Clifton Branham ran away from home when he was 12 years old. He returned to the area near Pound, Virginia, when he was 16. His folks were surprised to see him. He learned that his father had bought a piece of land and built a house on the top of Cumberland Mountain.
“Some of our kinfolk were living on the south of the Pound River and I went by to see them,” Clifton wrote in the period leading up to his hanging. “Tandy Branham was killed during the war. His widow had seven children and three of them were still at home.
“One of her daughters was Nanny, the sweetest girl I ever saw. She was the prettiest girl in the world and we were the same age. I decided I had to have her for my wife or I’d surely die.”
Nancy’s mother and brother objected to Clifton calling on his cousin but they started slipping around and meeting secretly.
“I loved her as dearly as I did my own life and she loved me,” Clifton explained. “Her mother wanted to hire someone to do some work around the place for a month and I was a good worker. She said she would give me the job. I saw it as an opportunity to be close to my sweet Nanny.
“Most of the time her mother was gone when I went to work. Nanny was always there and she would call me to eat at 11 o’clock. We sat and talked for a while after I ate and then I’d return to work. Sometimes Nanny would come to where I was working so I had a very happy time during that month of work. The time went by fast and before I knew it the month was over.”
Clifton learned the reason they didn’t want him to court Nanny. There was a son of a well-to-do Dickenson County farmer who was interested in her. They thought it would be better for everyone if she married into a family with money.
“Nanny promised me she would be mine forever,” Clifton recalled. “She said it was useless for them to try to get her to have someone else.”
When Clifton’s month was finished her mother said she was pleased with his work. It gave him the nerve to ask if she had any objections to them getting married.
“I’ll tell you right now Clifton Branham, you all are just too young to marry,” she replied. “I’ll not give her up and you’d better not try to steal her. I’ll have you thrown in the Pound River with a millstone tied around your neck. You hear me Clifton Branham?”
Clifton left without responding. He knew it was useless to talk about it any further with Nancy’s mother. He wrote that he was more determined than ever to have Nanny for his wife.
“The next day the old lady was gone most of the day,” he wrote. “She had her sister-in-law stay with Nanny. Later in the day when her sister-in-law left, we found our chance to run away together. I felt as though I had captured the world. Nanny was a pure and perfect girl.”
After spending the night at the home of James Peck they set out for the top of Cumberland Mountain where most of his family lived. He worried that his father would not approve of what they had done.
“Dad made me feel a lot better when he said all was well and we went home with him,” Clifton wrote. “In a few days Nan’s brother came with the remainder of her clothes and a message from her mother. She said she would never approve of us marrying.
“I’ve got Nanny and I’ll not give her up,” Clifton replied. “We are a perfect match although her mother doesn’t think so.”
After two months Nancy’s mother sent for them. They went to Mr. Austin’s on Pound River and asked him to see her on their behalf.
“He fixed everything up for us,” Clifton wrote. “I went to Wise and got my license and when I returned we got married. That was 23 years ago when I was 16. We returned to my father’s and my happiest days on earth began. We were together all the time and when I had to be gone she would greet my return with a kiss. A year later we were blessed with a sweet baby.”
Clifton and Nancy moved to Johnson County, KY, and the following spring they took a boat to Pikeville, on the Big Sandy River, where he got a job working for a man by the name of Ford. He later worked for Jeff Rowe on the Levisa Fork of the Sandy River and still later moved to Shelby Creek and then back to Cumberland Mountain.
“We were together eight years during which we had four children, three girls and one boy,” Clifton reminisced. “I had been a tough boy even though the Lord had been knocking at my heart. Nan belonged to the church. If I had been as good a boy as she was a woman, I would be a lot better off.” copyright 2018 Jadon Gibson
Editor’s note: Read more of this amazing true story next week at bereaonline.com. Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His witings are both historical and nostalgic in nature. Don’t miss a single posting!