Using Family Stories in Our Research

Prison

Family stories, lore, myths or legends. It doesn’t matter what you call them. Every family has one, or many.  Don’t we all want to know if they are true or not? Use a family story as a beginning point in your research and locate additional records to determine just how true (or false!) it may be.

A family story, passed down through the years, paints Lyman Perry Fuller in a good light, as a hero, trying to save his sister’s cattle from thieves.  There was a gunfight and a bystander was shot.  Lyman Perry Fuller was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 18 years in prison.  That’s how the story goes but is it really what happened?  Eighteen years in prison seems a particularly harsh sentence if Lyman were simply defending the cattle from being stolen.  Could there be more to this story?  There usually is.  Using the family story as a starting point, can we determine whether the events leading up to Lyman’s incarceration are a tall tale or whether they may have a kernel of truth in them?

Through further research there appears to be 3 versions of the events that led up to Lyman Perry Fuller’s imprisonment:

Version 1:  The Family Story

In 1870 Lyman Perry Fuller’s sister, Lisania Fuller Judd and her husband Hyrum Judd, were living in Eagle Valley, Nevada where they had established a dairy business.  Lyman travelled to Eagle Valley around 1872 to visit his sister and stopped at a bar in town to ask directions to the ranch. He overheard men talking about stealing cattle from the Mormons (Lisania and Hyrum Judd were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had been sent to settle the area of Eagle Valley).  When Lyman got to Lisania’s home he repeated what he had heard, and the sheriff was notified. Upon returning to town, Lyman was met by the cattle thieves and a gun fight ensued.  A spectator was killed and Lyman was arrested. He spent the next 18 years in the Nevada State Prison accused of murder in the second degree.[1]

Version 2:  The Newspaper accounts

In 1872, just a few weeks after the crime, the Ely Record[2] wrote a short article stating that Lyman P. Fuller was indicted for murder ‘of a woman of the town’.   No mention is made of cattle thieves just the intriguing reference to a woman being the one murdered.

On October 24, 1872, the New Daily Appeal of Carson City had the following article[3].

LymanPFuller1832_15yearsentence

The woman was named as Fanny Peterson.  Lyman pled guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 15 years in the State Prison. It would appear that there was more to the story than cattle thieves, at least in what was reported by the newspapers of the day.

In early 1881 Lyman Perry Fuller had served almost 10 years in prison.  He began to seek a full pardon based on the grounds that he had served almost two-thirds of his sentence and had shown exemplary conduct during imprisonment.  Lyman also noted that there were extenuating circumstances connected with the case, that his attorney had not done a good job and that his health was poor[4].

nevada-state-prison-carson-city

Nevada State Prison, Carson City, Nevada. Photo in public domain.

Newspapers carried the story on 26 February 1881 and were not favorable towards Lyman Fuller.  They called the murder ‘a cruel and wanton act’ and gave an account of the crime as follows:

“Fuller had been living with a Spanish courtesan knows as ‘Panama Jack’, alias Fannie Paterson, and several months previous to the killing they had quarreled and separated.  At 9 o’clock on the morning of July 11, 1872, Fuller issued from his lodging-house, having seen the woman passing to her residence and, without warning, fired upon her, the ball taking effect in the right forearm, badly shattering the radius. The woman attempted to run, but fell, whereupon he deliberately walked to where she was lying, and standing almost over her prostrate form, fired two more shots at her, one of which took effect in the left hip and passed through the ilium into the abdominal cavity.  The other shot passed through her clothing without harming her. … The woman died from the effects of her wounds four days after the shooting.  Fuller, sometime previous to the murder, set fire to and attempted to burn the building occupied by this woman.  Perry Fuller, in Pioche, was one of the lowest characters of men, gaining a livelihood by following the profession of what is called a “check guerilla’, and compelling this poor, fallen wretch of a woman to give him what little money she could gather, beating and abusing her if she refused to obey him.” [5]

Again, no mention of the cattle thieves as described in the family story.  The newspaper article further stated that Mr. Fuller did not deserve to be pardoned and that he should have hung for his crime instead of being imprisoned.  His pardon was denied.

Two years later, in July 1883, Lyman Fuller again appealed to the Board of Pardons and this time his parole was approved.

Version 3:  Lyman Perry Fuller’s own words

In a statement given in 1881 Lyman Fuller describes in his own words what happened:

“On the 25th of Nov 1875 I arrived in Pioche.  One of the first men I met was Jack Harris, and during our conversation informed him of the intention to proceed to Eagle Valley the following day to visit a sister I had not seen for twenty years. Harris said he would introduce me to a friend of his, a butcher, who went to Eagle Valley every day with his wagon, and I could ride out with him, that the butcher went there to see one of the boys.  I asked him what he meant by ‘one of the boys’ and he replied that he meant of the Spanish George’s pale. Harris gave me the name of the man as Woods, with the information he (Woods) was acting as agent for George and his gang; that Woods disposed of stolen cattle to the Pioche butchers, and that George and Woods were the leaders of the d_____dest gang of cattle thieves ever known on the coast; that they were furnishing all the butchers in Pioche with stolen cattle at a very low figure.

I had not been two hours in my sisters company before she informed me they (her and her husband) had settled in Eagle Valley six years previous with a number of head of stock but since the mining excitement broke out at Pioche they had lost all their stock.  I asked my sister if there was a man named Woods living in the valley, and she told me he was their nearest neighbor. I there and then informed her that Woods and his gang were stealing their cattle, etc. My brother-in-law immediately took steps to ascertain the truth of my statements and in so doing told some neighbors what he had learned from me.  Woods hearing of the investigation being made left the country. On the next visit paid my sister, I turned a fine horse into the pasture and he was stolen the first night.  A few nights after one of George’s gang, a Mexican, rode up to a house I was visiting on a horse resembling the one I lost and I detained him over night, when daylight came I seen my mistake and allowed him to leave.  This of course made George my bitter and active enemy and then my troubles commenced, for George was not alone in persecuting me for doing my duty, but was aided by several men and one woman doing business in Pioche.  The house of the Negro woman, Lize Lawson was the rendezvous of the worst gang of thieves in the country’ she was running two butcher-shops in the town and doubtless interested in others elsewhere; there the plot was concocted to put me out of the way in some manner the least liable to excite public suspicion, and if matters had not taken a turn to afford them the opportunity to prosecute me under the cloak of the law I would have met death in some form at their hands, for at this time I was privately visiting a Spanish woman and the game was theirs whenever wanted. I left the woman and then George and Lize influenced her to circulate the story that I had threatened to burn the town, Lize, of course, being most industrious to its circulation. Some of the gang went so far as to place sharings saturated in oil under   several houses and claiming that I did it, creating such a feeling that my life was in danger. Had it not been for a night-watchman named Hickey, who came to me one night and (after stating he had been watching my actions for sometime and became convinced of the falseness of the stories) warned me to be on my guard, that these women for some reason unknown to him wanted me killed and if I was not very careful they would accomplish their object, I would have fallen a victim to their revenge. Hickey gave me the names of several men who were laying for me, but they have escaped my memory; one of them killed John Monahan in Pioche.

A moderate drinker for twenty years previous to this time, the traps laid to prejudice the community and compass my assassination, conscious of never committing any crime against person or property, so harassed and preyed upon my mind that I foolishly sought relief where it got the better of me and my mind gave completely away under the pressure of worriment and drink.  No thought ever entered my mind to injure any one of enemies, for I concluded everyone would, sooner or later, become satisfied that I was the victim and not the criminal, if I was not killed. My intellect at last gave way under the constant pressure and the taking of human life the result, an act I deeply deplore and have suffered for mentally and physically for the last eight and a half years”.[6]

Lyman Perry Fuller’s version of events includes the cattle thieves and his attempt to do a good deed in stopping them.  Here lie the seeds for the origin of the family story.  The truth of what really happened that day is unclear.  Lyman Perry Fuller never denies that he did take a human life but attributes it to a mental breakdown. The events leading up to the crime differ depending on whether you believe the family story, the newspaper accounts or Lyman’s own words.

These stories are part of our family history, they aren’t always true but many times may contain a kernel of truth.   Use a family story as a beginning point in your research.  Find other information to corroborate or disprove it, but never ignore it. Research will help determine which family stories are true, somewhat true or completely false.  Whatever the outcome they give our factual research great color.

[1] Judd Family Traditions. Hilga Judd Frier, compiler. Pleasant Grove, Utah.
[2] “Criminal Matters”, The Ely Record, Pioche City, Lincoln, Nevada, 6 Sep 1872; digital images, Genealogybank.com (www.genealogybank.com : accessed Feb 2017).
[3] “Prisoners and Insane”, The New Daily Appeal, Carson City, Nevada, 24 Oct 1872, digital images, Genealogybank.com (www.genealogybank.com : accessed Feb 2017).
[4] Nevada State Prison, Carson City, Nevada, Inmate file for Lyman Perry Fuller, Nevada State Archives; photocopy, (http://nsla.nv.gov/Archives/Archival_Records/).
[5] “Local Intelligence”, Pioche Weekly Record, Pioche, Nevada, 26 Feb 1881, digital images,  Chroniclingamerica.loc.gov (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ : accessed Feb 2017).
[6] Nevada State Prison, Carson City, Nevada, Inmate file for Lyman Perry Fuller, Nevada State Archives; photocopy, (http://nsla.nv.gov/Archives/Archival_Records/).

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