update: nance dude may live again

Here’s an update for fans of Nancy Ann Kerley (Nance Dude). If the moon continues in the second house with Jupiter in line with Mars, it looks like Nance Dude could soon live again–in celluloid that is. (Digital, actually, but pixel might be even more accurate, but that’s a post for another day.)

That post attracted numerous readers, many of whom were descendants of the family, and still attracts many interested in this murder/mayhem mystery of the early 20th century. Quite sometime ago, my post on Nance Dude attracted a reader who commented that a  movie would be forthcoming, and was indeed in pre-production. I decided it was time for a little detective work.

TIMBERWOLF, which is the title at this time, is a story of how the hardships of an 1800’s family in the Great Smoky Mountains is made worse by the ambitions of a powerful man who is set on revealing a legendary secret. (Anyone unfamiliar with Nance’s life who would like to know more can go here.) So it isn’t exactly clear how the movie will feature Nance’s story, but the characters in the movie list are all fictitious, so it’s probably loosely based on that event and sounds interesting. Here’s what I have learned from a June 14, 2009 update.

The movie is an independent film in pre-production by the Collective Development LLC of Lansing MI, which means presumably there are banks in the negotiations, most likely actors too, and any or all of the following information is subject to change. The latest update was June 14, 2009. Here are some names you might recognize: Dan Haggerty, Cloris Leachman, Erin Gray, Cindy Williams, Wes Studi and Michael Spears. At one time I remember seeing Willie Nelson’s name in the lineup but it’s no longer there. (Mr. Willie’s getting on up there in years, y’know.)

Wes Studi played Joe Leaphorn in Thief of Time, and you’d recognize him from any number of films featuring native Americans, like Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. He played himself as the presenter on Trail of Tears, the Cherokee Legacy that was first featured on PBS television in 2006 and rerun earlier this year. The other actor deserving special mention is Michael Spears, who appeared in Dances With Wolves. The others I believe are commonly known, mostly from television series. One more actor I want to mention: Ralphene Rathbone, who portrays a member of the Eastern Star (the female side of the Masons), and to whom I extend much appreciation for leaving the comment on the original post that led to this update for Nance Dude fans.

15 thoughts on “update: nance dude may live again

    • Well Mage, it’s not completely clear–and that’s where the mystery lies–that Granny was guilty. Lots of people have been to the site in question and claim a tiny little woman Nance’s age (65) could never have moved those rocks in place by herself. She claimed she gave the girl to a man. We’ll never know. That’s such a bummer!

    • I am her grand daughter at the age of 85 now
      I saw her once in my life. I think she did this becuse she loved the child, She was trying to protect her by leaving her there till she could find someone to take her in and raise her. She knew she was not able to do it herself. During that time it was hard for people to survive. When we think of older people today and how they have alzimers, that could have been her problem. She may have lost track of time, because they said there was a storm. Thinking she left enoungh there for her to survie on till she could return. Her daughter, (my mother Lizzie),Roberters mother, told me that my grandmother (Nance) had went back to check on the baby and there was a big rock closing the interance to the cave and she could not get to her. I think because she thought they would think she did it on pourpose, she left well enough alone. By her thinking the child was already dead she was afraid to tell anyone. My question is if the boy had not found her. Would there have been any one ever looked for the child.

      • Hello Fannie, I’m so happy to hear from you. I imagine you have a lot more insight to what happened–stories passed down, and such–and I hope you are preserving your memories about your childhood for your children and grandchildren. I grew up in northcentral Florida in the 1950’s and while my life was happy and we had plenty to eat because we grew our own, there were few dollars left at the end of the year for luxuries. I hope no one in the world would ever have to face such hardship ever. Again, it really is wonderful to hear from Nance Dude’s direct descendant. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on my Wintersong. Hope you’ll visit again.

      • Remenber times were hard back then,I think Nance did it because she had no where to take the child,and noone would help her,When the child was left in the cave ,I truely believe God wraped his arms around her and she did not suffer,She is in heaven with God and she would never come back here.I feel sorry for Nance,I am from weastern N.C. and my grandparents went thro the hard times,I think the people from Haywood county that lived in the time did wrong by not helping Nanc and Roberta,God loves for us to help people who are down on their luck If i have a slice of bread and you are hurgy i will give you half

      • Fannie,
        I hope you get to read this. I am writing a screenplay about your grandmother. I would love to talk with you. I wrote a play (Full play as opposed to Gary’s one-woman play, which is superb) much like a Greek tragedy. I did more research and discovered new facts that Maurice Stanley missed in his book. But there are still a few holes to fill in that you might be able to help me with.

        I don’t believe your grandmother killed little Roberta at all and I’d love to talk with you about why I believe that. That is what I told in my version of the story and what my film will portray. I truly hope you get this. I live in Waynesville and can be reached at “ownahome@copper.net”.

    • Yes we do know. The child’s body was found in the cave on Utah Mountain. Granny Kerley was the only person to have been with her. Of course she did it. But the reasons why she did it are a statement to the times and conditions the woman lived in. Back then, it was definitely a man’s world. Not being married and with no assets of her own (this area was very impoverished at that time) she had to live with her daughter and her husband. When the husband said jump, they pretty much jumped. It is difficult for us to imagine today, although there are still many situations just like that. She probably had good intentions of going back and taking food and probably bringing her back, but then felt she had no choice. It was a terrible decision to make, but you have to look at the situation. She was not the only one to blame. What mother agrees to have their child taken from them and just given to a stranger or put in a home??? This story is very near and dear to me because my mother knew this little woman ….. she was scared to death of her and her pack of big black dogs …. I have seen where she lived after she was released from prison ….. I have visited her grave ….. I have seen the performance by Westall ….. a true mountain horrible story!

  1. I don’t know anything about the movie and given my experience with past efforts to capture everything from Lewis Redmond, my outlaw, to my own association with “Papa’s Angels,” I’m damned skeptical. I still shudder when I think about the mess they made of “The Bell Witch” and “Frankie Silver.” Anyway, for what it is worth … yesterday, I received the raw footage of a film that was made at Elizabeth Westall’s last performance of “Nance Dude,” and it blew me away. I have been on the phone all morning talking to Elizabeth and the filmmaker, Katie Brugger. It may take a couple of months, but this film has excellent potential. Mind you, there will only be one character in this one: Nance Dude.

    • I understand what you’re saying, Gary. It’s sometimes like that in publishing too, I hear. That’s why I don’t even bother writing for publication anymore. I write for myself and if a few other good people want to read it, I’m good with that! Some of your things, on the other hand, deserve much more attention.

  2. Hi, I just read the book Nance Dude and I can’t seem to get it out of my mind. It is such an amazing story and I feel so sad that these things have to happen and that the poor had and have to suffer so much. I really believe that if in fact she did put little Roberta in the cave and leave her it was in her mind to protect her and fully intended to come back for her. I believe in my heart she really loved that child and would never have intentionally hurt her. On page 104 in the little article from the paper the name of Mr. John Chambers is listed. Does anyone have any information on this man or know how I might find out more about him. I believe he is my husbands grandfather. Thanks for your help. Glynda

    • Hi Glenda. Thanks for taking the time to comment about Nance Dude. I had (have) the reaction about Nance Dude ever since I read the books way back when I was living in Tennessee about 15 years ago. The Nance Dude posts continue–to my eternal surprise–to attract new readers such as yourself and the author of the book himself, so while I don’t have an answer to your question about John Chambers, perhaps someone will chance in and see your comment and help. I think, like you, that in her mind Nance intended to help little Roberta, and indeed I can’t help wondering who suffered more–Nance during all those years she survived afterwards, or little Roberta who even though she was dead was spared of who knows what in those difficult times. ‘Hope you’ll stop by again and I’ll update anytime I have any news at all concerning Nance Dude.

  3. I have just completed “the legend of nance dude” I am from haywood county and my boyfriends grandmother was a Putnam before marrage. She informed me that her family believes Will Putnam and a few others took the baby on the mountain. She said that her dad was Will’s uncle. And that Will was always mean to little Roberta that he would kick her away from the table when it was time to eat. She said “Nance took the blame for killin’ that baby when she didnt do it, no sir” that “Will stuck that baby in that hole to get rid of Nance and Roberta both.” I wish I could find out the real story. She said that she knew it was the truth because Will had made his brags about it. I would like to know more it just doesnt make sense why she would do it. She loved the child enough to carry it to tennessee to have a better life then why whould she just throw her in a cave to die.

  4. Well we all can imagine what happened,My grandmother had a pic on a post card of the dead child face down in that cave, you can see it just above the cut off to Ivy Hills development on Delwood on the side of the Mountain just above the gas station, it might be harder to see as tress have grown almost over it,and it can not be visited because it is on private property The tale went Nancy Dude put her there because she could not afford to feed her, and when the baby girl was found she had been so hungry she had ate the meat off her fingers….?now she may of been stressed about looking after her, but to leave a child there to die by itself, with snakes, bugs, spiders, wild animals in the woods is pretty bad as it will ever get…, she should of killed her out right, it would of been more merciful, you give all the excuses you want, but to do this to an innocent child I would not want to stand in her shoes on judgement day, or if the Son or his Wife was involved well God knows and someone is paying today, sorry I cant feel sorry for someone who does this to a helpless child. My mom was four years old and abandoned on main street with her three older brothers,by her Mother, so at least they were where someone could find them and were all placed in different homes, by good folks that just wanted them, she grew up on a farm with good people and had a good life, this child that died was tragic she could of been taken in by folks that would of wanted her. Sorry I dont feel sympathy for any of them. I am on the child’s side.

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