Site of the Sketoe Hanging
The original hole survived the
building of the AL 123 bridge, but
rocks were piled on it during a
1990 river flood.
Ghost of Sketoe's Hole
A sign placed by the Newton
Historical Society tells the story of
Bill Sketoe's hanging and the
legend of his ghost.
The Ghost of Sketoe's Hole
Ghost of Sketoe's Hole - Newton, Alabama
|Sketoe's Hole in Newton, Alabama
The original "Hole That Will Not Stay Filled" was
destroyed in the 1990 Choctawhatchee River Flood.
A replica can be seen near the original site.
Hole That Will Not Stay Filled
One of the South's most intriguing ghost
stories swirls around a bridge over the
Choctawhatchee River at the town of Newton,
Alabama. It is a story of the Civil War, the
lynching of an unfortunate man named Bill
Sketoe (or Sketo) and a "hole that will not
Sketoe's Hole was a Dale County landmark
for many years and became quite famous
after Kathryn Tucker Windham wrote about it
in her book 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey.
As the story goes, Bill Sketoe was a Southern
soldier who came home to care for his sick
wife during the darkest days of the Civil War.
He supposedly had hired a substitute to fight
on his behalf and was on his way home with
medicine for his wife when he ran into men
from Captain Joseph R. Breare's company,
usually described as the Dale County "Home
Guard," near the Choctawhatchee River just
across from the town of Newton.
Breare and his men accused Sketoe of
desertion, a charge that he denied. Despite
his claims of innocence, they proceeded to
hang him from the limb of a nearby water
oak. His last words were said to be a prayer
for God to forgive his killers.
Sketoe was a tall man and his feet touched
the ground, preventing his death. One of the
citizen soldiers, however, used his crutch do
dig out a hole beneath the hanging man.
According to the legend, the hole remained
long after Sketoe's body was removed. Local
people came to regard it with a sense of
horror. They would fill the hole with trash and
debris, but would return the next day to find it
once again swept clean. The story grew that
the ghost of Bill Sketoe still swung from the
tree and its dragging feet cleared the hole on
a nightly basis.
Historical records do indicate that several
men were hanged in Dale County, Alabama,
in December of 1864 by members of Captain
Joseph R. Breare's company, which was not
actually a "home guard" company but instead
was a Confederate unit assigned to enforce
the conscription or military draft in the region.
Breare was a seasoned military officer who
had served with the Army of Northern Virginia
for much of the war. Curiously, most of the
men he captured during his operations in
and around Dale County were sent to serve
in the Confederate army. Those who were
hanged were generally accused of helping
either the Union army or the "raider gangs"
that were made up of deserters and others
who regularly attacked towns and homes in
While the precise events that led to Sketoe's
hanging are not known at this time, a few
details cast some doubt on the traditional
story. First, there is no record of him ever
having been a Confederate soldier. He was
of military age and would have been subject
to service in the Confederate army unless he
had a compelling excuse. Legend holds that
he was a Methodist minister, which could
have been the reason he never entered the
As far as the story of him hiring a substitute
to fight in his place, that part of the legend is
definitely not true. The Confederacy had out-
lawed this practice well before the time of
What is known is that the men of Breare's
cavalry engaged in heavy operations in and
around Dale County after a group of "raides"
attacked a Confederate ammunition wagon
and murdered a Southern officer. A pitched
battle was fought in what is now Geneva
County in November of 1864 that resulted in
the hangings of two men captured following
the fight. One of them, "Doc" Prim, was a
soldier from the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry
operating undercover in the region.
Sketoe was hanged within days of Prim and
the other man. All three of the hangings took
place at Newton and there is actually some
evidence that a second man was hanged on
the same day as Bill Sketoe.
The description of the hole being dug
beneath his feet with a cruth appears to be
true, as it was described by several men who
were present at the time.
After his death, Sketoe's body was displayed
briefly in Newton as a warning to others and
then buried by his family at Mount Carmel
Cemetery in nearby Echo, Alabama.
Sketoe's Hole no longer exists. The "hole
that could not be covered" was destroyed by
the massive Choctawhatchee flood of 1990.
The site is now covered with rock that was
piled under the modern Newton bridge to
prevent it from being undermined by flood
waters. Even a ghosts's feet couldn't sweep
away the tons of rock covering the hole.
A reconstruction of the hole that will not stay
filled and an interpretive sign have been
placed near the original site at the riverside
park by the Highway 123/134 Bridge at
Newton. Just cross the bridge from town and
you will see the park on your left.
Bill Sketoe's grave is at Mt. Carmel Cemetery
on CR 61 near Echo, Alabama. A small fence
surrounds it to protect it from ghost hunters,
one of whom damaged the headstone a few
The "New" Sketoe's Hole
The "Hole That Will Not Stay
Filled" has been duplicated near
the original site and the ghost
story remains alive and well.
|Copyright 2017 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Update: October 12, 2017
(Some contents 2010)
Bill Sketoe's Grave
The body of the unfortunate man
was buried at Mt. Carmel
Cemetery near his home in Dale
Ghosts & Monsters of the South
Ghost of Sketoe's Hole
Legend holds that the original
"hole that will not stay filled" was
swept clean nightly by the swinging
feet of the ghost of Bill Sketoe..