The Red Fox of The Mountains
Marshall Benton Taylor aka Old Doc Taylor
Blue Grass and Rhododendron - Published 1901 - by John Fox Jr.
Killing Rock Where Marshall Benton Taylor, and Cal and Henan Fleming Waited on 13 May 1892
Marshall Benton Taylor In Top Right Window While In Jail
Enclosed Gallows For the Hanging of Marshall Benton Taylor|
The Man at the Top Is Adjusting the Rope
On 13 May 1892 Marshall Benton Taylor along with Cal and Henan Fleming murdered the Mullins family at a place later called the "Killing Rock". On 27 October, 1893, in Wise VA, Marshall Benton Taylor was hung by the neck until dead for this crime.
Sketch of Marshall Benton|
Taylor by B. Gilliam
The Red Fox of the Mountains was going to be hanged. Being a preacher, as well as herb doctor, revenue-officer, detective, crank, and assassin, he was going to preach his own funeral sermon on the Sunday before the day set for his passing. He was going to wear a suit of white and a death-cap of white, both made of damask tablecloth by his little old wife, and both emblems of the purple and fine linen that he was to put on above.
Moreover, he would have his body kept unburied for three days - saying that, on the third day, he would arise and go about preaching. How he reconciled such a dual life at one and the same time, over and under the stars, was known only to his twisted brain, and is no concern of mine - I state the facts.
But had such a life been possible, it would have been quite consistent with the Red Fox's strange dual way on earth. For, on Sundays he preached the Word; other days, he was a walking arsenal, with a huge 50 x 75 Winchester over one shoulder, two belts of gleaming cartridges about his waist, and a great pistol swung to either hip. In the woods, he would wear moccasins with the heels forward, so that no man could tell which way he had gone.
You might be walking along a lonely path in the mountains and the Red Fox - or "old Doc" - as he was usually called, would step mysteriously from the bushes at your side, ask a few questions and, a few hundred yards farther, would disappear again - to be heard of again - a few hours later - at some incredible distance away. Credited thus with superhuman powers of locomotion and wearing those mysterious moccasins - and, as a tribute to his infernal shrewdness - he came to be known, by and by, as "The Red Fox of the Mountains."
Sometimes he would even carry a huge spy-glass, five feet long, with which he watched his enemies from the mountain-tops. When he had "located" them, he would slip down and take a pot shot at them. And yet, day or night, he would, as "yarb-doctor," walk a dozen miles to see a sick friend, and charge not a cent for his services. And day and night he would dream dreams and have visions and talk his faith by the hour.
One other dark deed had been laid to his door - unproven - but now, caught in his own toils, at last, the Red Fox was going to be hanged.
The scene of that death-sentence was a strange one. The town was a little mountain-village - a county-seat - down in the southwestern corner of Virginia, and not far from the Kentucky line. The court-house was of brick. but rudely built.
The court-room was crowded and still, and the Judge shifted uneasily in his chair - for it was his first death-sentence - and leaned forward on his elbows - speaking slowly:
"Have you anything to say whereby sentence of death should not be pronounced on you?"
The Red Fox rose calmly, shifted his white tie, cleared his throat, and stood a moment, steady and silent, with his strange dual character showing in his face - kindness and benevolence on one side, a wolfish snarl on the other, and both plain to any eye that looked.
"No," he said, clearly, "but I have one friend here who I would like to speak for me."
Again the Judge shifted in his chair. He looked at the little old woman who sat near, in black - wife of the Red Fox and mother of his children.
"Why," he said, "why - yes - but who is your friend?"
"Jesus Christ!" said the Red Fox, sharply. The whole house shivered, and the Judge reverently bowed his head.
Only a few months before, I had seen the Red Fox in that same court-room. But, then, he had a huge pistol in each hand and bore himself like a conqueror, as he guarded his old enemy, Talton Hall, to and fro from the court-house to jail, and stood over him in the court-room while that old enemy was on trial for his life. (John Fox Jr. and Marshall Benton Taylor were both members of The Guard, a vigilante self appointed police force created by the big coal and timber companies to put down strikes and see to it that people let go of their land without a fuss).
To be sure, that flying wedge of civilization - the volunteer police-guard down at the "Gap," twenty miles away, was on hand, too, barricading the court-house, through the brick walls of which they had cut port-holes, keeping the town under military law, and on guard, night and day, to prevent Hall's Kentucky clansmen from rescuing him; but it was the Red Fox who furnished money and brains to run his enemy down - who guarded him to jail and who stood at the railway station, with his big pistols and his strange smile, keeping at bay the mob who hungered for Hall's life without the trial by his peers.
And now, where Hall had stood then, - the Red Fox was standing now, with the cross-beam of the gallows from which Hall had dangled, and from which the Fox was to dangle now, - plain to his eyes through the open window. It was a curious transformation in so short a time from the hunter-of-men to the hunted-of-men, and it was still more curious that, just while the Red Fox was hounding Hall to his grave, he should have done the deed that, straightway and soon, was to lead him there.
For the Red Fox had one other bitter enemy whom he feared even more than he hated - an old moonshiner from the Pound - who came to the little county-seat every court-day. Indeed, a certain two-horse wagon, driven by a thin, little, old woman and a big-eared, sallow-faced boy, used to be a queer sight on the dirty streets of the town; for the reason that the woman and boy rarely left the wagon, and both were always keenly watchful and rather fearful of something, you soon discovered, was the out-stretched body of a huge, gaunt, raw-boned mountaineer, so badly paralyzed that he could use nothing but his head and his deep-sunken, keen dark eyes.
The old man had a powerful face, and his eyes were fierce and willful. He was well known to the revenue service of North Carolina, and in a fight with the officers of that State, a few years previous, he had got the wounds that had put him on his back, unable to move hand or foot.
He was carried thence to the Pound in Kentucky, where he lived and ran his "wild-cat" stills, undeterred by the law or the devil. Ira Mullins - old Ira Mullins - was his name, and once when the Red Fox was in the revenue service, the two came into conflict.
Ira was bringing some moonshine back from North Carolina in a wagon, and the Red Fox waited for him at the county-seat with a posse, and opened fire on Mullins and two companions from behind fence and house corner. (There are some who say that the Fox fired from a very safe position indeed.) Only one was killed; the horses ran away and carried off the body and left the other two on foot. A little later, old Ira walked leisurely up the street and on out of town, unmolested and un-followed. This was supposed to be the origin of the trouble between Mullins, moonshiners, and the Red Fox of the Mountains.
One day, while Talton Hall was on trial and the Red Fox guarding him, old Ira came to town. Two days later the Red Fox disappeared over night, and the next morning, just while old Ira, his wife, his big-eared son of fourteen years, a farm-hand, old Ira's brother, and that brother's wife were turning a corner of the road through Pound Gap, and, just under some great rocks on a little spur above them, sheets of fire blazed in the sunlight and the roar of Winchesters rose.
Only two got away: the boy, whose suspenders were cut in two, as he ran up the road, and the brother's wife, who was allowed to escape back into Virginia and who gave the alarm. Behind the rocks were found some bits of green veil, a heap of cartridge shells, and an old army haversack. These were withered, showing that some of the assassins had been waiting for the victims for days.
Who had done the murder was a mystery. The old woman, who had escaped, said there were three men, and so there turned out to be; that they had the upper part of their faces covered with green veils; and that she thought two of the men were Cal and Heenan Fleming of the Pound and that the third was the Red Fox of the Mountains.
Some of the empty shells that were found behind the "blind" fitted a 50 x 75 Winchester, and only three of such guns were known in the mountains. It was learned later that the Red Fox had one of these three. The shells found were rim-fire, instead of centre-fire, as the Fox on his trial tried to prove that his shells were.
An examination of the gun proved that some friend had tried to alter it; but the job was so bungling that it was plain that tinkering had been done. So that the Winchester and the effort of this unskillful friend and the old man's absence from his post of duty on the night preceding the murder; so that when Hall - who, after his sentence, had been taken away for safe-keeping, was brought back to the county-seat for execution there was the Red Fox in the adjoining cell of the same cage whose door was to close on Hall. And as Hall passed, the Red Fox thrust out a freckled paw to shake hands, but Hall struck at him with his manacles and cursed him bitterly. And in those cells the two enemies waited - the one for the scaffold that both could hear building outside, and the other for the trial that was to put his feet on the same trap-door.
The Red Fox swung in a hammock, reading his Bible by day and having visions at night, which he would interpret to me, when I was on Hall's death-watch, as signs of his own innocence and his final freedom among the hills. Nothing delighted Hall more, meanwhile, at that time, than to torture his old enemy.
"I know I'm purty bad," he would say - "but thar's lots wuss men than me in the world - old Doc in thar, for instance." For "old Doc" by virtue of his herb practice was his name as well as Red Fox of the Mountains. And the old Fox would go on reading his Bible. Then Hall would say: "Oh, thar ain't nothin' twixt old Doc and me - 'cept this iron wall," and he would kick the thin wall so savagely that the Red Fox would pray unavailingly to be removed to another part of the jail.
And when the day of Hall's execution came, he got humble and kissed the first lieutenant's hand - and he forgave the Red Fox and asked to kiss him. And the Red Fox gave him the Judas-kiss through the grating of his cell-door and, when Hall marched out, took out his watch and stood by the cell-door listening eagerly. Presently the fall of the trap-door echoed through the jail - "Th-o-o-m-p!" The Red Fox glued his eyes to the watch in his hand. The second hand went twice around its circuit and he snapped the lid and gave a deep sigh of relief: "Well, he's gone now," said the Red Fox, and he went back in peace to his hammock and his Bible.
The Red Fox was no seer in truth, and his interpretations of his own visions proved him no prophet. And so, finally, where Hall had stood, the Red Fox of the Mountains was standing now, and where, in answer to the last question of the Judge, Hall had sat in sullen silence, the Red Fox rose to ask that a friend might speak for him - startling the court-room: "Jesus Christ."
Thereupon, of course, the Red Fox lifted a Bible from the desk before him and for one half hour read verses that bore on his own innocence and burned with fire and damnation for his enemies. The plea was useless. Useless was the silent, eloquent, piteous plea of the little old woman in black who sat near him. The Red Fox was doomed.
The guard down at "the Gap" had done its duty with Talton Hall, but it was the policy of the guard to let the natives uphold the law whenever they would and could; and so the guard went home to the Gap while the natives policed the jail and kept old Doc safe. To be sure, little care was necessary, for the Red Fox did not have the friends who would have flocked to the rescue of Talton Hall.
That funeral sermon was preached on the Sunday before the day, and a curious crowd gathered to hear him. The Red Fox was led from the jail; he stood on the porch of the jailer's house with a little table in front of him; on it lay a Bible; on the other side of the table sat a little, pale-faced, old woman in black, with a black sunbonnet drawn close to her face. By the side of the Bible lay few pieces of bread. It was the Red Fox's last communion on earth - a communion which he administered to himself and in which there was no other soul on earth to join except the little old woman in black.
It was pathetic beyond words, when the old fellow lifted the bread and asked the crowd to come forward to partake with him in the last sacrament. Not a soul moved. Only the little old woman who had been ill-treated, deserted by the old fellow for many years; only she of all the crowd gave any answer, and she turned her face for one instant timidly toward him. With a churlish gesture the old man pushed the bread over toward her, and with hesitating, trembling fingers she reached for it. The sermon that followed was rambling, denunciatory, and unforgiving. Never did he admit guilt.
On the last day, the Red Fox appeared in his white suit of tablecloth. The little old woman in black had even made the cap which was to be drawn over his face at the last moment - and she had made that, too, of white.
He walked firmly to the scaffold-steps and stood there for one moment blinking in the sunlight, his head just visible over the rude box, some twenty feet square, that surrounded him - a rude contrivance to shield the scene of his death.
For one moment he looked at the sky and the trees with a face that was white and absolutely expressionless; then he sang one hymn of two verses.
The white cap was drawn, and the strange old man was launched on the way to that world in which he believed so firmly, and toward which he had trod so strange a way on earth.
The little old woman in black, as he wished, had the body kept for three days, unburied. His ghost, the mountaineers say, walks lonely paths of the Cumberland to this day, but - the Red Fox never rose.