James Claibourne "Clabe" Jones


James Claibourne "Clabe" Jones was born on February 14th,1826 on Arnold Fork, a branch of Beaver Creek. He was the first of seven children born to John Ray Jones born 1810 in Hawkins County, Tennessee and Rebecca (Arnold) Jones, born 1823 in Virginia. Shortly after Clabe was born the Jones family moved down Beaver about fifteen miles, to settle on another small creek. His  father  was the first man to live on this creek and gave it the name of Jones Fork. At that time this section known as Beaver Creek was sparsely settled, with only five other families living near them.       

Clabe  was a farmer and lawman by way of   occupation to support his family. Possibly it was his Military background or his approach to law enforcement that  lead to  his  eventual  life as a mountain feudist.  His  sharp-witted management  and ability to  take charge in the face of adversity was one of his most outstanding skills.

 In battle he  was an intense soldier, finely honed in the way of warfare.    His observant nature is no doubt one of the reasons that Clabe survived the feuds to outlive many of his foes.  

After the Civil War many of the men coming out of the conflict drew on courses of action they had employed in combat, taking advantage  of the circumstances availed to them. In the March term 1872 of the Bath Circuit Court, Clabe was tried and convicted to a term of  five years in the Penitentiary for a charge of horse stealing. He spent several years in the state penitentiary.  During this time he said his circumstances were that he said he was a very poor man. He said that many years ago he was married to a woman whose conduct made his life almost a burden, and who long before this conviction separated from him.  Before their separation she bore to him five children, who at that time were all alive, living with him and he was now seventy two years old. 

The numerous incidents between Claiborne Jones and  Devil John Wright resulted in  disparity  that  last  for  decades.   One  of  their Conflicts  began   when  Clabe  obtained  warrants  for  the  parties thought to have murdered Frank Salyer. The suspects were Talton Hall, Bates and _______ Johnson _____ .  But Jones had difficulty getting the sheriff, or for that matter, any of the county officers, to execute the warrants. Finding no one else agreeable he went to his old friend Dick Vance, who readily agreed to get some men and attempt an arrest.                                           

Dick Vance was born Richard R. Vance in 1855, the son of John Wesley & Martha Hall Vance. Oddly enough, Martha Hall was a daughter of William John "Gunsmith Billy" and Margaret Johnson Hall and a sister of William J. Captain "Bolen Bill" Hall who had married Florence Jones, daughter of Claiborne & Milly Martin Jones. To show how inter-mingled these families were, you can go one more generation back to find Gunsmith Billy Hall was the son of Anthony and Rutha Butler Hall and a brother of Dave Hall, who was Taltonís father. 

Vance had a score to settle with Talton Hall, since he felt Hall had made an attempt to kill him. Vance was at Federal Court in Catlettsburg, in Boyd County, Kentucky, over a matter of moon-shining.  He was staying at a hotel when he claimed he saw one of Halls men quietly enter the sleeping rooms, strike a match and examine the faces of the sleeping men.  When he passed the bed where Vance was sleeping, he went back out.  Vance, expecting trouble, had moved to another bed in different part of the building when three men returned.  They picked up the man they thought was Vance and tossed him out a third story window to hit the brick pavement below, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. The man tossed out the window proved to be John Adams of Letcher County. 

Dick Vance was quick to retaliate for the attempt on his life.  On his way home from Federal Court, he waylaid and shot Talt's brother Andrew Hall as Hall was climbing a fence carrying a bag of potatoes on his back.  Linville Higgins and Andy Slone were also thought to be involved in the killing. Not long afterward Linville Higgins was murdered near the present site of Hindman in Knott County.   

Old Dave Hall, father of Talton Hall, had been considered as a suspect in the murder of Linville Higgins.  However, Dave Hall, who was also the father of Andrew Hall, had no part in the killing, other than possibly relishing the death of one of the gang that had murdered his son.  Three men were indicted for the Higgins murder, one of which was positively identified as Wash Craft, of Letcher County.  Two other suspects were Sam Wright and Benjamin Jones.  Sam, known as "Kinky Haired Sam", was a son of Joel E. and Eliza Wright and brother of Devil John Wright.  It was also mentioned that William S. Wright was implicated in this murder.  William S. was a son of Sidney Wright and a cousin of Devil John. 

When Clabe Jones and Dick Vance went back to Floyd County they carried warrants in their pockets issued for Talton Hall and those of his gang. Clabe began his search for the wanted men, making their way to the Bates home where he knew Talton Hall was staying.  Clabe ordered his posse to get down on their bellies, and holding their guns in their hands, they crawled within forty yards of the house, stationing his themselves as best they could for concealment, using trees, rocks, and any other such obstructions that afforded them safety from gun fire.  They had been there two days and nights without sleep or anything to eat when Talt arrived. A short while later Talt picked up a chair and a newspaper to sit in the yard and read, resting the chair against the house. He was enjoying his paper when rain began to fall and he went back into the house.   

Clabe had just taken his glasses off to rest his eyes when Talt came outside, so the chance was missed by the time he had his them back on. Talton had no idea a long, blue-barreled rifle had been quickly been re-positioned and pointed directly at him and at whose butt rested the shoulder of Clabe Jones.  Clabeís eagle eye had ranged along the barrel when the rain began to drop, saving Taltís life.  In all probability the little shower of rain saved Taltís life that day.   

Clabe and his gang slipped back to his house for the night, but when the news got out that he was there with warrants, Hall and his men pulled out for John Wrights in Letcher County.  Clabe had his wife spread the information that he had gone to Ohio and as soon as the Hall gang heard of it they came back to "Fort" Bates.   

Clabe and his men also headed back to the fort.  In a short time Clabe saw two men driving a yoke of oxen that belonged to Frank Salyer.  Both of the men carried guns.  Clabe was convinced it was the very men that he wanted, Talton Hall and Bates. But Dick Vance was not as certain and said it was not them.  They allowed the men to pass by unharmed but later discovered that it was indeed Talton Hall, dressed from head to toe in Frank Salyer's clothes.

When they came to the home of German Isaacs they gained the information that Hall and Bates had just passed his house going toward "Fort" Bates.  Isaacs told Clabe that Hall had tried to kill his brother, Martin Isaacs and had run him from his home.  Jones went immediately to Martin Isaacs and secured five more men for his posse.  One of these men was Constable Abner Little. 

They were all in the house when Clabe and his men got to the fort.  Clabe knew something was up by Nellie Bates' actions.  They watched as she kept coming out to look up and down the road and then up the hill. Bill Bates and Bill Hawk Sizemore came out of the house and went up the branch behind the barn.   

Shortly thereafter, Talton Hall and his men came out of the back door of the house in a run. Clabe held his fire waiting until they came in range, then ordered them to surrender. Talt paid little attention to Clabe's command as he sprinted across the yard to take a position behind a tree.  Talt was ready for battle as he took aim at Clabe Jones, and raised his gun to fire. Clabeís favorite gun was the one he called "Old Shampee, his trusty old bear gun that he carried through the Civil War. 

But Jones fired first, the bullet striking Hall in the shoulder.  Hall was knocked down but managed to stagger to his feet and run toward the fort.  Just as Talt got to the yard, his sister Nellie Bates came out the back door, took hold of him and pulled him in the house.  By this time all of Hall's men had regained the protection of the fort.  

In the heat of the battle Talt's wife ran out and yelled, "Hurrah for Old Clabe Jones!  Kill all of them and that damned Salyer woman too!"

Clabe yelled back, "That's what I am here for."

The Bates house, constructed of thick logs, gave the few men that were trapped in the house an edge.  Their bullets did not penetrate them.  The shooting lasted for two hours and was almost a continual roar, but the Bates Clan was able to hold Jones's gang off.  One of the Jones clan, Mac Hall, was wounded in this fight and died a few days later.  Clabe was a crafty old mountain feudist and seeing he would neither kill nor capture any of the Hall gang, decided to retreat to fight another day.  The next day Constable Abner Little was waylaid on Jack's Fork in Floyd County and killed. Of course some of Talton Hall's men were suspect.  Not long after that, George Johnson, who was said to be part of the Hall gang, was murdered.  His body was found in the mountains. 

One of Jones' men, Bill Cook, surprised and captured Wash Craft near the mouth of Millstone Creek, in Letcher County. Cook assigned J. Wash Adams as a guard and put Craft on a horse behind him. They were on their way to the Hindman jail just below the mouth of Beaverdam Creek, when Wash Craft snatched a .38 revolver from Adams and fired five shots  in succession at Bill Cook. Cook died instantly.   

Wash Craft disappeared into the woods when he gained his release from his captors.  He traveled through the hills and  made his way back to his friends in Letcher County.

Finally, Devil John Wright, a shrewd mountain warrior, decided it was time that he joined the combat. In an attempt to settle the problems, he organized his men and went to see his friend James Proctor Knott, the governor of Kentucky, who was also a veteran of the Confederate Army.  Governor Knott, a Democrat, was born in Marion County, Kentucky, August 29, 1830 and served as Governor from September 5, 1883  to August 30, 1887. He studied law, and then moved to Memphis, Missouri, where he was admitted to the bar in 1851, serving as the attorney general of Missouri from 1859 to 1862. 

Wright asked Governor Knott to issue a reward for the arrest of Clabe  Jones,  citing  him  as  a  notorious  outlaw  who  had committed numerous crimes in eastern Kentucky. The  governor  proclaimed a  five  hundred dollar  reward  for Clabe's capture.  Jones planned his raid  on the  Wright faction  by  assembling a group of men, deputized them and went after Talton Hall and  John Wright, also in the name of the law.   

Clabe made his own trip to Frankfort to show Governor Knott the warrant he carried for Bad John Wright, which charged Wright with several felonies.  The governor likewise issued Clabe a five hundred dollar reward for Wright.  Jones was appointed special bailiff and set out to arrest John Wright and the Hall gang.  In effect, both feudists carried warrants for the other with both warrants signed by the same governor. 

On three occasions Clabe Jones surrounded John's house on Elkhorn Creek near the present-day town of McRoberts.  On one attack they fired into the house at dawn when the workmen were going to the barn to harness their teams. There was, however, no advance against the house and no arrests were made on this raid. Clabe Jones regrouped his men and settled on a new strategy when he next headed his men toward Letcher County. 

The clever old man had not forgotten "Fort" Bates and the poor effect his guns had shown on the log structure. His first move was to take three of his men with him and ride all the way to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he brought thirty-seven new  Winchester rifles.  He then called his men together to explain they would be traveling the forty miles, not by horse, but on foot. 

When they came within twelve miles of John Wright's house Clabe felt he should intensify his precautions and used all measures to ensure they were not noticed. They left the well-traveled roads and going to the woods, moved only at night, staying hidden by day and making small fires to cook by.   

When they were forced to cross a road Clabe told his men to not to step in the road. They were instructed to pick up  rocks and carry them with them. The rocks were placed in the road  to step on so no tracks would be left.  The last man across the road picked up the rocks and tossed them into the woods.         

Both factions had set out heavily armed and each was determined to serve their warrants.  But when Wright arrived at the Jones' "Fort", he found Clabe Jones absent from his home.  On his arrival, Jones also found the Wright "Fort" vacant of men.  Since they undoubtedly had passed each other during the night, the feudist retreated to their homes as they had come, watching for the other by day and traveling by night.                                                               

Finally the feudist met in Whitesburg, Kentucky.  John Wright and Clabe Jones talked way into the night, and even shared a room at the hotel, without their guns.  Another matter still to be settled was Linville Higgins murder Sam Wright was notified of the turn of events and came back home.  It was "Devil John" Wright who personally took his brother to Prestonsburg and saw that Wash Craft was brought to trial.  Their trial was short.  Wash Craft offered evidence that he was forty miles from the scene of the killing, working with Sam Wright.  Wright corroborated Craft's testimony. 

Other witnesses were called who also agreed with Craft as to Wright's innocence, therefore the jury returned a verdict of not guilty in a matter of minutes.  Sam went home to his wife, but Wash Craft left the mountains never to be seen again.  Jones, true to his word, took no part in the proceedings and was pleased that John Wright had also kept to the agreement.


"Clabe Jones died at age 98 on November 17, 1914 at Warren, Kentucky in Knox County.  His body was brought to Hazard for burial.  D. Y. Combs of Hazard (owner of the Combs Hotel - later Grand Hotel). The father of D. Y. Combs had once been captured and court marshaled by some of Jones' men for some offense.  They had decided to kill Combs until Clabe Jones arrived.  Clabe stated that Combs should be spared.  From that time on Combs had always instructed his son D. Y. to treat Clabe Jones well.  D. Y. Combs, one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Eastern Kentucky at the time of the death of Jones arranged for Clabe Jones to be buried in his private cemetery (behind the Hazard Fire Department on Cornell).  On that fall day in 1914 a large number of people turned out for the funeral of James Clayborne Jones in Hazard, Kentucky."


Old Clabe Jones, who had taken part in so many bloody conflicts, spent the last years of his life in peace.  He put his feuding days behind him forever, when he at last joined the church to become a quiet citizen of Knox County.  The man who had dealt out law and order with his gun had lived past the ripe old age of 90 years. 


The material on this web page holds a copyright ©2001 by Nancy Wright Bays & Patty May Brashear


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