The 1914 Letcher County Election Day Shooting
Nancy Wright Bays, Patty Brashear and Ben Luntz
For more than forty-five years our small group has collected considerable information on a number of past events that occurred long ago in Letcher County. During this time we met with and interviewed old-timers who had first hand knowledge of these events. We have sorted through many old newspapers and have located and obtained many old letters and documents. From all these sources we have a good number of first-hand and second-hand accounts of some past events.
One of the events about which we had considerable information is the 1914 school election shootings that occurred on Rockhouse Creek in Letcher County, Kentucky. Even by the early 1970s there were still some elderly people around who had witnessed this shooting or who had been told a great deal about it. Given the tragic nature of this incident, we have avoided for many years publishing anything about it. Since nearly a century has now passed, and since there have been some requests recently for more information about this tragedy, we feel that this is a good time to come forward with a detailed account of the 1914 Letcher County election day shooting. This account is being printed first in the Kentucky Explorer. It is the first detailed account of the 1914 Rockhouse school election day tragedy that has ever been published. Presently, as of September 2010, there is not and has never been a detailed published account of this incident in any book, magazine, blog or Internet website. At present, there are only short newspaper accounts of this tragedy on some websites and nothing more. Later, after the appearance of this article in the Kentucky Explorer, this article will be displayed on the website, Wright Roots-Bates Branches.
The 1914 Letcher County Election Day Shooting
Sporadic election-day violence was certainly not unusual in Letcher County during the last half of the 1800s and the early part of the 1900s. In truth, such outbreaks of election violence were nationwide, and incidents occurred in New York, Chicago and many other large cities and local precincts. The fuels for these violent outbursts were the combination of political passion and the consumption of alcohol. In the years leading up to Prohibition the upheaval and tragedy brought on by the excessive consumption and abuse of alcohol was the source of a great deal of tragedy nationwide.
In Letcher County, during the time span from 1875 to 1925, there had been a number of major and minor fights and conflicts during school elections. In an August 1879 article in the Greenup Independent we see the following sensationalistic description of events during an August election on Rockhouse.
Excerpt from the Greenup Independent.
In the first place Chris Craft and Sam Maggard became engaged in a “rough and tumble.” Others interposed, however, and prevented anything serious from resulting from the combat. Then Will Whalen kicked Clabe Collins’ dog, when Clabe came out with a rifle and pistol both cocked. Wallen, who was drunk, was taken from the place or there would have been trouble, as they are both known to be determined men and were both well armed, and not on good terms with each other on account of a previous difficulty. In the evening Si Collins was knocked down with a board at the hands of Chris Craft. Things now began to assume a warlike aspect. Guns, pistols, knives, rocks and clubs made their appearance with a rapidity that was marvelous. Some of the principal parties were taken from the field, and the riot was quelled without any damage.
End of article.
In the years following this outbreak of election violence there were lesser versions of this kind of trouble, but usually these came to an end without anyone being shot to death or seriously wounded. Two notable exceptions were the 1914 election deaths of four men and the August 1921 election deaths of Sam Wright and Dabber Bentley when they shot each other to death during a duel.
It is the 1914 election shootings that will be the focus of our attention here. Below we see an article from that time describing the incident.
Reprint of an article from the August 6, 1914 Hazard Herald.
In a fight over on Rockhouse on election day four men were killed outright and one badly wounded. Talt Hall, Dunk Quillen, Marion and Albert Hall are dead, and Dance Hall was shot in the arm. The wife of Albert Hall was badly wounded. The trouble came up over a school election.
End of article.
Dance Hall, who is mentioned in the above article, was actually Lance Hall. Lance, Marion and Albert Hall were all brothers. On August 1st, 1914 Lance Hall was 32 years old, Albert Hall was 28 years old, Marion Hall was 44 years old, Talt Hall was 32 years old , and Dunk Quillen was 29 years old. Talt Hall was Duncan “Dunk” Quillen’s nephew, and being nearly the same age they were close friends. In fact, Dunk had been one of the witnesses at Talt Hall’s wedding when Talt married Martha Bentley.
On August 1st , 1914 an election was held for the office of school trustee in the Rockhouse district of Letcher County. There were two candidates for this office: Lewis “Lute” Hall and Lee Hall. Lewis Hall was the father of Talt Hall and Lee Hall was the son of Marion Hall. These school trustee elections were often accompanied by a great deal of emotion because the winner would become the trustee for the district and would then have the power to hire and fire the district’s teachers. Teachers previously hired could be fired and new ones connected politically and/or by kinship to the new trustee might then be hired in their place. This was a long running practice that was eventually brought to an end some years later, but in 1914 it was still a problem in some districts of Letcher County.
The school election on Rockhouse was to decide between Lewis Hall and Lee Hall for the local trusteeship. The two factions supporting the two candidates were at the Rockhouse school by 12 noon on August 1st, 1914, about the time the poll was opened at the school. From the start the process was being challenged by Noah Bentley and others who were supporters of Lewis Hall. They did not like the way the election judges and clerks were being chosen. This had been done outside by a voice vote of all those present and Noah Bentley did not think this was done in the correct and legal manner. His objection had to do with some of Lewis Hall’s supporters not being allowed to vote and some of Lee Hall’s supporters, who he did not consider eligible, being allowed to vote. During this process the judges and clerks were all chosen from people who were in Lee Hall’s faction. The three men chosen for election officers were: Lance Hall, Robert Meade and Allen Hall. Lance and Robert were the election judges and Allen was the election clerk. Lewis Hall’s faction had put forward Dunk Quillen, Noah Bentley and Elijah Isaacs for these positions but all of these men were voted down. During the election Noah Bentley and Talt Hall again protested one of Lewis Hall’s supporters not being allowed to vote. Later, after the election, Noah Bentley claimed that there were several others who were also not allowed to vote. These kinds of protests and disputes were not unusual and often occurred during the polling process on election day. Whatever validity these complaints may have had, the final tally of votes was still a large majority in favor of Lee Hall. Once the votes were finally counted, election clerk Allen Hall came to the door of the school house and cried out the final vote. This was at 5 P.M. Lee Hall had 30 votes and Lewis Hall had 4 votes out of a total vote of 34. Just after Allen Hall cried out the final vote, Talt Hall was heard to comment, “That’s pretty good.” What he probably meant by this was that the large number of votes for Lee Hall meant that even if Lewis Hall’s faction had been allowed to have all their supporters vote, they still would have lost the election. By this time the question of who actually won the election became a moot point, but the perception by some of Lewis Hall’s faction that they had been imposed upon by the other side did cause some resentment.
With the election over and the results announced everyone began to leave the vicinity of the school building and headed off in both directions on the road that ran along Rockhouse Creek. Most people headed down the creek in the direction of Noah Bentley’s house and Lee Hall’s store. The store lay about 1/4 mile past Noah Bentley’s house. Noah’s house was about five or six hundred feet down the road and the creek from the school. About midway between the school and Noah’s house there was a splash dam. As people left the school going down the creek they tended to bunch up in groups with everyone on foot except for Talt Hall and Dunk Quillen, who were riding Talt’s mule bareback with Talt on the front and Dunk just behind him. The mule did have saddlebags on it and in these saddlebags were the pistols. Talt and Dunk had brought these pistols with them to the election, possibly because they had been summoned by Brack Yonts to be guards at the election. Brack Yonts had definitely summoned Lance and Marion Hall as guards, but when Lance was selected as a judge he had to give up his weapon to Marion. Later, just after the election ended, Marion had returned the pistol to Lance. As an election guard Marion Hall was also armed.
Allen Hall, Henry R. Yonts, Henry Yonts and others were in the first group to leave the school and head down the creek in the direction of Noah Bentley’s house. Allen Hall, the clerk at the school election, had walked down to Noah Bentley’s house before the election started that morning and had borrowed an erasure from Noah. As Allen, now on his way home from the election, made his way past Noah Bentley’s, he stopped for a moment and returned the erasure to Noah’s wife, America Bentley. She and Allen talked for a short time during which she invited him in for dinner and he told her he had to go. He had to catch up on some work at home.
Some of the people in the second group were Lance Hall, Marion Hall, Betty Meade (Lance’s sister), Jerry Meade, Manual Meade, John Hall and others. Following along some distance behind this second group was a third group made up of Willard Hall, Mack Meade, Leonard McCray, Bill Meade and others, who were all on foot, and Dunk Quillen and Talt Hall, who were both riding the same mule. As Talt and Dunk rode along they began to ride ahead of their group and gradually caught up to the back end of the second group made up of Lance Hall, Marion Hall and others. This happened not far past the splash dam. Marion Hall was further up the line but Lance Hall was back at the end so that as the mule with Talt and Dunk on it gained on Lance Hall’s group, the mule eventually came up to within a few steps of Lance. Earlier in the day both Dunk and Talt had a drink of whiskey and it is possible that a little earlier that evening, just as the election was coming to an end, both Albert Hall and Lance Hall may also have had some whiskey. Lance admitted to having some whiskey the day before but denied having any whiskey on the day of the election. If they were intoxicated, none of these three men were staggering drunk, but given their subsequent behavior, it is likely that they were all at least slightly intoxicated. Given this and the fact that there was some irritation between Talt Hall and Lance Hall over things that happened during the school election, it is not surprising that they began to argue. It was just past the splash dam that someone, possibly Talt or Dunk or both, let out a yell. This caused Lance Hall to ask Talt Hall if he had been drinking and Talt said he had not been drinking. Then Talt asked Lance if he had been drinking and Lance said he had not been drinking. From here on down to Noah Bentley’s, Talt and Lance traded verbal barbs back and forth. This continued even as the mule carrying Talt and Dunk turned right toward the entrance gate to Noah Bentley’s yard. Mrs. Bentley, Noah Bentley’s wife, had earlier invited them to dinner after the election and they were now turning into her place for this reason. Going down the creek, the road was to the right of the creek and Noah Bentley’s house and yard were to the right of the road. There was about a distance of twenty feet from the road to the gate, and the mule was turned partly sideways when had reached about two thirds of the way to the gate when it stopped. As the mule was approaching Noah Bentley’s entrance gate, Lance Hall had walked on across the creek which turned partly to the right and flowed over the road at an angle just past Noah Bentley’s yard. Lance was about thirty feet from the mule at this point when the argument between him and Talt became more animated, with both yelling insults and curses at each other.
Had Lance continued on down the road, or had Talt and Dunk rode on into Noah Bentley’s yard, probably nothing bad would have happened. Unfortunately, neither of them did this. With the increased intensity of argument Lance had stopped and turned around, facing back in the direction of Talt and Dunk, who were now sitting on the stationary mule. Talt, sitting on the front of the mule, had turned his head to the left so that he could look toward Lance. For a time the two of them traded insults and curses. Finally, Lance Hall pulled out his pistol that he had been carrying in his shoulder holster, and began to wave it around. Seeing all this, Betty Meade, Lance’s sister, yelled to Marion Hall to come back and arrest Talt Hall. Upon hearing this, Marion Hall came walking back and yelled at Lance to behave himself or that he, Marion, would arrest him. Lance replied that he had done nothing wrong. As Marion was coming back, Lance Hall headed across the creek back to Talt and Dunk, and as he approached Talt and Dunk his older brother, Marion, was walking near him. As Lance and Marion Hall were coming up to Talt and Dunk, Talt and Dunk each dismounted from the mule. So now there was Talt and Dunk standing at the right side of the mule unarmed, and Lance and Marion, both armed and with their pistols out, confronting them. There was a great deal of back and forth grabbing and quarreling. Dunk told Talt that Marion and Lance weren’t going to do anything. Mrs. Bentley, who was near the gate moments earlier, had now made it out past the gate and had her hand on Talt. She told Talt and Dunk to go on into the house and told Lance to go on down the road. She told all of them that she had nothing against any of them and that they should stop arguing. Mrs. Bentley’s effort did not stop Lance and Talt from arguing and they refused to be parted. Quickly, Mrs. Bentley realized that the situation was getting out of control and she rushed back into her yard in order to gather her children and get them into the safety of her house. As Mrs. Bentley was going back to her house the third group of walkers had approached and several of them had run forward up to the sight of the racket. Among these were Willard Hall, Talt’s uncle, and Mack Meade. The sight of Talt and Dunk arguing with his two brothers set off Albert Hall, and in a rage he ran toward the group huddled at the side of the mule. As Albert Hall, who was unarmed at this time, ran toward the dispute, so did Willard Hall and Mack Meade. Willard quickly made his way up to Talt, telling Talt not to do anything rash because Lance and Marion had him at a disadvantage. Talt then asked Willard to get his (Talt’s ) pistol. Willard Hall thought the pistol was on Talt, so he began a quick search of Talt’s body. Talt then told him the pistol was in the saddlebags on the mule. At this point Willard ran to the saddlebags to retrieve Talt’s pistol. (Willard’s purpose for doing this was most likely to assure that Talt could not get to his pistol.) Just as Willard made his way to the saddlebags so did an enraged Albert Hall. Both men put their hands into one of the saddlebags and grabbed hold of Talt’s pistol, which was in its holster with straps wrapped around it. They tugged back and forth until Albert Hall jerked the pistol free from Willard’s grip and when he did this Albert ran backwards a distance and began jerking on the pistol trying to get it out of its holster. After some effort he finally jerked the pistol free of the holster and, tossing the holster to the ground, came running back to the group huddled about the side of the mule with the loaded pistol now in his hand.
As Albert Hall came forward with Talt’s pistol in his hand he pointed it in the direction of Dunk Quillen. As he did this one of two things happened. Some say he did shoot at Dunk but missed and hit his wife in the foot while she was standing just across the creek from him. Others say that his wife had crossed the creek by this time and had been near the mule when her husband came running toward Dunk with the pistol pointed at Dunk, and that she had grabbed the pistol, attempting to divert it, and had pushed it downward, at which point it went off, shooting her in the foot. Whatever actually happened at this point it is clear that Albert Hall fired a shot, then reset, and was in the process of firing another shot at Dunk Quillen, when Dunk Quillen, who had just rushed to the other saddlebag and retrieved his own pistol, was in the process of firing a shot at Albert Hall. No one knew exactly which of the two fired first, since the two shots were so close together. Following these two nearly simultaneous shots there followed a deadly volley of shots between Dunk Quillen on one side and Albert, Marion and Lance Hall on the other. Albert shot at least four shots at or into Dunk after his first diverted shot, and while he was firing these shots toward Dunk, Dunk fired at least four shots at Albert, hitting him with all of them. As Dunk and Albert were firing at each other, Marion fired a shot into Dunk with his pistol and Dunk, after having fired the four shots at Albert and being shot by Marion, shot Marion in the side. At this point Lance fired two shots at Dunk and turned to run out of the field of fire. Just as Lance turned around Dunk fired a shot and it went through one of Marion’s arms, entering at the back of the arm and exiting out the front of the arm. It isn’t clear which arm it was, but if Lance was right-handed it was most likely his left arm that was wounded. By the time Dunk and Albert had fallen to the ground and Marion was on the way down, Talt was in shock, and as he stood slightly stooped over Dunk he lamented, “Lord have mercy on poor little Dunk.” These would be the last words he would ever say. As Talt was saying this, Lance had circled around behind Talt, and, full of rage, placed his pistol against the left side of the back of Talt’s neck. At this point Mack Meade grabbed Lance’s pistol by its barrel, attempting to divert the barrel away from Talt’s neck, but before he was able to do this Lance pulled the trigger. The bullet entered Talt’s neck and exited just above Talt’s right eye, killing Talt instantly. Talt immediately fell dead to the ground and Lance ran off down the road. Even though this last shot was muffled, it was still loud and it had left severe powder burns on the back of Talt’s neck. Lee Hall had run forward by this time and was holding up his father’s head and upper body trying to comfort him. All four men died instantly or within minutes of being shot. Dunk was said to have been the last one to die. During all the gun fire the mule had jostled about, turned, and then bolted out across the creek and up the hill side that was across the creek from Noah Bentley’s house.
Marion had a 44 Smith and Wesson pistol, while Lance, Albert and Dunk had 38 Smith and Wesson pistols. Albert was using Talt’s pistol during the shoot-out. (This pistol was said to have had five cartridges in it with one empty chamber.) Talt Hall was never armed during the entire time. None of these men were criminals or bad men, but their spur of the moment, emotionally-charged actions had just taken the lives of four of them and would lead to the imprisonment of another.
Lance Hall left the scene of the shooting immediately with the intention of going to Magistrate John Wright’s home and giving himself up to Mr. Wright. In order to avoid detection, because he was sure people would be out searching for him, he had entered the woods and had tried to reach his intended destination by foot under cover of the forest. He became lost for a time but finally found his way back out of the woods. He then made his way to McRoberts to the home of an acquaintance, Will Adams. He told Will about his predicament and Will advised him to go across the road to the home of Sol Wright, who was a local law officer, and to give himself up to Sol. Will Adams then took Lance over to Sol Wright’s and Sol agreed to take Lance to Whitesburg. In Whitesburg Lance was placed in jail and a doctor was summoned who dressed his wounds.
Because of the nature of the crime and the large number of witnesses to it, justice moved quickly. By the end of August 1914, Lance Hall was already convicted of willful murder in the Letcher Circuit Court and given 21 years in the penitentiary. He did not serve the full 21 years. In the late 1800s and the early 1900s no one ever stayed long in prison because of the corruption in the system which granted paroles and pardons. This applied not only to second degree murder and manslaughter cases, but even to premeditated murder convictions. The fact that it took nearly eight years for Lance Hall’s family and friends to get him released from prison indicates the perceived seriousness of his crime and the reaction to it throughout the county. Lance Hall was given a conditional pardon on May 1, 1922. Election violence was frowned upon, and shooting an unarmed man in the back of the head was considered disgraceful and inexcusable behavior, even if it did happen in the spur of the moment under extreme emotional stress.
Below is a letter from Talt Hall’s widow, Martha Bentley Hall, requesting of the governor that he not release Lance Hall
from the state prison.
Letter to Governor Morrow from Martha J. Hall.
Nov. 19th, 1921
Mr. J. P. Morrow,
I will write you as I have Been informed that they have been eferts (efforts) made to get Lance Hall out of the Pen and I now (know) human nature & for one’s own folks for to do so but I hope it want (won’t) be your will for he (Lance Hall) wilfully murdered my Husband Talt Hall. He (Talt) was killed without any gun not even a knife and left me with five little fellows to live by ourselves and one has died sence that time and the other four is around the fireside with me and I would hate afle (awfully) bad for that sorry Lance Hall to be a free man once more and my children haft to face him and I hope as long as you are in Power you will hold him. I hope I will here from you soon.
Martha J. Hall
End of letter.
Marion, Lance, and Albert Hall were sons of John Samuel Hall and his second wife, Rachel Meade. John Samuel Hall was a son of Jonathan Hall & Susannah Elliott. Rachel Meade was a daughter of Thomas Meade & Mary Hall.
Marion Hall married Maxaline Hall 23 Mar 1889 Letcher Co., KY. Maxaline Hall was the daughter of John H & Elizabeth Johnson. John Hall was a son of Allen & Hannah (Yonts) Hall. Elizabeth Johnson was a daughter of Pleasant & Anna (Burke) Johnson. After the death of Marion, Maxaline Hall married Joseph Yonts 20 Mar 1919 at her home in Deane, KY; by Allen Hall; Witnesses: Lee Hall & Marion Hall.
Albert Hall married Janie Isaacs 25 Jan 1913 at Deane, KY by Noah Bentley; Witnesses: Squire Hall & Elijah Isaac. Janie was a daughter of E. W. & Nan Isaacs. After the death of Albert, Janie married Lee Hall 7 April 1919 at Mayking, KY by W. B. Branham; Witnesses: Mr. & Mrs. Joe Yonts. Lee Hall was a son of Marion & Maxaline Hall.
Lance Hall married Perlina “Liny” Meade 25 1902 in Letcher Co., KY.
Talt Hall was a son of Lewis Howard Hall & Eveline (Quillen) Hall.
Dunk Quillen was a son of James & Melissa “Listy” “Listie” (Hall) Quillen.
Talt Hall’s father Lewis Hall was a son of John Samuel Hall & his first wife Karenhappick “Karen” “Caren” “Hapick” Yonts, d/o William & Levicy Yonts. Talt Hall’s mother, Eveline (Quillen) Hall, was a daughter of James Quillen & Elizabeth Melissa “Listie” Hall. (After the death of James Quillen, Listie (Hall) Quillen married Breckenridge Yonts 7 Oct 1893.) Talt married Martha Bentley 3 Mar 1906 at Riley Bentley’s, by Noah Bentley, MG; Witnesses: Riley Bentley & Dunk Quillen. Martha Bentley was the daughter of Riley Bentley & Cinda Profitt. After the death of Talt, Martha (Bentley) Hall married Cannon Hall 17 Nov 1917. Cannon Hall was a son of Ezekiel Hall & Phoebe Meade.
John Breckenridge “Brack” Yonts was a son of John B. “Tator Toe” & Mahala (Blankenship) Yonts. After the death of Listie, Brack Yonts married Susan (Wright) Houston. Susan (Wright) Houston was a daughter of William Jesse & Mary (Brummett) Wright. Brack was probably married to Susan (Wright) Houston at the time of his death in Neon, Letcher Co., KY in a gun battle in May 1927. He was a Deputy Sheriff at this time.
Duncan “Dunk” Quillen’s father, James Quillen was a son of Henry Quillen, & Elizabeth Wright. We have no information on the parents of Dunk’s mother, Melissa Hall, at this time.. Dunk married Roxie Meade 14 Sept 1906 at Elijah Hall’s, by Noah Bentley, MG. Witnesses; B. J. Brown & P. Johnson. Roxie Meade was a daughter of Monroe & Vina (Hall) Meade. After the death of Dunk, Roxie (Meade) Hall married George Brown on18 Mar 1922 at Deane, KY, by Noah Bentley; Witnesses: Bob Burke & Brack Quillen. George Brown was a son of Benjamin Brown & Elizabeth Wright.
Noah Bentley married America “Merica” Hall 13 Jan 1898 in Letcher Co., KY. Noah was a son of Martin Elijah Bentley & Lydia Smith. Martin Elijah Hall was a son of Moses Bentley & Carolina Ann Sloop. America (Hall) Bentley was a daughter of Robert Hall & Clarinda Hall. Robert Hall was a son of John Samuel Hall & KarenHappick Yonts. Clarinda Hall was a daughter of John William Hall & Margaret Hall.
Talt Hall was son of Lewis Howard Hall & Eveline Quillen
Albert, Marion & Lance Hall were sons of John Samuel Hall & Rachel Meade.
John Samuel Hall was son of Jonathan Hall & Susannah Elliott
Jonathan Hall s/o Anthony Hall & Rutha Butler
Anthony Hall s/o William Hall & Mary Heppell
The material on this website is copyrighted (C) 2010 by Nancy Wright Bays & Patty May Brashear
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