When I arrived back in Nashville, I set about lining up Ed’s fiddle as close as I could to how he would have wanted it. I had John Hedgcoth make a duplicate bridge, then strung it all up so that if he were to walk in the room it would suit him. After about a week, though, the neck started pulling up. I loosened the strings and called Kennie Lamb, a violin expert and craftsman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Kennie picked the fiddle up in Nashville and hand-carried it back to Louisiana for minimal restoration.
A few weeks later, I received a letter from him:
The Markings in Red Corrspond to the Haley Bridge. The only exception being that the D string on the Original Bridge has two notches very close together. I have Marked a D notch in Red but the unmarked D notch will line up with one of the Original notches so you can take your choice on where you believe Mr. Haley Kept the D String.
I have noticed one other interesting thing: Mr. Haley “or Some one” has played this fiddle with the bridge set Almost 1/2 inch to the rear of where it should be set. NOTe: the Markin[g]s where the feet of the bridge once stood. The bridge was in this position for Many a year: Before the neck was out of Alignment and probably before the damage and subsequent repair to the back button the Original bridge may have been tall enough to sustain the rearward Position. The Old Gentleman may have positioned it to the rear in Order to lower the strings or being blind he may not have known exactly where the bridge was supposed to stand. Of course the fiddle would off note badly in the Position but I have seen many such “And Worse” Positions. I hope I have Accomplished what you wanted.
Around the time Kennie’s letter arrived in the mail, Stephen Green, an archivist at the Appalachian Center Sound Archive in Berea, Kentucky, sent me a Summer 1986 article from a West Virginia magazine called Goldenseal. It told all about Milt Haley’s murder and was based on a song called “The Lincoln County Crew”, as sung by Irma Butcher of Bear Creek in northwestern Lincoln County. The song was very similar to Cox’s “A West Virginia Feud-Song”.
Butcher first heard her version around 1910 from fiddler Keenan Hunter, a friend to her banjo-picking father, Press Blankenship. In 1978, she played it for Michael M. Meador at the Vandalia Gathering, West Virginia’s annual statewide folk festival in Charleston.
Come all dear friends and people, come fathers, mothers too;
I’ll relate to you the story of the Lincoln County Crew;
Concerning bloody rowing and many a thieving deed;
Come friends and lend attention, remember how it reads.
‘Twas in the month of August, all on a very fine day,
Al Brumfield he was wounded, they say by Milt Haley;
The people did not believe it, nor hardly think it so,
They say it was McCoy that struck the fatal blow.
They shot and killed Boney Lucas, a sober and innocent man,
Who leaves a wife and children to do the best they can;
They wounded poor Oak Stowers, although his life was saved,
He meant to shun the drug shop, that stood so near his grave.
Allen Brumfield he recovered, in some months to come to pass,
And at the house of George Frye, those men they met at last;
Green McCoy and Milt Haley about the yard did walk,
They seemed to be uneasy and no one wished to talk.
They went into the house and sat down by the fire,
But little did they think, dear friends, they’d met their final hour;
The sting of death was near them when a mob rushed in at the door,
And a few words passed between them concerning the row before.
The people all got frightened and rushed clear out of the room,
When a ball from some man’s pistol lay the prisoners in their tomb;
Their friends had gathered ’round them, their wives did weep and wail,
Tom Ferrell was arrested and soon confined in jail.
Confined in jail at Hamlin to stay there for awhile,
In the hands of Andrew Chapman to bravely stand his trial;
But many talked of lynching him, but that was just a fear,
For when the trial day came on, Tom Ferrell, he came out clear.
I suppose this is a warning, a warning to all men;
Your pistols will cause trouble, on this you can depend;
In the bottom of a whiskey glass, a lurking devil dwells;
And burns the breast of those who drink, and sends their souls to hell.
Appalachia, crime, Doc Workman, Ferrellsburg, Flora Workman, genealogy, Harts Creek, history, life, Logan Banner, Logan County, murder, mystery, Ray Watts, Roma Elkins, Simpkins Cemetery, true crime, U.S. South, West Fork, West Virginia, Workman Fork, World War I, writing
Fifty-six years ago, someone shot Wilson “Doc” Workman in cold blood at the front door of his little frame house on Harts Creek. Today, his unsolved murder is largely forgotten.
“Workman, 63, was found dead by his estranged wife, Mrs. Flora Workman, at 6 a.m. Friday at his home on Workman Fork of the West Fork of Harts Creek in Logan County,” the Logan Banner reported on Monday, April 23, 1956. “The victim died as a result of a stomach wound inflicted by a 20-gauge single barrel shotgun which was found lying across his left leg.”
Doc Workman was a man in the twilight of his life. By all accounts, he was a well-liked resident of the community. He was a quiet farmer, a former timberman, a veteran of the Great War and the father of nine children.
“Daddy and Mommy sure liked him,” said the late Roma Elkins, a native of nearby Ferrellsburg, in a 2004 interview. “He’d bring us a big water bucket full of eggs and wouldn’t let us pay him for them.”
Initially, Logan County sheriff Ray Watts and state law enforcement officers suspected robbery as the motive for Workman’s murder.
“Reports said Workman had been known to carry large sums of money around on his person and was believed to have between $400 and $500 at the time of his death,” the Banner reported. “Only a few dollars was found in the home after the shooting.”
On Sunday, April 22, Workman’s funeral was held at his home on Workman Fork. The service began at 2 p.m. and concluded with the burial at Simpkins Cemetery on West Fork.
On Monday, the Banner ran Workman’s obituary on its front page, listing his wife, nine children, four brothers and three sisters, most of whom lived in Logan County.
“My dear, dear dream boy came one evening,” Pearl wrote in May or June. “He stayed all night. After supper I was sitting on the porch. Cora was out there. My heart dearest came and sit down at my feet. He talked to Cora of first one thing then another. He changed the subject all at once and asked Cora if the doctors thought there was any chance for me ever to walk. I don’t remember the talk for I felt slighted and hurt. To think he would sit at my feet and then ask some one else about my walking powers, if there was any chance of me ever.
“Well, I spent another sleepless night for he slept in the next room. I can now see him as I write next morning at the breakfast table. I looked across the table straight into those clear but sad eyes — those eyes which sent the blood over my neck and face to burn my fevered brain. He is gone and left a heavier heart and a sadder face behind him than was there when he came. I don’t guess he ever thought of the joy he brings to a sad and lonely woman when he comes or even dreamed of such a thing that I loved him. Well, I don’t care if he ever knows. I love him just the same.”
I met Lawrence a few weeks later at the Fraley Family Festival near Grayson, Kentucky. He gave me Ed’s newly located bridge and I showed him Ed’s fiddle — pointing out all of the things I had discovered about it. I specifically pointed out a “V-shape” pattern worn into the varnish on its back toward its bottom. At its top were what appeared to be “sweat marks” where Ed rotated the fiddle and slid his fingers up to get notes in second and third position (which contradicted what Snake Chapman had said about him rarely getting out of first position except when, every once in a while a finger would sneak and grab a note or two from the upper positions). As we talked about such things, J.P. Fraley showed up along with Nancy McClellan, a local folklorist.
After some small talk, I played “Half Past Four” for Lawrence on his dad’s fiddle.
“Where he got a name like that, I don’t know,” he said. “I think, though, it was possibly when my oldest brother Sherman Luther Haley was born. My mother went into labor about 4:30 in the morning. He was named after one of Mom’s brothers. It was the one that died.”
I said, “Now, I’m not totally used to these Black Diamond strings and I’m not playing it note for note the way Ed did. I’m just scratching the surface.”
Lawrence said, “I know. Them old records are hard to hear.”
“There is so much on them records you wouldn’t believe what’s in there,” I said. “Just all kinds of little things. Like his notes, he gets certain long notes and they’re like words. Some of them are moans. And he uses certain little tones.”
Lawrence said, “I notice a lot of you guys, it looks like it’s really hard work for you to do this. Pop never had a bit of trouble playing a fiddle. It wasn’t work to him. If he enjoyed the group he was with, you could absolutely hear it in his music. If he had good accompaniment, he’d stay all day.”
“I’m also curious about that bridge because I think he might have played with a little bit lower action than what I’ve got here,” I said.
Lawrence said, “Yeah, a little bit lower. You could look at that bridge I brought you.”
I said, “Yeah, I’ve already had it on and looked at it. The thing that’s interesting about that is if you look at that bridge, that bridge has been handled a lot because he would feel of it and that’s why all that finger grease is on it. I can just see him. What I may do, I may try that on but what I might do is carve a duplicate of that because sometimes when they get old, they’ll crack.”
Nancy McClellan asked Lawrence, “Were there other fiddlers in the family?” and he said, “No, I couldn’t play. I was left-handed and when I was a little tiny fella I nicked the whole end of this finger off and I didn’t have any meat on the end of it and that hindered me from picking a violin, see. I couldn’t work up a callus on it. Bone’s right underneath it.”
You know, I’d never really thought much about that — the fact none of the Haley children played the fiddle. Ralph, of course, was a guitar player — but he wasn’t actually Ed’s son. It was only natural that the kids — no matter how intense their exposure or no matter their possible distaste — would at some point pick up a fiddle and at least try it. This had been Lawrence’s confession — and his reason for not carrying it any further.
J.P. played a little on Ed’s fiddle and commented on the Black Diamond strings. “Have these strings been on there all that time?”
“No,” I said.
“Where’d you find them?”
I said, “I’ve got a friend that used to carry them and he had a couple of sets and he gave them to me.”
J.P. said, “I can remember when they was a quarter. Wonder what those fiddlers would have done if they’d had access to the strings and stuff that we can get now?”
There was a little pause then J.P. said, “Remember I was telling you about a tune called ‘Maysville’? It had to do with Maysville, Kentucky. I don’t know where the people in Elliott County learned it. They was a tobacco house down there and those people had to wagon tobacco from back in Elliott County plumb to Maysville to sell it.”
Lawrence said, “Pop played a lot of pieces named after…”
J.P. interrupted, “Now he played ‘Maysville’.”
Lawrence continued, “He played a piece of music that I really liked that he called ‘Catlettsburg’.”
Lawrence said to J.P., who still held Ed’s fiddle, “That isn’t as fine a fiddle as you played that used to belong to my dad that the Holbrooks got.”
J.P. said, “Paul’s got it. Well, what he done… That’s a good fiddle, too. He let me have it. I told him if he ever wanted it back… It was in the awfulest shape that ever was. But I had it fixed up. Not embellished now. Just restored. And suddenly Dr. Holbrook’s daughter was gonna take violin lessons. They took it. There’s something else he told me. See, I didn’t know the old Dr. Holbrook…”
Lawrence said, “He’s the one delivered me.”
J.P. said, “His son Paul — our doctor — told me that old man Holbrook went to fiddling, too. Well, Paul said that he supposedly took Ed and Ella to Columbus to do a record.”
Lawrence said, “That was that ‘Over the Waves’, I think. Big aluminum record.”
J.P. said, “It was the closest thing to a commercial record that Ed ever made.”
Lawrence spoke some about his father’s travels.
“Pop didn’t get all the way down into Old Virginia, I don’t think. He made it to Beckley and Bluefield and places like that. I can remember walking from Morehead to Farmers right down the railroad track. They went down there to somebody’s house to play — I was just a kid then — and seemed to me like they played all night.”
Nancy McClellan said, “Well, that’s what Wilson Douglas said happened up there in Calhoun County, West Virginia. He said a fiddler named Laury Hicks would ask for ‘The Black-Eyed Susan’ and said Laury Hicks would sit there and cry while Ed Haley played.”
I told about my recent visit with Laury’s daughter Ugee Postalwait and Lawrence said, “When Pop come around and they was playing, she’d get fiddle sticks and she’d just clog around Pop’s fiddle and every time he’d note it she beat the sticks on that. Dance right around him.”