Lilley Cornett was a hard man. He did whatever the hell he pleased throughout his charmed lifetime. He held little regard as to what anyone thought about his ways. Lilley was no doubter of self. His confidence was only matched by the sheer size of his enormous frame equipped with huge powerful hands.
His bull physic was backed up by a shrewd and devious mind. Few stood any chance against either. Whatever Lilley wanted seemed to come his way as if it were divinely predestined that it do so. Lilley lived by his own code, a code based on survival in a hard land. Those who tried to outmaneuver this old horse trader received a lesson in humility. Born on Line Fork Creek Lilley grew up in the isolation of roadless backwoods of Letcher County. He got a taste of life outside these hills during WWI. Probably not altogether pleasant since he was shot clean through twice. Either wound likely fatal to a normal man but not our charmed Lilley. He would parlay these wounds contracted during the Battle of Argonne into an honorable discharge personally directed by President Woodrow Wilson himself.
Lilley was a frugal man who lived mostly on potatoes saving his small pension to buy land. And buy land he did, but not just any land. Lilley set his sights on a 250 acre vestige of virgin forest. I have no doubt Lilley foresaw the value of this forest long before the timbermen did. Piece by piece Lilley bought this 250 acres plus 250 acres adjoining his woods. Sure as rain being wet the timber buyers would pester Lilley for his ‘woods.’ One of these men, a one-time friend by the name of Sam Collins was particularly disliked now by Lilley due to his political shenanigans. It came to Lilley that there was a way to get back at Sam and do himself some good in the process. Lilley went to visit Sam and told him he was thinking of selling his timber. Of course this interested Sam greatly. Lilley went on to say he didn’t know how to go about it knowing that Sam would take the bait. Soon Sam had a contract drawn up and went to get Lilley to sign it but Lilley added a stipulation that before he would sign Sam had to have his timber enumerated. Sam gladly agreed while plying Lilley with beer. To make a long story short, Lilley got a lot of free beer, a professional account of his timber, and in the end, a good comeuppance for Sam.
Lilley’s exploits are many and it would require an entire book or more to write them all down. I can gather from his exploits with the ladies that his wife was a near saint and he was not. Lilley once stated “that any man worth his salt needed more than one woman.” For an in-depth view of Lilley I suggest you read Harry Caudill’s book “The Mountain, the Miner, and the Lord and Other Tales from a Country Law Office.” Harry interviewed Lilley for this book which is interesting to say the least.
David Hurt will dramatize Lilley Nov. 2 at the Magoffin Health Dept. beginning at 6 p.m. Admission is free and there will be a nice door prize for a lucky attendee. Sponsored by the Magoffin County Civil War Committee, members Randall Hardin, Jimmy Allen, Burnis Patrick and Col Randall Risner and sponsored by the Kentucky Humanities Council.