As The Storms Abated........
There are names that will be forever remembered in the chronicles of Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia.
"Devil" John Wright, James Claibourne Jones, Dr. Marshall Benton "Doc" Taylor, "Bad "Talton Hall, William S. Wright, John and Noah Reynolds, Ira Mullins, Henan and Calvin Fleming, "Big" Ed Hall. In some fashion, each have left their mark on the history of Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia. Although decades have passed since these men were born, lived unrestrained lives, then passed on, the tales of their lifestyles, clashes and survival have yet to disappear. The stories they left have not been lost, but have remained, to be remembered and continued on to yet another generation.
In his older years after his feuding days had come to and end, Devil John Wright was asked the number of men he had killed outside the war. John answered, "Seven. Seven I have killed, and I feel that I done my duty. Some killing had to be done back in them terrible days just after the war. There were too many horse thieves and murderers. But I always gave a man a chance. Many a time I was shot at before I raised a gun."
John Wright received two severe wounds during his service in the army. The first wound was a shot through his hip with a heavy ball and the other was in the lower abdomen and thighs with a shotgun. He was shot through his right arm at the Daniels Hill fight during his feuding days with James Claibourne Jones. He was also shot by an adversary which resulted in the loss of the sight in his left eye.
There were many stories, newspaper articles and several books written about the life of John Wright. Probably the most noted was the book John Fox, Jr.'s novel, "The Trail of The Lonesome Pine". Fox was frequent visitor at John Wright's home. It was known that John's home served as a stop over for travelers. In later years reporters, anxious to hear him talk about his experiences, frequently visit John often.
One reporter asked John about the lonesome pine in Fox's book. Wright took the man to the site of where the pine once stood. John told him, "Son, the lonesome pine was cut down and sawed into lumber. Some of it was used for beams in that old water mill you might have seen down there at the side of Pound village."
"Devil" John Wright, who was also known as "The Law of Pine Mountain," put away his guns July 24th, 1929 when he was baptized into the Regular Baptist Church. Thousands of people attended, both friends and some not so friendly. There were huge crowds at the hangings of Talton Hall and Doc Taylor and a large gathering at the funeral of Ed Hall, but the greatest assembly of people till then in the Cumberland’s, went to see "Devil" John Wright baptized.
Nearing the age of 90 years, the "Mountain Lawman" passed away January 30th, 1931 at his home at the North Fork of the Pound River. He was put to rest in a casket which he had directed a local carpenter, S. E. Looney, to make, nearly twelve years earlier. He had walnut lumber sawed from his vast timber lands and a casket was constructed at the shops of the Consolidated Coal Company at Jenkins, under the supervision of J. G. Pendleton, who was connected with the company.
On February 1, 1931, his funeral was preached by the Reverend Ira Mullins and Mack Cantrell of his church. He was buried on the hill above his home at Pound.
A local newspaper gave the following account of the death of "Devil" John Wright:
Bad John Wright, Noted Mountain Gun-Fighter, Goes Over "Trail Of The Lonesome Pine" For Last Time.
"Tall Sycamore" Of The Elkhorn Dies At Pound.
Reported to have killed 25 men while he was in Office, lightning
draws made him feared by outlaws, was character in John Fox's
Novel, friend says. Conquered by death, the only enemy whose
stamina and strength he has ever been unable to overcome,
"Devil Judd Tolliver" went over the "Trail Of The Lonesome Pine" for the
last time Sunday accompanied by a squad of sturdy mountaineers
who had learned to love the noted man-hunting
gun fighter in his last years.
In the rolling, picturesque Cumberland's where he first saw
The towering verdant forests and the purple rhododendron
almost a century ago, John W. Wright, widely known as
"Bad John" Wright, reputed to have killed from twenty-five to thirty
outlaws during the time he kept guard over the then wild and lawless
section of Kentucky and Virginia, was lowered into the cold, rough and stony
ground in a home made casket, constructed from the trees which
once gave him shelter from the bullets of his enemies.
James Claiborne Jones
Old Clabe Jones, who had taken part in so many bloody conflicts, spent the last years of his life in peace. Clabe Jones and John Wright had met and made amends. There was no more strife between them. Clabe put his feuding days behind him forever, when he joined the church and 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. At the last of his life, Clabe, then mellowed and living comfortably in Warren, Knox County Kentucky, passed away quietly November 17, 1914, at the age of 98 years.
His body was taken to Hazard, Kentucky, where a significant number of family, friends and onlookers came to pay their last respects the day of James Clayborne Jones funeral. Clabe's reign had been established as a lawman and mountain feudist, the man who had been so much a part of the founding of eastern Kentucky was no more.
Ira Mullins came to his death by way of assassins' bullets and was buried in a cemetery over looking Jenkins, Kentucky. This graveyard, first established as the Potter or Mullins Cemetery, came to be known, and is today still known, as "Murdered Man Cemetery." It is located on the Mayo Trail highway near the Camden section and reputedly contains the graves of twenty-five persons who were murdered in the old days of feuds along the Elkhorn Creek and the Virginia border. Ira's grave and that of his wife is marked. Also to be found at this cemetery are the graves of the others who were killed at Pound Gap, Virginia. Buried in a straight line out to the right are the graves, unmarked in any way, of Wilson Mullins, John Chapple and Greenberry Harris.
Dr. Marshall Benton "Doc" Taylor met death at the end of a hangman's noose. at 2:20, October 27, 1893. Whether the murders he was accused of were rightly attributed remains a matter of discussion to this day. What is known, is that the man with the reddish brown hair and whiskers, "The Red Fox", who was then unique in every way, remains till present day matchless. Doc's life ended that day at Wise, but the accounts of his life will continue as long as there are story tellers to relate it.
At least one of these men did not gain rest even in death. The following article was taken from "The Richmond Dispatch":
IRA MULLINS GRAVE DESECRATED
Ghouls Dynamite the Remains
Clintwood, Virginia. August 15. The grave of Ira Mullins, the man
who was murdered near Pound Gap last spring, has lately been
desecrated in an inhuman manner. Some ghoulish wretch blew the
grave up with dynamite or some other explosive substance.....
exposing the remains of the murdered man. In life he had some
terrible enemies and their vengeance is not yet satisfied.
The lives of Dr. Marshall Benton "Doc" Taylor, and "Bad" Talton Hall, the notorious outlaw came to their end on the gallows in Wise County, Virginia.
…………..Or did they?
Just as the stories of their warfare was handed down, there were other stories repeated. From parent to child, their stories have been told and retold. And from original telling till present day it has been suggested that neither of these men actually died on the gallows at Wise County, Virginia.
The tales of Doc's escape are plausible. Tales of the trap door of the gallows being rigged so he could escape the hangman were circulated and are still related in the mountains. Another version of the hanging relates the tale of Doc putting on a disguise to walk out beside the casket when it was taken to the cemetery. It is fact that Doc asked that he be allowed to dress completely in white for hanging, including a white hood to cover his face and head. His wish being granted, his wife, Nancy Booth Taylor, made him complete suit of white linen, even to the cap and thongs to tie his hands. It is remembered that he walked up the gallows steps unassisted, stepping onto the trapdoor. Until this time he was still wearing a new brown derby had which was replaced with the white cap later.
Another boost to this version of the story arises from the fact Doc was a Freemason, as were the attending Dr. Cherry and sixteen other men that were in the inside the enclosure. Doctor Cherry’s personal account was that Doc was not hanged, while others stated a Mason had never been known to hang in Wise County.
Doc’s descendants recount tales of Doc being taken away from the area to be hidden from the prying eyes of the law. In fact, family historians know Sylvan Samuel Taylor, his father, William P. and five other families did leave Duffield, Virginia in September of 1892. They traveled by teams and wagons to Salina, Missouri. Five of the wagons turned back along the way, leaving just two families to continue the trip. Records show Doc Taylor's mother, Mary "Polly" (Stallard) was living in Salina in 1892. It is believed that Doc became a law officer there and this is where he died.
In any event, all these men have met their destiny, if not by natural causes, then by gun or hang man's noose. The thundering sound of clamoring hoof-beats and the bellowing roar of discharging guns that once reverberated through the valleys of Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia has been silenced. These desperadoes no longer wander the hills in search of prey. The keen eyed lawmen that hunted such criminals are no more. The well trod mountain trails they traveled have grown faint, returning to the mountains as they dim with the passage of time.
Time has passed.
Life moves on.
On July 25, 1981, Nancy Wright Bays had the opportunity to talk with Mrs. Adeline Wright Brown of Letcher County. Nancy had met Orville Wright, who had been a great help with additional family names, giving dates of birth, death, where they lived and their location, and where they were buried. Orville lived at McRoberts in Letcher County. He suggested we meet with Adeline and was nice enough to take us to her home. Adeline could easily remember Devil John Wright and related several interesting stories about the family. With the two of them trading stories, the exchange between Adeline and Orville was fascinating.
The Interview had ended and the tape recorder reluctantly turned off, when they began one last conversation about Devil John Wright. The recorder was quickly turned back on and they were in the middle of Adeline talking about when John would come to stay with her father, Joel Wright.
".........and he'd say to Poppy… he'd say, "Joel do you ever say your prayer when you go to bed? And Poppy said,
"Ahh... no, .... sometimes.
"John said, "I say my prayer every night." And I guess he did. I know he did when he was in our house. He use to stay at
our house a many a night. But he wasn't near bad like people called him… was he Orville. He was a good feller… he sure
was. He stayed with us a many of a’night.
Wright Roots-Bates Branches