Who was Ira Mullins: Killing Rock The Oft Told Tales Part 6

There were three attempts on his person for the life of Ira Mullins and the last one succeeded.

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Ira Mullins
Ira Mullins

In almost every mystery story there is a victim. Now whether Ira Mullins was a victim of his own making remains to be seen. However, he is nonetheless a victim of the Pound Gap Massacre. There were three attempts on his person for his life and the last one succeeded. This is a timeline of those events that led to the death of Ira. But was he really the target of the massacre? Could it be that someone else was the actual target? As we get into the life of Ira, we shall see why everyone for the last 130 years has thought that he was the actual target.

Marriage of Ira

In May of 1879 Henry Vanover’s niece, Polly Louanza Estep the daughter of his sister Mary and John Estep married Ira Mullins, the son of John L and Martha Mullins of Pike County. And a little over a year later the first of many troubles would arise between Ira Mullins and Henry Vanover…

It is unknown if Mullins actually did any sharecropping work for Vanover during this time. However, it is well known that he made money from the occupation of the moonshiner. This occupation is often cited as the reason that would lead to his making many enemies and is the ultimate reason behind the three death attempts.

Ira and Louranza Mullins
Ira and Louranza Mullins

Ira went hunting for a wife. He chose the niece of Henry Vanover, Louranza Estep. A mountain beauty with raven hair she offered him the opportunity to be a sharecropper for Vanover. In that deal, Mullins could live in a cabin on the Vanover land in exchange for work done for the family. Louranza and Ira would have only one child together, John Harrison Mullins.

Ira, or “Bad Ira” Mullins as he was locally known, was a big-time moonshiner and corn whiskey runner by trade. It is also said that he was a small-time merchant as well, but we could find no record of him owning a general store or mercantile on the Elkhorn Creek. It is possible that he later owned such a business in Virginia. But it is also just as likely that this business or the story of it was used as a front for his illegal endeavors.

Ira Goes to Jail

Letcher County Courthouse built in 1888
Letcher County Courthouse built in 1888

On October 21st of 1880, Ira Mullins would be arrested, fined $25, and spend 10 days in the Whitesburg Kentucky Jail. The only information we could find about this case is the indictment which states that Ira was carrying a concealed and deadly weapon. The indictment was used by the jury to record the sentence and the fine. And as a scratch pad by the Court Clerk to tabulate $12.85 in court fees. The indictment lists the witnesses for the commonwealth as well. Morgan Killers, Henry Vanover, and a man that is repeatedly associated with the story of the Pound Gap Massacre, Isaac Belcher.

Ira and Louanza Move on Vanover Land

In the mid-1880’s Ira and Louanza Mullins moved to Elkhorn Creek and settled in a cabin that was built on a plot of land owned by Henry Vanover. Although Henry informed Ira and his niece that the property and the cabin in which they were now living were owned by him. There is nothing to indicate that he asked them to leave, either verbally or in any court record. What we do know is that about this time someone started trying to kill Henry Vanover.

Death of Henry Vanover

Henry Vanover as pictured in the Centenial Newspaper
Henry Vanover as pictured in the Centenial Newspaper

On June 18, 1887, while working the fields in Rocky Hollow with his wife, Henry Vanover was ambushed and killed… Although the actual killer of Henry Vanover remains unknown, it was widely thought that Clifton Branham had murdered Henry Vanover.

Clifton was arrested and tried for the crime, although there was little evidence and Clifton claimed to be at home with his wife and family that day he was convicted of conspiracy and criminal complicity and would spend 15 years of a 90-year term in prison.

After Henry’s death, his widow Sarah was left to raise their children on her own, however, having a large timber-producing estate did not make it any easier as at one point Sarah was facing 100 lawsuits from people claiming Henry’s land including a lawsuit from Ira and Louranza Mullins

Doc Taylor was a close friend of Henry Vanover’s and became involved in several of the lawsuits against Widow Vanover, including the one with Ira Mullins…

If Clifton Branham had knowledge of who actually killed Henry Vanover, he kept silent about it… He also never told who he had received money from for the assassination; …however, everyone suspected it was from Ira Mullins and his wife Louranza…

The Shootout that Paralyzed Ira Mullins

Richmond Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia April 21, 1892
Richmond Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia April 21, 1892

There is a tale where Doctor Taylor was involved in a shootout. Taylor and his posse rode into the town of Wise in pursuit of a wagon load of whiskey owned by Ira Mullins, where a gunfight exploded on the streets in front of the courthouse.

According to the Oft Told Tale, approximately 250 bullets were exchanged leaving the driver of the wagon dead and several others injured. It is said that Ira Mullins was shot and paralyzed during this event in Wise, Virginia. According to the Oft Told Tale, Doctor Taylor was fired from being a United States Marshall for the shootout. But there is no historical record that we can find of a shootout happening in Wise, Virginia.

However, there is a newspaper article that says that Ira Mullins had received his paralyzing injuries in a shootout with Revenuers in Mountain Home, Tennessee over a year prior to the Killing Rock Massacre.

Most people figure that it was the shootout at Wise, Virginia that started the feud between Doctor Marshall Benton Taylor and Ira Mullins. However, it is of particular interest to note that Taylor would become a Federal Marshal in 1889 two years after the death of Henry Vanover, and start his war against moonshiners.

It is also telling in the fact that Taylor chose the pursuit and capture of Moonshine runners coming from Kentucky into Virginia. Taylor was known to camp out at what is now known as Raven Rock and spy on the road below using his 5-foot spyglass and then set a trap for the runners at the top of the mountain.

The Testimony of Jemima Harris and Robert Mullins on Ira’s Medical Condition

Jemima Harris states that she had lived with Ira Mullins all of that spring because he was paralyzed and couldn’t help himself. She stated that he could not feed himself without help.

Mr. Robert Mullins was then asked if he knew why Ira had been found in the wagon.

The transcript tells us he replied “Ira Mullins was paralyzed—could not feed himself and had to be hauled from place to place in a wagon;”

Ira Threatens Doc Taylor

Doctor Marshall Benton Taylor
Doctor Marshall Benton Taylor

As we will state in the next section, two witnesses would come forward. Both would claim that Doctor Taylor spoke to them about Ira sending out a call to pay someone $100 for them to kill Doc before that Saturday. Why?

There is a huge possibility that this was for his testimony on behalf of the Widow Vanover. That Doc was testifying against Ira Mullins’ claims to the land after the death of Henry Vanover.

It is a possibility that Mullins was about to lose his court case and that he blamed Doc for his testimony. This would make sense as we have no other reason for this claim because Doctor Taylor had recently given up his time as a United States Marshall. See Who is Doc Taylor.

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The Testimony of Noah Hubbard, Doc Swindall, and Jemima Harris on the Cabin Shooting

Sometime in April of 1892, there was a shootout at the Mullins cabin located in Pound Virginia. According to the Richmond Dispatch, a number of unknown men went to his house and opened fire upon the cabin Several shots went through the window and lodged into the bed of Ira Mullins.

Several friends arrived at the cabin and were able to save Ira from death. They hid him under a pile of freight in a covered wagon and spirited him away to safety. Noah Hubbard, Jemima Harris, and Doc Swindall would all testify about the shooting at the cabin.

Noah Hubbard
Noah Hubbard

Noah Hubbard would further testify that he and Dr. Taylor would have a conversation at his house about the shooting of Ira Mullins. He said that Dr. Taylor told him that “some person or persons had shot through Ira Mullins’ window into his bedclothes, but it was not him.”

The witness testified that this was because Ira Mullins had offered $100 to have Dr. Taylor killed on Saturday. However, Ira’s bed was shot into on Sunday.

The Witness then stated that Dr. Taylor had then told him that he was in Kentucky when Ira Mullins had offered the reward to have him killed. Hubbard then stated that “he said he was going to keep in the brush and keep the law on his side.”

Doctor Swindall
Doctor Swindall

Doc Swindall testified: I live 150 yards from Ira Mullins’ house, and saw him the Sunday before he was killed. Dr. M. B. Taylor stayed all night at my house on Saturday night before Ira Mullins was killed;

he asked me about Ira and said Ira had offered $100 for his life. I was in bed when he came to my house. He asked me to get up and come out on the porch, that he wanted to talk to me.

He said that sometime after Ira had offered the reward to have him (Taylor) killed, somebody had shot into his (Ira) bed, but ‘it wasn’t me,’ and laughed. He said there was aiming to come up big trouble, and that the Fleming boys would not bother me and Col. Swindall anymore, that he had that fixed. “

Jemima Harris states that “About three weeks before he was killed someone shot through the window into his bed; the ball went into the shot through the window into his bed; the ball went into the bed-covers on which he was lying; the ball looked like a .44 to her. She didn’t know that Dr. Taylor carried a .44 pistol; she didn’t know where the ball was.”

Final Murder Attempt

Charles A Johnson at the site of the Killing Rock.  The date and the photographer are both unknown
Charles A Johnson at the site of the Killing Rock. The date and the photographer are both unknown

The final murder attempt against Ira Mullins would come just a month later on May 14, 1892. Ira along with his wife, Louranza, John Chappel, Greenberry Harris, and Wison Mullins would all be murdered at the top of Pound Mountain at a place called the Killing Rock.

As we have been going through this saga piece by piece, we have discovered that there is far more to this than has often been told. As we continue the trial of Doctor Taylor one question has alluded to everyone…

But what if Ira was not the actual target? What if someone else in the party was the primary target? We will explore that possibility in a future video.

Thank You

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We thank you for continuing to support Kentucky Tennessee Living. As we bring to you the history of the Appalachian Mountains. We must remind everyone that the story names Killing Rock: The Oft Told Tale (s) and Killing Rock: The Untold Story and Killing Rock: the Trial are all under Kentucky Tennessee Living copyright.

Source Information

A Narrative History of Wise County, Virginia By Charles A. Johnson Pub. 1938.

Richmond Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia April 21, 1892

Please see our list of resources on our other videos and articles as this is a culimation of all of our information thus far in this series.

Copyright and Other Information

All photos are in the public domain unless otherwise noted. This includes photos dated before 1923. All other photos are used with permission or under the education fair use statute of the US copyright law.

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