“I never spoke a word until I was nine years old. I only clucked and motioned for what I wanted. Lots of people thought I was an idiot because I could not talk. I may have looked like one, for I was a little old country boy that never cut my hair in those days only about twice a year, and I wore a big checked cotton shirt and old jeans pants made by my mother and old yarn socks, and 70-cent stogie shoes with brass toes. This was my winter suit and my summer suit was only a big yellow factory shirt and no hat or shoes.
“At the age of ten I was taken by my mother and uncle, Gid Hogg, to Whitesburg, Ky., the county seat of Letcher County, a distance of about eighteen miles. We rode an old mare named “Kate,” without any saddle, and when I was taken off I could not walk I was so stiff, and that made everybody think I was an idiot sure enough.
“So when Judge H. C. Lilley opened court on Monday, February 12, they taken me before the judge. The judge ordered old Black Shade Combs, then the sheriff, to summon twelve jurors and two doctors. One doctor thought I had been born an idiot, and Dr. S. S. Swaingo, of Jackson, held out that I was all right of mind, and so the case was put off until 10 a. m. Tuesday.
“Then Dr. Swaingo got old Dr. McCray and gave me a thorough examination. The doctors found by examining my neck, where the small tits in one’s neck are, that the tit in my neck had grown together. After the doctors cut the tit loose in my neck I began to talk and to have a good joke. The doctors took me to a one-horse barber shop and had my hair cut and fixed me up and presented me on Tuesday morning to Judge Lilley, and he was surprised beyond reason that I was Fess.”
History of Corporal Fess Whitaker
Louisville, Ky, The Standard Printing Co., 1918.
Whitaker’s claim to fame is his run for U.S. Congress in 1926, in which he was narrowly defeated. Fess Whitaker (1880-1927) began his career as a politician in 1917, when he was elected county jailer in Letcher County, KY. He likely held this office until 1921, when he decided to run for county judge. The New York Times reported that sometime around 1921 Whitaker participated in a street fight, a disturbance of the peace that led to his incarceration in the very jail he supervised and earned him the nickname “The Jailed Jailer.” While imprisoned, Whitaker continued his campaign and was eventually elected. In 1922, Whitaker was again jailed, this time for possessing and transporting whisky for illegal sale. Nevertheless, he was re-elected Letcher County jailer in 1925. He died in a car crash in 1927.