For some reason, many papers of the era list him as “C. H. ‘Doc’ Taylor.” Marshall Benton Taylor was also known as the “Red Fox,” due to his red hair and beard. His most popular nickname, when the papers had his actual name wrong, was that of “Doc.” Doc Taylor gained a reputation for blood thirst that might not be as warranted as was propagated. Doc was born in 1836 in Scott County, Virginia.
For the first part of his life, Doc excelled at many things. The primary area was medicine. He had a knack for healing that would be recalled for a century. Oftentimes, he didn’t administer any medication, but provided a supportive ear for his patients. He also prayed over them and utilized faith healing. He never attended medical school, but studied medicine under his uncle, Dr. Morgan Stallard. Stallard was a noted physician of Lee County, Virginia. Doc earned his moniker by being a simple mountain herbal doctor.
As he grew into adulthood, Doc began to follow the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish spiritualist who was globally famous. Swedenborg (1688-1772) gained a reputation for being a Christian mystic. Doc believed he was also a “seer,” and could communicate with the unseen world. Doc was unabashedly religious and preached whenever he had a congregation. His openness towards faith and belief made him particularly popular with female patients.
Doc practiced medicine for four months before war broke out. He enlisted and served four years in the Civil War. When the war ended, he returned to his practice and even preached at a Methodist and a Baptist church. Unfortunately, his life was not to remain predictable.
Around 1876, a man suspected of being an outlaw, Robert Moore, was shot. Neighbors were certain Doc was the shooter, even though there was no motive and no proof. Doc even stood trial for the crime, but without any substance to the charges, he was acquitted.
This was a turning point in his life and Doc would never be the same. He started carrying guns with him. Fate intervened in his life in the form of the U.S. Marshal Office. Doc was appointed as a deputy marshal of Wise County. He took pride in the title and immediately set out on a quest to thwart local moonshiners.
Ira Mullins was an established moonshine manufacturer and distributor. At this time, he was older and had endured many conflicts with revenuers over his illicit business. Taylor and his posse opened fire on Mullins’s wagon just as it passed the Wise County Courthouse. The hail of gunfire left the wagon’s driver dead and many spectators wounded. This started a feud between Doc and Ira that would continue for the rest of his life.
Mullins stubbornly clung to the illicit life, despite losing relatives in this initial battle. He soon had another run-in with other revenuers for his brew and that time he was shot and paralyzed. No matter what the cost, Mullins held onto his illegal trade with the dogged tenacity of the fabled mountain goat.
Doc didn’t do well after the courthouse incident, either. He lost his position as deputy. He lived his own life and, for a time, there were only words between the two enemies. Rumors started circulating some time later that Ira had a $300 contract out for anyone who would kill Doc. When Doc found out about it, he snuck to Mullins’s house during the night. He crept to the window and fired into the bedroom, but the bullet simply went into the mattress without hitting Mullins.
By May of 1893, the feuding escalated. Doc discovered Mullins was going to be hauling a load of illegal liquor through Pounding Gap. The Gap is a passage between Virginia and Kentucky that pioneers used to go westward. Today, this area is home to U.S. Route 23.
Pounding Gap earned a reputation as a place of disrepute, where thieves and highwaymen waited to accost weary travelers. This particular pass was also a Confederate breastwork during the Civil War. A “breastwork” is an earthen fortification utilized to protect soldiers, much like an armored half-trench. This particular portion of Pounding Gap eventually gained such notoriety for outlaws and highwaymen that it was called, “Killing Rock.”
Doc’s previous attempt to assassinate Mullins was a failure, but this time he was resolute. He enlisted the help of the Fleming boys, two ex-Confederates who were outlaws in their own right. Henan and Cal Fleming participated in the event, but never carried the blame as much as Doc.
The wagon crossed the pass where they hid and the three opened fire. When they finished, nearly everything was dead. They’d killed 5 out of 7 people around the wagon. Judging by the history up to this point, Doc likely suspected the wagon was filled with moonshine, but it was filled with people. The brutality of the event carried across the nation. Ira was shot 20 times in the head and torso, his body was mutilated. His wife was shot through the knee and the breast.
John Campbell, inside the wagon, took six bullets. Greenbury Harris and Wilson Mullins were also in the wagon and both were shot through the heart. The two people outside the wagon weren’t harmed, but the horses were killed. Many reports also state the wagon was pillaged.
After this, Doc fled into West Virginia, but running did no good. He was apprehended and returned to Wise County for trial. The trial went quickly and Doc attempted to preach in the courtroom during his sentencing. The judge cut him off and sentenced him to be executed.
While in jail, he was in the company of none other than Talt Hall, the man he’d apprehended. He attempted to make peace with the outlaw, but Hall refused to shake his hand. Talt claimed he didn’t shake hands with men who murdered women and children, even outlaws held a bizarre code of honor.
The date of the attack in May frequently changed, however several accounts point to May 13, 1893. By October, Doc was nearing his execution. He is perhaps the only criminal in Wise County history to administer the last sacrament to himself. He dressed in a white linen suit and a white hat on his execution day. His body was emaciated due to disease and malnutrition. He was too weak to talk until he had the last sacrament, then he began to preach. He preached the day of his execution from 9 am until he was hung. This was October 27, 1893.
Doc claimed his white clothes were emblematic of what he would wear in heaven. He claimed he didn’t fear heaven or death, for they would be a relief. He didn’t profess his innocence at any point, nor did he blame others for his position.
His wife was reported to be a little woman. She came to see him on his execution day dressed in black. Her bonnet was larger than her head.
While he preached, Doc requested his body be left unburied for 3 days because he might be resurrected. He was not. There were suspicions that his unusual dress was due to a scheme to escape death. Several reports eventually turned up that Doc was found living elsewhere after his execution.
The stories from newspapers of the era ranged from outlandish to ignorantly biased. Several of the papers were not only personally derogatory of Doc, but of the Appalachian people. One such account implied Doc was a Confederate deserter and hoodoo man who did nothing more than con “dumb mountain people.” This same account portrayed Ira Mullins as a sympathetic character who suffered life as a lame.
The Mullins family was buried together. One morbid, but interesting fact was their graves were desecrated by ghouls after their murder. Someone rigged dynamite to Ira’s grave and blew it up.