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.

Judge W. S. Mathews appointed John A. Hughes, a local practicing attorney to defend Branham.

“Mr. Branham, do you have or know any reason why this court should not now pronounce judgment against you,” Judge Mathews asked late in the trial, staring directly at the defendant. Clifton shook his head and mouthed an inaudible, “no.”

“Then nothing being offered or alleged to delay, it is considered by this court that you will be hanged by the neck until dead,” the judge said. “Sheriff Killen, take charge of the prisoner and keep him safe until Friday, the 25th day of September, 1903. On that day take him to the place of execution between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mr. Branham is to be hanged by the neck until he is dead.”

Branham stood trial in the same courthouse as Dr. M. B. Taylor, also known as the red fox of the mountains. The infamous Bad Talt Hall was also tried there.’ He also received the same sentence…death by hanging. The doomed man displayed little emotion. He knew it was coming.

Clifton maintained two hopes in the weeks before his execution. If it were at all possible he would feign his death. His second hope was based in his religious convictions, something Doc Taylor did as well. He instructed Robert Mullins of the Camp Creek section of Dickenson County, Va., to claim his body right away after the hanging and take it to adjoining Dickenson County.

“But Bob, open the coffin as soon as you get out of town,” Clifton told him. “I hope to fool them into thinking I’m dead. I’ll need air. If that doesn’t work take me on to Dickenson and keep me for three days. I’m gonna raise up from the dead.”

His sister, Millie Branham Cox, prayed aloud the whole day of Clifton’s hanging. Branham spent the morning picking sacred songs on his guitar while a throng of Virginians and Kentuckians strained in silence to hear from outside.

Branham was calm and composed as he walked up the steps of the gallows. He stood on the trapdoor while the noose was placed around his neck. The hangman methodically hatcheted the rope, sending Branham through the trap door and into eternity. He fell several feet before the rope abruptly halted his fall. Soon he was dead. It was the last hanging in Wise County, Virginia.

After Branham was pronounced dead his body was put in a wooden box and loaded onto the back of Mullin’s wagon. He immediately left town. As soon as Mullins had an opportunity he stopped the wagon and opened the lid of the coffin. Although Branham’s face was covered with unusually large drops of sweat, his body was cold in death. Heavy rope marks were evident on his throat.

Residents along the trail to Dickenson County came out of their homes to the road to watch as the wagon passed, some asking to see him.

Three days later, on September 28, 1903, friends and family members waited about his homemade coffin but the day passed without incident. He was buried the following day.

When his sister went to the Wise County jail to pick up Branham’s personal effects she was surprised at what she found. In the previous weeks, the doomed man had written “The life, crimes and confessions of Clifton Branham.” Copyright 2018 jadon gibson

Editor’s note: Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. He’ll look at the personal writings of Clifton Branham next week at Don’t miss a single posting!

A Voice for God – a voice for good

My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. I had surgery at Tennova Regional in Knoxville on April 16th. We had to be there at 5 a.m to prep for my 7 a.m. surgery.

We elected to stay at Knoxville Downtown Holiday Inn so we wouldn’t have to arise early and then drive to Tennova. Good idea huh? Well yes except several blocks of Broadway were undergoing construction at the time and Broadway was our route to get us where we were going.

It can be difficult finding your way in a fairly large city on a dark morning. We tried to get directions but the road closure had others confused as well. We started our trek but each time we neared Broadway we were blocked.

We saw a service station at about 5:40 a.m. so I parked in front and started to go inside as the workers usually have a pretty good idea about important sites such as hospitals in their area.

Although it was open it was dimly lit and there were three questionable individuals on the outside. Two were to our immediate right on the sidewalk and the other half way behind a garbage can which was positioned near the front door.

Once I began to take a step toward the front door I saw that the two individuals to my right were approaching. The other began moving around the garbage can. I became uneasy. Something in my mind or from the good Lord above told me to be wary. I immediately glanced back to my wife in the front seat of the car and she motioned for me to get back inside. Likewise she felt it may be a possible setup. We locked the car doors and exited the station.

Within a short time we saw the large gold basketball which gave us our bearings and soon we were at the hospital at exactly 5 a.m., our check in time.

Several times through the years I’ve read of situations such as this ending with terrible results.

My good Lord in heaven has been so good to me. Pray for the Lord to watch over you and your loved ones. He’ll help you to be conscious of your surroundings.

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