The Coldhearted Murder Of John B. Adams


John B. Adams & wife Lucy Hamilton



We have been looking into the death of John B. Adams for some time and several  years ago our research group discovered quite a few newspaper articles and documents from the early 1880s that shed new light upon this murder revealing details that had not been known since that time. We discovered that in  the beginning (1879-1881) Bad John Wright, Talt Hall, Dick Vance, Linville Higgins and probably Linville Higgins' half brother John B. Adams, were all working together with the Feds to catch and convict moonshiners. In regard to the moonshine business things were complicated back then, and though it wasn't  at all surprising to find some mention of these men in Federal court order books in Atlanta, we were stunned to learn Dick, Linville and John, themselves moonshiners, were paid federal witnesses against other moonshiners. We found it was a common practice that some moonshiners would use the Revenuers against their opposition, thus lessoning competition. This investigation has revealed observations on these occurrences of events that has not been known since their happening.

There was competition, even antagonism, among the moonshiners which often led to one group informing to the feds on the other. It wasn't a far-fetched notion that some law officers were also active in the moonshine business, either directly or indirectly. Bad John Wright was probably indirectly involved in the moonshine business and he, like several other big time moonshiners, hid his illegal production behind the facade of legal production of alcohol. You could produce all the alcohol you wanted to back then as long as you paid the federal revenue on it, which was so high that to do so left little to profit.  

In August of 1880 Talton Hall, Bad John Wright and several others connected to a deputy U. S. Marshal, attempted to arrest some moonshiners in Floyd County. During the resulting gun battle Talt Hall shot and killed a man named Henry Triplett, who was a brother of Talt Hall's wife, Marinda Triplett. Henry was born in 1852 on Caney Creek, Floyd County, Kentucky and had married Margaret Jane King. Margaret was born 01 January 1842 on Beaver Creek, Floyd County, Kentucky, the daughter of Lewis Wright (also known as Lewis Remy or Lewis King) and Edith Flannery. 

Within a few months this led to Talt Hall being charged with the murder of Triplett.  Records show that early on Dick Vance was a witness for Talt Hall, but then something, we don't know what, happened and Dick Vance was no longer a friend to Talton Hall. After this falling out between Dick Vance and Talt Hall, which happened a long before the murder of Frank Salyer, Dick Vance became a witness against Talt Hall.  As was a common tactic during that period of time, Talt Hall delayed the case, then Hall and James Greer, who were only bailiffs for the Deputy U. S. Marshal, showed up in Catlettsburg with some prisoners. Dick Vance and John B. Adams, were in Catlettsburg at the same time, but in this particular case it doesn't appear that John Adams was among their prisoners as earlier thought.

There are plentiful records listing the names of men brought to court, mainly for moonshining, during this time. Records from May 11, 1882  show Deputy U.S. Marshall James Heflin brought in eighteen men from Floyd County and one from Letcher County. The charges against these prisoners were illicit distilling of spirituous liquors and selling it without having paid the special tax. John B. Adams definitely did not appear on any of these prisoner lists and he definitely was not shown on witness lists during Talt's trial for the murder of Henry Triplett. Not surprisingly, a name found on the witness lists in the Henry Triplett murder was none other than Dick Vance.

We know Dick Vance had a score to settle with Talton Hall, since he felt Hall had made an attempt to kill him. Vance was at Federal Court in Catlettsburg, in Boyd County, Kentucky, over a matter of moon-shining.  Vance claimed he saw one of Halls men quietly enter the sleeping rooms, strike a match and examine the faces of the sleeping men.  When he passed the bed where Vance was sleeping, he went back out. Since Vance had expecting trouble he moved to another bed in different part of the building. Sometime through the night a man they thought was Vance, was picked up and tossed out the second story window of the courthouse, hitting the steps below, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. The man thrown from the window proved to be John B. Adams of Letcher County. 

It seems Richard R. "Dick" Vance's whole story about the mistaken identity was true, that John B. Adams was mistaken for Dick Vance, who was the actual target of Andy Hall and William Sizemore. The most likely reason Dick Vance was targeted was because he was going to testify in Floyd County against Talt Hall in the murder case of Mr. Triplett and there was apparently a good chance Talt would be convicted. These names are all mentioned in newspaper articles or on the hotel lists of the time. 

William Sizemore was initially arrested and taken into custody for the murder of John B. Adams but Andy Hall had already left town. Since there were several Andrew Jackson Hall's in the area, we should clarify which Andy was killed.  The Andy Hall we are speaking of  was Andrew J. Hall, born 23 February 1859 in Knott County, Kentucky. He was Talt Hall's nephew; the son of Talt's brother, William E. "Bill Dee" Hall, born 03 July 1822 in Floyd County, Kentucky and his wife Louanzie "Anzy" Isaacs.  Due to lack of evidence, William Sizemore was shortly after this released and ran off to avoid additional involvement in the circumstances.  

Dick Vance must have been sorely angered by the attempt on his life because he was quick to retaliate.  Andy Hall had gone back to Floyd County but that wasn't far enough. On his way home from Federal Court, Vance made a detour,  passing by the Hall house where he waylaid and shot Talt Hall's brother Andy.  Andy was climbing over a fence carrying a bag of potatoes on his back when the men, Richard Dick Vance and Linville Higgins found him. They men fired from ambush, sending three bullets into Andy's body, 20 October 1882 in Floyd County, Kentucky.  There was a boy with Hall that escaped and reported that one of the men who did the shooting was Richard Vance. Another witness said he met Vance, Higgins and Andy Slone a few moments after Hall was killed and within a few hundred yards of the body. Each were carrying a gun. Vance and Higgins would both be charged later in Floyd County with this murder. Linville Higgins and Andy Slone were also thought to be involved in the killing and it wasn't  long afterward that Linville Higgins was murdered near the present site of Hindman in Knott County. 

                         "Andrew Sloan and Linville Higgins, of  Floyd County,  were arrested here after

                              giving evidence in moon-shining cases, on the charge of killing Andrew Hall,  in

                              Floyd  County.  Judge  McCall  committed  them,  and  the third one  of the party

                              accused, Richard Vance, is in charge of the  U.S. authorities.  After  going  back

                              to the mountains a man made an affidavit that [ John B.] Adams, who was found

                              dead on  our court house steps,  supposed to have  fallen from the second story

                              window, was thrown out by Hall and Sizemore, fellow witnesses in a moonshine

                              case, a few weeks since.  Sizemore then fled the country, and Hall was killed by

                              the friends of Adams."


According to one oral history, in response to the murder of Andy Hall, William Hall put up a reward of $500 for his son's killer.  Hoping to win this reward Ben Jones, Sam Wright (Bad John's brother) and Wash Craft, made their way to Hindman and attempted to arrest Linville Higgins.  Since they knew he had murdered Andy Hall they needed little reason to shoot him. It was August 16, 1884, when the group of men met Higgins at the edge of town. He of course resisted their arrest, giving them ample reason to shoot him to death. Which they did.  

Oddly enough, Martha Hall was a daughter of William John "Gunsmith Billy" and Margaret Johnson Hall and a sister of William J. Captain "Bolen Bill" Hall who had married Florence Jones, daughter of Claiborne & Millie Martin Jones. To show how inter-mingled these families were, you can go one more generation back to find Gunsmith Billy Hall was the son of Anthony and Rutha Butler Hall and a brother of Dave Hall, who was Taltonís father.  

John B. Adams was born about 1847 in Letcher County, Kentucky. His parents were Spencer Adams and Jane Amburgey. Spencer was, born 22 Feb 1822 on Rockhouse Creek, Floyd County, Kentucky, the son of Stephen (1799-1845) Adams. John B. Adams married Lucy Ann Hamilton, born 19 Jan 1852 in Scott County, Virginia and died 29 Jan 1916 in Knott County, Kentucky.  Lucy Ann was the daughter of Robert Schuyler Hamilton (1780-1861) and Malissa Wheatley (1831-1906). Robert was the son of Schuyler Hamilton (1780-1861), who was the son of James Hamilton (1757-1844), son of Thomas Hamilton (1700 Bedford County, Virginia).



The children of John B. Adams:


               1.  Margaret Ellen Adams, born: 1868 Kentucky; m. Allen Martin. 

               2.  Chamillous Kay Adams, born:  November 14,1869, Kentucky; died: July 17, 1922 Knott County,

                              Kentucky;  married: August 16,1902 to Mary Hall born:  February 25,1880, Kentucky; died

                              March 29, 1951 Knott County, Kentucky. 

               3.  John Carlyle Adams, born: November 11, 1871; died May 23, 1924; married Lou Ellen McGuire. 

               4.  Robert Lee Adams, born July 18, 1874 Kentucky;  d: January 15, 1954 Spider, Knott County,   

                           Kentucky; he married: first, to 1899 Susan  E. King,  born August 24, 1878, Kentucky; died:

                             April 29, 1921 Knott County, Kentucky,  daughter of James Jim King and Sarah Sally Bates;

                             he married Second Magnolia Nola Bentley, born 1894 Kentucky; died 1955,  daughter of

                            Irvin Bentley (son of: Aaron R. Bentley and Darcus 'Darkie' Hall) and Curl  Vance (daughter of:

                            Austin Vance & Maryett Hall).  

               5.  James Adams, born: 1875 Kentucky; died: 1937; married Alice Lloyd. 

               6.  Spencer P. Adams, born 1877 Kentucky; died 1935; married: Margie McGuire, born: 1884; died 1933. 

               7.  Belle Anna Belle Adams, b. 1880 Kentucky.

                8.  Ann Susan Susa Adams, b. June 1881 Kentucky; born: April 20, 1882; married First to (--?--) (--?--)

                              and divorced before 1900;  she married Second William F. Strange.


After the death of John B. Adams, his widow Lucy Hamilton Adams married second to Jason Bee Craft, born February 1863, the son of Nelson and Eliza (Reynolds) Craft. 

John Vint Higgins, son of John Penn Higgins (son of William R. "One-Eyed Bill" Higgins), was born 1824 in Kentucky, and died 1860. He married first to Louise Combs, born 1825. He married second to Jane Amburgey, daughter of Ambrose Amburgey and Rebecca Francis. Jane was born August 11, 1821 in Russell County, Virginia. John Vint and Jane Amburgey Higgins were the parents of Linville Higgins.  As noted earlier, Jane Amburgey had married first to Spencer Adams and they had a son John B. Adams.  By her second marriage, Jane Amburgey and John Vint Higgins had a son Linville Higgins.  Thus, John B. Adams and Linville Higgins were half brothers. Jane Amburgey Adams Higgins married a third time to Wyatt Martin, born 1815, son of James and Millie Martin. 

Richard R. Dick Vance was born in 1855, the son of John Wesley & Martha Hall Vance. Oddly enough, Martha Hall was a daughter of William John "Gunsmith Billy" and Margaret Johnson Hall and a sister of William J. Captain "Bolen Bill" Hall who had married Florence Jones, daughter of Claiborne & Millie Martin Jones. To show how inter-mingled these families were, you can go one more generation back to find Gunsmith Billy Hall was the son of Anthony and Rutha Butler Hall and a brother of Dave Hall, who was Taltonís father. 



This story is copyright by: Nancy Wright Bays, Benjamin Luntz and Pamela Irene Adams.

The picture of John B. Adams & wife Lucy Hamilton was contributed by Pamela Irene Adams.




For a comprehensive description of these events read:

                                             The 1885 Jones-Wright Feud

                     THE 1885 JONES-WRIGHT FEUD

"The 1885 Jones-Wright Feud", by Nancy Wright Bays, Patricia Brashear, Benjamin Luntz, and Nancy Clark Brown. This book is available through Xlibris. This is the first historical account of that feud ever written and it is extensively documented. Several well-known characters took part in these feuds. Among them were: Bad John Wright, Clabe Jones, Dolph Draughn and Talton Hall. This book has many documents, letters and newspaper articles that have not been seen in over one hundred years.  Various murders are covered in detail. Some of these are: the murders of Henry Vanover, Uriah Bates, Ira Mullins, Linville Higgins, Andy Hall, Frank Salyers, Ben Cunningham, Dolph Draughn, Jay Draughn and several others.

The following link will take you directly to the Xlibris site.





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