restricted access 5. The King of Craw
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145 Chapter Five The King of Craw Several individuals emerged from the oral history interviews to personify various aspects of the neighborhood’s numerous identities. No other individual represented both outsiders’ and former residents ’ memories of the neighborhood more comprehensively than the legendary John Fallis, crowned the “King of Craw.” His obituary , appearing in the Louisville Courier-Journal two days following his death, describes his alleged killing at the hand of Everett Rigsby and then continues: “That is what Everett Rigsby did to John Fallis , Frankfort’s ‘bad man,’ at a craps game in Gas House Alley, main thoroughfare of the once famous ‘Craw.’ Over this region, a voting precinct, Fallis ruled unofficially as censor of politics and public morals, and on its outskirts sold liquor.”1 Fallis, a white man, ran successful bootlegging operations and was a local political boss who gambled, fought, lied, cheated, womanized, and regularly demonstrated a quick temper. According to Fallis’s wife, “he had a tirable [sic] temper and would do things that he regretted to his dieing [sic] day.”2 Fallis often displayed extremely violent tendencies , which, combined with his quick temper, resulted in a lengthy criminal record that included counts of “Cutting in Sudden Heat and Passion,” “Malicious Cutting and Wounding,” “Shooting and Wounding Another With Intent to Kill,” “Shooting and Wounding,” “Willful and Malicious Cutting and Wounding With Intent to Kill Without Killing,” “Insurance Fraud,” “Having in Possession an Illicit Still,” and “Selling Intoxicating Liquor.” Jo Beauchamp, John Fallis’s nephew, discussed him in an interview with Wallace: Beauchamp: Now, I had a uncle. I guess you’ve got that in there someplace. John Fallis. Wallace: Yeah, tell me about John Fallis. 146 CRAWFISH BOTTOM Beauchamp: Well, he was a bad man. He was an evil man. Wallace: In what way, evil? Beauchamp: Mean. He would beat the piss out of you for nothing. Beat up a many a man. He hit my grandmother with a pair of brass knuckles. . . . He was mean. He was evil.3 When Wallace asked neighborhood resident Isaac Fields whether he remembered John Fallis, he responded, “Oh, God. He was the law down there. Police didn’t go down there. He was the law down in the Bottom.”4 Fallis also had a reputation as a political force in the voting precinct of Craw, and Wallace asked Beauchamp about this activity: Wallace: Do you know anything about the part he took in politics? Beauchamp: Well, like, somebody wanted to go down there and get him and give him a bunch of money. Say, “Go down here and buy me some votes and help get me elected.” And Portrait of John R. Fallis. Courtesy of R. T. Brooks. The King of Craw 147 they’d pay him. Well, they’d do that. See, John Fallis can do something to votes. He’d tell you to go up there and vote for so-and-so, see; give them five or ten dollars. Wallace: So, he’d make sure that they’d get all the votes bought up.5 Still, despite his criminal record, his involvement in political corruption , and his violent reputation, many of Craw’s former residents remembered Fallis as a local hero. Many perceived him to be an honest, hardworking, kind, charitable, and generous man who gave a tremendous amount back to the community in which he lived. Mary Helen Berry grew up near the Fallis family and remembered playing with John Fallis’s children: Berry: Oh, Fallis was a big bootlegger. But he was good to black people. Wallace: I’ve heard so many people say that. Berry: He was so good.6 John Fallis, a complex figure, lived a life beset with contradictions . Blacks and whites living inside and outside of the neighborhood both loved and feared him. His place in public memory remains solid thanks to three primary forms: court records, newspaper accounts, and personal narratives passed on to the neighborhood ’s final generation of residents. In addition, the Kentucky Historical Society’s research collection has in its genealogical surname files an unedited document written by John Fallis’s son Benjamin “Bixie” Fallis, including a few paragraphs written by John’s wife, Anne, in the mid-1940s. In February 1969, “Bixie” Fallis donated to the society a typewritten copy of the original fourteen-page biography , which contains dramatic descriptions of his father’s life story. The intentions of this unedited manuscript become clear on the second page when the writer, referring to himself...


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Subject Headings

  • Community life -- Kentucky -- Frankfort -- History.
  • Crawfish Bottom (Frankfort, Ky.) -- Biography.
  • Oral history -- Kentucky -- Frankfort.
  • Frankfort (Ky.) -- History.
  • Frankfort (Ky.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Frankfort (Ky.) -- Biography.
  • Crawfish Bottom (Frankfort, Ky.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Crawfish Bottom (Frankfort, Ky.) -- History.
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