Kenneth (Kinnie) Wagner
(born February 18, 1903 in Scott County, VA)
more commonly known as Kenny (Kinnie) Wagner
was a bootlegger in the U.S. state of
Mississippi, who murdered several people,
including two sheriff's deputies. He escaped
from jails numerous times, but ultimately died
in prison on March 9, 1958.
His most notable escape was
his last attempt and involved a clever trick
that was not discovered until Wagner was outside
the prison walls. He had been made a trustee
whose job it was to tend the dogs at the prison.
He quickly realized the dogs were the means by
which the prison guards would use to track him
if he were to escape again. He therefore trained
the dogs not to track him by whipping them if
they followed his scent.
He remained at large in
Wahalak, Mississippi, for several years
afterward under the alias "Big Jim," and was
subsequently placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted
Fugitives list. He was re-captured after a
jealous rival informed law enforcement officials
of his residence at the house of a female friend.
There are several folksongs
and ballads about Kinnie Wagner's many
adventures. There are several books written
about the Mississippi outlaw. And he had even
been covered in comics and pulp magazines.
The East Tennessee and
Southwest Virginia stories about Kinnie Wagner
propose a far different picture of the
gunslinger. Even the local newspaper The
Kingsport Times News in Kingsport, Tennessee
maps out the events that led to Wagner's initial
crime, intended arrest, and eventual capture
much differently than their Mississippi
Dykes, Pete. Kinnie
Wagner Story. Lulu Press (July 2007) ISBN
Gentry, Claude. The Guns
of Kinnie Wagner. Magnolia (1969) ASIN
Moore, J.S. Gathering
Leaves. Outskirts Press (April 2008)
Moore, J.S. Understanding
Apples. Outskirts Press (October 2006) ISBN
1598007467 or ISBN 1598009753
Carl. Kinnie Wagner: A Popular Legendary
Hero and His "Constituency" Indiana
University Press (1976)ASIN: B000JWZ54U
William "Kinnie" Wagner
was born in Scott County, Virginia, on February 18, 1903. He
was one of eight children of Charles Monroe and Nancy Clinton
In his childhood, he became
proficient at target shooting and, at the age of 16, Kinnie
joined the Richard Brothers Circus. Because of his skill as a
bronco buster and target shooter, he became known to audiences
as the "Texas Kid."
After leaving the circus,
Kinnie began running moonshine in Mississippi. This ultimately
led to a shoot-out in which a deputy was killed. Kinnie claimed
the shooting was justified and said that he had been framed by a
sheriff who'd hired him to run moonshine. He claimed that, when
the FBI came to the county to conduct investigations concerning
the manufacture of illegal alcohol, the sheriff was afraid he
knew too much and would give up information to the agents.
Not long before, he had been
given a watch to keep for a friend and, according to Kinnie, on
trumped up charges, he was arrested for the theft of the watch.
However, his stay was short-lived, because he escaped from the
Lucedale, MS jail.
On Christmas eve, 1924, the
sheriff sent a deputy to recapture him. The deputy, whose name
was McIntosh, was waiting to ambush Kinnie but Kinnie discovered
him. A gun battle ensued and the deputy was killed.
Kinnie fled to the Virginia/Tennessee
area and, with the help of family and friends, hid out from
authorities. The State of Mississippi offered a $1,000 reward
for him, dead or alive.
One day the Kingsport, TN,
police learned that Kinnie was supposed to meet his sister, who
was graduating from high school and hadn't seen her brother in a
long time. They hatched a plan to ambush the outlaw, but when
the smoke cleared, two of the policemen were dead and one was
seriously injured and Kinnie had escaped across the Holston
The Kingsport News wrote, "The
tragedy was the most shocking and disastrous one that has ever
occurred in or about Kingsport. With ten orphaned children and
two widows weeping in their homes, dozens of men of Kingsport
and vicinity turned out on the manhunt for the desperado."
Kinnie ultimately surrendered
and went to trial in Blountville. The jury returned a verdict
of guilty and Kinnie was sentenced to be executed in the
electric chair. But, before the sentence could be carried out,
Kinnie Wagner made good another daring escape.
Killer, Tired of Being Pursued, Quietly Surrenders to Woman
after Outwitting Posses
Arkansas - The Associated Press
August 20, 1926
Wagner, 23, alleged slayer of six men, is in custody today after
quietly surrendering himself to sheriff Lillie Barber, woman
executive of Miller County. "I'm tired of being hunted," Wagner
said. "I don't want to dodge people anymore."
Posses had been
searching for the notorious gunmen since Tuesday, as the result
of his latest shooting escapade. On that day he is alleged to
have fatally shot Sam and Will Carper and wounded Bob Carper on
a farm near Texarkana. Wagner, formerly an expert rifle and
pistol performer with a circus, declared, "I would have gotten
Bob, but it was so dark I couldn't see to shoot straight."
The prisoner is
wanted at Kingsport, Tenn. for slaying two officers and wounding
a third in April, 1925. He had been sentenced to die in the
electric chair and was in jail pending an appeal when he led
other prisoners in a jail delivery and escaped.
Wagner is wanted in connection with the deaths of two officers
who attempted to prevent him from breaking out of jail. "I have
never been arrested for stealing or been in jail on any other
charge except killing," Wagner told Sheriff Barber.
A story connected with the
island concerns the unearthly echoes of a bloody gun battle that
took place there on April 25, 1925, between a notorious fugitive
from justice and the police officers that attempted to ambush
Kinnie Wagner was wanted in
Mississippi for killing a sheriff's deputy. He had claimed the
shooting was justified. A friend had given him a watch for
safekeeping. But the law accused Kinnie of stealing the watch.
Kinnie claimed that he had
been framed by a whiskey dealing sheriff who had employed him to
run moonshine. When the FBI began investigating illegal alcohol
operations in the county, Kinnie claimed that the sheriff was
afraid that he knew too much and would squeal to the law. He was
arrested on the trumped-up charges but escaped from jail in
On Christmas Eve, 1924, the
sheriff sent a deputy named McIntosh to recapture him, but the
deputy had made the mistake of lying in ambush. Kinnie shot the
man dead, then fled back to Virginia.
Kinnie Wagner was born just
outside Gate City, Virginia, on February 18, 1903, a son of
Charles Monroe and Nannie Wagner. He grew up in the mountains
and knew each ridge and hollow like the back of his hand. When
he was about seven years old, his father bought him his first
gun-a Remington single shot .22.
Faithful practice made Kinnie
a crack shot. Folks in Scott County claimed that he could hit
anything that he could see. The odd thing about Kinnie's
shooting style, however, was that he never sighted his rifle-he
always shot from the hip.
In 1919, young Kinnie, longing
for adventure, joined the Richard Brothers Circus while the show
was playing nearby Clinchport. He hired on as a teamster at only
$35 a month because the circus boss thought he was too small to
do any heavy work. But Kinnie soon proved that he was the equal
of any man.
As one of their attractions,
Richard Brothers offered a "Bronc Show" and had a number of
cowboys on their payroll. One of the horses, called "Funeral
Wagon," was an uncontrollable beast who had never been ridden
the full ten seconds. One day the cowboy who always rode Funeral
Wagon got too drunk to perform, so young Kinnie was ordered to
fill in for him.
The problem was that the
spunky lad rode Funeral Wagon for the full ten seconds-and
beyond! Not wanting Funeral Wagon to be tamed, the panicked
circus boss signaled Kinnie to take a fall-which he did.
Thereafter he was the only one who rode the renegade horse,
always abandoning the saddle just before ten seconds was called.
Because of his skill as a bronco buster, he became known to
audiences as "The Texas Kid."
At the time, circus folk were
a rough bunch of people. And since Kinnie was physically smaller
than the rest, he was naturally picked on. But he learned to use
his fists as well as a pistol. Unfortunately he fell in with the
wrong crowd-, and when he left the circus, he began running
moonshine in Mississippi. This, of course, led to his arrest,
the jail break, and the subsequent shootout in which the deputy
On the lam from the law,
Kinnie Wagner was holed up just outside of Gate City, where
friends and family hid him. Mississippi offered a $1,000 reward
for Kinnie's capture, dead or alive. This temptation whetted the
appetite of some local law enforcement officials. They were
certain Kinnie was in the area, but they just did not know where.
Then one day the Kingsport
police learned that Kinnie planned to meet his sister at the
park on Long Island. She was graduating from high school and had
not seen her brother for several years.
In spite of warnings by their
friends, a daring plan was hatched by four Kingsport policemen
and a Sullivan County deputy sheriff. They planned to ambush the
fugitive and, obviously, had no intentions of taking him alive.
On their way to Long Island, the officers had ordered an
undertaker's ambulance be sent to the park to collect Kinnie's
Kinnie, his sister, and three
female relatives met on Long Island late in the afternoon,
oblivious to the plot against them. The officers were already in
waiting, well hidden behind some bushes and trees. Although he
was thoroughly enjoying his first visit with his sister in years,
Kinnie, as usual, was ever alert for trouble. So when he saw a
bush shake to his left, he drew his pistol and sprang to his
"The fugitive, probably seeing
that he was hemmed in from both sides," reported The Kingsport
News, "took refuge behind a big sycamore tree and began shooting.
[Officer George] Frazier was the first to fall.
"The stranger [Wagner] then
turned and fired several shots at (Officer George] Smith who
died in his tracks. [He was shot through the heart.]
"When Smith had fallen the
fugitive turned his guns on [Deputy Sheriff Hubert] Webb, who
was peering over the overhanging [sic] bank in an effort to get
a better shot. Webb fell on the crest of the bank." He had been
shot in the face.
Bullets were flying fast and
thick. One of them clipped Kinnie's sister's hair while another
plowed into the ground beside her foot. His relatives dove for
cover while Kinnie lit out across the field, running as fast as
he could go.
At the same time, Dewey Nelson
of Kingsport was riding by on his horse. Kinnie ran up to him
and commandeered his animal, promising to return it later. Then
he and the horse plunged across the Holston River, galloped up a
steep bank, and disappeared from sight.
When the smoke finally cleared,
Webb and Smith were dead, and Frazier was seriously wounded. The
undertaker's ambulance was needed after all, but not for the
party for which it was originally intended.
The next day the offended
editor of The Kingsport News angrily wrote, "The tragedy was the
most shocking and disastrous one that has ever occurred in or
about Kingsport. With ten orphaned children and two newly made
widows weeping in their homes, dozens of men of Kingsport and
vicinity turned out on the manhunt for the desperado."
Kinnie had returned to the
Clinch Mountains, and it is doubtful that the posse would have
ever caught up with him. By the time it was formed, Kinnie was
in Waycross, Virginia, snuggled up in a haystack.
When the woman who owned the
farm came to the barn the next morning, she discovered Kinnie
and advised him to surrender-for his own good. He agreed with
her and, later that day, turned himself in.
Kinnie went to trial in
Blountville, and after thirteen hours of deliberation the jury
returned a verdict of guilty. He was sentenced to die in the
But he wasn't ready to die,
and no jail had been built that could hold him. So Kinnie Wagner
escaped and became a fugitive again.
In the meantime, some folks
say, every April 13th ghostly gunshots ring out again on the
Long Island of the Holston as the spirits of Kinnie Wagner and
the law repeat their deadly battle on the very land where,
according to the Cherokees, no person could ever be killed.
Charles Edwin Price
Kenneth "Kinnie" Wagner