When judge Forrester walked into the courtroom, the bailiff hollered “all rise, the honorable court is now in session.” Everybody stood except John Rains, who was deaf and dumb, and wasn’t looking at the front of the courtroom. His son tapped his arm and pointed to everyone standing, and motioned for John to stand. I was standing already, and watched John Rains stand up. He was a fascinating man to me!
The trial was for assault with intent to kill, and the accused was John Rains’ first cousin the Reverend Dale Martin. John had been at the scene of the crime, along with half of the men in Middlesboro, when the assault happened.
Dale had been talking to my dad, William Rains, who was in the same church with Reverend Martin, when the argument that precipitated the attempted murder took place. John Rains was there watching, and his son was talking for him. John had to use sign language, and his 12 year old son interpreted the signs and spoke the words.
Here is what happened, as I recall it, since I was there with my father and watching everything, especially the deaf and dumb man using his hands to talk. I had never seen a deaf and dumb man, and here was one that was even a cousin of mine.
He looked like an Indian using sign language in the movies. I wanted to learn how to do that, and teach my sister, so we could talk without mama knowing what we were saying!
My dad and I had gone down to Middlesboro from the coal mining camp we lived in at Fork Ridge, TN. My dad went to visit and talk to the other miners who gathered there on Saturdays, to talk and swap guns and knives, and me to go to a cowboy movie. Hopalong Cassiday was playing at the Manring Theater, my favorite cowboy. I got sidetracked listening to my dad talk to preacher Martin about religion, which was interesting to me.
My mama had told me they were all just “old Protestant fools, that didn’t know anything,” so I wanted to hear them say foolish stuff. I would tell mama about it when I got home, and maybe make her really mad. I liked to see mama get mad. She was a wild Indian, you see, who could really dance around and cuss up a storm.
Suddenly a man named Bud Maynard came up to dad and preacher Martin and started talking, and it seems he was a preacher, too. The man said “preacher Martin, you know you are living in adultery, because your wife still has a living husband.” Now this I liked, because I had an idea that adultery meant something really bad and dirty.
I still kept one eye on John Rains and his son, so I wouldn’t miss any sign language. “Preacher Martin, you know you are living in adultery,” I repeated to myself. I had a habit of repeating things to sort them out in my mind, which sometimes got me into trouble with my folks and the other boys I played with.
“Why you are a stupid fool, Maynard, and you don’t know what you are talking about. For two cents I would kick your butt right now,” Dale said. Now the two preachers had my undivided attention. Several other men stopped to see what was going on, and I eased forward to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
John Rains was standing close to my dad, and his son was by his side doing hand signals to his dad, so he wouldn’t miss the argument. “Well, Dale, you claim to be a preacher, but you don’t care what the bible says about adultery, so you ain’t nothing but a dirty sinner. God will send you to hell,” Maynard said.
Dale spluttered and stuck his hand in his pocket, while preacher Maynard started to turn around. Suddenly Dale grabbed him and turned him back around, and swiped at his belly with a knife. My dad screamed “Dale, don’t cut him. My God you have gutted him.” Now Maynard fell down, and men were coming from all directions to see what my dad was hollering about. Guts were coming out of preacher Maynard’s stomach.
Dale wiped his knife blade on his pants leg and put it back in his pocket. “I hope he dies,” Dale said. Secretly, I sort of hoped he would, too, so I could see it.
My dad told someone to go in the bar and get some wet rags. When the man got back with some rags and a bucket of water, my dad soaked the rags and held them on Preacher Maynards’ guts. “You fellows help me pick him up and lay him in the back of that truck, and we will take him to Dr. Evans,” Dad said to the men standing around.
Dad was the union steward for local 19, UMW, and all the men knew him. They picked up Maynard as gently as possible and laid him in the back of the truck, and headed to the hospital. Four men were in the back of the truck with him, to keep his guts from spilling out, I guess. I heard later that day that he would live, and that Dale Martin had been arrested and released on bail. “Good for old Dale,” I thought. I would have to wait to see someone die, and who knows when that might be? I had never seen a dead man.
When the trial started my Dad was called to be a witness, along with several others, including John Rains, the deaf and dumb man. Claude, my best friend, and I walked right into the courthouse by the back door, and sat in the very back. I didn’t want my Dad to see me, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to miss the trial of the century. That was what it seemed to be to me, anyway. I wanted Dale to beat the charges, since Maynard didn’t die.
The first man called to testify was Pete Jones. He was sworn in and sat down. The prosecuting attorney, Mr. Hogg, walked up to him and said “now Mr. Jones, you are under oath, and I expect you will tell the whole truth about what you saw. Did you see Mr. Martin cut Mr. Maynard?”
“No, I didn’t see him cut him,” Jones said. “Weren’t you standing there talking to them, or listening to them, when the cutting happened?” the lawyer asked loudly.
“Well, yes, I was there, but I looked away when somebody slammed a car door, and when I looked back Preacher Maynard was on the ground bleeding. I cannot say who cut him, because I don’t know,” Mr. Jones said. Old Mr. Jones was standing next to my dad, and saw the whole thing, I wanted to holler that out to the courtroom, but didn’t.
Mr. Jones looked at the jury when he spoke, and appeared completely open and honest to me. I believed him, even though I saw him standing there and knew he saw the whole darned thing. The lawyer shook his head and rolled his eyes, and said “do you expect this court to believe that you saw nothing?”
“I sure do, since it is the truth,” Jones said. He looked Mr. Hogg in the eye, too.
“No more questions for this witness, your honor,” the lawyer said.
“Call your next witness,” the judge said to the district attorney.
“I call John Rains, come up here and take the witness stand.”
I looked at John and he was looking at some of the other people in the courtroom. He didn’t hear the lawyer, anyway, because he was as deaf as a door knob. I saw his son tap his arm and tell him in sign language to go to the witness stand.
Why do they call it the witness stand, since it is just a chair? I wondered. I started to ask Claude about it, but got distracted listening to the District Attorney as they tried to swear John Rains in.
That is what they call it when they make you testify, you see. You are supposed to tell the truth. “Mr. Rains, do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” A woman asked him. I think she was called “the clerk of court,” or some such thing. John Looked at her and shrugged his shoulders.
Suddenly John’s son spoke up and said “he is deaf, and only understands sign language.” “Well, come up here and use sign language, boy,” the judge said.
The boy stepped forward and began to move his hands for his father. “He swears to do all you said, lady,” the boy said. The court clerk sat back down as the DA approached John Rains in the witness chair, very tentatively. How to question a deaf and dumb man?
The DA was named Astor Hogg, which Claude and I thought was pretty funny. He looked like he had never seen a deaf and dumb man, and probably hadn’t. The whole courtroom was quite as John sat and waited for the district attorney to start questioning him about the cutting. His son stood in front of him, and glanced at the crowd sometimes.
“Mr. Rains, were you present when the assault took place on Cumberland Avenue? John’s son moved his hands very quickly, and John moved his hands very quickly back at him. The boy turned and said to the district attorney, “no.” “What do you mean no, we have a dozen people who say you and your father were there when it happened,” the district attorney said. He looked really mad, and he was talking really loud.
“Well, I don’t think my dad and me know what you mean by a salt. He ain’t seen no salt. What are you talking about?” the boy said.
The lawyer shook his head and tried a new way of stating the question. “Did your father see Dale cut Mr. Maynard? He asked. The boy made sign movements to his dad, who made sign movements back. “No, he didn’t see Mr. Maynard get cut,” the boy said.
“How could he not see it, when he was right there?” the lawyer said. The boy made some more sign language to his dad, and got some back. “A car door slammed, and he was looking at that,“ the boy said.
“What are you talking about? I thought he was deaf and dumb! How could he hear a car door slam? Now old lawyer Hogg was truly upset. I listened to hear the boy’s answer, and glancing at Claude I saw he was grinning. What the heck? I saw most of the men in the crowd were grinning, too. Mr. Hogg wasn’t too happy, though.
The boy made more signs, and John answered with signs. “He says he saw everybody else look at something, so he looked that way, too. Maynard must have got cut while he was looking away.” The lawyer said “is it true that you are Dale Martin’s first cousin?
After more signing, the boy said “yes, that is true.” The lawyer looked at the judge and said “no more questions for this witness, your honor.” John’s son signed to him and John stepped down and went back to his seat. “Call your next witness,” the judge said.
“I call William M. Rains, Mr. Rains, please take the witness stand,” the lawyer said. My dad walked up and sat down, and the clerk of court swore him in like she had John Rains.
“Your name is Bill Rains? “Yes.” “Where do you work, Mr. Rains?” The lawyer asked.
“I am a coal miner for Blue Diamond Mines, in Harlan, KY, my dad said. “Are you the union steward for the United Mine Workers of America? “I am, and Vice President of local 19.” “So you know just about every man in this court room? “Yes, I do,” dad said.
“Now, Mr. Rains, were you present when Dale Martin cut Bud Maynard on Cumberland Avenue, in Middlesboro? “Yes, I was there,” dad said. “Didn’t you administer first aid to Mr. Maynard, and help get him to Dr. Evans, after he was cut? The lawyer asked.
“Yes,” dad said. “And didn’t you see Mr. Martin cut Mr. Maynards’ guts out with a hawkbill knife? The lawyer asked my dad. Dad looked at the lawyer and took his time answering the question. All the miners were watching him to see what he would say.
“Why no, all I saw was Mr. Maynard putting his hand in his pocket, like he was drawing a gun, and then I looked away at a slamming car door. When I turned back Maynard was on the street with his guts coming out,” dad said.
“Mr. Rains, are you a cousin of Mr. Martin, too? The lawyer asked. “Yes, and he works with me in the coal mines. He is a good man,” my dad said. “If he cut Mr. Maynard, he had good reason, and probably was defending his life, as well as his wife’s honor,“dad said. Old Maynard wasn’t too well liked by the miners, for some reason, and I later heard my dad tell his brother Josh that Maynard was “nothing but a scab for the mine owners.”
In 1941, at Fork Ridge, TN, Maynard had been on the side of the mine owners when the coal miners went on strike. Several men were killed there, including the president of The American Association, which owned the mine, and several deputies and miners. The local miners had not forgotten Maynard’s role in the fight, and had now paid him back.
“Your honor, I have no more questions for this man, and I rest the State’s case against Dale Martin. I ask for a verdict of guilty as charged,” the lawyer said. Then he sat down.
Dale Martin’s lawyer, Mr. Hammond, stood up and said,” Your honor, the state has failed to prove its case, and doesn’t have one eye witness to the cutting. I ask the court to dismiss the charges against Mr. Martin with a finding of not guilty.”
The judge looked down at the crowd of coal miners, who were all voters, and said “case dismissed.” All the miners yelled and cheered. Dale walked out with my dad and John Rains and his son, and dad’s cousin Bob Turner.
Claude and I hunkered down until all the miners were gone, and then we went to the movies. We each had fifty cents, and the movie cost 15 cents and a drink and popcorn cost 10 cents. We would eat lunch at the movie theater.
We saw Hopalong Cassidy, a great cowboy hero, in a wonderful movie. I don’t know which was more fun, the movie or the trial. I know the trial planted the idea that I would like to be a lawyer when I grew up, and defend innocent men who have just cut someone. Especially someone who needed cutting, like Preacher Maynard.
Based on Middlesboro, KY Newspaper, The Daily News, 11-21-1944
Author’s note: Some of the testimony was changed as to order of witnesses, and names were changed, but essentially the story matches the newspaper article as it appears in the daily paper.
David S. Rains
4515 Appley Mead Lane
Charlotte, NC 28269
August 22, 2008