A shooting at Killing Rock
May 14th of 1892 was a court day in Gladeville, Virginia, the county seat of Wise County and U. S. Marshal M. B. Taylor was noticeably absent. Gladeville’s name was changed to Wise in 1924.
Doc Taylor arose early and headed to the top of Pine Mountain for a clandestine meeting with two desperate characters, Cal and Henan Fleming. Doc had information that “Bad Ira” Mullins would be bringing several barrels of illicit liquor and as much as $1,000 in cash to Gladeville on this day. He and the Flemings planned to ambush Mullins as he was coming from Kentucky. Many of the mountain folks didn’t trust banks in that era, some choosing to either hide their money or carry it with them. Doc Taylor (the Fox) and the Flemings planned to ambush Mullins as he came from Kentucky.
Ira was one of several bootleggers and moonshiners who plied their trade in the area. Much of their business was done on court days and the trial of noted murderer Talt Hall was bringing large crowds to Gladeville. Their sales were exceeded only during heated election campaigning when free drinks, paid for by the candidates, were often the fare. The law generally overlooked the activities of sellers of illegal liquor in that era unless it led to violence at the point of sale.
Ira put up a bounty of $300 to whoever waylaid Doc Taylor (the Fox). He got wind of this and decided he had best get Ira first. An earlier attempt failed when he shot into Bad Ira’s bed, not knowing his target was laying in his wagon in the barn. Doc enlisted the Flemings to improve his chances on his next plan.
Fox’s old enemy, Talton Hall, was on trial for murder in Wise and the courthouse was well fortified. Now he had an opportunity to get rid of his other nemesis, Bad Ira Mullins. He patiently eyed the Kentucky terrain through his telescope while the brothers waited. He didn’t know who or how many would be in Ira’s group. Usually Ira came with his wife and 14-year old son but at times he would also bring his farmhand. Since it would be a busy day in Gladeville, Ira may have a larger entourage than usual.
Finally Doc saw what he thought was Ira’s jolt wagon with two horses pulling it up the north side of the Pine Mountain.
“Boys, it looks like Ira’s wagon coming ,” Doc said. “Let’s stay quiet and out of sight until I’m sure it’s them.”
After a couple more minutes the wagon came through Pound Gap. The Fox and the Flemings slipped down the south side of the mountain and prepared to ambush Ira’s party from a vantage point behind a large rock and several smaller rocks, overlooking the dusty road. The men covered their faces with green veils to hide their identities. They waited, well-armed and confident with their superior position to the right of and a short distance above the trail.
As the wagon came back into view they saw Ira’s brother, Wilson Mullins, walking in front of the wagon with his rifle at the ready. The Fox’s heartbeat quickened as the horses and wagon appeared in view. Laurenza Mullins, Ira’s wife, sat next to John Chappel, a farm hand, who held the reins. Fox saw Wilson’s wife, Jane, following behind the wagon astride a horse. Ira’s son John, and his friend, Greenberry Harris, lagged along behind. There were seven altogether in the group, several more than expected. Ira must have thought there was safety among numbers. The Fox knew better. There were two ladies and two kids and Ira was paralyzed so the Fox wasn’t concerned. He knew they would catch them by surprise and Ira’s party would be like sitting ducks right under their secluded position. Ira’s group would have practically no time to react.
“Hold your fire, boys,” Fox said in a hushed voice as he held his left arm out in front of Cal and Henan. “Let’s wait and make shore that Ira’s in the wagon.”
As the wagon neared their hiding place, the Fox could see the wagon full of straw and then… was it… yes… yes… yes it was Bad Ira Mullins alive and in living color. He was propped up in the back of the wagon, laying on a blanket which covered a bed of straw and his liquid merchandise.
Not for long as a roar of Winchesters thundered through the mountains as the Flemings opened fire on Ira and his fellow travelers. Meanwhile Fox shot the two horses hitched to the wagon before directing his aim at Ira.
“He can’t get away if the wagon horses are dead,” the Fox had told the Flemings earlier.
The attack was so sudden there was hardly an answer to the barrage of gunfire. Black gunpowder smoke permeated the area and the wagon road was colored red by the blood from the victims and horses. It was a gross overkill with the victims shot numerous times.
Ira was shot twice in the chin, twice in the head and once in the shoulder, side, wrist, bowels, thighs and leg. Jane Mullins ran to her husband’s (Wilson Mullins) side but he was dead. “Don’t shoot no more,” she yelled to no one in particular. “You’re killing us all.”
“Durn you, take the road and leave or you’ll get it too,” came an answer.
She looked in the direction of the voices and saw three men who were partially masked. She thought she recognized Doc Taylor and the other two looked and sounded like Cal and Henan Fleming. Jane Mullins quickly jumped astride her horse, whipped it into a gallop and headed toward the county seat of Gladeville. Once she arrived there she found Deputy Sheriff John Miller at the Wise County Courthouse and reported the ambush. Another writer from the period said she fled back into Kentucky.
“Sheriff, it was ole Doc Taylor and those Flemings, Cal and Henan,” she told him. “There were three of ‘em and I heard their voices. It was them. I’m a ‘feared they’ve killed Ira and all of them – everyone but me.”
She had no way of knowing that Ira’s 14-year old son had run like the wind back into Kentucky, grasping his overalls as he went. A shot had cut his suspenders in two as he raced away and he had to grasp them to keep them from falling down around his ankles. The other five, including Ira, were dead, shot numerous times. Someone had shot Ira’s eyes out. The assassins quickly removed several hundred dollars from the clothing of Mrs. Ira Mullins and mutilated her body before vanishing into the brush.
The family and neighbors of Wilson and Jane Mullins recovered the bodies of the deceased and took them to Wilson’s home where the township of Jenkins, KY, is now located. There wasn’t enough room for all of them inside so some were kept on the porch. They are buried in the Potter Cemetery at Jenkins.
Deputy Sheriff Miller took Jane Mullins into protective custody at Gladeville (now Wise), VA. She was the only witness who could place Doc and the Flemings at the scene of the shooting. He would later say that he believed her account of the shooting right from the beginning. The Fox had told him about Ira’s bootlegging many times and Miller sensed the Fox’s intense hatred for Mullins. They had even talked about Ira the day before. Deputy Miller also noted the Fox’s conspicuous absence during the last 20 hours of Talt Hall’s trial for the murder of Norton, VA, police chief Enos Hylton. In the preceding days, Fox had willingly stood guard over Hall, taking only brief respites for rest and meals.
At the conclusion of Hall’s trial a verdict of guilty was read and he was sentenced to “hang by the neck until dead.” He was finally going to face the hangman, unlike earlier trials when he escaped paying the ultimate price when jurors were too frightened to find him guilty. Talt Hall’s date with the hangman was set for September 2, 1892. Everyone knew they couldn’t keep him in Gladeville until then. Hall’s confederates would bust him out if the local vigilantes, bent on swifter justice, didn’t get him first. Arrangements were made to transfer Hall to Lynchburg for safe keeping.
The parts of the puzzle to the Ira Mullins murder started falling in place after the visit from Jane Mullins. The sheriff and deputies investigated the murder scene. Doc and the Flemings had fled into the mountains.
There were despicable outlaws in the Cumberland Mountain area during the 1800’s and early 1900’s but there were tenacious man-hunters too. Big Ed Hall, a U.S. Marshal (and friend of Doc Taylor), Dock Swindall and “Gooseneck” John Branham organized a posse, comprised of twenty-two of the best available men, to hunt for the Fox and the Flemings. They met at a home by the Pound River to plan the Fox hunt (pun intended). They were well aware of Dr. Taylor’s cunning. Deputy Sheriff John Miller also joined the group.
The Fox left misleading clues exasperating the lawmen and deputies. After several days and nights in the wilds they discontinued the search saying the fugitives just couldn’t be found.
During this period the Fox called on residents of the mountains who “owed him” for his medical treatments. He received shelter, food and other items of need. These mountain folk who saw him during this time said that Doc Taylor (the Red Fox) claimed he was innocent. He was quick to point out that the paralytic man had offered $300 to have him killed, a substantial sum in that era. The murder and manhunt were the topics of conversation throughout the mountain area.
“I’m gonna shoot a hole through him (the Fox) big enough to crawl through,” Gooseneck said. Branham was nicknamed Gooseneck because of his…well, goose-like neck.
Information soon came to the manhunt headquarters of the location of the fugitives. The heavily armed men slipped through the woods to the site but as the men quietly moved in toward their quarry, Booker Mullins, a member of the posse, slipped and fell, his cocked gun sending a blast for all to hear. After a brief skirmish in which outlaw Henan Fleming was wounded, Doc and the two brothers somehow vanished into the thin mountain air. Dock Swindall correctly surmised that the Red Fox couldn’t continue living in the mountains because he was older and being hunted by such a large contingent of men.
Doc found it to be an advantageous time to separate from the group. He slipped away and made his way to his home in Wise. He was there just a day or so before, under the cover of darkness and disguise, he crept to his son Sylvan’s home in Norton. At nearly three o’clock in the morning, Doc tapped on his door and Sylvan let him in. He had lost several pounds while running from the law and his clothes no longer fit.
Doc, an intelligent man, knew he couldn’t stay there for a lengthy period of time. He began planning an escape from the mountains.
Sylvan was also a prominent citizen of the region. He was a surveyor and married to the daughter of a prominent attorney. Sylvan and his wife fed Doc before hiding him in the loft above the kitchen. A loose board enabled them to reach food to him after that. He told his son that he was leaving the mountain area and planned to start a new life in Florida. They devised a plan of escape.
A day or so later, Sylvan’s brother, Johnny, arrived with a long box that had been used to ship fruit trees. Early the next morning Doc Taylor came down from the attic for the first time since arriving in Norton. He ate, bathed and dressed in new clothes. A quilt was wrapped loosely around him before he laid down in the box. Doc was uncomfortable. He didn’t like what he was going through but what were his alternatives?
Sylvan nailed the clumsy box shut and it was taken by wagon, with the Fox inside, to the train depot at Norton. The box was labeled for shipment to Bluefield, West Virginia. Once in Bluefield it would be put on a Norfolk & Western passenger train destined for Florida.
“Whatcha got there boys?” the station master asked as the box was checked in at the Norton train station.
“Oh, just a few books and things I wanted to ship to Bluefield,” Johnny replied.
The crate was put aboard a boxcar but railroad workers at Norton were suspicious of the fruit tree box that Johnny Taylor, the Fox’s son, checked in for shipment. They sent word to Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney R. P. Bruce and to U.S. Marshal Big Ed Hall who had continued his search for the fugitives from the bloody massacre at Killing Rock. Unbeknownst to the Fox, Hall mounted his horse and galloped to the station in time to buy a ticket and board the train.
As the train rattled toward Bluefield, the Fox breathed a sigh of relief as the train was leaving Virginia. He was thinking about Florida and to making a new start in life.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the train, Big Ed Hall wondered what to expect from his old friend and fellow U.S. Marshal Doc Taylor (the Red Fox) once they arrive in Bluefield.
copyright 2015 jadon gibson
Editor’s note: Doc Taylor and Big Ed Hall meet in Bluefield in Jadon Gibson’s gripping true story From the Mountains in an upcoming edition. 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