John’s epilogue 1

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For me a “tune” is a specific order of notes played by a certain person on a certain day at a certain time and given a certain name and if you want to really pin it down you could include the latitude and longitude of the event. If you were not there to personally witness this happening then the word of some one else is okay as long as you include that in the triangulation so that when you have put out this information you can lean back and say to your listener, “Now…you know as much about it as I do and you can draw your own conclusions.” This works for events and etc. Sometimes these sort of documented rumors are as close as we can get to the truth and it’s better than nothing.

I’ve been thinking about how much Ed probably wouldn’t like to think about a whole lot of what we have put in this book. For sure he didn’t like to talk about it, especially to his family. I guess I don’t blame him — he lived it. It’s easy for us to get into all of it from our totally secure positions here in 2000 knowing what we know. And from the vantage point of our research, there are probably some areas where we know things that Ed never did.

We decided to call this book “The Search for Ed Haley: Volume One” because we know that after it comes out people will be calling us saying, “Well, you didn’t call me,” and “You didn’t get that right,” and no telling what. But then that gives us fuel for Volume Two. Of course there is the chance (and it has crossed my mind) that when this book comes out that some of the old Harts Creek animosities might still be smoldering and some people might feel hurt. God, I hope not. Everybody has encouraged us and said it was time to bring out the truth.

In case you hadn’t figured it out, Brandon wrote most all of this book and I just went through and “Hartfordized” it. Even though I have my name up top, Brandon is the one who did all the work. A typical day for us would be Brandon back in the office transcribing taped interviews, making chapters out of them, and working and reworking the words. Me, I’ll be sitting at the dining room table out in the other room sawing on a fiddle. At first when Brandon would bring me a chapter I would go through it on the laptop and make corrections and reword some things. Then Brandon very quickly caught on to what it was I was after, and after awhile he would bring me chapters and I would just read them in amazement and not do anything to them, and we would just go on. It really is wonderful, ’cause even though we know every word in the book when we read it back we still learn things. “Oh, that’s why that happened that way. Well I’ll be damned.”

I’ve given this story a lot of thought and most of what I’m about to say is from instinct and gut reaction cause we didn’t necessarily have cold hard facts. I think Ed learned a lot from his mother in the period right after his dad’s death when he and her probably spent a lot of time in that cabin hid out together from the community at large and his only contact was through his mother’s family (his grandparents). Ed found a fiddle that his father had left behind (very possibly the one in the photograph which looks home made) and started sawing around on it. His mother in her grief over her late husband was probably all the time whistling and singing the old melodies, most of which he had played, and Ed picked them up much in the way that Howdy Forrester told me he picked up a lot of melodies from his mom’s whistling and singing around the house. They were the melodies Ed and his mother shared. His unusually natural technique developed because he had such a great ear and naturally not being able to see he was not in a position to pick up bad technical habits from other fiddlers. His mother probably coached him much in the same way that Lawrence coached me a hundred years later…saying things like, “That just don’t sound right.” “Pop never played that many notes.” “Pop’s groups of notes were smaller.” But then because we both could see, Lawrence also said things like, “Your bow hold don’t look like Pop’s” and “Pop held his fiddle down here and turned it.”

Haley-McCoy grave exhumation (1998)

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Sometime during the next few months, we decided that the grave exhumation would take place on May 6, 1998. I rolled into the Harts Fas Chek parking lot on the 4th and hung out with Brandon and Billy until after midnight. Steve and David Haley showed up the next day, as did Jimmy and Bill McCoy and their families. It wasn’t long until Doug Owsley arrived with his crew. His team consisted of four people: Malcolm Richardson, (his former boss and) the field supervisor; John Imlay and Dale Brown, chief excavators; and Rebecca Redmond, recorder. Along to chronicle the event was Chip Clark, a professional photographer; Ted Timreck, a video documentary specialist from New York City; and Ted Park, a writer for Smithsonian magazine.

I knew right away that these guys meant business.

We all went up to the grave that evening, but “the dig” didn’t start until early the next morning.

The weather was perfect and the hillside became alive with people. In addition to myself, the Haleys, the McCoys, Brandon, and Owsley’s crew, there was Billy Adkins, Lawrence Kirk, Bill and Cheryl Bryant (the property owners), and Lara Lamarre and Joanna Wilson of the State Historic Preservation Office.

Most of the day was filled with probing, scraping, talking and then — well — more probing, scraping and talking. Within an hour, the diggers verified that it was a single-shaft grave. As the day progressed, it became obvious that the grave was deeper than the estimated two feet.

Actually, it seemed to just keep “going,” causing us realize that the probes had been a bit deceiving.

At some point, Owsley’s diggers bumped into a coal seam, which had a small underground stream beneath it. Rich said the stream was a bad find because it had probably deteriorated Milt and Green’s bodies in its seasonal cycle of drying up and trickling over the last hundred or so years. He still felt, however, that teeth and certain larger bones might be preserved.

Just before nightfall, Rich said it would be best to stop working and cover the hole because it was supposed to rain sometime in the next few hours. Owsley mentioned that we were only inches away from the shaft floor…only inches — and he was sure of it this time. We were all too excited to go to bed, so we gathered around a big fire up by the grave. The Smithsonian folks requested that I play some fiddle tunes. I played “Brownlow’s Dream” and joked to Brandon that it might help “raise” Milt out of the ground. All jokes aside: it was a little spooky up there, in spite of the twenty or so people clustered around the fire. I remember shining my flashlight up the hill toward the grave every now and then just to make sure…

After about a half an hour, rain began to sprinkle on our gathering. We filed off of the hill and settled in to bed in Harts. Brandon and three of his buddies pitched a tent near the grave and spent the night as “guards.” All were descendants of major participants in the 1889 feud: either mobsters or members of the burial party. The rain soon dissipated, creating a starry night, and left them gathered around a fire and talking about the feud that claimed the lives of Milt and Green. It was an incredible night of stories. So many things had come full circle. For Brandon, it was overwhelming to just think about how he had earlier stood at Milt’s and Green’s grave surrounded by many descendants of the feudists. Expectations and anticipation was at a high water mark. Such was the excitement that Brandon and his friends didn’t go to sleep until around 5 a.m. when a heavy rain forced them into their tent.

Unfortunately, the rain came down in buckets during the early hours of the morning and created horrible working conditions for the forensic team. Their crude covering over the grave was no match for the rain, which whipped in from all angles. Most horribly, the rain caused the underground stream to gush forth and fill the bottom of the grave shaft completely.

After only a few frustrating hours of digging through clay, mud, and several inches of water, Owsley concluded that the crew had reached the bottom of the grave. They had not located a single bone, tooth, belt buckle or bullet fragment.

Even when Brandon fetched a cheap metal detector, the diggers couldn’t come up with anything.

Milt and Green were gone.

Hart Creek 11.30.1923

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“Forget Me Not,” an unnamed local correspondent from Harts Creek in Lincoln County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Logan Banner printed on Friday, November 30, 1923:

Mr. George H. Adkins is still driving Charley Curry’s mules for him.

Miss Nervie Tomblin and Bill Thompson were guests at Chas. Curry’s Sunday.

Wonder why Mr. Ira Tomblin is visiting the home of Mr. Curry’s so much.

Mattie Carter and Garnett Brumfield were out looking for their boys Sunday.

Mr. Tom Brumfield and Ed. Brumfield are giving out Preacher Curry’s appointment for him.

Chapman Adkins is clerking in Robt. Robinson’s store.

Robert Dingess was calling on Josephine Robinson, Sunday.

Smithsonian preliminary description of the Haley-McCoy grave (1997)

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Just before Christmas, Brandon and I received a letter from Rich, at the Smithsonian, which provided us with some preliminary information on the gravesite:

The burial surface is a large shallow depression in the soil located on a steep slope. The depression is approximately one foot deep. The western side of the burial depression, presumably the head, is marked by two small rock cairns that feature natural upright stone slabs projecting from the tops. The opposite end (foot) is marked by two small rock cairns.

The burial appears to be shallow when probing in the deepest part of the depression, with the burial shaft floor located at a depth of approximately 2 feet. 

The shaft is of sufficient size to have accommodated two persons lying side-by-side. It is very shallow, but this may have been due to haste during excavation of the burial pit, or it could have resulted from termination of the efforts of the grave diggers when they encountered the underlying siltstone strata.

Two items that could effect bone preservation were noted: oak trees are in the vicinity of the burial, and the tannin from these leaves can elevate the acid content of the soil; and the presence of some white clay also indicates soil acidity. However, the burial is on a steep slope and located high up near the brow of the ridge. The slope and wind action at that elevation could retard a significant accumulation of leaves. The slope also prevents any significant amount of water from collecting in the burial depression.

The remoteness of the burial site will make it necessary to complete the disinterment in a single day or else provide overnight guards.

Gill News 06.28.1923

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An unnamed local correspondent from Gill in Lincoln County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Lincoln Republican printed on Thursday, June 28, 1923:

Miss Fay Gill begins her school here on the 6th of August.

M. Nelson, of Barboursville, preached an able sermon at Gill last Sunday.

Parker Lucas preached a fine sermon here last Sunday night.

Prof. Lee Adkins, of Hager has completed a fine singing school at Sand Creek. He has taught three at Gill, and will teach another one in the near future.

Mr. and Mrs. W.M. Sperry, of Gill, were visiting relatives and friends at Hager last week. They were accompanied by their small daughters, Misses Ada and Maggie.

Miss Maud Gill began teaching the Bradyville school on last Monday.

Brad Gill was a recent visitor in Huntington.

Cesco Messinger caught a 15-pound fish one day last week.

Elmer Fry has been getting our coal bank ties during the past week.

Uncle Harve May was visiting relatives at Big Creek the latter part of last week.

Did you ever notice that when people hear of some little talk that doesn’t amount to anything, how it goes over the country; and then when they hear of anything that amounts to a great deal you hardly ever hear it mentioned?

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