The Epic Of "Eave" E. A. Hopson

               A Man Wrongly Hanged

 

 

As chance would have it, circumstances were coming together to change the life of several men, one of which was "Eave" E. A. Hopson. Eave had previously courted and wed, a young woman named Isa Maine Colley of Sheetrock, Virginia. Maine was a daughter of John Floyd and Pernetta (Mullins) Colly. John Floyd Colly was a local farmer who had once served as constable.  Eave and Maineís marriage did not last and Isa Maine soon left him for a man named Nealy Hawkins.

With no home life to speak of, Eave decided to work away in company with his nephew, Littleton Hopson. Littleton, called "Lit", was a son of Eaveís brother Noah Hopson. Lit had married Hannah Mullins, daughter of Preacher John Mullins of Dickenson County, Virginia. Eave and Lit had completed their employment and were preparing to return home when they happened to meet Bob Mullins. Lit had considered taking some whiskey with them, so he suggested they send Bob Mullins down to Norton, Virginia to buy it. Bob asked Hopson for the loan of a dollar which he gave him and Lit offered him a gun to take with him.

By all thought Bob Mullins should have been back that evening but he still had not returned by the time night fell. It wasnít a difficult trip to Norton and didnít take long to travel so they assumed Mullins had not planned to rejoin them. When Mullins still had not returned by the next morning, Eave Hopson advised his nephew that they just as well forget about the whiskey and go on home. Lit had a problem with leaving before Mullins came back. He was uncomfortable with the thought of leaving before reclaiming his gun. He had lent his gun to Mullins, he wanted it returned and decided he wasnít going to leave without it.

Eave Hopson would later say, "The boy was worried and uneasy about his pistol and wanted his gun so bad that I went to see about Bob and get the gun for the boy."

Lit and Eave Hopson traveled to Norton where they searched for Bob Mullins but were unable to locate him. They decided Mullins must have started back to meet them and they had missed him somewhere along the way. As they began their trip home, the course took the men by the Norton rail yard where they met Enoch Wright as he stepped off a train. Enoch, also known as Enoch Frank Wright was born February 17, 1869, the son of Bad John Wright of Letcher County and Serilda Austin. Enoch had married about 1896 to Georgie Johnson and they had two children. He would later marry second on February 22, 1911 in Wise County, Virginia to Louisa Warrick. Enoch decided to travel along with Eave and Lit so they began their trip home only to meet Mullins just below William Carterís house.

Bob Mullins was in a despicable humor and told Hopson, "Somebody said that if I didnít bring your money back you were going to take my tools."

To which Hopson replied, "You are just drunk."

Being late in the day, Hopson concluded it would be best to travel on his way to his brotherís house to stay the night and start home the next morning, so Mullins figured he would go with him. That wasnít exactly to Eaveís liking, but since Mullins had married his cousin, Hopson felt he should decline telling him that he didnít want to continue with him.

Eave thought he knew why Mullins was staying with him, saying, "Bob Mullins hung around after me a day or two because I had some whiskey and would give it to him."

As they left, the group of men saw Levi Miles and Hopson motioned him over for a drink of whiskey. Lit, enjoying the whiskey and fair to well intoxicated, took out his pistol and fired it into the dirt road. Eave cautioned the boy on this kind of behavior, warning him not to shoot the pistol unless he wanted the law to arrest him. Levi Miles didnít take time for discussion. Instead of talking to the boy, Miles grabbed the gun from Litís hand, then passed it over to Eave, who dropped it in his pocket. A short while later Noah Hopson came by to take his son home and since Lit was still dissatisfied with the occurrence of his gun being taken, he broke company with the group and left with his father.

 

Enoch Wright and Bob Mullins had not taken part in the gun taking episode and felt confident to go on home with Noah and Lit Hopson without any disturbance. Eave wasnít that confident and figured Lit was still dwelling over the incident with the gun and he didnít want to be in his company when he was in such disagreeable mood. He worried that Lit might raise another racket if he went with them and for that reason he decided he fared best with Levi Miles.

Hopson and Miles did some drinking, then Miles suggested they go back to town and, as fate decreed, on the way they again met up with Enoch Wright and Bob Mullins. It was the evening of Friday, May 15, 1903. As the night progressed, the men, Eave Hopson, Levi Miles, Enoch Wright and Bob Mullins, realized they were hungry. Someone brought up the name of John Salyer, who had recently moved from Tennessee to a farm not far away, in the Glamorgan area of Wise County, Virginia. Salyer kept chickens and the discussion turned to a decision to steal a chicken from the Salyer farm to roast over an open fire.

They made an agreement to go up to the Salyer house and settled on the scheme that Eave Hopson would be the one to poach the chicken. While Eave worked his way up to the farmhouse, the others assured him they would watch the farmhouse door for anyone that might come out and catch him. Should Salyer or his wife become curious as to what was happening, they would warn Eave and all would scurry out of sight.

All was calm as Hopson neared the house, he neither saw nor heard anyone but noticed there was a light in the window of the Salyer farmhouse. He assumed the others had remained with the plan to walk on up the road and keep watch for him. The chickens threw a fuss but Hopson had a chicken in hand and was about thirty yards from the house when John Salyer heard the frenzied clucking of his chickens. Hopson was not aware that Salyer had dashed outside to survey the problem until he heard shooting erupt. Even then he didnít know if it was John Salyer shooting at him or his friends shooting at Salyer, so his best decision was to take off in a fast run.

Hopson searched the darkness for his companions and finally saw two men coming toward him that he recognized as Enoch Wright and Bob Mullins.

Bob said. "There was a man got shot. Did you hear any groaning as you came by?"

Hopson asked, "How do you know they did that?"

Bob Mullins answered, "Well, because they did. Salyer came out with a pistol in his hand and I hit him with a rock. He turned and fired toward Enoch. I thought he hit Enoch in the face so I turned the 45 loose twice. I think I hit him somewhere about the hip. I seen the blaze of the pistol nearly against him. As he went into the house he said to his wife that he was shot and his wife told him he was more scared than he was hurt and that she thought he would get over it."

This night had not gone as planned. What had started out as a simple plan to steal a chicken for dinner, concluded with John Salyer mortally wounded in gunfire.

Eave advised Bob Mullins that it would be best to hand the 45 pistol over to him. Mullins didnít want to give up the gun but he but gave it to Hopson who took the spent shells out and reloaded it. They decided to go on home and Hopson would travel on to his home the next morning. But when the morning came, Hopson discovered he had lost his watch in the scuffle and was determined to go back and look for it.

He said, "Well, I ainít done nothing to be licked for. I lost my watch and I am going back to hunt for it."

Bob said they would all go back and look for the watch and added that if they couldnít find it he was going to change states. He said, "There may be a whole lot of men gathered in there by this time and we may get into it. You give me that big pistol."

Hopson said, "No sir, you donít get my pistol no more."

Bob Mullins told Hopson, "Iím afraid if anything was to come up, you ainít got nerve enough to use it."

They went back down the road and managed to locate the watch. Bob Mullins kept talking about the shooting and bragged he could hardly shoot a man without hitting him. He said, "I never fail. We are all together. This is done. Of course, you never done anything to be hurt for but if we are caught up in this, it will be hard on all of us."

Bob stepped up and put his hand on Hopson shoulder, "Hopson, we are all into this and if you tell it, G - - D - - - you, I will kill you. If Wright tells I will kill him and if I tell you boys can kill me."

Hopson said, "I am going home in the morning. If you shot the man the best thing you can do is leave."

He came to the conclusion that he didnít aim to tell it himself and he didnít intend to allow anybody to tell and there was no use leaving. But as it ended, Bob Mullins, Enoch Wright and Eave Hopson were arrested and indicted for the murder of John Salyer.

On Saturday, December 27, 1902 at a County Court, continued and held for Wise County at the Courthouse ĖĖ ordered that the Sheriff of this county with proficient guards, go to the City of Lynchburg, Virginia and forthwith bring from the jail of that city Enoch Wright, Eave Hopson, Bob Mullins, and confined there on a charge of murder and have them before this Court at an early date as possible, and the jailer of said jail is ordered to turn over to the said Sheriff or guards the said Enoch Wright, Bob Mullins and Eave Hopson.

The first day of the trial was Wednesday, January 28, 1903.

A grand jury was impaneled and, not surprisingly, all three defendants entered pleas of not guilty. They were told William Dotson, the Commonwealth's Attorney, had talked with the wounded man later that day before he died and he had described Hopson as one of the culprits. During court proceedings Hopson acknowledged he was the one that stole the chicken. He also told them that Bob Mullins and Enoch Wright were the oneís that had carried a gun and they were the men that had done the shooting. In response, Bob Mullins and Enoch Wright accused Eave Hopson of the deed.

 

In the end, Bob Mullins was the only one of the three men that changed his plea from not guilty to guilty. He was tried by the judge and was found guilty, being the only one of the three to have been tried without a jury. On March 03, 1904, he was sentenced to eighteen years in the State Penitentiary, where he served his term until December 20, 1909, about five years of his sentence, when he was conditionally pardoned.

The state penitentiary files in Richmond, Virginia show Enoch Wright was found guilty of murder in the second degree as charged and was sentenced to seventeen years confinement in the penitentiary. Wright, prisoner number 4794, served his term until February 1, 1910, when he was conditionally pardoned. However, he was sometime later again convicted of second-degree murder and was returned to the State penitentiary, where he had to serve out the remainder of the seventeen-year sentence, plus an additional twelve years.

It was Eave Hopson who paid the extreme price. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang until his death on May 15, 1903 at Wise County, Courthouse. He continued to stress his innocence to the last, saying his only fault was falling into the hands of bad company.

Hopson attorneysí, J. A. Hughes and C. H. Patterson, and a friend J. F. Fleming, were with him at the end.

Hopson said, "It looks like a pretty hard case for a man to come up and to walk up on the scaffold and his life taken from him for what some other man done; but God is a just God. He does all things well. There is a day coming when God will make all these things that are put against me come around right."

At the last there was trouble with the trap door which wasnít working as it should and had to be repaired. Sheriff Wilburn Killen of Wise County, Virginia, attempted to repair it, hammering on it for nearly fifteen minutes. During this time Eave Hopson waited docile and composed as he stood on the scaffold. J. F. Fleming asked what he wanted done with his hat and Hopson said to give it to Pat Senter. Senter was the husband of Ellen Hopson, who was a daughter of Eaveís brother Noah Hopson. C. H. Patterson and J. A. Hughes, Hopson's attorneys, remained at his side while Sheriff Killen continued to work on the death gallows.

Ironically the sheriff had known Hopson since he was a baby and had even tended him at times. Hopson asked Deputy Sheriff Renfro if he would perform Sheriff Killen's duties to relieve his longtime acquaintance of the deed, but the deputy refused.

Fleming then asked Eave where he wanted to be buried. Hopson told him he wanted his body taken to the house of Preacher John Mullins at Skeetrock and to be buried in the family cemetery in Dickenson County, near his father. Hopson looked at Fleming and said, "It is hard for an innocent man to be punished. I hardly realize that this is me. I donít think it will be but a few minutes until I will be in Paradise. I am not uneasy but I will meet my God in peace, where there will be no more trials and troubles.

He was asked if there was anything else he wanted to say. He continued, "I am up here with but a few minutes to live, and I thank God that I am not afraid to die; I am not afraid but what I will meet God in peace. The prosecuting attorney here went down there and took the dying manís declaration and then got up and told the jury to hang me, that he believed every word that Bob Mullins said as if it was an angel that had come down on its snowy wings from heaven and told it. He had done been there and heard Bob Mullins swear that I was on the inside of the fence when the man was shot. Also, he heard the man swear that the man on the outside shot him. There must have been a mistake between Brother Dotson and Mr. Mullins. But anyway, my life is just politely and emphatically being stolen from me at this place."

Hopson's last words according to Roy L. Sturgill:

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, all of you. I have come here to try to talk to all a little while. This is a pretty sad occasion for lots of people. I am looking on up here as a wilful murderer, but thank God, there is no murder in my heart, no murder alleged against me in the day to come. I am just as free of murder as the angels in heaven, although I am condemned to die for murder. I thank God that there is not a stain of any man's blood against me. I want all of you to take warning of my condition: I am here to suffer and to die for what some other man did. You may think a man is the best friend you have in the world, and that he has as true a heart in him as was ever inside of any man, and right then he is seeking some advantage to get your life taken away from you; that is the way with a good many men. I warn all people, young and old, men and women, to shun bad company. I fell in the hands of bad company. A man doesn't know what is in the heart of another person. You can't look in a man's face and tell what is in his heart. I bid farewell to this world below, and I hope you will remember what I have said and try to meet me in a better world."

The condemned man then waved to the crowd below him, and was then escorted by a guard to the scaffold. His very final words were "There's nothing else that I know of - God knows I am an innocent man, and I am glad he knows it, and God is with me and every one of us and pardon us all."

About this time one of the spectators accidently fired off a gun, scattering the audience in every direction. When order was restored, Hopson commented, "A loaded gun in the hands of a fool is a dangerous thing."

He stepped unto the trap door with no appearance of fear or weakness, shook hands with everyone, including Mr. Salyer, a brother of the murdered man.

He told Mr. Salyer he was sorry that it happened. Then said, "Goodbye, gentlemen. I hope to meet you all in Heaven and that every man of us will meet there."

Just as Sheriff Wilburn Killen placed the hood on his head, Mr. Hughes asked, "Eave, did you fire that shot?"

Hopson answered, ""No sir, I did not. I've done things in my life that I'm not proud of," the weary Hopson replied. "When Salyer was shot and killed I had been drinking a lot but God knows I am innocent. I did not shoot the man. God is with me. I hope to meet all my loved ones again in Heaven. Good-bye."

Sheriff Killen said, "Eave, your time is up. May God have mercy on your soul," Sheriff Killen placed the hood over the prisoner's face. He then pulled the lever to the trap door and Hopson body plunged downward, jerking suddenly to a quick stop. The rope tightened, but it did not break his neck. As he struggled the hood fell from his head showing an anguished look that begged for relief. The sheriff replaced the hood but it again fell and Dr. Miles then pinned it back on.

Dr. Miles. Dr. Taylor and Dr. Cherry were in attendance and examined Hopson. He was checked periodically for signs of life but it was thirty-six minutes before Dr. Miles, Dr. Taylor and Dr. Cherry pronounced Eave Hopson dead.

"Eave, may God have mercy on your soul."

The body was turned over to J. F. Fleming of Clintwood, who placed the corpse in his wagon to be taken from Wise to Dickenson County. Once in a while he stopped along the road when residents asked to view the body. Burns from the hangmanís rope were clearly visible on Hopson throat.

Enoch Wright and Bob Mullins served time in the state penitentiary, Eave Hopson died on the hangmanís scaffold, but it was Bob Mullins who later, before his death, confessed to having fired the shot that killed John Salyer.

E. A. "Eave" Hopson was buried in the Hopson Cemetery on the John Mullins farm at Blowing Rock, Dickenson County, Virginia. His brother Reverend Noah Hopson is also buried there as well as Littleton Hopson Sr and Littleton Hopson, Jr. It is an old cemetery with many graves marked only with field stones.