Curt Jett, the wild dog of the mountains

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 8, 2017

“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

One Response

Leave a Reply

6 + = 8

The Rattlesnake’s Vengeance

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 7, 2017

One day in the old times when we could still talk with other creatures, while some children were playing about the house, their mother inside heard them scream. Running out she found that a rattlesnake had crawled from the grass, and taking up a stick she killed it.

The father was out hunting in the mountains, and that evening when coming home after dark through the gap he heard a strange wailing sound. Looking about he found that he had come into the midst of a whole company of rattlesnakes, which all had their mouths open and seemed to be crying. He asked them the reason of their trouble, and they told him that his own wife had that day killed their chief, the Yellow Rattlesnake, and they were just now about to send the Black Rattlesnake to take revenge.

photo by Luke Oleszak/

photo by Luke Oleszak/

The hunter said he was very sorry, but they told him that if he spoke the truth he must be ready to make satisfaction and give his wife as a sacrifice for the life of their chief. Not knowing what might happen otherwise, he consented. They then told him that the Black Rattlesnake would go home with him and coil up just outside the door in the dark. He must go inside, where he would find his wife awaiting him, and ask her to get him a drink of fresh water from the spring. That was all.

He went home and knew that the Black Rattlesnake was following. It was night when he arrived and very dark, but he found his wife waiting with his supper ready. He sat down and asked for a drink of water. She handed him a gourd full from the jar, but he said he wanted it fresh from the spring, so she took a bowl and went out of the door. The next moment he heard a cry, and going out he found that the Black Rattlesnake had bitten her and that she was already dying. He stayed with her until she was dead, when the Black Rattlesnake came out from the grass again and said his tribe was now satisfied.

He then taught the hunter a prayer song, and said, “When you meet any of us hereafter sing this song and we will not hurt you; but if by accident one of us should bite one of your people then sing this song over him and he will recover.” And the Cherokee have kept the song to this day.


Source: ‘Myths of the Cherokee,’ by James Mooney
From Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1897-98, Part I. [1900]

Leave a Reply

2 + = 9

Consigned to live like a brute among savages

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 6, 2017

On October 1, 1755, while returning home from Fort Cumberland [MD] Trading Post several miles away, white settler Jane Frazier was captured by Miami Indian warriors and taken to the Miami River in Ohio. “By a person who arrived in town last Monday from Col. Cresap’s (Oldtown about ten miles from Ivitts Creek),” reported The Maryland Gazette on October 9, “we are told that last Wednesday the Indians had taken a man prisoner who was going to Fort Cumberland from Frazier’s and had also carried off a woman from Frazier’s Plantation which is four miles this side of Fort Cumberland.”

Fort Cumberland, MD in 1755Fort Cumberland in 1755, from “History of Cumberland, Maryland”, 1878, by William Lowdermilk.

Jane Frazier miraculously escaped after thirteen months and made her way back to safety. She wrote a detailed narrative of her experience, which has been preserved by successive generations of her family: “Thus to be torn away from home and friends and all that was dear to me, and consigned to live like a brute among savages, and then to lose my only comfort, my first born, and have it buried in this wilderness, was more than my frail nature could bear, and I was nearly crazy for a time. Still the Indians were kind to me, and when they saw my child was dead, they cut a hickory tree, peeled off the bark and made a coffin, and wrapping it in some of the clothes they had stolen, they placed it in the coffin they had made and buried it near our town in their own burying ground.

“I remained with these Indians 13 months, in the summer time helping the squaws in their corn and vegetable patches and in the winter time assisting them in their cooking operations. While I was with this tribe they determined on another raid into Pennsylvania, consequently they performed their powwows and war dances, in order to give them good luck in their expedition, then left for their long trip. They took all their best warriors, leaving a few old men and some boys to hunt game and food for the squaws and papooses.

“The chief and warriors were gone about seven weeks. They returned bringing with them two Dutchmen from Pennsylvania, whom they adopted into the tribe. One of them was a tanner by trade, and they employed them to tan their skins for them. He worked a little ways from the town where there was a large spring and the other man was allowed to help him. These men were very restless in their confinement.

“A little later the Indians determined on another raid, and in a few days departed. The Dutchmen now determined to leave, and let me into their secret, so we procured an old rifle which they repaired, and we hid all the provisions we could find, and a week after the warriors were gone the game became very scarce, so the hunters had to be out nearly all the time for provisions for the squaws and children. We now concluded this would be the best time to gain our liberty, so obtaining a small amount of ammunition we gathered up our old gun and some provisions and left our new connections without stopping to say goodbye, and taking advantage of the warriors and hunters we left for home.”

Full version of her narrative here

Leave a Reply

8 − 2 =

If we were going to quit, they’d quit, too

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 3, 2017

“We didn’t even know what a union was. We’d never heard tell of a union. But we just decided that we wasn’t going to work for this wage. We just wasn’t going to work for $10.08 a week. But as it happened, there was a carpenter and a union man, John Penix. He called someone that he knew in the labor movement, and they came here and organized, and it was just one big mess, and they just panicked. [Everyone else in the plant was] getting the same wages, and I imagine that they decided that if we were going to quit, they’d quit, too.

“At that time they paid a flat scale. You started out at $8.96 a week; $10.08; $11.20. I don’t know whether you got past $11.20 or not. I never did hear any man say how much they made, but I don’t think they paid them more. If they did, they didn’t pay them much more. [The supervisors] were American, most of the people from up close by, the close counties. A lot of people worked there from Johnson City and way back up in Pogey. One time, I think we went to Pogey. There wasn’t a thing on earth but just mountains with rocks sticking out. And people worked from up in Butler. Oh, just all around.

An aerial view of the North American Rayon Mills, Elizabethton, TN, taken March 1, 1947. Collection Tennessee State Library, Dept. of Conservation Photograph Collection.

An aerial view of the North American Rayon Mills, Elizabethton, TN, taken March 1, 1947. Collection Tennessee State Library, Dept. of Conservation Photograph Collection.


“Fifty-six hours [a week], they didn’t seem to pay any attention to it. People had never been nowhere, and they’d never done anything. Maybe go to a movie on Saturday night. So I don’t guess the hours made that much difference. I don’t remember, except I know you’d get awfully tired.

“I went to the washroom when I wanted to. I went by my own rules, if you needed to go to the washroom. Oh, you worked so hard, you didn’t fudge on them any. They didn’t take any breaks. They were just supposed to go to the washroom and back.

“I don’t remember who did the talking. You see, they selected the one to do the talking, and they passed the word around they was going to ask for a raise. Said, ‘If they don’t give us that raise, we’ll just quit work.’ And that was it.

“It just got in a bigger and a bigger and a bigger mess. Other people kept joining us, first from North American and then Bemberg, because everybody wanted a raise anyway, until that John Penix got in touch with somebody in labor, and an organizer came here and organized.

“There was five thousand people out. And we had asked for an $11.20 raise! We were arrested twice, on those picket lines. It was over here on the old State Line Road. They brought out the National Guard. In the meantime, my daddy cooked down there at the plant during that time. Some of them stayed in there, I reckon, to take care of the machinery and things that had to be looked after, and he cooked for them.”

Christine Galliher
Interview August 8, 1979
Discusses plant strike at North American Rayon Corp.
In Johnson City, TN on March 12, 1929
Southern Oral History Program Collection

Related posts: “The stretch-out and the strike”

Christine+Galliher North+American+Rayon American+Bemberg labor+strike Johnson+City+TN appalachia appalachia+history appalachian+history history+of+appalachia

Leave a Reply

3 + 4 =

Had I remained in the grand army of the Emperor I would feel perfectly safe

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 2, 2017

There died in Logan County, in June, 1885, Christopher Stahley, aged 104 years and 10 months. He was a last survivor of the Grand Army of Napoleon; a native of Alsace; a typical veteran of the wars, scarred and crippled. He was a man of culture, and grew eloquent when describing his campaigns; and, like all of Napoleon’s soldiers, adored his leader and worshipped his memory. We give herewith extracts from Stahley’s story, as related to the correspondent of the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I became a soldier at fifteen, and was one of the thirty thousand men who went with Napoleon to Egypt, and was one of the first to enter the city of Malta. I was with my command at the Pyramids, and participated in the terrible conflict with the Mamelukes. Thence across the desert and through the Isthmus of Suez to Gaza and Jaffa, and saw the 1,500 put to death for breaking their parole, and helped to annihilate the allied army of 18,000 at Aboukir.

Foot grenadier of Napoleon's old guard.Foot grenadier of Napoleon’s old guard.

“It was in 1804 that we helped to proclaim him Emperor, and saw the preparations made to invade England. But England was spared and Austria punished instead.

“Three years of preparation and we were on the road to the Capital of Russia in that memorable campaign of 1812. There were 480,000 of us who went forth to glory. Less than half that number returned, and the most of them after being detained as prisoners. I saw them fall by battalions at Smolensk and Borodino, and perish by grand divisions on the retreat from Moscow to Smorgoni. I personally attended the Emperor to France, when he bade adieu to his soldiers at the latter city.

“I was one of the Old Guard. There is a blank in my memory, and I do not know how I got back to Paris; but I found myself there, and learned that my old commander was a prisoner at St. Helena. Then came the news of his death. I had taken part in fifty engagements, great and small, and had seen men die by the thousand; but that death affected me more than all the rest put together.

“In 1822, in company with my wife, I emigrated to America. We reached Pittsburg by stage. From there we floated down the Ohio on a flat-boat to the mouth of the Muskingum, and ascended that river to Zanesville in a canoe. From Zanesville I trundled all my earthly possessions in a wheelbarrow to St. Joseph’s, near Somerset, where I bought a farm and settled down.

“Then began my disasters. My oldest son was with me in the forest hewing logs for a barn, and by a false stroke of the broad axe cut off my thumb and finger. A few years later a vicious horse kicked me in the forehead and left this scar that looks like a sabre cut. The next year I fell from a tobacco-house I was helping to raise, and broke four ribs and my collar-bone. Ten years later I slipped and fell into a threshing-machine, and I had my foot torn off. A few years ago I was on my way to church, and my horse ran away, threw me out of the carriage, shattered my elbow, and left me with a stiff arm.

“I am in constant dread of meeting a fatal accident. Had I remained in the grand army of the Emperor I would feel perfectly safe.”

Historical Collections of Ohio, Vol. I, by Henry Howe, 1888
online at:

One Response

Leave a Reply

8 − = 4

↑ Back to top

This collection is copyright ©2006-2017 by Dave Tabler. All visuals are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17—United States Code—Section 107) and remain the property of copyright owners. Site Design by Amaru Interactive