How would you react? You’re meandering around a state archives checking out holdings and looking for a long lost ancestor. You find an old memoir about the early history of the area where your ancestors lived. Curious, you find an article about the very ancestor you’d been so far unable to find.
Astonished, you read that your long lost ancestor was the most notorious, well-publicized murderer in early American history. “No!” you mumble. “This can’t be him.”
That’s exactly what happened to me.
At first I thought, “This is a different Nixon Curry.” I checked the 1800, 1810, and 1820 census? There were none! Of course not, because my Nixon Curry was either too young or was in jail. It’s not like Nixon Curry was a common name. I had to know more. I spent years searching libraries, archives, genealogical records across the country. This was long before the Internet. Then, a second clue. While visiting my daughter, I drove over to the state archives of Kansas in Topeka and found a copy of Blum’s Centennial Almanac. Among the witty quotes, seasonal weather forecasts, and practical household hints, were five unbelievable tales from America’s first hundred years. The life story of Nixon Curry was one of the stories.
According to the story, the Currys were poor immigrants who settled in North Carolina. Nixon’s father was a Presbyterian minister “of irreproachable character.” At the age of six, Nixon met the love of his life, Lucy Gordon, whose parents were “among the wealthiest aristocracy of Carolina.” As the story goes, “… at seventeen, when Lucy’s relatives were endeavoring to force her into the arms of another, she fled with the lover of her childhood.” Pursued, Nixon Curry “shot his rival, a proud Gordon, dead … then escaped with his bride.” Blum claimed that Nixon became a robber out of necessity, but he never killed anyone except in self-defense. When the Governor placed a $5,000 reward on Nixon’s head, he and Lucy disappeared.
Later, in territorial Arkansas “there came an emigrant calling himself John Hill who soon succeeded in acquiring universal popularity.” Hill was “sober, industrious, generous and hospitable” and was “repeatedly elected to the territorial legislature where he distinguished himself.” You guessed it! In Arkansas territory Nixon becomes a well-liked, highly respected, popular citizen.
The first third of the article covering Nixon Curry’s antics in North Carolina seemed questionable: falling in love at age six, killing a member of the area’s wealthiest family. It seemed a stretch. But the second third was beyond believable. This young, talented youngster becomes a highly respected politician who is repeatedly elected to the territorial legislator and is wildly popular. I questioned the accuracy of the article. Then I read the last third and quickly rejected the whole story as pure journalistic sensationalism.
According to Blum, when a group of migrating North Carolinians recognized John Hill as Nixon Curry, Hill was taken into custody but his supporters convinced the sheriff to release him. The next night a posse catches him racing home and a member of the posse is killed by one of Nixon’s supporters. Hill escapes into the Ozark Mountains with his family and children. When Hill’s political party wins control of the newly formed State, the law does not pursue him any further. After living in western Arkansas for many years, his daughter’s engagement is announced. Nixon and his future son-in-law ride into town and enter the local bar to celebrate the engagement. Drunk, John Hill gets into an argument with one of the patrons that soon turns into a fight. John Hill’s future son-in-law tries to pull John off his attacker and the three men tumble and John is stabbed with his own knife. He dies on the spot.
By now, one would expect the story to be over but Blum has more. Hill’s daughter goes insane and her fiancé escapes to Texas. Four years later, Hill’s son takes his father’s rifle and heads to Texas. Finally, the story ends in Scotland where Hill’s son gives a deathbed confession about who John Hill really was and how he revenged his father’s death.
Having uncovered Blum’s Almanac, I spent the next five years taking trips to North Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas looking for newspaper articles, checking court records, etc. determined to find the truth. I developed a passion to write the true story.
The truth? Nixon Curry’s actions and accomplishments were far more amazing than Blum’s story. But Blum brought the story to national attention. About twenty years after Nixon’s death, a reporter traveled to North Carolina to interview the aging members of Nixon’s family and their neighbors. Some truths were uncovered but more myth and legend developed. About every twenty years a reporter would uncover the growing legend and a new series of stories would be syndicated. Eventually the depression set in and the story faded into obscurity.
Nixon Curry’s activities, trials, and escapes far exceeded Blum version. Nixon probably did kill Ben Wilson, a promising heir to the Charlotte aristocracy, but the Wilson’s couldn’t prove it. Nixon was condemned to hang three times, his case went to the Supreme Court, and he did escape from every jail they locked him in.
In Arkansas, John Hill’s exploits and political prominence far exceeded Blum’s claims. John Hill was, indeed, stabbed with his own knife in a barroom fight. But the Scotland and revenge story still needs to be researched. Blum’s Centennial Almanac sensationalized the story and made Nixon Curry an early American legend. But the true story of Nixon Curry’s life, his love for, not Lucy, but Dovey Caldwell, and his remarkable achievements have been lost. The true story far exceeds Blum’s wildest imagination and that story needs to be told.
That’s why I wrote Nixon and Dovey!
Nixon and Dovey covers Nixon Curry’s life as a criminal in North Carolina and is the first of a three-part series to include a biography of the life of Nixon Curry.
Jay W Curry is a former Big-4 consulting partner, business coach, and award-winning author. When he is not coaching, fly-fishing or writing he facilitates a Vistage CEO roundtable in Houston. Jay has co-authored three internationally successful books and has won honors for both his short fiction and non-fiction work. When the heat of Texas summer arrives, Jay and his wife, Nancy, head to their Colorado home (http:/CurryBarn.com) or visit their three children and seven grandchildren. Nixon and Dovey is the first of a three-book passion to bring the 200-year-old story of Jay’s relative, Nixon Curry, back to light.
About the Book
Before he met Dovey, it was just a heated feud. Now, in the backdrop of southern antebellum slavery, it’s a deadly game of passion, murder, and revenge.
Facts: In 1818 Nixon Curry became entangled in one of the most sensationalized murder/love stories in early American history. As a result, Nixon Curry became arguably the most notorious and widely publicized criminal in America’s first half century. His fame derived not from the brutality or number of his crimes but from the determination of the Charlotte aristocracy to hang him. His remarkable talents, undying love for Dovey Caldwell, and the outright audacity of his exploits made him an early American legend.
Story: Set in the antebellum south of North Carolina, Nixon Curry, a talented son of poor Scot-Irish immigrants, accepts a job at a racing stable. Soon, his riding skills rival those of his mentor, Ben Wilson. The fierce rivalry becomes confrontational when Ben frames Nixon’s childhood, slave friend, Cyrus, for the Caldwell plantation fire. When both Nixon and Ben win invitations to the 1816 Race of Champions, the stage is set for an explosive face-off. During pre-race festivities, the dashing, young Nixon meets the beautiful Dovey Caldwell, daughter of the state’s wealthiest and most influential senator. Finding Nixon unworthy of Dovey’s affection, Senator Caldwell betroths his daughter to Nixon’s nemesis, Ben. The announcement sets in motion a clash of cultures, talents, and passions leading to murder, mayhem, and revenge.
How far will Nixon go to have his love? What price is he willing to pay and what will be the consequences?
Publication Date: November 14, 2014