The August 1921 Election Shooting In Neon



     The next election shooting deaths to happen in Letcher County after the 1914 election shooting deaths on Rockhouse Creek took place in Neon. The primary and school trustee elections had just ended and the results had come in when this incident happened. The shooting is described in the excerpts of the newspaper articles shown below.




Excerpt of an article from the August 8, 1921 Louisville Courier Journal.




Clans In Mountains Arming After Letcher Countians Battle to Death.


        Two men killed in a duel over the election, the nomination of a number of women for office, and the defeat of many erstwhile political favorites—these were outstanding features of yesterday’s report on the election.


      Sam J. Wright, policeman, and Alvin Bentley, political adherent, met yesterday afternoon in the streets of  Neon, in the mountain county of  Letcher. They got into an argument over defeated candidates


They drew revolvers. Shots were exchanged and both men were dead when bystanders reached their bodies. Each was shot several times. Wright, 70 years old, had taken part in many battles.


      Reports from Letcher County last night indicated further trouble, as members of the Wright and Bentley families were known to be arming.


End of excerpt.






Excerpt of an article from the August 8, 1921 Lexington Herald.




Both Fall After First Volley.


Bodies Riddled With Bullets.


Aged Victim Was Survivor of Feud Wars.


    Whitesburg, Ky., August 7.—Trouble resulting from yesterdays primary election caused a double tragedy at Neon, Letcher county, this afternoon when Sam J. Wright, policeman of Neon, and Alvin Bentley, resident of Neon, were fatally injured in a pistol duel on the street. Words were exchanged between the two opposing candidates who had been defeated. According to witnesses both the men then drew revolvers and opened fire. Several shots were exchanged, both falling mortally wounded, each shot several times. Both died within a few minutes. Wright, who is a brother of John W. Wright, was about  70 years old. He was one of the best known men of old feud days. He is survived by his wife and several grown children. Bentley was about 40 years old. He is survived by his wife and three children.


    Reports from Neon indicate further trouble. Members of the Wright and Bentley families are said to be arming.


End of excerpt.





       The  Fall primary election of 1921 was, like so many elections of that time, a hard fought and intense election resulting  in a great deal of bitterness.  It was on Sunday, August 7, 1921, that Sam Wright, who was a city policeman at Neon, Kentucky, had an argument with Alvin “Dabber” Bentley over the results of the previous day’s election.  According to some sources their disagreement had to do with the school trustee race. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the disagreement had only occurred in the days prior to the shooting, no one other than Sam Wright and Dabber Bentley were familiar with the details of their dispute.  The argument escalated, becoming so intense that they squared off from one another near the railroad tracks in Neon, drew their pistols, and began firing at one another. Witnesses present later stated that there was a verbal exchange between the two men just before the shooting. One of them yelled, “You went against me!” and the other replied, “No I didn’t!” Again, the exact details are not known. They both died shortly after the shooting. Dabber Bentley, who was red-headed,  was a local barber.


      Some sources claim that, contrary to what was stated in the newspaper articles,  Sam Wright was left standing after Alvin “Dabber” Bentley had died at the scene of the shooting, and that Sam Wright, clutching his stomach, staggered home and died there about fifteen minutes later.  His house was not that far from the scene of the shooting, so this may well have been the case. Other sources say that Sam Wright, in his capacity as a Neon policeman, was out looking for a stolen car belonging to John Wright. (This John Wright was the brother of Tilden Wright and Dr. B. F. Wright. He was a merchant at the time of the shooting with a store in Neon.)  It was suspected that this car had been stolen by a local young man, and Sam Wright, taking advantage of the time when few people would be out and about, was out looking along a back road near the railroad track when he encountered Dabber Bentley and they got into an argument over politics. At the beginning of the gun fight a parked car may have been between them before they moved out into the open. One of them may have inadvertently shot into this car.  Sadly, Sam Wright’s wife, Martha,  heard the gun shots while attending church and later said that she knew the gun shots she heard involved her husband, since he was the city policeman.


       This was a strange end for Sam Wright, who had skirted death several times during his long life. By this time of his life the old feuding days were long behind him and the dangers associated with those times seemed remote and far removed. After all that had happened and all he had managed to escape, violence again came forward and this time took him forcefully from this life.


       The newspaper accounts mention that  this mutual killing nearly led to a feud between the Bentley’s closely related to Alvin “Dabber” Bentley, and the Wrights, who were closely related to Sam Wright. There was indeed some chance of serious trouble between these two families, but cooler minds prevailed and the fact that the two dueling men had killed one another had, in effect, already evened the score. There was no compelling reason for there to be a continuation of this trouble and it went no further. Bad John Wright had been involved in ending this dispute, and from sources who knew him, Sam Wright and others involved in this, we have the following details.  Soon after the deaths of Sam Wright and Dabber Bentley, Bad John Wright went to Zach Bentley, who was Dabber Bentley’s uncle, and said to Zach, “Now Dabber and Sam’s dead and they ain’t no use in killing one another.”   So Bad John Wright was involved in this sad incident, not as a combatant, but only as a peace maker.  He was an elderly man by this time and his health was not good. At seventy-two years of age and partially blind in one eye, it would have been difficult for Bad John Wright to engage in any kind of feuding. Neither Bad John Wright nor Zach Bentley could see any reason for this tragedy to lead to more trouble.


     The deaths of Sam Wright and Alvin “Dabber” Bentley were a tragic loss to each of their families.



    Several of the sources used here are: The late Joe Mize, the late Tilden Wright, the late Dr. B. F. Wright,  recordings of the late Martha R. Wright, widow of Sam Wright and others. 






The Mountain Eagle Friday August 12, 1921

Vol. 14      #24


Terrible Tragedy


 As a probably result of the election held Saturday, on Sunday a  terrible and heart sickening tragedy was enacted at Neon. Police  officer Sam J. Wright and Dabber Bentley met on the railroad tracks in the town and after exchanging a few words drew arms and shot each other to death. Bentley died within a short while after the shooting and twenty minutes afterward Wright was a dead man, both belonged to two of our oldest families. Bentley was a son of John Bentley, a citizen of Neon, was married and has a wife and several children. He was about 30 years of age.


 Sam Wright was the youngest of the late Joel Wright and resided on the old farm on head of the river until a few years ago, when he sold it and moved to Neon.  He leaves a widow who was the daughter of the later Henry C. Reynolds and a sister to Bill Reynolds. Republican nominee for jailer

 of our county. He was about 60 years of age. He leaves several grown sons who are prominent citizens and a daughter, the wife of Willie Quillen, who made a gallant and near-winning fight for circuit judge.  Sam Wright was a highly intelligent man, one of the best mechanic in this section and numbered his friends by his acquaintances. He was loved by them. He knew no fear seldom lost control of himself amid the direst danger.


We extend sympathies to all the friends of the two families.




 February 2011


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The material on this website is copyrighted (C) 2011 by Nancy Wright Bays,  Patty May Brashear  & Ben Luntz




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