Marshall Benton Taylor - A Legend

Marshall Benton Taylor

There are many stories about Marshall, also known as Doc Taylor and The Red Fox.
This article was printed in the Virginia Star Newspaper and was written by L. F. Addington. Part of the article is missing. If you have a complete copy and would like to share it,
I would be most happy to hear from you!
This much of it was sent to me by a great lady named Doris.
Thanks Doris!

The Red Fox

Although is has been a little over a half century since Dr. M. B. Taylor, better known as the Red Fox, was executed on the gallows at Wise, VA, he had already become a legendary character.
Being the mystic, preacher, herb doctor, revenue officer and assassin that he was, it is little wonder stories of his activities are yet told throughout the mountain empire which sits astride the Kentucky - Virginia border.

Many a maid of the mountains today knows, and is eager to tell, how her great grandmother, when young, would send for Dr. Taylor, and how he would cure her without giving any medicine at all.

How did he do it? Well, it is said that the red-headed, red-bearded, mystic would sit for a while beside the patient, talking to her as a psychiatrist of today might converse with a patient on a couch; then he'd rise and say, "Now, my dear sister, I'm stepping outside the door. I'll lift mine eyes to the heavens and concentrate. Meanwhile you concentrate too. Concentrate on me. Don't let your mind stray. Soon you'll feel an inner glow. That'll mean you're healed. When it happens, call me." And today these young maidens will tell you that their great grandmothers rose, rejoicing because their health was suddenly restored.

Dr. Taylor admitted being a mystic. And this characteristic of his made its appeal to women. He was a student of Sweden's eighteenth century Swedenborg, a religious fanatic, and like Swedenborg, he claimed to be a "seer," one endowed with the ability to communicate with spirits and angels. He preached on Sunday wherever he could find a congregation, and always one was easy to find for people liked to be stirred by his hypnotic sermons. Wherever he rode the trails over the mountains he carried a Bible in his saddle bags. And in these bags also were herb medicines. He was considered to be a good medical doctor although he had attended no medical college. He'd acquired his knowledge of human illnesses by studying under the tutelage of Dr. Morgan L. Stallard of Lee County, VA, a relative, and noted physician of his day.

A few days ago the writer interviewed Lee Greear, a man now 97 years old, about the notorious Dr. Taylor. Mr. Greear said, "Dr. Taylor was shrewd, cunning, mysterious, but he surely knew how to treat fevers and common illness. What's more, when called to a home where there was sickness

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Red Fox.

He considered eastern Kentucky his most promising area in which to exercise his newly acquired office. In this state the last episode of his checkered career began, and led eventually to his strange execution, and very, very strange wake on the Virginia side of the mountain.

The mystic preferred practicing his revenue work in Kentucky because he had vantage points on the northern side of Pine Mountain from which to spot horseback riders carrying moonshine, or even jolt wagons loaded with it. He was very well acquainted with the people he knew were making moonshine and about what time they would be taking it to market on the Virginia side of the mountain. So, he'd mount a cliff top and point his five-foot telescope down on Kentucky's Elkhorn road. Not infrequently a victim would move into the circle of his scope; then he'd ride or walk out to the mountain trail and make an arrest.

His continual stalking of moonshiners and peddlers on the intoxicating mountain dew soon aroused a number of men to begin planning his death. One of these was "Old Ira" Mullins.

Ira, however, was handicapped in trailing the cunning human fox, for sometime previously he'd encountered revenue officers, had been shot, and from the wound had become paralyzed.

But Old Ira plied his trade, nevertheless. He did it by covering his whiskey in a jolt wagon with straw, mounting the straw himself, and then, with a driver in the wagon seat, cross the mountain to his Virginia Markets.

Old Ira knew the Red Fox was always watching the road for him and, according to the Red Fox, Ira had offered gunmen $300 to send him to his grave. Hearing these threats, the Red Fox was determined to beat his enemy at his own game. He took the initial step one night by stealing upon and shooting into the bootlegger's house, the bullet thunking into the paralytic's bed. The shot, however, missed the intended victim.

On May 13, 1892, the Red Fox learned that Old Ira was to cross Pine Mountain the next day to bring a load of whiskey into Virginia. Thereupon the Red Fox enlisted the aid of two confederates, Henan and Cal Fleming; and they hid away on top of Pine Mountain to spy out the Kentucky terrain. With his long spyglass he soon sighted a jolt wagon lumbering over the rough road toward Pound Gap; in it was Ira. Quickly the Red Fox and the Fleming men dropped down the south side of the mountain and hid in the cleft of a small cliff. They tied cloths over their faces in an effort to conceal their identity.

Ere long the wagon hove into sight. A man by the name of John Chappel was in the driver's seat and beside him sat Ira's wife, Louranza. On a pile of straw lay Old Ira Mullins, partially propped up. Behind the wagon walked Ira's 14-year old son, John, and another boy, Greenberry Harris, 15-years old. Mrs. Jane Mullins rode horseback. Her husband, Wilson Mullins walked in front of the wagon.

When the wagon came within close range of the small cliff, the Red Fox and his confederates opened fire, killing all in the caravan except Jane Mullins who rode horseback and Ira's son who was walking beside her.

The assassins fled to the woods but, Mrs. Jane Mullins rode on to the Wise county seat and told Sheriff John Miller she had identified the fleeing men by recognizing their voices. A posse of 22 men was organized under the leadership of the sheriff and a man hunt began that lasted for several days and nights. The Flemings fled to West Virginia and were not apprehended until nearly two years later. Doc Swindall, Ed Hall and John Branham, wanting to collect a $700 reward, went to arrest the outlaw. In the showdown battle two men were killed; namely, Cal Fleming and officer John Branham. Henan was returned to Virginia for trial, but was freed because of lack of evidence to convict him.

While the Fleming men were working their way into West Virginia the sly Red Fox returned to his own home in the town of Wise one night, and hid in his attic and remained there for several days.

Then one night his son, Sylvan, a respected businessman and surveyor living in Norton, five miles from Wise, took his father to his home. The son insisted his father leave the mountains and go to Florida, although the son testified in court later that his father wanted to stay and stand trial.

The Red Fox decided to take his son's advice and, outfitted in new clothes, mounted an empty boxcar standing on the yard at Norton and rode to Bluefield, WV, from which place he intended to hobo another train going south. But somehow the Wise County Commonwealth Attorney, Robert Bruce, heard of the Red Fox's being in a boxcar bound for Bluefield and wired the Baldwin Detective agency to apprehend him when he left the train. They did, and he was returned to Wise for trial.

Considerable evidence in trial concerned the Red Fox's Winchester. It had been known that this rifle used rim-fire cartridges. Rim-fire shells had been found at the murder scene. But when the gun was examined by the jury they found it to be a center-fire. However, upon close scrutiny they saw the plunger had been cleverly changed to strike the center of a cartridge instead of the rim. They then decided this clever man had tampered with the firing pin.

After being convicted of murder in the first degree, the Red Fox was sent to Lynchburg, VA, for safe keeping until judgement would be made. When returned to Wise for that event, he was given a hearing on the point of sanity. In this hearing he was asked by Judge H. S. K. Morrison, "Is there anyone you want to speak for you?" "Yes," said the condemned man, "Jesus Christ. Will you hear him?" with deep emotion, the judge said, "Yes."

Then the Red Fox drew a Bible from a pocket and began to read. However, the judge stopped the reading and pronounced sentence. The day of the hanging would be October 27, 1893.

Learning that there would be no stay of execution, the Red Fox said he wanted to go to the gallows in a white suit, and would they please put a white cap over his head instead of the customary black one before the trap door was to be sprung? White clothes, he said, were a symbol of purity and thus would truly represent his true self. Also, he said, he would preach his own funeral sermon before the execution. He requested that his body be left unburied for three days, for on the third day, he said, he would arise from the coffin and walk forth to preach again.

While awaiting execution his faithful little wife visited him daily. She made for him a white suit and white cap in order that his wish to be dressed in white at the hanging might be fulfilled.

The condemned man had said he would preach his own funeral. At 10 o'clock, October 27, 1893, he was escorted by the sheriff from the jail to the courthouse, where he stood at an upstairs window, reading from the Bible and talking for two hours to the throng of people in the courtyard. He administered the sacrament to his wife and himself. He invited anyone who wished to partake with them to come and do so. No one did.

After the sermon the Red Fox, now dressed in a white linen suit, walked to the gallows where he knelt, prayed and then rose to stand firmly while jailor Charles L. Hughes adjusted the noose about his neck, put the white hood his wife made over his head, and tied his hands behind him with a white handkerchief. It was Jeff Hunsucker, a deputy sheriff, who wielded the hatchet that cut the trapdoor rope and let the body fall.

After the execution the Red Fox was placed in his coffin at his home and kept unburied for three days, as per his request. But when he failed to rise on the third day the body was interred in the Wise cemetery where it has gone back to dust in a grave unmarked by a stone even to this day.

But on the old trail at Pound Gap atop Pine Mountain looms a stone monument which will long keep his name alive. It is the little cliff with the recess in it, the place where he hid while awaiting the "killing." And now it is known by the name of Killing Rock.

See also:
Mashall Benton Taylor - One Side of the Story
Nancy Wright Bays great site, stories about John Wright, Doc Taylor and other characters of the era
Flora Taylor Stallard's letter about Doc

Or go back to Doc's family page.


Updated --Friday, 07-Sep-2018 21:21:28 MDT