John Wesley Wright

The Law Of Pine Mountain



John Wright, native of Letcher County, Kentucky, was generally known as "Bad" John Wright, also as "Devil John", descriptions that were warmly used by his neighbors and friends. These nicknames were also attributed to him by his enemies, but assuredly in 'not so warm' a manner.  It was common knowledge that to have lawman John Wright tracking an outlaw was to have the Devil himself at their heels and though this was an attribute among those of good moral fiber, it made John an enemy of the more despicable. There were other nicknames associated with him, such as "The Tall Sycamore", and most frequently in Eastern Kentucky... "The Law Of Pine Mountain".  Undeniably John Wright in essence was the law in Letcher and Pike and surrounding Counties. It was John Wright that the citizens of the county looked to when law and order needed to be enforced.


Court rooms came to peaceable order with Devil John's presence at the back of the courtroom, and his quiet word, "Your Honor, you can go along with proceedings now. I will be staying around for a while."


John B Wesley 'Devil John' Wright was born on the Kentucky River near Kona in Letcher County, Kentucky on May 17, 1844. John died January 30, 1931 at Horse Gap, Pound, Wise County, Virginia. A chapter of South Eastern Kentucky history exploded between those dates of 1844 and 1931, with wars and tribulations splitting open the very seams of family life of everyone living there.


John was the second child born to Joel Ellis and Eliza Agnes Bates Wright, which made him a grandson of two of Letcher County's most prominent pioneer families, the Joel Wright and John Wallis Bates families.



There are three men who must be mentioned when discussing the life  of  John Wright,  Talton Hall, Claibourne  Jones and Marshall Benton Taylor.  Talton Hall, the  son of  Dave Hall of Floyd  County, Kentucky, was "Devil John" Wright's best friend.  Talt was wanted for numerous murders,  but  even though most of John's life was spent as a lawman, he made no attempt to arrest him.  James Claibourne  "Clabe" Jones  of Beaver Creek held a long feud with "Devil John". Each had their own gang of men and would often raid the others home. There is an account of both men planning a raid for the same night and passing each other in the darkness.  Marshall  Benton Taylor,  more  commonly known as "The  Red  Fox," was a herb doctor and delivered many babies throughout the mountains.   It is said that "Doc" Taylor also had a dark side and was the central figure in the murders of the Ira Mullins family. These murders which are referred to as  "The Pound Gap Massacre," took place at a site known today as  "Killing Rock,"  which is located just across the Kentucky state line in Wise County, Virginia.  


Several books and numerous newspaper articles have been written about  "Devil John" Wright. The character Devil Judd Tolliver, in the novel "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" by John Fox, Jr., was based on the life of John Wright.  "Devil John Wright of the Cumberland’s" is  a  history  of  John's life  that  was  written  by his son,  William  Troy "Chid" Wright.  John had 31 children by several different women. At this time two marriage records have been located for John Wright. His first marriage to Martha "Mattie" Humphrey, (bond File #5869), dated l4 October l866, is on file at the Courthouse in Cynthiana, Kentucky and his second marriage was to Ellen Sanders, on September 8, 1924 at Water Gap in Floyd County, Kentucky.


John served as Sheriff of Wise County, Virginia and was at one time a Pinkerton Agent.  It was from these many years as a lawman that he gained the nickname of "Devil John".  It was said that when tracking an enemy or an outlaw, John never relented until he got his man... thus to be chased by John Wright was to have the Devil himself  at your heels.'  John joined the Civil War prior to his 17th birthday as a member of the Confederate Army and remained in the service throughout the war. Afterward, John and his Uncle Martin VanBuren Bates joined the Robinson Circus.  John performed as a trick rider and  sharp shooter and  Martin as "The Kentucky Mountain Giant". 



Children of John & Mattie Humphrey       


l.  James Henderson Wright, b. 23 May l865, d. 3 Aug l928 m/l Laura Belle Whitaker,

     m/2 Cora Fleming Mullins.        

2.  Johnny Philip Wright, b. l9 Aug l875, d. l2 Sep l898, m /1Mary Chaney Reynolds, 

       m/2 Alice M Johnson.

3.  Joel Wright,  b. l870 


Children of John & Margaret J. Austin:


4.  Mahala E. Wright, b. about l866

5.  Mack Jesse Wright, b. about l872 


Children of John & Serilda Austin: 


6.  Enoch F. Wright, b. l7 Feb l869, d.  5 Aug l952 ,m. Louisa Warwick

7.  James Martin Wright,  b. 29 May l872 , d .l Oct l950, m. Alice M. Johnson


Children of John & Mary Fleming Bentley:


8.   Flora Custus Wright, b. 27 Apr l876,  m. Emmett Cantrell

9.   Liza Wright.  b. 29 Jun l878,  m. Sam Vanover

10.  Alice Wright,  b. 25 Oct l88l,  m/l Allen Burton,  m/2 John Houston    

11.  Elizabeth, b l0 Aug l885 d 25 May l97l m Riley Mullins

12.  Easter Wright, b. l6 Feb l884, m/l Wade Ratliff, m/2 James Bryant

l3.  Samuel Preston Wright, b. 25 Oct l888, m Mahala Branham

l4  Myrtle Wright, b. Sept l892, d. Jan l922, m Charles Meeks

l5.  John Wright Jr., died in infancy 


Children of John & Ellen Sanders       


l6.  Joel E.  Wright, b. 29 Jun l883, m Mary Reynolds

l7.  Daniel S. Wright, b. 23 May l885, d. 23 May l964, m. Melvina Mullins

l8.  Healtha Wright, b. 2 May l887, d.  l939, m Ben Mullins

l9.  Joel "Ira" E. Wright, b. l2 Jun l889, d. Feb 1955, m. Martha Vermillion    


Children of John & Alice Lee Harmon:


20.  Frank Wampler Wright, b. l Aug l894, m. Bertha Adams

21.  Bertha Wright, b. 26 Jan l896, d. 3l Jan l974, m. Willie Church

22.  William Troy Wright, b. 5 Aug l897, d. l9 Apr l985, m. Belle Maynard

23.  Conrad W.  Wright, b. l0 Sep l899, d. l903      

24.  Mallie Wright, b. about 1900

25.  Elizabeth Wright, b. 8 Oct  l901, d. l902

26.  Clarence Wright, b. 24 Sep l903, d. l0 Oct l979, m. Alta Mullins

27.  Chester A. Wright, b. l0 Oct l905, d. in infancy

28.  Carlous Ray Wright, b. 26 May l907, m. Ida Rutherford

29.  Maudie Belle Wright, b. 27 Aug l909, d. l987, m. Orville Bevins

30.  Charles Roe Wright, b. 7 Feb l9l2, m. Belvia Gibson

31.  Kedrick C. Wright, b. 7 Aug l9l5, d. Jun l983, m. Eleda Robinette