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Monday, October 11, 2010

Nixon Curry, Killed with His Own Bowie Knife

In 1822, in  North Carolina, Nixon Curry was convicted of the crime of Negro stealing. Curry broke out of jail and fled to the mountains, killing several members of the posse that pursued him. A price of $5,000 was put on his head.

Curry escaped capture and eventually settled in St. Francis County, Arkansas. Going by the name “Joe Hill,” he married and became a popular and respected citizen. He was elected to the state legislature in 1833 and 1835.

In 1836, a party of emigrants traveling through St. Francis County recognized Curry and reported him as a fugitive. He was arrested, but was soon broken out of jail by his friends, who did not believe that their law-abiding neighbor could be a wanted criminal. Curry was again arrested, and again his friends freed him. Possibly due to the length of time that had elapsed since his crimes, and his honorable behavior during that period, there was no further attempt to pursue his case. Nevertheless, Curry remained on his guard and was always armed with a bowie knife. "He now became a very hard drinker and quarrelsome," wrote Arkansas historian William F. Pope.

One day in the spring of 1841, Curry went to Norristown to purchase farm supplies. He was accompanied by his young farmhand, Vincent L. Hutton, who was engaged to his daughter.

Before they left, Mrs. Curry, always uneasy about the safety of her husband, said to Hutton, "Take good care of him, and be sure and bring him back tonight."

"Never fear," Hutton replied, jokingly, "He will never die until I kill him."

From Pope’s Early Days in Arkansas:
There was a crowd in the tavern when they reached Norristown, and the customary good-natured banter was in progress. The two joined in. Curry, to demonstrate the weight of his fist and his partner's resisting power, began to pound the young man over the lungs. Hutton swelled out his massive chest and bore the sledge hammer blows right manfully until the sport began to pall on him and he called a halt. Curry responded with a blow which felled Hutton. From the floor Hutton reached out, grasped Curry by the ankles and overturned him. The two grappled on the floor with Hutton on top. Perhaps Curry had been fired by the raw liquor of the day. Perhaps they both had, for as Hutton held his adversary down he saw him reaching for his bowie knife. Curry wore the knife in a leather sheath on his belt, and the knife had slipped down into the sheath so far that it could not be grasped by the handle. He was trying to work it up from the end of the sheath when Hutton first noticed it. Maintaining his grip on Curry, Hutton watched the knife until the hilt appeared above the sheath and then he grasped it and stabbed Curry to the heart. And so ended Nixon Curry, alias John Hill.
Hutton fled the scene. Two years later, the family got word that he had been spotted in Texas. Local lore has it that Curry's 16-year-old son took his father's long rifle off its pegs, set off for Texas, returned in a year, nodded in response to a questioning look from his mother, and hung the rifle back up on its pegs.

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