The Daniel’s Hill Battle

By Ben Luntz


     Today, when driving in the direction of Neon and passing through Millstone, on your left you will pass the old company store. The store lies close  beside  the old road and just after you pass it you head up a small hill and to the right around a curve. Following this you continue a way making a long shallow curve to the left of about a quarter to one half of a mile. Toward the end of this long curve the road heads higher and ends with a sharp right turn around the bend of a hill. The road here is some distance above the North Fork of the Kentucky River that lies down the hill to the left.  A steep grade goes down to the base of the hill here with a small bank at the base going out to the river’s edge. The road continues on and roughly parallels the river until about two or three hundred yards further the road drops down to just above the level of the river, and it is here that both the river and the road make a large, almost horse-like curve to the left.  After  about a  ninety degree turn the road straightens a bit and continues on to a small bridge that passes over into Kona. It is here that the off-road from the new road joins the old road.

      Long ago Kona was known as the Mouth of Boone, because Boone Creek, which flows from the direction of Neon, flows into the North Fork here. Daniel Boone had surveyed and spent a winter during the 1790s along this creek, and because of this the creek was called Boone Creek. In fact, a tree with Boones’ authentic signature on it was at this site for many years. The hill that lay opposite and inside the road from the horseshoe curve mentioned previously was said to have been one of the locations Daniel Boone made his camp, and because of this the hill was referred to as Daniel’s Hill.  Today a nice modern home lies across the river from the road at the base of Daniel’s Hill. When the railroad was built about 80 years ago a cut was made through Daniel’s Hill for the train tracks to pass through. This cut through the mountain passes close behind the modern home that now lies at the base of Daniel’s Hill.

      Back in the 1880s, when there was no cut through the mountain and long before the house or the present day old  paved road existed, travelers going up the river toward what is now Neon came up the valley along side the North Fork and when they encountered the horseshoe curve they would  go  up, over and then down the lower part of Daniel’s Hill to the other side where they would then cross the North Fork of the Kentucky River. This was, and still is to some extent, a rather enclosed and hemmed in place, a place that is ideal for an ambush. It was at this location during September of 1885 that the tide turned in favor of  Bad John Wright’s  faction during the 1885 Jones-Wright feud. 

      The successful August 5th, 1885 raid into Bad John Wright’s territory, and the subsequent capture and arrest by Clabe Jones of Miles Bates, William Sizemore and William Johnson at Bad John Wright’s Elkhorn residence, caused a great deal of excitement. It also caused a great deal of concern for Dolph Draughan who had been pursuing Wash Craft  because he feared that if he waited until late Fall, Clabe Jones might well capture Wash Craft and the other wanted men first, and Dolph would then be unable to collect any reward money.

       Another reason Dolph Draughan desperately wanted to capture Wash Craft was as follows: During the Fall of 1883 Dolph’s father had backed part of the bond used to release Wash Craft from jail after Wash had killed his uncle, Wiley Craft, in a shoot-out. When the time came for Wash Craft to be tried, Wash went on the dodge, thus forfeiting the bond Dolph Draughan’s father had helped back, unless Dolph or somebody else could capture Wash Craft and bring him back to jail. Dolph Draughan, in an effort to recapture Wash Craft, made a vigorous and determined search. As of August of 1885 this pursuit was unsuccessful and this fact, along with the recent success of the  August raid led by Clabe Jones on Bad John Wright’s Elkhorn residence, caused Dolph Draughan to  plan and execute a raid of his own. During July of 1885 Dolph Draughan had told a newspaper reporter that he intended to search Letcher County for Wash Craft in the late Fall after the summer’s overgrowth had cleared.  Clabe Jones’ early August raid changed everything and there was now a rush to plan and execute a new raid as quickly as possible.

     Unlike Clabe Jones and his men, Dolph Draughan and his posse did not take precautions to conceal  their entrance into and passage through Letcher County. Bad John Wright and his men were well aware of Dolph Draughan’s approach  well before Dolph and his men reached Daniel’s Hill. It was at Daniel’s Hill that Bad John Wright and his men laid in wait, concealed behind the foilage, for Dolph Draughan and his posse to arrive.

      Below we see  the best account from the time of the battle that occurred at Daniel’s Hill on Saturday September 19, 1885. This is a detailed account of that battle from someone who was near by at the time  the battle occurred. Thus article was printed just over a month after the battle.


Article from the October 28, 1885  Wolfe County, Kentucky Hazel Green Herald.








Reported by Special Correspondents from All Points in the Mountains.






           West Liberty, Oct. 27.—Meeting with an acquaintance from Letcher County, last week, we interviewed him concerning the situation of affairs in that section. About three weeks ago The Herald

copied a dispatch from London, Laurel County, to the Courier Journal stating that in the last fight, Sept. 19, between the warring factions in Letcher, viz., the Jones and Wright factions, the leader of the Jones band, Dolph Draughan, was killed, also that two or three of his men received mortal wounds. Our informant says that he was in the immediate neighborhood on the day of the battle and that none of the Jones faction were killed and only one, Wilson Short, was wounded, although two or three of their horses were killed. There are three factions in Letcher County, to wit: the Joneses of which Deputy Sheriff  Dolph Draughan is captain; the Wrights, with John Wright as leader, and the Halls. John Wright is a man of considerable wealth and one of the most influential men in the county. He is a man who loves his friends and hates his enemies, and is a dangerous foe. He is a little above average size, has an open pleasant countenance, is a crack shot and is a man to be dreaded by all who incur his wrath. Mr. Wright has expressed his willingness to surrender to anyone “who is a law-abiding man, but will never surrender to Dolph Draughan or any of his d----d  horde,” and mildly suggest that the Governor send a company of State troops to cage him. Deputy Sheriff Draughan is also a moneyed man with no small influence, and is as brave a man that ever pulled a trigger. His is the countenance of a man who does not know fear, and as he has the authority he will likely arrest the Wrights or lose his life in the effort.  Another noted character of the Wright faction is Talt Hall. This man is a regular dare-devil and, it is said, will kill a man just to see him kick, or a still greater inducement is a well-filled pocketbook. He is a man of property and will sink his last dollar (and lose his life too, for that matter) rather than see his party overcome. He is said to have fled the country, but our informant expresses the opinion that he  is still in the vicinity and is furnishing a large percent of the tinder that keeps the feudal fire burning.  The Halls are not so strong a  faction as the Wrights, and while not acting in unison with the latter party, they are resisting arrest by Capt. Draughan and his command. All the men engaged in this trouble are related to each other, and seem to have an undying hatred one toward another. There is a fixed determination on the part of the Wrights and Halls to resist law and order, and an equally steadfast resolution on the part of the Joneses, commanded by officer Draughan, to bring them to justice. Nearly all the men who are in action have, at some previous time, killed their man. Especially are the leaders on both sides desperate men, and like a forest fire when once started it is almost impossible to check them.  To give the original cause of this trouble in detail is beyond our power, but as many of our readers are already aware, the murder of Frank Salyer was the beginning of the active outbreak. But to sum up the whole matter, illiteracy, lasciviousness and inebriety are the prime causes of the present state of affairs. To suggest a remedy for this is a tedious task. First must the strong arm of state intervene and quell outlawry and despotism. We would recommend an influx of teachers and ministers as a means of revolutionizing the community, but for the fact that God-fearing, law-loving men would be putting their lives in jeopardy by going among a people where semi-barbarous fiends predominate........


End of article.


     The informant here is the N. W. Reynolds (probably N. M. Reynolds) mentioned in the September 23, 1885 Courier Journal article. This was most likely Cooj Reynolds, a well-liked and highly respected local man in Letcher County, who lived just up the road at that time from Daniel’s Hill. (His farm was at the present day site of Seco. Talt Hall had indeed fled the country and by this time was at least as far away as Virginia.

     Several names are given from various sources as to who was on each side during this battle. On Dolph Draughan’s side we find the following names in the various articles above: Sam Cook, Sam Francis and Wilson Short. There were no doubt others but it is certain that Clabe Jones was not among them. Some of the men on Bad John Wright’s side were:  “Kinky-Haired” Sam Wright, James Anderson Belcher, Ike Mills and George Brown. Talt Hall was not present at this battle even though he claims to have been in his autobiography. Talt Hall claims that he met Clabe Jones in Letcher County, Kentucky on Boone’s Creek, in the fall of 1885 and that Clabe Jones had about thirty men with him. This was the Daniel’s Hill battle he was referring to but he gives few details of the battle, and those he gives are incorrect. Clabe Jones was not at the Daniel’s Hill battle and  Dolph Draughan’s posse most likely had fewer than twenty men in it. Clabe Jones was in Prestonsburg at the time of the battle with the prisoners he had captured in the August raid on Bad John Wright’s Elkhorn residence.

     No one was killed during the Daniel’s Hill battle though several were wounded. Some horses were killed.

       During early October, probably during the first week, following up Dolph Draughan’s disastrous September raid into Letcher County, Knott County Sheriff J. M. Pigman tried a raid of his own. Near Wright, Letcher County, he and his posse attempted to arrest some of Bad John Wright’s men and met a similar fate to Dolph Draughan’s, with two men being wounded and several horses being shot and injured.  Like Dolph Draughan and his men, Sheriff Pigman and his posse were throughly routed and run out of Letcher County.  This was most likely the last battle in the Jones-Wright Feud.

    In both the Daniel’s Hill battle and the battle with Sheriff Pigman at Wright, Bad John Wright’s faction had thoroughly routed their opponents and sent them retreating out of  Letcher County.  In both these battles Bad John Wright’s faction seems to have been careful not to kill or seriously injure any of their opponents, killing only some of the horses on which the men rode.

     A careful and thorough search of many newspaper articles and documents leads to the conclusion that the Jones-Wright feud had come to an end by December of 1885 and never flared up again. Clabe Jones was no longer interested in entering Letcher County because he already had three prisoners he needed to guard and also because he knew that his nemesis and main target, Talt Hall, was not longer in Kentucky and was long gone. With Talt Hall’s faction expelled from Knott County and for the previously mentioned reasons, there was no longer any need for Clabe Jones to engage Bad John Wright’s faction in armed struggle, and by December of 1885 Clabe Jones no longer had any interest or reason to engage in the feud.

      Since Dolph Draughan had been routed and his posse shot to pieces, he no longer had any desire to  re-enter Letcher County.