New Year’s Eve Dance Turns Deadly

By Stephen D. Bowling

It was supposed to be a festive celebration of the changing of the year from 1915 to 1916. Announcements and invitation cards circulated throughout Jackson for weeks before the event. It was supposed to be an exclusive event in order to keep out the “rabble-rousers” who usually disrupted social events in Jackson.

One Jackson resident who attended the event was a well-known local man connected with several prominent families. Hannibal Hurst was born on June 1, 1884, to William Landsaw and Isabelle (Duff) Hurst. The grandson of some of Breathitt County’s wealthiest and earliest settled, Hurst was a jovial and well-liked young man who was known for his wit and charm. His father, William Landsaw Hurst, was a prominent attorney in Jackson and served as a Captain in the Union Army during the Civil War.

A view of the Hogg Building on Main Street. The Breathitt Lidge #649 F&AM was located on the thrid floor of the building in 1915.

Hust was educated in the Breathitt County School system and later attended Jackson Academy under the tutelage of John J. Dickey. On September 30, 1907, the Post Master of the United States appointed Hannibal Hurst to the position of Post Master at Wilhurst and a “prominent capitalist.” He served several months and resigned to take a position as a clerk in a store at Jackson.

On December 31, 1915, Hurst presented his admission ticket at the door and entered the party in the Masonic Lodge Hall on the top floor of the Hogg Building on Main Street. The night went well. Those who attended reported that the evening was filled with dancing and games. Then several shots rang out.

After the chaos settled and the screams ended, Hannibal Hurst could be seen through the smoke lying on the floor of the anteroom. He was riving in pain and clutching his abdomen. They immediately called for several; local doctors who rushed to the scene. A special L&N trail was prepared, and he was rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington. He died at 11:40 a.m. on the morning of January 2, 1916.

The Jackson Times ran a long article announcing Hurst’s death:

Hannibal Hurst Mortally Wounded

Shot at New Year’s Eve Ball by Robert Forbes

Dies in Lexington Hospital at 11:40 O’clock Sunday Morning

What promised to be one of the most brilliant social successes ever given by Jackson’s young people turned out to be one of the very saddest affairs that has occurred in Jackson’s whole checkered career.  Under the auspices of a number of young girls of the town some of the young men organized a New Year Eve dance in the Hogg building, on Main street.  Admittance was arranged to be by card to be presented at the door and nobody was invited, nor was it intended that anyone by there not having a card.

Among those present were some of the finest young ladies in the State and a number of young men, too many of whom had the smell of liquor on their breath.  But all went on peaceably and without particular incident until 1:40 o’clock on the morning of Saturday, January 1, when the ballroom was turned into a pandemonium by a fusillade of firearms in an anteroom to the hall where the dancing was at the time going on.  When the shooting was over and those left in and about the building had taken an inventory it was found that Hannibal Hurst, one of the most prominent young men of this section, had been shot and dangerously wounded.  Physicians were hurriedly called and an examination showed that Hurst had been struck near the navel and the bullet had lodged in the body. 

Mr. Hurst had a sister present and she and friends directed that a special train be hastily prepared and the wounded man, at 2:20 a.m., left for a Lexington hospital, where he arrived after a swift and safe trip, and was at once upon the operating table, and under the knife in the hands of two great surgeons he was operated upon, and, because of what the operation disclosed, the surgeons held out no hope to the young man’s friends. 

The pistol ball had punctured the intestines eleven times and the bleeding, because of the small puncture made by the bullet on entering the body and the long ride to Lexington, made it a very precarious case, with most all the chances against the wounded man, and so it turned out, Hurst dying Sunday morning at 11:40, after making a statement that Robert Forbes, a young man, 18 years of age, shot him–that the first shot was the one that took effect and killed him.

Young Forbes is of unsavory reputation and has been considered dangerous by about all who know him.  He and Hurst were and had been friendly and were often “kidding” each other, Hurst having in him a boyish habit of joking and playing, and it is likely that out of something of this kind came the terrible result.  There has been a story that Hurst was shot by a friend and relative who was trying to aid him in his struggle on the floor, but is never was well-grounded, and the statement made by the dying man to his brother that Forbes shot him seems to settle that part of the matter.  Forbes fled to the roof of the building adjoining and, standing off a deputy sheriff with his pistol, sent for Marshall Davidson and surrendered.  It is said that two chambers of the pistol were loaded.  Davidson took the young man to jail, where he has had time to cool off and face what he is up against.

Forbes will be strongly prosecuted and his mother has some strong and determined people who will see that he has a defense, and it is hoped that both sides will only want a fair and impartial trial.

One of the sad things in connection with the affair is the wrong done to the town and its young people, many of whom are equal to the best to be found anywhere.  Here was a social gathering that had only a harmless entertainment in view, and our young people must have some social life.  To this selected gathering comes a young boy with wrong views of what a young man should be–under the influence of liquor and on his person a pistol, two things which should never have been at the place.  He was not alone in bringing to this social gathering liquor on his Breathitt and a pistol in his pocket, as there were others present who had the smell of whisky on their breaths, and developments show that a coal bucket would likely not have held the pistols that were on the persons of those who were in attendance. 

Mark up another one to pistols and liquor.

The Jackson Times, January 7, 1916, page 1

Before he died, Hurst, fearing that the end was near, told his brother, Julius Caesar Hurst, what had happened at the dance. According to Hannibal Hurst’s version of events, he and Chester Duff left the Lodge Room and walked out to the anteroom. he said that Robert Forbes walked up to him and grabbed his shoulder in “a seemingly friendly manner.” Hust said that he took Forbes’ arm in the same manner.

Hannibal Hurst said that Forbes launched into a “strong oath” and stepped back into a dark corner of the room and started firing. The first shot hit Hurst in the abdomen. Forbes fired several more shots and Hurst pull his pistol and fired into the darkness of the room where Forbes had been.

Hannibal Hurst’s body was taken from the Good Samaritan Hospital the W. R. Milward Funeral Home. After he was embalmed, the body was shipped by train to Jackson on January 3. The family took the body from Jackson to the family home at Wilhurst where he was buried in the family cemetery. The body was later exhumed and reburied in the Lexington Cemetery with the rest of the family.

Hannibal Hurst’s tombstone at the Lexington Cemetery.

Robert Forbes was arrested and indicted on murder charges. A jury of his peers found Forbes guilty on April 14, 1916, after two days of deliberations. They sentenced him to 10 years in prison. He appealed the case and won a new trial in July 1916. The new trial was moved to Lexington, where he was found guilty once again and sentenced to prison but was given 16 years.

The report of Robert Forbes’ sentencing from page 15 of The Lexington Leader of the April 14, 1916 edition.
Governor August O. Stanley

In a remarkable twist in the case, Governor Augustus Owsley Stanley pardoned Forbes on August 22, 1917, on the condition that he enlist in the United States Army and serve in World War I. Forbes had his record cleared, and he had his full citizenship restored.

Robert Lindsay Forbes lied to officials and did not enlist in the army. Instead, he took a job with the L&N Railroad. He was killed in a train collision on January 8, 1918, on his very first run on a train as a fireman. He is buried in the Lexington Cemetery, not far from Hannibal Hurst.

© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County, Murder and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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