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Bad John Wright

This webpage reproduces a section of
The History of Jenkins, Kentucky

published by The Jenkins Area Jaycees
Jenkins, Kentucky 1973

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Sevier Johnson
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Interview with James Jackson

Mr. Jackson, when did you come to Jenkins?

In 1915.

What did Jenkins look like at that time?

We had boardwalks all around here, there wasn't any concrete around.

Where did you first move to when you came to Jenkins?

Wright's Hollow. I started working for the company in 1916, World War I time. I wasn't old enough, but I started in shining shoes in the barber shop and you know the company, if you go on their property, they have you signed up. I signed up and they paid me $1 a day to clean up the barber shop. The barber shop was located in the recreational building.

How old were you when you came here?

I was 14 years old when I came here and I went to work for them when I was 15.

Did your family move here?

Yes, my mother and dad both died here. We moved here from Jefferson County, Alabama.

Did your Dad work in the mines here?

Yes, the only mining I've done was at 206 in 1929, but I just worked three months and I came back to the recreational building and stayed there till the day it went.

Where did you work after that?

I run a place there where the Ashland Oil Station is, a colored recreational. After it went, I went back to janitoring in the office building and stayed there until I retired in 1968.

What was in the rec for colored people?

Well, we had a pool table and sold pop, ice cream and cigarettes. We always had a good business. I went in there in 1944.

When you came to Jenkins, what kind of buildings were in town?

We had a bandstand along where the post office is and course, that office building wasn't there, nor the bank building or service station, Ladd Building, none of that. They had a big garage there where the Baker building is where they kept the company cars. The first concrete we had went from where the red light used to be down to Jenkins Hotel, and all the bosses rode — they had a hitching rack in between the store and Dairy Bar, and the bosses tied their horses to the rack. In the evening if some fellow didn't want to go down to the barn because he had to walk back, if you was a pretty good sized boy, they let you ride the horses down. I used to ride the manager's all the time, Mack Forrester. They had a long horse barn over where the shop is. They had a lot of stock, see they used mules in the mines, hauling coal, sanitary wagon, all that stuff was pulled by stock back then.

When you came here, were there very many houses?

Yes, there was right smart. We used to have a church there where Butch Mullins' store is. Course, they didn't have no houses down there, but Dr. Perry's house and the undertaker's house was already there when I came.

How did Wright's Hollow look when you came?

There ain't been but two houses added down in there and that's Old man Plummer's house. So most of the houses were already in Wright's Hollow when I came.

What about the population — was there a lot of people here?

Yes, there was a lot. Course, it took a lot before this machinery came along.

I know you've been involved in politics, Mr. Jackson. Did you ever run for office?

I was appointed to City Council twice, but I never was elected. I run two times, but didn't win.

What about the 4th of July Celebration, do you remember anything about that?

Yes, we used to have the greasy pig, then had ballgames, and fireworks at night.

Did the colored have a baseball team?

Yes, we had some good players. We had a fellow named Grady Dobin. This Grady fellow was the first baseman and he was a long ball hitter. Montie Weaver, he went to the major league.a We have had two or three fellows here that played ball here and then went to the major league. We played other colored teams, Wolf Pit, Hellier, Burdine.

I understand you used to have boxing here.

Yes, over about where Charlie Johnson lives on the side of the hill and the ring was down below there. They had great crowds. They used to raffle off cars and cut tickets through the mining office. They brought boxers in from Cincinnati, Lexington, etc. They brought in good boxers.

When you came here, were there any cars?

No, they started coming in around '16 or '17, Fords and Dodges, and a little later, two fellows bought Packards.

The first radio I ever heard was down the recreational building. "Doc", I believe, brought it down there but you had two sets of batteries and all that junk. He brought it down there and we would go up and listen to the ballgames on that thing. They were a lot of trouble back then, but they improved fast.

Mr. Jackson, do you have any children or family?

I have an adopted son out in California. I have a daughter, she lives in Akron — Katherine, and the boy is John W.

What are some of the big changes you've seen here?

Well, I think they have done extra well. I've been to Benham and Lynchb and around, and this job here has been one of the fastest to keep the people up on time. Just like television, we had it as good as they were getting it anywhere, long before a lot of places even got it.

Did you have any kind of delivery service then?

Yes, we had wagons, then we had trucks. First, we had a colored fellow that had a team of mules. Henry Foster, he had a pair of mules that were so well trained that when he worked Lakeside and Wheaton Hollow, would hop off there in front of the store and go on in the door and they would go on around that side and pull up and back that wagon without him being in it.

How did they get your order?

You would have to bring it or send it and they would take it home for you. You didn't have to carry it.

What about the ice house?

Yes, they had a ice wagon and later on an ice truck. We had a little old ice box you put the ice on top and the food down under there, and it kept it cool. They had a bakery. They made the bread and then carried it to the store. They made bread, cakes, buns. They would bake a cake and then package it up in small amounts and the bakery fellows they used to give us kids the trimmings. The bakery was located where the legion is.

How long did it last?

It lasted pretty long, I think, they went out in the early 30's.

Did the colored people have businesses?

Yes, we have had two businesses. Two fellows had stores down in East Jenkins. One was a fellow named Erskin and I can't remember the other fellow's name. He garnisheed a fellow and he met him there about where Leo's house is. He had been up to the post office. He was riding a horse and this fellow was working on the railroad. Railroad workers they used not to allow them to get garnisheed, and he garnisheed this fellow and he met him along there, and shot him off his horse and killed him.

Did there use to be a lot of fighting?

Yes, they used to be a killing about every week, white and colored — they was rough in them days!

Didn't they have police?

Yes, they had plenty law enforcement, but they couldn't be around everywhere.

Jenkins used to be wet, didn't it?

G‑48 Yes, when I first came here it stayed wet until 1919. You could order it from Cattlesburg. They had a farmer lived here and he sent people around and took your order, if you wanted a case of beer or whatever. He got beer by the boxcar and then he delivered what you wanted.

What about the Depression was it pretty rough?

No, we didn't have it as rough as some, this company was such a big outfit they let men have so much a day if he had it in there or didn't. The state and Federal Government put out flour and stuff like that to everyone, issued it out. It was never as bad here as other places. They have always had something to eat here. When they didn't work they always gave them something and then when school started they always let them go to the store and get a lease so they could get coal for the kids going to school.

Lease, now what was a Lease?

They would go and fill out what they wanted and they let them have it knowing they wouldn't get any money until later on. You had to sign that lease saying you would pay it.

When they started selling the houses how did the people feel about that? Were they worried?

No, what they did they were good enough to them that they let them just sign up and they would cut you through the office and if you wasn't working they didn't look to get nothing. Some of the cheap homes they finally just gave them to the people. The houses were sold real cheap and they set up monthly payments.

Did you belong to U. M. W. A.?

No, I was on salary most of the time.

Did you know Bad John Wright?

Yes, I knew him well, but I didn't know nothing about him shooting anyone. But I have went out and got his saddle bags off his horse, see he was always in the company office he had a lot to do with the Company land. He brought them moonshine. I've went out many a day to get the saddle bags off and take them upstairs in the office.

Was he a pretty common fellow?

Yes, he was a pretty nice fellow, I never did see him any other way. He didn't look rough but I've heard plenty of them say he was rough but just coming in contact with him in and out of the office around there. I never did have any trouble with him.

Are you one of the oldest colored here or lived here the longest?

I just don't know there is one or two over McRoberts been here a long time.

When you came here this power plant up here was built wasn't it?

Yes.

This railroad I guess you remember when they built it into Virginia.

Yes, it was in the 40's.

Did they have trouble getting through that mountain?

Yes, they couldn't get it to hold. That's one reason the railroad was glad to get out of there, they never could feel safe with that tunnel.c The way that rock is sloped you just can't hold it.

Mr. Jackson what do you think of the future for Jenkins? Do you think it is going to grow or decline in population?

I don't believe it will decline. You know I've seen fellows for the last 25 or 30 years they have had it folding up every day but it has always gotten bigger. So I'm thinking they will come up with something to keep going.

What about the businesses, do you think people are trading here more?

Yes, I noticed them boys fooling with that store down there they have made it pick up a right smart.

You have been in business haven't you?

Yes, I have a pop stand, I don't sell no groceries. I sell potato chips, pop, and candy, things like that. The trouble with places here, most of the people want credit and they get in debt and the little man can't stand it.

Where was the Old garbage dump?

Down there where the shop got that stuff up that hollow, the last one was up in there. At one time way back there, there was one at Church House Hollow. They always had garbage wagons pick up garbage and then when trucks come they had a truck. It went all around the camps and then hauled the garbage off.

What about the "Honey Wagon" do you know anything about that?

That was a big pain but they had them. They cleaned out the toilets about twice a year sometime.

In other words they did everything for you, clean your toilet out, brought your groceries for you. I never did even put up a stove pipe until they sold these houses. I would just go by the office and say I want "so and so" fixed and they would say, well, I'll get around to it today or tomorrow and that would be the last of it. They would go right ahead and do it.

Do you think that's what happened, the town just sort of stood still expecting the company to still do this?

Yes, they had been used to the company doing everything for them. A lot of them didn't improve their houses or nothing, they just let them go waiting for someone to do it for them.

Was Cassidy here when they sold the houses?

Yes, he was the manager.d

Do you remember any of the managers that were here a long time ago?

I remember Mack Forrester, Carpender,º Tarleton and then Zegeer.

Do you remember some of your bosses?

Dick Brogan was the first I worked under, A. W. Jordan, Ransom Jordan, he worked there for years. It used to be for years when somebody would come back to town and they wanted to know about someone, they would come and see me, but I just can't remember like I could.


Thayer's Notes:

a The printed text has "Monie Weaver", but this is very likely just the interviewer hearing wrong. Montie Weaver played in the major leagues in the 1930s: he is the subject of an excellent biographical sketch at The Baseball Biography Project.

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b Benham and Lynch are two small towns about 25 miles SW of Jenkins, very similar to Jenkins and essentially competitors, in that they too were coal company towns, founded by International Harvester (now Navistar). They seem to have had a larger proportion of black miners, and are therefore of particular interest in terms of black history; see the Benham-Lynch pages of the Kingdom Come State Park website and BenhamKY.Org.

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c There was a short-lived railroad connecting Jenkins to Pound, VA. The tunnel thru the mountain has collapsed here and there, and it is now blocked off. The entrance on the Kentucky side is said to be a few hundred meters from the new high school, near the road up to Pound Gap, behind the area of the long projected tourist amphitheater (marked by the "Cavalier Country" sign); I haven't seen it.

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d Samuel M. Cassidy, Jr. would eventually become President of Consol; for a biographical sketch, see his entry in the university of Kentucky's Hall of Distinction.


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Page updated: 18 Dec 05