Jenkins History

 Look Down the Cumberland to Jenkins, Kentucky in 1927

By: Nora Figger

Dear friends and gentle people, I would like for you to see Jenkins as I saw the town in April, 1927. Our family of ten was driven from Tom's Creek, Virginia in a Ford car to the top of the Cumberland mountains, at Pound Gap. This was as far as the car could come. Dad and mother took us by the hand and told us that we must walk down the mountain to a friend's home. These were the Sextons in the Mudtown division.

The first sight we saw was the beautiful lake which seemed to be away down the mountain. I have never seen a more lovely scene than the beautiful verdant mountains and the seemingly row after row of colorful homes. It seemed a far distance to Charlie Sexton's home where we were to stay until our furniture arrived from Virginia.

We were taken down to Jenkins depot and boarded a train for Burdine. The train station is down town now, but it was a little yellow and white station near a carpenter shop. When we got off the train Dad pointed to a huge hill and said that this was to be our new home. Just a short distance down the road was the recreation building, called the "Y", and the giant company store.

We journeyed up the mountain to No. 2 Hill. It seemed we would never make it to the top. It was a five-room house with a pump in the yard. We had a coal cook stove and fireplace to heat the house. Now, imagine, ten people to each side or twenty people to a house. We lived together and became the best of friends. There were the Haleys, Baldwins, Andersons, Bryants, Mullins, Galoways,º Shorts, Bakers, Dyes, Stallards, Johnsons, Olivers, Grymes, and many more to come and go in the next few years.

The Fleming family expected another addition to the big family in November. The last of the family was born, November 14, 1927, Harless Emory Fleming.

It seemed we never got to see our father until Sunday morning. It was quite a day to look forward to having Sunday school and church in the homes of our neighbors. There was no church on the hill but so many people from Virginia had moved on the hill and they were of our faith so we just got together and had services in the homes. We'd take a whole house for Sunday school rooms. People of those days shared the good and the bad times with each other. They were more closely intertwined than the family clans of today.

The miners didn't make a big wage and when someone had a large hospital bill to pay the men got together and took a paper through the mines and the bill was paid. When sickness kept the bread-winner from work they got together and paid the amount that was needed. When mother was paralyzed three months and couldn't get out of bed, the neighbors kept the house clean, cooked, and took care of the new baby. The money was little but oh for the love those people had for H?8one another.

It came our first Christmas in Kentucky and the Consolidation Coal Company was wonderful to the big families. Mr. Wonecot was over the Burdine Store. I remember the dray men bringing a wagon load of toys and food to the families of No. 2 Hill. Children were grateful for one toy in those days, and had twice the fun pretending with little homemade games. We had Christ in Christmas and love in our hearts. We celebrated Christmas with a program and sang Joy to the World with true meaning. We had peace on earth.

Poppa and brother Royal rose at four o'clock in the morning to go to the mines. I can just hear Dad call, "Rise! Rise! Catch your four o'clock coffee!" Mommie and Joyce would get up and build the fires and cook breakfast and pack buckets while Dad and Royal would get dressed to go to the No. 1 mines on the opposite side of the mountain from No. 2 Hill. Dad laid tracks and brother drove a motor. I'd not get to see Dad sometimes until Sunday morning because it was too late at night when they got in and too early when they went to work.

Down in the bottom was a nice company store and "Y". The "Y" had a soda fountain, pool room, barber shop, and upstairs was a theater. The surroundings of the "Y" was beautiful with roses and all kinds of flowers and trees. Up behind the train station was a beautiful park with swings and merry-go?rounds and the like.

There was No. 1 Bottom and No. 2 Bottom and then the school. Beside the school the company built a community church which is now the Freewill Baptist. The first school was in the home which is now owned by Leonard Vicars. Then they built one section and in 1928 the company added the other building, a cafeteria. We thought it was the finest of its time. We had a school doctor and a nurse and a dentist to take care of the children's health. They were good and very aware of the needs of the children. It cost only fifty cents to get a tooth pulled and filled. We got a physical each year and celebrated May Day and it wasn't a day for the Communists. The Superintendent was C. V. Snapp. He was a man of outstanding qualities and I was always proud to say when I went to UK or Morehead that I was from Jenkins, Kentucky.

It was a good many years before I knew much about the rest of Jenkins for it was a far walk uptown and we didn't go except by train and that cost ten cents and money was hard to come by.b

Jenkins was carved out of a wilderness by the Consolidation Coal Company and was a model coal mining town. Jenkins was much more beautiful then, than now. In front of the power house was a beautiful park that was attended by a gardener, Mr. Braddock. Along the streets on each side were beautiful maple trees that lined the streets.

We had so many buildings that are now torn down. We had a self-sufficient H?9town. We had a bakery, and ice cream plant, and ice plant, a pop plant, a white and colored "Y", a meat market, a tearoom, soda fountain and a nice theater and hotel. At one time the service station sold more gas than any for miles around. The company had its own garages to service what few cars that were individually owned. The company had buses to take the men to their mines which went clear to McRoberts.

The Jenkins Independent School System was the best in the state. We had a triple A rating with the Southern Association. The people kept coming to Jenkins in such increasing numbers that another building was built in 1932. The company supported the schools and each man was cut over the payroll to help defray expenses. The company wanted the best it could afford for the school. It is through their effort that we had the best teachers that now teach in universities and colleges. They were interested in the food and environment of the children.

The health system was the best. The communities were visited by a nurse and doctor and when they found things undesirable you were notified by your policeman to clean up or get out. If you were of questionable character you were asked to leave town. It had a say about everything that pertained to Burdine, Jenkins, Dunham and McRoberts.

The rent was about nine dollars a month, water was a dollar, and power was a couple of dollars and the coal was hauled, all we used for heat and cooking, for two dollars plus seventy-five cents for the hauling. The company painted and repaired our homes at request. These are some of the nice things I remember.

The churches and civic organizations were few but they soon grew better as more good people came to Jenkins. The company built the Methodist and Baptist and Catholic Church and gave to them places for the ministers to live. To build good schools and churches was a must for the town to grow. The first of the civic organizations that I remember was the Masons and the Eastern Star, and next was the Woman's Club, and then the Girl and Boy Scouts of America. Great strides were made by the company to build cabins for the boys and they gave houses for the girls to meet in.

There was the American Legion that did great things for our boys and girls. They started boxing that became known for miles around. They also inspired love of country and patriotism in the hearts of Jenkins.

The people who came to Jenkins always seemed to find what they were looking for in schools, civic work and began building churches of all denominations and building a good place to live. I have never found a better place to live no matter how rich the place was, and Jenkins is a good place to live to find peace of mind and contentment of my heart.

Swift's Silver Mine

It is stated that there is a silver mine in or around Jenkins and it is mentioned that for over 200 years people have been looking for this silver mine. No one has yet found it. This is an article taken from the Knoxville Journal. The man writing it says that the Shawnee Indians called the Pine Mountain near Pound Gap from Virginia to Kentucky "Hollow Mountain." They said a cave ran all the way through the mountain and that the cave was lined with silver.

John Swift who knew about the silver in about the year 1790 formed a party of men and some Shawnee Indians and began mining for silver. His eyesight began failing so he decided to stop up the entrance to the cave. After this was done Swift came to Bean Station, Tennessee to rest at the home of a friend. This friend was Mrs. Winters, whose husband had been killed by Indians. He soon became uneasy that his eyesight might fail completely, so he took four white men and two Indians and returned to "Hollow Mountain."

He had planned for each to carry a little silver on their pack horses, but instead the story goes that Swift had enough eyesight left that when he saw the silver he turned greedy and decided that inside "Hollow Mountain" would be his. One night when his companions were asleep, he grabbed a knife and killed all of them. Crazed by his crimes, he mounted his horse and rode back to Bean Station. When Mrs. Winters suspected something had gone amiss with him returning without his companions she asked him many questions and kept on questioning him until he told her that he had killed all of them so that he would have all the wealth for his own. She was so shocked that she demanded that he leave her home at once.

 


            [image ALT: A photograph of three men standing on a rail platform; a railcar can be seen behind them on the left, and the overhang of the entrance to the station behind them towards the right. The short thin man in the center is 'Bad John' Wright, wearing a dour expression; the other two men are senior management of Consolidation Coal Company.]

Picture taken on tthe railroad unloading dock between the Jenkins Company Store and Warehouse Building.

Bad John Wrighta

This is taken from the Courier Journal, an article by Joe Creason.

All that I know of Bad John Wright is what I've heard in Southeastern Kentucky. I have a feeling he is the most unusual Kentuckian of all.

John Wright lived in a remote corner of Letcher County in what today is Jenkins. It was he the author John Fox Jr. used as a model for his character, Devil Jud Tolliver, in the book, "Trail of the Lonesome Pine."b

The mountain area around still abounds in John Wright tales. After the Civil War, one hears he served as a peace officer and later worked as a land agent when John C. C. Mayo was acquiring the acreage which became the vast holdings of Consolidation Coal Company. As a peace officer, Wright engaged in many a shoot-out; as a matter of fact, one story holds that his greatest regret is that he never quite broke even in this life, what with having sired 27 children, but having killed 28 men in gun battles. Old-timers recall hearing him tell about going once to serve a warrant on a notorious man who vowed he would never be arrested. He was sitting in the front room; that he remembered. Wright said, "When I walked in, he didn't say nothing, just whipped out his pistol and snapped the hammer down on the empty chamber. By then, I were getting kind of nervous, of course, so I yanked out my pistol and shot him. If that taught me anything, it were to never let no man to get the draw on me."

Bad John Wright owned and operated a saw mill at the foot of this hollow and the lumber from this plant was used to build the houses that are now in Wright's Hollow.

The following article is by Luther F. Addington on Bad John Wright. Mr. Addington lives in Wise, Virginia, and has written several books and articles on local history.

The author of this history spent much time with John W. Wright after he settled on Pound River to live out the declining days of his life. John Wright loved and always kept good horses. He became such an expert rider that the John Robinson Show hired him to ride for them before their great crowds. It was the fearless Devil John who made it possible more than a few times for circuit courts to convene in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky during the dangerous feud. Sometimes the judge who did not meet with the G?43approval of the feuding tribe was routed from his bench, but when Devil John said, "Go ahead with your court, I'll be hanging around," procedure took a different course. Devil John, who wanted his neighbors to do the right thing, and would have the right thing done if it required bullets, reconciled many a brawl that rose between coal operators and the citizens when Eastern Kentucky began to hum with activity.

It was this self-made man whom John Fox depicted in the Trail of the Lonesome Pine as Devil Jud Tolliver. Bad John was asked if Fox ever came to see him. "Many times," he answered, glanced at me and then away at the distant hills. I suppose you knew quite well the Red Fox, I went on. "Yes," he answered, "Doc Taylor was a well-known character. He was cunning, you never know what to expect from him. "About how many men have you killed outside of war," I asked. "Seven," he replied positively, his keen eyes peering at me through his spectacles. He can see only out of the right eye; the left having been shot out by an adversary years ago. "Seven I have killed," he repeated, "and feel I have done my duty. Some killings had to be done in them terrible days just after the wear. There were too many horse thiefs and murderers. But I always gave a man a chance. Many a time I was shot at before I raised my gun." I suppose you practice shooting a great deal. "Every day," he came back, "I got so I race my horse, swing under his neck times in rapid succession each time and as I come to the top, place a bullet in the center of the tree along the road." How many did you carry? "One, just one — no use for more for by the time one was empty, I had my man or was ready to do something else." What kind of gun did you carry? ".38 usually, sometimes I carried my war gun which is a .34." He stated he got his gun off a dead man on the banks of the Mississippi. "I saw the man couldn't very well use it, and I needed it bad and, sir, she went on through the Civil War with me. Through several battles with the Indians in the West."

Devil John was Justice of the Peace for 16 years in the Eastern Hills of Kentucky and was sheriff for 8 years. For thirty years, he was a detective working in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. "Outside of the war, did you kill anyone before you became a detective," I asked. "One," he said, "I went with a high sheriff and his deputy to capture a man in West Virginia, a horse thief. The sheriff and his deputy boldly approached and busted in without using any tact. I was bringing up the rear — bang, bang, and two officers fell as I entered the door — bang, a ball splintered the door facing right close to my head. Then in a flash shot a bullet in the bed in the opposite side of the room — no shot was returned. Three dead men laid still in the cabin. I went outside, jumped on my horse, and went to tell the people of the community what had happened."

Then you became a detective shortly after that? "A few years after that I helped trace some rascals, and somehow my name began to be known far and near. A detective agency near in Richmond, Virginia offered me a job and I accepted. I worked for them some G?44time until they treated me dirty, and I offered my resignation. They said they would not accept it. I got out my old gun and said, "Guess I'll resign the agency then" and they seemed willing to let me go. What was the trouble? "They put me on the meanest, hardest case and tried to keep all the reward money. But straight-way offered a job with an agency in Charleston, West Virginia. I went."

"One hair-raising adventure I had was once when I went with two county officers to capture a horse thief. He was a bad man. Finally I located him in a shoe shop. The officer with me took weak knees and would not go in with me. But I went in. The man was stooped over a bench in which lay a gun. My gun was in my pocket. I didn't mean for him to take me as an officer, and he didn't until I said I want you. Then he flung his hand to his gun and shot twice. Luckily he missed. I didn't have time to out with my gun — so I shot through my pocket and got my man. Some of the people accused me of murdering the man and brought me to trial. Two men who were working in the shop swore that the thief shot himself. When I came to the stand, I explained just how it was and showed the hole in my trousers and was acquitted."