“Bad” Jim Wright was an outlaw from Hancock County, Tennessee, serving a life sentence for murder in the Brushy Mountain Penitentiary. This facility was new at the time; construction had just been completed in 1896. Wright escaped the confines of Brushy Mountain in 1900. Rather than flee the region, Wright returned to his home in Hancock County. There was a $500 reward on his head.
Wright would not stay hidden for long. Two years after his escape, another murder happened, but this time it was Sheriff Lager of Hancock County. The Sheriff’s murder was charged to Wright, as well as John Templeton and Templeton’s brother who wasn’t named. Earlier that year, Sheriff Lager had killed Templeton’s father. The three men ambushed Lager and killed him.
The three men were now outlaws and fled into Scott County, Virginia. It was now 1902. In April, authorities had become frustrated with the gang’s presence. The offer of a reward didn’t seem to be helping, until someone finally pointed out their hiding place. The authorities gathered a group of deputies, but the outlaws knew they were coming.
Five of the Sheriff’s men fell during the resulting shoot-out. Two others from the Sheriff’s posse, Joe Moss and Sam Wax, were also wounded. Many newspapers reported that Jim Wright was shot and captured during the gunfire, while his gang escaped, but this was not the end. Obviously, any capture was short-term and Wright slipped through the clutches of law enforcement. The story again gained momentum in September after another shootout in Rogersville, Tennessee.
Gangs of citizens scoured the region for weeks in search of the elusive outlaws. Public outrage against the desperados continued to grow. Wright’s gang held up in a house through the night of September 8. Authorities managed to keep him contained to the structure, it was the final battle for Wright.
This time, Jim Wright and John Templeton were both killed. Wright’s son was taken into custody by none other than Joe Moss, the man his father had wounded in April. George W. Wolf, of Spears Ferry in Virginia, was among those wounded during this fight.
George Wright, Jim’s son, went on trial on the 18th. There was no proof that he shot at any of the men who came to capture Wright and Templeton, so he was discharged. During his trial, he spoke more of Templeton than he did his own father. Templeton was an incredibly superstitious character. George claimed that John’s life was dictated by dreams, omens and signs. On the day he died, he had suffered from a reoccurring dream of his own demise. The last nap he woke from, after again having the dream, he declared he would never sleep again in this life.
A trio of men: Dick Minor, Orvin Duff, and Andrew Olington ambushed Templeton outside. Duff organized the trio because a few years earlier, Wright had killed his brother. Estimates stated that both Jim Wright and John Templeton had killed six men each.
The grudges carried from this clash would not diminish. Nine years later, tragedy struck for many of those who helped capture the outlaws. In July of 1911, George Wolf was murdered. His body was found on the train tracks near Clinchport, Virginia. Authorities first believed he’d been struck by a train. His body had been wedged between the ties of a cattle guard along the tracks. An autopsy proved he had been shot.
Temp Crabtree and his wife were murdered the night before Wolf died. The couple had reported the whereabouts of Wright and Templeton all those years before.
- The Brushy Mountain correctional facility operated until 2009.
- Jim Wright’s father was Samuel Wright. His brother was Lewis Wright. Both were bushwhackers and bandits. Wright led his own sons into the lifestyle and lost one in a Kentucky battle.
- Bodies of Wright an Templeton were hauled into Gate City, Virginia, on September 8, 1902. They were brought by cart for citizens to view.
- Wright was a small man, well over 50 years old. Sallow, sunken cheeks, a large moustache tinged with gray, deep-set eyes, and shaggy brows.