Killing RockMassacre: The Story of Doc Taylor and Ira Mullins
My Appalachian Ancestors
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My great-grandfather Theodore Hopson was the grandson of William Robinette and Luemma Mullins, the granddaughter of James Booker Mullins, Jr. Booker had a brother by the name of Sherwood. Ira was Sherwood's grandson and the son of John L. Mullins.
Ira Mullins was the fourth child born to John Mullins and his wife Martha Potter on February 8, 1857. He was raised in Pike County, Kentucky with his siblings: Ruben, Nancy, Amanda, Sarah, Hulda, John, and Mary. Throughout their early life, John worked as a farmer and shoemaker to feed his family. The 1870 Census lists his real estate value at $100 and his personal belongings to value $200. On June 30, 1870, when young Ira was only 13-years-old, John disappeared out into the woods, working to tan hides for his leather work as he had done so many times before. This time he never came back. He was murdered. Marrying Louranza Estep on May 10, 1879, Ira had grown from a child attending school in his parents' home in Kentucky to the head of a household of his own in Virginia. He was an established farmer and merchant who also had a side job: Bootlegging. It has been said that Ira operated his businesses and life much in the style of a modern day mafioso, using his money and his connections to keep him out of trouble and control the way the laws affected him. The authorities certainly wanted a piece of Ira and set out to bust his operations at every corner. Stopping Ira Mullins, they come to learn, would be anything but easy.
Run-In With The Red Fox
Dr. Marshall B. Taylor, sometimes called the Red Fox because of his red hair and cunning ways, was neither a real doctor nor a fox. He had no formal training and no degree. He did, however, apprentice under Dr. Stallard, his uncle, during an era when medical schools were few and far between. In 1861, Taylor took up arms and served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, where he also worked as a doctor for the troops, but he deemed war murder and wanted nothing more to do with it. Four years later, when his time was up, he commenced to practicing medicine in Kentucky and took up preaching the Methodist faith. Everywhere Taylor traveled, he kept his leather pouch full of herbs and tinctures with him. He also carried his leather bound Bible upon him always.
Despite considering himself a doctor and devout Christian, his medical practices would later become more synonymous with Witch Doctor or Spiritual Healer, as he became a practitioner of Swedenborgianism, a form of spiritualism veiled in the guise of Christianity. When faced with something his herbal bag of tricks could not take care of, he would lay hands upon the inflicted and, through incantations, would summons spirits to aid in healing. Despite his mystic ways, the people of the community did not immediately consider him a quack, as many swore that his method worked to make them feel better. Those same mystic ways that led people to respect him as a healer also caused them to fear him. It was believed that his metaphysical practices enabled him to transcend through time and space, with the ability to appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. Riley Mullins (cousin to Ira) had a first-hand encounter with the Red Fox in just this manner.
It has been told that Riley, who was notoriously known for being a rough man, had told friends that he was afraid of no man, not even the devil himself. Apparently, Marshall Taylor caught tell of his statement and decided to test ole Riley. Riley's story was that he was walking along on a lonesome, quiet trail toward Pound Gap with no sound nor sight of anybody else nearby. Suddenly, he said, from out of nowhere Doc Taylor was walking beside him, silently keeping perfect step along the way. Taylor never said a word or made a sound, just kept walking alongside Riley with a stoic expression. The doc himself wasn't intimidating to Riley but the sudden manifestation of his appearance and the way he made no sound Riley found disturbing to his soul. His heart started racing and he picked up his pace but Red Fox kept up with every step, keeping time just as silently as before. No sound from his breath nor his feet. Then suddenly, he was gone. Taylor was nowhere on the path and nowhere cutting through the thickets of the forest. This puzzled Riley as much as it gave him the creeps but he shook it off and continued on his way.
A little further down the road, when he was itching for a taste of tobacco, Riley stuck his hand into his pocket in search of his sack but found something else instead. He pulled out a small piece of poke candy with an elegantly written note attached to it that read: "Be careful Uncle Riley or the Devil will get you when you mess with Red Fox." How Taylor managed to appear and disappear just like that and how on Earth he managed to tuck the candy into Riley's pocket undetected-both unseen and unfelt, was beyond anything Riley could comprehend. Riley might have feared no man but Doc Taylor wasn't any ordinary man. He was something else. Riley Mullins did feel fear at this instance and immediately high-tailed it down the old dirt road to the home of a man named Poindexter in the nearby town of Jenkins and there he stayed until he was certain enough time had went by for the old Red Fox to be far, far away.
Like Riley, Ira had run-ins with Doc Taylor, too, but they were rarely as calm and peaceful. While Ira was busy operating his moonshine stills and distributing his goods across the state's boarders, Taylor had been busy making career moves that would allow him to do something about the Mullins mob and their unlawful deeds. He became deputized as a Federal Marshal. One day, while at his post in the old Wise County courthouse, Taylor caught sight of the Mullins' covered wagon rolling by. He wanted Ira Mullins as much as he wanted the goods contained inside the wagon, which he knew to be unstamped bottles of white lightning. Calling his men into action, the deputies drew their guns and commenced to firing upon the cart. Nearly 200 shots cut through the air during the raid. The commotion sent the horses drawing the wagon into high speed but not before the driver was hit. Ira and another man who was traveling with him leaped from the wagon and returned fire on foot. The statesmen failed to do their job that day, as the only person stopped was the man whose dead body was carried away with the fleeing horses. Ira Mullins merely packed away his gun and casually walked down the street unscathed. This was an incident neither Mullins nor Taylor would ever be able to put behind them.
Not long after the incident, Marshall Taylor was stripped of his badge and forced off of the police force. The reasoning behind his firing was said to be because he was unstable. It was very likely that Ira, by way of organized crime, had Taylor removed by men in prominent positions who did business in the shadows with the bootlegger. After all, what Ira wanted, Ira got.
In All the Land
July 6, 1883, Ira Mullins received a land grant and had 100 acres of land surveyed in Pike County. on Elkhorn Creek. Ira's land ran from to two dogwood trees and a small ash tree that stood at the survey line of land owned by Henry Vanover, Louranza's maternal uncle.
Henry Vanover had served in the Union Army during the Civil War and as payment for his services, the government had granted him 900 acres. Henry's land was situated on both sides of Elkhorn Creek and included what is now Burdine, East Jenkins, and Number 3 Hollow. Vanover sold the timber felled on his land and would use the profit to purchase more acreage. As it would turn out, as Vanover wished to expand his property line, he was rather upset to find that Ira had settled his own homestead against his property line and even more so that Ira ran a moonshine distillery there. Vanover accused Ira of settling on land that he had claimed for himself. Simply claiming something is yours, however, doesn't rightfully make it yours. Ira had the survey papers to prove he was within the lines of his own property but that wasn't good enough for Henry Vanover. The two men would dispute this land claim for years to come.
One note of particular interest that played a hand in the feud between Vanover and Mullins was the company Vanover kept. Doc Taylor was a known close friend and frequent visitor of the Vanover home, as were Calvin and Henan Fleming with whom Ira had a long-standing tension. On the evening of May 28, 1885, just after having come in from a long day of timbering, Henry was unwinding in his home when someone trod horseback down the creek, firing shots at the house. Protecting his wife and kids who were inside, Vanover shot back, knocking the lone rider from his horse and killing him with a shot to the head. It was discovered that the man was none other than James Roberts, from Ohio, who had been staying at the home of Ira and Louranza. Vanover was convinced the dead man was a hired gun for Ira Mullins, sent to kill him in an attempt to steal the land from his wife after he was gone. Henry was tried for the murder of the would-be assassin but was acquitted of the crime.
Sometime later, on June 18, 1887, Henry Vanover and his wife were working in their field in Rocky Hollow when again, an armed rider galloped past, firing bullets into Henry's body. This time the assassination was successful and Henry's wife was left with nine children to provide for on her own, one of which was an infant. As it would turn out, Ira Mullins wasn't the only person who may have had his eye on the Vanover property and the guilty party could have been a number of people. It is said that after Henry's murder, she would come to face over 100 law suits from people attempting to take their piece of her land.
Initially, Clifton Branham and his brother, Tandy, were charged with the killing of Henry Vanover. They were given a hearing before Judge Hogg the week of August 19, 1887. During the hearing, Ira Mullins had been implicated in the murder of Vanover. A few minutes Just before the trial, John Venters and George Belcher, who were working as guards at the jail helped Mullins escape. It was approximately five (5) years after the murder of Henry Vanover that there was another killing. That of Ira Mullins on May 14, 1892. Catherine Vanover is said to have "waited that Saturday morning" and "held the horses for her lover, the man she would later marry, Henan Fleming."
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
One April night in 1892, shots fired through Ira's bedroom window. If Ira were ever lucky to be bed-ridden, it was at this moment. As he was laying prone in his bed, the bullet narrowly missed his body but became lodged in his bedclothes, which caused the garments to smolder and his bed to set fire. He understood the shot to be a warning from Taylor. As Ira was now invalid and unable to return fire or retaliate himself, he took other measures to handle the problem. It was rumored that Ira had paid a Capo of his $300.00 to do it for him. As all things are can be heard over the neighbor's fence, Taylor heard about the target that had been placed on his head. He argued that he couldn't have shot into Ira's house because he was doctoring that night in Kentucky but even having an alibi was not enough to make him secure in his safety. Fearing for his own life now, the Red Fox packaged himself into a shipping crate and had himself boarded onto a freight train to Bluefield, West Virginia where he hid out at his son's house. Taylor fled to Kentucky, and waited the movements of the moonshiners.
It was on May 14, 1892 that one of the most unthinkable crimes in the history of the area took place. The Mullins family had ventured to Leasburg, Virginia on a business trip so that Ira could sell a tract of land he owned there, which sold for $1,600. By late morning, the sale had been made, money collected, and the family started on their way back home to Pound. Eleven-year-old Mindy, the daughter of Wilson Mullins and Ira's sister Jane, had started out on the trip, Wilson refused to let her ride the whole way. He took Mindy to her grandmother Patsy's house where she was pacified with fruit and juice. The story that has been passed down says that Wilson hugged his girl and told her to be good while he was gone when he walked out the door and that was the last Mindy ever saw of her father.
The group of travelers loaded back into their wagon after a short visit and chartered on their way. John Chappel, a mentally disabled lad whom Ira employed to help him around his land and on the road, drove the wagon. Louranza sat next to him on the seat up front while Ira was propped up in the back of the wagon on a bed of straw. Jane rode by horse alongside them. As the group neared their hometown of Pound, the two younger boys, Greenberry Harris and John Harrison Mullins (Ira's young teenage son and only child) had grown tired of the rough ride in the wagon and decided hop out and walk the rest of the way. It was a little past one o'clock in the afternoon when the Mullins clan approached the location that would seal their fate.
The road the family traveled was along the Pine Mountain Trail in Pound Gap near the Kentucky-Virginia border. About 500 yards southeast of Pound Gap, on that trail, lies a large pile of fallen boulders stacked on and around each other, surrounded by trees, creating the perfect hiding spot for anyone interested in causing mayhem. This particular day, those interested would become the assassins of the Mullins family.
With not a care in the world and oblivious to the watchful eye that lay in waiting just ahead on the other side of the large telescope watching their every move as they mozied along, the Mullins family did what any family would do on a long road trip. They bantered back and forth about life and scenery while the young boys joked and threw rocks at leaves high in the trees the way young boys do when out in nature. Without a single warning, like a sudden burst of rain falling from the sky, thunderous sounds filled the air but rather than rain drops falling upon them, it was bullets. When the storm of death started raining upon them, Ira Mullins' fifteen year old son, John Harrison Mullins, was walking with Greenberry Harris just behind the wagon and saw one of the horses go down and then the other. They could not see where the shots were coming from nor who was firing them, but one thing was certain: the danger was ahead of them. When faced with the decision between fight or flight amidst the chaos, John Mullins instinctively chose to run for his life in the direction opposite of the hellish gunfire. He ran as fast as he could in the direction from which they had just come, leaving his friend Greenberry to make his own decision in the matter. The poor boy never had a chance.
Upon hearing the guns sound and seeing the first horse taken down, Wilson knew it was up to him to try to protect the family. There were two women, two children, and two disabled men in his party and none of them could defend themselves. He leaped from his steed and ran to find cover behind a tree from which to return fire at the attackers. Before he could make it to his chosen hiding place, Wilson was hit and killed in his tracks about fifteen paces in front of the wagon. Seeing her husband hit like the moving target he had become, Jane leaped from her horse and ran to him to check the severity of his wounds-bullets still raining all around her. Her husband was bleeding out fast and she realized there was nothing she could do but kiss him goodbye and roll him over in an effort to slow the river of blood that seeped from his body and ease the pain.
Through the loud blasts Jane heard her name being called. She turned to see that John Chapel had been killed in the driver's seat and Louranza was stumbling down from the wagon with her hand clutching her chest where a red spot was growing larger by the second. Dodging shots as best as she could without even a moment to pray to the heavens for her own safety, Jane ran to Louranza just as she hit the ground. She pulled her sister-in-law to a spot under the wagon and propped her up, attempting to use one of the wheels as a shield for her. Louranza Mullins had been shot twice in the breast and twice in the legs, ensuring that she would be unable to flee and thus would die. Through gurgling gasps, she wheezed her last words to Jane: "They have killed me."
Overcome with adrenaline that made her fearless and determined, Jane attempted to check on the others. Through the thick smoke-filled air, she saw three figures standing in arms, taking cover among the boulders on the mountainside just above her. They wore thin green cloths to veil the upper portions of their faces but their bodies, clothing, and lower portions of their faces were exposed and recognizable. She had no doubt that, despite their poorly attempted disguise, she knew exactly who the shooters were who accosted her loved ones before her eyes. They were none other than Doc Taylor and the Fleming brothers, Cal and Henan.
"Boys, for the Lord's sake, don't shoot anymore!" She screamed defiantly at the mad, masked trio. "You have killed them all now! Let me stay here with them till someone finds us!" Doc and Cal cursed her and threatened her but Henan called his partners down from harming her, and insisted they spare her life. With that, she heard the voice of one of the other's (she couldn't tell which) yell at her, "Damn you, woman! Take to the road and leave now or we're going to kill you, too!"
Knowing they would turn their guns on her just as easily as they had killed the others, Jane prayed they would show the mercy they said and let her live. Through the trees she ran toward Elkhorn, Kentucky. Her nephew, John Mullins, who had ran into Virginia came upon Pound before Jane ever had the chance at meeting help. Once in town, John ran to the house of Jemima Harris, the mother of Greenberry, the friend who had been slain with his family. He told Jemima and George Gransisco about the massacre and the adults instantly made their way toward the scene of the crime, alerting others and gaining help along the way.
Those who arrived at the rock formation on the mountain some hours after the occurrence were Jemima Harris, Elizabeth Branham, Robert Mullins, and John Bently. The scene was horrific. Countless bullet holes had torn through the wagon and both horses carting it. Blood was absolutely everywhere, seeping from both horses and humans. Wilson Mullins still lay face down on the road ahead of the wagon, under the tree where his wife had rolled him over. Behind the wagon, Jemima made the most dreadful discovery, her young Greenberry lying with two bullets to the head. Inside the wagon, the group found John Chappel slumped over in the driver's seat with six gunshot wounds to his body. An inspection of his body revealed six bullets had penetrated him in various places. Louranza Mullins was not where Jane had left her, however. She was found about nearly a meter from the wagon with her legs buckled under her. It is believed they had been broken. Her dress was pulled up over her head and the small satchel she kept the money made from the sale of the land in was found cut into shreds but the money was never found. The men found Ira still laying on his straw bed in the back of the wagon. A closer look at his body revealed that Ira Mullins had instantly taken eight shots to his body total: One to the shoulder, one to the wrist, one to the leg, one to the side which tore all the way through his body and into his bowels, two to the chin, and one to temple in his head. The amount of overkill done to Ira made it obvious the attack was a personal crime of passion and not a random robbery on innocent strangers passing by. It was later disclosed that the killers had hidden all the money except $100.00. Each of them took $25.00 to buy themselves a new suit of clothes. The purse was found cut to pieces, but the lost bag of money was never recovered.
Newspaper article from August 15, 1892
IRA MULLINS GRAVE DESECRATED
Clintwood, VA, August 15--The grave of Ira Mullins, the man who was murdered near Pound Gap last spring, has lately been desecrated in an inhuman manner. Some ghoulish wretches blew the grave up with dynamite or some other explosive substance, exposing the remains of the murdered man. In life he had some terrible enemies and their vengeance is not yet satisfied. This may have been retaliation for an earlier incident, in which the grave of the notorious Clell Adams was dynamited. Dirt, sand and pieces of bone and wood from the coffin were scattered over a large area. Years before this, one of Ira Mullins brothers was killed by an Adams.
The Man Hunt
Jane Mullins was the only person left alive who saw the masked assassins. Because she knew the men well, she was able to identify them by their voices and the lower halves of their faces. She reported to authorities that those who murdered her family in cold blood that day were none other than Doc Taylor, Cal Fleming, and Henan Fleming. If she knew them so personally, then they likewise knew her equally as well and could later come back and take her life as a means to avoid being caught. It was decided by the court to take Jane into custody at the Wise County Jail for safe keeping, their "old time" version of the Witness Protection program. She stayed there nearly six months. During that time, the authorities investigating the massacre discovered shell casings on the mountian that came from a particularly rare type of Winchester-so rare, in fact, that only three of them existed within the state of Virginia and one of those three belong to whom else but Doc Taylor. It was no secret around town that Doc and Ira had bad blood between them for quite some time and now the evidence supported Jane's story. The police set out to find Doc Taylor and the Fleming brothers.
There was no trace of their whereabouts for weeks, when, occasionally, Taylor would be heard going along the highways, accompanied by several armed men. He was finally hidden in a loft of his son's house in Norton, Virginia, from whence, he was secretly put aboard a freight car and hidden among the freight. The railroad company's detective was on the lookout, and arrested him at Bluefield, West Virigina.
The Fleming brothers would escape arrest for years before being captured and tried for their crimes. Intercepted letters in the mail revealed to authorities that the brothers had skipped town and were presently working at a saw mill in Boggs, West Virginia. A posse of heavily armed men met up with the brothers at their local post office in West Virginia. The right side of the law collided with the wrong side of the law inside that tiny post office and the shoot-out of the century ensued. When all guns had fired and the smoke cleared the air, it was discovered that Calvin Fleming lay dead and one of the armed agents was fatally wounded. Henan Fleming was immediately arrested and tried for murder on behalf of the agent who died in action there. He was acquitted. Henan was then extradited back to Virginia to face trial for his part in the Pound Gap Massacre. As fate would have it, the only witness able to testify to seeing Henan Fleming, Jane Harris, by this time had died from complications two weeks after giving birth to a son by a second husband. Because a dead woman cannot testify against anyone, Henan found himself acquitted of a second murder charge and was set free.
Doc Taylor was indicted for the slaying of the Mullins family and was found guilty. In an attempt to avoid a hanging death, his first plan of defense was to plead insanity. The entire community was fully aware of the eccentric character he was, delving in spiritualism and using spirits from the "Great Beyond" to aid him in his healing practices. He had already convinced the people of the area that he could move faster than the speed of light, appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye. Surely, he thought, if not be convinced of his insanity, they may be convinced he could escape all attempts to confine him and might as well let him go free. His friends and family asserted that Doc Mullins was insane and circulated a petition asking the governor of Virginia to pardon him, if not spare him death with a life sentence behind bars. Very few people signed the petition, however. Even more damaging to his insanity claim was the fact the sitting judge heard him suggesting questions to ask specific witnesses. The judge reasoned that no insane man would have the clear mind about him to counsel his attorney about law and questioning, so he refused to accept the argument of insanity. Next, Taylor appealed the judgment on the grounds that his gun could not have possibly fired the killing shots. The casings found at the site of the massacre were rim-shots, meaning the pin hit the rim of the casing rather than the center. The execution was put on hold while an investigation was done. A closer look at Doc Taylor's gun revealed that it did, indeed, fire at the center but only because it had recently been tampered with. Red Fox, the ole "sly fox" wasn't so smart this time. His tampering with evidence only expedited a new hearing rather than grant him forever freedom. This didn't worry the Red Fox as much as one might expect. The old sly man had yet another idea, a most unbelievable idea that some witnesses say he did, in fact carry out. An idea, they say, that worked.
Marshall B. Taylor was hanged at Wise Courthouse, Virginia, at 2:20 in the afternoon on October 27, 1893 for the murder of the Mullins Family. He ate a hearty supper and slept soundly until daylight the night before the scheduled execution. An article in a newspaper covering the execution reported that he ate a light breakfast then went back to bed and stayed until 10 o'clock. It was further reported that twenty-five heavily armed guards stood outside the jail. Doc asked to preach his own funeral and was allowed. From an upstairs widow in the courthouse, he called down to a large crowd, citing the Revelations 3:20 from the Bible: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."
Doc was likewise granted to partake in alcoholic beverages while he awaited his death. Due to the effects of the liquor coupled with his impeding doom, he spoke emotionally for over an hour, at times breaking down and choking on his tears. During the sermon never once did he confess to the crimes he was accused of and losing his life for. He told the people instead that he had confessed all he needed to Jesus and that he had be forgiven and promised a seat in heaven. He then had the crowd below him to sing "How Firm a Foundation".
Taylor was taken back to the Wise County Jail, and went up to the scaffold at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. He once again read from the Bible and said one last prayer. As the Sheriff affixed the white cap at 2:10, Doc fell victim to a panic attack, dropping hard to the floor, shaking in tears. Rarely a bad man believes he deserves to die so one can relate to being overcome by fear with thoughts of certain death. Renfro and the other men quickly raised Doc to his feet and adjusted the rope around his neck. At 2:20pm, Jailer Renfro cut the ropes to the trap door and Taylor fell through the foor of the box, the rope straight and tight in the view of onlookers. Eighteen minutes later, the physicians gathered inside the box and under the floor out of view of spectators pronounced Dr. Marshall B. Taylor dead. His body was turned over to friends whom he had asked to keep it until the following Sunday. Three days were given in waiting, to honor Taylor's last wishes and testament which were that his loved ones keep watch over his body for three days, where like Christ, on the third day he would rise again. Naturally, nobody honestly expected him to resurrect from the dead but they did keep watch over his body as requested. On the third day, the coffin was then given a proper burial.
Family members of Marshall B. Taylor are certain that he was not executed that day at the courthouse. Many swear that when his body dropped through the floor of the scaffold, he landed on the ground and was quickly released. It is said Taylor was given a disguise to help him blend in with the other physicians who were in the boxed off portion under the scaffold to pronounce his body dead. Dr. Cherry, one of the physicians present inside the box at the execution stated that the attending doctors carted out an empty coffin and released it to the Taylor family, allowing Taylor free to flee to Missouri where he is rumored to have lived out the rest of his days. This theory is quite possible considering that Doc Taylor's mother lived there and evidence exists of his children and grandchildren packing up and moving to Missouri from Virginia as well.
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Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 06 January 2020), memorial page for Ira Mullins (8 Feb 1857–14 May 1892), Find A Grave Memorial no. 16007729, citing Potter Cemetery, Jenkins, Letcher County, Kentucky, USA ; Maintained by Lauri Rowland Hill (contributor 46821972) . Photo added by R. Dotson.
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