Tuesday, November 16, 2021

November 16, 1885, Nashville– According to the Nashville Daily American, John H. Bradley, the “King of the Moonshiners” was en route to the Chester Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. While awaiting the train he spoke with a reporter who noted his “fortitude.”

  According to the newspaper article:

The King of Tennessee moonshiners, the bold bandit to whom is half a dozen murders are charged, sat manacled and handcuffed in the waiting room at the Louisville depot last night. Seated between two heavily armed Deputy United States Marshals, John H. Bradley awaited the arrival of the train which was to bear him to Chester penitentiary. The narrow apartment where the assassin of Lee Miller was conflated was crowded with dudes, sporting men, travelers, and a fair representation of the untutored street arab. When The American reporter entered, the noted outlaw was engaged in earnest conversation with Policeman Grizzard. Marshals…watched every motion of their desperate prisoner. Against both, since he has been in confinement, he has uttered the threat that if ever he is freed his first aim will be to end their lives….

Standing at a retired spot for a moment before advancing, the reporter surveyed the form of the man whose life is an embodiment of perverted courage, reckless crime, and deadly cunning. His features are strong at every point, the firm mouth, massive jaws, square chin, broad forehead, well developed, pale blue eyes, the sturdy shoulders and deep chest, betokened a man of strong will power and deliberate daring. He wore a heavy dark suit, black slouch hat, thick-soled boots, and over his left arm was carelessly hung a brown well-worn overcoat. Handcuffs were on his right wrist, to which was attached the left hand of Keeze Bryant, the colored counterfeiter of White County going to Chester for an 18-months service. Manacles bound his right ankle to Bryant’s left. The kind of the moonshiners had bitterly resented, at the jail, the indignity of being bound to a Negro, and swore he would rather die than be paraded in that attitude, but he finally gracefully accepted the inevitable and came along quietly.

Bradley faced the curious glances and half-whispered comments of the crown without a tremor of the eye. He returned glance for glance, and at time his form seemed to borrow a certain dignity as if he spurned the sight of men with whom, if her were free, he would willingly measure muscle of try skill with pistols.

After a minute or two…the reporter…took a seat by the side of the moonshiner.

“Bradley, do you want to say anything to the public?” the reporter asked.

Pausing for a moment the desperado replied in a voice full of strength and in most excellent English:

“Why should I now speak? The press and the misguided public have persecuted me; they listened to the charges of my enemies and condemned me before I was tried. But I have proof of innocence, and I will produce it to the world at the proper time.”

“Why not at your trial in the Federal Court?”

“Because my lawyers told me that that court could not punish me much anyhow, and I’d better wait until I was put on trial for murder. I suppose they’ll try me for that some time or other, won’t they?”

“It is to be expected.”

“Well, let me tell you, the men who swore my liberty away, and who want to hang me, are the men who really murdered Miller. I can prove it, I tell you,” and here his voice grew high and the crowd pushed closer and closer to catch his words. “He accused me to avoid suspicion upon themselves, but they shall not escape. The day will come when I will show them up in their cowardly vengeance.”

“What will become of your family in your absence?”

“They will stay where they are, sir, and wait for my return. My wife came to see me last Friday, and I know she’ll be true to me, and wait patiently until the cloud which now rests upon me shall have passed away. I have written to her regularly since I’ve been in jail in Nashville, and her letters have given me much comfort. You know one of the papers here charged that I murdered a Russian peddler for his pack and $47 which he had on his person. I wrote to my wife to see who started the lie, and she told me it was Wiley Hodges. They’ve got me down, but they can’t hold me there.”

“How old am I? Forty-three. Twelve years and I’ll be old in years, but I’ve got the strength to stand the confinement. Do you know I haven’t had even a headache since I’ve been in jail? [In] Fact, [I] never was in better health in my life.”

“Do I want to be tried for murder?”

“Yes, I am anxious for a trial for it will prove my innocence. But I have hopes that President Cleveland will pardon me anyhow. Mere hope, that it’s something.”

“Hello Tom,” the moonshiner suddenly exclaimed to a large man who was standing near, an intent listener. The person addressed, advanced a step, and shook hands with Bradley. “Sorry to see you are in this fix, John,” the stranger, who proved to be an old acquaintance, said. “Sorry to be here, Tom, but it can’t be helped. I say, Tom, since they’ve had me shut up I’ve been and awful beggar, and if you could let me have a drink I’d thank you,” and visions of wild-cat whisky of the long ago seemed to dint the pale blue eyes. The friend produced a small flask of brandy, which, with the permission of the guards, the manacled moonshiner tenderly transferred to an overcoat pocket. At this moment he recognized a Gallatin bar-keeper, and was preparing to “strike” him for a drink, when, the guards said the train was coming, and he must go. Without a murmur, Bradley and the [African American] counterfeiter arose and shuffled out upon the platform like Siamese twins, the officers being on either side.

The crowd followed to the platform. Soon a hundred men were gathered about the noted prisoner. For a moment he appeared not to notice their whispering and jostling, but finally, turning his face full under the electric light, he shoved his hat back from his forehead, and said:

“You men are not my friends; you have come here out of curiosity, or are indifferent to my fate at best. I do not care. But let me say one word to you. I have since last September been behind the bars of a jail cell. I know what life there is; I know it’s merely a terrible existence; you breathe, you eat, and sleep and drink – but you do not live.”

The voice grew louder, more earnest. In it was the first ring of feeling he had manifested, and the eager listeners pressed around the speaker until the officers had to force them back.

“I know what that dreary life means, and I thought I’d write several letters to the papers, and tell the public what it was. But the papers have persecuted me, and I would not write. Let me say here, to you men, one and all, friends and curiosity lovers, avoid those things that will place you behind the doors of a cell; get out of the way of temptation; avoid the appearance of evil. I am innocent, but I know what a horror it is to be in jail. Don’t ever do anything that will place you there. That is all I have to say.”

The little speech made a powerful impression; it silenced comment, and until the whistle of the engine which was to bear him away was heard the king of moonshiners was left to his own reflections. Finally the Southeastern train rolled into the depot, the prisoners and their escort, were quickly seated, and in fifty seconds Bradley was on his way to Chester and the crowd disappeared.

It will be remembered that a volume of evidence was abjured, circumstantial and conclusive to show that Bradley murdered Deputy United States Marshal W. Lee Miller most foully in Sumner County last July [1884].

At the last term of the United States Circuit Court he was tried for resisting an office and illicit distilling and given twelve years in the Chester penitentiary. To serve that sentence he left last night. Whether he will be brought back to Tennessee and tried for the murder is at present undecided. Many things he will be returned within a few months. The crime was dastardly; the man who committed it is remarkable.

Bradley was released after 7 years, for good behavior, and was tried for murder in July 1892. The verdict was not guilty. He became a barkeeper in Gallatin, and for an ex-moonshiner, lived an exemplary life despite some difficulties with the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1910. 

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