Appalachia, Big Sandy River, Ceredo, Clifton Mullins, Connie Mullins, culture, Ed Haley, fiddler, genealogy, Guyandotte River, Harts, Harts Creek, Hatfield-McCoy Feud, history, Huntington, Imogene Haley, John Hartford, Johnny Hager, Kenova, Lawrence Haley, Logan County, Loretta Mullins, music, Pat Haley, Peter Mullins, Trace Fork, U.S. South, West Virginia, writing
Early the next morning, Lawrence and I boarded my Cadillac and drove out of Ashland across the Big Sandy River into West Virginia. We drove past little towns named Kenova and Ceredo on I-64 then turned off onto Route 10 just south of Huntington. For the next hour, we weaved our way on this curvy, two-lane road toward Harts, cruising past small settlements named Salt Rock, West Hamlin, Pleasant View, Branchland, Midkiff and Ranger — all situated on the Guyandotte River. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we saw a tiny green and white sign planted to the right of the road reading “Harts, Unincorporated.” Just past it was a beautiful two-story white home, which Lawrence quickly pointed out as the place where Ed’s mother was murdered in the Hatfield-McCoy Feud. Excited, I quickly pulled over and took a picture, then took off in a cloud of gravel and dust.
Lawrence and I turned right onto a narrow paved road and snaked our way up Harts Creek, bypassing a high school, trailers, Depression-era framed houses and newer brick homes. It was beautiful country. Cold weather was barely gone and the hillsides were a faint blush of green buds. Lawrence motioned toward the creek — which was up somewhat due to spring rains — and told again how difficult it was to get up Harts Creek in his younger days.
“Biggest part of the time, you was down in the creek bed there, if the weather was right. If it was times like this you had to take to the hillside but the road usually followed the creek bed. It seemed like it took us all day walking up here, but they didn’t have the roadway up on the side of the hill like this.”
After a ride of some fifteen minutes, we reached Trace Fork, the place where Ed Haley was born over one hundred years ago. We drove a short distance up the branch to the site of Peter Mullins’ cabin, which had burned or been torn down about fifteen years earlier. Lawrence pointed out the only remaining relics from the original farm: a lonely tree and an old smokehouse.
After taking in the sights and smells, we went to see Joe Mullins, who lived in a small white house just down the bottom. We first met Joe’s daughters, Connie and Loretta, who said Joe had gone to Chapmanville and would probably be out for most of the day. Lawrence introduced himself as “Ed Haley’s son,” which caused Connie to giggle and say, “Oh, yeah. Don’t we have a picture of him?”
Loretta said, “We got a lot of pictures.”
“The old fiddle,” Connie said. “Remember the old fiddle that used to be up there in that old house?”
What old house?
“That old smokehouse up there at the old house,” Connie said. “There was an old fiddle up in the top of it.”
There was more giggling, as if the two had just shared a secret joke.
I said to Connie, “You don’t think you could find that do you, just to see it?”
She said, “No, I doubt it.”
Loretta said, “We could probably find the picture.”
Boy that would be great.
“I don’t know about right this minute. How long are you gonna be around?”
“Long enough for you to find that picture,” I said.
The next thing I knew, Connie walked us to Uncle Peter Mullins’ old smokehouse and flung open a door. I took a few steps inside — past old furniture and piles of God-knows-what — and quickly spotted a decorative metal lid with Ed and Johnny Hager’s picture on it. In the picture, a copy of which I had first seen at Lawrence’s, Haley was slim and decked out in a suit with a derby and dark glasses. Hager stood beside him with a banjo. Lawrence said it was taken at White Sulphur Springs in eastern West Virginia.
At some point, Connie showed us a large, framed portrait of a woman she identified as Ed’s mother, Emma Jean Haley — the same picture Pat Haley had seen on her visit to Harts Creek several years ago. Connie said Lawrence could have both pictures.