Curt Jett, the wild dog of the mountains

Posted by | March 13, 2014

“Curt Jett was a member of the Hargis clan in the Hargis-Cockrill feud. Once he was under sentence of death, but the Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed the verdict and he accepted a life term without appeal. That was for the killing of James Cockrill, July 20, 1902, near the courthouse at Jackson. He claimed an alibi, declaring he was in Hargis’ store down the street. Cockrill was shot from the courthouse window.

Curtis Jett, around 1900.

Curtis Jett, around 1900.

“That trial followed on the heels of his conviction, with Tom White, for the killing of Attorney J. B. Marcum at almost identically the same spot. They were tried first in Morgan County, the trial resulting in a hung jury. Then they were tried in Harrison County, on motion of the commonwealth, which represented that conditions were such in Breathitt at the time that a fair trial was impossible and disorder and bloodshed might result from the attempt to try them there.”

—-Frankfort State Journal – November 13, 1918

“Although he is serving two life sentences in the penitentiary for murder, Curt Jett, “the wild dog of the mountains,” has not yet abandoned hope of getting a pardon and being given another chance to show that his reformation has been sincere and final. He says that God has pardoned him for his crimes and he thinks that the Governor ought to.

“The best thing that ever happened to me was when I was sent to the penitentiary,” said Jett last night in his cell in the prison here as he was talking to some newspaper men, who were inside the cellhouse for another purpose than talking to Jett. “I realize that I never would have been reformed, if not for being put in here,” continued Jett. “I only wish that they would give me another chance to show that I really have changed my ways.”

Marshall James Cockrill

Marshal James Cockrill was shot from ambush and killed on July 20, 1902 as he stood in front of a store. His murder was in retaliation for a previous incident in which Marshal Cockrill and his brother, who was also a police officer, shot and killed a man during an arrest. The deceased man’s brother hired a hitman to murder Marshal Cockrill. The brother was convicted of charges in connection with Marshal Cockrill’s murder and sentenced to life in prison.

“Jett showed the newspaper men, who had stopped to talk to him, when they saw him lying on his cot reading, a certificate from the International Sunday School League, entitling him to teach in a Sunday School. He was prouder of this than he ever was of his ability to shoot and he showed it with great pride.

“Jett recently wrote out his religious experiences for the Rev. Dr. George O. Herr, the prison evangelist, and last night Jett said he would give the story to the newspaper if Col. E. E. Mudd, the prison warden, had no objections. Col. Mudd was with the newspaper men and readily consented to Jett giving out the story. He has written it with a pencil and gave it to the newspaper men, desiring that it should be published.

“Jett’s cell is covered with pictures, most of them selected with care as to their beauty, and he has shown taste in arranging them. One of the newspaper men remarked on the decorations in the cell last night and Jett said:

“‘Yes, it cheers this cell up a little and make it brighter.’

“Even the expression of Jett’s face has changed and he has none of that hard look that he used to wear. He is bright and cheerful and Col. Mudd says there is not a better prisoner in the penitentiary than Jett. Col. Mudd said he could not say that Jett’s conversion was genuine from a religious standpoint, but he says Jett has certainly changed inside the prison. The Rev. Joseph Severance, the prison chaplain, says that Jett is one of the best Bible scholars he ever saw and knows more about the Bible than many earnest church workers.

James B. Marcum

James B. Marcum, a prominent local attorney, trustee of the University of Kentucky, and Republican leader who was shot in the doorway of the courthouse by Curtis Jett and Tom White, May 4, 1903.

“In his story which he gave out last night, Jett freely admits his guilt of the crimes that are charged against him. He added, when he said that it was a good thing that he had been put in the penitentiary:

“‘I do not mean that it was good to kill men.’

“He said that whiskey was largely responsible for his misdeeds and he wanted to do good now that he had done so much harm.”

—-Owenton Herald News – March 13, 1909

“Curt Jett is 42 years old and has been in prison 16 years.

“Jett has been a model prisoner, leader of the Christian Endeavor and right-hand man of Chaplain Walter Q. Vreeland. In the night school Jett was a leader. He is the oldest prisoner in point of service and the best. Not only is his record perfect, but he has assisted the prison authorities in maintaining discipline by establishing a sort of public sentiment inside the prison in favor of good order.

“Jett’s uncle, Will Jett, and Judge Alex Hargis came here to urge the parole.

“‘A formal statement of reasons for the parole will be sent to the Governor tomorrow,’ said Chairman Hines of the State Board of Control, who had been consulted and made acquainted with our views and the situation. ‘Jett was reared in the feud atmosphere of those days and knew nothing else. Indeed, I presume it would have been different to keep out of it, reared as he was.’

“‘We never have had other cases in which so strong endorsements of his application for parole have been filed. Ministers, womens’ organizations, and people in all walks of life have requested his parole. Never, I think, have the members of the board felt more secure in the justification of our acts of clemency than in this case.'”

Frankfort State Journal – November 13, 1918

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