The Red Fox of the Mountains, Part 3

Jadon Gibson
Jadon Gibson

Doc M. B. Taylor, the Red Fox, said it was a good day when he learned that “Bad Ira” Mullins had been seriously wounded in a shootout with revenuers in North Carolina. Mullins was one of his two worst enemies. It left him paralyzed and it was unsure if he would survive. The Fox breathed a sigh of relief, believing that any danger from his old nemesis was past.

A few months later however, the Fox was startled to hear that Ira was again selling moonshine in Gladeville (now known as Wise). As a federal agent Doc had duty in the courthouse but he made a mental note to look into it when time permitted. Ira was paralyzed but lay in straw with his contraband whiskey in the back of his two-horse wagon. The wagon was driven by his smallish wife and they were accompanied by their 14-year old son John.

Though paralyzed hand and foot, Ira could move his head and deep-sunk dark eyes. His appearance was even more sinister than before.

Ira made no attempt to conceal his hatred for Doc Taylor. Ira’s threats were brought to Doc’s attention, leading him to fear for his life. He decided to move quickly and began plotting the death of Ira. He sneaked into the night and shot into Ira’s bedroom. The shots ripped through Ira’s sheets and bedding but Ira was unharmed as he wasn’t in his bed at all but lay in the back of his jolt wagon in the barn. Ira responded by renewing his vow to have the Fox killed… if he didn’t get him first.

Doc Taylor was in charge of the movement of prisoners as well as guarding and keeping order during trials of some of the most notorious badmen in Cumberland Mountain history. He crossed paths with Bad Talt Hall who was meaner and even more vile than Ira Mullins. They were bitter enemies.

Talton “Bad Talt” Hall began his career of murder and mayhem at a young age. He shot and killed a man, climbed on a fence, flapped his arms and crowed like a rooster.

“After this I’m going to be known as Bad Talt Hall,” he boasted. He was.

His exploits fill a bloody chapter in the history of eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia.

Hall claimed to have killed 99 men. The number was never substantiated although Talt killed several during his service under General Morgan in the Civil War. He was recognized for his reckless daring. Bad Talt Hall didn’t give it up at wars end, continuing his reign of terror.

Talt was no stranger to the courts in the mountains of Kentucky and Virginia, having been brought to trial for murder and other offenses several times. In each instance he was acquitted and set free.

A Louisville, KY, newspaper dated June 26, 1891, blazoned ‘Kentucky Desperadoes, Four Armed Bands are Hunting each other like Wild Beasts in the Mountains,’ bringing attention to the state of lawlessness in eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia.

“A gentleman who just returned from the mountains says a most alarming condition exists in that section. Last week Talt Hall, a desperado, and one of his followers shot and killed Frank Sayer in his own doorway. At the coroner’s inquest the following day Hall took exception to Claiborne Jones as a juryman. Jones resented this and the two got their friends (gangs) and fought in an open field. Two of the Hall faction were killed and several were wounded. Three others were killed in other action. All of the desperadoes are still at large. They are ready and anxious for blood.”

Hall’s demeanor festered after these losses and the following month he shot Norton, VA, policeman Enos Hylton, along the railroad tracks in that Wise County, VA, mountain town. Officer Hylton had just arrested Miles Bates, a Talt Hall gang member. Hylton was hit by a bullet from Hall’s 38 caliber pistol. Witnesses said Hylton walked away twenty to thirty paces before falling down. He clambered to his feet before falling again. Helen Hylton, the lawman’s wife, said during the trial that she saw her husband after he was shot.

“He seemed to be suffering with the blood oozing out of his breast,” she testified. “If any of you ever saw a man in the agonies of death you already know how he looked. This was about 2 p.m. and he lived until about 2 a.m. the next morning.

“When I first went to him after he was shot he said ‘Helen, it is a death shot this time.’ He said that he wanted to go home and then changed that by saying he wanted to go to Heaven when he died.”

Public sentiment ran strong against Talt Hall after the murder of Hylton. He fled into the mountains where he said he was viciously attacked by a pack of birds that tried to peck at his eyes. He traveled to Middlesborough, KY, registering in a hotel before going on to Memphis, TN. He was captured by a sly detective there who gave Hall the impression he was being arrested for a misdemeanor in Mississippi. He would not have given up easily if he knew he was being arrested for a capital offense.

“I could have killed him before he reached the top of the steps,” Hall boasted later.

Doc Taylor (the Red Fox) and Wise County Sheriff Wilson Holbrook went to Memphis and brought Talt Hall back to stand trial.

The county seat of Wise was put under military law after Hall’s confederate, “Devil John” Wright and his gang vowed to break him out of jail. Each of the gang members took an oath to come to the aid of each other in such situations.

The Wise County Police Guard watched the streets leading into Wise. Red strips of flannel were tied to their upper arms and to their Winchester rifles. The jail was patrolled continuously and officers were stationed at strategic points in and around the courthouse and in the courtroom. No one could enter the courtroom without being searched. It’s amazing that this practice was discarded resulting in mayhem in many courts of law in following years.

During the trial the courthouse was barricaded and portholes were cut through the brick walls. They were used as gun-ports in the event trouble arose. Bad Talt Hall, “Devil John” Wright and other bad men from the area were notorious for causing trouble.

The Fox had a profound dislike for Hall and his lawlessness just as he disliked Bad Ira Mullins. His killing had brought heartache to many families and the Fox found no redeeming value in him. He was a courtroom guard during Hall’s trial and stood over the prisoner like a conqueror. The Fox often pointed his huge pistols at Bad Talt Hall during the trial, prompting Hall to call him a madman.

When Doc Taylor (the Fox) finally got a break in his courthouse duties he sought to learn more about Bad Ira Mullins and his activities. He visited Dock Swindall who lived reasonably near the bad man and learned that Mullins, although paralyzed, had a strong resolve and was making every effort to resume his modus operandi. Furthermore he would be bringing a wagonload of whiskey across the mountain to Virginia the following day. It made Doc Taylor’s heart race when heard it.

“I’ve fixed things with the Flemings (Cal and Heenan),” he told Swindall. “They won’t be bothering you and your family anymore. You let me know if you learn anything more about Ira and his dealings. I’m putting a stop to it once and for all. The gladdest I’ve ever been was when I heard Ira was killed in North Carolina. And one of the worst was when I found out he was still living.”

Doc kept a hand on one of his pistols as he rode horseback across the mountain toward Gladeville lest someone would get the drop on him. He also pondered the current state of his affairs. His enemy, the unstable Talton Hall, was in the midst of a murder trial in Gladeville. Now the Fox had an opportunity to get rid of his other nemesis, Bad Ira Mullins. He relished the thought of both of these bad men being out of circulation. copyright 2015 Jadon Gibson

Editor’s note: The Fox murders a bitter enemy in the next segment From the Mountains. Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read periodically at bereaonline.com

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