I was speaking with a friend a few hours ago about my blog, and she wanted to know why I wasn’t posting much anymore. Hubby was quick to offer, “she’s just being lazy.” Yes, I had to admit that is part of the problem. But the bigger thing holding me back has been that I feel that I have very few interesting things to say, and have been choosing instead to focus on other interests. That is, until a few days ago. Out of the blue, as these things happen, I got a new comment on one of my two most popular blog posts–Nance Dude Legend–the one post with more comments than any other I’ve published. This comment caught my attention in a way no other has because of the interest readers have shown in the story. So I thought about it for a few days and decided I had no other choice but to pass it along to others. If true, and I have no reason to believe it’s not, it deserves to be known.
Legends tend to linger on forever, and over time they can become distorted as people add layers of hearsay to stories passed down by generations preceding them, and soon become distorted versions of truth. Maurice Stanley, a native of Western North Carolina, wrote a historical novel in 1991 based on the legend he learned from his grandmother, who had seen Nance and Roberta Putnam out walking (in 1913) not long before Roberta’s death at the tender young age of 2 years. Stanley’s book presents all the known facts surrounding little Roberta Putnam’s grizzly murder and the arrest, trial, and subsequent conviction of her grandmother, Nancy Ann Kerley, also known as Nance Dude. It was impossible for most people to imagine how a grandmother could murder a child she had purportedly loved so dearly. It’s a fascinating story, and reading it I wished I could somehow turn back time sci fy style and make the ending a happier one.
Now we learn that apparently, there really was a happier ending, albeit bittersweet, for Roberta Putnam, and in way for Nance as well.
Here’s the comment that has had me pondering for days:
I wanted to share a different version of the Nance Dude story–it’s a bit at odds with the one you have heard and told before. My version is dedicated to all of those folks who said Nance Dude never committed that horrendous crime against her granddaughter and was unjustly accused.
You can find it at:
Cliff Davids [a contributor to the Asheville (N.C.) oral history project.]
According to Mr. Davids, a fine writer by the way, Nance did–as she said repeatedly during her trial–give the child to a traveling preacher, the same preacher apparently that she had worked for, in Roberta’s words that rich preacher that ran the orphanage. He had brought her a child bitten by a rattlesnake from the orphanage, as he’d heard she was a witch who was familiar with mountain remedies that he hoped would save her, but the child died anyway. At about the same time, Roberta’s father or mother had told Nance to take Roberta to the state home because they couldn’t afford to feed her. Nance talked the preacher into switching the dead child with little Roberta, and it was the dead child who was placed in the cave where two weeks later Roberta was found. Going back to Stanley’s original book, the pieces of the puzzle take on a dazzling fit now that the new ending has come along.
If you’re one of those interested in the heartbreaking story of Nance Dude and her little granddaughter Roberta, your should click on the link Mr. Davids provided in his comment above to learn a fuller accounting of the story. It changes the legend from one of desperate people forced to do desperate things in desperate times, to one of unspoken heroes and heroines. Nance Dude died at age 104, quite a long time for a woman to live with the consequences of murdering an innocent 2 year old. Now, viewing history from a different angle as we’re allowed to do in Mr. Davids account, we can think of Nance at last as the tragic heroine she became rather than the cold blooded murderer of the legend. Roberta Putnam, if the new legend is not contested, lived until the winter of 2012. She lived to be 99.
(For the record, the other post with the most “hits” is one about choosing an eggplant. You can read it by clicking here,)