The Kinnie Wagner Story
Kinnie Wagner
Miller County, Arkansas Sheriff Lillie Barber
Kinnie Wagner's Tombstone
 
 
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 In 1903 in Scott County, Virginia, William “Kinnie” Wagner was born to Nancy Clinton Wagner and her husband, Charles Monroe Wagner. He was one of eight children. Farm life had taught him a few things that he would rely on in his future endeavors. In time, he became a very good bronc buster and an excellent marksman. Target shooting was one of his favorite pastimes. At the age of 16, he joined the Richard Brothers Circus as a stunt rider and trick shooter. Before long, the circus renamed him, “The Texas Kid”. It’s not certain if the “Texas Kid” ever saw Texas. In time, young Kinnie would tire of the circus life and leave it. Yep, he needed more money.

Moonshine running in Mississippi, now that’s where the money was! Young Kinnie set about running moonshine and it went well for awhile, then came the setup, well, according to Kinnie it was a setup. Kinnie claimed that the sheriff had hired him to run the moonshine and then when the Feds started investigating local moonshining activities, the sheriff got cold feet, thinking Kinnie knew too much and could possibly tell the agents information that would implicate him (the sheriff).

Kinnie had a watch which he claimed was given to him by a friend. The sheriff accused Kinnie of stealing the watch and he was incarcerated in the Lucedale, Mississippi jail. Well, Kinnie didn’t like the Lucedale jail, nor any other that he would occasionally reside in. Kinnie broke out of the Lucedale jail.

On Christmas Eve, 1924, the sheriff sent a Deputy McIntosh to arrest Kinnie and return him to jail.

NOTE: I have to wonder if the sheriff told the deputy that he (the deputy) was to bring in a circus “trick shooter”, who, given the right firearm, could perform a hemorrhoidectomy on a gnat at thirty paces!

Deputy McIntosh wisely set up an ambush for Kinnie. A wise move on the deputy’s part, but it was of no use. Kinnie spotted the deputy and fired, killing him. On Christmas Eve of 1924, twenty-one year old William “Kinnie” Wagner became a wanted murderer.

The state of Mississippi offered a thousand dollars reward for Kinnie - DEAD OR ALIVE! Just drag his dead carcass to the authorities and collect your money. Kinnie returned to the Virginia/Tennessee area. With the help of family and friends, he hid from the authorities.

While Kinnie was hiding out in the Kingsport, Tennessee area, local law enforcement learned of Kinnie’s plans to meet with his sister, whom he had not seen in many years. She was graduating from high school and to see her brother again was one of her biggest wishes.

What a great scenario for an ambush! It was a brilliant idea at the time, apparently the law in Kingspost, Tennessee never talked to the law in Lucedale, Mississippi!

When Kinnie came into view, the shooting started. He returned fire, creating ten orphans and two widows with the immediate deaths of two lawmen. A third lawman lay seriously wounded while Kinnie made good his escape across the Holston River. Dozens of men joined in the manhunt for Kinnie. In time, he surrendered and was sent to Blountville to stand trial. The trial netted him a guilty verdict and a date with the Tennessee electric chair.

Well, if jail was bad, just think as Kinnie did, what the electric chair must be like. Kinnie made another escape in 1925! He remained on the run until August of 1926. While on the run, something happened that involved members of the Carper family on a farm near Texarkana, Arkansas. Whatever happened ended in a gunfight one evening between Kinnie and the Carpers, leaving Sam and Will Carper dead and Bob Carper wounded. Later Kinnie was quoted as saying “I would have gotten Bob, but it was so dark I couldn't see to shoot straight."

Almost immediately, a posse was organized and again Kinnie was being pursued. Kinnie was quite adept at evading posses. He was on the run again, a situation he never liked, but it sometimes beat the alternative.

Finally, in August 1926, Kinnie entered the sheriff’s office of Miller County, Arkansas and surrendered himself to Sheriff Lillie Barber. He was quoted as saying, “I’m tired of being hunted; I don’t want to dodge people anymore.”

Following the surrender of course, came incarceration and more legal hearings. Kinnie finally ended up in prison in Mississippi and it was here that he made his most clever escape.

Kinnie was in prison long enough to become a trustee, which meant that he had been a very good prisoner and as such, he could be assigned any one of various jobs at the prison. He did not need the close supervision required of the average prisoner.

Kinnie was assigned to care for the dogs. These were the very dogs that would be used to track him, should he ever decide to escape, again. Well, Kinnie did his job very well, day after day, month after month. - And Kinnie did decide to escape again!

Immediately following his escape, the guards and law enforcement released the tracking dogs. The dogs took one whiff of his scent and turned the other way. They would not attempt to track him! He had been secretly luring the dogs into tracking his scent, then beating the dogs each time they did! Soon enough, the dogs learned not to track his scent.

He lived quietly in Wahalak, Mississippi for several years and was known simply as Big Jim. He was also on the FBIs Ten Most Wanted List. He was captured at his girlfriend’s house after a jealous rival reported him to authorities.

By this time, he was a living legend among the working class of the South. He was the subject of at least three popular country songs and even comic books, depicting his exploits. After serving several more years in prison, he was granted permission to raise dogs in prison.

On March 9, 1958, while checking on a new litter of puppies, he was holding a newborn pup when he felt a pain in his chest and grew weak. According to witnesses, he cupped the puppy in his hands as he fell to the floor. The puppy was unhurt. In his last act as a living human, this notorious gunman protected the life of a newborn puppy!

His body was transported from Parchman Prison in Mississippi to Gate City, Virginia, where he was buried in the Mountain View School Cemetery.

"I have never been arrested for stealing or been in jail on any other charge except killing." - Kinnie Wagner to Sheriff Lillie Barber.

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©2009 Wilson Jay/Tanna McNally