Killing Rock: The Oft Told Tale Part 1

A frightened fifteen-year-old young man runs screaming and sobbing into the arms of Jemima Harris.

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Saturday, May 14, 1892

The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre.  The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.
The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre. The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.

A frightened young man runs into the town of Pound Va. looking for Jemima Harris, and George Francisco…The young man is 15-year-old John Harrison Mullins., son of Ira and Louanza Mullins. When he finally locates them, he falls screaming and sobbing into the arms of Jemima Harris.   Between the sobs, tears and the gasping for air he tells them a horror story about a shooting on the mountain, near the Pound Gap at what is now known as Killing Rock.

John said, “…When the shooting started, I began to run and saw Wilson stagger, and one of the horses fall…”  John Mullins had one of his suspenders broken from a shot that had just missed his body. Upon examination it was discovered that John had multiple bullet holes in his clothing, and it became clear just how narrowly he had escaped with his life.

John stated that he had no idea who the shooters were, because as soon as the shooting began, he started running. He also said that he thought he had run about a half mile before the shooting stopped but he had kept running because he thought they might come after him. Jemima Harris immediately started out for Pound Gap.  Along the way she stopped at the house of Floyd Branham to have his wife Elizabeth go with her to the top of the mountain.  The two women were the first to arrive on the scene.

Earlier That Day

The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre victim John Chappell.  The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.
The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre victim John Chappell. The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.

At about 10 am that morning. John Mullins along with Jemima’s son, Greenberry Harris, and 6 others had left the home of his uncle Wilson Mullins. at the mouth of Cane Creek in Kentucky heading towards Pound Va…

The party included John’s uncle Wilson Mullins, who was leading the group on horseback. John’s mother and father Louanza and Ira Mullins who were riding in a wagon with his cousin Mindy. Ira’s handyman John Chappell was driving the wagon. John and Greenberry had been walking behind it and John’s aunt Jane, was following the group on horseback.

Along the way, they had stopped at a store and left Mindy whose full name was Amorinda, with her maternal grandmother. Mindy did not want to go with her grandmother. But her mother Jane was insistent that she stay with her grandmother. Eventually Wilson bribed Mindy into going with her grandmother by buying her a can of store bought peaches.

At about 1 pm, the party had crossed through the Pound Gap and started down the mountain. As they drew near a large pile of rocks, that sat beside the road. Gunshots rang out…

Mullins and Bentley

John Vint Bentley and Annie Potter.  The photographer and date are unknown
John Vint Bentley and Annie Potter. The photographer and date are unknown

Robert Mullins, who lived about three miles from Pound Gap. And John Vint Bentley, who lived in Kentucky. Were also traveling that day in opposite directions. They arrived at the scene at about 2:30 shortly after Jemima and Elizabeth. What they found was a scene straight out of the police gazette.

A grieving mother crying over her dead son and another woman trying to comfort her. Additionally, there were 4 other bodies surrounding a wagon which was still hitched to two dead horses. The two men quickly took control of the scene in order to preserve it and Bentley, who was a magistrate, started an investigation of the scene.

The Crime Scene Description

For those that do not wish to read about the scene of the crime please skip this section and continue to the Section “Scene Discovery”.

Mrs. Mullins was found under the wagon shot through the chest. Additionally, it was well known that Louanza often wore a money belt, but her dress had been raised over her head and the belt had been stolen.

The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre victim Louanza Mullins, wife of Ira Mullins.  The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.
The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre victim Louanza Mullins, wife of Ira Mullins. The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.

Ira Mullins had received eight bullets in the head, shoulders, and thighs his body was still laying in the wagon.

Ira’s handyman John Chappell had received six shots. Although he had been driving the wagon and sitting beside Louanza, there is no record of where his body was found.

However, in an interesting historical note. It is reported that Mr. Chappell was an African American and was buried along with the rest of the party from the massacre. His graveside and theirs can be found under a historical marker at The Murdered Man’s Cemetery in Jenkins, Kentucky.

Greenberry Harris, who was also in his teens, was found behind the wagon. It is thought that he and Wilson were the first to fall and that at least one of the shots he received may have been meant for John. He received two bullets in the head, and once in the heart.

Wilson Mullins had received one bullet in his heart and was lying ahead of the wagon, there was no sign of his horse.

Both team horses that were pulling the wagon had been shot and killed. The wagon itself was riddled with bullet holes.

Scene Discovery

The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre victim Wilson Mullins.  The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.
The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre victim Wilson Mullins. The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.

When they had arrived at the site John Bentley and Robert Mullins had questioned Elizabeth Branham. She told them about John Harris Mullins and the story he had told to Jemima. In addition to being a magistrate, John Vint Bentley owned the little store where Wilson had bought the can of peaches for his daughter an hour earlier.

Knowing the full makeup of the party, John Bentley immediately became concerned. Elizabeth had said nothing about Jane, and her body and her horse were missing. The two immediately began searching for Jane ranging up and down the mountain from the scene of the crime.  Yet the body of Jane Mullins and her horse were nowhere to be found.

Alarm in the Mountains

The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre victim Greenberry Harris.  The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.
The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre victim Greenberry Harris. The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.

The alarm spread fast, and many people were on the scene within an hour or two. With each new arrival John Bentley and Robert Mullins inquired about Jane. No one reported seeing or passing her on their way to the crime scene. In addition, none of them had seen evidence to indicate the possibility of an injured person leaving the road.

Jane is Found

Three hours later Ira’s sister, Amoda Jane Mullins rode into Cane Creek, now the Camden section of Jenkins, Kentucky screaming “Everyone is dead but me”. She had first told everyone in Camden that when the shooting started, she had escaped by ridding hard back up the mountain heading for home.

Her story about this would change several times in the coming days, weeks, and months. The first time it would change was that evening. Jane came back from Kentucky, with friends and family and arrived at the crime scene at about 6pm.

John Vint Bentley and Robert Mullins were finishing up their investigation. One of the first things that John Vint Bentley question her on as part of his investigation was where she had been and why they had not encountered each other on the road.

What’s more, Jane went on to give several people conflicting stories about what she was doing during the time frame in question. Jane’s whereabouts for the four hours after the shooting and her activities during the time in question remain a mystery to this day.

Jane Changes Her Story

The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre victim Ira Mullins.  The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.
The Letcher County Historical Marker for the Pound Gap Massacre victim Ira Mullins. The photograph was taken by Joanna Adams Sergent on location.

For several days after the massacre during the funeral and wake Jane told multiple people that she “did not know who the shooters were”. One of the witnesses called for the defense testified that Jane had told her “When the shooting was going on, I was so scared, I would not have known your husband, Matt if he had been there.”

Then on May 19th Jane Mullins would once again change her story. She began telling everyone that Doc Taylor and the Fleming brothers were the shooters and that she had recognized one of their voices. She also stated that she had tried to save Louanza by pulling her under the wagon. She went on to say that when a pause in the gunfire came. She had yelled out; “Boys, for the Lord’s sake, don’t shoot anymore; you’ve killed them all. Let me stay here with them, till someone finds us.”

She then said that the men yelled at her three or four times, cursing and threatening her. Jane said that she thought one of the men sounded like Calvin Fleming. Another may have been Doc Taylor. And that a third man, who may have been Henan Fleming, had asked the others to let her go. Then one of the other men cursed her and yelled: “Take to the road or we will kill you too”.

In Court the council for the defense asked why she had not told this story from the start. Jane replied that she had feared for her life as the Fleming brothers were her neighbors. We will cover this line of questioning and other evidence in more detail in our follow-up series which will be titled “The Killing Rock, The Untold Story”

Solid Alibi?

The Fleming brothers had been running the widow of Henry Vanover’s farm as Henan had married Kathrine Vanover. In addition, it has also been said that Calvin Fleming was engaged to another of the Vanover daughters. Ira’s cabin that Jane and her husband Wilson Mullins had been living in was on land owned by the widow Vanover.

What’s more, Doctor Marshall Benton Taylor was a frequent visitor at the Vanover farm as he had been good friends with Henry Vanover before his murder. Doc had been testifying on the widow of Henry Vanover’s behalf in court. As after Henry Vanover’s murder his widow faced over 100 lawsuits over the land that she and Henry had owned. Including one from Ira Mullins. It is also of interest to note, that at least one source tells us that Ira had been in Kentucky that week due to a court case over land.

June 3rd, 1892

Evidence found at the scene of the crime and John Vint Bentley’s investigation pointed to two suspects. But only one, Henry Clay Adams, would be indicted on this date. Doctor Marshall Benton Taylor and the Fleming brothers Calvin, and Samuel Henan would also be indicted based solely upon the word of Amoda Jane Mullins.  

In the Killing Rock Oft Told Tales Part 2 we will continue with the attempted arrests of those accused and other events that surrounded the time frame.

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Source Information

The Pound Gap Massacre 1
http://kytnliving.com/the-pound-gap-massacre-1-2

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

THE NATIONAL POLICE GAZETTE: NEW YORK, August 20, 1892

The Trail of the lonesome Pine
John Fox Jr.

The Potter Family Genealogy Page
http://yeahpot.com

wright-bates website

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