Sexton, "The King of the Mountain," was a legend in
his own time.
As his name implies, High Bill was a giant of a man,
tall and rawboned
and mean as hell. He was born in the High Knob country
not long after
Civil War, and he was already an old man when I came
to know him. But
had done little to change his ways.
High Bill and the way he operated, you have to know
something about the
social climate of the place and time in which he
as I remarked earlier, don't have much regard for "law
and order." They live pretty much
the code of the Old Frontier, and a man who is big and
rough enough and
a bully by nature can make a bigger splash in the
backwoods than he can
in polite society.
"territory" covered an area of perhaps fifty square
miles in southern
County. People were scared of him. He'd walk right
into the houses of
mountain ramps and help himself to anything and
everything he wanted. I
mean, everything. He probably fathered more
illegitimate children than
any other ten men in that part of the country, but he
failed to claim
of them--blaming it all on whiskey. He
was patriarch of a "legitimate" family that included
some decent people
and more than a few cutthroats .
grew old, High Bill fell onto hard times. By 1942, he
was living in a
and getting by pretty much on handouts. And then one
night he seemed to
go "off" mentally. Maybe he just decided to do his
stuff one last time.
He went on a rampage and started shooting up the
the police were sent for, and when they went after
High Bill he
himself in his cabin and began firing at the officers
with a .45
pistol. Deputy Guy Sanders returned the fire, one of
through the shanty door and into Sexton's chest.
the Mountain survived the wound, but never fully
recovered his health.
He died a few years later, a lonely and despised old
you about Squirrel-Head Cindy Orsborne.
On High Knob
there's a big shelter rock, known for many years as
rock provides protection from the south wind, and
there's a nice,
spring of always-fresh water at one end.
is approximately three miles from my Uncle Patton
Nickels' house. I
that when I was a youngster staying at Uncle Patton's,
ranged as far as that old shelter rock--and it was in
going after the
to herd them home that I first encountered
Squirrel-Head Cindy and her
a small, slender woman with a tiny, squirrel-like
head. She never was
bright, but her disposition was friendly and so far as
I know, she
in her life caused anyone any harm.
in 1960, Cindy's age was believed to be 117. According
to her own
she established her home under the rock a few years
after the Civil War
and lived there until the mid-Twenties.
no income of any kind. Her diet consisted of whatever
berries, and roots she could find in the mountain,
supplemented by an
bit of small game given to her by hunters. She
preserved food for the
by drying fruits and vegetables in the fall and
storing them under her
rock, in crevices that rats and mice could not reach.
She raised three
or four children, none of whom knew their
fathers--probably hunters or
other itinerants. The children all drifted away as
soon as they were
the little old woman alone in her
Cindy moved down into civilization in 1926, living in
a shack on Pine
until it rotted down twenty years later. Her neighbors
up a new one-room, ten-by-ten shack for her, and that
was her home
she passed on in 1960.
I called on Cindy, she failed to recognize me--even
after I told her my
name and tried to jog her memory. She wouldn't come
out of her shack,
wouldn't open the door to me, more than just a crack.
She peered out at
me like an ancient, bewildered little animal,
apparently no longer
of communication. Her neighbors told me she hadn't
some time, and that neighborhood kids heightened her
distrust of people
by bombarding her shack with rocks whenever they
on it, one might conclude that Squirrel-Head Cindy
would have been
off had she never left her home under Orsbome Rock in
story of another family that lived under a rock:
l800's, an old man named Baker lived with his seven
wives and numerous
children under a cliff on Black Mountain, near the
about four miles from the pine tree celebrated by John
Fox, Jr. in his
novel, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.
story was told in the mountains that Old Man Baker
once returned from a
deer hunt to find his wives fighting among themselves.
"Now, girls," he
is supposed to have said, "You ought to be ashamed.
You all should get
along like children--there's so few of ye." By the
turn of the century,
Old Man Baker and all his progeny were gone from Black
received a call from an official of the Consolidated
Coal Company in
Kentucky. He told me that a tall, aristocratic man
with gray hair and
Kentucky-colonel goatee had come to
in a chauffeur-driven limousine for the purpose of
Baker's Rock. Many people in Jenkins had heard of the
rock, but nobody
could lead the man to it. That's when somebody
with Black Mountain and its history, and suggested
that I might be able
to help him.
of the coal official, I drove to Jenkins and led the
stranger to Baker's Rock. The old gentleman was
extremely anxious to
the rock, but wouldn't tell us why--until we got
Yes, this is it," he said. And then he related a
he said, quite proudly, "I was born under this rock,
and spent my early
years here. And I'm not the least bit ashamed of it;
in fact, I'm rather
had left home at fourteen, traveling down the Kentucky
River to the
country on a log raft. He had split rails, cleaned out
around, working whenever and wherever and at whatever
he had saved some money, bought a piece of land, and
cleared it for
An endless string of good fortune had come his way. I
"Now I raise horses and fine cattle, and a whole lot
of them, sir."
me most graciously for guiding him back to his
that after having been gone from the area for all
those years, he might
never have relocated Baker's Rock without help.
the story of one of Old Man Baker's sons--a man
who was literally
"raised under a rock."
a hermit who lived at Carter Town, a backwoods
settlement near the road
that runs between Coeburn and Dungannon. For several
years , Babe's
companion was a wild goose--a Canadian honker. The
goose made a forced
landing near Babe's home during its migratory flight
one year, and the
old man took it in and nursed it back to health. Babe
named the goose
Jim, and talked to it and cared for it so much that it
than a tame goose. When Old Jim regained his health,
he was free to
didn't confine him in any way--but the goose knew a
good thing when he
saw it, and he decided to just stay on at Carter Town
as Babe's friend
putting on a wildlife exhibition at the county fair in
Wise one year,
I went to Babe and borrowed Old Jim for one of my
displays. I tied a
to the goose's leg to prevent him from escaping, and
he turned out to
one of the hits of the fair.
the rough part .
a big rainstorm during the fair. Old Jim, of course,
was outside, but I
thought he'd be all right. What I didn't realize at
the time was that a
goose, when tied, looks up all the time. After the
storm, we found Old
Jim dead. He had stood there and looked up into the
rain until, by God,
to explain what had happened to poor old Babe
from the law can be a lot harder to capture in the
mountains than in an
urban area. This is especially true if the fugitive is
a real "mountain
man" --swift and nimble afoot, and resourceful enough
in the wild. And if he's operating on his home ground,
friends to shelter him, his chances of avoiding
capture are especially
a man was Willie Sturgill.
I used to hunt
Willie's father, Ballard Sturgill, so I knew something
about the family
and I knew Willie when he was growing up. He was
raised in a little
community called the Cane Patch, on the
branch of Roaring Fork on Powell's River, near Pardee.
brush with Willie came in 1944 when I went to
investigate reports of
shooting in the mountains above the Lonesome Pine
Country Club in
Valley. Stationing myself at the one break in
the mountain where
a person can get through, I waited for the hunter to
came out. I didn't
have to wait very long.
man came out of the woods with a rabbit, several
squirrels, and some
swinging from his belt. He was about twenty years old,
in appearance. (Not having seen Willie for several
years, I didn't
him as Ballard Sturgill's son. But even if I had, it
have altered what was to transpire during the next few
stopped under an apple tree, holding a shotgun in his
left hand while
his right hand, he parted the tall weeds, searching
for apples. He had
no hint of my presence until I arose from my hiding
place, less than
feet away, to confront him.
right where it is, big boy,", I said.
speed, Willie whirled to face me-- and just that
quick, we could have
been dead. As he whirled, he brought his 20-gauge,
around to within what seemed just inches of my chest.
Meanwhile, I had leveled my .44 at his
as I shouted at him to throw up his hands or I'd kill
or two, we both looked death in the eye. And then
Willie fainted. When
he regained consciousness, he asked me two favors:
that I not tell
the details of his arrest, and that I petition the
court for him to
out his jail sentence on the "poor farm"--for which he
with double time, thereby cutting the time served in
half. When I
who young Sturgill was--that he was the son of a
friend of mine, and a
boy I'd known as a little shaver--I granted both
stay on the poor farm very long. His first day there,
he hoed one row
corn--and when he got to the edge of the field, he
broke into the woods
That same day,
authorities received a pickup order for that same
Willie Sturgill. He
A.W.O.L. from the Army!
he was finally recaptured, Willie was to make the
FBI's "Ten Most
Criminals" list. Everyone was after him--as many as
ten FBI agents at
particular time, plus a squad of MP's, plus all local
in the area. Because of my familiarity with Willie,
his family, and the
mountain country he was hiding in, the FBI enlisted my
aid in the
It proved to be a long, merry chase.
the search was spread over a wide area and Willie was
far as fifty miles away, I don't think he ever
ventured more than four
or five miles from his father's home on Steele's Fork.
On one occasion
when we called at the Sturgill place, while old
Ballard sat on the
telling officers he hadn't seen his son for many
weeks, an old woman
up where she was working out in a field near the house
with a big, sweeping motion of her bonnet. When I saw
that, I didn't
anything. But I suspected strongly that the woman was
that the man we were after couldn't be far from the
house at that very
A few days
a tip led officers to a small cave at the base of a
cliff not far from
Sturgill's home. There they found the fugitive, in the
company of his
eight-year-old sister. His only "weapon" was a jar of
But that was all he needed. He dashed the moonshine
into the face of a
federal alcohol tax man named Gross, temporarily
blinding him, and ran
off into the woods.
Willie might have stayed on the run forever, had it
not been for a
conversation I had with an Army sergeant who was
assigned to the case.
The sergeant was relating to me that he had told
Willie's parents that
when their son was captured. he would be taken back to
his base to face
a court martial. A court martial! It suddenly
dawned on me that
to many old people in our part of the country, court
about the same thing as firing squad. That was
from Civil War days. Deserters, when they were caught
, were court
martialed and shot. Very likely, the elder
Sturgills thought that was
sergeant was telling them would happen to Willie!
to see old Ballard Sturgill, and found that this,
indeed, was the case.
I guaranteed the old man that if Willie went back
voluntarily, not only
life be spared--he'd be restored to
within six months.
The two Sturgills, father and son,
at my door at six o'clock the next morning. The great
chase was over.
II ended a few days later, and within six months
Willie Sturgill was a
free man once again--this time, legally free.
early Scotch-Irish settlers of the Virginia
Appalachians moved on
when the Indians were pushed off the fertile valleys
of Tennessee and
a few stayed behind. Their descendents still live in
in pretty much the way people lived two hundred years
changed a great deal in places like Stoney Lonesome,
Nettle Patch, or Gobbler's Knob.
of the residents of Wise County still live so far back
in the sticks
they have little contact with the outside world. Prior
to the building
of access roads by the Roosevelt Administration's
Corps (CCC) in the late 1930s, the only means of
within the county was by horseback or on foot.
rural areas on horseback for several years beginning
in 1932, becoming
well acquainted with the mountaineers and their ways
of life. I became
the principal carrier of news, settler of disputes,
friend to the
on more than one occasion, a pretty good midwife. Many
young-'un let out his first wail after getting a spank
across his little
red ass from old Davey's hand.
custom of the mountain people was that if the man of
the house wasn't
the women and children of a family would all run and
hide when a
came along. But I made it a point to stop and get
acquainted at every
Experience taught me that one man cannot begin to
enforce the fish and
game laws in an area that encompasses several hundred
he has the public on his side--to the degree that
private citizens will
act as "scouts" and inform on offenders. And the best
informers of all,
I discovered, were women and children.
the mountains is a very real thing, even today.
Children are going
, and often without adequate clothing or shelter. It
was even worse
my early days as game warden, before roads were built
into the back
County welfare, such as it was in those days, did not
extend back into
an humble-appearing old fellow named Phillip Sexton,
back in the High
country. He had the yellowest, crookedest teeth I ever
saw in a man's
growing in all directions. His hair hung almost to his
seldom shaved, and he was cockeyed as hell. Outside of
that, he looked
pretty good--for a Sexton.
my dogs in the mountain one day when I ran into old
he said. "What fine dogs you have. Lord God, I'd like
to have me a
dog like that!
"Just think of all
ground hogs I'd catch, to fatten my chillun up--they
as pore as they
I'd like to say
that I left one of my dogs with Phillip, so he could
catch some ground
hogs to feed those kids. But I didn't; I was afraid
that if I loaned
him a dog he'd let it starve to death,
he did his own dog.
came from a long line of moonshiners. And moonshiners,
as a rule, tend
strictly to their own business, never infringing on
the rights or
of other people. But Sam broke the code--and that's
what got him into
early Forties, a mountaineer named Creed Collier lost
a solid black
calf. No trace of the animal was found for several
days. Then its hide,
head, and feet were discovered near Sam Penley's
place. Of course,
was no way to prove that it was Sam Penley who killed
the calf, but it
was pretty obvious to everybody that he was the guilty
party. To top it
off, I was told by informants in the area that Penley
had a habit of
deer out of season, too.
trying to get the goods on young Mr. Penley. About a
week after the
of the calf were discovered, I was patrolling the
mountain near the
place when I almost stepped in a bear trap. Nearby, I
came upon a
still--and not far from the still, another trap. This
one was a snare
baited for deer with corn meal, salt, and ripe apples.
I did not report the many stills that I ran onto in
the mountain. The
were my friends, and if they made good whiskey and
respected the game
I saw no reason for turning them in. But I did report
the Penley still,
because of the traps. The ABC (Alcoholic Beverage
Control) boys moved
within a few hours and destroyed the still.
days later I heard by way of the grapevine that Sam
Penley had boasted
of setting traps "for Dave O'Neill or any other s.o.b.
that wears a
into the mountain." Not too long after that,. Sam was
drafted into the
Army. But the Army couldn't hold him. He promptly went
on the run for about a year.
on a tip, I guided a pair of military policemen to
Penley's place early
one morning. Sure enough, Sam was there, and he was
taken without a
The Penley home was a one-room shack, with a stove,
one bed, and a gang
of snotty-nosed kids. Sam's only request was that he
be allowed time
a good drink of whiskey before the MP's led him away.
They granted his
request, and he went along peacefully.
for Penley's family to go on county welfare,
supporting them out of my
own pocket until welfare payments started.
are a couple of postscripts to the Penley story. Sam's
wife got his
back pay, which amounted to somewhere between seven
and eight hundred
She used it to buy whiskey from her brother, a
Wiley Peaks, and stayed drunk all the
until the money ran out. Then she died in that
from what is commonly called the DT's (delirium
home after the war. He made whiskey in partnership
with a boy named
until they had a falling out and Sam killed him. Sam
was tried for
came clear, and went back to moonshining.
about 1953. The county wild life manager, whose name I
reveal in this story, lived with his family in a
little home beside a
One day Giles County Game Warden Bill Jamenson and I,
along with some
Forest Service people, had stopped at the fellow's
home and were
with him on his front porch when a U.S. Forest Service
overhead, just above the treetops.
are still a rare sight in that part of the country.
Wanting his wife to
see this one close up, the wildlife manager called to
Oshie," he yelled. "Come out here and look at
There was no reply.
Oshie!" he repeated, somewhat louder.
she answered, from inside the house.
out here, I want you to see this big airplane."
" she snapped. "I don't want to see no airplane. "
"Hey, Oshie!" the fellow called.
No answer .
"Hey, Oshie!" he shouted, louder than ever, as
his guests blinked
at each other in wonderment.
Still no answer.
"Hey, Oshie!" he bellowed.
"Kiss my ass!"
Pinkney Carter, a Scott County farmer and store owner,
first hybrid corn into Southwest Virginia in the
1920s. His bottom land
along Big Stoney Creek soon produced the finest yield
of corn folks in
that part of the country had ever seen.
the reputation of being a fine, community-minded man.
But when it came
to sharing that hybrid corn, he became a little bit
selfish. When Floyd
Green, a lifelong friend, neighbor, and good customer,
asked him for
seed, Pinkney refused to give him any.
to have this good corn of mine scattered allover the
is alleged to have told Green.
swept through Big Stoney Creek the following spring,
place by half a mile but destroying seventeen
buildings on Carter's big
farm. It strewed his property--including his corn--all
over the valley.
to call on Carter after the storm.
"I tho't you said you wasn't going to have your corn
scattered all over
this country. Looks to me like God Almighty had a hand
in what happened
my younger readers may have thought I was "putting
them on" a bit
I bragged earlier about having played midwife on
several occasions. I
Here's one example of how it went:
lived with his family in the next-to-last home in the
Nettle Patch. It
was a regular thing for the fellows I 'coon-hunted
with to wind up a
hunt by stopping at the Bates place for
cup of coffee or a shot of good whiskey before heading
wintry night in the mid-Thirties, I came down out of
the mountain into
the Nettle Patch with my dogs in the wee hours of the
morning. When I
at the Bates place, I found Mrs. Bates in labor and
nobody with her but
a couple of small children.
developed, had gone to Norton in search of a doctor.
When he couldn't
one in Norton, he went on to Dorchester and got Dr.
Bobby Jones. But by
the time they got back to the Nettle Patch, the job
a little bit of help from me, Nettie Bates had given
birth to a healthy
boy," said Dr. Jones, "you've done as fine a job as
anybody could have
do you reckon that if I went down to the medical
and told 'em about all the experience I've had, they'd
give me one of
licenses like you've got?"
Well, Pearl and Nettie named that boy after me, so I
an interest in him as he grew up. He turned out to be
the kind of boy
wouldn't go to school, and in my capacity as part-time
truant officer a
few years later, I helped get him out of trouble
several times. I don't
know what he's doing today, but it probably isn't
story about High Bill Sexton, the old "King of the
half the women in a dozen different settlements? Well,
we once had a
buck deer" that did the same thing. Only, he didn't go
after the women,
like High Bill did. His hang-up was cows.
a lot of calls from the eastern end of the county
concerning a buck
that was running with the farmers' cattle, destroying
crops and "having
his way" with the cows and heifers. In
investigation of the reports, I talked to a number of
I asked one man just how large the buck was, he showed
me by making
mark on his barn door. It was six feet tall!
sightings of the "deer" were reported for the next few
days. But then I
was told that it had taken up wi th a widow woman's
cattle, and was
them on an average of once every thirty minutes. I
in the area to shoot the buck--not to kill it, but
merely to pepper it
with No. 8 shot, so as to drive it away. This one of
them did, from a
estimated at thirty yards. The buck went away, all
right; but he came
back, as soon as the farmer had left, and took up
where he had left off
with the widow's cows. So then a farmer shot him with
a No.4 shot, and
he went away again--but only temporarily.
rainy morning, Babe Orsborne and the widow lady's
brother came to my
at about 6 a.m. With them they had a badly injured
heifer. That amorous
buck had been at it again!
was the last straw. Taking my .30-.30 Winchester, I
went back with the
two men to the "scene of the crime"--the widow's
pasture. And there, in
daylight, forcing his attentions on one
the lady's cows, was a big, bull elk! There was
nothing I could do but
shoot him. He was a fine, healthy specimen, weighing
we were at least 150 miles from the nearest elk herd,
and elk are not
as "wanderers," I theorized that the elk had been
brought into Wise
with a group of calf deer. At that age, they look
enough like a deer to
pass for one. In any event, to make the widow and her
about things, I went to the Wise courthouse and took
out a marriage
the elk and his "lady love," the
of 1940, I was caught in a snowstorm near Orsborne
you will recall, of Squirrel-Head Cindy Orsborne. The
only house within
miles was the home of a fellow named Tom Ramey. I
headed for the Ramey
place, seeking shelter. As it turned out, Ramey and
his family needed
worse than I did.
was wrong, as soon as I came in sight of the house.
There was no light
in the window, and no smoke coming from the chimney. I
at the door, then opened it and stepped inside. The
sight and the smell
that greeted me were almost beyond description.
Tom Ramey was
on a keg, half-conscious, too weak to move. He was
and had been in that condition for several days. A
woman and her infant
baby, both suffering terribly from malnutrition, lay
on a bed of leaves
in a corner. The stench of the place was horrible.
There was no fire in
the fireplace, and no firewood in the house--though
the temperature was
below freezing and an eight-inch snow covered the
ax and chopped enough wood for a big, roaring fire.
Then, as the three
Rameys thawed out, I gave them water and what little
food I had with
Then I struck out for Norton to get help.
Ussery accompanied me on the return trip to the Ramey
find another horse in town, so the doc rode mine and I
led him in. It
a rough trip: uphill all the way, about fifteen miles,
and heavy snow. But I was one hell of a man in those
and his wife and child all survived. We rolled them
out of the mountain
on a wagon, and within a few days they were well
enough to walk home.
Years later, I lost a valuable hunting dog named Old
Dan on the High
After searching for him for several days, I had
finally given up on
finding him. But then a mountaineer sent word to me
that he had found
dog and was caring for him.
name was Tom Ramey.
Game Warden and loyal Democratic Party worker, it was
to take VIPs from the state capital on quiet little
two- and three-day
fishing trips into certain mountain lakes where
fishing was not
On one such trip, I picked up a boy at West Norton to
and act as handy-man around the camp. The boy's first
name was James,
I could tell you his last name, too. But it's really
immaterial to the
story, and could bring embarrassment to the family.
Let's just call him
did a swell job. He hustled all the time, making
coffee and frying fish
and helping out with the bait and the tangled lines
and the rowing.
important of all, he was a very shy, quite kind of
boy--never saying a
word, unless it was in answer to a question, and then
he answered with
a nod or a grunt or, at the most, just a word or two.
When the trip was
over, each of the
visitors gave James a nice tip and
following year, some of the same party came back for
another visit to
lake. Remembering the good job James had done, I went
by his house to
if he'd like to go with us again. James wasn't there,
but his brother
was, and he volunteered for the job. William was just
a year younger
James, and looked so much like him that one of the
members of our party
didn't realize he wasn't the same boy until we were
rowing out across
the same boy we had last year?" he asked.
was m'brother, James."
is James now?"
at, up north?"
"What's he studying?"
"Yes. What's he studying at Harvard?"
"James ain't studyin' nothin'."
"Well," demanded the guest, "What the hell is he doing
at Harvard, if
isn't studying anything?"
"Harvard," said William "is a-studyin' James!"
Begley was a mountaineer who lived with his family on
of Stoney Creek, in Scott County. Be and his wife
in a one-room log cabin, feeding them on beans and
berries and ginseng
root and anything else they could forage in the
One day in the fall of 1933, Grover sent word to me to
bring my hounds
and come over to his place; he had a big gang of coons
that a family of Lanes who lived below Grover on
Stoney Creek had
a new coon dog. They had boasted to Grover that they
were going to
all the coons in the country, and they made a point of
not inviting him
to join them.
old Grover decided to show 'em. In fact, he
Lanes to hear my dogs "boo" around the ridge above
their place when we
went after the coons.
with two good dogs of my own, I put in at Cracker's
Neck with Hugh
and another fellow, each of whom had one dog. On the
long walk to
Fork, we treed and killed perhaps twenty-five
squirrels between us--the
makings of a wonderful feast at the Begley place.
The coon hunt began right after supper. And it was a
rough one. We
seven miles through rough country before we heard a
dog bark. Then one
of my dogs, Little Queen, picked up a track, right
under our feet.
an urgent trail bark, she took off up a little branch
into a nearby
The other dogs, hearing Queen, rushed in to pick up
the same track--but
they all followed it downstream. While the other
hunters took off after
the three dogs, I followed Queen. The race lasted for
about a mile,
Queen treed her quarry up a big, spreading oak at the
head of the
Actually, it turned out to be not one coon, but five!
Grover said, "Let's wait till about four o'clock; I
want them damned
to hear the dogs and the shootin'!"
started building up a fire so we could keep warm--but
he built it right
under the tree the coons were in.
'em out that way, Grover," I protested. "Leave 'em
alone, and they'll
in that tree all night, but you build a fire that
close to the tree,
they'll leave here."
turned out, four of the five coons escaped the tree
and ran into a
where they were safe. We shot the other one out.
way back to the Begley place, Hugh Graham had trouble
with his feet.
a Southern Railway locomotive engineer, was a big man,
a lot of walking , and on top of that he was wearing
new boots . Every
few hundred yards, we'd hear him say, "Wait just a
at the Begley place, Grover's wife praised that coon
like nothing you
saw. Parting its fur with her fingers, she'd say, "My
Lord, ain't that
two beds in the Begley cabin, and they both reeked of
baby pee so bad I
just couldn't take it. But after hunting all night, a
man had to sleep
some place. I solved the problem by finding a big
chestnut log a
or so from the cabin and curling up along side it with
my two dogs
up against me--one before, one aft.
afternoon, I was ready to go hunting again. The others
kept talking a
hunt, but all of them, Grover included, were more
inclined to stay
and take nourishment from the five-gallon keg of
moonshine setting at
back door than they were in tramping up and down those
son Jack, a big, strapping boy of about thirteen, was
the only one
to go with me. So he and I set out with the dogs, and
were back with another coon.
made whiskey in a hollow between Devil's Fork and
Johnson Pastures. The
Peaks family also made whiskey in that same general
area, and from time
to time a little bit of professional jealousy existed
between them and
morning a couple of the Peakses found Grover alone at
his still and
to beat his brains out with a pole ax. Then they shot
him a couple of
for good measure, and buried him in a shallow grave
body with rocks, leaves, and tree limbs.
wife knew where his still was, and when he failed to
come home that
she went looking for him. She found the grave,
uncovered her husband,
discovered that he was still alive. Then that hardy
woman went back
hitched up the family mare, and retuned to drag Grover
home on a
stretcher. Within a few weeks, she nursed him back to
To cap off the
several of the eighteen Begley children eventually
married Peakses, and
raised fine, properous, law-abiding families!
Begley, Grover's husky son, who accompanied me on that
of coon hunting?
home not long after that, and found a logging job in
Bland County with
the Virginia Hardwood Lumber Company. He was on his
way home for the
one cold Christmas Eve in the late Thirties, traveling
in the company
another young man. They stopped in Norton and Jack
bought a bottle of
paying for it out of a fifty dollar bill. Then the two
of them set out
for Jack's home in Scott County, across
evening, an out-of-state motorist came down off the
Knob and reported
seen a dead man lying in a ditch back around Chestnut
Officer Ray Wells jumped in his car and
off up the mountain to investigate the report. Along
the way, he passed
a man walking down the mountain carrying
a small suitcase. Wells drove on to
Flats and found the body, but discovered when he got
there that he had
forgotten to bring along his camera. Not wishing to
disturb the body
photographs had been taken, he left it where it lay
and hurried back to
Norton--picking up the suitcase-carrying suspect along
I had received a call from Wise County Sheriff Clyde
Bolling, asking me
to accompany him to Chestnut Flats. We got there just
as Wells returned
with his camera. The "murder victim" was lying face
down in a ditch,
full of holes. After the necessary pictures had been
taken, I turned
over and recognized him as a Begley--although at the
time, I didn't
one. Then, to our amazement, the man
He was still alive!
Begley's traveling companion confessed that he had
shot him seven
leaving him for dead. Obviously, nobody had explained
to him that those
Begleys don't die that easy. Jack, a man of extremely
was back on his feet in a week's time.
years Later, Jack went over to Kingsport, Tennessee,
and got himself
through the guts with a .38 special. But a few days
later he was
high again, stronger than ever.
Jack's undoing came on Little Stoney Creek, near
Hanging Rock, in the
of an old man named Dooley. Jack broke into the old
man's cabin one
declared who he was and what he was there for, and
began to make
advances toward Dooley's attractive young daughter.
slipped off into the kitchen, where he had a
against the wall. Returning quickly to the front room,
he fired a load
of birdshot into the back of Jack Begley's head from
point blank range,
killing him instantly.