The Saga of Bad John Hall
Most of the information is taken from an internet writing by ‘Bub’, (firstname.lastname@example.org) a great, great nephew of said Bad John Hall. At the time of this writing, I am unable to contact the author.
this was my grandfather, Henry D. Hall's, great uncle (on his mother's side?)
He was an outlaw and then policeman in Wheelwright, Floyd, KY
The following is written by Bub,
Robert Carey, one of the wardens of the border marches, wrote in his memoirs: “The country dare not kill such thieves for fear of feud . . . If they be but foot loons and men of no esteem . . . it may pass unavenged, but if he is of a surname as a Davyson, Young, burne, Pringle or Hall, . . . then he who killed or took him is sure himself and all his friends, (specially those of his name) is like, dearly to buy it, for they will have his life and two or three of his kinsmen in revenge.”
This is the story of my great, great uncle, the legendary Bad John Hall. John was born in 1882 near the forks of Left Beaver Creek and Otter Creek. Many stories about John have stated that he was born in Wheelwright, but in fact he was born in the area that is now know as Bypro, Kentucky, then known as Briar Bottom. Briar Bottom included the areas now known as Bypro and Wheelwright with a mailing address of Melvin, KY. John’s parents Lee Hall Sr. and Eliza Hall, lived in a one room log house and it was in this house that John was born. It has been told that when pregnant with John, (Bad John), there seemed to be some sort of mystic power that forced her to visit a hornets nest nearby. She said that she would get up early, build a fire in the wood cook stove, but could not begin to cook until she made a visit to this hornet's nest. The hornets never harmed her. When she had made her visit and rubbed the nest she would return home and start her chores.
When John was born, it is said that his hair was matted just like that old hornet's nest. Later in life the disposition and temper of the hornet began to show up in John. He was a quiet and easy going man who would only defend himself when provoked. You could say anything you wanted to him, but don't try to harm him because like the hornet, he would sting with all his power and that meant sure death.
Education in the mountains of east KY was very limited. The few people with more than a fifth grade education were hired as teachers. Marion Hall and Isadore Hopkins did most of the teaching at the head of Beaver Creek. They only held school when they wanted to--maybe four to six weeks at a time and never more than four months in a year. These terms were in late fall and winter, since farming was the only means of livelihood and it required the help of the whole family during the spring and summer. It was work or starve, leaving little time for formal education.
John entered school at the age of seven. The school house was a one room log building near where the First Baptist Church of Wheelwright is now located. John's first teacher was Mr. Hopkins. John worked hard in school and soon became what we all know as the teacher's pet. By age twelve he had grown into a handsome youngest with soft blue eyes, wavy black hair and a pleasant smile; a boy with an attitude far from that of the hornet which was to dominate his temper later in life. John held his temper very well until the age of fourteen.
John's (and most everyone else’s too) lunch consisted of sweet milk and crumbled corn bread which he carried in a two pound lard bucket. There was no other method to obtain a lunch except bring it from home. On a warm fall day in October 1896, John was sitting on a rock near the edge of Otter Creek having his school lunch when one of the school bullies ran by and kicked his bucket into the creek. That's when the hornet took over and the trouble started. As the bullies (Joe and Lewis Little) started to run, John picked up a rock, threw it, and broke Lewis' rib. From that day on, John was harassed by these two brothers.
As John grew stronger, the time came when he was able to handle either of these two in a fist fight (and there were many). This continued until John was about 17; then they would both gang up on him. Finally, they decided to leave him alone after several serious outcomes.
John had a job with Cole and Crane Lumber Company as a logger taking timber out of what is now known as Golf Hollow. Things seemed to be going along rather smoothly for a couple of years until John married the girlfriend of Lewis Little, America (daughter of Ode Little). After this marriage the war began all over again with new enthusiasm.
The Little brothers saved money and bought themselves a silver-plated, high-powered rifle. In those days riflers were used for hunting as well as protection. Hand guns were not practical for hunting and were considered a luxury. John did not own a firearm of any kind so he stayed clear of the Littles.
On September 2, 1903, the Little's decided to try out their rifles and scare John. On this day John and his wife went up the creek of what is now known as Branham Hollow, to help his father, Lee Sr. strip and tie fodder (blades of corn). While they were working in the barn yard where the fodder had been transported by a team of oxen, the Little boys, who lived about half a mile farther up the creek, showed up with their rifles. They began to fire them into the air and before they stopped, they were firing into the ground near John's feet. After they had their fun, they left. This incident proved to be the last of the fun for the Little boys. Afterward, John said to his father, "Pap, this is all I can take. I'd rather be dead than live like this."
Early the next morning, Sunday, September 3, 1903, John drove a young heifer he owned back down to his father-in-law’s, Ode Little and traded it for a gun.
Two days later on September 5th, a Tuesday, John and his wife were going to her father’s house when they heard someone shooting. Up the creek John and his wife met them, the Little’s, about 100 feet above where the old Branham store now stands. They passed each other and one of the Little boys made a few remarks. A few feet away, the Little boys turned around and, tot heir surprise, John, who had sensed something, had turned around also to face them. Lewis fired a quick shot and missed John, only cutting into the collar of his coat. John fired two shots and killed them both.
John was now on the run, but he didn’t run far. His wife was pregnant. He and his brother Melvin hid out in the mountains near his home, only coming out to see the Hopkins family, whom he trusted very much. Their home was located where the Wheelwright swimming pool now is. Their only visits to the Hopkins family were to get information about John’s wife and family. The Hopkins’ lived very well and always gave John a supply of food. It is said that while they were hiding out the spent many nights in the cemetery where the Little boys were buried. This cemetery was very close to John’s father-in-law’s house where his wife was staying. He said that he wanted to be as close to her as possible when she gave birth.
On November 27, 1903, America Hall gave birth to a baby boy named John Melvin Hall.
Early in 1904, John left Otter Creek and went into Virginia (near Bristol). He had been told that there were a lot of timber jobs there and that he would be safe. John was accompanied by his brother, Melvin—not Marion, as has been mentioned in many stories about John. These two brothers worked at timber jobs in VA around what is now known as Big Stone Gap and the Gate City areas. In order to stay away from as many people as possible, they preferred to work in the mountains, falling and trimming trees.
After a few months, word came to John and Melvin that were several men from Floyd County planning to come into Virginia to get jobs as timber men. On hearing this news, John and Melvin felt as if they should move on into Tennessee—near Bristol and Kingsport—to keep their identities secret. This time they were hired as mill workers.
Once again, they settled down and informed their family as to where they were. This was done by writing to the Hopkins family under an assumed name. They had been working at the mill for only a few weeks when they received a letter informing them that their brother, Marion, had been shot by an unknown gunman and was in very serious condition (January 1904).
John moved back to his mountain home, facing the danger of being killed. When the mid-winter weather seemed favorable, the Hall boys travel was made somewhat easier. It is known that they rode a log train into the foothills of Pound Mountain where they contacted some of John’s relatives, Big Ed Hall’s family, who provided them with transportation into Letcher County KY. From there, John and Melvin traveled through the mountains to the head of Left Beaver Creek, now known as Skull Hollow in Weeksbury and then on to the Hall Cemetery. It was after dark when they arrived at the cemetery and they saw a fresh grave near where one of their sister’s was buried. They knew they were too late to see their brother, Marion.
It was still unsafe to visit their father, so they went to the Hopkins family home where they were informed of the death of their brother, Marion. They were also told that word had come out of Virginia that John and a friend had been hunting and that John had killed a turkey and that two men attempted to take the turkey from him, threatening John at gun point. The word was that John had shot and killed them both. John never confirmed nor denied this story. His only reply was “who can blame a man for defending himself or his friends.”
Early the next morning, McKinley Hopkins loaded a pig into the family wagon. They dressed John and Melvin in women’s clothes, placed them on the wagon seat beside him and headed up Otter Creek to deliver the pig along with John and Melvin to Lee Hall, Sr’s. home.
John tried to get as much detail as he could about the death of Marion. There was not much, if any, true information to be found. Marion had been bushwhacked (shot in the back) in Otter Gap (head of Otter Creek) and he was alone at the time of the shooting. It was believed that Riley Little, a brother to the two that John had killed, shot Marion. There was no solid proof of this, but the revenge motive was there.
As soon as John found out where Riley had moved to, he set out to avenge the death of his brother. He returned home late one afternoon and informed his parents that he had located Riley, but the only chance he had to shoot him was from the back. John said that he never killed a man without a reason and for sure never shot a man in the back and he wasn’t going to start now. Besides he wasn’t absolutely sure that Riley had killed Marion, so he decided to wait and see what time would tell.
It was late fall of 1904, and John didn’t want to return to Virginia and face a cold winter working in the saw mill, so the family passed the word around that he had returned to Virginia without his brother Melvin. They passed the word around that John had returned to Virginia without his brother.
John and his father fixed a room in the loft of the old log home, to give John a place to hide when company came to visit. John stayed here under cover until late spring of 1905 when once again trouble found this young mountain man. Someone had let out the word that John was staying at his father’s home so the posse was on it’s way—not to apprehend John—but to kill him. Since he had gained the reputation of being a bad man, a wild man and a killer, the posse didn’t want to take him in—they wanted him dead.
His brother Melvin was to play the role of lookout for him. On a late spring morning in 1905, Melvin was supposed to be plowing the garden while also being on the lookout for anyone he saw approaching the house. If he saw anyone he was to fire one shot. He heard horses stepping on rocks as they came up the creek bed. He ran to the end of the garden where he could a good view of the posse. His rifle fired twice. Once again, John was on the run—and he had to run fast!
John was cleaning his guns when he heard the signal. He jumped from the lost and his pistol, which was in the holster of his ammunition belt, got caught on a peg. Not knowing how close the posse was, John left the ammunition and his side arm hanging there and ran up the ravine behind his house. He came out on high ground on his way to a barn located near to where he is now buried in Branham Hollow. As he approached the barn, the posse opened fire on him. Not once did they call for him to surrender as he tried to jump the fence surrounding the barn. Joe Cable shot the fence railing off directly under John’s hand, causing him to fall to the ground. Cable continued to9 fire as John crawled behind the barn. Once behind the barn, John realized that he did not know the man who was shooting at him. He called out and told him not come any closer and asked him to stop shooting. Joe Cable did not heed the call and continued his pursuit. That was a fatal decision for John fired from the corner of the barn hitting Cable in the heart. Cable spun around, too four or five steps and fell dead.
The remainder of the posse did not know how many rounds of ammunition John had left. One thing they did know was that they had found a man who would fight back against all odds. Joe Cable died approximately 75 feet from where John is now buried. During the exchange of shooting about 25 rounds were fired. The horses belonging to the posse got scared and ran off. The posse had to leave the scene in a run to catch their horses. Had they known John had only two more rounds of ammo in his rifle, chances are they would not have left or there would have been three more dead men on this battle ground in Branham Hollow—two of the posse and John because he was not going to be taken alive and he was posed and ready to take two more of them with him.
Cable and some more of the posse, maybe all of them, were from Pike County and they had no warrants for John (which was later proven in court). John, concerned that posse would return to retrieve the body of Joe Cable, decided to continue on up the mountain where he could safely watch their return and departure.
John’s mother was a small woman, but very fiery. All her life, she had more fire than a pot bellied stove on a cold December morning. It is said that when the posse came to get Cable’s body, they found it just as he had fallen. One of the posse asked why someone didn’t place a pillow or something under his head. John’s mother said that if he been home with his family where he belonged instead of here trying to kill her boy that he could have been sleeping on his own pillow.
After the posse was gone, John came down from the mountain and asked if any of his kinfolk had been shot or injured. After being assured that everyone was safe, they said that you could see a sigh of relief and a small smile come across his face. He walked over to his mother and asked, “Mammy, why has so much trouble come upon me and why does everyone want to kill me? It looks like I’m going to have to leave my family again.”
Once again John was on the run. This time he went alone for some reason. He did not return to Virginia. Maybe it was because of the stories that filtered down from there. He was now branded as a wild man—a killer and he was now known as Bad John, a name that stuck with him until his death.
His dodging the law this time took him into the Shelby Valley of Pike County, Kentucky where he would be safe and cared for by his mother’s family (his grandfather, Moses Little). He was just about as safe here as he could ever hope to be because he was sheltered by his relatives, the Littles, Johnsons, Halls and Burkes. After residing there for a few months, John learned of the birth of his daughter, Elva, a sister to John Melvin. John was tierd of running and being away from his family, so he decided to make his move back to left Beaver Creek.
He traveled up the valley to the Robinson Creek Gap and from there he went down to the mouth of Indian Creek (still in Pike County), where he spent the night with his grandfather, Moses Little. John told his grandfather what he was going to do. He said he was tired of running and being away from his family and “that it just wasn’t right to have to run and dodge the law the way he was doing because every man that he had killed was trying to kill.”
At daybreak the next morning, John set out for home accompanied by his grandfather and his mother’s brother, Ben Little. They crossed Indian Creek mountain over into what is now known as Abner Fork of Beaver Creek. They traveled down Abner Fork to Beaver Creek, then up Otter Creek until they reached his father’s home. John told his father that he was tired of running and that he was going to stay close to home until he decided as to what would be best for him to do. He said that if the law came for him in a peaceful way that he would go with them, but if they came a shootin’ like before, he would shoot back and more men would die.
It didn’t take but a few days until John had a small army of friends who were willing to fight and die for him is cause came. Two of John’s older brothers, Melvin and Sill, and the youngest one, Lee Jr. were all ready to fight. So were some of his uncles and cousins; Talt, Evan and Nick Hall along with Marion and Miles Little, John Lee Hall, Ben Little, Albert Little, Willard Little and Calloway Osborne. They all stayed close to where John was and they all were ready for a fight.
The posse came a number of times and there were sometimes as many as twenty men. They came in peace, always traveling the same road and searching the same places, knowing that they would not find John. John spent some time hiding out in the mountain ranges dodging the law, but this was not too much of a problem for him since the law wasn’t really interested in catching this mountain man, because they themselves felt like most of John’s troubles were caused in self defense.
John spent time with friends such as the Jim Hopkins and Hiram Osborne (RIN 253) families. He became very close to these people and they to him, especially McKinley Hopkins, Corbet Osborne and Calloway Osborne. There grew a special friendship between the Halls, Osbornes and McKennley families that has lasted for more than four generations.
Then in early March, 1906, John made up his mind that he sould turn himself in to the law. He was accompanied to the court house by the Osbornes and McKennleys. Upon arriving, John discovered that he was charged with two counts of manslaughter instead of three, since there had never been evidence other than that John was trying to save his own life when he killed Joe Cable.
As to the killing of the Little brothers, the evidence was very light since John and the Little boys were cousins and the two families being very close and neither wanting to cause any more trouble between them. Had John not made the statement to his mother and father that he was tired of being pushed around by these two brothers, and had he not traded for a rifle on the same day of the shooting, and had John’s mother not been an honest woman and testified as to the remarks made by John at the fodder stripping, John would not have had to spend a day in prison.
The trial ended with John being sentenced to three years in prison, but after serving sixteen months, he was pardoned. Once again he returned to his mountain home to settle down without the worry of having to look behind every rock and tree for someone that was trying to shoot him. During this time, John worked on the family, gardening, raising cattle and looking after all of the other daily chores.
John’s wife America had become very jealous of all the time that John had been spending with the Hopkins and Osborne families, maybe rightfully so, but this is an area that I’m not going to venture into, because I don’t know enough about the facts to say what was really going on. I do know that John made the statement that no woman was going to keep him away from his friends, especially friends that were ready to die for him. John and his wife quarreled over this matter for another year and a half. Then John left her and went to Pike County to work.
He relocated in the Robinson Creek area where he went to work for Cap Branham, once again doing timber work. It was here that John met and married Belle Roberts sometime around 1910. To this marriage was born two children, Hatler and Gertrude some time after 1912. Belle died and I am not sure about the cause of death but I have heard it possibly due to childbirth. John wanted another wife to help raise the children so he married again. This time he married Kate Branham, early in 1913. Into this union was born two children, John Jr. and Gladys. Kate had a daughter, Sarah Mae, who was very young at the time of their marriage and it is said that John treated her just as if she were his own child.
John’s stay in Pike County ended in 1916 when the Elkhorn Coal Company began to buy property in the head of Otter Creek. They began to cut and clear timber in preparation to build the town of Wheelwright. John moved his family back to Otter Creek and was hired by Elkhorn Coal. He helped clear land and fall timber until Elkhorn got equipment such as a sawmill and planer. John had gained experience running a saw mill and a planer while on the run in Virginia so this work was not new tohim. He was a good worker and soon became a favorite of the company officials.
Once Elkhorn had acquired the land, the clean-up began. John’s younger brother Lee Jr., was hired as a foreman or straw boss. He supervised the moving of fences and the building of things that were necessary for developing the town of Wheelwright. Once this clean-up was completed and the building of houses, railroads, and opening of the mines had started, Consolidated Coal Company ran a high-voltage power line from Jenkins to Wheelwright. Once the power lines and railroad made their way into Wheelwright, things really began to boom.
Workers of all nationalities made their way to Wheelwright. At this point, it became necessary to hire a city policeman . . . so John’s brother, Lee Jr. was hired as the first wheelwright city policeman. Charlie Klein took Lee Jrs. place as foreman of outside mountains and clean-up. As the town grew, more people came: blacks and whites; Hungarians, Polish, Russians and Czechoslovakians. The blacks and whites came from Alabama and Georgia while most of the foreigners migrated from Ohio. (More Melungeon mixtures likely).
John continued as the saw mill and planer operator. His brother Lee Jr. was still policeman, but he was having problems with some of the outsiders who had migrated into Wheelwright. He was also having more trouble than he felt he should have with a company foreman by the name of Reese and the young son of one of the mine foremen by the name of Elihew Mitchell. Elihew was mean and rough and liked to drink and fight. Lee Jr. had put him in jail more than a couple of times for disturbing the peace and using profanity in the soda fountain.
One Friday afternoon, Elihew came into the pool room and started knocking pool balls off into the floor and saying that he was going to wreck the place. Mrs. Charlie Klein, who ran the pool room sent for the plice. Lee Jr. came in, arrested Elihew and put him in jail for a few hours and then released him. The next day Elihew entered the pool room again, making remarks that he was tired of being pushed around by “them damned halls” and that he and his friend bill Reese were going to run everyone of Halls out of town—everyone except Bad John and they were going to carry him out.
Charlie Klein, who was a good friend of Lee and John, came and told Lee to watch Elihew and Reese. He also said that if he needed help he would be there. Lee talked to John who had long since stopped carrying a firearm because he wanted to stay out of trouble if he could. However, once again, it looked as if he would have to defend himself or run. He didn’t run.
John told Lee that he didn’t have a pistol and asked him to get him one. Lee sent Tilton Hall to his house on #79 hill to tell his wife to send a pistol for John. The pistol that she sent was a single action Colt that used .38 caliber Winchester center fire cartridges. John didn’t have a holster so he placed the pistol under his belt near the center of his stomach and pulled his vest down to conceal the weapon as best he could.
Elihew told the people in the pool room to stick around and watch the big show. He walked out of the pool room and up the porch to the southeast end of the building. He crossed the street to the clubhouse where he satred talking to some young ladies who worked in the company office and boarded in the clubhouse. John and Lee gave no indication that they knew Elihew was anywhere nearby, but they were watching every move that he made. The plan was for Lee to watch Reese and John was to keep an eye on Elihew, since he was the one who they were going to carry John out of town.
After a short time at the clubhouse talking with the ladies, Elihew told them that it was time for the show and he started on his way back toward Lee and John.
It was a warm spring evening and on his way back toward the Hall boys, he stopped and picked a flower from the side of the road. He then acted as if he was going to put the flower in the button hole on his shirt. He unbuttoned one button . . . then two, and on the third his hand went into his shirt and came out with a German Mauser pistol. The Mauser didn’t clear his shirt before John flipped; up his vest and came out with the Colt. He fanned it western style, with three of the bullets hitting Elihew in the chest, dropping him in his tracks. When this happened Lee turned to check on Reese. Sure enough, he was at the far end of the porch in a crowd with his pistol out. Lee, not wanting to take a chance on hitting some innocent bystander, fired over the head of Reese, and that was all it took to scare him off.
On the following Monday, Lee and John boarded the train headed for Prestonsburg, to tell their story to the judge. They had several singed statements from witnesses to prove their story was true. One statement was from M. B. Mitchell, Elihew’s father. He said that after learning what his son up to that he begged him not to try it because he would get killed. John and Lee returned home Monday evening, both free men.
Elihew’s father, M. B. Mitchell was a mine foreman for Elkhorn and lived in house #403. Mr Mitchell had taken the body of his son to his home and Lee and John, on their way home from the railroad station had to walk within three feet of his front door. They saw a number of men on the porch, so they decided that one should by while the other watched for any activities. The only activity or words were friendly.
John and Lee’s brother ‘Sill’ owned a general store in Hall Hollow and M. B. traded with him. After the death of his son, Mr. Mitchell continued to do business with Sill. That fact is that Mr. Mitchell was always friendly with all of the Hall family.
John and Lee returned to their regular jobs, Lee as a policeman and John as planer operator. Elkhorn did make one change however. Reese was fired and he was replaced by a Mr. D. L. coulter from West Virginia.
The planing mill was located where the old Wheelwright bath house is now. The side walk ran directly in front of the mill and all day long people would stop and talk to John and ask him how many men he had killed, how many times he had been shot and if he thought that he would kill again. This situation became somewhat of a problem for John and Elkhorn, so the company transferred John to the repair shop near the opening of mine #79. He worked at this job for about a year and a half when one day he went tot the ‘head house’ where coal was dumped on conveyer belts and carried to the tipple for processing. While there a trip of coal cars got loose. To avoid getting hit by these cars, John had to jump over the railings that enclosed the platform. In doing so he went 15-20 feet straight down, severely spraining his ankle. He was off work for about four weeks.
John never returned to his job. His brother Lee had been placed on the tipple as foreman and John was hired as the City Policeman. This was in 1923. Lee did not stay as tipple foreman very long. He resigned and took over ownership of the general store that Sill had in Hall Hollow. It has been rumored that Lee won the store in a poker game but others have told that he paid Sill $6,000 for it.
By 1924, the town of Wheelwright had grown. With the Elkhorn holdings, such as the movie theater, general stores, recreational facilities, 400+ houses and millions of dollars worth of equipment and supplies, the company decided to hire a deputy to assist John. They hired Joe Cook.
Joe was a native of upper Beaver Creek and had married John’s first cousin (a sister to Bad Talt Hall who later was killed in the infamous shootout at Martin Depot). Joe had only been on the job a few weeks when he was called to a house in Branham Hollow where there was a disturbance going on. A lot of men were drinking, playing poker and generally raising Cain. When Joe arrived, he told the men about the complaint and asked them to break up the game and go home. Instead of cooperating, they began making fun of him and one even roughed him up a bit. Joe left and went straight to John’s house, woke him up at 3:00 A. M. and told him what happened. He asked John to go back to Branham Hollow with him and help arrest the men. John got dressed and accompanied Joe back to the house.
When they arrived about 4:00 A. M., the situation was still the same. John, no doubt angered by what the men had done to his friend, didn’t even enter the house. Instead, he rapped on the porch railing with his pistol and informed them of who he was. He asked them to come out and told them that if they didn’t he would be coming in. The men, all five of them, came out. Once outside, John lined them up on the sidewalk and asked Joe which one had roughed him up. Jack walked around behind the men and said, “this one here in front of me.” John walked over and hit the man on the head with his pistol. The pistol accidentally went off and killed his friend Joe.
Once again tragedy had come John’s way. This was almost more than John could take. Joe was not only family but one of John’s closest friends. My grandfather told me that he has heard John say many times, “I have killed many men; men that were trying to kill me and I have lost no sleep over them, but Joe’s death should never have happened.”
Joe Cook had been killed early on a Sunday morning. The following Sunday, two of the gamblers were found shot to death in Hall Hollow. One was lying between the sidewalk and the church and the other on the creek bank beside the church. No one seemed to know anything about the killings or if they did, they weren’t telling. The next Sunday morning another of the gamblers was found dead on his back porch. He too, had been shot. Again, no one knew anything and no one was talking. The other two gamblers who were in the house in Branham Hollow the night Joe was killed just disappeared. When or where no one knows.
Had John made the full payment for the death of his friend, Joe? May he had for his own personal satisfaction, but surely it was not a healer for the pain he held inside.
Many times John made the statement that he had killed seven men that he counted, but some that he didn’t count. Could the two men in Virginia be among the ones he counted? Could the ones he didn’t count include the gamblers? No one will ever know for sure because the answer to these and many more questions lay buried in a grave in the Branham Cemetery under the head stone marked John W. Hall born 1881—died 1932. This marker keeps watch over the many secrets of the legendary man called Bad John Hall.
The Shoot-out at the Martin Train Depot
This story is being presented here exactly as it was told to me by my grandfather and in his own words.
It was late in January or early February 1925, when John’s ex-wife Kate and Emaline Grigsby, Sill’s girlfriend, made a trip to Prestonsburg KY On their way back, the women had to change trains in Martin and they had to wait for some time on the train to Wheelwright. It was then that they were confronted by Lewis White. He knew Emaline, but did not know Kate. He was introduced to Kate by Emaline. Kate had John’s son, John, Jr. with her. As soon as Lewis learned who she was, he walked over to her and pinched the baby (John Jr.) and told Kate to “go home and tell the baby’s damn bad daddy who pinched him and made him cry and then see if his daddy was as bad and brave as everyone said he was.” I feel as if Emaline told sill of this incident and that Sill told John, but John never let anyone know about it and no one knew that he had been told about the incident until the Martin shootout was over.
John’s brother, Lee, who was in the general merchandise business, was having a much larger business that he had anticipated because of all the people who had moved into Wheelwright. It became necessary to haul more freight and start making deliveries. On Thursday, February 22, 1925, he boarded the early morning train headed to Big Sandy Hardware to buy a two horse wagon. His plan was to buy the wagon on Friday, return to Auxier, KY on Saturday, to attend the funeral of one of his customer’s baby. This was the child of Jim and Eva McCoy. He did this and spent the night. On Sunday he went to the depot to catch the train back to Wheelwright.
John and some of his friends and relatives decided to ride the train to Marton on that same Sunday, so they could come back with Lee. It wasn’t unusual for someone to take a train ride on Satruday or Sunday to martin and back. Those accompanying John were Talt Hall (John’s double first cousin, not Bad Talt), and his brothers Nick and Howard, John Melvin Hall (John’s son), Johnnie Little and Arlin (Peg Leg) Jones.
When they got to Martin they went to a restaurant just across from the railroad station and ate breakfast. I have been told tht the restaurant was operated by a man named Frasure. After breakfast, they returned to the station to wait on the arrival of the Right Beaver train and John’s brother Lee. Lee had missed the early train up the Big Sandy. If he had made this earlier connection, there would not have been a Martin shootout, at least not at this time.
After finding out that Lee was not on this early train, the group decided to walk the railroad tracks on down to Allen and visit a friend, Glever Collins, who owned a hotel there. They would spend time in Allen visiting and wait on the big Sandy train, which they were sure Lee would be on. Sure enough, he was on that train. He got off and they all boarded the Right Beaver train for Martin.
Lee had purchased his ticket to Wheelwright in Paintsville and when the Right Beaver train got to Martin, he said that he was tired and went straight to the Left Beaver train. He took a seat beside the window facing the railroad station. The others had to buy tickers, so they gave their money for the tickets to Talt. For some reason, Talt failed to get a ticket for himself and had to return to the ticket agent to buy another.
They were waiting for Talt to get his ticket when John saw a man in a read sweater coat come out of the Right Beaver side of the depot. He came out between the depot and the supply building on the lower end. He stopped and leaned up against a power pole and stood there with his arms crossed. John walked a few steps ;towards the lower end of the platform. This put him straight in line with this man and the window where Lee was seated. John called to this man and asked him if he was Lewis White. His reply was, “Yes, I’m Lewis White.” Then John said, “Lewis White, I’m John Hall. Would you step over here for a minute because I need to have a word with you.”
His reply was “John Hall. I have no damn talk for you.” With these words, he drew a pistol from under his coat and started shooting at John. With his first shot, he hit John of his little finger on his right hand. Lee had heard part of the conversation and looked out of the window just in time to see Lewis start shooting. Lee pulled his pistol and broke out the window, then fired at Lewis. His bullet hit Lewis just below the left eye, knocking him down. The fight was on.
Talt was in the ticket office when he heard the shots. He being a deputy sheriff and not knowing what the shooting was about, drew his pistol and came running out onto the platform. As soon as he came through the door, someone broke his arm with a table leg, took his pistol and shot him in the head. I remember seeing Talt when they took him out of the baggage car at Wheelwright. He had a white, bloodied pillow under head and I remember very well seeing his brains that had run out on the pillow. Talt had been taken out of the shout out without ever firing a shot.
By this time, bullets were flying from all directions. If you had gun in your hand or if you were running, someone was shooting at you. Lee had left the passenger car and had come out on the platform. Lewis White had pulled himself up by a guide wire. John saw this and leveled down at him, grazing the right side of his head. This time he went down to stay. As Lee stepped down onto the platform, one of White’s men ran by him, shooting. With the power from the shot throwing powder into his face, Lee was knocked down onto the rails. John in the meantime, was trying to take care of someone who was shooting at nim from behind the tool building. John stopped whoever it was that shooting at him and then turned to see what had happened to Lee. He saw that Lee had raised up to his knees and was shooting at the man who had shot at him. John also took a shot at this man as he was running down the railroad. John or Lee one put a bullet in his shoulder.
John Melvin, John’s son, was making it hot for the m an who went by John shooting at him and one of his bullets found it’s target, hitting the man directly in the butt. I later heard that this man was a Flannery. One of White’s men shot Talt’s brother in the back, the bullet hitting him just below the shoulder blade, passing through both sides of his back muscles, making four holes in his back.
Johnnie Little and Arlin ‘Peg Leg’ Jones were shooting at anybody that they didn’t know because as many as there were in this fight, you couldn’t take a chance.
There must have been a dozen or more men shooting. No one knows for sure. Neither does anyone know how many were wounded nor how many were treated and made no reports because they didn’t want to end up going to court. When the shooting stopped, there was one man dead, Lewis White, and one man dying, Talt Hall.
After seeing his brother and believing him to be dead, Nick came down the platform shooting in every direction. When he saw Lewis White lying there, he must have been in shock because he went over and finished emptying his gun into the dead body of Lewis and screaming, “You S.O.B., you caused all of this!” John took the pistol from him and gave it to his brother, Howard.
They placed Talt on a stretcher that had been furnished by the depot agent and loaded him into the baggage car. Lee, John and Howard got into the baggage car with him and the other men got onto the back of the train so as to take care of anyone who tried to follow. When they got up to the old Beaver Valley Hospital, Fred Damron, the baggage clerk, had the train stopped so that Dr. Walk Stumbo and his staff could help the wounded. They gave Talt a shot, bandaged, John’s hand, treated Howard’s bullet wound and put some salve on Lee’s face to relieve the powder burns. The depot agent at Martin telephoned the agent at Wheelwright to tell him that the train would be late because there had been a shooting at the Martin Depot. He said that one man from Wheelwright was dead and there were several wounded.
On March 4, 1925, the Floyd County Grand Jury, with M. V. Allen as foreman, indicted John Hall, Howard Hall and Arlen ‘Peg Leg’ Jones. Why were there no indictments for shooting at Lee Hall with intent to kill? Why were there no indictments for the shooting and wounding of the Flannery’s or the Osborne’s? Who informed Lewis White that John and his friends were in Allen and would return by way of Martin? Why did White have so many men there to assist him? Was he planning on a gun battle or was this just another coincidence? Why did John have these men with him? Was he also planning on a gun battle? I don’t think that he would have wanted his son, his brother and three of his double first cousins involved in a gun battle which would have meant taking a chance on their lives. In all of the other encounters that John had, he never asked for help from anybody. He fought his own battles and it is hard for me to believe that planned this one.
No doubt there are many mysteries hanging over the Martin shootout and no doubt there will be many stories told about this incident. Some will call it another O. K. Corral, but to me, it is just another episode in the life of a man who was destined to live in trouble and forced to fight for his life.
Even after the indictment, Elkhorn Coal Company continued to carry John on the payroll as the city policeman. He continued his duties as until there were warrants issued for his arrest. At this time, he returned the keys to the jail and informed Bill Thousneck, the general manager, that they needed to hire someone to take his place. He felt that the indictment was unfair and he did not intend to surrender at this time. He thought it was better to go into hiding than to have another shootout in the streets of Wheelwright.
I don’t remember the exact date that John decided to turn in his keys, but I do remember that it was a warm day. It may have been around the last of April. The time of day was around noon, because school had let out for lunch. Greenberry Johnson, Ervin Little and myself were on our way to the old tennis court to play marbles. We had arrived at the top of the steps leading down to the courts when I saw John coming down toward the office. I remember that I ran up the street and met him close to where the old city all used to be. He took my hand and I walked with him down to the city office where he turned in h is keys. He then walked down to the marble yard and played marbles with us boys for awhile. When the school bell rang, John left us and I didn’t see him again for about three weeks.
While coming home from school one afternoon, I stopped by my fathers, (Lee Jr., John’s brother) store for a pice of candy. I saw three strange men talking to my dad. They all had badges on and pistols strapped around their waists. I hurried on home to see my mother, knowing that she would have something for a hungry school boy to eat. I could tell that something was wrong with Mom so I ate my buttermilk cobbler and went on to the barn to attend to my pony, Ned. I also had two mules to water and feed. There I met Uncle John and his Uncle Riley coming around the barn. He hugged me and said that my dad was working me too hard. This was all in fun because he knew that my grandmother would be all Dad if she thought that he was overworking me. I asked Uncle John where he was going and he said, “Lee and some men there wanted to talk to me.”
Later that night, Dad came home from the store and told my mother to get some clothes ready for him so he could go to the Prestonsburg with John. He said that John had decided to give himself up. I later learned that one of the three men in the store that day was Bev Mellon. As well as I can remember, he was the sheriff of Floyd County. They were to meet at our house at 4:30 A. M. and go from there to the railroad station and catch the 5:20 A. M. train to Prestonsburg.
Early the next morning, someone knocked on our front door. Dad opened the door expecting to find John, but instead it was Sheriff Mellon and two of his deputies. They waited for John until 4:30 A. M. and they asked my dad if he thought John would show up. Sure enough, a few minutes later, there was another knock at the door. Dad opened the door and his Uncle Riley walked in. He looked around and then called for John. John came, but he was not alone. He had Willard Little with him. He was not unarmed as they expected. He had his pistol strapped on his waist and in his right hand he held a high powered rifle. This visit I saw for myself. The sheriff and my dad were surprised to see John armed as he was.
* This is where the story ended without a resolution. I do not know what happened from this point on nor how John died. (Mary Lou Hill- 28 February 2004).
The following is reprinted from an article published in a special edition of the Big Stone Gap Courier-Journal, from Wise County West Virginia on September 2, 1892
Noted Mountain Desperado, Hanged in Wise, VA September 2, 1892.
Talton Hall, noted desperado and murderer, was hanged here today at 12:34 o’clock. The execution was without marked incident to distinguish it from other scenes of like character, but it removed a feeling of nervous tension that has existed here for a week.
All night long last night, armed guards had patrolled this peaceful little village and armed pickets guarded every approach. They had little to, as everything was quiet. A couple of moon shiners, who were trying to smuggle whiskey into town were arrested. In his stuffy cell in the county jail, Talton Hall laughed, swore and begged for whiskey in turn. Toward daylight, he slept a few minutes. Early in the evening he finished the manuscript for his autobiography which will appear in a few days. After that he chatted with the death-watch pleasantly. At times he swore at a lively rate, when whiskey was refused him. He talked of his past life in a careless, cheerful manner and he said that he had never done anything that he was really sorry for.
About 7 o’clock, his sisters, Mrs. Bates, was admitted to the jail with a hot breakfast for the condemned man. “Pretty mornin’ out of doors, ain’t it?” he said, with a forced smile. “Yes,” she replied, “the last pretty morning you’ll ever see on earth.” Then lowering her voice she said, “Somebody’s got to suffer for this.”
He made no audible reply to this and sipped at a cup of coffee. He also nibbled at a biscuit but only swallowed two or three bites of breakfast.
At an early hour, every road leading into town was alive with people and by 10 o’clock there were 3,000 to 4,000 in the neighborhood of the jail. Pickets on the road disarmed every man who carried a Winchester or a pistol. There was some lively kicking, but all were compelled to submit alike. Between 7 and 8 o’clock, Father Lynch of Lynchburg, went into the prisoner’s cell and remained, except at short intervals, with him until he was taken to the gallows. He administered the last rights of absolution and last sacrament. Mrs. Bates remained in the cell until the last minute. In company with her was Mrs. Houk, widow of one of Hall’s last victims.
At 11:50 Talton Hall was brought from his cell to the front window of the courthouse for the purpose of addressing the people. He had asked for this privilege two weeks ago and promised to roast his enemies in great style. When he appeared at the window, there was a tremendous crush on the outside of the courthouse lot. He surveyed the great crowd, much as a campaign orator does when he steps on a platform and every ear in that vast multitude was strained to catch his every syllable. For ten minutes he stood at the window, looking over the crowd and at the far away Kentucky mountains where his dead body was soon to be taken. He did not utter a word. His face was a study. There was a look of anguish, of utter despair, that fairly chilled the spectators. Twenty reporters stood under the open window with open note books and the crowd outside the enclosure surged against the fence. It was a scene worthy of the greatest painter.
Finally, from either stage fright or exhaustion, he fell back into the chair and was led away by Honorable Charles Richmond, one of his attorneys. After a stout swig of whiskey, he said that he would speak anyway an again the pale and distorted face appeared at the window. He forced a smile and his lips parted. An upturned face just below the window caught his attention. He waved his hand and asked, “What my be your name?” The person addressed told him and he said, “That’s all right” and voluntarily turned from the window. He was conducted to his cell where dressed for the leap into the unknown.
In the meantime, twenty special guards, several reporters, two physicians and a number of friends that he had selected to witness his execution were conducted to the small enclosure where the hideous gallows had been erected, entirely hidden from the view of the public. A few minutes later, or at exactly 12:18, the doomed man entered the enclosure between Sheriff Holbrook and Father Lynch. He looked around the crowd and recognized several acquaintances among the guards and reporters. He shook hands with all those he recognized and bade them farewell.
With a firm step, and perfectly erect, he mounted the steps to the scaffold, saying to himself, “My God, that’s awful.” There he paused, and looking first at the rope; suspended a few inches in front of him, he turned to Sheriff Holbrook and said, “I have only one more word to say. I am afraid that rope will break.”
There was not the slightest tremor in his voice, or the least appearance of fear or nervousness in his veering. He faced the crowd as if to make a speech, when his faithful sister, Mrs. Bates, entered the enclosure and rushed up the steps. She threw her arms around her brother’s neck and rained kisses on his pallid cheek.
“Do you feel any fear of dying?” she asked. “Not a bit,” he replied as tears stole into his eyes. “I have only thing to say to you. Don’t take this hard; let it end all my troubles. See that nobody is killed on my account.”
Her reply was, “Very well, Talton, but there are men here today who better deserve hanging than you do. Remember that.” They exchanged farewells and promises to meet in Heaven and she left the enclosure. At 12:23 the Sheriff and Father Lynch adjusted the rope and black cap. Hall held a whispered conversation with both, and several guards bade him goodbye again.
At 12:34 Hall said he was ready. The sheriff, with tears streaming down his face, cut the rope and the terror of the Virginia and Kentucky mountains dropped into eternity. His neck was broken by the fall and in seventeen minutes, the physicians pronounced him dead.
An hour later, a heavy two horsed wagon was on it’s way across the mountains bearing to it’s resting place Letcher County Kentucky, the land of his nativity, all that remained of Talton Hall, followed by a lengthy procession of his old-time friends.
The Record of Talton Hall
· Please not that this story has been reproduced from an 1892 newspaper article and that it appears here exactly as it was written in 1892. (Which newspaper and date are unknown by me, Mary Lou Hill)
The most celebrated trial ever held in Southwest Virginia or Eastern Kentucky, a country where lawlessness has been rampant for years, was brought to a close on January 30, in the conviction of Talton Hall of murder in the first degree. The jury took twelve hours to deliberate and when the verdict was announced, Hall rose to his feet, perfectly cool and collected. After he was taken to his cell he said to your representative that he was confident of getting a new trial and proving himself innocent of the murder of policeman Hylton, of Norton.
The trial was held at wise courthouse, the county seat of Wise County, Virginia, four miles from Norton, the nearest telegraph station. All week the strange sight was seen in the little mountain village of a courtroom filled with and surrounded by a large body of men armed with Winchester rifles to prevent the prisoner from being rescued or lynched. Even the attorneys in the case had to appear heavily armed to protect themselves from or the other side of the opposing factions. For two days, a band of the friends of Hall, all from over the Kentucky line, seventy-five strong, lay in the woods in the vicinity of the village, awaiting an opportunity to sweep down upon the guards, the jail and courthouse, which commonly commands entrance to the jail, were filled armed men. One of the Hall men, sent into town as a spy, was arrested. The strong preparations made for their reception frightened off the gang. Notwithstanding the mob, it is probable that the verdict rang down the curtain on the closing scene in the career of the most notorious desperado living, and the man who has killed more of his fellow men than any of the many desperados that this region can boast.
Had an attempt at Hall’s rescue been made, he would not have lived to join his friends, even should they have succeeded in driving off the guard.
Hall according to his story, was in all the battles of the Howards, Turners and Eversoles, and had several private vendettas with which to amuse himself when things were dull. Once Mile Turner attempted his capture for a large reward. Hall and a half-dozen friends gave a posse a warm reception, at which time the dead numbered over ten.
Hall claims to have been a Deputy United States Marshall for four years prior to 1884 and to have killed a large number of moon shiners. When asked how many men had bitten the dust at his bidding, Hall nonchalantly remarked, “Oh, I don’t know exactly. As near as I can recollect about ninety-nine.”
Talton Hall was born in Letcher County Kentucky, fifteen miles west of Whitesburg, forty six years ago. He grew up in an atmosphere reeking of crime and bloodshed, and if a mans surroundings have anything to do with his making, his inglorious death at the end of a murderer’s rope is not to be wondered at. His birthplace, a simple log cabin, is still to be seen on the banks of a small mountain stream, appropriately named Troublesome Creek. He grew up in the company of budding desperadoes and his opportunities for securing an education or in any way fitting himself for upright citizenship were scant. Among his boyhood companions were Marshall ‘Doc’ Taylor, now confined in the jail at Wise courthouse, Virginia, on two counts of murder in the first degree and ‘Devil’ John Wright, who has been charged with twenty seven murders and who to t he very last has been steadfast in his friendship with the doomed man.
During the dark days of ’61 to ’65 there was a perfect reign of outlawry in all the mountain counties of Eastern Kentucky. The people were almost evenly divided on the issues of war, and on the home guards, as the little bands of bushwhackers, guerillas and outlaws were called, fought many a battle in the lonely valleys and on the wooded hilltops of this mountainous section which are not mentioned in any of the current war histories.
When the war had ended Hall returned to Troublesome Creek. The whole country was in a reign of terror.
Murders were of daily occurrence and he joined with zest in the feast of blood. It has been claimed that he killed ninety-nine men before he was finally landed in a felon’s cell. Of course this is an exaggeration, but no one how many mountaineers went to their log homes at the crack of his trustworthy rifle. Eight of the long list of alleged murders are well authenticated as follows.
In 1866, he murdered Henry Maggard, in Letcher County Kentucky. The murder was the result of a political quarrel. He was tried at Whitesburg and acquitted.
In March 1875, he shot and killed Dan Pridemore, In Floyd County Kentucky. He was tried and acquitted of murder in the first degree by a jury of his peers.
June, 1881, he killed Nathaniel Baker in Floyd County Kentucky. He was acquitted.
November, 1882, in Knott County Kentucky, he killed his brother-in-law, Henry Triplett, as a result of a family quarrel. He also wounded Triplett’s brother and was acquitted on both counts.
In 1883, he killed Henry Houk, of Knott County Kentucky for which an indictment is still outstanding.
A year later in Floyd County Kentucky, he killed Abner Little. He is under indictment for this crime.
June 15, 1885, in Knott County Kentucky, he assisted in the murder of his first cousin, Mack Hall, for which he was never arrested.