Clifton Branham

Clifton Branham

Birth
Letcher County, Kentucky, USA
Death 25 Sep 1903 (aged 41–42)
Wise County, Virginia, USA
Burial Clintwood, Dickenson County, Virginia, USA
Plot Osborne Gap
Memorial ID 117191419 · View Source
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Clifton Branham was born about 1861 on Cabin Branch in Letcher Co., Kentucky and died on September 25, 1903 in Wise Co., Virginia. He was the last man to be hanged in Wise Co., Virginia. He was the son of John C. Branham and Mahalia Mosley. According to local tradition Mahalia was half-Cherokee and was living in a Cherokee camp when she caught the eye of a trader named John Branham. After a brief courtship, they married and settled in the Cumberland mountains where they raised 10 children: Adoline, Joseph, Richard, Tandy, Clifton, Betty, Sarah, Charity, Millie, and Polly. John often moved his family back and forth between Wise and Dickenson County, Virginia and Pike and Letcher County Kentucky. John and two of his older sons served in the War Between the States.
Clifton fell in love with his second cousin, Nancy "Nan" Branham when he was about 16 years old and was determined to marry her even though Nan's mother was against the marriage because of their young ages and Clifton's bad reputation. Clifton convinced Nan to run away from home and marry him. Clifton took up making moonshine which often got him in trouble with the law and made it necessary for the family to move between Virginia and Kentucky on several occasions. He often left his family for long stretches of time, however, he rarely lacked for female companionship. He often used the name "George Jones" while he was travelling around.

While in Kentucky, Clifton was arrested for killing Henry Vanover. Henry Vanover allegedly killed a Roberts man who had been staying at the home of "Bad Ira" Mullins who was later ambushed and slain at the Killing Rock in Pound Gap by Doctor Marshall Benton Taylor better known as "The Red Fox of the Cumberlands." Ira was a notorious moonshiner and he hired Tandy and Clifton Branham along with George Johnson to kill Henry Vanover. The trio killed Henry Vanover although Clifton later claimed that he wasn't involved with the murder, but did accept a portion of the money for killing him. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. He began serving his sentence at the Kentucky State Peniteniary at Frankfort. While in prison, he got religion and began preaching. After he had served 14 years of his life sentence, Kentucky enacted a parole law which stated that prisoners who had served 10 years or more could be paroled.

**I found Clifton in the 1900 Census, Page 1 of 12, line 38, Eddyville City Precinct, Lyon, KY, KY Branch Penitentiary listed as age 39, Inmate.**

After being paroled, Clifton returned to Wise Co., Virginia. Clifton stayed with his relatives, but did not return to live with his wife Nan. Following a family squabble (involving Clifton and his wife and either their daughter Ida or their son-in-law, Ida's husband Dave Fleming), Clifton shot his wife and left her body lying in the road.

After killing Nan, Clifton went to Floyd Co., Kentucky where he fell in love with his cousin John McCarey's daughter, Haley. John told Clifton he could have Haley if he would kill a man for him. Clifton agreed and killed the man. About six months after he killed Nan, Clifton married Haley McCarey. Clifton decided to take his bride to Michigan to start a new life. Enroute, he was recognized and a posse was dispatched to apprehend him. Emmett Swindall and John Wesley Hillman brought Clifton back to the Wise County jail to await indictment and trial.

Court convened on 28 January 1903 and endorsed the following indictment: Commonwealth of Virginia vs. Clifton Branham, Indictment for Murder. The case was continued until 27 May 1903 at which time the Court assigned John A. Hughes to represent the defendant who had no means by which to employ counsel to defend him in this case.

The following twelve men served on the jury: W. R. Willis, Jessie Bishop, Elios Elkins, J. W. Mullins, Jerry Wells, Robert Tate, W. A. Childress, W. R. Collier, Elyah Creech, J. A. Dorton, I. R. Gilly, and Jive Tate. After listening to the case, the jury found Clifton Branham guilty of killing his wife, Nan Branham, and ordered him hung by the neck until dead. The execution was set for Friday, September 25, 1903. Clifton Branham was a fine musician and had his guitar with him at the jail. He even played a religious hymn for the crowd just before he was taken to the gallows. Clifton was hanged on the appointed day. He had requested that his family take his body back to Dickenson County, Virginia. He asked that his family check his body because he was sure that he was going to raise from the dead. When he didn't, his family proceded to hold a wake followed by burial at the head of Pine Creek in Osborne's Gap, Dickenson County, Virginia.
Clifton and Nan had 4 children: Ida, George, Eliza "Lizzie" and Mima (died at age of 3). See his wife's memorial for more about their children.


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  • Created by: Margaret Sturgill
  • Added: 16 Sep 2013
  • Find a Grave Memorial 117191419
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Clifton Branham (1861–25 Sep 1903), Find a Grave Memorial no. 117191419, citing Short Earl in Osborne Gap, Clintwood, Dickenson County, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Margaret Sturgill (contributor 47669776) .