The Right Opinion

The Legend of Johnny Boone

By Roy Exum · Dec. 4, 2010

Last weekend there was a lengthy wire story that appeared in a lot of newspapers across the country about a “Robin Hood” of a character named Johnny Boone, who is every bit as famous for growing marijuana in central Kentucky as the late “Popcorn” Sutton was for making copious amounts of moonshine in upper east Tennessee and around Maggie Valley in North Carolina.

John Robert Boone, also known as “the King of Pot,” has been on the run for the last two years after the Feds found 2,400 plants on his Kentucky farm, and it isn’t much of a stretch to draw a fun parallel between him and ole “Popcorn,” a delightful “distiller” who always wore bib overalls before he finally committed suicide in mid-March last year rather than return to Federal Prison.

Johnny Boone’s rather infamous farm is a 250-acre spread located in the geographical center of Kentucky, down near Springfield. It’s about 60-odd miles south of Louisville, if that helps, and is in Marion County, which is named for America’s famous “Swamp Fox,” Francis Marion.

But the better truth is there has never been a greater fox than Boone himself, who is said to be able to disappear “like a whiff of smoke” and has since foiled repeated attempts by DEA and FBI agents to haul him in.

Johnny, last seen wearing a full Santa-like beard, has always been a colorful character, as many of those who farm corn and legal tobacco in central Kentucky can be, but he got caught in the spotlight back in 1987 when Federal agents swooped down on a farm in Minnesota and found him with 45 tons of fresh-harvested pot.

According to a profile posted on the “America’s Most Wanted” website, the initial discovery of the huge cache of marijuana opened a proverbial floodgate of those growing massive amounts of “herbs” that contain a mind-numbing substance called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Marijuana has been around for a real long time but with the Viet Nam conflict in the ‘60s and the hippies’ surge for self-expression, America was quick to develop quite a taste for pot. It’s now in the news every day. A recent vote to legalize it in California just failed but you can now find it just about anywhere. (For the record, my acquaintances tell me the current market price on Chattanooga streets is roughly $120 for an honest ounce.)

But back to the story: In 1987 agents soon discovered a vast network of marijuana growers at 29 different farms in nine different states and, within weeks, the startled lawmen had seized 182 tons of pot – which had a street value of $400 million at the time – and made 70 arrests. Interestingly, those caught were all from Kentucky and most were from Marion County, a group the Feds immediately dubbed “The Marion County Marijuana Cooperative.”

John Boone, who was so skilled at farming the weed he would actually divide the male and female plants for a better yield, was heralded as the “Godfather of Grass”, and he was sentenced to 20 years. During the next 13 years he spent behind bars, he spent several at the Federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., and it was there he learned about “Omerta,” which is the code the Mafia uses that originated in Sicily. Word even has it Johnny has a huge “omerta” tattooed across the width of his broad shoulders.

As a matter of fact, the U.S. Marshals have a document of the declaration alleged to have been written in Boone’s own hand, describing the Sicilian ideals: “To never rat on anyone; To never harm another person, except in defense; To protect women and children and helpless; To always have a clear view of right and wrong; To do right without reserve.”

And, brother, that is where the story gets better. Johnny’s band is still called “The Cornbread Mafia.”

You see, the reason John Boone hasn’t gotten caught is because no one in the Commonwealth will rat him out. The Federal Marshals say that everybody respects him too much and nary a soul will even speak to those thought to be lawmen. The regional belief is that he hasn’t committed any crimes that are wrong as far as God is concerned. He’s regarded as an “outlaw,” not a criminal, and he’s helped hundreds in the economically-depressed area.

At his trial in 1988 Boone even told the judge and jury, “With the poverty at home, marijuana is sometimes one of the things that puts bread on the table,” he said. “We were working with our hands on earth God gave us.”

Not long ago, a friend told an Associated Press reporter, “He’s just a good ol' country boy, a farmer. He’s not robbing banks or nothing.” And a guy named James Cecil, who once spent time with Johnny in the “hoosegow,” was more succinct. “Even if I knew where he was, I wouldn’t tell you,” he said.

Cecil told how, when he was finally “sprung from the joint,” Johnny bankrolled him until he got back on his feet “and never asked me to pay him back.” There are many such stories that accompany Cecil’s tale and while Johnny Boone is crafty, he’s widely-acknowledged by the locals as having a big heart.

The Federal Marshals have a different version. They tell about rattlesnakes that have been tied to stakes near the edge of pot fields to await “revenuers,” about vicious dogs whose “bark” has been surgically-removed that attack in the night, and bleached (cow) bones that are scattered all about as a silent warning for agents.

I’m telling you, the legend of Johnny Boone is a tantalizing tale indeed.

If and when the law finally catches Johnny, he’s nearly assured of spending the rest of his life in prison but, until he’s apprehended, the legend and the lore is a page of life richer than Kentucky tobacco soil. “That’s all he’s ever done, raised pot,” said another longtime friend, adding slowly, “He never hurt nobody.”

11 Comments

Chris said:

The Feds should all just go home.

Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 1:45 PM

Trevor said:

Ghosts of Ruby Ridge anyone?A government that is strong enough to give you everything you want is a government that is strong enough to take away everything you have.Forgot who said that but it sure is ringing true these days.

Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 3:58 AM

Mike Schuerger Sr said:

Gerald Ford (14 July 1913 – 26 December 2006) , the 38th President of the United States."A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have."-Presidential address to a joint session of Congress (12 August 1974)

Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 8:38 PM

Robert Young said:

If you drug enforcement agents really want to do something for your Country, go work the area along the Texas Arizona border that Obama won't close and arrest some of the Mexican Drug Cartel who are bringing drugs into the U.S. and killing some of our honest United States Citizens along the way.Johnny Boone doesn't hurt folks and he helps the needy.

Monday, December 6, 2010 at 11:44 AM

Richard Ryan said:

It has always seemed more than a little strange to me that a woman can legally murder her unborn child because it is her body, but I can`t smoke a little pot if I want to, which I don`t, even though it`s my body. Go figure.Richard RyanLamar, Missouri (Birthplace of Harry S Truman)

Monday, December 6, 2010 at 1:06 PM

Ron said:

Well, it's a little strange to me, one who has never done drugs, to see the push for legalization of pot while demonizing smoking of tobacco. Marijuana, besides causing impairment, has been shown to be more detrimental to one's health than tobacco. It's too bad that we have impaired people (alcohol or drugs) making the roads more unsafe than they already are. I don't see Johnny Boone as a hero any more than I see BO as a Robin Hood, taking from the rich to give to the poor.

Monday, December 6, 2010 at 1:51 PM

comdude said:

This is the first I've heard about Johnny Boone. For some reason, Willie Nelson gets more coverage around here. Thanks for the story.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 9:13 AM

Trenton said:

Yeah, he never hurt nobody...that he could see. Instead, he ruins lives over a long term, getting people hooked on drugs and feeding the addictions of those already ensnared.He won't see the lives of family members turned upside down by their loved ones who are using drugs, who start off with pot, and then move to harder substances while he profits from their misery. No, they aren't important because they aren't readily seen.Besides, don't they a right to so whatever they wont with their own bodies?Edmund Burke once wrote, "Men have no right to what is not for their benefit." He also said, "Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without."Johnny may have a big heart, but his vision is really poor.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 3:56 PM

ibit ibit in mississippi replied:

Your an ignorant idiot.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Abe said:

Run johnny run

Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 8:43 PM

ibit ibit in mississippi said:

Run Johnny run.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 10:46 AM