“Bad John” Wright

“Bad John” Wright (1844-1931) was a peace officer for 40 years in and around Wise, Virginia. He was a prominent character in the historic feuds of the region and he is known to have killed at least nine men during his career. Estimates state he actually killed 36, but no concrete number was ever given. It is said he, “made the law feared,” and the outlaws begin to respect the law enforcers.

Wright loved to talk of his adventures, but never gave an exact number of the men he’d killed. One reporter asked if he’d killed 30, but Wright said,

“Now, I don’t know. Hardly think I killed 30. But, I took a lot of fellows to board [jail] and starved ’em to death. The people might be countin’ them.”

Wright knew all about his character in Fox’s book, but said he never read them. In truth, it’s easy to see how. Fox was a guard at the Wise County Jail when Wright worked as a detective.

Wright was credited with using early forensic science to solve crimes. His methods included judging bullet trajectory as well as searching for trace evidence at a crime scene. He was said to have participated in several feuds which lasted for decades and put at least 30 notches on his gun for the lives he took in battle.

He became known as “Uncle John,” in his declining years. He welcomed visitors to discuss history. In 1929, at the tender age of 86, Wright was baptized and found religion.

Wright was known as the, “Terror of the Hills,” and the “Tall Sycamore of the Elkhorn,” due to his immense physical stature. Bad John Wright passed away on January 30, 1931, at the age of 88.

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