Category Archives: Features

Life and times of Clifton Branham, part 3

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.

Our mountain area was wild and sparsely populated in the years following the Civil War.
Continue reading Life and times of Clifton Branham, part 3

Life and times of Clifton Branham, part 2

Jadon Gibson

In the weeks leading up to the hanging of Clifton Branham in Wise, Va., in 1903, the doomed man spent hours writing about his life.

Clifton was born on Cabin Branch in Letcher County, Ky., in 1861.

“It was the year the Civil War broke out that I was born,” Clifton wrote. “Two of my brothers were in the war. My father was a farmer but when the war came along it got him into it too. He was captured and taken to Camp Chase. He was kept there until the end of the war.” Continue reading Life and times of Clifton Branham, part 2

The Life and Times of Clifton Branham

Jadon Gibson

Branham last man hanged in Wise County, Va.

There wasn’t much suspense leading up to Clifton Branham’s trial for killing his wife. There were eye witnesses to the shooting and even Clifton admitted to the killing.

Clifton was a guitar player and Wise County Sheriff Wilburn Killen allowed him to have his guitar in jail. He played it often in the weeks leading up to his hanging. When he wasn’t picking the guitar he was busy writing. Unlike his incarceration in the Kentucky State Prison in Frankfort where he became a heavy reader, Clifton spent a lot of his time in the Wise County jail with pen in hand. Continue reading The Life and Times of Clifton Branham

Sgt. Alvin York – East Tennessee Sharpshooter

Jadon Gibson

In the early morning hours of October 18, 1918, American forces in the French forest of Argonne were in a nearly impossible position.

The American offensive was attempting to push through the German defense to the Decauville Railroad, a major supply artery to the motherland.

As the sun burned away the morning mist, the “All America” 82nd Division was bombarded by artillery and heavy fire from entrenched German machine guns lining the tops of hills in three directions. Continue reading Sgt. Alvin York – East Tennessee Sharpshooter

Cumberland Gap retrospect

Jadon Gibson

A scant 132 years ago, in June of 1886, Harper’s Magazine published an article titled, “Through Cumberland Gap on Horseback”, written by James Lane Allen.

In the article Allen wrote of the incalculable mineral and timber resources of the tri-state region and described his impressions of the Gap where he slept beneath the shadows of the Pinnacle.

“It was late in the afternoon when our tired horses began the long, winding, rocky climb from the valley to the brow of the pass.<!–more–

“As we stood in the passageway of Cumberland Gap, amid deepening shadows of the twilight and the solemn repose of the landscape, the air grew thick with ghostly utterances – primeval sounds, undistinguishable and strange, of creatures nameless and never seen by man; the wild rush and whoops of retreating and pursuing tribes; the slow steps of watchful pioneers; the wail of dying children and the songs of homeless women; the muffled tread of routed and broken armies, all the sounds of surprise and delight, victory and defeat and hunger and pain, weariness and despair, that the human heart can utter.

“Here passed the first of all the white race who led the way into the valley of the Cumberland; here passed that small band of fearless men who gave the Gap its name; here passed the long hunters; here rushed the armies of the Civil War; here has passed the wave of westerly emigration, whose force has spent itself only on the Pacific slopes; and here in the long future must flow backward and forward wealth beyond the dream of avarice.”

Alexander Arthur read the article and within days he rode into the area by horseback on the pioneer route from Bean Station.

He recognized the vast resources available and returned to England to secure working capital. The American Association was formed.

Arthur knew a transportation network had to be built. Early in 1888, he and his subordinates contracted to have the railroad from Knoxville to Cumberland Gap laid and August 1, 1889, was set as the completion date.

Road crews worked along the 65-mile stretch and tunneling work began on both the Kentucky and Tennessee sides of Cumberland Gap. A crew comprised of hundreds of white laborers, blacks, Italians and a hodgepodge of other nationalities, were hired and began excavating beneath Cumberland Mountain.

Tents and houses were quickly put up. Stores, saloons, sawmills, blacksmiths, hotels and boarding houses were built. They prospered due to the influx of workers and it resulted in a new town that took its name from the famous pass, Cumberland Gap. Within two years a dozen other towns were spawned in the immediate area.

The year 1889 was prosperous with the tri-state area a beehive of activity. In addition to tunneling and railroad work, Middlesborough was being laid out and built.

Thousands of adventurers and seekers of fortunes came to Cumberland Gap and to Middlesborough on the opposite side of the mountain. Engineers, scientists, capitalists, historians, writers, actors, con men, gamblers – men and women in all walks of life converged on the area of new development.

The directors of the first World’s Fair considered `the valley near Cumberland Gap’ as the site. Although included in the final vote, the area of the historical pass was not selected.

When it appeared the Cumberland Mountain railroad tunnel project would fall behind schedule Arthur considered running a temporary rail line over the top and through the saddle of the Gap. This was forgotten when the 7/8’s mile tunnel was completed on time.

Arthur was on hand the night of August 8, 1889, when the crews digging from both sides of the mountain met beneath the gap. It had taken 18 months, a monumental task. The moderately new highway tunnels beneath Cumberland Mountain took much longer to complete.

In 1889 the two crews worked from opposite sides and met midway beneath the mountain, setting off a massive celebration that sent nearly everyone on a spree. Train whistles screamed and rifles and pistols shot into the air. The saloons in Middlesborough and along Cumberland Mountain in Virginia were busy with revelers.

The western tip of Lee County, Virginia, reaching up to the Pinnacle became known as Hell’s Half Acre. Drinking, gambling, carousing and debauchery were rampant. Officers couldn’t maintain order because violators would step from one state jurisdiction to another.

It was a dangerous time as highwaymen lurked along the mountain and held up and, at times, assaulted those passing by.

Crossing the gap through Hell’s Half Acre became so hazardous that few ventured across without being well armed. Many people discontinued use of the road and chose to hike through the railroad tunnel instead although several lives were lost in doing so.

The tragic financial collapse of the 1890’s brought on by the failure of the Behring Bank of England and the panic of 1893, shattered the dreams of many area promoters and businessmen. Alexander Arthur and the American Association had a pipeline to the Behring vaults and when the bank was hard hit financially the foreign investment stopped and the tri-state area began its downward spiral.

Middlesborough became a ghost city whose population shrank from 10,000 to 2,000. Half-built industrial plants were left sprawled over the area. The magnificent, newly-erected, 700-room Four Seasons Hotel in Harrogate, on the present site of Lincoln Memorial University, was razed and sold for salvage.

The importance of coal to a growing industrial system and the new railway system to and through the Cumberland Gap passageway, led to stability in the tri-state economy for awhile.

In addition to its rich history, the mountainous tri-state area of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, is one of the most beautiful in the United States.

The magnificent twin tunnels beneath Cumberland Mountain and the four-laning of Highway 25E and Highway 58 has led to a large increase in traffic through the region – signaling an era of new prosperity.

*Jadon Gibson is a free-lance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read regularly at Don’t miss a single posting!

Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! conclusion

Jadon Gibson

Alonzo Walling went on trial for the murder of Pearl Bryan on May 20, 1896, following the conviction of his accomplice Scott Jackson. Walling became Jackson’s worst enemy after they were captured, pointing out evidence sufficient to hang Jackson.

“One night a bunch of us dental students were drinking at Wallingford’s Tavern and Scott asked the group what poison would be the quickest in killing someone,” Walling told detectives. “The students mentioned three alternatives, hydrocyanic acid, prussic acid or a large dose of cocaine. He chose cocaine because he could buy it legally without a prescription and it was accessible right around the corner at Koeble’s.” Continue reading Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! conclusion

Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! part eight

Jadon Gibson

Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling turned on each other as more evidence surfaced against them. They were both trying to save their own skin. The detectives were able to piece the case together and were sure the two were in it together. The detectives learned that Pearl’s head was thrown in the Ohio River although Louis Ross and Sam Phister, students at the Ohio Dental College, said it was commonly felt at the school that her head was thrown into one of the large furnaces at the school. Continue reading Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! part eight

Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! part seven

Jadon Gibson

Pearl’s cousin, Will Wood, was arrested not long after the apprehension of Jackson and Walling. He proved to be a wealth of information for the police, providing more incriminating evidence against Scott Jackson and his activities that led to her death.

Wood was a medical student in South Bend, Indiana where he met Jackson prior to his transfer to Cincinnati. Wood’s parents lived in Greencastle as did Jackson’s mother.

After interrogating Jackson, Walling and Wood, the investigative team had a good idea of what happened but still needed to gather evidence for the prosecution. Continue reading Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! part seven

Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! part six

Jadon Gibson

Cincinnati Police Chief Deitsch ordered three of his best detectives to find and arrest Scott Jackson after getting the lowdown on the Pearl Bryan murder. Jackson was a student at the Ohio Dental College in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the time and they learned he lived in a boarding house at 222 West Ninth Street in the city.

He wasn’t in his living quarters so two of the lawmen took positions watching the street outside and the other went to Legner’s Tavern after learning it was one of his regular hangouts. Continue reading Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! part six

Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! part five

Jadon Gibson

Pearl Bryan’s former beau Scott Jackson made some sudden changes in his life in summer of 1895. He was trying to escape responsibility.

He dropped off the face of the earth as far as Pearl Bryan was concerned. She had difficulty in finding where he was and when she eventually did he wouldn’t see her or answer her messages. He had transferred from the Indiana College of Dentistry to the Dental College of Ohio, in Cincinnati.

Several weeks later she wrote Scott saying in parlance of the day that she “had made a discovery.” News that she was pregnant didn’t beckon a red letter day for Scott. He wasn’t ready to change his lifestyle or to have a regulated life. Continue reading Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! part five

Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! Part 4

Jadon Gibson

Sheriff Plummer and detectives Crim and McDermott felt they were “on a roll” and went to the home of Pearl Bryan’s parents outside of Greencastle, Indiana. It must have been between two and three o’clock, yet after a moderate delay they were welcomed in and taken into “a sitting room.”

The sheriff had a small carrying case with the clothing that Pearl Bryan was wearing the night of her murder. He opened it and removed the skirt. Continue reading Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! Part 4

Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! Part 3

Jadon Gibson

Sheriff Plummer felt strange. Traveling overland by train, tracking down leads to an inane murder back on his home turf… it was totally different from his duties leading up to this point in his police work. Upon arriving in Greencastle, Indiana, he and the two Cincinnati detectives, Crim and McDermott, set out for the Louis and Hays Department Store, hoping to solve another piece of the puzzle. Who was the deceased young lady who was found in his jurisdiction and what else could they learn to solve her atrocious murder. Continue reading Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! Part 3

Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! Part 2

Jadon Gibson

Saturday morning, February 1, 1896, was a busy morning one for Sheriff Jake Plummer of Campbell County, Kentucky . A young lady had been found brutally murdered in his jurisdiction, near an orchard just outside of Fort Thomas. Detectives Crim and McDermott, investigators from Cincinnati, showed up to assist, initially scouring over the crime area for clues.

News of the horrific murder traveled quickly and gawkers soon were entering the area. The Covington officers expelled the curiosity seekers and began searching for the head of the deceased woman as she had been decapitated. It could not be found. Continue reading Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it! Part 2

Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it!

Jadon Gibson

Colonel John Lock’s farm was located in the country outside of Fort Thomas, Kentucky. It was just becoming daylight on February 1, 1896, when young James Hewling noticed something lying beside the old wagon road.

He looked closer and found it was a woman. She didn’t look right. The sixteen year old lad said later he didn’t think much about it at first. Continue reading Pearl Bryan didn’t deserve it!

Young girl writes of 1800’s trip to the mountains

Jadon Gibson

Gen. O. O. Howard, of Gettysburg fame, is given much credit for the founding of the burgeoning Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.. The general and his close ally, Dr. E. O. Guerrant, founded many schools and churches in the mountain area.

Here is a letter written by Grace Guerrant to her sister, Anne Guerrant, during a trip with her father to the mountains in the late 1800’s. Continue reading Young girl writes of 1800’s trip to the mountains

Daniel Boone’s courtship and marriage, conclusion

Jadon Gibson

Seventeen year old Rebecca Boone rode to her wedding to Daniel Boone behind her father on his horse, sitting on a second saddle called a pillion. The dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty wore the finest that the frontier afforded in that day.

Weddings were important events in the backwoods so they were celebrated by nearly everyone living in the area for miles around. Daniel Boone and his party, astride their mounts, came upon a group of well-wishers. They reveled in firing their weapons in the air, covering the wedding party with smoke and causing one or more to nearly fall from their horses. Continue reading Daniel Boone’s courtship and marriage, conclusion

Silent Crimes Need to Become Less Silent

Jeff Rubin

April is Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time that places the spotlight on two issues I find disturbing, both for the nature of the crimes and the helplessness of the victims. That’s why the recent report on child maltreatment released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau got my attention. The report cites Kentucky as the second highest state in the nation for child abuse. Disturbing as that may be, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when you include domestic violence or abuse that includes the elderly as well as the young. Continue reading Silent Crimes Need to Become Less Silent