John Fox, Jr.

Author of "The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine"

And his connection to the Wright Family of Letcher County, Kentucky



                                                                                               Image 1 John Fox THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE 1908 HC Illust!



Along with being an accomplished writer, John Fox, Jr.  was also a Bourbon County, Kentucky teacher, surveyor,  botanist  and geologist.  He volunteered  as  a  soldier during the Spanish American War  and  was  selected  as  a  member of  Colonel Theodore  Roosevelt's  famous  Rough  Riders.  Fox wrote twelve best-selling books and forty-five  short  stories, researching his books by visiting with and staying at the homes of many he wrote about.  During the twenty-five years he was writing he made  numerous  trips  into  the  remote sections  of Letcher, Perry, Pike, Bell, Clay,  Harlan  and  Leslie Counties.  By taking residence in the  immediate  area,  Fox became well accustomed to the feuds and violence that was happening in the Eastern Kentucky area.  

John Fox, Jr, was a handsome man who was usually thought to be older than he was. At a gathering he seldom lead a conversation but chose instead to sit and listen, paying close attention to what others were saying,  He was captivated with the speech and delightful descriptions of everyday life the mountain people used and had the ability to mold these ordinary accounts into stories. His knack to quietly listen gained him friendship with the mountain people of South East Kentucky. 

John Wright was a guard at the Wise County jail when John  Fox, Jr., a geologist by profession, who had also written a novel or two by that time, came to  know  him.   John Wright was a Kentucky peace officer but was also helping The Consolidation Coal Company buy land options in Letcher and Pike Counties. The two men became friends and as the custom of John Fox, Jr, he frequently visited and stayed at John Wright's home.                     

It was upon John Wright's experiences that Fox based his character "Devil Judd Tolliver", with Wright's lifelong friend Talton Hall, the notorious outlaw, depicted as "Bad Rufe" in his book "The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine."  Dr. Marshall Benton Taylor was characterized as "The Red Fox,"  a nickname which he  in fact carried throughout his real life.  Set in the Appalachian Mountains at the turn of the twentieth century, nearly each character in this novel was a portrayal of a person living in the Letcher area. The character June was the exception, being a composite of several women.  The basis of the book was a feud that had been boiling for over thirty years between two influential mountain families: the Tolliver's and the Falin's.  It tells the story of a railroad engineer who inadvertently fans the flames of an ancient family feud when he arrives to build a line through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The outside world and industrialization, are beginning to enter the area when coal mining begins to exert its influence on the area, despite the two families' feuds. Entering the area, enterprising John Hale captures the attention of the beautiful June Tolliver, and inadvertently becomes entangled in the region's politics.

John Fox Jr.'s 1908 romance novel Trail of the Lonesome Pine became Fox's most successful, and was included among the top ten list of best-selling novels for 1908 and 1909. The novel was adapted numerous times for both stage and screen, the most notable being a 1916 silent Cecil B. DeMille production and a 1936 adaptation helmed by Henry Hathaway.  In 1936 the book was made into a movie which carried the same name and was the first feature to be shot outdoors in Technicolor.  It was also awarded the Venice Film Festival Award for Best Color Film. Hathaway's version marked the first time the Technicolor process was used for outdoor filmmaking. This 1936 version was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for Louis Alter and Sidney D. Mitchell's "A Melody for the Sky."  Several well-known actors, such as Henry Fonda, Sylvia Sidney, Fred McMurry, Nigel Bruce, "Fuzzy" Knight, and "Spanky" McFarland were featured in the movie.   



Trail of The Lonesome Pine Sheet Music




                                                       Trail of the Lonesome Pine Sheet Music Cover




              Tobacco card from the movie                                  

                                                             similar to the baseball cards of today.


George 'Spanky' McFarland as Buddie Tolliver


Some interesting John Fox, Jr. sites:

The John Fox, Jr. Museum - Big Stone Gap, Virginia


The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama - Big Stone Gap, Virginia


The material on this website is copyrighted (C) 2010 Nancy Wright Bays & Patty May Brashear  

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April 2011