The Failed Resurrection of Doc Taylor

Wise County courthouse

When October 30, 1893, came and went without Doc Taylor rising from the dead, few residents of a small town in rural western Virginia were surprised. And with Doc Taylor's failed resurrection, one of the strangest chapters in the history of Wise County drew to a close.

Few men living in this mountainous region of Virginia were as eccentric-- or as dangerous-- as Doc Taylor, who earned his living as a preacher and a self-educated country doctor. According to historical records, Taylor was a walking arsenal of sorts, always carrying a Winchester rifle, two Colt revolvers and a belt containing two rows of cartridges wherever he went. He was reportedly a physician of most unusual skill and, in spite of his lack of formal education, attracted patients within a 50 mile radius of the town of Norton.

Taylor was also a well-known Swedenborgian minister, preaching Christianity according to the teachings of 18th century theologian and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. Doc Taylor was known to spend days on end in solitude in the mountains, where he claimed to have had visions and to have communed with angels. Short and of a stocky build, the eccentric country doctor at first glance didn't appear to be very threatening. However, it was said that the right side of his face was etched with a permanent and vicious snarl. Taylor also had the distinction of serving as a United States Deputy Marshal.

Old Ira Mullins was a moonshiner, and was pursued by Deputy Marshal "Doc" Taylor, who, along with his posse, was attempting to capture Mullins and confiscate a wagon of whiskey which Mullins was transporting across state lines from North Carolina. A skirmish broke out near Wise Courthouse, shots were exchanged and horses scattered. When the smoke cleared, the driver of the wagon was dead. This skirmish marked the beginning of a feud between Ira Mullins and Doc Taylor. This bitter feud would ultimately result in the destruction of both men-- along with several other innocent victims.

A year after the Wise Courthouse skirmish, Ira Mullins was shot by law enforcement in North Carolina and was paralyzed. The old moonshiner was helpless, and for the rest of his life had to be carried around in a wagon. In April of 1892, someone fired a shot through the window of Mullins' home while he was sleeping. Mullins fled to Kentucky and didn't return to his Wise County home until May 14, arriving in Virginia in a wagon along with his wife, a cousin named Wilson Mullins, a hired hand named Greenberry Harris, and John Chappell, the driver of the wagon. Following the wagon on horseback were Wilson Mullins' wife and Ira Mullins' teenaged son.

The Mullins clan stopped to eat dinner on a mountaintop and then proceeded toward the town of Norton. Midway down the mountain, however, the party was ambushed by three assassins wearing green veils over their faces. On a nearby boulder was painted the ominous words: "Ira Mullins dies today". The Mullins clan, having just rounded a steep curve on the trail had no idea what hit them. Their wagon burst into flames, the driver killed instantly. Ira's young son attempted to flee fown the mountainside but was cut down by a hail of bullets.

At the base of the mountain lived the mother of hired hand Greenberry Harris, who raced toward the scene, only to discover the carnage. Ira Mullins was shot eight times, the wagon driver six. Every other victim was found with four bullets lodged in their bodies. A campsite was found near the scene of the ambush, indicating that the assassins had lain in wait for about a week.

Locals recalled that shortly before the ambush, Doc Taylor was seen around town accompanied by two men, Cal and Heenan Fleming. All men were heavily armed. After the ambush the Flemings claimed responsibility, insisting that Ira Mullins had hired someone to kill them. Doc Taylor, meanwhile, fled the vicinity but was captured a month later by a detective. He was tried for murder in the fall of 1892.

On October 27, 1893, Doc Taylor was hanged.

Ironically, Taylor was hanged from the very same scaffold as notorious Kentucky killer Talton Hall, who had been apprehended by Doc Taylor himself when he was a Deputy Marshal. A crown of over 4,000 gathered to watch the hanging of Doc Taylor, who rebuked them through the grating of an upper window of the courthouse. Taylor them proceeded to preach his own funeral sermon. He preached for about an hour and a half and then went to the scaffold.

Before he was hanged, he demanded that his body remain unburied for three days, at which time, Taylor claimed, he would arise from the dead and once again preach among the mountain people of western Virginia. Officials honored his request, but Doc Taylor failed to resurrect.