Clifton Branham was born on Cabin Branch in Letcher County, Kentucky sometime during the year of 1861. He was one of nine children born to John C. and Mahalia Mosley Branham. John moved his family quite a bit between Wise and Dickerson Counties in Virginia and Letcher and Pike Counties in Kentucky.
Nancy “Nan” Branham
When Clifton turned 16 years old, he fell in love with his second cousin, Nancy “Nan” Branham. Nan was born on November 15, 1862 at Pound, Wise County, Virginia. She was one of five children born to Tandy and Martha Elizabeth Roberson Branham.
The two eloped together because Nan’s mother, Martha, was against the union sometime during 1877-1878. Martha felt that Clifton’s reputation and their ages would not make a successful marriage.
There were four children born to the marriage. Ida, George, Eliza “Lizzie” and Mima (died at age of 3). Ida would marry David Fleming. George would marry Maggie Vanover.
Clifton’s Wild Ways
After the marriage, Clifton then began moon-shining and would often get in trouble with the law. This trouble would force Clifton to move his family quite a bit between Kentucky and Virginia.
Also during this time, Clifton would used the alias “George Jones” to go see several ladies in the area. It seems that during his stretches away from home, Clifton never lacked for female company.
Hatfield and McCoy Connection
From September 1880 until August 1884, Branham had joined with the Hatfield faction of the Hatfield and McCoy feud. During this time he was involved in killing of three men: Mack McCoy, George Mounts, and Jim Mason who were all on the McCoy faction of the feud.
Mason would be killed on Blackberry Creek in Pike County. A peace agreement was made between the two feuding families and Branham returned to Elkhorn Creek when it was over.
Murder of Justis
Clifton Branham robbed and killed a man named Justis in October of 1886. After the the crime was committed, Branham tried to escape the area. Branham was captured two months later in the state of Texas.
After being returned to the state of Virginia, Branham faced trial and was given a six year sentence in the penitentiary. Upon his release he returned to Elkhorn Creek.
Death of Henry Vanover
The often told tale is that Clifton, his brother Tandy, and George Johnson was hired by Ira Mullins to kill Henry Vanover.
On page 8 of the Kentucky newspaper The Hazel Green Herald dated Friday Aug 12th, 1887, is two sentences they simply tell us that Clifton Branham and his brother “Tan” are in jail charged with the killing of Vanover. They have made a confession implicating several others. Clifton received a life sentence for the crime.
Tandy would later be released to an asylum as being judged as insane. (For more information please see The Henry Vanover Story: The Untold Tales Part 2) Sometime in 1889, Clifton would also be released under the plea of insanity and would spend twelve years in prison for the murder of Henry Vanover.
Another Version of Branham’s Time in Prison
According to the Find a Grave site, Branham was found guilty of the murder of Vanover and would be sentenced to life in prison at the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Frankfort.
The site claims that while serving his time, Branham got converted to Christianity and began preaching to others incarcerated with him. After serving fourteen years of his life sentence, Branham was released on parole. That is because Kentucky enacted a new law that stated that any prisoner who served 10 years or more could be paroled.
During the rest of his life Clifton would deny that he had killed Henry Vanover. However, he would confess to receiving money for the shooting. If Ira Mullins did pay for the murder of Henry, there is no evidence we could find other than the assertions of others claiming he did so at the time of this article.
Upon his release from his life sentence for his part in the killing of Henry Vanover, Branham spent his first six months out of jail going back to his moonshine and wild women.
It is reported that in June 1902, Clifton Branham moved to Wise County, Virginia where he married Mrs. Sarah Bond, who was a widow. At this time no records could be found concerning this marriage. However, as more information becomes available we will update our website.
For a few months, Clifton and Sarah lived happily together on Bold Camp Creek, Virginia. In December of that year, Sarah came down with what is known as sore eyes and almost became blind. It is not clear what the diagnosis would be by today’s standards.
An altercation between Clifton and his second wife occurred and she was beaten almost to death and shot with his Colt’s revolver. It is unclear from the newspaper article if Sarah survived her injuries or not. It is also unclear on the whereabouts of Clifton for the next ten days.
Death of Nancy Branham
On December 22, 1902, a family squabble happened between Clifton, Nancy, and/or Ida and her husband David Crockett Fleming. It is not clear if it was David or Ida who was present at the squabble.
During the disagreement Nancy was beaten almost to death and then Clifton took out his gun and shot and killed her and left her body laying in the middle of the road.
Nancy Branham was 40 years old at the time of her death. Clifton Branham would flee to Floyd County, Kentucky for the next six months.
While in Floyd County, Clifton would once again find love with a second cousin, Haley McCarey. There is not a lot of public information available about John or Haley, but this is the story about them that is summarized from Clifton’s Find a Grave website. The story goes that Clifton fell in love with Haley and asked for her hand in marriage from her father. John McCarey was the first cousin to Clifton Branham.
Death of Hense Moore
John would agree to the union but with a condition. Clifton would have to kill a man for John. The name of the man was Hense Moore on Beaver Creek in Floyd County Kentucky. However the story is told that Clifton did as he was asked. Clifton then married Haley.
It is also reported that for three days after the death of Moore that Branham would go to the grave of Moore and fire volley after volley of gun shots into his grave. The Sheriff of Floyd County was summoned of this act.
Clifton Branham Captured and Trial
After getting married for the third time to Haley, Clifton decided that he would move to the state of Michigan in order to begin a new life. His new bride was with him aboard the train when Clifton Branham was recognized. After gathering fifty men, the Sheriff met Branham at the White House train station in Johnson County as he was departing for Michigan. A posse apprehended him and John Wesley Hillman and Emmett Swindall brought him back to Wise County, Virginia to face trial.
On January 28, 1903 the case of Commonwealth of Virginia vs. Clifton Branham, Indictment for Murder began. The case was continued until May 27, 1903 at which time the public defender, John A. Hughes was assigned to defend Branham.
The Verdict and Execution
The jury returned a guilty verdict after listening to all of the evidence in the case.
On September 25, 1903, Branham faced the gallows. He was given time to address the four thousand people in attendance of the execution. He confessed to the crowd what happened during the time his wife was slain. According to the Courier Journal, then Branham asked the crowd two questions
The first question was that “if anyone in the crowd felt that he was not justified he would look for that one to hold his hand up.” Not a single hand went up into the air.
The second question that Branham asked was “all who felt that they would have done as he did, to hold up their hands”. Immediately an estimated five hundred hands wend up into the air.
He is buried at Short Earl in Osborne Gap, Clintwood, Dickerson County, Virginia.
We thank you for continuing to support Kentucky Tennessee Living. As we bring to you the history of the Appalachian Mountains. We must remind everyone that the story names Killing Rock: The Oft Told Tale (s) and Killing Rock: The Untold Story are both under Kentucky Tennessee Living copyright.
“Clifton Branham Pays the Penalty of His Crime”
September 25, 1903
A Narrative History of Wise County, Virginia
Charles A. Johnson.
Nancy Branham Branham
The Hazel Green Herald
Friday Aug 12th, 1887
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When we forget our past and who we are as a people, then we become who “they” say we are. ~~ David Sergent
I have attended the University of Kentucky. I have an Associates Degree from Hazard Community College and Technical School. I have also attended the University of Pikeville. I have taken several classes in Journalism as well as in the Appalachian History, Literature, and Sociology during my time at those schools.
I was born in Florida and grew up in Burdine, Kentucky. I have been married to David W. Sergent since May 4, 2013. I have two children and four grandchildren from a previous marriage. I currently live in Tennessee but my hope is to one day come back home to live in the beautiful mountains once more.