The story of Bill Sketoe’s Hole – the “hole that would not stay filled” – one of Alabama’s most famous (and true?) ghost stories.
Outside Newton, Alabama on the banks of the Choctawhatchee River is a spot known as Bill Sketoe’s Hole where, in December 1864, Confederate soldier Bill Sketoe was wrongly executed for desertion. But the ghost of Bill Sketoe would continue to haunt the town and his tormentors. Watch “The Hole That Would Not Stay Filled: Legend of Bill Sketoe” (courtesy of Roger Powell/WDFX-TV in Dothan, Alabama). Or follow the transcript below.
We begin with a very famous story in the Wiregrass (region of Alabama) – the story of the hole that will not stay filled.
Nobody has ever actually seen this ghost, the ghost of William Sketoe. But people going along the road from Newton where the bridge crosses the Choctawhatchee River can tell you that the ghost has been there, and is there now.
There’s a hole there where Sketoe was hanged. This hole is clean, as clean as if a brush broom or pine top swept it out.
Now even if the hole is heaped high with dirt every day, the dirt disappears during the night and the next morning, the hole is there again.
MAYOR MIKE BYRD, CITY OF NEWTON, AL
“The legend of Bill Sketoe takes us back in its beginning about 146 years ago, to December of 1864.
Now in December of 1864, in the context of the Civil War, what you have is the last days of the Confederacy. And it was a time for many people, including here in Dale County – turmoil, desperation. And there were some events occurring across the South that are going to have an impact here, and they’re going to have an effect on what happens to Bill Sketoe.
Now Bill Sketoe was a resident of Newton. He’s originally from Madrid, Spain. Came here, he was a Methodist minister. He went off to fight the war and I believe served honorably from what I’ve heard for about three years.
And then he reappeared sometime around 1864. He’d received word, according to the legend, that his wife was sick, and he came back to tend to her. Now the way he did that was – and it was allowed by law and was fairly common – he’d hired a substitute to take his place on the front. And he came back and he tended to his wife andshe seemed to get better. But his stay was so somewhat prolonged. And that began to raise eyebrows, you know, especially at the time of the war when every man was needed at the front.
So the Home Guard – the Dale Home Guard which was under the command of a Captain Breare, concluded that Sketoe was a deserter and they decided to mete out to him a deserter’s punishment. So on December the 3rd of 1864, the Home Guard, having come to the conclusion that Sketoe was a deserter, ambushed him down by the river. Used to be an old bridge here that’s not here anymore. And got a rope around his neck, got him on a buggy and intended to hang him. And they threw the rope over the limb of a post oak that used to be here, it’s no longer here.
And somehow, depending on who you ask, whether they just miscalculated and chose a limb it was too low. Or in other accounts, the limb bent with Sketoe. At any rate, he lands after the buggy runs out from under him, he lands on his tiptoes. And a man there at the time named George Echols, who is said to be a cripple – may have just been here recovering from his war wounds. He takes his crutch and digs a hole out underneath Sketoe’s feet in the soft sand. They’re then able to complete the hanging.
A little bit later some friends come from town and take Sketoe’s body down. They lay him out in a cotton house that was across the river, too late to do anything for him.
The aftermath of those facts is where we get into the realm of more facts and fiction depending on your fancy. And that is, the hole Georgie Echols dug under Bill Sketoe’s feet is still here, 146 years later. There are not many holes 30 inches around and 8 inches deep that will survive that long. Especially in a remote area like this where there’s nobody to tend to them. So it raises the question: who keeps that hole? Who maintains that hole?
In addition, the fact that the hole survives, the six men who participated in the hanging all subsequently died very mysterious deaths. For instance, Captain Braer of the Home Guard was out riding his horse shortly thereafter, and on a clear day with not a breath of wind blowing, he was struck by a fallen limb.
Another man was struck by lightning.
George Echols was found dead in a swamp of unknown causes.
Another man riding a mule he’d ridden all his life, I guess, ,and never had any problems with, one day the mule ran out from under him or ran away with him. He fell off and died, and the mule took off for no apparent reason.
There were two others that died of equally mysterious deaths. So combine the fact of the mysterious deaths of the six men who participated in the hanging. In fact, the hole is still here. If it is not some mortal human being over the course of 146 years who keeps that hole cleaned out, then who is it or what is it?
And that’s where you’re left to judge for yourself!”
Famed storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham, author of 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey also tells the story:
If you’d like to learn more about The Legend of Bill Sketoe, check out these outside pages:
Special Thanks to Roger Powell and WDFX-TV for allowing us to post their story.