Appalachia, Ashland, Ashland Cemetery, Buck Fork, Clifford Belcher, Connie Woods, Dingess, Ed Belcher, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddler, fiddling, genealogy, George Greasy Adams, guitar, Harts Creek, history, Hoover Fork, Jackson Mullins, Jeff Baisden, John Frock Adams, John Hartford, Johnny Hager, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Liza Mullins, Logan, Logan County, Maynard's Store, music, Nashville, Peach Creek, Peter Mullins, Ralph Haley, Sol Bumgarner, square dances, Trace Fork, Turley Adams, Violet Mullins, Weddie Mullins, West Virginia
At some point, Connie showed up with a small entourage of women toting some of Joe Mullins’ old pictures. My eyes immediately went to a large, framed photograph of two serious mustachioed men. Turley said one was Weddie Mullins — his grandfather on “both sides” of the family tree — while the other was Ed Haley’s Uncle Peter Mullins. Both men were brothers. Turley said his grandfather Weddie — Ed’s uncle — was murdered at the little town of Dingess just after the turn of the century.
Lawrence said, “Mom and Pop used to play at Dingess — just a little community over in MingoCounty.”
That got us back on the subject of Ed, although most of the commentary was choppy and mixed between looking at photographs. One of the girls said, “We’ve heard talk of Ed all our lives.” Another made the unusual remark, “He could see lightning. Some way he could feel it or something and tell it was hitting.” Someone said Ella could tell the difference between the Haley children by their smell.
Turley, who had been fairly quiet throughout our visit, said to Lawrence, “Bernie Adams used to play a lot of music with your dad.”
Violet said, “Bernie’s the one took him in the chicken house for the toilet. They stayed all night up at our house. Robert Martin and Bernie and Ed and them played music all night. I can remember it. I was just a little girl. Mother said Ed played many a time where she was raised up over in the head of Francis Creek.”
Lawrence said, “You know, these different places like Hoover and places like that don’t ring a bell to me. I can remember going down here to the end of Trace, and maybe down to Smoke House, and up to George Adams’ who lived on up this way, and up to that store — Maynard’s Store — and buying candy, but that’s about the limit of my travel, except coming up from the mouth of Harts.”
Basically, the next half-hour or so was a giant “get to know everybody session” — mostly between Lawrence and the locals. I sort of hung back a little, taking it all in, while Lawrence spoke of and listened to stories about his father. There was a glow about his face that had been absent in Ashland.
At one juncture, he told Connie how her grandparents, Peter and Liza Mullins, raised his father.
“Oh, really?” she said. “I didn’t know that. Now I remember Granny. They wanted me to stay all night with her and I was always afraid she’d die in her sleep or something. That’s terrible.”
She asked Lawrence if he remembered Uncle Jeff — “he was Granny’s brother and he was kinda slow.”
Violet said, “He liked to go to all these dinner meetings they’d have out in the country. He’d walk for miles and miles.”
Connie asked Lawrence if Ed ever played at Logan — the seat of government for Logan County — and he said, “Yeah, he used to play around Logan quite a bit and Peach Creek. He’d play up there during court days especially. Back in them days, the town would load up. I’ve been there with him during those times. The old courthouse, I think it faced toward the river. One side of it was on Stratton Street.”
Connie asked where Ed was buried and Lawrence said, “He’s buried in the Ashland Cemetery in Ashland. Mom’s buried in the same cemetery but not with him. By the time my mother died — she died three years after Pop — they’d filled that section up.”
I’d never really thought about that. Ed and his wife were not buried together, the kind of seemingly minor detail tossed out randomly that took on somewhat of a greater meaning at a later date. I made a note to myself right then that I would visit Ed’s grave in Ashland before heading back to Nashville.
Violet wondered about Lawrence’s older brother, Clyde.
“Clyde’s out in Stockton, California,” he said. “He’s what I call the black sheep of the family. Never married. He just followed the sun for work. When it was summertime, he’d go north; when it was wintertime, he’d go south.”
Just then, an old man called Bum showed up at Turley’s. Bum remembered Ed and his family well. He asked Lawrence about the Haleys. It was hard to focus on their conversation — everyone in the room seemed to be talking at once — but I heard Bum mention something about how Lawrence’s brother Ralph used to hang from tree limbs by his “sticky toes” and would “do anything.”
“That’s exactly how he got killed,” Lawrence said. “He was hanging by his toes and he was gonna let go with his toes and flip over and land on his feet but he didn’t make it. He was just active like that. See, Ralph danced around these carnivals and fairs and places.”
A few minutes later, things quieted down a little. I moved over near Bum to ask him about Haley. His answers seemed to come through his nose more than his mouth and were usually followed by a little chuckle. He was great. Bum said he was 67 years old and first saw “Uncle Ed” in the thirties.
“He lived down in Ashland and he’d come up pretty often,” Bum said. “People come from everywhere to listen at him play whenever they’d have them big dances and stuff. He’d play half the night. Yeah, I’ve been right there.”
I asked Bum about Ed’s tunes and he said, “Ah, he played so many… There was one religious tune he’d put the bow under the fiddle, and the hair, he’d turn it right over and slip his fiddle between it, and play that. I forgot what it was.”
Bum told me all about the old dances.
“They used to have a big working,” he said. “About every family on this creek and Harts Creek down here, they’d all gather up and hoe one man’s field out and then move to the next one. And they’d all go to each other’s farms that way and help each other, and when they got done one man would have a big dance. They’d have a dance on Saturday night. They’d have them at just about every home, mostly at Uncle Peter’s up here, in the house. Like one room in there, they’d gather everything up and take it outside and they’d have a dance in there, and when they got through they’d put the furniture all back in. Anybody that wanted to come was invited. They’d have food right in the house. There were usually three or four around to call the reel: ‘Dosy doe and here she comes and there she goes.'”
“It’d just be Uncle Ed and John Hager playing?” I asked.
“Well, Ed mostly,” Bum said. “Uncle Johnny, he played some with him. Uncle Ed, he played by himself most all of these dances. Mrs. Haley played with him a lot. She played the mandolin, guitar or accordion.”
“Did Johnny Hager play the banjo about like Grandpa Jones?” Turley asked Bum.
“Yeah, over-handed they call it,” Bum said. “Molly O’Day, she played that way. My grandpaw would whittle out two little sticks and he’d sit and beat on them strings and Ed a playing the fiddle.”
“Ed played with Ed Belcher,” Turley said.
“Yeah, I’ve heard Pop talk about Ed Belcher,” Lawrence said.
Now who was Ed Belcher?
“He played the guitar,” Bum said. “He could play the piano, too. They’d get together at times and play together. They’d go up Buck Fork.”
Bum said he last saw Ed Haley “over here on that mountain yonder” at Clifford Belcher’s beer joint.
“He’d go down there and play and people’d give him beer and stuff. That’s about all he wanted. I run into him over there one night. I said, ‘Uncle Ed, where you been?’ He said, ‘I ain’t been no where but right here. I come up here to sit around and play music a while.’ I bought him a beer and he sat there and played music. Well, a Conley boy run in and went to playing and thought he was better than Ed and everything. Ed finally told that boy, said, ‘Why don’t you quit playing that music? You can’t play. You’re cutting my music up too much.’ That boy come back at him, you know, and aimed to fight him. He said, ‘Shut up, old man. You don’t know what you’re a talking about.’ I was standing there and I told him, I said, ‘Now listen. If you jump on that man, you’ll have me to fight and him both.’ And Ed took his fiddle and hit that feller right down over the head with it and busted that fiddle all to pieces.”
Turley said Ed Haley was high-tempered, as well as strong, and hinted at his mean streak.
“Dad said Peter had a dog that Ed couldn’t get along with at all. Ed told Uncle Johnny, ‘You get me close to him and I’ll hit him in the mouth. I’ll knock him out.’ And he said Ed hit that dog and killed him with his fist. Hit him in the ear and killed him. That’s what my daddy told.”
Bum was very familiar with Ed Haley’s family on Trace. He said Uncle Peter Mullins was “pretty bad to get out and get drunk and get into it with people.” He knew all about Ed’s uncle Weddie Mullins’ murder at an election in Dingess. “There used to be a train come in there and they’d bring flour and stuff over there and people’d go over there to Dingess and get it,” he said. “They’d take wagons and go through these hills, like up Henderson and all them places and they got into it over there.” Bum wasn’t sure who shot Weddie but knew that his killer survived the fracas. Once the news reached Harts Creek, John Adams got a pistol from Jackson Mullins and rode to Dingess where he found Weddie’s killer laid up in a bed clinging to life. Someone told him the guy probably wouldn’t make it so (like something out of a Hollywood Western) he pulled out a .38 pistol and said, “I know he won’t,” and shot him in cold blood.
I wasn’t exactly sure who any of these people were — Jackson Mullins, John Adams — but I had the impression that they were some relation to Ed Haley. At that juncture, I just let the tape recorder roll and tried to take notes and absorb everything, figuring that what seemed like unimportant details would perhaps later develop into major items of interest.