Appalachia, blind, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, feud, fiddler, Harts Creek, Hatfield-McCoy Feud, history, Imogene Haley, Joe Mullins, John Hartford, Lawrence Haley, Liza Mullins, Logan County, Milt Haley, music, Pat Haley, Peter Mullins, Stella Mullins, Trace Fork, U.S. South, West Virginia, writing
I told Lawrence that I wanted to know about Ed Haley’s early life but he said he really wasn’t old enough to know much about his father’s younger days.
“My dad was 45 years old, I guess, when I was born,” he said. “He was born in 1883 and I was born in 1928. That was about 45 years. I know my mother was 40 years old and to the best of my knowledge my dad was five years older. She was born in ’88 and he was born in ’83.”
Lawrence said his father was born on the Trace Fork of Harts Creek in Logan County, West Virginia. He was the only child of Milt Haley and Emma Jean Mullins. Milt was partly responsible for causing Ed’s blindness, according to one story that Lawrence had heard on Harts Creek, which he reluctantly told.
“We was up there approximately seven years ago and we stopped over on Harts Creek and visited with my dad’s first cousin, Joe Mullins,” Lawrence said. “He told me that when my dad was very young — he couldn’t a been over two or three — he had the measles or some childhood disease. And when his father came in from working in the timbers that evening he didn’t like the whiny way my dad was acting. It was the dead of winter. They was ice on the creeks. So to make him more of a man and cut out his babyish crying, he took him out and held him by the feet and dropped him in a rain barrel through the ice. Now according to my cousin Joe that’s partly what caused my dad to go blind.”
What? That wasn’t in the Parkersburg Landing liner notes.
“Now, I don’t know for sure about that,” Lawrence said. “That’s hearsay. I don’t want to bad-mouth anybody — my granddad or anybody — this many years after everybody’s in the ground and forgot about.”
Lawrence said Ed’s mother Emma Jean Haley was killed not too long after the rain barrel incident. “During the end of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, other families became involved. Pop’s mother Emma Jean was down at the mouth of Harts Creek visiting some feudists — seems like they were Brownings — when two or three people came to the door looking for somebody. I don’t know his name, whether he was a McCoy or Hatfield or some other person that had allegiance to one of them. And when my grandmother opened the door, they thought that he was going to answer the door so they just shot her and killed her. Now, that’s hearsay. I heard that story and that’s all I can tell you about that.”
I asked if the house was still standing and Lawrence said, “I don’t think so. It was a big two-story house. The best I can remember, it had a double porch on the front. It was standing there when I was just a little small child.”
Pat said she’d seen a picture of Ed’s mother during a visit to Joe Mullins’ place on Harts Creek several years ago. “Joe and his wife Stella had this beautiful enlarged picture and it was framed,” she said. “It was laying in some back room up there in Joe’s house. I don’t think it was on the wall, because it was very, very dusty when she brought it in to show me. And she said, ‘This is Larry’s grandmother,’ and she made a statement to the effect of, ‘We’ve no use for it.’ This lady has since passed away, but Joe should have the picture because it’s just been a few years ago.”
Already, I could see plenty of inspiration for a musician: tragic blindness — a cruel father — a murdered mother — an orphan alone in the world.
I asked Lawrence what happened to his grandfather Milt Haley and he said, “Apparently he stayed around there. Joe told me he’s buried somewhere down on Harts Creek in a cemetery. He apparently didn’t raise his child. Uncle Peter Mullins and Aunt Liza Mullins raised my dad after his mother was killed. My dad’s mother must have been an older sister to Uncle Peter.”
Uncle Peter, Lawrence said, was nicknamed “Club-Foot Peter” because one of his feet was “turned in.” He was the father of Joe Mullins, the source for many of Lawrence’s stories. “I guess Joe is about as old as my brother, Clyde. He might be around 70 now. He was a lot younger than my dad.”
Lawrence wasn’t sure when his father left Uncle Peter’s household.
“I guess he left when he got old enough to get out and start playing music,” he said. “I would say he was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. People’d come after him to go play music.”