Interview with George McCoy
One night after I ate my supper, I got this call. I don’t know if some of them told me what I was supposed to do or where I was supposed to go, anyway, I trimmed the casket and called the barn and they sent the same driver that had been with me all day and we went to McRoberts and come in about 5 in the morning.
The driver was Bad John Wright’s son, Bill Wright. He married this old Whitaker down here — George Whitaker’s widow. She died down here two or three years ago. It was so late I didn’t undress and go to bed. I just laid down on the bed. I was staying at the clubhouse then.
That was before I brought my wife up here. When I came here, I came on trial and I stayed two months and I don’t know if it was ten or twenty days and was called to be examined by the army. I went home and was examined and found that I didn’t have to go and I wrote my boss and he said they wanted me to come back even if it was just for a few weeks until they could get somebody else.
He wrote me to come on back. I brought my wife and come back and have been around here ever since. That morning I went to the store. Press Looney, I don’t know if you remember “Sol” Looney, or not — Sol and Press were brothers. Press was assistant store manager and he told me to go to sleep on that pile of mattresses. The next night I had a call three or four doors down from the same house I had been the night before at McRoberts. Me and the same guy went back there again that night and was out all night.
Were these people dying regularly?
I think I had one time, if I remember correctly, it was either 48 or 49 funerals in two months. Almost one a day.
What was happening to all the people?
Sometimes I would go early one month until late the next without a funeral. I sold John the casket for his wife whose name was Mattie. Uncle John was with John Hopkins Circus at that time. He had traveled all over France and England. He had an uncle they called “Baby Bates” who was a soldier in the Civil War, when he was, I think, 11 or 12 years old. He was as big as any average man then.
Talking about John Wright — did he use to live over here where that little house used to be?
No, he used to live where the old office building is. That was before Jenkins was built. He sold about 32 or 3300 acres of land here when they was buying up this property.
How come he left? Did he get run off?
No, he just sold his property and moved to Virginia. The president of Consolidation, he come down in his private railroad car and parked it back of the warehouse. He sat down on the platform on a stool and he always sent for John Wright to spend the day with him — not always, but sometimes. But anyway, one day I was out there and John walked up, the president said, “Well, Old John Wright!” John said, “Old, hell, I ain’t half as old as you are.” George Anderson was with us; he was executive vice president. I took all three of their pictures that day.
What about all those people he was supposed to have killed? Did you ever bury any of them?
Not that I know of. There’s tales around here, when I came here, they told that he had killed 27 or 28 people. But after I had been here a few years, I said, “Mr. Wright, I want to ask you a question. If it’s fair answer if and if not, just tell me it’s none of my business. I’ve heard all these stories since I’ve come up in this country about the number of men you have killed. I have always wondered about the truth.” He studied a minute and said, “McCoy, I can account for seven. I think it was four of those I got in one month. They had come here and committed some drastic crime. There was a thousand dollar reward for each one of them, dead or alive. He said, “I just went out and got them and took no chance.” In other words, he meant he went out and got the drop on them and shot and killed them. That was four thousand dollars. I don’t know about the other three, but he was a United States Marshal here for a long time. I know he told me about Big Jim McCoy. That was Bad Reynold’s son. In the McCoy family feud with the Hatfield’s, Reynold’s come and got him to go down the Kentucky River with him. They stayed in a log cabin and he slept upstairs. The next morning, Reynolds hollered up the stairs and said, “John Wright, your breakfast is ready and your horse has been fed. I advise you to eat your breakfast and saddle your horse and get on him and ride.” John said, “I got on him and rode and felt good riding.” “How they found out who I was, I don’t know because I gave them an assumed name.”
Why didn’t they want him over there, because he was a Marshal?
They were suspicious, I guess, as to why he was there.
Do you recall anything of the Martin’s and McCoy’s?
It wasn’t Martin’s and McCoy’s, it was Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. I don’t know where that song started. But that feud was over by the time I was born. There was none of my immediate family in it. The people that lived back in those days are all gone. There are many tales as to why they feuded.
How many people were in this town when you came here?
I really couldn’t tell you. After I’d been here a while, I think they claimed there was around twelve thousand. Of course, that took in McRoberts. Do you know what transportation is? Well, Consol would send a man off, a labor agency say to Cleveland Ohio, when they wanted miners. People would go to the labor agency looking for jobs. The labor agency would buy them a ticket and send them to Jenkins. They would live here and if they had a family, they would set up housekeeping. Consol gave them a house furnished, on a lease, of course. They give them enough groceries to last them about a week, until they could get something in the office to draw script.
I have heard, I don’t know it to be an absolute fact, but I have heard that some of them way back there — some of them Virginians used to pull it. Go somewhere up there and decide to come home and would go down to one of these labor agencies and tell them they wanted to ship to Jenkins. They would send them down here at Consol’s expense and walk across the mountain to go home.
Did they all work in the mines?
Some of them did. Course, some of the young fellows waited the tables at the clubhouse and some of them took janitor jobs in the recreational building and the clubhouse; but most of them went in the mines. I was in Dunham the other day and someone showed me a grave yard at the top of Store Hill, just as you go out to the garbage dump. This grave yard had about seven graves and they were all like 1898 to 1901 and they said that was Bad John’s grave yard. That is some more of them tales. There is a big grave yard at Dunham. This is just past that. Well, that is where Bad Talt Hall is supposed to have been buried.
Do you remember anything about Talt Hall?
Not much — all I know about him is just the stories I have heard. I think he was supposed to have been hung at Wise. John Pack called me some months back, maybe a year, and said that Tennessee Ernie Ford was over there at the office, and was trying to find someone who knew his daddy. Was on the guard, I think, they said. When I came here, it was in World War I days. You know, they were afraid them Germans had sympathizers in this country, and they would send somebody in to blow up the mines, blow up the power house or the dam. They could put things out of commission, you know. It looked like a little army here with those fellows going out of here with their high-powered rifles. They would go out and have stations and stay all night.
Did anyone remember Tennessee Ernie Ford’s father?
No, he didn’t find anyone, but I think I found someone that thinks they knew him.
Who was that?
I don’t know who it was now. Course, being new here myself, I didn’t know everybody then like I do now after I have been here awhile, You couldn’t get acquainted with the whole “kit ‘n kaboodle” of them right off the bat.
Is this the only business you have been in?
Yes, that is what I came here for. I also had the furniture business over in the main store in those days too. Until I came here in 1940 — on the third floor over there from 1918 to 1940 I sold many a lease on furniture. When I started selling furniture the store manager was Mr. Daily, and when someone would come in they would say they wanted to see Mr. Daily. I would go down and get him and sometimes he would come up and he was a pretty gabby fellow. He would grab them around the waist and say, “Well, McCoy’s the boss up here. Whatever he says goes.” He would then just go down the stairs. A lot of them would think they could get Mr. Daily up there and could talk him down on the price.
Do you remember Clayburn Jones?
I just hear that name. I don’t know what neck of the woods he came from. In an autobiography, he claims he and a group of men who were passing ran Bad John Wright off to Virginia when he was living over here. He and a group of 37 men. According to local people when I came here — now when I speak of local people, that is the ones who come in here — they said John Wright was Devil Judd Tolliver in the Trail of the Lonesome Pinea — Cove Avenue down here, that was Lonesome Cove.
NOTE: Mr. George McCoy owned McCoy’s Funeral Home next to where the Stallard’s IGA now stands. This building was destroyed in the water tower accident in the early 1980s. ~~ Joanna Sergent
This article first appeared in “History of Jenkins Kentucky” Compiled In Honor Of The Sixtieth Anniversary Homecoming Celebration 1912‑1973 by the Jenkins Area Jaycees.
The authors and publishers of the 1973 printing failed to include a copyright notice and according to our understanding of copyright law it is now in the public domain.
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I have attended the University of Kentucky. I have an Associates Degree from Hazard Community College and Technical School. I have also attended the University of Pikeville. I have taken several classes in Journalism as well as in the Appalachian History, Literature, and Sociology during my time at those schools.
I was born in Florida and grew up in Burdine, Kentucky. I have been married to David W. Sergent since May 4, 2013. I have two children and four grandchildren from a previous marriage. I currently live in Tennessee but my hope is to one day come back home to live in the beautiful mountains once more.