American Detective Fiction    Prior to July 1891

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  Published in
The New York Ledger, May 30, 1863
The Sheriff's Story

by Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.

  “Twenty years ago, or thereabouts,” commenced Mr. Alton, “I was sheriff of Jefferson county. Close by a bend of Bottom Branch Creek was located a settlement, called Jackson; and nine miles distant, in a southerly direction, was the town of Huntsville. The creek, after bending around Jackson settlement, took a sweep to the west, and then turned back and crossed the track about midway between Jackson and Huntsville. Of the nine miles between these two places seven of them were through a low, dismal swamp, where the road, for the whole distance, was a corduroy of oak logs. On this dark, sunken road, travelers had been murdered and robbed. Two years before I came into office as many as six dead men had been found by the wayside in that swamp. After I became sheriff the trouble was renewed, and I went down to Huntsville to look into the matter. I found one of my deputies there—a fair, honorable man, named Watson. He told me that every exertion had been made to apprehend the perpetrators of the murders, but without effect. In fact, the officers had not as yet been able to fix suspicion upon any . . .


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    In the autumn of ’42, on my way home from the West, I found myself obliged to put up for the night at the inn of a small settlement on the Wabash. The day had been dark and lowery, and the evening set in with a driving storm. After supper a goodly company assembled in the bar-room; and story-telling became the order of the occasion. Among our number was a grey-headed man, whose name I learned was Warren Alton. He was past three-score, but his gestures and movements betokened all the vigor of middle-age.

A number of stories had been told, and finally all eyes were directed towards Alton. Some one had called his name, and hinted that his turn had come.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “if you choose to listen, I can give you a short story touching a certain criminal that I once had the pleasure of arresting.”

Of course we would listen.




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