"Devil John"  Wright    


17 April 1844 - 30 January 1931


Tall Sycamore of the Elkhorn"
"Bad John" Wright
"Devil John" Wright

One of the most colorful men in  Eastern Kentucky  history was a man known as "Devil" (or "Bad") John Wright.  He was also known as "The Tall Sycamore of the Elkhorn."  His parents were Joel Ellis and Eliza  Agnes (Bates)  Wright, which made  him a  grandson of two of  Letcher County's most prominent pioneer  families, the Joel Martin Wright  and John Wallis Bates families.  John served as Sheriff of Wise County, Virginia and was at one time a Pinkerton Agent.  It  was from  these many years  as a lawman that he gained the nickname of "Devil John".  It was said that when tracking an enemy or an outlaw,  John never relented until he got his man... thus to be chased by John Wright was to have  the 'Devil  himself  at your heels.'  John joined the Civil War  prior to his 17th birthday as a member of the  Confederate Army and  remained in the service throughout the war. Afterward, John and his  Uncle  Martin  an Buren  Bates joined the Robinson Circus.  John performed as a trick  rider and  sharp shooter  and  Martin as "The Kentucky Mountain Giant". 

There are three men who must be mentioned when discussing the life  of  John Wright,  Talton Hall, Claborne Jones and Marshall Benton Taylor.  Talton Hall, the  son of  Dave Hall of Floyd  County, Kentucky, was "Devil John" Wright's best friend.  Talt was wanted for numerous murders,  but  even though most of John's life was spent as a lawman, he made no attempt to arrest him.  Claborne Jones of  Beaver Creek  maintained  a life long feud with "Devil John." Each had their own gang of men and would often raid the others home. There is an account of both men planning a raid for the same night and passing each other in the darkness.  Marshall  Benton Taylor,  more  commonly known as "The  Red  Fox," was a herb doctor and delivered many babies throughout the mountains.   It is said that "Doc" Taylor also had a dark side and was the central figure in the murders of the Ira Mullins family. These murders which are referred to as  "The Pound Gap Massacre," took place at a site known today as  "Killing Rock,"  which is located just across the Kentucky state line in Wise County, Virginia.  

Several books and numerous newspaper articles have been written about  "Devil John" Wright. The character Devil Judd Tolliver, in the novel "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" by John Fox, Jr., was based on the life of John Wright.  "Devil John Wright of the Cumberlands" is  a  history  f  John's life  that  was  written  by his son,  William  Troy "Chid" Wright.  John had 31 children by several different women. At this time the only marriage record that has been located  is  for John  Wright and  Martha "Mattie" Humphrey.  The marriage bond (  File #5869  ),  dated  l4 October l866  discovered at the Courthouse in Cynthiana, Kentucky.   It is reported that he married  Ellen Sanders shortly before he was baptized in July l929. 

Please read the other sections for a more detailed account of each these men.

"Devil John"  Wright's Gun    


Martha "Mattie" Humphrey Serilda Austin Margaret Austin Mary Bentley Ellen Sanders Alice Harmon

Children of John & Mattie Humphrey 		 	       

 l.  James Henderson Wright, b. 23 May l865, d. 3 Aug l928 m/l Laura Belle Whitaker, m/2 Cora Fleming Mullins                                        
 2.  Johnny Philip Wright, b. l9 Aug l875, d. l2 Sep l898, m /1Mary Chaney Reynolds,    m/2 Alice M Johnson
 3.  Joel Wright,  b l870

Children of John & Serilda Austin:

 4.  Enoch F. Wright, b. l7 Feb l869, d.  5 Aug l952 ,m. Louisa Warwick
  5.  James Martin Wright,  b. 29 May l872 , d .l Oct l950, m. Alice M. Johnson

Children of John & Mary Bentley:

 6.  Flora Custus Wright,  b. 27 Apr l876,  m.  Emmet Cantrell
 7.  Liza Wright.  b. 29 Jun l878,  m. Sam Vanover
 8.  Alice Wright,  b. 25 Oct l88l,   m/l Allen Burton,  m/2 John Houston	
 9.  Elizabeth    b l0 Aug l885 d 25 May l97l m Riley Mullins
10.  Easter Wright, b. l6 Feb l884,  m/l Wade Ratliff, m/2 James Bryant
l1.  Samuel Preston Wright,  b. 25 Oct l888,  m Mahala Branham
l2.  Myrtle Wright,  b. Sept l892,  d. Jan l922,  m Charles Meeks
l3.  John Wright Jr., died in infancy

Children of John & Ellen Sanders				

l4.  Joel E.  Wright,  b. 29 Jun l883,  m Mary Reynolds
l5.  Daniel S.  Wright,  b. 23 May l885,  d. 23 May l964,  m. Melvina Mullins
l6.  Healtha Wright,  b.  2 May l887 ,  d.  l939 ,  m Ben Mullins
l7.  Joel "Ira" E. Wright,   b. l2 Jun l889,  d.  Feb 1955,    m. Martha Vermillion

Children of John & Alice Lee Harmon:

l8.  Frank Wampler Wright, b.  l Aug l894,  m. Bertha Adams
l9.  Bertha Wright,  b. 26 Jan l896, d. 3l Jan l974,  m. Willie Church
20.  William Troy  Wright, b.  5 Aug l897,  d. l9 Apr l985,  m. Belle Maynard
21.  Conrad W.  Wright,   b. l0 Sep l899,  d. l903       
22.  Mallie  Wright,  b. about  1900
23.  Elizabeth Wright,  b.  8 Oct l90,  d. l902
24.  Clarence Wright,  b. 24 Sep l903,  d.  l0 Oct l979,  m. Alta Mullins
25.  Chester A. Wright,  b. l0 Oct l905, d. in infancy
26.  Carlous Ray Wright,  b. 26 May l907,  m.  Ida Rutherford
27.  Maudie Belle Wright, b. 27 Aug l909,  d. l987,  m. Orville Bevins
28.  Charles Roe Wright,  b.  7 Feb l9l2, m.  Belvia Gibson
29.  Kedrick C. Wright,  b.  7 Aug l9l5,  d. Jun l983 ,  m.  Eleda Robinette

Children of John & Margaret J. Austin:
30.  Mahala E. Wright,   b. about l866
31.   Mack Jesse  WRight,  b. about  l872

"Devil John" Wright

The material on this website is copyrighted 2001 by Nancy Wright Bays, Patty May Brashear.




   John always kept and rode good horses.                                                              

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