The Mystery Of Mack Jessee Wright


    By: Barbara Austin Giacomelli





















                                                                           Mack Jessee Wright



     In July 2009, my cousin Nancy Austin Beil and I  took a road trip through eastern Kentucky, parts of Virginia and West Virginia.  Our  purpose was to retrace the life of our grandfather, Mack Jessee Austin.  This story is a combination my research and interviews with several different people including some family members we  visited on our trip. 


     Mack Jessee Austin and his sister Mahala are the children of Margaret Jane Austin  from  Pound, Wise, Virginia and Devil John Wright from Kentucky.  Margaret is the daughter of Pioneer Jessee Austin and granddaughter of Bartholomew Austin.  She is buried in the Austin Cemetery at “South of Mountain” Pound, Virginia  Nancy and I visited this beautiful cemetery with the help of Willard Mack Wright, a cousin on the Wright side of the family.  The cemeteries in this country are not well marked so it was very helpful to have Willard with us.  He has lived his entire life there and is related to almost everyone!    The Austin Family Cemetery is impressive.  It sits on the top of a knoll overlooking the surrounding countryside. The site for this cemetery was chosen by Anne Reeves Austin m. to Bartholomew and  is beautifully maintained by Austin family members who still live in that area.  Margaret shares an elaborate headstone with her sister Ann.





     Census records and Margaret’s death certificate tell us she  lived out her life as an unmarried  woman  raising her two  children  and  keeping  house for others.  The  inscription on her headstone reads: “Thy trail is ended thy rest is won.”

Life must have  been   difficult   for Margaret as  a  single parent  during the Reconstruction Era, in a place that had been ravaged by both Union and Confederate soldiers.  The “Pound” as it is referred to by  the locals,  had  a reputation of being a place of violence.

    Pound got its name because of a huge millstone that made a loud pounding noise as it worked to grind the bags of corn brought in by the locals. The late author John Fox wrote several stories in which he describes feuds between the different clans of the people who lived in these mountains.  Men who were heavily armed with hand guns and rifles would race their horses at a full gallop through the town wildly discharging their firearms and terrifying the townspeople.  The gun was law and disputes were settled by  shooting.  In the midst of this hardness and feuding Mack Jesse’s childhood was shaped. 


     During our journey, Nancy and I met many “cousins” from the Wright family tree.   I had the opportunity to visit with people who remembered our grandfather Mack Jessee Austin.  Some remember him as Mack Wright.   From the stories I heard,  Mack challenged his mother to the point where one family member said Margaret was so beside herself that she tied Mack up to a bedpost and whipped him.  Then, when Mack was a teenager, it seems he actually robbed his Uncle Bill Austin’s store.   Margaret called the law and had him carted off to jail.  An 1890’s newspaper accounting tells about Mack Austin having been released from the penitentiary when he was about 18 years old.   He was riding home on his horse when two men came after him.   Willard Wright recalls that Chid Wright told him  “Mack was riding home on his horse when two men came at him.  Mack knew his was in trouble so he shot in self defense and killed one of the men.   Mack had to go into hiding and no one knew what happened to him after that.”   Chid said that “Pappy (Devil John) knew.”     




                                Devil John’s Barn as it stands today near Pound, Wise, Virginia


     Some say Devil John hid Mack in his barn for a time then he sent him away  to live with a family who owned a store.  Mack lived  upstairs in the store and taught school to the store owner’s children.  My research indicates Mack stayed on the move for a few years to keep ahead of the law,  making slight changes to his name and birthday each time he moved.  I have since learned that the man he shot was Ed Cox. 


     A 1900 census  in Bluefield West Virginia shows M.J. Austin is a boarder and working as a fireman for the railroad.  He is single and 21years old. Sometime between 1900 and 1910 Mack ends up in Nicholas county WVA  with Norma Jean Hundley,  my grandmother.  They live together for a time and have two children,  William Harrison Austin(my dad) b. 1903 and his younger sister Delta b.1906.   In 1910 he appears as Mack Austin in Greenbrier county  single, a boarder and lumberman.  Then in 1917-1918 he  registers for the draft as  Max Jessee Austin, married to Annie Jane McCutcheon.  He is a merchant and farmer.  Max and Annie have two children Clifford and William.   On the draft registration he describes himself as of medium height, medium weight, brown hair and dark eyes.   


     Nancy and I drove through Bluefield where Mack had worked on the railroad  and then went on to Nicholas county  where Mack and Norma lived.  We traveled on to Meadowbluff in Greenbrier county  where Mack lived out his life with Annie. Mack and Annie ran a general store and a post office there in Meadowbluff.   Meadowbluff, West Virginia is as pretty as I had pictured it would be when I first heard of it.   Rolling hills and valleys, green grass, lots of trees.   Mack and Annie built a very nice home next to the general store. 





                          A photo I took of Mack and Annie’s house when Nancy and I went to Meadowbluff





                                Inside Mack’s home as it looks today.  The present owners were kind enough

                                                           to let us look inside and take a photo.


    They  had  a  large  vegetable garden  at the back of the property. The house still stands as

does the building that was once the Post Office.




    Nancy told me the original  post office was  inside  the  general store.   Then,  when they tore down the store they build  the one you see  here.   She  remembers  Annie  moving  into  this building  from the big  house   when   she   got  older.   The  building  next to it is  where the General  Store  stood.  My dad  told  He  saw  him  only  from  a building next to it is  where the General  Store stood.  My dad told me he saw  Mack in  front  of the store.  He  saw  him only  from  a distance because his Uncle  Mancell told  him  Mack did not want to know him.

    While in Meadowbluff we visited with Nancy’s family who remembered Mack.  Nancy’s Aunt Mildred and her son Dick remember that Mack was “no one to fool with.”    Dick said he “heard tell that Mack was on the run.  That he came near to killing someone.” Nancy remembers her mother always spoke highly of Mack saying “he was a fine man.”


    After our visit  we  drove  to  the Sam Black  Methodist  Church where Mack worshipped on Sundays with his family and  near  the  church  is the  End  of Trail cemetery where Max,  as he was known    by   family   and   friends   in Meadowbluff, is buried. 




    Mack’s  death  March 29, 1930   was caused by general  Septicimia  (blood poisoning). He was 52 years old. Aunt Margaret  told  us  Mack  had cut the back of his hand when using  a  “crate opener” to open cases of merchandise delivered to the store. Mack’s obituary reveals he converted to the  Methodist Church  and  the last work he did was for  his  church.   It goes on  to say his death  was a  loss  to  both family and community as “one of their best citizens.” 

    Through this research I learned that we cannot really judge our ancestors.  They had their ways of dealing with life differently that we might today.  Despite any wrongdoing in his younger days, Mack Jessee Austin found a way to turn his life around and recover the core values of family, church and community.






The material on this website is copyrighted (C) 2001 by Nancy Wright Bays &  Patty May Brashear


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