Devil Winston

transcribed by Steve Green

In 1944, Mary Wheeler published Steamboatin’ Days: Folk Songs of the River Packet Era. In it, she described collecting songs on the banks of the Ohio River from old roustabouts. The book includes a words and notes for a song titled, “Devil.” Below the excerpt from Wheeler's book, I have compiled clippings extracted from newspapers that give a much more detailed view of Winston, his exploits, and his execution.


Devil lef’ Nine Hundud, wringin’ wet with sweat,
“Goin’ to hunt fo’ Vinie, ef I don’t I’m goin’ to fall dead.”

Devil lef’ Nine Hundud, wringin’ wet with sweat,
An’ Devil killed po’ Vinie, about a Duke cigarette.

Devil lef’ Nine Hundud, the boys heered him say,
“I’m goin’ to Biederman’s Alley, to kill Vinie dead.”

“Devil, oh Devil, see what you have done,
You have killed Vinie an’ now you got to be hung.”

When Devil walked on the gallus, he nevuh said a word,
“Now you’ve killed Vinie, an’ you got to leave this worl’.”

The rousters, except when singing of a packet, usually express their feelings in a song that is more personal than the true ballad. An exception to this general rule is the song “Devil” that grew up around an event which seems to have made a vivid impression upon the minds of the Negroes.

In a small Kentucky hamlet on the Ohio I stopped at a farmhouse to make inquiries about Uncle Joe Withers, who could often be found there doing odd jobs about the place. I was directed to the barn, where at that moment Jow was feeding the mules. As I walked out through a field of yellow Black-eyed Susans I wondered what success I would have in persuading Joe to sing some of the songs of his roustabout days. At first he hesitated, saying that he “disremembered all o’ them songs,” but he was finally induced to begin. Hoping to find some shade and a breeze outside the barn, we sat down on the ground under a tree. It was in this quiet pasture that Uncle Joe sang this version of “Devil.” He told me that he had learned the song when he “wuz steamboatin’” and that it was well known among the rousters. Many versions of it contain lines that are not suitable for publication.

George Winston, known among his associates as Devil, began life as a cabin boy on the Mississippi. He was later an Ohio River rouster on packets going in and out of Paducah, Kentucky. His career of reckless lawlessness culminated when he was thirty-two years old, in the vicious murder of Vinie Stubblefield, his sweetheart. The brutal nature of this crime and the expiation of it seemed to grip the imagination of the Negroes of the time, and this ballad grew up around the event. The arrest and trial of Devil Winston followed the usual legal course, but feeling ran so high against him and there was such intense excitement among the Negores of Paducah, where the crime was committed, that the exact hour of the execution was kept a secret, and it was deemed wise by the police to forbid, for the time being, the singing of this song.

The murdered Negress was said to been half-witted and repulsive looking. She had made several efforst to sever her relationship with Winston, and this was the indirect cause of her death. Deveil was apparently a victim of helpless bondage where she was concerned, and it is said that he once told her that he knew she would be the cause of his death, or of his going to the penitentiary for life. When he was not on the river he was often serving time on the “chain gang” for beating the woman, and the murder occurred just following his release from jail for this offense.

In Paducah, “Nine Hundred,” especially the neighborhood of Biederman’s Alley, is a questionable Negro section. It was here that Devil went in search of Vinie around midnight. It is said that he suspected the presence of a rival, but it was after a trivial argument over a cigarette that he sprang from the bed on which he had been lying, and shrieking, “Fly high, you buzzard, but you’ll have to light sometime,” he lashed and thrust with his knife until his victim was unconscious. Even then, according to Negroes who witnessed the crime, he continued to strike in insane fury until he finally caught up a valise and fled.

A few days after Devil’s trial and conviction he “got religion” in the county jail, and his weird chanting and frenzied shouting in his small cell throughout the following days and nights created a superstitious awe and terror among the other Negroes in the jail, as well as those gathered on the sidewalks outside. During Devil’s last days, when he was not in a noisy religious ecstacy, he was giving advice and warning to the other prisoners, and “reading” religious books. To this illiterate and ignorant Negro a printed book could reveal nothing, but he would sit and turn the pages and gaze intently at the pictures.

Devil met his doom with a fair amount of composure. He watched the erection of the scaffold from his cell window, and remarked once, “I’m glad it’s comin’ nigh a close.” His explanation of the crime was perhaps a sincere revelation of the poor creature’s tortured abnormal nature. He insisted that he killed Vinie because he loved her.

The darkies were vividly impressed by the unfortunate and dramatic career of Devil Winston. Not only did this song commemorating his final crime become well known on the river and in the river towns, but Devil himself seems to have become vested in their minds with some of the qualities of the supernatural. At the present time the Negroes still speak of his death with a solemn belief that the professional services of the executioner were almost unequal to ridding the earth of this monster, and it is possible to hear strange tales of how the breath was finally pressed out of his body with flat irons, after the conventional methods of the State had failed to accomplish their purpose.

An old colored woman named Artie remembers the details of this unfortunate drama, and she gave me her impressions of the leading characters in it. Artie has been a faithful servant to three consecutive generations of her “white folks.” One afternoon she had been washing curtains from the house of her present mistress, whom she speaks of, to close friends of the family, as “the chile.” Artie was ready for an interlude from her work, and I was glad to find her in a talkative mood.

She put her hands on her hips and said, “Yes, honey, Devil wuz hung by law.” She wanted me to understand the difference between “hangin’ by law” and “jes’ hangin’” or “mobbin’.” She said, “Bless God, honey, when they’s a-mobbin’, the law don’t have nothin’ to do with it a-tall.” Artie remembers that Devil was “a low, chunky nigger, with rusty skin an’ kinky hair.” Vinie, she recalls as “spare made” and light brown in color.

Devils’ suspected rival continued to live quietly after the tragedy in the small town that had been so stirred by this violent crime. His life was apparently uneventful, and when he died a few years ago, a helpless feeble old Negro, no one would have ever associated him with any situation in which intense and unrestrained passion had played a part. For many years he had been known in the town as “Ole Stuttering Jim.”

Artie said that Devil killed Vinie because “he wuz mean,” and also because “he thought she had another man.” Recalling the refrain of the song, I asked Artie if she thought Devil really did carry away a piece of Vinie’s body in his grip. She replied, “Yes, Lawd, he sho’ did. That nigger wuz jes’ onery.”

Copied by Steve Green from Mary Wheeler, Steamboatin’ Days. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1944 (105-109).

Paducah Daily Sun ~ December 12, 1896


Will Be in Session Another Week.

Some of the Indictments Have Been Returned.

[several entries, not copied except this one]:

George Winston and Viny Stubblefield, for breaking into a shanty boat of N. F. Roberts and stealing the furniture.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ December 19, 1896

The case against George Winston and Vina Stubblefield, colored, for breaking into a boat belonging to Capt. Newt Roberts down in “Dogtown,” was called this morning. Motion was made for a separate trial, and the Stubblefield woman’s attorney entered a plea of insanity.

The case against Vina Stubblefield, for housebreaking, was dismissed on account of her mental condition.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ December 22, 1896

George Winston, colored, was tried this afternoon on a charge of breaking into Mr. N. F. Roberts’ shanty boat and stealing all the furniture. Vina Stubblefield, his accomplice, was acquitted on the ground of insanity.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ April 7, 1897

George Winston and Jim Smith, colored, were arrested for engaging in a fight at Halloran’s saloon last night. Winston pursued Smith with a pistol and both pleaded guilty this morning and the former was fined $10 and costs and the other $5 and costs.

Paducah Sun ~ April 23, 1897


Vina Stubblefield Stabbed to Death.


She Was Stabbed in Half a Dozen Places.


Vina Stubblefield, a half-witted repulsive looking negress, was murdered shortly before 1 o’clock this morning in a squalid hut in Dunnoi’s Alley, between Seventh and Eighth streets on Washington, by George Winston, colored, alias “Devil,” who was only yesterday released from the chain gang.

Winston and the woman had been living together for some time until recently, when she abandoned him. It seems that the affront preyed on his mind, and directly after being released from prison he sought the woman and provoked a difficulty in her own wretched quarters. She screamed for help, and according to the witnesses Winston drew his knife and began cutting her as she grappled with him in her death struggle.

Coroner Nance held an inquest at the woman’s late home at 8 o’clock this morning.

The two witnesses, Ed Morton and Isadore Herring, testified that Winston was lying on the bed when the Stubblefield woman entered the darkened room about midnight. She struck a match, and leaning over the bed peered into his face and remarked “This won’t do.”
Winston asked her why she hadn’t done something he had demanded, and asked her for a cigarette. She said that she had none, and one word brought on another until Winston jumped up, knocked her down and began stabbing her. Completing his work he shut up his bloody knife and left the dying woman in the presence of the horrified witnesses. She lingered until after the police arrived and then expired. She had five or six wounds, one on her face, both arms cut to the bone, the arteries being severed, a deep wound near her heart and one on the abdomen.

Winston was last seen going out the Mayfield road with a valise in his hand.

At the conclusion of the evidence the coroner’s jury returned a verdict that the deceased came to her death from knife wounds inflicted by George Winston with murderous intent. Coroner Nance went before Judge Sanders at 9 o’clock and swore out a warrant against Winston, charging him with willful murder.

Both the slayer and the slain were well known in criminal circles. Winston had been almost constantly on the chain gang for eighteen months, most of his fines for beating the woman. Several months ago he and the woman were arrested for breaking into Capt. Newt Roberts’ boat and stealing all the furniture. The woman was acquited on the plea of insanity and Winston came clear.

He was recently fined for fighting, and yesterday was released from serving on the chain gang. He is so vicious that his associates some time since adorned him with the sobriquet “Devil.”

The murdered woman was not Vina Bell, as stated in a contemporary [sic]. She is an entirely different woman, the one slain being Vina Stubblefield.

Jealousy was the indirect cause of the tragedy.

Marshal Collins learned today that Winston was seen at Dyersburg this morning—indicating that he rode the “blind baggage” on the morning “cannon ball.” He telegraphed to Memphis to apprehend him.

The remains of the woman will be held until tomorrow, and if her friends do not make up enough to bury her the body will be interred tomorrow in the county graveyard.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ April 23, 1897

Judge Sanders, of the police court, is a shrewd prognosticator, and two of his predictions came true yesterday. When Barbara Rankin, the woman sentenced to the pentitentiary for three years yesterday for robbery, used to be before him at regular intervals, he would warn her repeatedly that it wouldn’t be long before her career met with a temporary set-back by a term in the penitentiary. The woman paid very little heed to his words, which have now come true. She is the daughter of a wealthy and respected Lyon county colored merchant who has done all he could to stop her in her wayward career. She recently came into about $1,500, which she squandered in short order.

Judge Sanders’ other prediction was in regard to George Winston, who murdered his erstwhile mistress last night. Winston had repeatedly been before the court for beating the woman, and one day Judge Sanders said to him, “Some day you are going to kill that woman, and then you’ll have to answer to murder instead of beating her.”

Paducah Daily Sun ~ April 24, 1897

Given a Respectable Burial.

The remains of Vina Stubblefield, who was murdered by George Winston yesterday, were given a respectable burial at Oak Grove today.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ April 26, 1897


George Winston, the Murderer, in the Toils.


Marshal Walker Makes the Catch and Brings Him Back.


George Winston, alias “Devil,” colored, the fiendish murderer of Vina Stubblefield, his half-witted mistress, was captured Saturday night about 12 o’clock, twelve miles below Fulton, by Marshal Walker, of the latter city, and brought to the city at 2:45 o’clock yesterday afternoon by the marshal.

Winston was committed to jail, and this morning taken before Judge Sanders, in the police court, and presented on a charge of willful murder. Major Josiah Harris was appointed to defend him, and after a brief consultation with his client announced that he waived examination, and Judge Sanders [held?] him to answer before the next September grand jury without bail.

Winston’s crime was the most revoltingly atrocious of recent years with the possible exception of the assassination of Lottie Hale at Allen’s livery stable a few months ago by Tom Hodges, who is crazy. He attacked the woman in her own room and in the presence of others, with the snarling assertion, “Fly high now, you buzzard, but you’ll have to light sometime.” He then savagely stabbed her to death, and fled. Jealousy was what prompted the terrible deed.

Winston told Marshal Collins that the woman cut at him several times before he cut her, but this is not borne out by the statements of other witnesses.

There is considerable feeling among the colored people against the murderer, and some incendiary talk was today indulged in.

Hopkinsville Kentuckian ~ April 27, 1897

Brutal Murder at Paducah.

Paducah, April 23.—The city was shocked this morning by the brutal murder of Lina Stubblefield, by George Winston. The woman was Winston’s mistress, and jealousy is given as the cause. Winston fled and has not yet been captured. It is almost certain that he will be lynched if he is caught and brought back here.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ August 14, 1897

There will be five or six murder cases on the docket at the forthcoming term of circuit court. Among the most important of these are the cases against Robt. McGill, charged with killing his wife; Dr. Reuben Burrows, for performing a criminal operation resulting in death; and Hannah House, colored, charged with an offense similiar to the above. The first two have been indicted but the last has not.

There are also Tom Hodges, an idiot, charged with killing Lottie Hale; Rob Smith, colored, charged with killing Robt. Mollett with an “alley gun,” and George Winston, colored, who cut his mistress, Vina Stubblefield all to pieces. These do not represent all the recent murders, however, as there have been half a dozen, perhaps, during the past year, in which no arrest was made.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ September 2, 1897

Jailer Miller now has thirty-seven “boarders,” all waiting trial at the coming terms of court. Of these four are murderers, Robt. McGill, charged with killing his wife, George Winston, colored, charged with killing his mistress, Tom Hodges, colored, charged with killing Lattie Hale with a sledge hammer, and Robt. Smith, charged with killing Robt. Mollett with an alley gun. There are two or three charged with murder who are on hand. There are also many others charged with various felonies who are out on bond, which greatly increases the number of criminal cases to be tried at this term.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ September 23, 1897


He Is Charged With the Murder of His Mistress.


Found Guilty of Two Offenses—Adjournment Saturday.


George Winston, alias “Devil,” colored, charged with the murder of his mistress, Vina Stubblefield, is on trial this afternoon in the circuit court. The verdict will probably be in before night. Winston did not testify.

[Rest of story concerns Steve Jordan and was not copied.]

Paducah Daily Sun ~ September 24, 1897


The Jury Says He Must Die on the Gallows.


“My God, That’s Hard!” is What the Defendant Exclaimed.


George Winston, alias “Devil,” must expiate the horrible crime he committed in Dunnoi’s alley on the night of April 27, on the gallows. So said the jury yesterday afternoon, after being out two hours.

The trial of the colored fiend was very brief. Witnesses for the commonwealth testified and their evidence disclosed not a modicum of provocation for the deed.

The defense did not introduce Winston himself. While the law says that a jury shall not consider the failure of a defendant to testify nor let it militate [sic] against him in the verdict, yet under such circumstances, the declination of a murderer to explain his deed, especially if he had provocation, is very significant. Several policemen were introduced to prove the disreputable character of the commonwealth’s witnesses.

The jury, after being out two hours, returned this verdict:

“We, the jury, find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictment, and fix his punishment at death by hanging.”
“One of the Jury.”

Winston looked aghast when he heard his doom, and exclaimed: “My God! that’s hard.”

He trembled violently as Jailer Miller adjusted the handcuffs, but in a few minutes recovered his equanimity.

Winston’s crime is well-known. He was living with Vina Stubblefield, a half-witted negress, who for some reason decided to sever their illicit relations. She went home one night to find Winston waiting for her, and after a few words over a cigarette, Winston, like an infuriated demon, seized her and stabbed her in several places. She died in a short time and Winston escaped, but was afterwards captured at Fulton.

The date of the execution will be fixed by Judge Bishop when the other prisoners are sentenced.

Winston no doubt realizes that he has not long to live. He spent an almost sleepless night, and prayed most of the time. He is now praying to live. A little later on, when he realizes the futility of this, he will probably pray to be forgiven and received into the “better land,” being as he has to go somewhere.

George Winston, alias “Devil,” was taken before Judge W. S. Bishop this afternoon at 2:30 o’clock and sentenced to hang on Friday, November 19th.

Winston was brought into court by Officer Sherman Phillips. He was clad in a red sweater, black pants, silk jersey cap, and had a towel slung around his neck.

Judge Bishop briefly reviewed the case and then said: “If you have lawful reasons why the sentence of this court should not be passed upon you, it is not only his [i.e. the Judge’s] pleasure, but his duty, to hear it.”

The Judge paused amid an impressive silence for a reply, but Winston stood motionless before the bench, hands behind him, and moved not a muscle.

“It is therefore my duty to pass sentence on you,” resumed the Judge, and he commented on the unpleasantness of having to sentence a fellow being to death, but said society must be protected, and the administration of the laws must be just.

“It is therefore the judgment of this court,” he continued, “that you remain in the custody of the jailer of this county until Friday, November 19, and that on that day when the sheriff calls for you, shall be taken to a suitable place and there hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may God have mercy on your soul.”

It was the first time Judge Bishop was ever called upon to pass the death sentence, and he felt the solemnity of it to such an extent that tears came into his eyes, and the last sentence choked him.

Winston was lead out, and exhibited remarkable nerve. He now says he is prepared to die.

The writer has on several different occasions heard Judge Sanders tell George Winston, alias “Devil,” when the latter would be arraigned in the police court for beating his mistress, that some day he would kill her and be hung for it. It now looks very much like his prediction will be fulfilled.

Judge Sanders has often attempted to show boys, and men, too, for that matter, the handwriting on the wall, but they nearly always kept on their downward course, and saw it too late. Many a man would have escaped the penitentiary had he taken the advice offered him gratuitously in the courts here.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ September 25, 1897

The jury in the George Winston case did quick work. It was much quicker than any of the jury expected. The panel was completed at noon, and Mr. Jim Grimes, of the county, who was on it, and rides out home with Col. Bud Dale every evening, went around and made arrangements to stay all night in town, notifying Col. Dale that he could not ride out with him that evening. before dark, however, the case had been finished and the defendant given a death sentence. Mr. Grimes showed up at the usual time to go home with Col. Dale, but found another man in his place. He had to hustle around to find someone to go home with, but finally succeeded. The trial is considered one of the quickest on record in McCracken circuit court.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ September 27, 1897


A List of Those Convicted at This Term.

Several Indictments Returned Saturday—A Number of Charges Dismissed.

Circuit court adjourned here Saturday afternoon, and Judge Bishop and Commonwealth’s Attorney Bradshaw went to Benton to hold court, which began there today.

The term just closed here was unusually satisfactory, there being fifteen convictions. The list is as follows:

George Winston, death, murder.
R. F. McGill, white, life sentence, murder.
Henry Green, eight years, horse stealing.
Henry Blue, four years, horse stealing.
Will Moore, white, one year, grand larceny.
Anna Ramsey, one year, malicious cutting.
Will Cox, three years, horse stealing.
Steve Jordan, ten and a half years, burglary.
Henry Meyers, alias Nolen, white, three years, house breaking.
William Sale, alias Nolen, white, one year, house breaking.
Bud Scott, three years, horse stealing.


Elder Hartison, Colored, Administers the Ordinance.

George Winston Professes Religion at the County Jail.

George Winston, alias “Devil,” yesterday professed religion at the county jail, and was baptized by Elder Hartison, of the African Cumberland Presbyterian church.

The doomed man seems very happy, and says he will surely go to heaven. He still spends a great deal of time praying.

Hopkinsville Kentuckian ~ September 28, 1897

George Winston, colored, has been condemned to death at Paducah for murdering Vina Stubblefield.

George Winston, the Paducah murderer, will be hanged November 19.

Crittenden Press (Marion, Ky) ~ September 30, 1897

George Winston has been sentenced to hang at Paducah Nov. 19.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ November 9, 1897


For “Devil” Winston’s Execution Being Built.

It is Now Under Way at Lang[staff]’s Mill.

If “Devil” Winston were in the vicinity of Langstaff’s mill during the next few days, he could hear the sound of the saw and hammer that are being used in the construction of the scaffold on which he is to meet fate that is to be his, deserved or undeserved.

Mr. J. M. Dunlap, the carpenter, today began making the scaffold at Langstaff’s mill. After being made ready for erection, which will be in a few days, it will be transported to the jail yard, and there put up for use on Nov. 19, when the execution is to take place.

Sheriff Holland will divulge to no one the hour of the hanging. To those who hold tickets of admission, he has simply said, “Come early, and stay late.” He desires to guard against the crowd of curious people who would no doubt be there if the hour were announced.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ November 11, 1897

The fate of George Winston and the untimely end of his paramour ought to be a lesson to scores of young men and women of this city, and everywhere, who devote themselves to the manner of life lived by the man who has reached the end of his row and is to be hanged on the 19th inst. Who is responsible for the tragic end of this man and the victim of his inhuman passion? There is no escaping the fact that a large degree of the responsibility must rest on the parents of this man and woman, and a small degree on their associates. It is proof, and not the only proof, of the utter neglect of thousands of parents who have turned their children loose in the world like much cattle to rear themselves. There are thousands of men and women calling themselves parents that have no more right to the rearing of children than they have in the streets of heaven. Children are turned loose on the streets of our cities to grow up as so much grass—children that had no right to have been born—only to reach the end and common lot of all, the gallows and the penitentiary. The majority of our people are entirely unfit to rear children, they haven’t the time to devote to such trifles. They are expected to make their appearance as citizens like Topsy did in the presence of Miss Ophelia. And as a result the country is being crowded with criminals.

Winston was a bad man, and his demise will doubtless be a good riddance. he was bad from education and association. Yet society cannot with safety hang all the bad men, for their number is too great, but their increase can be checked by placing them when young into reform schools before they become incorrigible. Will the hanging on the 19th be a lesson to any one of the scores of reckless young men and women of this city? The prisoner, Geo. Winston, hopes it will be a lesson to all, and especially to those of his associates.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ November 13, 1897

“Devil” Winston has received more calls at the county jail today than since his incarceration. He daily receives many lunches from friends and sympathizers and says he prayed to the Lord to send everybody [to] see him today, because this time next Saturday he will be in glory. He says he’s anxious to go, and does not dread the day. There was something half philosophical in his explanation of how this time next week all remorse and sufferings will be over.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ November 15, 1897


“Devil” Winston entered on his last week of earthly existence yesterday with prayer and thanksgiving. He was visited at the jail yesterday by several ministers of the gospel, as well as other Christian people. He continues in good spirits, and bids fair to mount the gallows with the firm and undaunted demeanor that has continuously characterized him since his conviction.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ November 16, 1897

Elder G. H. Burks went to see the prisoner George Winston Sunday. Winston has only two more days to live.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ November 17, 1897


George Winston’s Career Fast Nearing a Close.—Everything In Readiness For the Execution.

Winston Is Very Religious, and Is Anxious to Have His Picture Taken—Says He’s Going to Heaven.

George Winston, the condemned slayer of Vina Stubblefield, has now just a little over one day longer to live.

He continues to keep a stiff upper lip, as the saying is, however, and appears to enjoy life immensely, with his cell at the county jail well stocked with good things to eat, cigarettes and wine.

Yes, Winston is a cigarette fiend, and his long bony fingers, bonier since he was condemned, are stained a deep yellow from the noxious smoke of the weed.

Winston waxes more and more devout every day, and yet appears in good spirits. He often laughs loudly, but it appears to those who knew him before his conviction that much of this mirth is simulated. Despite his buoyant nerve and apparent indifference to his doom, he has been gradually growing thinner, until now he looks nothing like the “Devil” Winston of six months ago. Another thing, he now becomes more bitter in discussing his fate, and yesterday, in a conversation with a reporter, asked why McGill, the wife murderer, got off with his life, while he (Winston) must die. He remarked bitterly that he guessed it was because “he was only a nigger.”

There is a pathetic side to his case, it cannot be denied. Reared in ignorance and vice, he grew to manhood in inherent viciousness and cultivated rascality. When at last he killed a fellow being, he found himself friendless. Little effort was made to save his neck, and nothing was done to even prove mitigation at the trial.

No new trial was asked, no effort made to have him reprieved, and it was some time after his conviction and sentence to death on the scaffold before any spiritual adviser went near him.

Yesterday when a reporter was shown to Winston’s cell, he found him reading a religious book, or rather “reading” it by looking at the pictures.

The doomed man called all those who stood around his cell and gazed in rapt curiosity at his features, all unanimous in the thought of the ignominious fate in store for him, “friend.”

“Friends,” he said, “I’m a goin’ to a better place. It’s not de gold or de silver or de music dat I wants, but de joy! Oh, de joy!” he exclaimed in rapture, “I kin almos’ feel it now. I kin jes’ feel Jesus lif’in me up. Den dere’ll be wine to drink—my frien’s I’se got a little ob it now to sta’t on,” and he banished for the nonce his solemnity and laughed as he held up a partially filled quart bottle of wine.

Winston, who refused to have his picture taken a few weeks ago for less than $2, now wants them taken so he can leave a few to his friends.

The frame work for the scaffold is still at the Langstaff-Orme mill, and will be carried to the jail tomorrow and be put up.

Thanksgiving is coming and the turkey is going.

Apropos to the idea of asking for a commutation of sentence in the case of George Winston, there is this to be remembered: you will never get what you never ask for and have a right to expect.

Crittenden Press (Marion, Ky.) ~ November 18, 1897

George Winston, col., will be hanged at Paducah tomorrow.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ November 19, 1897


“Devil” Winston Died Game In Expiation of the Horrible Murder of His Mistress.

The Last Hours of the Wretch’s Life, and the Tragic Details of His Untimely End.


“Devil” George Winston, colored, was hanged in the south jail yard at 7:29 1/2 this morning, in the presence of fifty spectators admitted to the enclosure and scores who occupied seats in trees, on house tops and barns. His neck was not broken, death resulting from strangulation in eleven minutes.

Winston, as generally anticipated, died game. He mounted the scaffold, with Sheriff Holland on one side, and Deputy Sheriff Tobe Rogers on the other, with unfaltering [tread]. Just as he placed his foot on the steps, however, his hands began to tremble violently. He was attired in a neat black suit, black tie, black gloves, and new shoes. His dark kinkey hair glistened in the rays of the rising sun, and enhanced the ghastly pallor of his inky face. He eyes protruded more than usual, and glistened with a strange, helpless light. As he stepped upon the scaffold, he gazed around him at the crowd, with hands clasped behind him, and murmured something that could not be heard.

Sherff Holland and Deputies Rogers, Utterback and Young, and Rev. G. W. Burks, of the A. M. E. church, stood on the scaffold with him. In a few seconds, each one of which seemed like an hour to some of the spectators, Rev. Burks read a chapter from the bible, after which he sang “Nearer My Home.” He invoked Divine forgiveness for the penitent sinner about to pay the extreme penalty for the crime of murder. Winston joined in the prayer in a rambling, unintelligible manner, and said “Amen” with the preacher.

Sheriff Holland then asked him if desired to say anything. He replied that he did, and stepped forward a few feet. He would impatiently clasp his hands just in front of him, then  behind. He spoke five minutes or more.

In a rambling, desultory manner he said he wanted to warn everybody to take example from his fate.

His words at first were scarcely audible, but as he progressed they became louder, and changed into a sort of weird chant, something similar to that of some insane religious zealot—an uncanny sound that sent a momentary chill of horror through those within reach of his voice. Once, when a crowd of boys on the outside began to laugh and shout at something that had transpired without, he paused for a moment and gazed out towards the street. He then told the officers that he knew they were only doing their duty, and remarked to the crowd, “This is only justice, justice!” He said he hoped his words would ring forever in the ears of his hearers.

He then called for Della Allen, a colored trusty who has been in jail for some time on a charge of malicious shooting at a Christmas festival near Maxon’s Mills two years ago. There was a quick movement of the spectators, each involuntarily casting his eye in some direction to see who it could be the doomed man wished to see.

Allen proved to be in the upper department of the jail, and a crowd of boys who were hanging out of the window, were ordered aside that he might get within sight of Winston and hear what he had to say. When he protruded his head, Winston, in his own dialect, began:

“Della, remember what I told you. Take warning! Let whiskey, gambling and bad women alone. Look at me, and see what they have brought me to.”

In this vein he continued for what seemed several minutes, although it was doubtless much less. Allen listened with rapt attention, and tears were visible in the eyes of several prisoners who surrounded the lower grating in the jail. After a few more remarks in the same trend, Winston bowed to Deputy Sheriff Rogers and Sheriff Holland, indicating that he was ready to die. The sheriff and deputies assisted him on the trap, with his face towards the south, and all shook hands with him. His arms were pinioned behind him by Deputy Rogers and another deputy securely fastened a rope around his legs. Sheriff Holland stepped up, drew the black cap from his pocket, and unfolded it. Winston’s lips moved in prayer. He asked Jesus to forgive him. When Sheriff Holland pulled the somber cap down over the murderer’s head and face he felt the man’s face quiver with fear as he stood on the brink of eternity. He then adjusted the noose.

The sheriff motioned his deputies away from the trap and walked over to the wooded lever, which projected out to the aperture that formed the entrance to the gallows.

Winston murmured another brief prayer, the movement of his lips being discernable under their sable covering, and Sheriff Holland said, “Goodbye, George,” and pulled the lever. The support fell noiselessly but like a flash of lightning, and Winston’s body shot like an arrow seven feet below. As he went through the trap he gave a most harrowing, blood-curdling cry, as if he had attempted to say a last goodbye, and his voice failed him. The spectators began immediately to crowd around him. He was motionless, and at first no muscular contraction was visible. Presently his fingers began to twitch, and his limbs to slowly draw up and relax. Drs. Brothers, Robertson and Holland, the two former from the city, and the latter of Grahamville, who were appointed to pronounce death, stepped up and two felt his pulse. Winston’s feet were within two inches of the ground when his body was entirely relaxed, and a spectator kicked a rock out from under one foot, which touched it. In eleven minutes Winston was pronounced dead. His neck was not broken, despite the fall of seven or eight feet, and he died of strangulation. His struggles, however, were not violent.

After he was pronounced dead, several lifted him up while the rope was cut.

Sheriff Holland retained the knot as a souvenir, and part of the rope was cut up by Officer Orr and distributed among those who desired the gruesome relics.

Undertaker Nance then took charge of the remains, and placed them in a cheap coffin which was brought in after the execution.
The face, when the black cap was taken off, was covered with perspiration, and horribly distorted.

Gradually the crowd dispersed, those from the inclosure mingling with those who had been on the outside.


Winston’s last night was a sleepless one. Yesterday afternoon the jail was thrown open to those whose morbid curiosity prompted them to view the murderer in his cell. Seven hundred and eighty-five people called to see him before the doors were closed to visitors.

He attempted to sleep last night, but could only [doze] occasionally. Deputy Jailer Charlie Bonnin and Mr. Charles Hart acted as death watch. Whenever they passed near the cell Winston was always praying. About 2 o’clock the prisoner managed to sleep a little. He was awakened at 4 o’clock, and the first thing he did was to drink the last of the wine he had in a bottle. He dressed and when breakfast was served declined to eat, saying he was not hungry. A 5 o’clock his spiritual adviser, Rev. Burks, arrived, and Winston was turned into the corridor. Several policemen were placed inside shortly afterwards, and Winston spent most of his time praying and talking, pacing the floor constantly and thinking.

Last night he informed those present that he killed Vina Stubblefield because he loved her. That she had some irresistible attraction for him that he once told her himself she would sooner or later be the death of him, or cause him to go to the pententiary for life. In speaking of the woman he often lapsed into tenderness, and his last request was that his remains be buried beside her in Potter’s field.

Yesterday he had his photograph taken, and appeared to be pleased when a proof was shown him last night.


Before daylight people began arriving at the jail. A number of small boys climbed in the trees adjacent, while boys and men vied with each other for a good seat on neighboring fences, house tops and outhouses.

The hour for the hanging was 7:05 and those with tickets did not begin to arrive until 6 o’clock and later. Doctors, officers, and newspaper men were admitted to the jail.

Winston talked, prayed and preached, alternately. He was asked where he was born but replied he didn’t have time to talk about it then, that his life was too short.

A crowd of prisoners pushed up the bars and Winston began giving them good advice.

One youth began to cry.

“And I don’t want any of you to say you see me after I’m gone,” Winston said significantly. “If I go to heaven I don’t want to come back. I ain’t got anything here to stay for. I won’t want to come back, and I won’t! If I go to the bad place, the devil won’t let me come back, so I’ll not come back either way, and I don’t want any of you to say you saw me, either. If I come back it will be with my crown, golden slippers, robe and wings, do you hear?”

Then he would relapse into his chant, and some of the prisoners would continue to shed tears. Presently he saw several reporters and began to tell them not to say anything untrue about him.

“Here they came up here once and talked a little while and then went off and said I seen ‘haunts.’ I never seen a haunt in my life, gentlemen,” he said. “I’ve been away back in this jail, and when I was out I used to sleep in old, broken down houses away off from anywhere, and I never saw one yet. I’d feel a little funny but then I never did see a ‘haunt.’ The worst ‘haunts’ they is, gentlemen, is live ‘haunts.’”

Winston at times appeared to be temporarily insane either with the dread of his doom, or from religious fervor. But he would soon, by his common-sense remarks, convince his hearers that he was perfectly sane.

Among other statements, one was that he had not seen his mother nor sisters since 1881, and that he never thought about them now.
At 7 o’clock the jail enclosure was thrown open, officer Sherman Phillips taking tickets. Sheriff Holland and deputy Rogers produced the rope, and attached it to the beam of the gallows. They then went after the condemned man.

Sheriff Holland read the death warrant to him, there was hasty prayer, and the march to the scaffold began. he walked bareheaded, between Sheriff Holland and deputy Rogers, with others in the rear. The crowd pressed closely, but was kept back by policemen. Each one strained himself or herself to see the prisoner, who looked straight ahead most of the time.

tdevil winston


The crime for which Winston was hanged was one of the most horrible butcheries ever committed in the state.

On the night of April 22 Winston went to the home of his mistress, Vina Stubblefield, a notorious negress, living in Dunnoi’s alley, and finding her absent went to sleep on her bed. Shortly after midnight the woman returned to the house and awoke him by striking a match. Winston asked her for a cigarette. She replied that she did not have one and he became angered. They quarrelled a few minutes and then, without a word of warning, Winston, in a manner true to his namesake, the devil, drew a knife and stabbed the woman in full few of Ed Morton, Isadore Herron and a woman named Ray. After stabbing the woman he threw her body on the bed from which he had just arisen and slashed her in a dozen different places, cutting arteries with every blow of the knife. After finishing his hellish work Winston took his valise, which was [lying] in the room, and walked out, shouting words of defiance at the astounded witnesses to the horrible butchery.

He went in the direction of the railroad, but a careful search of the yards and “Y” failed to reveal the murderer. He was captured by Marshal Jesse Walker, at Fulton, the following Sunday, and brought [??] where he had been [??] [missing words].

At his final trial he did not testify at all, and seemed to accept his fate as a matter of course. He offered no reason why sentence should not be passed upon him, when Judge Bishop asked him, and never since complained that the sentence was unjust, although he once said that McGill ought to have been hanged with him.


George Winston was born in Crockett, Obion county, Tenn., on May 2, 1865, and was 32 years old. He went south early in life, and began his career in New Orleans as cabin boy on a steamboat, afterwards becoming a rouster. He afterwards went to Georgia, where in 1892 he was married in Butler, but lived with his wife but six months.

He leaves a mother, sister and brother in Obion county, but has not heard from them in over ten years. He claims he was never arrested but once in his life before he came to Paducah, and that was in Georgia for carrying a pistol. Judging from what he said of the subtle power Vina Stubblefield exerted over him, she must have been a “hypnotist.”


Today’s hanging was the first since 1890, when Jesse Brown, colored, was executed for the murder of “Babe” Laurie. he was hanged on Jan. 15, early in the morning, and it was one of the coldest days ever experienced here, the thermometer being below zero. Notwithstanding the cold weather, however, the condemned man perspired so that steam arose from his face.


One of the doctors present stated in way of explanation of why Winston’s neck was not broken, that it was because the knot slipped around back of his neck, and because his feet struck the ground when he dropped, breaking, to some extent, however slight, the fall.


Among the spectators were Mayor Yelser, City Physician Williamson, many of the city and county officers, Sheriff Starks of Benton, and Detective John Lehnhard, of Evansville. Marshall Collins declined to go.


Coroner Nance will inter the remains in potter’s field tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock, beside the grave of his victim, if it can be found.
The coroner found it a difficult matter today to keep the people who wanted to see the remains away.

This afternoon he threw open the rear of his establishment and let them view the body.

A large number of people visited the jail during the day and took a look at the scaffold.

Kansas City Journal ~ November 20, 1897

For Killing His Paramour.

Paducah, Ky., Nov. 19.—For the brutal murder of his paramour, Venie Bell, George Western, alias “Devil Winston,” colored, was hanged here at 7:30 this morning. He met death without a quiver, warning all people, black and white, to beware of bad company and whisky.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ November 20, 1897

“I notice one thing,” remarked a doctor yesterday who had just seen the remains of “Devil” Winston, “and that is that Winston is one of the smallest men I ever heard of being hung. Experience and statistics have taught me that with few exceptions men who commit crimes that result in hanging are large men. This case, however, is an exception. Winston’s coffin is only 5 feet 9 inches long.”

Hopkinsville Kentuckian ~ November 23, 1897


“Devil” Winston Executed for the Murder of His Mistress.

Paducah, Ky., Nov. 19.—George Winston, better known as “Devil,” was hanged in the jail inclosure at the court house yard this morning at 7:35 o’clock. Only 50 persons were admitted in the inclosure, as provided by law. Winston made a profession of religion and met death bravely.

He did not sleep the night previous, and spent it in prayer. A minister accompanied him on the scaffold. He died of strangulation after 11 minutes.

Winston was 32 years of age, and had a wife in Butler, Ga. He also left relatives at Crockett, Tenn., where he was born. On April 22 last he murdered Vina Stubblefield, his mistress, by stabbing her to death.

He claims that he loved her, and that jealousy caused him to perpetrate the fiendish deed. Winston said he believed his retribution just, considering his crime, and his incessant prayers were before being executed, “Save me, Jesus, save me.”

Valentine (Nebraska) Democrat ~ November 25, 1897

Gives Advice on the Gallows.

For the brutal murder of his paramour, Vinnie Bell, George Weston, alias “Devil Weston,” colored, was hanged at Paducah, Ky., Friday. He met his death without a quiver, warning all people, both black and white, to beware of bad company and whisky.

Earlington (Kentucky) Bee ~ November 25, 1897

“Devil” Winston Met Death Without a Quiver.

Cincinnati, Nov. 20.—A Paducah (Ky.) special to the Times Star says: For the brutal murder of his paramour, Vinie Bell, George Weston, alias “Devil” Winston, colored, was hanged here at 7:30 a.m. He met his death without a quiver.

Spout Springs (Kentucky) Times ~ November 27, 1897

“Devil” George Winston, colored, was hanged last week at Paducah for the murder of Vina Stubblefield, his half-witted mistress.

McCook (Nebraska) Tribune ~ December 3, 1897

For the brutal murder of his paramour, Vinie Bell, George Weston, alias “Devil” Winston, colored, was hanged at Paducah, Ky.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ December 14, 1897


Della Allen was released from the county jail yesterday, after having served many months for malicious shooting. It was two years ago, on Christmas eve, that Allen came to the city, filled up on mean liquor, and went back to the Maxon’s Mills neighborhood to attend a Christmas tree festival at Okolona church.

He and Deacon Whitby Howell got into a difficulty because Allen insisted on breaking up the meeting, and in the melee Howell was shot. Allen, after many months had elapsed, surrendered, and the case dragged through the court until Allen was sentenced to jail for shooting in sudden heat and passion.

For several months he has been a “trusty” and is the same man “Devil” Winston called to the jail window and warned while he stood on the scaffold ready to die.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ June 22, 1898


Excitement Over the Reincarnation of “Devil” Winston.

Not long since some of the officials told the prisoners on the chain gang that “Devil” Winston, who was hanged here last fall, would be coming back in some form. As a snake or something similar most likely, they said.

Last night a crowd of them heard a commotion in the lockup, and upon going down found the prisoners in a state of great excitement and alarm. Some were climbing around on the bars like monkeys in a cage, and everyone was in some attitude that betokened the widespread fear that was so prevalent.

The discovery was soon made that the prisoners were afraid of a scorpion which was seen running around on the floor. When the officers attempted to find it, it had disappeared.

The darkeys all thought it was “Devil” Winston who had come back to life.

Paducah Daily Sun ~ September 11, 1902

[NOTE: This is not “Devil” Winston]


Hickman, Ky., Set. 11—George Winston, charged with setting up and operating a crap game, was found guilty and given two years in the penitentiary.

Paducah Evening Sun ~ June 7, 1909



Sheriff Ogilvie Receives Authority to Proceed With Preparations.

Official notice was receievd today by Sheriff John W. Ogilvie from Governor Wilson that George Freeman, colored, the murderer of his paramour, Essie Cobb, colored, must hang, and the date was set June 25. [rest of story not copied except for last line, as follows:]

The last negro executed was in 1897, when “Devil” Winston was hanged.


Last Update: August 26, 2011