Al Brumfield, Calhoun County, Chicago, coal, Cole and Crane Company, Dood Dalton, Ed Haley, farming, fiddling, Harts Creek, history, Jake Dalton, Laury Hicks, Lincoln County, Logan County, logging, Stump Dalton, timbering, West Virginia, writing
Just before we left, Stump let us borrow a cassette containing a 1976 interview with his father. Surely, we thought, Dood would speak a lot about fiddling and of his friendship to Ed. Instead, he told about his life in Harts. His voice was very melancholy and he spoke loudly and in spurts. Some of his earliest memories were of the timber industry in Harts and of the Cole and Crane Company, which timbered extensively in the LoganCounty area from about 1893-1908. In 1900, he said, Cole and Crane used splash dams to float logs down to the mouth of the creek “where Al Brumfield had a boom in.” The boom was located at the present-day site of the West Fork Bridge.
“And this boom caught them logs all,” Dood said. “Them logs was piled on top of one another from that boom…to the mouth of Big Branch. At that time, if you owned across the creek, you owned the creek. Al Brumfield owned the other side there and he put this boom in there and bought the Cole and Crane Company and when he bought them he kept that timber there and they gave him a contract on rafting it and running it down to Guyandotte.”
Cole and Crane Company once paid Brumfield $2800 to cut his boom loose and let timber out of the creek, he said.
Dood said he went to work cutting timber for Cole and Crane Company when he was seventeen years old. He also drove oxen and cattle and loved to hunt foxes and raccoons.
After marrying, he supported his family by farming and raising cattle, sheep and hogs at his 300-acre farm on Big Branch.
In subsequent years, he worked as a blacksmith, bricklayer and coal miner.
In 1964, he took a three-month visit to Chicago and hated it about as much as an earlier visit to Michigan. He said, “My days is short. I’ve spent 84 years here and I’m figuring on spending the rest of my life here.”
And that was basically it.
Not one reference to fiddling from a guy who had played all of his life.
Well, in spite of the tape, we were pretty sure that Haley’s good friendship to Dood Dalton was authentic and was perhaps as important as his friendship with Laury Hicks in Calhoun County. We wanted to visit more of Dood’s children, so Stump directed us to the home of his oldest brother, Jake Dalton, an old fiddler on the Big Branch of Harts Creek. Jake lived in his father’s old home – the place where Ed had visited so frequently during the last twenty years of his life.
Stump said Ed would sometimes talk to him and his brothers.
“Well, his fiddle playing of course was the number one thing he talked about but also his rendezvous, like playing on street corners and beer gardens, and the people he associated with playing music. That’s the type of conversations he would have. He’d tell about some fiddle player maybe dying or something happening to them, and he knew them all over the country. Now he’d been around, old Ed had, buddy. Ed stayed on the road practically.”
What about his children?
“I think he had two or three,” Stump said. “He had one boy come to our house one time and stayed three days with him. That’s the only one of his kids I ever seen. I forget his name. He was older than me. He was turned just like his daddy. You’d never know that the boy’d get into anything but I think he drank some.”
What about Ed’s father? Did he ever talk about his father?
“Yeah, he’s talked about his dad, but I don’t remember the things he said about him. Never heard him mention his mother.”
We tried to prod Stump’s memory by mentioning that Milt was killed at the mouth of Green Shoal.
“Yeah, Milt Haley. My dad knowed all about it. They got chopped up with an axe. Do you know that big two-story house? That’s where it’s supposed to’ve happened at – right along in there somewhere. They was him and one other guy killed – McCoy.”
So what do you know about Ed’s blindness?
“He told me he was blind from the time he was three years old,” Stump said. “His eyes wasn’t like our eyes. His eyeballs – instead of the pupils and stuff – was white. Just very faint, you could see the pupils.”
Ed was very good at compensating for his blindness and was able to use his fingers to identify certain types of fiddles.
“Dad bought me a little Jacob Stainer fiddle one time off of a man by the name of Ward Kinser,” Stump said, elaborating. “Ward was a distant relation of ours, lived up above Logan. He come riding a horse up through there with that fiddle and Dad bought that off of him for five dollars and give it to me. Ed come just not long after we’d bought that fiddle. When Dad went out to the road and got him, he said, ‘Come on Ed, I got a fiddle down here I want you to look at.’ And him blinder than a bat. We went down there and Ed took that fiddle and set it right on his belly and he started at the neck up here, just feeling around it at the keys. He felt all around that fiddle then he turned around to my dad and said, ‘My, my, Dood. That’s the first Jacob Stainer I’ve had in my hand in I don’t know how many years.’”
Stump laughed, “I never will forget that.”
We asked Stump about Ed playing at the old post office/store in Harts.
“Yeah, he played down there,” he confirmed. “He played for money down there. He put out a little old can, I believe it was. He used to play a lot up there at Logan at the courthouse. Now, he had more friends around here, like up on Crawley and up on Big Hart, than just our family. He may stay a month with us and stay sober but then he’d get with a bunch up on Crawley and up in the head of the creek here and you wouldn’t see him for a while. He’d stay up in there drinking. He got killed about half way up Crawley.”
“Now, it was after I come out of the army, I know,” Stump said. “The first part of ’53. They was a beer garden up there, like a two story building – seemed to me like a bunch of Butchers owned that, I’m not sure – and they found him dead at that building up there. Somebody beat him to death. I’ve heard somebody robbed him. They was supposed to been three people done it, but it never did come out. I never heard no names.”
I had to stop Stump and say, “Wait a minute. Are you saying that Ed Haley was murdered on Harts Creek?”
“Yeah,” he said assuredly. “We knew where he was at. He’d been at our house. That’s where he said he was going. Well, he’d been gone awhile, ’cause he’d go up Big Hart, maybe, it might take him maybe a month to get on Crawley up there. They took Ed Haley, buddy, and shipped his body back out of here. He never come back to our house after that.”
Bernie Adams, Brandon Kirk, Dood Dalton, Earl Tomblin, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, Harts Creek, history, John Hartford, Lincoln County, music, Stump Dalton, Uncle Harmon and his Fiddlin Fools, West Virginia, writing
Brandon asked if Ella ever played with Ed at Dood’s and Stump said, “The only time I ever seen her play was when Ed asked her. I’ve seen her come there and not play. Now, she didn’t play a mandolin like I played or say like Bill Monroe or somebody like that. All she done was just chord the thing. Play the second on the guitar you know and strummed it. She was a quiet person and she was a heavy-built woman. She never had much to say to nobody. She sorta give you the impression that she ‘would rather be somewhere else than where I am now,’ you know.”
Thinking of Ed’s accompaniment, Stump said to me, “You ever hear the name Bernie Adams?”
I had, but didn’t know much about him.
“Bernie Adams was a cousin of mine,” Stump said. “Bernie was born and raised up on Hoover and he was one of the best second guitar players I ever heard pick up a guitar. And all he did was drink. He’d been to Nashville maybe twice, I think. Now when Ed Haley come to our house, the first thing he’d ask Dad, he’d say, ‘Dood, where’s Bernie Adams at?’ Back then, you didn’t have no telephone. Big Hart Road was dirt. We’d take a timber truck and hunt Bernie Adams up and bring him down there. If we found him drunk, we’d bring him down there and he’d sober up. Ed told me, he said, ‘I never played with a man that had the timing that Bernie Adams had with that guitar.’ He was one of the best.”
I asked Stump if Bernie played runs and he said, “He could, but he played a follow-up for their music. And you talk about time.”
Stump didn’t know that Bernie ever played over the radio, but we later heard that he played on Logan radio in the mid-40s with a group called Uncle Harmon and his Fiddlin’ Fools.
Bernie died in 1962.
“They found him dead right at the mouth of Hoover when they went down over that little hill next to the creek,” Stump said. “He’d sat down next to a log and they found him laying beside that log. He drank himself to death. He’d left Earl Tomblin’s beer garden up on Big Hart. Somebody probably picked him up and drove him down there and they found him dead the next morning.”
I asked Stump to describe Ed and he said, “Ed was a pretty big man. I’d say Ed Haley woulda weighed 180-185 pounds and I’d say Ed Haley was 5’11″ or 6′, too. I particularly noticed his hands. He had long fingers. And he was a fast walker. Ed Haley was the type of feller that would eat anything you put on the table. He liked to cut his onions up in his beans, buttermilk, cornbread, then rub some bacon in it.”
Did Ed do any kind of chores to help out around the house when he was there?
“No, he was just a guest and that was it. We never asked him to do anything, he never done anything. When he come to our house, other than sleep, 75-percent of our time was playing music.”
I asked Stump if Ed ever came around his father’s home drunk and he said no – Ed was always “very mannerly” at the Dalton home.
“Ed Haley was a fine man, buddy,” he said. “He was my idol. Ed Haley was a pretty smart man. He was good when it come to the Bible – he knowed what to do, you know, and they’d sit there and discuss the Bible, but Ed never would accept the Lord as far as being saved. If anybody could’ve ever got Ed to quit drinking, it woulda been Dad.”
Dood Dalton was a moonshiner in his younger days but gave it up just after Stump’s birth.
“Dad was one of the most well thought of men in this country really, if you want to know the truth about it. Dad made a study of the Bible for 62-and-a-half years.”
I got my fiddle out and played for Stump, hoping to generate some detailed memories of what he’d seen Ed and his father do. He watched me play for a while, then said, “You play exactly like the old-time fiddlers played, and I’m gonna tell you why. You’ve got the smoothest bow of anybody I’ve heard in a long time. Now that’s what they strived for, Ed Haley and Dad – them old-time fiddle players. This herky-jerky stuff, they didn’t go for that.”
Brandon asked, “What about Bill Adkins down at Harts? Did he play that style, too?”
Stump said, “He was pretty good. Bill had a little jerk to his. Bill had what I call a stiff wrist. All these players taught themselves. Dad, all of them.”
Dood Dalton, Stump said, started playing the fiddle when he was about six years old. A little later, he played for dances in the town of Dingess and on Mud Fork near Logan.
Brandon asked Stump if he knew the names of any more old fiddlers around Harts.
“My grandpaw, Wog Dalton, he was a fiddle player. One of the best, they said.”
Did Ed Haley know him?
“Ed said there wasn’t a fiddle player in this country could play with Wog Dalton,” Stump said. “Now, I barely can remember him. He was the spitting image of Devil Anse Hatfield.”
Wog was apparently a pretty rough character, too.
“My granddad was playing for a square dance and he and this guy had been into it,” Stump said. “Somebody came in there and told old man Wog, said, ‘Whatcha call it’s out there and he’s gonna cut you with a knife.’ He just kept playing that fiddle and here come this guy through there. He grabbed Granddad Wog and Granddad Wog just pulled his knife out and they just took each other by the hand, son, and started cutting each other.”
Stump laughed and said, “I think Granddad Wog was laid up about two months over that.”
I wanted to know more about Stump’s memories of Ed’s technique and repertoire, so I asked him the same kind of questions I’d asked Lawrence Haley in previous years.
Did Ed hold the fiddle up under his chin or down on his chest?
“He laid his chin right on it, like he was listening to it,” Stump said.
Did you ever see him play standing up, like at a contest?
“No. Now, old man Ed did play in fiddle contests. I know of two. One of them was in Ohio, ’cause he come in our house right after he done it.”
I wondered if Ed sang much.
“I never heard him sing a song in my life. Maybe a verse – just stop along there and sing a verse. Now, him and Dad both would do that. But to put the poetry to it, I never heard him really do that.”
Did he pat his foot a lot when he played?
“He patted both feet,” Stump said. “He’d switch off, and sometimes he’d pat both of them together. He just got himself into it.”
Did Ed ever play tunes in cross key?
“Now that there one I give you, ‘The Lost Indian’, was a cross key,” Stump said. “I remember that real well. That was one of the prettiest fiddle tunes. I asked Dad, ‘How are you tuning that fiddle?’ and he was tuning it in a banjo tuning.”
I asked if Ed traded fiddles much and Stump said, “No, he didn’t do much trading, I don’t think. And a lot of times he’d come without a fiddle. He knowed Dad had fiddles.”
I wondered if Ed brought a different fiddle every time he came to Dood’s and Stump said, “No, he had one fiddle he’d really like. But now, he’d bring an extra one once in a while.”
Stump thought for a second then said, “Now Ed would bring all his bows to Dad, after he’d broke up the hairs in them. Dad had horses, you know, and Dad would re-string that bow.”
How many bows did Ed carry around?
“Well, he’d just have maybe two in his case.”
Did he always have a case?
“No, a lot of times he’d just have a bare fiddle.”
Did you ever see him play anything besides the fiddle?
“I never seen him pick up anything besides a fiddle.”
Brandon asked Stump if he remembered the first time Ed came to see his father.
“I was born in 1929 but he was coming there, I know, in the thirties,” he said.
There were big musical gatherings at the Dalton home in those days.
“I’ve seen people all over the place,” Stump said. “My mother, she had a long table and she would have any kind of meat on that table you wanted to eat, any kind of bread on that table you wanted to eat. We raised all this stuff now. And sometimes you’d feed two tables full of people just through the week. Instead of cooking one pot of beans, she’d cook two. And we raised our own meat. We’d have sheep meat – what they call mutton – and pork and beef. We ground our own meal. The only thing we went to the store for was sugar, salt, and things like that. And I’ve seen people there lined up to eat – just country people gathering to enjoy themselves and that was it.”
Was there any drinking going on?
“Had one incident: this guy, he thought he was mean. My dad had my sister in his lap and we had music a going. This guy shot down in the floor there near my sister. He didn’t last long. Just somebody a drinking.”
Late one October night, I rolled into Harts on the bus. I was full of excitement, having just read an article from Smithsonian magazine about Doug Owsley, one of the top forensic anthropologists in the country. According to the article, Doug had worked with the mass graves in Bosnia, identified some of David Koresh’s charred cult members at Waco, and helped to break the Jeffrey Dahmer case in Wisconsin. He was very interested in historical graves, having exhumed western outlaws, Indians, Civil War soldiers and no telling what else. He was known in some circles as “the Sherlock Holmes of Bones.”
The next morning, I told Brandon I had this idea of contacting Owsley to see if he would exhume the Haley-McCoy grave. He thought for a few seconds, then said it was risky. While he was as curious as I in wanting to know what was “down there,” he wasn’t really sure what we would gain by it. Besides, he said, people might think we were taking things a little too far. He could picture us sitting down to interview someone and all of a sudden they say, “Oh, you’re the guys going around digging people up.” He had a point: I wasn’t even sure what we might gain by exhuming the grave. We tabled the notion until later.
Turning our minds to more pressing thoughts, we decided to visit Stump Dalton at Ferrellsburg. Stump had popped onto my bus during my last trip to Harts and, looking very much like a thin-haired George Jones, said, “My family and Ed Haley was close. If he was in Ohio or somewhere and he come here the first place he come was our house. I knowed of Ed to stay as high as two months around there. We had him a bed all the time.”
Stump was a son of Dood Dalton, Ed’s fiddler-friend on the Big Branch of Harts Creek, as well as a former mandolin player for the Starlight Rambers, a local group featured on Logan radio many years ago. He was 66 years old.
“I’ve actually played with Ed Haley,” Stump had told me.
Brandon and I made the short drive to Ferrellsburg where we pulled the car into a wide spot near the railroad tracks. We walked across Route 10 to Stump’s turquoise-colored house. “Come on in, boys,” Stump said at the door. “I’ll tell you what I can about Ed Haley.” Immediately, as we sat down on couches inside, I asked Stump about his father, who was reportedly a great old-time fiddler and a good friend to Ed Haley.
“They called him Dood Dalton,” Stump said. “His real name was Moses. My dad used to play for a lot of them old-time square dances. Music follows the Daltons. Dad could play anything that had strings on it. He was a number one harp player. He could play anything on the French harp.”
Brandon asked Stump if he remembered any of his father’s tunes and he said, “‘Hell Amongst the Yearlings’, ‘Sally Goodin’, ‘Old Joe Clark’, and all that. See, when they would first start playing, Ed would say, ‘Now Dood, I want you to tune that fiddle up and play that ‘Lost Indian’.’ Now they used to take and clamp a little knife on the bridge. It softens that down. Then they would take two little sticks – about the size of straws, you know – and play that ‘Hell Amongst the Yearlings’ and beat on that and man you talk about a tune. Dad would either beat or play it or vice-versa, him or Ed would. That was a favorite tune for them two – that and the ‘Blackberry Blossom’. You know, they revised that ‘Blackberry Blossom’.”
Right away, it sounded a lot like the kind of relationship Ed shared with Laury Hicks, the fiddling veterinarian in Calhoun County.
I told Stump I thought Ed Haley was a master of improvisation and he agreed, saying, “They would play a tune and they’d put their own thing into it, you know. I’ve seen Ed Haley sit down and say, ‘Now Dood, what do you think of this?’ and vice-versa. And they’d sit there all day, all night. They could do about anything they wanted to do with a fiddle, both of them. When they was into fiddle playing, they was into fiddle playing. You didn’t come in there and start a conversation with them.”
I asked Stump if Ed and Dood played at the same time, as he had supposedly done with Hicks, and he said, “Not too much.”