There are names that will be forever remembered in the chronicles of
Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia.
"Devil" John Wright, James Claybourne Jones, Dr. Marshall Benton "Doc" Taylor, "Bad "Talton Hall, William S. Wright, John and Noah Reynolds, Ira Mullins, Henan and Calvin Fleming, "Big" Ed Hall. In some fashion, each have left their mark. Although scores of years have passed since these men were born, lived unrestrained lives, then passed on, the tales of their escapades have yet to disappear. The stories they left have not been lost, but have remained, to be remembered and continued on to yet another generation. In his older years after his feuding days had come to and end, Devil John Wright was asked
the number of men he had killed outside the war. John answered, "Seven. Seven I have killed, and I feel that I done my duty. Some killing had
to be done back in them terrible days just after the war. There were too many horse thieves and murderers. But I always gave a man a chance. Many a time I was shot at before I raised a gun."
John Wright received two severe wounds during his service in the army. The first wound was a shot through his hip with a heavy ball and the other was in the lower abdomen and thighs with a shotgun. He was shot through his right arm at the Daniels Hill fight during his feuding days with James Claybourne Jones. He was also shot by an adversary
which resulted in the loss of the sight in his left eye. There were many stories, newspaper articles and several books written about the life of John Wright. Probably the most noted was the book "The Trail of The Lonesome Pine," by John Fox, Jr. Aside from writing, John Fox, Jr. was a teacher, Bourbon County, Kentucky surveyor, botanist and geologist. He also 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. He researched 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 Bell, Clay, Harlan, Leslie, Letcher, Perry, and Pike Counties. By staying in the immediate area, Fox became well accustomed to the funds and violence that was happening around him. Those that recall Fox, say he was a handsome man, looking older
than he was. He was remembered as hard to talk to, as he just liked to sit and listen. It was probably his ability to sit and listen that gained his friendship with the
mountain people. He had the capability to fashion enchanting stories around
the everyday life of real people. 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, came to know him. At that time, 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 Fox frequently visited 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 actually carried throughout his real life. In 1936 the book was made into a movie which carried the same name. It was filmed in color with several well-known actors, such as Henry Fonda, Fred McMurry, Nigel Bruce, "Fuzzy" Knight, and "Spanky" McFarland.
John Wright's home usually served as a stop over for travelers. In later years reporters,
anxious to hear him talk about his experiences, frequently visited him. One reporter asked John about the lonesome pine in Fox's book. Wright took the man to the site of where the pine once stood. John told him, "Son, the lonesome pine was cut down and sawed into lumber. Some of it was used for beams in that old water mill you might
have seen down there at the side of Pound village."
"Devil" John Wright, who was also known as "The Law of Pine Mountain," put away his guns
July 24th, 1929 when he was baptized into the Regular Baptist Church. Thousands of people attended, both friends and some not so friendly. There were huge crowds at the hangings of Talton Hall and Doc Taylor and a large gathering at the funeral of Ed Hall, but the greatest assembly of people till then in the Cumberlands, went to see "Devil" John Wright baptized. Nearing the age of 90 years, the "Mountain Lawman" passed away January 30th, 1931
at his home at the North Fork of the Pound River. He was put to rest in a casket which he had directed a local carpenter, S. E. Looney, to make, nearly twelve years earlier. He had walnut lumber sawed from his vast timber lands and a casket was constructed at the shops of the Consolidated Coal Company at Jenkins, under the supervision of
J. G. Pendleton, who was connected with the company. On February 1, 1931, his funeral was preached by the Reverend Ira Mullins and Mack Cantrell of his church.
He was buried on the hill above his home at Pound. A local newspaper gave the
following account of the death of "Devil" John Wright:
Bad John Wright, Noted Mountain Gun-Fighter, Goes Over "Trail Of The Lonesome Pine" For Last Time. "Tall Sycamore" Of The Elkhorn Dies At Pound. Reported to have killed 25 men while he was in Office, lightning draws made him feared by outlaws, was character in John Fox's Novel, friend says. Conquered by death, the only enemy whose stamina and strength he has ever been unable to overcome, "Devil Judd Tolliver" went over the "Trail Of The Lonesome Pine" for the last time Sunday accompanied by a squad of sturdy mountaineers who had learned to love the noted man-hunting gun fighter in his last years.
In the rolling, picturesque Cumberlands where he first saw the towering verdant forests and the purple rhododendron almost a century ago, John W. Wright, widely known as "Bad John" Wright, reputed to have killed from twenty-five to thirty outlaws during the time he kept guard over the then wild and lawless section of Kentucky and Virginia, was lowered into the cold, rough and stony ground in a home made casket, constructed from the trees which once gave him shelter from the bullets of his enemies.
Ira Mullins came to his death by way of assassins' bullets and was buried in a cemetery over looking Jenkins, Kentucky. This graveyard, first established as the Potter or Mullins Cemetery, came to be known, and is today still known, as "Murdered Man Cemetery." It is located on the Mayo Trail highway near the Camden section and reputedly contains the graves of twenty-five persons who were murdered in the old days of feuds along the Elkhorn Creek and the Virginia border. Ira's grave and that of his wife is marked.
Also to be found at this cemetery are the graves of the others who were killed at
Pound Gap, Virginia. Buried in a straight line out to the right are the graves, unmarked in any way, of Wilson Mullins, John Chapple and Greenberry Harris.
At least one of these men did not gain rest even in death. The following article was taken from "The Richmond Dispatch":
IRA MULLINS GRAVE DESECRATED Ghouls Dynamite the Remains Clintwood, Virginia. August 15. The grave of Ira Mullins, the man who was murdered near Pound Gap last spring, has lately been desecrated in an inhuman manner. Some ghoulish wretch blew the grave up with dynamite or some other explosive substance..... exposing the remains of the murdered man. In life he had some terrible enemies and their vengeance is not yet satisfied.
Robert Jefferson Fleming, the father of Henan and Calvin was thought to have been
connected with the Pound Gap murders. The Clintwood, Virginia Newspaper carried the following obituary: The Father of The Famous Mullens Outlaws Gone Sketch of His Life Clintwood, Va. August 21, 1893. Jefferson Fleming, the father of the Mullens outlaws, Cal and Henan Fleming died at his home at the upper end of this county on Friday last, after an illness of several weeks duration. Jefferson Fleming was born in Kentucky, and was therefore 73 years old. He always lead a reckless inconsistent life and was dreaded by his neighbors as an ill natured and disagreeable man. He has been married twice. His first wife was married when he became acquainted with her, and after a brief acquaintance, her husband was missing and to this day the fate of the poor man has not been revealed; but Fleming and this woman were married in a short time after this occurrence. They lived together for some time but at length another woman crossed his path and he deserted number one, secured a divorce and married number two. He is said to have been the father of thirty one children, several of them being illegitimate. His first wife is yet living near here, an old gray headed woman, who is said to have entertained the same regard for his -------- that she did in other days. Fleming was charged to have been connected with the Pound Gap murder, for which his sons are indicted. He was indicted as an accomplice; but when the trial was called the witness was absent, having left for parts unknown through fear, and therefore the case was dismissed.
The lives of Dr. Marshall Benton "Doc" Taylor, and "Bad" Talton Hall, the notorious outlaw came to their end on the gallows in Wise County, Virginia.
Or did they?
Just as the stories of their warfare was handed down, there were other stories
repeated. From parent to child, their stories have been told and retold. And from original telling till present day it has been suggested that neither
of these men actually died on the gallows at Wise County, Virginia. The tale of Doc's escape is plausible. Tales of the trap door of the gallows being
rigged so he could escape the hangman were circulated and are still related in the
mountains. Family members recount tales of his being taken away from the area to be hidden from the prying eyes of the law. Family tradition is that Sylvan Samuel Taylor, his father, William P. and five other families left Duffield, Virginia in September of 1892. They traveled by teams and wagons to Salina, Missouri. The five other wagons turned back along the way, leaving just two families to continue the trip. Doc Taylor's mother, Mary "Polly" (Stallard) was living in Salina in 1892. It is believed that Doc became a law officer there and this is where he died.
All these men have met their destiny, if not by natural causes, then by gun or
hang man's noose. The thundering sound of clamoring hoof-beats and the
bellowing roar of discharging guns that once reverberated through the
valleys of Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia has been silenced. These desperadoes no longer wander the hills in search of prey. The keen eyed
lawmen that hunted such criminals are no more. The well trod mountain trails
they traveled have grown faint, returning to the mountains as they dim with
the passage of time.
On July 25, 1981, Nancy (Wright) Bays had the opportunity to talk with
Mrs. Adeline Wright Brown of Letcher County. Nancy had met Orville Wright,
who had been a great help with additional family names, giving dates of birth, death, where they lived and their location, and where they were buried.
Orville lived at McRoberts in Letcher County. He suggested we meet with Adeline and was nice enough to take us to her home.
Adeline could easily remember Devil John Wright and related several interesting stories about the family. With the two of them trading stories, the exchange between Adeline and Orville was fascinating. The interview had ended and
the tape recorder reluctantly turned off, when they began one last
conversation about Devil John Wright. As the recorder came back on, they were in the middle of Adeline talking about when John would come to stay with her father, Joel Wright. Adeline: ".........and he'd say to Poppy, he'd say, "Joel do you ever say your prayer when you go to bed? And Poppy said, "Ahh... no, sometimes." Uncle John said, "I say my prayer every night." And I guess he did. I know he did when he was in our house. He use to stay at our house a many a night. But he wasn't near bad like people called him, was he Orville.
He was a good feller, he sure was. He stayed with us a many of a night.
The material on this website is copyrighted © 2001
by Nancy Wright Bays and Patricia May Brashear.