him in the cell and one of the men handed Billings a pistol, saying, "Do your duty."

Billings gazed at the youth for a few moments then at the pistol and said, "No, let the law take its course."

A short while after the hanging Billings took the two small children and went to Nebraska.

Little is known of the Presswood family after the murder for they moved to Wilson County. After the hanging Presswood's father came to claim his son's body and hauled it away in an ox cart. It is thought that Presswood is buried about five miles wes t of Lebanon on Highway 70; however, this cannot be confirmed.

Inez, the young girl, grew to womanhood, married Chartley Parker, and reared a family. She was constantly reminded, however, of the terrible experience for she carried two ax marks on her head until death.

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