By Nancy Clark Brown
The saga of "Bad" Talt Hall begins with this 1892 article from an unknown newspaper:
The most celebrated trial ever held in Southwest Virginia or Eastern Kentucky, a country where lawlessness has been rampant for years, was brought to a close on January 30, in the conviction of Talton Hall of murder in the first degree. The jury took twelve hours to deliberate, and when the verdict was announced, Hall rose to his feet and perfectly cool and collected. After he was taken to his cell he said to your representative that he was confident of getting a new trial and proving himself innocent of the murder of policeman Hylton, of Norton.
The trial was held at Wise courthouse, the county seat of Wise County, Virginia, four miles from Norton, the nearest telegraph station. All week the strange sight was seen in the little mountain village of a courtroom filled with and surrounded by a large body of men armed with Winchester rifles to prevent the prisoner from being rescued, or lynched, even the attorneys in the case had to appear heavily armed to protect themselves from one or the other sides of the opposing factions. For two days a band of the friends of Hall, all from over the Kentucky line, seventy-five strong, lay in the woods in the vicinity of the village, awaiting an opportunity to sweep down upon the guard, and the jail, and courthouse, which commonly commands entrance to the jail, were filled with armed men. One of the Hall men, sent into town as a spy, was arrested, and the strong preparations made for their reception frightened off the gang.
Notwithstanding the mob, it is probable that the verdict rang down the curtain on the closing scene in the career of the most notorious desperado living, and the man who has killed more of his fellow men than any of the many desperados that this region can boast. Had an attempt at Hall's rescue been made he would not have lived to join his friends, even should they have succeeded in driving off the guard.
Hall according to his story, was in all the battles of the Howards, Turners and Eversoles, and had several private vendettas with which to amuse himself when things were dull. Once Miles Turner attempted his capture for a large reward. Hall and a half-dozen friends gave a posse a warm reception, at which time the dead numbered over ten.
Hall claims to have been a Deputy United States Marshall for four years prior to 1884 and
to have killed a large number of moonshiners. When asked how many men had bitten the dust at his bidding, Hall nonchalantly remarked: "Oh, I don't know exactly, as near as I can recollect about ninety-nine."
Talton Hall was born in Letcher County, Kentucky, fifteen miles west of Whitesburg, forty six years
ago. He grew up in an atmosphere reeking of crime and bloodshed, and if a mans surroundings have anything to do with his making, his inglorious death at the end of a murderer's rope is not be wondered at. His birthplace, a simple log cabin, is still to be seen on the banks of a small mountain stream, appropriately named Troublesome Creek. He grew up in the company of budding desperadoes, and his opportunities for securing an education or in any way fitting himself for upright citizenship were scant. Among his boyhood companions were Marshall "Doc" Taylor, now confined in the jail at the Wise courthouse, Virginia, on two counts of murder in the first degree, and "Devil" John Wright, who has been charged with twenty seven murders and who to the very last has been steadfast in his friendship with the doomed man.
During the dark days of '61 to '65 there was a perfect rein of outlawry in all the mountain counties of Eastern Kentucky. The people were almost evenly divided on the issues of war, and on the home guards, as the little bands of bushwhackers, guerillas and outlaws were called, fought many a battle in the lonely valleys and on the wooded hilltops of this mountainous section which are not mentioned in any of the current war histories.
When the war had ended Hall returned to Troublesome Creek. The whole country was in a rein of terror. Murders were daily occurrences, and he joined with zest in the feast of blood. It has been claimed that he killed ninety-nine men before he was finally landed in a felon's cell. Of course this is an exaggeration, but no one knows how many mountaineers went to their long homes at the crack of his trustworthy rifle. Eight of the long list of alleged murders are well authenticated as follows:
In 1866, he murdered Henry Maggard, in Letcher County, Kentucky. The murder was the result of a
political quarrel. He was tried at Whitesburg and acquitted.
In March, 1875, he shot and killed Dan Pridemore, in Floyd County, Kentucky. He was tried and acquitted of murder in the first degree by a jury of his peers. June 1881, he killed Nathaniel Baker in Floyd County, Kentucky. Acquitted. November, 1882, in Knott County, Kentucky, he killed his brother-in-law, Henry Triplett, as a result of a family quarrel. He also wounded Triplett's brother. Acquitted. In 1883, he killed Henry Houk, of Knott County, Kentucky, for which an indictment is still
outstanding. A year later in Floyd County, Kentucky, he killed Abner Little. He is under indictment for this crime. June 15th, 1885, in Knott County, Kentucky he assisted in the murder of his first cousin, Mack Hall, for which he was never arrested.
Talt Hall - The Early Years
By Nancy Wright Bays and Patty May Brashear
Talton "Talt" Hall was born 1846 on Little Carr Fork or Trace Fork of Rockhouse Creek, a branch of Beaver Creek in Letcher County, Kentucky. He was the son of David and Anna (Johnson) Hall and the grandson of Anthony, born 1752, d. 1846 and Rutha Butler, born 1770, d. 1855. Talt married Marinda "Rinda" Triplett on October 12, 1868 in Letcher County, Kentucky. Marinda was born in 1846, a twin to Merilda Triplett and a daughter of Wilson and Eleanor (Isaac) Triplett.
As a very young man, Talton became accustomed to the murders which happened almost daily. Gunfights and bloodshed were the general way of life in the feud-ridden area of Beaver Creek. His father, Dave Hall, was a strong-willed man in his own right who had killed several men in individual
disputes. Talton, himself, was well-known for his ability with his guns. When the man with the gun was Bad Talt Hall, proceeding with an argument was not only dangerous, but could be suicide. It was a well known fact that Talton did not shoot to bluff and did not miss when he shot. A close associate, Anderson Belcher, stated: "Talt's guns are anything but good to look at, but when it comes to shooting they are dead center."
Supported by his relatives Talton Hall became a deputy sheriff. It was his boldness with a gun which enforced his desire for an official capacity and carried him forward to the position of United States Marshall for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The more powerful station of Marshall also elevated prospects for others of the Hall family. Already well organized, they then traveled together, armed to the teeth and under the shield of the law. They were in all appearance deputies, if not officially, then unofficially.
Talton was credited with the killing of near 100 men, though the number was probably much less. Not counting those he killed during the Civil War, he confessed to the killing of only five men. He confirmed he killed Henry Maggard, Henry Houk, Mack Hall, and a man named Triplett. He was acquitted of murder in all these cases. It was generally thought that Talton Hall killed Frank Salyer, March 6, 1885, yet this was not one of the killings he admitted doing when taken into custody for the murder of Police Chief, Enos B. Hylton. Talton had become romantically involved with Salyers wife, and shortly afterward, Salyer was murdered by ambushers. The circumstances of this murder, as well as the actual killing, were what brought about the end of Talton Hall's life. The last murder he confessed to was that of Enos B. Hylton, for which he paid the ultimate price.
After a long man-hunt Talton Hall was arrested for Hylton's murder. His trial got under way January 26, 1892. The trial was short, lasting only five days. On January 30, 1892 the jury reached a verdict of guilty. Talton Hall gained his place in history when he became the first man to hang for murder in Wise County, Virginia.
Talt asked "Devil" John Wright to have his body brought back to Kentucky for burial. He was buried
in the Wright Cemetery at Dunham, Kentucky, just across the border from Virginia, along with John and Mattie's two sons, James and Johnny Phillips and other members of the Wright family.
The Trial of Talt Hall
Be it remembered that upon the calling of this case the attorney for the Commonwealth announced his readiness to proceed with the case for and on behalf of the Commonwealth whereupon the prisoner by his counsel objected to proceeding with the trial of the cause because the Judge of this Court had not complied with Chapter 101 of the Acts of Assembly of 1889-90, page 79, in this towit; that the said Judge did not set this case for trial on any certain day nor on any day of the term of this court as is required by said section at least ten days before the commencement of this court in which this case is pending and because the clerk of this court did not arrange the docket as is required by said section (Here copy felony court docket) which said objection the court overruled to which said ruling of the court the prisoner by his counsel excepted and prays that this his first bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of the Court of Wise County
Be it remembered that upon the calling of this case the attorney for the Commonwealth announced his readiness to proceed with the trial of the case for and on behalf of the Commonwealth whereupon the prisoner by his counsel approved the court to continue the case because the Judge of this court did not set this case for trial on a certain day of this term at least ten days before the commencement of the term and also because the clerk of this court did not arrange the docket as is required by Chapter 101, page 79 of the Acts of Assembly of 1889-90 which the motion the court overruled and required the prisoner to go to trial to which ruling of the court the prisoner by his counsel excepts and prays that this his second bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of County Court of Wise County
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case the prisoner moved the court to quash the venira facias issued in this cause and the return of the sheriff made thereon for errors and defeats apporent on the face there, which is in the words and figures following (make copy) which motion the court overruled to which action of the court in overruling said motion the prisoner by his counsel excepts and prays that this his third bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case a jury of sixteen persons free from exceptions not having been obtained from the persons summoned and in attendance upon the Court the said court deseted? another venire facias to be issued and caused to be summoned (Here insert names of parties summoned) from a list of persons furnished by said Court to complete the panel which venir facias and the return of the sheriff thereon the prisoner by his counsel moved the court to quash for errors, defects and irregularities apparent on the face thereof and because the same was issued contrary to law which is in the words and figures following (here copy) which motion the court overruled to which action of the court in overruling said motion the prisoner by his counsel excepts and prays that this his fourth bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case the following persons, towit, B. O. Fergerson, I. N. Kelly and A. W. Ervine together with others who were summoned and in attendance upon the court as beniremen? in this case being sworn upon their voirdise states follows, towit:
B. O. Fergerson stated that he had heard of the tragedy and had read news paper accounts given of the same which had made an impression upon his mind which would require evidence to remove, and on cross examination said Fergerson stated that "I have an impression but it would yield to evidence." That he had never conversed with the witnesses as he remembered and that the impressions made upon his mind would yield to evidence. I have an impression that the prisoner killed the deceased Enos B. Hylton, but as to his guilt or innocence I have no impression I can give the prisoner a fair and impartial trial.
I. N. Kelly stated that he had made up a partial opinion but have an impression that it will require evidence to remove. Do you think you can give the defendant a fair and impartial trial under the law and the evidence, to which he answered, "I can" and the impression would have no influence on me in this trial of this case. I have no prejudice for or against the prisoner and can give him a fair and impartial trial according to the proof.
And on Cross-Examination he said that he would not be willing to act on what he had read in the newspapers. I think I can dismiss any impression but it will take evidence to dismiss it and A. W. Ervine stated the he had not made up any decided opinion, but that he had an opinion that would require some kind of statement or evidence to remove. That such impression as was made upon his mind would be a sight hard thing to get over. It will take evidence of the same nature to remove the impression that made it. It will not require sworn statements to remove my impressions.
To the competency of each of which said persons as jurors the prisoner by his counsel excepted as they were severally sworn and examined and moved the court to exclude them from the panel which said motions the court overruled to which actions of the court in overruling said motions the prisoner by counsel excepts and prays that this his fifth bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case that after sixteen persons had been empaneled upon the jury which this court accepted as free from legal exceptions and the prisoner had exercised his right to strike four of said Jurors from the panel and did strike the following four named persons therefrom, towit: (Here insert their names), leaving the following twelve named persons. (Here insert their names) a jury to pass between the Commonwealth and the prisoner upon the charge of which he stands indited, that the prisoner had not been informed of his rights as is required by law, whereupon it being suggested by the Attorney for the Commonwealth that the Clerk had omitted to inform the prisoner that the vemire are to be called (here insert the information that the Clerk if required to give the defendant in a case of felony) and moved the court to recall the persons summoned by virtue of the first verise facias for the purpose of proceeding to empanel a new and different jury against which proceeding the prisoner by his counsel entered his solemn protest and objection and moved the court to proceed with the trial with the Jury as then constituted, elected, tried and chosen which objections and protests the court overruled and then and there directed the sheriff recall the four persons who had been stricken from the panel and had retired into the body of the people and the court there and then directed the sheriff to recall such persons as had been summoned and were in attendance upon the court by virtue of the first venise facias in this case and there and then proceeded to organize and constitute another and different Jury from the one first
empaneled de novo to which actions of the court the prisoner by his counsel objected earnestly protested and excepted and refused to take any part in the constitution and organization of the said second Jury but the court proceeded to organize the same against the objections of the prisoner and forced him to be tried by the said second Jury against his protests and objections to which said several actions of the court the prisoner by his counsel excepted and prays that this his sixty bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case the Commonwealth to maintain the issue on her part introduced and Dr. G. W. Dingus who testified that he was called as a physician to wait on Enos B. Hylton after he was shot ont he same evening at about 4:45 o'clock p.m. and that he had a conversation with said Hylton concerning how he came to get shot, whereupon the attorney for the Commonwealth asked the witness to state what said Hylton said to him concerning the shooting, to which question and any answer thereto the prisoner by counsel objected because the same is hearsay and inadmissable but the Court overruled prisoners said objection and permitted the witness to answer said question which witness answered as is set forth in the exception in which the evidence is certified which is hereby referred to as a part hereof to which action of the Court in overruling said objection and permitting said question to be answered the prisoner by his counsel excepted and prays that this his bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case the Commonwealth to maintain the issue on her part introduced one J. A. Hubbard who testified that he saw the deceased the evening after he was shot and heard him telling Charles Lawrence after he had been carried home how he came to be shot, whereupon the attorney for the Commonwealth asked the witness to state what the deceased said to said Lawrence in said conversation, concerning how he came to get shot, to which question and to any answer thereto the prisoner by his counsel objected because the same is hearsay and inadmissible, but court overruled prisoner said objection and permitted the witness to answer said question which witness answered as is set forth in the exception in which the evidence is certified to which action of the court in overruling said objection and permitting said question to be answered the prisoner by his counsel excepted and prays that this his bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case the Commonwealth in order to maintain the issue upon her part offered the following witnesses who testified as follows; viz:
1st Witness: John J. Wolfe, says, I was in Norton the day that Enos B. Hylton was shot. I was going from West Norton to the depot yard, and heard a pistol shot about half way the yard. I turned to my right and saw three men in a scuffle and the man I afterwards learned to be Hylton was in the middle. One of the men had Hylton by the left arm and one had him by the right arm. The man that had him by the left arm pushed him back and fired the shot in Hylton's breast. Hylton then fell to the ground and got up and fell again. The two men walked down the road and turned into Stone Mountains. They met a man and stopped a second or two, I did not know the man. They then walked down the track from 100 to 150 yards. I could see them after they turned out for 100 yards or so going southward. They were going slow. The man on Hyltons left had on a straw or chip hat. This was on the 25th day of July 1891. We went over and saw Hylton. I saw where the ball had come out but did not see where it entered. It came out between the shoulder blades. I heard Hylton ask for some water was all I heard him say.
I suppose I was 150 yards or more from Hylton when he was shot. I was opposite when they were on the passenger track and they were on the side track. Elbert Kilgore was with me. I did not see any smoke of the pistol. The tall man pulled the pistol in Hylton's breast and I don't see how it could keep from hitting him. It could not have gone in the ground.
2nd Witness: W. E. Kilgore, says I knew Enos B. Hylton, I was in Norton when he was shot. John J. Wolfe and I were coming down the road to the depot and when we got in about 200 yards of the depot we heard a shot and turned around and saw three men in a scuffle and just as we turned around I saw the second shot fired. There were two law men and one tall man. The two law men were together. The one of the law men was between the tall man and the other law man. Two of the men walked off and I saw Hylton fall and saw him get up and then fall again and me and Capt. Wolfe then went over to where Hylton was. The tall man shot the shoot I saw. They all three seemed to be in a tussle. The two men that walked off got 25 or 30 steps before Hylton fell. Bill Renfro, Bill Adington, Charles Neel and Bill Bates were there when we got there. Hylton was lying on his back when we got there and we did not examine him. I saw the two men go down the grade 100 to 150 yards and did not see them any more. It was in Norton in Wise County. I think the man who did the shooting had on a white hat or a straw hat. They seemed to be in a tussle for a minute after other the shot and then seemed to push him back and walk off.
When I first saw them they were in a tussle. I did not see any one have hold of Hylton's arm. The shot I saw could not have hit Hylton in the breast. It ranged down (Here shows the Jury how the pistol ranged.) It went into the ground. I don't think that Hall had hold of Hylton when he shot.
3rd Witness: William Renfro says, I knew Enos Hylton. I saw him a few minutes after he was shot. I was an Norton yard looking at some Coke. I walked about 100 yards after Hylton was shot. I walked tolerably slow until I saw Hylton and then I walked tolerably fast. I asked him two or three times who shot him and he didn't make me any answer and then I asked him if it was a nigger or a white man that shot him and he said that it was two white men. I unbuttoned his shirt and looked at the wound. William Addington and Trigg McClellan were with me. W. E. Kilgore, Charles Neal and Bill Bates were there when I got there and I saw Charles Neal leaving and he got a pistol out of Hylton's pocket.
4th Witness: Mrs. Helen Hylton, says I am the wife of Enos B. Hylton, I saw him on the day he was shot. I saw him about an hour before he was shot. I saw him afterwards at a railroad shack. He seemed to be suffering. The blood was oozing out of his breast. If any of you ever saw a man in the agonies of death you know how he looked. This was about 2 o'clock p.m. and he lived until about 2 o'clock a.m. the next morning. When I first went to him after he was shot he said Helen it is a death shot this time. He said that he wanted to go home when he died and then said he wanted to go to Heaven when he died.
I never heard him say that he thought he was going to die or thought he would die. After he was taken home he revived up and I thought we might be able to save him and wouldn't let any one talk to him. He was in as good health as he had been since he was shot in the face. Every body knows he had not been very well since he was wounded in the face. His coat was ripped when I first saw it after he was shot. It was not ripped when I saw him before he was shot. His coat was off when I saw it after he was shot.
5th Witness: Mike Leonard, says, I live at Norton, I was working at Norton last summer. I saw Hylton after he was shot. I was west two or three hundred yards away from the difficulty. I saw two or three men scuffling and heard one shot, but paid no attention then. I saw two men leave and saw Hylton fall. I only heard one shot. These men went East towards the depot. I saw Hylton fall twice. He was lying on his side when I got to him. They went East toward the depot. This was some where on the 9th or 10th track. I was on the middle track opposite the Mountain View Hotel. I never talked with Hylton any or examined the wounds. Charles Neal got there a second or two before me. I was working on the platform at the depot.
6th Witness: W. A. Maynard, says, I was at Norton the day Hylton was shot and was in a grove eating my dinner. I heard a pistol and saw three men together in a scuffle. One man shot one of the other two men and then two of them walked briskly away. The man that was shot fell.
7th Witness: Thomas Lyons, says, I was at Norton the day Hylton was shot working with Mike
Leonard and heard a shot fired and looked up and saw three men hand in hand scuffling and I looked
down and went to work and when I looked up again one man was down and the other two were walking off. I went over there. Mr. Neal got there before I did. Mr. Neal asked Hylton who did this and he replied Talt Hall and Miles Bates. Neal was the only one there. I was there only a little bit. I went down the road and came back and took a telegram to the depot. I heard only one shot. I knew Hylton when I got to him. I had known his face for two or three months. Hylton told Mr. Neal to catch them if he could.
8th Witness: Dr. H. H. Stallard, I was called in to wait on Hylton. It was late in the evening. (Here shows where he was shot.) I was there when he died. He died after one o'clock in the morning. The shot was the cause of his death.
9th Witness: Dr. G. W. Dingus, says, I never saw Hylton until after he was shot. I went to see him about 4:30 p.m. He seemed conscious. (Here describes the wound) He had been shot with a large ball about a 44 calibre. I remained there until he died. His death was caused by the shot. I asked him how he happened to get into the difficulty. He said he had a warrant for one Miles Bates and had arrested Miles Bates and said he was going westward. Said that then the man who was in front stepped back and shoved him back and shot him. When he turned he said give up that prisoner and pistol and I'll shoot you and shot him before the could do any thing. He then commenced suffering and I did not ask him any thing else. He said he believed he would have shot him again if Miles Bates had no prevented him. I never heard him say any thing about dying. The conversation I had with Hylton concerning how he came to be shot was after he was taken home.
10th Witness: J. A. Hubbard, says, I live near West Norton. I was at West Norton at Mr. Adam's store when I first heard about Hylton being shot. He was at a negro shack about 2 o'clock when I first saw him. The shack was 25 or 30 yards from the Railroad track on the south side. I helped to take him home. He was shot in the breast. I saw blood on his shirt behind. I heard Charles Lawrence ask him who shot him and he said the man they called Talt Hall was the man who shot him. That he had Miles Bates arrested and this man they call Talt Hall came up and told him to give up the pistol or he would shoot his damned brains out. Mr. Hylton said he refused to do it and said he had Bates pistol. He said Hall seeing my pistol out of my hand and pushed me back with the same hand and shot me with his own pistol. He said Mr. Bates was submissive to the law. He said it was the man they called Talt Hall. He said if he could see him again he could recognize him. I think he said Hall shot two shots. This talk was after Hylton was carried over to his home.
I was at West Norton when I heard that Hylton was shot. I suppose it was some over a mile to where Hylton was shot from where I was. I walked up there. I never talked to Hylton myself but heard Charles Lawrence talk to him. It was two o'clock or after when I saw him. The probability is that it was between2 and 3 o'clock.
11th Witness: T. M. Cherry, says, I am a practicing physician and surgeon. I went to see Hylton. It was after 12 o'clock in the night when I got there. I did not talk with him or do anything for him. It was too late. (Here describes the wound.) I have been guarding the jail. Some one built a fire on the floor and burnt a place next the tiling that comes up through the room Halls stays in from the room below where some other prisoners are kept. Hall first said that he did it to scare crazy women in the next room and then said he did it to let letters down to the boys in the room below.
12th Witness: Miles Bates, says, Me and Talt Hall went up the Railroad track and I raised my head and saw Hylton and he said he had a warrant for me for stealing a watch and took my pistol out of my pocket and took me. The negro who had said I had his watch and he took my watch out of my pocket and the negro who had said I had his watch and he said that wasn't the watch and I wasn't the man and then Mr. Hylton said he would have to search me any how and i said all right and about that time Hall came up and said something to Hylton and shoved him back and Hylton whipped around and said some thing to Hall. When Hylton turned around he had his pistol in both hands towards Hall, and Hall shot him. When Hylton first arrested me Hall was a little behind us and the next time I saw him he was right up at us. Hall put his hand on Hyltons shoulder and said some thing and Hylton said something to him I didn't understand what either one of them said. Hall tried to shoot him again but I knocked his arm down and the pistol fired in the ground and kept him from shooting again. After I knocked his arm down and took Hall by the arm he said damn you let me loose if Hylton hurts me I'll kill you. Me and Hall then went off together to the brush.
Mr. Hall spoke first - neither said much. When Hall shoved him around Hylton raised his pistol up in both hands towards Hall and then it was that Halls pistol fired Hylton was acting as policeman. I don't know what Hall nor Hylton either said. I was excited and couldn't hear very well.
13th Witness: Wilson Holbrook, says, The authorities turned Hall over to me in December at
Memphis, Tennessee, I had a requisition for him. 14th Witness: Charles Neel, says, I lived at Norton. I was there last July. I was down at the depot and Hylton came and summoned me to arrest two fellows. I heard a shot fired and ran across the track and met Talt Hall and Miles Bates about two hundred yards from where the killing was done and I asked Hall who did that shooting and he said he did not know and I asked Bates then and he said it was up there and I then said I can mighty-damned quick find out who did it. I went to Hylton and he gave me his pistol and told me to get them if I could.
15th Witness: Jemia Nickels, says, I was at Norton last July. I saw Hylton shot. I saw Hylton arrest Miles Bates and a man came up and told Hylton to give that mans pistol to him and shot him
immediately. I was as far as from here to window when first shot was fired. (This is about the feet) When Hylton was shot he was standing there and said what do you want to shoot me for.
I couldn't? see Hylton present his pistol at Hall. When the first shoot was shot I run and got behind the corner of the house. It was about fifty steps. Whereupon the defendant to maintain the issue upon his part introduced the following witnesses who testified as follows:
1st Witness: Craig Miller, says, I knew Hylton, I had a conversation with him this summer was a year ago. Concerning the fight he had in Kentucky in which he said he had to leave Kentucky on account of a difficulty and said that if ever him and Talt Hall met one or the other of them had to die.
He had reference to the difficulty he had in Kentucky when he was talking to me and I understood him to say that if ever him and Talt Hall met one of them had to die. I understood him to mean that Talt Hall was the man who shot him. I think Fletcher Dean was present.
2nd Witness: Talt Hall, defendant says, Me and Miles Bates were coming down the Railroad track from West Norton and was going to take the train to go to Coeburn and we met Hylton and I saw him Jump at Miles Bates and grab his pistol and told him to consider himself a prisoner and Bates says, all right show your authority and Hylton said I haven't got any I arrest you on suspicion and the nigger that was with Hylton says that this is not the watch nor the man and then I stepped over and says that if this is not the man what are you bothering him for, let him go and Hylton then turned on me with his revolver in both hands and says damn you I owe it to you any way and then I shot him. He was standing with his face to the west and me with my face towards the east. I stepped up right to them sorty side by side and so soon as I told him to let Bates to if he was not the man and not be bothering him. He turned on me and threw the revolver on me in both hands and I shot then and Jumped behind Bates and tried to make a block out of him and I think Hylton tried to do the same. When Hylton said Damn you I owe it to you any way and threw his pistol on me in both hands I knocked it off with my left hand and shot him with my right hand. I shot him about the same time I knocked his pistol down. I shot him because I thought he was aiming to kill me.
I went down the railroad track and I turned into the woods. I didn't sing? Hyltons pistol out of his
hands. I did not put my hand on his shoulder before either shot. I did not tell him to give up the pistol and did not say damn you I'll shoot you. I had never had any difficulty with Hylton before and did not know that he had any thing against me. I never had my hands on Hylton at all. I never used the language. I would give the thing away if bates went on the stand. Bill Renfro told me what Miles Bates swore on his trial and I said if he swore that he swore false. That it was not done that way and I could prove it by parties who saw.
3rd Witness: Charles Neal, recalled, says, I saw the handle of a pistol in Miles Bates breast pocket as he went away.
Whereupon to further maintain the issue upon the part of the Commonwealth, Miles Bates was
recalled to testify in rebuttal and says, Hall took my pistol from Hyltons hand and threw it down against the end of the ties and I picked it up.
I don't know whether I had it or not when I met Charles Neal. I don't know what I done with it.
2 Witness in rebuttal, Fletcher Dean says, I don't know whether I heard the conversation referred to by Craig Miller, but I heard Hylton talking and understood him to say that if ever he met the man that
shot him in Kentucky one of them had to die.
And the foregoing is the evidence and all the evidence offered by either the Commonwealth or the prisoner. After the Jury returned their verdict of guilty, the prisoner by counsel moved the court to set aside the verdict of the Jury because it was contrary to the law and the evidence which motion the Court overruled to which ruling of the Court the prisoner by counsel excepted and tendered this his bill of exceptions and prays that it be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case the attorney for the Commonwealth moved the Court to instruct the Jury as follows: (Here insert instruction No. 1 offered by the Commonwealth) to which instruction the prisoner by counsel objected, but the Court overruled said objection and gave to the Jury said instruction as above set forth, to which action of the court in overruling said objection and giving and giving said instruction to the Jury the prisoner by Counsel excepted and prays that this his bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record, which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case the attorney for the Commonwealth moved the court to instruct the Jury as follows: (here insert No. 2 offered by the Commonwealth) to which instruction the prisoner by counsel objected, but the court overruled said objection and gave to the Jury said instruction as above set forth, to which action of the court the prisoner by counsel excepted and prays that this his bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this cause the attorney for the Commonwealth moved the court to instruct the Jury as follows: (Here insert No. 3 offered by the Commonwealth) to which instruction the prisoner by counsel objected, but the court overruled said objection and gave to the Jury said instruction as above set forth, to which action of the court in overruling said objection and giving said instruction to the Jury the prisoner by counsel excepted and prays that this his bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case the attorney for the Commonwealth moved the Court to instruct the Jury as follows: (Here insert No. 4 offered by the Commonwealth) to which instruction the prisoner by counsel objected but the court overruled said objection and gave to the Jury said instruction as above set forth, to which action of the court in overruling said objection and giving said instruction the prisoner by counsel excepted and prays that this his bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record, which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case the prisoner by his counsel moved the court to instruct the Jury as follows: (Here insert instruction NO. 5 offered by Defendant) which motion the court overruled and refused to give said instruction to the Jury above set forth, to which action of the Court in overruling said motion and refusing to give to the Jury said instruction the prisoner by Counsel excepted and prays that this his bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case the prisoner by counsel moved the Court to instruct
the Jury as follows: (Here insert Defendants Instruction No. 6) which motion the Court overruled and
refused to give to the Jury said instruction above set forth, to which action of the court in overruling said motion and refusing to give said instruction to the Jury the prisoner by counsel excepted and prays that this his bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that upon the trial of this case the prisoner by his counsel moved the court to instruct the Jury as follows: (Here insert Defendants instruction No. 7) which motion the court overruled and refused to give said instruction above set forth to the Jury, to which action of the court in overruling said motion and refusing to give to the Jury said instruction the prisoner by counsel excepts and prays that this his bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that after the motion to set aside the verdict in this case and grant the prisoner a new trial as set forth in Bill of Exceptions No. 9? the prisoner moved the court in arrest of Judgement because of the various errors of the court all of which are alleged to be erronious as set forth in the several bill of exceptions, and because the indictment is not sufficient in law and because the verdict of the Jury is insufficient and is not signed by the foreman of the Jury as appears from an inspection of said verdict and because the Grand Jury that found the indictment against the prisoner was not a legally constituted Grand Jury, and was constituted without authority of law, and there proceeding in finding said indictment against the prisoner was void adminitio but the court overruled the said motion in arrest of Judgement to which action the court in overruling said motion the prisoner excepted and prays that this his bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
Be it remembered that after the prisoner had been sentenced to death he moved the court by his counsel to postpone the execution of its sentence for the purpose of obtaining time to apply for a writ of error, which motion the Court overruled and refused to grant the prisoner a longer time than the 14th day of March 1892 in which to obtain a writ of error to which action of the Court the prisoner by his counsel excepted and prays that this his bill of exceptions be signed, sealed and made a part of the record which is accordingly done.
H. A. W. Skeen
Judge of Wise County Court
(Copy of the original trial transcript on file in the Archives of The Wise County Historical Society, Wise, VA)
From Book 30, Page 135, Wise County Circuit Court Clerk's Office:
This agreement made this the 2nd day of September 1892 by and between Talton Hall part of the first part and J. L. Greear of Coeburn, Wise County, Virginia, party of the second part. Witnesseth: That for and in consideration of one half of the net proceeds which may be derived from the sale of the
autobiography of the said party of the first part, the said part of the second part agrees and binds himself to publish said autobiography and put the same upon the market and sell and cause to be sold as many of the same as said second party can reasonably do and pay the other half of said net proceeds arising from the same of said autobiography to the executrix of the last will of the said Talton Hall or to such other person as may be by law entitled to receive the same. The said J. L. Greear is to make settlement and pay over the said one half of the net proceeds arising from the sale of said book within ten days from the expiration of every three months after said book is ready for sale. The costs of publishing said book and the expenses of sale are to be first paid and also the costs of all advertisements and the residue there to be divided as aforesaid.
Witness the following signatures and seals this the day and date first above written.
J. L. Grear
Virginia: In Wise County Court Clerk's Office of the 3rd day of September 1892 the foregoing writing
was presented and admitted to record and together with the certificate of acknowledgment recorded on the 13th day of September 1892.
Testd: W. H. Bond, Deputy Clerk
The Life of Talton Hall
(The first eight pages of the book are missing. When Talton Hall was hanged in Wise an effort was made to destroy all the pamphlets written about him. This copy was made from one which escaped the flames.)
.........these men and others we fought for four days. I was sixteen years of age and John was nineteen, we had not had a bite to eat for four days. By this time a posse of 150 men were after us, but failing again they put bloodhounds on our trail, thinking sure they would run us in. We killed the hounds - about ten of them. This being our fourth day of fighting, without food or rest, we were pretty well used up, and at daybreak one morning we lay down to sleep. Hardly had we closed our eyes when we were awakened by the sniffing of a large dog that had laid himself down beside us. Both of us immediately arose and prepared for a fight, as we well knew the dog was mighty apt to have a master not far off. After talking the matter over, and having determined to die game, we started up the hill, but, as we could not travel on account of the brush being so thick, we returned to the path. Just as we entered a little pass, twelve men encountered us and told us to surrender. We proceeded to do so by promptly drawing our pistols, but great was our astonishment when we could not get them off. There had been a hard rain the night before and out pistols were wet. It such had not been the case we would have come out as usual. When we saw that we were helpless, there was nothing for us to do but run, and we both did that. John escaped but I got caught in some bushes and was captured. When John saw they had his mate he came in the next morning and gave himself up. As luck would have it the captain of the posse that took us was my uncle. He wanted to kill Wright, but I told him if he killed one to kill us both. They sent us to Cincinnati and we joined the 22nd Ohio Regiment and were taken to Little Rock, Arkansas. This was the last fight John and I were in during the late war.
When I returned home, after the close of the war, the Home Guard had hatched up some old grudges
against me and were ready to kill me as soon as I showed myself up. Now the Home Guard was a posse of men whose duty it was to protect the property, wives and children of the soldiers who had enlisted and gone into the war, and to whom some of my enemies belonged. I had had enough fighting and to prevent more bloodshed I went to Texas and was gone three years. When I returned I came to Floyd County, Kentucky. Now in those days there were a certain class of men who lived chiefly by robbing and stealing, and to this class belonged the horse thieves, whose business it was to steal all the horses they could and run them into another country or state and sell them. The penalty, if caught in this practice, was death, just as it is now-a-days with the Western ranchman. I killed two men for stealing horses in Boyd County, Kentucky, their names were Baker and Harris. They stood me a fight and they had the same chance that I did, but I came out ahead.
All through the counties of Boyd, Knott and Letcher, Kentucky, there was a great deal of enmity and
each man and family had his friends and enemies; of course, I was in it too, and having a fighting
reputation I had to be always on the lookout for myself, lest some one should get the drop on me. The
first fellow that tackled me was Bill Triplett. He and I had fallen out over an election and he swore he
would kill me on first sight. When we met shooting was in order; I fired two shots at him and he came to the ground, but was not killed. That put me on my guard, and for three years I went about not knowing what day would be my last. I had plenty of enemies who were trying to kill me, and went armed and my eyes wide open.
In the year 1878 I was United States Marshal and was doing some work in Floyd County, Kentucky,
when one evening as I came riding along, nineteen moonshiners waylaid me in about ten feet of the road. I had a boy with me and when they opened fire on us we gave them our best; there was lots of shooting and when it was over it was found that Henry Triplett had been killed and four or five others wounded. I went to Prestonsburg and surrendered myself to Judge Brown, who placed me under $1,000 bond. When my case came up the Commonwealth's Attorney filed it away including several others. I was all O. K. I was United States Marshal for a number of years, and many fights I have had with moonshiners and outlaws, who generally run together, but when I undertook to arrest a man I generally got him some way another.
Back in the year of /63, myself and a posse of about fifteen men were on Cumberland River, when we
met a Home Guard, Henry Maggard by name, and captured him. Some of my party wanted to kill then
and there, but I told them it would not do, and to take the man to prison or turn him loose. A man by the name of Ben. Garrett, who belonged to my squad, had him in charge and killed him. In this, like many other instances, the murder was charged to me and in that year I had to leave my home to save myself. I went to Texas and no one knew where I was until one bright morning, on the 15th day of August, I showed up in Floyd County, Kentucky. All the while I was gone I never heard anything of my family and friends and they thought I was dead. The harmony and quietude that attends a happy home, mine knew not. It was scourged by my enemies and the falsehoods they kept in circulation about my people and myself.
When I would leave home I always went without telling anyone - had to do this to keep from being
ambushed - there were plenty of my enemies who were too cowardly to met me in open fight and were
always watching for an opportunity to shoot me in the back. Oh, the intense hatred that fired the bosoms of my enemies at that and the present time. Having had personal troubles with many of them and being a United States Officer, whose duty it was to "pull" moonshiners, horse thieves and outlaws, it was quite an easy job for them to get up a mob that was thirsting for my blood. It was under such circumstances that I was traveling one night in Floyd County, Kentucky, in the year '77, on a little creek called Beaver, about one-half mile from the home of Capt. William J. Hall. It was calm and quiet, and as I walked along there was no audible sound that disturbed the stillness of the night save the murmuring waters of the Beaver, the hoot of the owl, or the lonesome call of the whippoorwill. The moon had not yet bared its silvery crest above the nodding tops of stately pine and hemlock, and all nature seemed as quiet and placid as the night itself, when, lo! the mutterings of subdued voices reached my ears, and, more from the practice of woodcraft than of fear, I dropped my self into the long grass that grew along the pathway. On they came and I could now tell from their actions and conversation whom they were, their intent, and well knew the desperate characters I had to deal with. As they came alongside of me I raised up and went with them. Under cover of the night they mistook me for one of their own number and little thought that the man they had come to kill was at that time with them and listening to their plot with all eagerness.
There were about twenty of them - moonshiners and thieves - one said: "Damn him, we'll get him this time."
Another - "This is his last trip."
Third - "By God, I'll fix him."
About that time the leader came walking alongside of me and said: "I've been talking to Cub Isaac, and he said, 'the old red fox will be along here very soon and we'll put him in his den to stay, sure.'"
I was the one he was talking to, so I just pulled my pistol, put it to his side, just below his left
shoulder, and let her go. He dropped dead in the tracks. When the shot was fired they found out they had a man that did not belong to them and the scattered like a flock of quail before a fusilade of breech-loaders.
After I fired the shot that killed the captain (Henry Triplett), I dropped down in the grass and bushes
and remained still for quite awhile. I could hear the moonshiners getting together again, and now and
then they would pass rather close to me, evidently looking for Triplett's body. An occasional whip-like
crack of a pistol or a winchester would awaken the stillness of the night, but shooting in the dark is not
very effective, and when one was struck it was more luck than skill. I wounded two more of them,
Jonathan Isaac and 'Squire Howell, and came out myself with my clothes shot full of holes. About two
o'clock in the morning the moon arose above the tree tops and I saw that I would have to get away or beriddled with bullets. I could hear the moonshiners talking very low and I got by without them seeing me. I went down the road some distance to a school-house near Captain William J. Hall's stayed there until daybreak. At that time old Mile _____ boys and Henderson Hall came to me and said my enemies had gone and that was my chance to get away and go to my friends. Henderson Hall and myself took the hills and went to his brother-in-law's house (Bill Bates), wholived about three miles south of where the fight occurred.
Next morning German Isaac came along the scene of the fight and picked up Triplet's and several
other guns that were lying on the grass and left them at the house of Miles Hall. I came along afterwards and took one of the guns and kept it about two months when I exchanged it for one they had gotten from John Wright.
It is very humiliating for me to think of my pas days when I was in so many close places and was
saved by coolness and good judgement, now to be jailed and sentenced to death upon the lying testimony of a horde of cowards.
In February, '79, I went to Floyd County, Kentucky, with papers to arrest a man by the name of Lon
Vanover, for robbing the United States mails. When I returned, news reached me that William Triplet
and the Isaacs were waylaying me and the next night I went to see about it. I found them as my friend had told me and commenced to shoot at them right away. Forty or fifty shots I fired at them and one struck Triplet on the arm and broke it, others riddled his blouse, but he got away. He then went and offered a man by the name of banks $300 to kill me. This fellow would have made the fight but he met John Wright and was told he had better hold up. He took the advice and told John all about what he had been offered to kill me, who offered it, etc. In May, '79, I was in Floyd County, Kentucky, on a little place called Holly Bush, looking for Billy Triplett, and had __________ with me; when we got up with him we fired forty or fifty shots at him, wounded him two or three times and shot his blouse into shreds. It seemed that this man was impregnable and he was as mean and as hard at heart as he was to kill. Some of the men who were after him with me are living yet.
One bright spring morning in the year '75 or '76, when all nature seemed smiling in its wraps of
verdant green, when bursting buds and blooming flowers nodded their farewell to chilly winter, and all things animate bespoke the advent of the season we all love so well, a friend of mine by the name of Baker, and myself, were passing near the house of W. D. Hall, when a fusilade of shot and ball from guns held in the hands of old Lewis Hall, two of the Mullins boys and Jim Thornsberry, bade us to seek a more congenial clime. Thirty or forty shots were fired at us, but no one was hurt. About a month later, one evening about six o'clock, Baker was shot dead by Henderson Triplet. He knew that I was aware of Baker's death and who did it, so the next thing he tried to do was to kill me. He made three or four trials at me. I did not know it at the time, but found it out and went to work to "do up" him and his gang at once. He was the cause of his brother, Henry, being killed, his brother, Billy, badly wounded four or five times, and he himself escaped once or twice with his clothes riddled with bullets and badly wounded.
Henderson, Billy and Henry Triplet were brothers, and brothers-in-law of mine. I was very sorry to
have to hound and shoot them on account of my wife, but she said she did not want them to kill me, and the only way to save myself was to get them first. I never in my life made an attempt to kill a man unless he made the first pass at me, and the men that have died at my hands were sent to their graves through defense of self, and not through a motive of preconcerted malice or robbery. I am not as bad a man as they have pictured me, especially the newspapers, and there is quite a difference, in my favor, between my so-charged coldblooded murders and those of other men who killed through a motive of malice or plunder, and who have had some showing on trials that terminated in their favor. Worse men than myself have been acquitted, have had their sentences commuted, or sent to the State prison - the only medium between sweet liberty and the gallows.
From the year of seventy-eight or seventy-nine into the eighties, I was United States Marshal, and was
constantly having little "bouts" with moonshiners and outlaws; but they did not amount to much, except
that it made me enemies who quickly allied themselves with others to get me out of the way. When I was marshal I always treated my prisoners as kindly as possible, and had all due regard for their families. Many has been the time when I went to arrest a man his wife would put her face in her apron and cry, while the little children would cling to him and say: "Papa, don't leave us." This was enough to touch my sympathies, or even move a man with a heart of stone, and I would tell the man to meet me at a certain place, and get him away without such a pitiful scene. Time and again I have done this to save, to some extent, the feelings of the wife and little children left to themselves.
One day in the year '81, I was at home with my wife and little children, enjoying the few comforts of
my home circle (in which I took great delight, for I had a good wife and bright, happy-faced children),
when I saw Dr. Johnson coming to my house. He came up and said: "Hall, come out here, I want to see you."
I walked out and said: "Well sir, what can I do for you."
He said, "I want you and some of your men to go up to Henry Hank's."
"What for?" said I.
He replied: "One of the men who killed Sheriff Caudell in Floyd County is up there, and you had
better go up and take him."
I told him, "Well, I'd see what could be done."
I gathered up four or five men and went to look for him, and encountered him and several others on
top of a big hill in the woods. I told them to give up, when one man by the name of Hank threw his gun
on Bill Bates and would have killed him had I not been on hand. I was quicker that he was, and fired the shot that brought Hank to the ground and saved Bate's life. I went and surrendered to the officers, stood my trial and was acquitted.
It was on the 16th day of May, '85, a man by the name of Higgins was killed in Hindman, Kentucky.
He was ambushed by Dick Vance and A. Hall. My brother's son was a witness against them in the
Higgins murder, and A. Hall waylaid and killed him in order that he might not testify. They also wanted
to kill me and W. D. Hall. The Vances had some money, and they went to a man by the name of Calib
Jones, one of the most desperate men in Kentucky, who bears the reputation of having killed ten or
fifteen men, and employed him to kill me.
Not long after this I got the news that Jones and his men were in the woods looking for me. I will not
say who told me, but generally there was some friend to warn me when I was threatened. I did not want to get into a fight with Jones and his gang, and the next morning about daybreak I started to John Wright's to keep out of the fight. A man by the name of George Johnson was with me, and as we walked along, talking and thinking how well we had avoided the fight, Jones and his men opened fire on us from behind trees in the woods. We immediately sought shelter, and returned the fire. Jones had some ten or twelve men; I only had one. I got in one good shot from behind my tree and killed one of Jones' men, and Johnson did some good shooting also. When Jones saw his men drop he concluded it was getting too warm for him, and he retreated about 200 yards. This gave me time to get to an old house a short distance from me, and we reached it all right. Jones and his men kept themselves well covered, and continued to fire at the house until 3 o'clock that afternoon. Then Johnson and myself got into the road and passed through Jones' lines, but were fired on several times, one buckshot striking me in the left hand. This was my first encounter with Jones, and from that time we were bitter enemies, and had several sharp battles. Our next engagement was on a little stream called Jack's Creek. Miles Bates came to me and said that a part of Jones' men were up there. This made me very mad, and I gathered up four or five men, procured a warrant, and went to arrest them. When we came up with them I told them to surrender, and they replied by shooting at us. The first victim of this fight was Ab. Little, who fell by the deadly aim of W. J. M. Bates - the Little men ran at once. I was badly wounded in this fight.
The mention of peace and harmony in the time of this deadly warfare of ours was hailed with delight.
Our walk in life was very uncertain, and the men engaged in these bloody feuds knew not the day they
would most likely be shot down and leave a home in the mountains destitute of a father's care.
With much delight, after having had two battles with Calib Jones' clan, we welcomed the announcement that he and his men wanted to make peace with us. W. D. Hall played the part of captain on my side, and old Riley Hall, of Jack's Creek, was the leader of their clan. Hall came to me and said peace was made between us, and told me to lay down my arms. I believed him and did so, but "got left" for once in my life. Jones went right away and mustered up twenty moonshiners, murderers and thieves, placed himself at the head of them, and continued to wage war with those he could handle. He again encountered my friends toward the latter part of July. Sam Wright, Bill Bates and John Wright were at John's house, and as they came out and had started away Jones and his lawless band fired about thirty shots at them.
Bill Bates came running up where John was standing, and Wright said to him: "Hold up, Bill, I am shot."
He saw that he could not stop Bates, and turned and took part in the fight. As John faced the enemy, they well knew his good aim and took to the bushes. No one was killed, but several were wounded. I was not "in it" at all.
After Jones had broken the treaty by fighting Wright and other of my friends, we were just the same
as if peace had never been spoken of, and were always on the lookout lest one would get the drop on the other.
My next encounter with him was in Letcher County, Kentucky on Boon's Creek, in the fall of '85. He
had about thirty men with him. We had a small skirmish, but as usual Jones let his legs save his body.
About this time the Isaacs, who were my enemies and of whom I have made mention, told William J.
Hall that I had been talking about his son-in-law's wife, William J. Hall's daughter. Being enemies of
mine, they were itching for a fight, and told Hall this lie so he would put up a reward for me. They
accomplished their purpose, for Hall put up the money and also joined in with Calib Jones and purchased $200 or $300 worth of guns. Calib having tried so often to kill men when he had backing, and likewise having failed as many times as he tried, resolved to try me once by himself.
He came to my house while I was away and took his stand in the bushes. He had been there two days
and nights without sleep or anything to eat. At last I came home, and had been there but a short while
when I picked up a chair and a paper and went out of doors. I rested my chair against the house and was enjoying my paper when rain began to fall and I went back into the house. Of course I did not know this at the time, but have since found out that in all probability the little shower of rain was what saved me. There was along, blue-barreled rifle pointed directly at me, at whose butt rested the shoulder of Claib Jones, and whose eagle eye was ranging along the barrel when the rain began to drop and my life was saved.
His fighting character and reputation as a murderer always procured him a job when a man's life was
to be taken. It was this that pressed him into service with William J. Hall when the Isaacs told their
infamous lies on me. I can say before my Almighty God that I never was too intimate with her, and never, in any way, wronged her or her husband. She was very handsome, and I might have said I would love to kiss her, but that was all.
Independent of being very pretty she was so good and kind to me I could not help but like her. When most every one abused and was working against me she was always the same, and in kind words would give me good advice. At that time, just as at present, men took advantage of our friendship and began to slander us.
It was away back in the year of '72, and connects with the events that I am now relating in '85, that
one morning in October Lewis Hall came and told me that Henderson Triplett had been shot very bad,
and that Will Hall and Henry Hall died it. We found out that Triplett was only shot through the neck, and as it was not such a dangerous wound we set out to catch the men who did the shooting. After a long and tiresome chase we overtook them on a little branch called Jack's creek. I told the boys to give up, and they dropped their guns to the ground and raised up their hands. We went up to them and there were five guns and five men. I told Lewis Hall to pick up the guns and we started with the prisoners and their arms to Sam Hall's. When we reached that point we left the guns with him. The men all promised if I would liberate them they would never do anything more against me, and I took their word and let them go.
In May, '85, I had the same men to fight agin. If my readers will take the advice of a man of
experience, they will never believe anything their enemies tell them; they will tell you anything to get the drop on you. Let them do the talking and you the listening. If any talking is to be done on your part let your pistol do it for you - that is, if you are working with men who did kill; if not don't do it. The kind of men that I've dealt with all my life considered it an honor to kill a man, and the reason I've lived to see my forty-third year is that I kept by eyes open when I was talking with dangerous men, and not the good fighting I did when the occasion called for it. I always tried to be readier than my enemies and generally got the first shot, but at the same time made a sure one. One whole day in Knott County, Kentucky, I fought Calib Jones and twenty men by myself, and only fired two shots - one of his men was killed and another wounded. They fired about 200 shots at me and I was struck twice. It was when I was United States Marshal and the moonshiners had up $1,500 for Jones to kill me, and Bill Cook to get $500 for leading me into the ambuscade so it would be an easy job. My advice to all my friends is to never turn your back for a man to shoot at. If you do you'll come out second best everytime. This brings to my memory the night I sat up in bed all night with my pistols in my hand, expecting them to come and set fire to the house I was in. In this warfare the first lesson for a man to learn was that of vigilance, and if he proved not an apt scholar the opportunity was not long proffered him.
The soil of the old "Blue Grass State" for the past ten or fifteen years had not been used for what the
Almighty God intended it should, and as I was one of its basest descreators I resolved to make atonement in some way or another. Its rich bottoms and fertile valleys, so well adapted for the production of silken corn or waving wheat, was our battleground; the stately forests trees, which He intended for us to fell, rive up and erect the abodes of men, afforded us shelter from the hostile bullet; the men whom He had given us for companions and neighbors in life became bitter enemies, and the violation of the Seventh Commandment was of more than frequent occurrence.
I was hounded from one county to another, and not being at peace either in mind or body, lest I should
be killed or get some of my friends killed, I one day told my oldest and truest friend (John Wright) that I was going away; and so I did, but before I tell you where I went and what I did to wish to recall some
events of which I have not told you.
It was in March '84, a man by the name of Bill cook, and the same one that was to lead me in the
ambuscade for $500, came to me and said: "Talt, there's about fifty moonshiners down here that want to give up to you and go into court."
I thought it was rather singular for so many of my old enemies to surrender together, but went on with
him anyway. We were riding along down the road, and I was watching very close, when a little girl came down to the road and said: "Uncle Talt, if you go down to Combs' store-house you will be killed sure."
When the little girl called me I told Cook to ride on I'd catch him, and when he got just beyond a ben
in the road I thanked the little girl, turned my horse the way I had come, and rode off as fast as I could.
The little girl that saved my life was the daughter of Johnny Hall, and if she is yet alive I hope God will
take care of her and help her to accomplish all her intents for good.
Did I tell you about the time the outlaws came after my brother, W. D. Hall, in Floyd County,
One night about ten of them came to the home of my brother to kill him. They found the door locked
and were trying to break it open, when one of his daughters called me (I was living about 100 yards from his house, just across the creek), and said: "Uncle Talt, Dick Vance and some more men are here tying to get into the house to kill papa."
I got up as quick as I could, put on my wife's dress, took a pistol in each hand, and hurried overt here.
When I reached the house the men were gone. They had heard the woman's call, and knowing me very well they decided it was better for them to leave. I went into the house and found my brother under the bed. The men who were fighting me at that time have all been killed and I am under the sentence of death.
One day in the fall of '84 John Wright, Sam Wright and Wash Craft came and told me Bill Hall,
Henry Hall, Bill Cook and a man by the name of Day were down on a Creek called Rock House and had robbed old man Jones of his money, and wanted me to go and help take them. We got Bill Cook, but the rest of the gang made their escape and we heard no more of them until they were in Whitesburg, Kentucky. The sheriff of that county took Bill Hall, and the Days were trying to take the robber from him when John Wright and myself took sides with the sheriff and held them off. Bill Hall was taken back to Wise Court House, and while on the way a man by the name of Clell Adams (one of the guards) killed him.
He claimed that Hall made a break and was about to get away when he shot him. At the time of this killing I was in Pikesville, Kentucky, where I had gone to lodge in jail William burke, who had killed a man by the name of Johnson. I captured him on a creek called Little Bold Camp, and did not know Hall
had been killed until Burke told me. However, when I was brought back to Wise County, Henry Hall, a brother robber of Bill's was at Norton trying to get up a mob to lynch me, and telling that I was the one who killed his brother.
In the year '82 I had another little tussel with a sheriff but this time we were on opposite sides. It was
the sheriff of Letcher County, Kentucky, whose nephew had killed my nephew, and whom I arrested and put in the Prestonsburg jail. Shortly afterwards I met the culprit's uncle, who was the sheriff of Letcher County, and in conversation something was said about Dick Vance or any of his friends. The sheriff said he was Vance's friend, and I immediately told him I would fight him. He said, "All right, if I would fight fair." I told him I would, and took off my pistols and handed them to a fellow standing by. He took his off also and gave them to another man, and we went hard at it. We fought for about an hour, and after washing the blood from our faces made friends and remained so ever afterwards.
God in his wisdom made this earth and all things animate and inanimate thereon; six days and nights
he labored and the seventh he rested. First he made the beasts of the fields, and then fowls of the air, the seas and the rivers and the fishes therein, and then man to reign over all. From man he made woman of which there were two classes - the good and the bad. A good woman is an angel - a bad one is a devil. In my life I've met both, and the latter class, coupled with whiskey, the poison of all poisons that biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder, was the downfall of my life. Five or six times women have saved my life, but in three cases out of five their goodness and fidelity is not equal to their treachery.
It was in the year of '81, at Catlettsburg, Kentucky, that a woman was instrumental in laying a trap for
me, but the little scheme terminated in a different manner from what her dictators thought it would. At
that time there were about fifty moonshiners at Catlettsburg for trial, some of whom I had arrested and
taken there and who were my sworn enemies. Old Lewis Hall, the meanest kind of a man, who had killed his son-in-law in Pike County, Kentucky, was engineering the plot, and a woman by the name of Mrs. Meeks was his subject. The plan was that this woman, who kept a big hotel, was to lead me off where my enemies could easily kill me. One day a letter from her was sent by mail to the St. James House, where I was stopping, saying that she would like for me to come up that night. As soon as I read the letter I thought there was something "rotten" in it, and instead of waiting until night I went that evening about 7o'clock. When I went up she met me at the door, made a long bow to me, and very politely invited me in. I walked in and she talked away as hard as she could, and after telling me the plans they intended to carry out, again asked me to come and stay with her and she would treat me well and give me all the good whiskey, wine and beer I could drink. I had not been there long until we were friends, and she proved to be one of the best I've ever known. She bought me fine suits of clothes, good rings and would give me money. She was a sister of Andy _____, who was a brother-in-law of Lewis Hall. As soon as Hall saw that the woman whom he meant to lead me to my death had fallen in love with me, and that his plot had failed, he came to me and said he did not have anything against me. I told him that was all right. In this instance I did not seek revenge, but if I had been the man that the newspapers say I am and that I have the reputation of being, I'm sure some of them would never have left that city.
Another instance comes to my memory - it was about two years afterwards and just before the hard
war with Calib Jones, in Knox County, Kentucky. This time the woman was sent to lead me into an
ambuscade, and when she saw me, in place of doing as she was directed, told me where the men were lying in wait for me and I avoided them. She came to betray me and proved to be my friend. I will not give her name, as she lives now where she did at that time, and if I told who she was some of the men would kill her yet.
There is one crime that I was charged with, and even now some believe I am guilty of, though I've
stood trial and was acquitted. It was the murder of Frank Salyers, in Knott County, Kentucky, and it was said that I killed Frank and ran off with his wife. Frank moved from Wise County, Virginia, to Knott
County, Kentucky, in the year of '84. It seemed that he did not like Kentucky and was talking of going
out West. One day as I was passing there I saw Frank's wife and I asked her if they were going away.
She said, "Frank has been talking of it and I suppose he will go."
I said, "Ar'nt you going with him?"
She replied, "I don't know; he don't care what becomes of me just so he gets away."
I told her if he went off and left her I would take care of her, and just about that time Frank came up.
After talking a short while the fellow who was with me, Wilburn Hall, and myself went away. About 3
o'clock Frank sent his wife for me, and she wanted me to go. I told her I would be up in a day or two and sent the same message back to her husband. When I saw him the next time he told me that he intended going West and leave his wife, and wanted me to give him $40 and he would let her keep what she had on the place. I told him he had a very sweet woman and a very good one and that he had better keep her.
He said "No. I'm going to take a woman by the name of Lucy Hall and go to Texas."
The little woman begged me to give Frank the $40, and said she would pay me back as soon as possible. I felt very sorry for her and paid the man the money. He said when he went off he was going alone and was coming back the 1st of March, '85, and get the Hall woman, and went on to show me some letters he had from her. Now, about this time Salyers swapped horses with some fellows by the name of Johnson and traded them a horse that was blind. After the Johnsons found this out they were very mad and came to Frank and told him they had to have some boot, as he had cheated them and swapped them a blind horse. In addition to the row about the horse trade, Frank had loaned a pistol to a man to kill Johnson. Johnson said he would kill Frank for giving the pistol to the man who was another of his enemies. I told Salyers that he was in danger and he had better look out and stay in the house at night or he would be killed. Mr. W. W. Adam's wife and her two brothers heard me tell him. I was in his house one night and he walked to the door when some one from the outside shot him down.
Every one knew it was the man who had threatened him, and had I wanted him killed I would not have warned him so often; and I also asked Johnson not to harm Frank, as it would make things hard on me. After all my precautions to save the man's life and my appeals to him not to desert his wife, I was jerked up and tried for murdering him or having it done, but came out all O.K.
This brings me back to the time I decided to leave my old State of Kentucky. It was just after fighting
my last with Calib Jones that I determined to go. I could not go the road without being shot at, and for
fear of losing my own life or that of some of my friends, I went to my good old friend John Wright and
one night in the year of 1886 he carried me on his horse to the house of William M. Greear, in Wise
County, Virginia. I stayed there four days, and when I left I went to Jackson, the capital of Mississippi.
When the good people of Kentucky head that I had gone away they wanted me to come back and
settle Calib Jones, who was, in an unresisted and fearless manner, committing the basest of depredations throughout all Kentucky. I was the only man that would tackle the outlaws of that State, especially Jones and his clan. The good people kept me posted in their deeds, and I would like to have come back and helped them when they called on me so loudly, but could not. I am now under the sentence of death, and it makes me feel very sad to think that I am classed with the very kind of men whom I all my life fought, risking my life and shedding my blood in the cause of upright citizens and the grand old commonwealth of the "Blue Grass State." When I reached Mississippi I did not stay long at Jackson, but went to Vicksburg, and was there six months at work on the V. S. & P. railroad yard. While I was there a woman by the name of Cinthy Roberts came to me and tole me what was going on in Kentucky. When the woman and myself left Vicksburg, we came to Memphis and put up at No. 530 Main Street, and later moved to No. Jackson Street, where I was working on the C. & O. railroad yard as foreman. All the work I did in and about Memphis was railroading, and I had the reputation of being one of the best men in the various companies' employ. I worked for the L. N. O. & T., at Azure River; for the street car company, at Memphis; for the Bald Knob Branch of the Missouri Pacific, in Arkansas; for the Memphis and Charleston, at Colliersville, Tennessee, was section "boss" at Salisbury, Tennessee; and for the L. & N. as yardmaster.
While I was working under these various corporations I used assumed names - was known as R. S.
Booten, J. H. Hill, J. F. Thomas and others, and included about two years' time. About this time which
was in '87, a longing for "My Old Kentucky Home" seized me, and one day in the early spring I resolved to go and see my old friend Wright, who lived near Pound Gap. I stayed with John and in Wise County about two months and went back to Memphis. I arrived there one Sunday morning about 10 o'clock and went to the Commercial Hotel, where I had left my woman, Cinthy Roberts.
I called at the door, and she opened it at once and said: "Hello, papa! Have you come back?"
She seemed very glad to see me. That night some men came to her room. I saw at once that I had been wronged, and said to her: "What are those men coming here for?"
She replied that "they wanted to see a lady in another room."
I thought she was telling me a lie, and told her I was going to Little Rock, Arkansas, on Tuesday, in
order to catch her. I did not go away, and Tuesday night a man came to her room. They spoke a few words in an undertone so that I could not hear. I again asked her what he wanted, but she gave me some kind of answer that threw off my suspicion.
About 10 o'clock that night there came a man and knocked at her room door. She went and spoke a
few words very low, and when she returned I said: "What does the man want?"
Her reply was, "he wanted to see Mrs. Murphy."
I said, "You are the Mrs. Murphy he wanted to see."
"No, indeed, I'm not!"
"Where is Murphy's room?"
"Back in the hall," said she.
“You go and see if that man's in there; if I catch you trying to deceive me I'll whip you good!"
She got up at once and went into the hall. I followed her, but could not hear her walking, but I saw the
room she came out of, and I went and opened the door. There stood a young man about twenty-three
years of age, and alone. I said: "Look here; do you know that you are fooling with a man's wife?"
He said, "No, sir; I did not!"
"What are you doing here anyway?"
"I wanted to see the lady," said he.
I said, "Get out of here, and that damned quick!"
He begged my pardon, and asked me not to kill him, and I left him go without harm. This is the one single instance in my life that I would wantonly have killed a man, and not having my pistol was all that saved him I guess. I had given them to John Wright on my return to Memphis.
This was the beginning of my hard drinking. I thought there was no one like her, and she trying to
deceive me troubled me a great deal. I have told you who she was, and that she was from very good
people. My warning to my friends and readers is that women will not do to trust. They are all right while
you are watching them, but when your back is turned most any other man is as good as you are. As soon as they think you are blinded they begin to fish for some other fellow.
In the year 1888, one morning, I received news that Calib Jones and some of his men were coming to Memphis after me. This made me very mad, and also made me feel sad to think that there was no place at all I could go where I would be unmolested. They would not let me stay in Kentucky, and when I went to Memphis and was earning a sustenance for myself and little children by the sweat of my brow, and was at east in mind and body, the startling news came that they were following me.
The old-time feeling of hatred having somewhat abated, and as I was doing very well battling with the
world as a sturdy son of toil, I did not wish to renew my encounters with Jones. I fled back to the "Old
Kentucky State," and remained there with Wright and other friends for four months.
When I returned to Memphis I found out that my wife had been dead a week or ten days (this was my
legal wife), and my poor little children were scattered over the city. One was on Main Street, one on
Second Street and two on Jefferson Street; my oldest son had a job in the Cotton Works and was there. I hunted for them four or five days before I got them together.
There are 1,000 worse men in the State of Virginia than I am, but have not been treated as inhuman.
One of my little girls I never have stayed with but one or two nights in my life. I have three, and they are in the great city of Memphis now without father or mother. I wish I could be with them, but cannot. Even thought immured within the dingy walls of a filthy prison and can feel the weight and hear the clank of the binding shackles, visions of my sweetfaced little girls flit before my eyes and their merry, ringing voices tingle in my ears. I have not long to live; and when I have paid the unjust penalty of a crime that was forced upon me (which I executed to save myself), and am laid to rest without the memoirs of one that was human, I commend them to the care of the good people they are now with and to their God, whose loving arms will bar them from the pitfalls of life and vices of evil men until their walks on earth are o'er. May the iniquities of the father not visit the children, but on the contrary may they be heaped upon the false witnesses who swore the life of one from the other, and at last brought to the punishment they so justly merit.
After returning from Kentucky I worked for some little time in the machine shops at Memphis, but the
manager, or boss, being of quite an ill temper, we failed to agree, and one day in June, '88, while I wasworking he said to me: "Well, you're a damn sorry workman and not fit to be in these shops."
"What have I done?" I replied.
"That's what's the matter; you haven't done anything."
I said, "Sir, I attend to my work as well as the rest of the men."
He said, "You're a damn liar."
I struck him with my fist and he fell; when he attempted to rise I tapped him and he fell again. Then I said to him: "You give me my time and I'll quit you and your damn old shops," and I did so.
Now, having three things to prey on my mind, I was "all broke up." The row with the machine shops
man, the news that Claib was following me and the infidelity of Cinthy worried me considerably, and I resolved to "light out" on a roaming Western trip.
As quick as I could perfect my few arrangements I took a boat up the Mississippi to St. Louis,
Missouri. Here in this great city of more than three hundred thousand people, and the centre of about
thirteen railroad systems, I was alone, friendless and without much money. I stayed here a week or two hunting a job, and finally succeeded in securing one. A man gave me a place to travel for a hardware house, and as soon as I packed up my line of goods I jumped the St. Louis and Santa Fe Railroad as a salesman. From one town to another I traveled and worked my way along, oftimes staying four or five days in the same place, until one morning I found myself in Springfield, down in the Southwestern part of the State. When I reached this point, and found that my trip as a salesman had not been a profitable one, I concluded that this was not my vocation and at once sought another job. Having looked the city over and finding none, I sold out my samples, with the exception of a good brace of pistols, and pulled out across the country on a renewed tramp expedition. I struck several little towns on my route, but nothing in particular occurred until I reached Joplin City, Jasper County, on the extreme western border of the state. I busied myself walking about town and looking at its novelties until I spied a saloon and proceeded thereto. The other three were cowboys and companions. They were dressed in fringed buckskin trousers and leggings, and each wore a pair of Colt's 45 belted at their waists.
They were standing at the bar drinking, and above the din of their rattling tongues and incessant oaths I could hear the voices of some women in the adjoining room. I leaned against the bar and the keeper came up in front of me and said: "Something you'll have, Mister?"
"Not at present," said I.
One of the cowboys said: "He's the hell of a fellow; ain't he?" (Meaning me) but I paid no attention to
him and remained standing.
About five minutes later another said: "See here, Mister; by God, you've got to treat, drink, or get out of here."
"Well, I suppose this is public property, and I've got a right to stand here; ain't I?" (turning to the
He replied: "Yes."
"We don't give a damn for your rights; we mean what we say - treat, drink or git!"
I turned to keeper and told him to give me a drink of good whiskey. He set it on the counter; I filled a
little glass and turned it up to my mouth, when one of the ranchmen purposely struck my arm and the
whiskey spilled all over me. At the same time he said: "Hello, you dropped something."
"Damn you, see if you can't drop something," I replied, and at the same time knocked him sprawling
on the floor.
One of the others jerked a gun from his belt and said to me: "By God you've got to suffer for striking our man."
I told him all right, "but boys, this is no place for a fight; I hear some women in there (pointing to a
room), and we'll have them scared to death. Just walk on the outside of the house and there we'll settle the matter."
"All right," they said, and started out - first two of them and then the one I had knocked down.
Just as the last man reached the door I let him have it, and then jumped out with a pistol in each hand and dropped the other two. I ran to the rank where their ponies were hitched, cut two of them loose, lit astride the other and left at full tilt.
I was in for it and made the best of my situation that I possibly could. Southward I journeyed, all the
time avoiding the railway that they might not catch me with the wires. As a matter of course I made for the nearest border State, as I well knew that a Missouri officer could not then take me without requisition papers. When I was within thirteen miles of the Indian Territory I heard that a United States detective was after me, and I made all possible speed to cross the line. Once through, my intent was to strike the prairie country and play cowboy myself. After crossing into the northeastern part of the Territory I struck for the plains. Onward I journeyed until I struck the first ranch, and there I hung up for a while in order to let my pony and myself rest. Soon the ranchmen and cowboys began to like me and it was not long until I was "one of their men." We would go out of a morning together and come in at night the same way. All day long we would herd cattle, and when night came we would gather around the camp and every man would try a hand at "draw poker." This was my old forte, and the man who could "bet 'em" better than myself was a daisy. Cash, pistols, blankets, knives and ponies were alike sacrificed on the infatuating five-card altar, and before I shook the dust of that ranch from my feet I had several hundred in cash on my person. The last game I played at that place I won seventy-five dollars off one of the boys on "four little fives." This ended in a row and I left.
I journeyed for several days, then hung up at another ranch, acting very much in the same way,
working with the boys in the daytime and playing cards at night. All this time I was pulling for Texas,
where I had been before, and was known in and around Dallas by the name of John Hill. At last I struck the "Lone Star State" at Denison City, and felt very much gratified both in the belief that I had evaded arrest and was also nearing my destination. I had been weeks and months en route, and had come horseback all the way from Missouri, crossing the entire Territory, and was now in Denison, Texas, a distance of more than three hundred miles.
From this point I went to Fort Worth, and at once secured me a job as section boss on about six miles
of road to Dallas, under the name of Martin Floyd. My men all thought the world of me, and would do allI became acquainted with a man by the name of Morrison, who owned a store and was agent at a little station called Handley, on my six miles. One morning as I went out with my hands Morrison called to me and said: "Floyd, stop as you come back this evening, I want to tell you something."
"All right," was my reply.
That day when I returned, I did as I was asked and went into his store. "What do you want Morrison?"
He replied, "Will tell you presently."
I said, "All right," and took a chair.
He addressed me with the following question: "Say, old boy, don't you want to make some more
"Certainly - I'm making some now, but it ain't so damned easy."
"Well, I know that, but you can get what you are making and more too, if you'll 'jine in.'"
"Is there any extra work? I can't chase but one rabbit at a time and not tear myself."
"None at all," he replied.
"What's your plan?" I asked.
"By God, we'll best the railroad company!"
"How are you going to do it?" was my next.
"Listen and I'll tell you."
"Let 'er go," I replied.
"You are the section boss on this road and I am the agent. I always know when the officials of the
road are coming around, and I also draw the money for the section hands. Now what I want you to do is this: You work your usual number of hands, or as few as you can make out with, until the day the
officials come around, and then you must have on twenty-five or thirty extra. After they are gone turn all the surplus men off, and when pay day comes we'll turn in full time for all the hands and draw all the money. Then we will pay our usual men their full month's wages, the extras for their day's work, and equally divide the balance between us. I'll let you know when the officials are coming around, and hold up my end of the bargain. What say you?"
"A great scheme," said I.
"We can coin the money," he said, "and no one will ever know any better."
Sure enough, I put on the extras, and when we drew our next wages they were just double our usual
amount. We kept up this business until we both were "well heeled," and, had it not been for a trifling
incident, might have gone on till both were wealthy. The incident I referred was brought by Morrisoin,
and I did not then know the other two, but when they came up I was introduced to them as Martin Floyd. One of them was the county sheriff and the other was a United States detective. I commenced talking to them on general topics, and they conversed very pleasantly for a long while, but at last the detective said:
"Mr. Floyd, we want you."
"Well, gentlemen, how can I serve you?" was my answer.
He said, "You don't understand; we want to arrest you."
"Arrest me! What for?"
"For the murder of three men at Joplin City, Missouri."
"Joplin City! I don't know anything about the place - never was there in my life."
"Well, you are suspected."
"Sir, you've got the wrong man."
"I've followed you down here; come and go with us, and if you prove your innocence of course we'll
let you go, and if you can't you'll have to suffer for the crime with which you are charged."
"All right, I'll go; but it looks pretty hard for a man to be jerked up from his work on suspicion."
"It does, and I'm sorry for you, but we have to discharge our duty."
"I suppose you'll let me go up to the section house after my coat, won't you?"
I called two of my men to pump the car, and we all went off together. As we went around a curve I
called to the boys: "Spike that rail down, a passenger train will be along directly, and I'll be back in a short while."
When we reached the section house I went up and unlocked the door and stepped inside. The detective, a second or two later followed me in, but as his foot touched the doorstep he caught a Colt's 45 ball in his breast and his lifeless body went reeling to the ground. I leveled another gun on the sheriff and spake: "Move, Sheriff, and you're a dead man!"
I looked around for Morrison, and his short legs were navigating his huge body across the plains about
forty yards distance from me. A dozen thoughts flooded my mine - must I shoot him or not - but finally I spoke mentally, "Damn you, you've betrayed me; took it upon yourself to bring these men out here and point me out to them, and - by God, I'll try you once for luck!" I leveled my pistol in my left hand on him (while my right held one on the Sheriff), and fired. Bang! Bang! Bang! Three balls penetrated his back and Morrison's body sank in a lifeless heap. I turned to the Sheriff and said: "I want you."
Just what he had said to me a short while before. I called one of the car boys and told him to search
him. Among other things he took from his pockets was a pair of handcuffs. I escorted him to a telegraph pole and handcuffed him thereto; then I called my boys and said: "Now, men, five dollars apiece to shoot me into Dallas?" I reached this point all O. K., and one of the first things I learned was that a passenger train had been wrecked out of Fort Worth and the trainmen found a sheriff handcuffed to a telegraph pole. When the Sheriff was released, he told it all and the section men were immediately arrested, some of them being sent to the pen. As for myself I made all haste to change my appearance from that of Martin Floyd to John Hill. First, I took a clean shave and had my hair trimmed, as both had grown long on my journey from St. Louis to Fort Worth; then I bought a new suit, fine shoes, a fine white shirt, collar and cuffs, a derby hat, and after my thorough alteration would have passed for a regular "swell." I sported around among my old friends for a week or more, but finally the officers got me spotted, and I pulled out for Memphis. Now I was just where I had started from more than a year before.
In the spring of '90 I took the M. & C. Railroad for Bristol, Tennessee, and stayed all night at the Nickells House, registered as R. S. Booten. The next day I came to Big Stone Gap and stayed all night
with a woman and four or five children, by the name of Blondel. The next day I went to Greear's store
Wise County, and was told by John Bates that old "Doc" Taylor and a man by the name of Enos Hilton
had sworn to kill me. I left and went back to Memphis. I went to work on the L. N. O. & T. Railroad, at
Lake View, Mississippi, twenty miles south of Memphis, for Roadmaster Thomas Gorman, under the
name of R. S. Booten. I was there about three months and then came back very sick to 188 Vance Street, Memphis.
In the latter part of '90 and the first part of '91, I again worked on this same road, in charge of section
No. 56, and was there four or five months. Then I came back to Memphis and went to work on the street car line. I was drinking very hard. I went to the office of the company, and saw Mr. Bob Cook, for whom I had worked about a year before. He secured me a job at $2.75 per day, but I did not hold it long, the love of liquor losing me my job.
I was working for a man that had no "monkey business" about him, and if you didn't show up in good order and attend strictly to business he would tell you to go, and would get some one that would. This was the last work ever done by me and was the latter part of May 1891. My advice to all young men who are sober and industrious is to stay that way; and the best way to do this is to shun whiskey and base women - the one corrupts morals, the other the mind; and if you follow the mandates of these, these greatest of all evils, you will come out in the end a mental, physical and financial wreck, even if you escape the dingy walls of some loathesome prison or the penitentiary gates.
About this time I concluded I would go to Kentucky, and told my children I was going by way of Wise
County and would send back for them. I took the train and went through to Coeburn, Wise County, on the Clinch Valley Division of the N & W Railroad. I got off the train at the above named station and stayed in and around that town for several days. The first place I went to after my arrival was the house of a woman by the name of Nan Justice, who kept something to drink. I called for what I wanted and after she gave it to me I took a chair and asked her how was everybody and everything getting along?
"Oh, as well as usual," she replied; "how have you been making it?"
"Pretty tough; I've had lots of botherment since I left here."
"I guess you will stay awhile this time, won't you?"
"No; I'm on my way to Kentucky, and just thought I'd come up and see all my old friends."
"Well, the man you thought the most of is no longer here now."
"Why, who's that?"
"Mr. W. M. Greear; he's dead."
"My old friend dead? I'd rather have heard anything else than this."
"Yes, he's been dead some little while."
"He's the best man that ever lived or will live in this country, and one that would stay with you if he
thought you were right, and if not he'd let you go at once. I'll go over to the store and see his boys; I
guess they are all here, ain't they?"
"Yes, you'll find them at the store."
"I'll go over; guess I'll see you again before I leave."
I went over and talked to the boys, and had not been there long until I found out that their father and
my brother-in-law, Bill Bates, were not at a good understanding. When I left them I went to my sister's
home, a short distance from town, and asked her what had been the matter with my old friend W. M.
Greear and Bates, but she would not tell me, because she well know I would just as lief for a man to say or do anything to me as my friends, the Greears.
In the town of Norton, Virginia, ten miles west of Coeburn, the place where I stopped when I returned
from Memphis, in June, '91, after losing my job on the Street Car Line, there lived a man by the name of Enos B. Hilton. This man was about thirty-five years of age, was born in Scott County, Virginia, and was a carpenter by trade. He went to Hindman, Kentucky, to build the court house, afterwards burned by Calib Jones, and it as here that he made somewhat of a reputation for prowess and a terror to outlaws. He was appointed policeman at Hindman, and led the band that resisted Drawn and his twenty men when the town was partially burned. Hilton in this encounter was wounded by Drawn in the face, which came near terminating his life. After he left Hindman, he located at Norton, and it was in this town that he came to his death at my hands. On the morning of the 26th of July, Bill Bates, Miles Bates, John Bates and myself got on the train at Coeburn and went down to Norton. When we arrived at that point about the first thing we did was to go to a bar and get a drink. After that we scattered and were not together again that day.
I sported around town among the boys and was having a pretty good time, when John Bates came to me and said: "Talt, you had better get away from here as soon as you can."
I asked him, "Why; what's the matter?"
"You will be killed if you don't."
"Who will do it?" I asked.
"Enos Hilton said he would kill you and has gone to get his gun; now is your time to get away."
I said, "Hilton ain't no right to pester me, and I don't see why he has gone after his gun."
"I know he ain't, Talt, but you see he has always said you killed his uncle, Frank Salyers, in Knott
County, Kentucky, and he has told ten or twelve men that if you ever came to this town there would be bad times and you or he one had to die. He said to me not long ago, when he heard you was in town, 'I'll give any man twenty-five dollars to show me Talt Hall.'"
"Well, John, it does look like he was after me sure enough, and I guess I'd better leave. I'll go to the
depot; the train will soon be here."
I started up the yard towards the depot and had gone but a short distance when I met three or four
men. They were Bill Bates, Miles Bates, a negro, and a man I did not know, who proved to be Hilton.
As I came up to them they seemed to be squabbling about something, and I said: "Hello boys, what's the matter."
"Talt, this man has got me under arrest," said Miles Bates (pointing at Hilton).
I turned to Hilton and asked, "What have you got him for?"
"A warrant was issued for him for stealing a watch and a pistol from this negro (tapping the negro
standing by on the shoulder). Bates then pulled the watch and pistol from his pocket and showed it to all present. The negro said, addressing Hilton: "Cap'n, that hain't my watch nor that haint' the man."
I said, "If that ain't the watch nor the man leg him go."
Hilton looked at me and asked: "What in the hell have you got to do with it?"
I replied: "He's my friend; I came down here with him and, by God, he shan't be imposed on!"
Hilton then jerked out a gun, pointed it at me and exclaimed: "Damn you, I owe it to you anyhow!"
I knocked the pistol from me, drew my own and fired. He bit the dust just like all the others had done
who tried to take my life. This was my last victim and my last shot. The shot that killed Hilton was fired
about 1 o'clock on the evening of July 26th, 1891. Immediately afterward I went into the woods about two hundred yards and stayed there till 9 p.m. that night.
When I left the woods at Norton, after the shooting, I went to Guests Station (now Coeburn), where
my own sister, the wife of Bill Bates, was living. I sent for her and as soon as I began to talk I saw very
plainly that Bill had told her a strange tale and one that made against me. Upon reflection and in view of the fact that a man's brother-in-law was against him and had imparted information that likewise
influenced his sister, I thought it was high time for me to leave such a county and State. On August the 2nd, '91, I went to Kentucky, where I was sure I had some good friends - some that I could count on and that had stood with me "through thick and thin." A man nowadays don't know who are his friends until the proper test comes, and then, as a general thing, the ones whom he thinks the most steadfast are the first to down him. I had many who were friends to my face and as soon as my back was turned they would pull against me; but the ones I made allusion to in my old State were always true. I won't tell who they were. I stayed among them until about the 10th day of October and then took my leave for Memphis, Tennessee. I was carried on horseback to Honaker, on the C. V. Division, and from there I took the train for Radford, and thence to Roanoke, Virginia. When I reached there I went to a hotel and signed my name as J. F. Thomas.
Next morning I wrote a letter to John Wright, at Wright, Kentucky, and took the main line of the N & W to Bristol. I reached this point all O. K. and bought me a ticket to Chattanooga, Tennessee. In this city I stayed one week. While there I sported around with the boys, played poker, and drank good whiskey, but never got into any trouble. My intention was to go on to Memphis as soon as possible, and I wrote to my woman to send me ten dollars in the name of Mr. J. F. Murphy, but she failed to get my letter. The time came when I needed money, and in order to raise it I pawned my pistol in a land office near the main depot, bought a ticket with the money and gave it to a woman who wanted to
leave the city. I also knew that I would have to leave and how I was to do it worried me considerably.
I struck up with an old acquaintance of mine, Thomas Donahue, who had met me on the L. and N. yard, and after an "old time" chat he told me how to get away. I started out one Monday morning, walked fifteen miles south of Chattanooga to a little stop and found a freight train standing there. I went to one of the trainmen and told him I was a railroad man and wanted to go to Nashville. He said it was on the N. & C. road, but took me up and carried me on to where I wanted to go. I landed about 2 o'clock in the morning. On my departure from this place I took the St. Louis branch of the L. & N. to Paris, and remained there two days. The railroad boys were very good to me and offered me money or anything I wanted. At this place I went into the trainmaster's office to get a pass to Memphis, but he was not in and I failed to get it.
I went on to Jackson, and from this point I took the Tennessee-Midland, which landed me in Memphis. Now that I was at my journey's end the first thing I did was to go to a shop where my two sons were at work. The oldest one was out, but Marion was there. I did not say anything to him or let him see me for I knew he would take after me. I slipped away and went to No. 388 Main Street, where
my so-called wife was. I was waiting to see if I could get some of them out, when I saw little Sophia and told her to come to me, but she ran away to Cinthy and said: "Mother, I seen some man out there who looks like my Pa, John Hill!"
My wife came to the door and looked out, and when she saw me she and little Sophis both ran and
told me "Howdy." I said: "Cinthy, give me one dollar; I haven't had anything to eat in four days."
She replied, "poor fellow," and gave me the money. Then little Sophia said: "Here, Papa, I have got
one dime, I'll give it to you."
My wife, Cinthy Roberts, came to me on Vance street that evening and we had a long talk. She moved
to the residence of Mrs. Lee, on Main Street and stayed there two weeks; then she moved again to No. l, Adams Street, on the 5th day of November, 1891.
In the same year, and on the 9th day of December, two men came to my room about 9 o'clock and said there was a man from Mississippi wanted to see me. I went with them and they took me to the
When we reached that place there were eight or ten men there and they told me what they wanted. City Detective Pride was one of them and the rest were also good men and I did not want to harm them. In the first place I had no chance, and would not have injured any of them if I had. Sheriff
Holbrook, of Wise County, had me in charge and would not let Cinthy or my children talk to me when
we were there. They started away with me on Monday, the 22nd of December, 1891, and we reached Wise Court House on Wednesday night. All this time they gave me nothing to eat or drink. I appealed two or three times to Mr. Miller for bread or something, but could not get it. They lodged me in the Gladeville jail, and while there the treatment which I at first received was shameful, but afterwards the officers became more lenient.
One man only seemed to sympathize with me and that was West White. He would often come and ask me did I want anything better to eat, and if I did he would get it for me. With this one exception I was treated like a dog, or more like man whom the Indians had captured. Not the slightest privileges were allowed me - could not talk to my friends who came to see me; had me tied up in chains;
could not get any mail to my friends or from them. Sylvan Taylor, of Norton, captured all of it, and all
treatment in general was positively inhuman.
If my friends ever have the chance I want them to resent my mistreatment and remember with kindness those who treated me well. A guard was stationed at the jail and Judge Skeen ordered them to kill me if my release was attempted. If some one had been in the woods hunting near by and fired a gun I have no doubt but that they would have taken it for my friends and killed me at once. Public sentiment was then, and until the last, hard against me and finally "done me up -it was the name I bore and not the man. I never harmed nor took any unjust advantage of any man, but when hemmed up and could not get out any other way my gun never failed to open a road for me.
The man who sought my life and failed in his attempt always came out second best. I always helped the poor and needy and many has been the time that I have paid for meal for some little street beggar in Memphis or given a five-dollar-bill to some of my old fellow-workmen that had no job. Sentiment on this earth ranged too high for me and my reward is the scaffold and trope; but, thank God, I am going to a world where my Master is as ready to credit me with a kindness or charitable act as he is to charge a crime, and when the final day comes my good deeds will more than balance my crimes. Then "Talt" Hall, the so-called robber and murderer, will wear the crown of righteousness, while those who blasphemed and mocked my latter days' belief and profession will swelter in the lake of fire and brimstone.
After my arrest, and having been taken to the station house by Detective Pride, the next thing they did
was to find out if they had the right man. A telegram was sent to the sheriff of Wise County, stating that they had captured a man whom they thought was "Talt" Hall, and who was wanted in Wise County for the killing of Policeman Hilton at Norton. I was held for about tow weeks, and then the wife of Sylvan Taylor, son of old 'Doc", who lives at Norton, came to identify me. She went about town among the young men, lawyers, doctors and clerks and raised the money to defray expenses of the trip. She was good looking, and, it is said, did not have much trouble in raising the money, but Sylvan was very uneasy while she was out. When she came I was very glad to see her, and she told the detective I was the right man. Next came Sheriff Holbrook with three men to take me to Wise County. We arrived there Christmas eve of '91, and my Christmas greeting the next morning was from a mob saying "they wanted Hall."
It was this way: the sheriff and his deputies were expected to arrive with me, and a mob had been
organized and were in waiting for my coming. They also had it understood with the jailer and guards that I was to be taken out that night and lynched. There were two moonshiners in the cell with me named Collins and Bullion. The jailer took them out of the cell and turned them loose in the hall. I heard the jailer's wife say to one of them: "When the mob comes you show them where Hall is."
He replied, "All right."
About 4 o'clock Christmas morning they came and called for the guards. One of them went out and
saw about fifteen men standing there, who said: "We want Hall."
The guard thought they were my friends and that they had come to release me, so he ran back in the
jail and stood for the defense. The mob then came around to the back side of the jail and I heard one of them say: "We can't get him."
Another said: "And there are two women in the cell next to him."
I think they wanted to dynamite me, but were afraid of killing some one besides me. But they sure
could have got me if the guard had not thought it was my friends. The next morning it was generally
known that the mob had attempted to get me, and one of my friends came and told the keeper if I was
taken out of there and lynched it would take 100 men to pay the cost of one. Hiram Hawkem was the man who told the jailer. From this time until the day of my trial, which commenced on the 27th day of January, '92, I remained in the Gladeville jail and suffered all kinds of inhuman treatment and impositions. When my trial came up I was taken to and from the courthouse (a distance of thirty or forty yards) under a heavily-armed lot of men, and my hands and feet were manacled. While in the courtroom I sat in chains and listened to the maledictions of my prosecutors and the false statements of the witnesses that swore my life away from me and my little children. This I endured without a murmur until the last day, when the jury filed in and took their seats. The clerk arose and, after calling their names, said: "Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict?"
They said, "We have."
Then the foreman of the jury gave the clerk a paper, and as he arose and opened it he said: "Talton Hall, stand up."
Then he read: "We, the jury, find the prisoner guilty of murder in the first degree, as charged in the indictment."
I was then turned over to the Judge for sentence, and my execution was fixed to take place on the 23rd day of March, 1892. Thus my trial ended and I was a doomed man. My counsel, who so ably and untiringly plead in my behalf till the last, moved that the Judge set aside the verdict, for reasons which they assigned. The motion was overruled by Judge Skeen, who said the proceedings had been legal throughout the trial, and the verdict complied with the law and evidence. Then they requested a stay of execution, and this was granted. My counsel referred the matter to the Circuit Court, but that body affirmed the decision of the lower court. Then my attorneys carried my case to the Court of Appeals, but they refused to interfere with the decision of the lower bodies.
Not long after this I was taken to Lynchburg for safe-keeping. The people of Wise County thought my friends would release me. I was very glad of the change, for I was treated well in Lynchburg, which is more than I can say of my treatment in Wise. From the time I left Memphis until after I got to Lynchburg I was besieged by hosts of newspaper men, and was very much worried by their impertinent questions and exaggerated reports. I would not tell them scarcely anything, and when they failed to find out what they wanted, they would write something to suit themselves, or expostulate on hearsays.
The press assisted greatly in condemning me, and, with the single exception of the Lynchburg News, the rest were dead against me, especially the Courier, of Bristol, and the little once-a-week papers like the Norton Herald. They published stories that agitated the sentiment of the people against me, and which only had their side of my criminal record in view. Anything that was known in my behalf was omitted. My name has gone far and wide, all over the United States, as a notorious outlaw and desperado of the Kentucky border, and I trust that my book will likewise visit the same sections where onesided stories have been narrated, and to some extent abate the prejudice aroused against me and my orphan children that are left alone to battle with the world.
The denouncement of the report that I am a robber, thief and desperado, I can say truthfully and
before my Almighty God that I never harmed any one until he gave me just provocation. I have killed
more than one man, but the ones that tumbled to the report of my Winchester or pistols had threatened, were at the time trying or waiting for an opportunity to take my life. It was with me a case of kill or be killed. I never took a cent or anything from the person of any of my victims, or but one single time waylaid a man to kill him. In this one instance I was lying in wait for a man who had threatened to kill me, and when he came along I viewed him across the barrels of a sixty-dollar breech-loader. I instantly thought that a mean act it was to ambush a man, recovered my gun and let him go unmolested. Some of the men who took such prominent action in my arrest, identification and bringing back from Memphis can justly be termed robbers and murderers; but I cannot.
"Doc" Taylor is one of the men who "done me up" in such short order, and a meaner man or worse
outlaw is not known. He moved to Kentucky about twenty years ago, and his first crime in that state was to kill a man by the name of Moore, for a mule. He was tried and proved an alibi on the testimony of a man of questionable veracity. This let him out, and in the belief that he could always escape the iron fingers of the law, he headed a band of toughs and committed various other depredations. Of late years he has been United States Marshal, and under this official cloak he committed his last and most inhuman crime, the massacre of the Mullins family at Pound Gap, in Wise County, on March 15th, 1892. Here he and some of his followers killed Ira Mullins, his nephew, Wilson, the driver, Ira's wife and a boy of 12 years. The party was moving into Wise County, and had all their earthly possessions in a wagon, including some five hundred dollars in cash. The contents of the wagon were rifled and the money taken from the person of Ira. Taylor is now in the Gladeville jail and stands indicted for one of the basest robber crimes ever committed in the State. Asbury Carter, an associate of Taylor's, another man who took a prominent part in my incarceration, deliberately called a man, by the name of Robinson behind his own house and shot him down. Such are the characters of two of the men that hounded me.
When I was arrested in Memphis, "Doc" Taylor volunteered his service in bringing me to Wise, and
while on the trip told all kinds of infamous tales on John Wright and myself. He was an enemy of ours
for several reasons:
1st - He feared us.
2nd - John and myself fought against him in the Claib Jones war.
3rd - His son, Sylvan, at Norton, is a brother-in-law of the man I killed at Norton.
4th - He hated me because I was Wright's friend.
When at Bristol, Tennessee, he told the newspaper men that John Wright and myself were always
killing somebody, and we had killed over a hundred men. Sylvan Taylor told the same story in Memphis. Taylor and his lawless band wanted to impose on John Wright and rob him of what he had; but soon found out they could not do it without killing him. The latter job was more difficult than the first, so they set their lying tongues to running and get the people prejudiced against him.
Wright is a man, honest, upright, and brave, and will never harm any one until they harm him. He is
worth a good lot of money, has farms in Knott, Floyd, Letcher and Pike counties, Kentucky, and in Wise County, Virginia. He is liked by every one that knows him, except his few enemies, and is famed for his hospitality and generosity. He killed a man in West Virginia, by the name of Wells, who had stolen some money in Lee County, Virginia.
When he resisted him and the officer, Wright "done him up." I am not sure, but think maybe he killed a man in Southwest Virginia, and a horse thief or two. He never had any trouble with any man except characters like "Doc" Taylor and Calib Jones; and the two or three instances I have just named compose the hundred he and I have killed. Such men as Jones and Taylor have brought me this near the gallows. The one is now in the Hindman jail for stealing and house burning, the other is in the Wise County jail for the murder of helpless women and children. May God give them their just deserts.
About three days after the killing at Norton, I was in the woods not far from Coeburn, near the house
of John Blanton. As I sat in a dense copse, pondering over my trouble and the course I had best pursue, all at once the bushes about me became alive with very small yellow birds. With their infinite number they surrounded and overshadowed me, fluttered about my face and shoulders and all the time kept up an incessant scolding and chattering. It seemed that I was an intruder in the sanctity of their leafy home and it was with some difficulty I fought them off. I would shake the bush they were upon, and hardly had I released my hand from same until they were back again chattering as hard as ever. They troubled me so much I felt very much like boldly walking into town to get rid of them, but finally they left me and I was greatly relieved. Their angry chirps remained in my ears until I went to Memphis and there they ceased until three days previous to my arrest in that city, when their warning notes filled my ear-drums with the same distinctiveness as at Coeburn. This hallucination continued to plague me day and night until a few days previous to my execution, and then it ceased.
Here is an extract from one of the Bristol papers that is a fair sample of the way the papers spoke of
me and their proneness to prejudice the mind of the public: "Bristol, Tennessee, June 13th - News of another bloody murder comes to us from Norton, Virginia, near the home of the famous Ira Mullins, Talton Hall and other desperadoes. Late Saturday evening Rev. John Pannell shot and killed W. R. Davidson, the ball penetrating the lungs. Davidson was drinking and advanced upon Pannell with a knife in his hand. The latter is a cripple, and when he saw he could not escape concluded to take the life of a man rather than lose his own. He fired three shots in succession. The cause of the murder is a trifling one."
When I read it I said good boy. Just what I have done and always would do. If you wait for a man to
kill you before you take your chances you will always come out second best.
Journalism cuts a big figure in this day and time, and if every man is to be rushed into trial as I was, I think it is high time that the associates of the press be allowed to act as the Court of Appeals and do away with that body.
I wanted my case postponed and taken to the high court, but the Judge said the county was put to an
expense of forty dollars per month guarding the jail, and I was rushed into trial without my prominent
witnesses and partially convicted on the testimony of a bribed negro. If the statutes of this State provide for any such treatment I think it is time for a man who has not many firends and a prejudiced public against him to skip the Commonwealth of the Old Virginia State.
I was taken to Lynchburg about the middle of February and lodged in jail for safe keeping. The
jailors' names were E. H. Gouldman and Sam Johnson. In the care of these two upright, honest men my incarceration was quite a new picture to what it was in Wise County.
They would come to my cell of a morning and say with an air of sympathy, rather than triumph! "Good morning, Hall; feeling well this morning?"
"Oh, yes; how are you all and what's the news?" I would say.
"Nothing more than common; here are some papers you can have."
"Thank you, Ed."
"Hall, you have the sympathy of lots of good people in this place."
"I hope so; Ed, I've been treated worse than a dog."
"I guess you've been used rough, but as long as you are with us we'll try and do you right."
"God bless you, Ed; I love you and if you can do anything for me do it and I will pay you well."
"I don't want any pay, will do that anyway as long as it does not trespass upon my official duty. You
have the sympathy of our city and our papers speak well of you. Good-by; I must go."
Such was the comfort these men of God would give me when they would call around, and I hope if my friends ever come in contact with them they will reciprocate in the good manner in which they treated me. The office they hold is too lowly for such upright men, and I hope when their walks in this fickle world are o'er, and they are free from the duties that pertain to the keeping of an odious prison, I will meet them at the gates of the New Jerusalem.
On March 2nd it was in the papers that the Circuit Court had granted "Talt" Hall a new trial, and Sam
Johnson came running into the corridor that leads to my cell and said: "Hall, get up and wash your face, you have got a new trial!"
He seemed very much elated, but when we heard from Mr. Richmond all our joy was changed to
disappointment; my case had only been sent to the Court of Appeals and was to be heard on June 10th. All through the bright, balmy days of April I languished in prison, when nature seemed to invite
everything to new life and freedom. The singing birds and sunny showers, bursting buds and springing flowers that were enjoying life and liberty, only make me feel the more melancholy, and tighter seemed to cling the iron grasp of the law that restricted me from likewise enjoying the same. I bore my burden the best I could, living in hope that I would get a new hearing and justice when my final chance, the Court of Appeals met. Meanwhile I had received a letter from one of my counsel, Mr. O. M. Vicars, and he, like myself and friends, was buoyant with hope.
I sent this letter to my eldest son, in Memphis, and received the following reply:
Memphis, Tennessee, June 25th '92
Dear Papa, I received your letter and also the enclosed of Mr. Vicar's. I am so glad you are going to get a new trial I don't know what to do. Be hopeful; justice and right will conquer in the end.
At the same time I received a letter from Judge Richmond, and after reading that of my son, which
gave me new hope, I read the other that dispelled it equally as quick - the one full os assurance, the other of doom.
Gate City, July 14th, '92
Mr. Talton Hall, Lynchburg, Virginia
Dear Talt, - The Court of Appeals affirms the decision of the lower bodies. We will meet you at Wise
Court House at the next term of the County Court, which will convene the fourth Monday in this month,
and will then consider the probability of a commutation of your death sentence. Governor McKinney is a man who is almost inexorable in either granting a pardon or reprieve, but we will meet you there and confer with you. You may expect to meet the very worst. We have done all within our power to save you, and will continue so to do if your friends deem it advisable, but we expect nothing. You have our heartfelt sympathy, and trust that Providence will in some way show the world that you are innocent. Before all things else, prepare to meet your sad fate and your God.
Richmond & Richmond
About this time I received a letter from my little nine-year-old daughter, Sophia, who had not heard
the decision of the Court of Appeals, and still thought there was a chance for me.
Memphis, June 24th, '92
Dear Papa, - I was so very glad that Mr. Vicar says you will get a new trial. If you do you are sure to come out all O. K. Annie and Eva send love to you, and with many hopes and much love from myself, I am
Your affectionate daughter,
I wrote back the following answer:
Dear Little Sophia, - I am beat again. Kiss Annie and Eva for me. Good-by for this time.
The following letter I received from my woman, Cinthy Roberts, while I was in prison at Lynchburg:
Memphis, May 24th, '92
Dear Talt, - I will write you to-day to let you know that I have been treated badly as well as yourself.
Your son, Maryland, has taken the children away from me, and says you wrote him to do it. Talt, I cannot believe you did this; it was not right. They have been with me so long, and it was hard for me to give them up. Hoping to hear from you soon and with many prayers for your freedom, I am
Your affectionate wife,
Mrs. Talt Hall
Lynchburg, June 8th, '92
Dear Cinthy, - Yours of the 24th to hand, and am very sorry you feel so much hurt over the loss of the children. I wrote to Maryland to care for the little girls until I see if I can get out. I did not mean for him to take them from you. When I can see you again we will fix things all O. K. You said you were coming to see me, but I see you failed to do it. I will write you soon from Wise County House. Until then good-by.
Your until death, and that is not long.
P. S. - Care for the children.
No one can imagine my feelings when I received my wife's letter about the children. She would call
on me when anything went wrong just the same as if I was there, and when the welfare of my little girls
was at stake it, of course, gave me more than a double longing for my freedom, and consequently made my afflictions the harder to bear. What a terrible feeling for a man to sit in the solitude of a lonely night and meditate over the stern reality that the circle of a once happy family is now broken up and the father under the sentence of death.
The gravity of my situation was too plainly demonstrated in the persons of some of my fellow
prisoners, who were then under the sentence of death. First, and in the next cell to me, was a man by the name of Jeff Dooley. I could hear him praying to his God to forgive him his sins all through the night.Then I was transferred to cell No. 1, and put in with two other men, and the irons were taken from my hands and feet. The name of one in the cell with me was Wayman Sutton, who was to be hanged at Wytheville on the 28th day of May, '92. All through the long hours of the night he was praying for God to have mercy on him, and three days previous to the time of his execution the Governor commuted his sentence to life in the State prison. The other was W. M. Robinson, who was also under the death sentence, which was to go in effect the 1st day of July, '92. Likewise his sentence was commuted to lifelong imprisonment. No one can imagine my feelings when I would hear these men praying and thought that the time was fast approaching when I, too, would be pleading for the absolution of my sins.
Shortly after the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the lower courts, at Wytheville, Virginia,
which was on June 10th, '92, Father Luckie, of the Catholic Church, came to see me one morning about 9 o'clock. He came to my cell door and said: "Hall, come here."
I said: "What is it, Father?"
"Have you heard anything?" he asked.
"No; how is it, Father?"
He replied: "Its bad; the Supreme Court sustained the decision of the County and Circuit bodies, and you are beaten again."
"That's bad, bad news for me."
"It is that, but you be a good man keep your senses and you will be treated all right. Maybe something better will turn up after while."
The jailers knew that I have been turned down, but they sympathized with and would not tell me, and left it for the Father to do when he came. I was taken back to Wise County about the middle of June, and was re-sentenced by Judge Skeen to hang on the 2nd day of September, 1892. At this juncture of my captivity various petitions were being circulated in my behalf - one in Lynchburg, one in Memphis, a third in Wise County, and one each in the counties of Knott and Letcher, Kentucky.
The petition movement was agitated in the city of Lynchburg, and the reason assigned for their exit was as follows:
The Lynchburg Petition
This is the way the Lynchburg petition reads, and the others are practically the same:
"The undersigned citizens of Lynchburg, Virginia, respectfully beg Your Excellency to commute the
sentence of Talton Hall, lately convicted in the County Court of Wise County, Virginia, and sentenced to be hanged on the 2nd day of September, 1892, to imprisonment for life in the State penitentiary. We are moved to ask this of Your Excellency -
"1st. Because we fear that a possible injustice may have been done him by convicting him of murder in the first degree, as the killing seems to have occurred upon a sudden quarrel, and there was much evidence tending to show that he acted in self-defense.
"2nd. Because one of the judges of the Supreme Court of Appeals vigorously dissented from the
majority, holding that if the evidence did not show a case of self-defense, it, at most, only shows a case of murder in the second degree, where there was no premeditation or deliberation.
"3rd. Talton Halll was sent to the jail at Lynchburg for safe-keeping, where he remained many months, and the people of this city failed to find in him any of the elements which go to make up the desperado pictured in such glowing terms by the newspapers, which doubtless had a great deal to do with his conviction."
There are some 400 or more signatures to the Lynchburg petition, among them those of Mayor
Yancey, the police justice, Chief-of-Police Irwin and six members of the force, several members of the
bar, Clerk Mauzey, of the Corporation Court; City Auditor Otey, Clayton North, inspector of weights;
High Constable James Seabury, Carter Glass, proprietor and editor of the News; three physicians, about fifty merchants, thirty odd Chesapeake and Ohio employees, Rev. T. M. Carson, rector of St. Paul's Church; Rev. J. J. McGurk, pastor, and Rev. F. J. Luckie, assistant pastor of the Church of the Holy Cross; Postmaster James McLaughlin, Collector of Internal Revenue P. H. McCaull, President W. A. Carpenter of the Lynchburg National Bank, and several other bank officers.
The petitions from Kentucky bear about 800 names, including those of several magistrates. There are about 200 signatures in Wise County, but there are no officers embraced in the list.
Armed with these petitions and the following affidavits of four of my witnesses, besides the records of my trial, as printed for the Supreme Court, and a statement of facts, my attorney, Mr. J. B. Richmond, visited His Excellency, Governor P. W. McKinney, of the State of Virginia, and plead for a commutation of my sentence to imprisonment for life, but the Governor was obdurate, and all the protestations of my faithful counsel was of no avail.
Aaron Pinson's Affidavit
The two Kentucky witnesses who left Wise Court House before testifying were John M. Hall and
Aaron Pinson. Their affidavits were practically to the same effect. That of Pinson is as follows:
"I was in the town of Norton on the day Enos B. Hilton was shot by Talt Hall; and was at the depot
with John M. Hall when he came up and spoke to a fellow I didn't know, and told him he had started to arrest Miles Bates, and that Talt Hall, he had been told, was with him, and he said if he was he would arrest him or kill him, one of the two, and that he would as lief kill him as not.
"In a few minutes he got to where they were standing and arrested Miles Bates and took his pistol
from him. He then turned on Talt Hall and drew his pistol on him and Hall knocked it off and shot
Hilton. They all seemed then to get into rather a kind of scuffle, but in a very few moments they
separated and Hilton staggered to the ground. They had some words between them, but I wasn't close
enough to hear what was said. There were two shots fired by Hall, but the second shot I thought went into the ground.
"I was a witness for Talt Hall, and went from here to Wise to testify in the case, but I left without
telling what I knew about it, for I understood by some parties that I was being threatened, and they
advised me to leave, and said if I didn't do so I would likely be killed, as strong threats had been made
against some of us by Hilton's friends. I did leave that night and went back to Kentucky, and never
testified in the case. Form the movements that were being made I considered we were in danger if we
The affidavits of Dave Pannill and his brother, which were not gotten until some time after the trial,
give about the same account of the killing that Pinson and Hall do in their sworn statements.
Of course it required some length of time for the getting up of these petitions, etc., and they were not presented to the Governor until a short while before the day of my execution, and were not acted upon, or at least the action of his Excellency was not known until a very vew days before my allotted time was up. After my re-sentence I was held in the Wise County jail, and was strongly guarded all the time. At times there were as high as sixty men "armed to the teeth" over me. Some were good, kindhearted fellows who treated me well, while others were hardened against and tried to worry me all they could. On July 26th I received a letter from one of my little girls in Memphis, who then knew I would not have the privilege of a new trial and had been re-sentenced:
Convent of the Good Shepherd
Memphis, Tennessee, July 24th, '92
Dear Papa: Sophia and myself are with the Sisters, and we are well. I heard you were baptized a
Catholic while in Lynchburg and we were so glad to hear it. If this be true send for a priest and prepare
your soul for death. It's an awful thing to die unprepared. If you are not baptized in this church be
baptized as soon as you can. Sophia and myself will pray for you. I have not seen my brother since he brought us here. He said he was so anxious to see you, I thought he might have gone. Please write to us as we are most anxious to hear from you. With fond love from Sophia and myself, I am as ever
Your affectionate daughter,
Gradually the 2nd of September came nearer and nearer and as the time approached I became
thoroughly awakened to the reality of the terrible ordeal through which I was to pass. Each murky
morning seemed to foretell the awfulness of my doom, while each bright one was the mock of a renewed invitation to live, but aroused a faint hope that it was symbolical of good tidings from the capital city of this old Commonwealth. I occupied most of my time in writing, reading my prayer-book and bible, newspapers, or talking to my friends. Numbers of them came to see me and among them was my old and trusted friend, John Wright, of Letcher County, Kentucky, who had fought and bled with me; with whom I had shared the hardships of a soldier boy; with whom I had shared the only blanket or bit of bread, and by whose side I had lain on the hard prison floors of Cincinnati - comrades in war, comrades in peace, comrades in the lives of one another. John came into town while the guards were drilling, alighted from his horse and watched the manoeuvers of the semi-military with intense interest. After drill he was allowed to visit me, and he came immediately. "Doc" Taylor was swinging in a hammock bed in plain view of the door where John entered the corridor that leads to my cell but he noticed him not. He halted at my cell door and called, "Talt!"
I extended a hand withered and bleached by confinement through the bars that separated true
comrades, and Wright grasped it. I broke down; a flood of hot, scalding tears coursed their way down my cheeks browned by the suns of forty-three summers and hardened by the frosts of as many winters, and I bowed my head to hide them. John was much moved. I felt the vice-like grip of his tanned hand tighten, his eyes glistened with tears, and a quick wave of emotion swept over his honest face, but we spoke not, and I turned away until I could gain my voice.
"John, they say you've ordered 5,000 cartridges and that you are coming to take me out. I don't want you to do that."
"That's the first I've heard of it, Talt," he said, as he looked into the face of the guards that were
staring at him.
"They're telling it anyhow."
"Well, I don't thank the man who tells it on me. Anyone that knows me is aware of the fact that I
would not attempt such a thing. But I do know that you've been treated like a dog. Taylor there (he did
not drop his voice and "Doc" must have heard him) is accused of a blacker crime than you ever was; why hasn't he been treated as you have?"
I clanked the shackles that bound my feet.
"Has Taylor got those things on?" he asked excitedly.
"No, I think no," I replied.
"I knew you'd be imposed upon."
"John, you had better watch out riding around here after night."
"Why, Talt," was the answer, "I ain't got any enemies. I go where I please, just as I've always done. If a man bounces me wrongfully I always expect something right to turn up. If he tries to kill me he's
mighty apt to get killed first. Don't you worry about me."
"That's me, John, I always looked after Talt. I had to do what I did, and they've got me in here
because I wouldn't stand and let the man shoot me down. Everybody knows the fellow was trying to kill me, and that he forced his appointment as constable to get the advantage over me. I never started a fightin my life, you know that; but I don't want a man interfering with me, and if he does he's got to fight or run."
"I've known you a long while Talt, and that's true," said Wright.
I replied, "The papers have put the people against me. They accuse me of doing little 'Talt' Hall's
meanness, and I have a double charge to bear."
Wright said, "I'll use all legal means yet to save ye, but I've never thought of taking ye out."
"Help me all ye can, John, ye are the one that can do me the most good."
"I'll do it, Talt; I want ye to have justice. If they can hang ye according to law I haven't anything to
say, but they can't do it. Good-by, I'll come to see you again."
We shook a long farewell, and while I held the sinewy hand of the sturdy woodsman I said, "Farewell, my friend! A few more days of anxiety, a few more sleepless nights and all will be over for me; but,John, I am not afraid to die, and will meet my fate like a man, and my God with a clear conscience."
Slowly he walked away, and spoke to "Doc" as he passed by his cell; I heard him walk through the
hall and down the steps to the jail yard. As I caught last sound of his footsteps I could no longer suppress my feeling - the tears would come - and I lay down on my bed and sobbed in the belief that we two who had shared each other's sorrows and joys side by side, in this life would never meet again.
It will be remembered that when I was tried for the murder of Enos B. Hilton, at Norton, Virginia,
Miles Bates was also arrested and tried as my accomplice. He was acquitted of the charge - which was right - but in establishing the proof of his innocence, he and his brother swore dead against me. If they had sworn the truth and come on the witness stand and told what they heard and saw, it would have been different, but they thought Miles Bates was in for it and all they told on the witness stand was for him and against me. This is one reason I was convicted. These men, the Bate's that I refer to are my brothers-in-law by marriage, Bill Bates having married my sister, and they way they have treated me is shameful. I won't speak my feelings concerning them, in order to spare those of my sister; I will only say they are the kind of men that will always aggravate a fight, and when things "wax warm" they will put a good man in their place and their legs never fail to care for them. Side by side we've fought some hard battles together and I never once thought that they would be the men to turn me down. If either of them had married a sister of mine I would have stood for him till the last, as I did for Miles when Hilton was killed, and as I did for Bill when Henry Hank would have killed him in Kentucky had I not been there. Hank had his Winchester on Bill when I fired the shot that saved his life and killed his would-be assassin. In return for the good turns I've done them they falsely swore my life from me, and I hope that my friends who come in contact with them will heed the warning of a man that knew them longer and better than they ever can, and profit thereby.
(This statement concerning the Bates' boys is remarkably mild as compared with Hall's original. He
requested that it be revised to spare the feelings of his sister, Mrs. William Bates.)
(In order that the public may see both sides of the crime for which Hall paid the death penalty, we
reproduce the evidence as given by some of the principal witnesses):
John J. Wolfe
"I was in Norton the day Enos Hilton was killed. I was there with Bill Addington, Bill Bates (here the
manuscript ends abruptly. How much remains no one knows as this is the only known surviving copy of the original, NCB)
Noted Mountain Desperado
Hanged in Wise, Virginia
September 2, 1892
Reprinted from the Big Stone Gap Courier-Journal, September 2, 1892:
Talton Hall the noted desperado and murderer, was hanged here today at 12:34 o'clock. The execution was without marked incident to distinguish it from other scenes of like character, but it removed a feeling of nervous tension that has existed here for a week.
All night long last night armed guards had patrolled this peaceful little village and armed pickets
guarded every approach. They had little to do as everything was quiet. A couple of moonshiners, who
were trying to smuggle whiskey into town were arrested. In his stuffy cell in the county jail, Talton Hall,
laughed, swore and begged for whiskey in turn. Toward daylight he slept a few minutes. Early in the
evening he finished the manuscript for his autobiography, which will appear in a few days. After that he chatted with the death-watch pleasantly. At times he swore at a lively rate, when whiskey was refused him. He talked of his past life in a careless, cheerfull manner and he said that he had never done anything that he was really sorry for.
About 7 o'clock his sister, Mrs. Bates, was admitted to the jail with a smoking breakfast for the
condemned man. "Pretty mornin' out of doors, ain't it?" he said, with a forced smile. "Yes," she replied,
"the last pretty mornin' you'll ever see on earth," and then lowering her voice "somebody's got to suffer
He made no audible reply to this, and sipped at a cup of coffee. He also nibbled at a biscuit but only swallowed two or three bites of breakfast.
At an early hour every road leading into town was alive with people and by 10 o'clock there were
3,000 to 4,000 in the neighborhood of the jail. Pickets on the road disarmed every man who carried a Winchester or a pistol. There was some lively kicking, but all were compelled to submit alike. Between 7 and 8 o'clock Father Lynch of Lynchburg, went into the prisoner's cell and remained, except at short intervals, with him until he was taken to the gallows. He administered the last rights of absolution and last sacrament. Mrs. Bates remained in the cell until the last minute. In company with her as Mrs. Houk, the widow of one of Hall's last victims.
At 11:50 Talton Hall was brought form his cell to the front window of the courthouse for the purpose
of addressing the people. He had asked for this privilege two weeks ago, and promised to roast his
enemys in great style. When he appeared at the window there was a tremendous crush on the outside of the courthouse lot. He surveyed the great crowd, much as a campaign orater does when he steps on a platform, and every ear in the vast multitude was strained to catch his every syllable. For ten minutes he stood at the window, looking over the crowd and at the far away Kentucky mountains, where his dead body was soon to be taken. He did not utter a word. His face was a study. There was a look of anguish, of utter despair, that fairly chilled the spectators. Twenty reporters stood under the open window with open note books and the crowd outside the enclosure surged against the fence. It was a scene worthy of the greatest painter.
Finally, from either "stage fright" of exhaustion, he fell back into a chair and was led away by
Honorable Charles Richmond, one of his attorneys. After a stout swig of whiskey he said that he would
speak anyway, and again the pale and distorted face appeared at the window. He forced a smile, and his lips parted. An upturned face just below the window caught his attention. He waved his hand and asked "what may be your name?" The person he addressed told him, and he said "that's allright" and
voluntarily turned from the window. He was conducted to his cell where he dressed for the leap into the unknown.
In the meantime twenty special guards, several reporters, two physicians, and a number of friends that he had selected to witness his execution were conducted to the small enclosure where the hideous gallows had been erected, entirely hidden from view of the public. A few minutes later, or at exactly 12:18, the doomed man entered the enclosure between Sheriff Holbrook and Father Lynch. He looked around the crowd and recognized several acquaintances among the guards and reporters. He shook hands with all those he recognized and bade them farewell.
With a firm step and perfectly erect, he mounted the steps to the scaffold, saying to himself, "My God, that's awful." There he paused, and looking first at the rope suspended a few inches in front of him, he turned to Sheriff Holbrook, and said, "I have only one more word to say, I am afraid that rope will break."
There was not the slightest tremor in his voice, or the least appearance of fear or nervousness in his bearing, he faced the crowd as if to make a speech, when his faithfull sister, Mrs. Bates, entered the enclosure and rushed up the steps. She threw her arms around her brothers neck and rained kisses on his pallid cheeks.
"Do you feel any fear of dying?" she asked. "Not a bit," he replied as tears stole into his eyes. "I have only one thing to say to you. Don't take this hard, let it end all my troubles. See that nobody is killed on my account."
Her reply was, "very well Talton, but there are men here today who better deserve hanging than you do, remember that." They exchanged farewells and promises to meet in Heaven, and she left the
enclosure. At 12:23 the Sheriff and Father Lynch adjusted the rope and black cap. Hall held a whispered conversation with both, and several guards bade him goodbye again.
At 12:34 Hall said he was ready. The sheriff, with tears streaming down his face cut the rope, and the terror of the Virginia and Kentucky mountains dropped into eternity. His neck was broken by the fall, and in seventeen minutes the physicians pronounced him dead.
An hour later, a heavy two horsed wagon was on it's way across the mountains bearing to it's resting place in Letcher County, Kentucky, the land of his nativity, all that remained of Talton Hall, followed by a lengthy procession of his old-time friends.
He was a good feller, he sure was. He stayed with us a many of a night.
The material on this website is copyrighted © 2001
by Nancy Clark Brown.