Appalachia, Ashland, blind, Cleveland, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, Enslow Baisden, fiddler, fiddlers, fiddling, Harts Creek, Hell Up Coal Hollow, history, Huntington, Jack Haley, Jeff Baisden, John Hartford, John Martin, Kentucky, Las Vegas, Lawrence Haley, Liza Mullins, Logan County, Milt Haley, music, Nevada, Noah Mullins, Ohio, Oklahoma, Peter Mullins, Robert Martin, Sherman Baisden, Sol Bumgarner, Trace Fork, Turley Adams, U.S. South, West Virginia, writing
After visiting with Turley and Joe’s girls, Bum guided Lawrence and I up a nearby hollow to see his uncle Enslow Baisden. Enslow lived in a newly built single story log cabin. He said he’d gone blind recently due to sugar and cataracts. At Enslow’s, we met “Shermie”, who Lawrence indicated was the “funny boy” that chased the Haley women off of Aunt Liza’s porch in 1951.
“A lot of times I wouldn’t have no company if it wasn’t for him,” Enslow said of Shermie, who was epileptic. Shermie wasted little time in pulling out a few cards from the pocket of his overalls and sputtering toward me, even reaching for my fiddle case. I knew right then I was surrounded by “good people”: they had kept Shermie under their care all of these years as a valued member of the family in lieu of institutionalization.
When I mentioned Ed Haley’s name, Enslow said, “I was young but I can remember him all the time a coming. They was some Martins lived on top of a mountain out here — Robert Martin and John — and they fiddled all the time, and he’d go out there and fiddle with them. I don’t know how he walked from up this creek and out on that mountain and him blind, for I can’t find my way through the house.”
Enslow said he didn’t know much about Ed because he left Harts during the early years of the Depression.
“See, I lost all time, about everything nearly. I left here in ’35 and went up to the northern part of the state here and then went out in Las Vegas, Nevada, a while. Then, when I come out, I went in the Army in April of ’41. I stayed in there four and a half years and got married out in Oklahoma and we never did come back but just on visits. And Ed, he died in ’51.”
Enslow’s recounting of his travels was sort of an interesting revelation since it reminded me that these folks on Harts Creek — like many mountain people — were not as isolated as some may think. Ed Haley himself left the creek and traveled widely with his music just after the turn of the century, while Lawrence and his siblings had lived in Ashland and Cleveland and served overseas in the armed forces. Several of the people I had met on Harts Creek had been to faraway places and lived in big cities but chose at some point to return to the grounds of their ancestors.
I asked Enslow how old he was the first time he saw Haley and he said, “Oh man I was about nine or ten years old. He all the time played that fiddle. He used to come down here to old man Peter Mullins’ and Liza Mullins’. I guess they was real close kin to him. And Ed’s daddy’s name was Milt Haley. I don’t know whether Lawrence knowed that or not.”
Lawrence said, “Yeah, I knew that. But I understood from the way Aunt Liza told me, he came from over the mountain and I think that she was talking about from up around Williamson or over in that area. My dad, he was born right down here below Uncle Peter’s, where Turley’s at now, in the old house.”
Lawrence’s mentioning of “the old house” really got Enslow going. He remembered it well.
“There used to be an old log house there he was born in and they had a chimney outside on that old house down there — just an old rock chimney. Dad all the time talked about it. He said Ed got him one of them little old homemade sleds, you know, and he got him a ladder and put it on top of that house. And he got right up by that chimney and then when he come off’n there on that sled he knocked the rocks off with him.”
What? Why would he have done such a thing?
“I’ve always heard my dad tell it,” Enslow said. “Said that rock just barely did miss him.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of such a story but before I could really ask anything about it Enslow was off on another tale.
“Dad said one time they sent Ed down there to get some milk or butter or something. When Ed got out there on his way back he got in a briar patch. Dad took a notion to have some fun out of Ed. They had an old horse they called Fred. Dad got to stomping and snickering like that old horse and Ed said, ‘Old Fred, don’t you come here, now. Don’t you come here, Fred.’ Dad said he kept stomping and Ed throwed that stuff at him and tore hisself all to pieces in them briars.”
I asked Enslow to describe Haley and he said, “Well, he just always dressed pretty nice. He was a big man, too. They used to buy him these plugs of tobacco and these guys would get this beech bark and whittle it out about the size of a plug of tobacco and let Ed have that bark and they’d take his tobacco. If he ever got a hold of you, though, he’d eat you up, see. They said you couldn’t get loose from him.”
Apparently, Ed and his wife were so self-sufficient that locals sometimes forgot they were blind. Enslow told a great story about Ella and Aunt Liza, who were sitting by a lamp together one night. “Well, Mrs. Haley, I’m going to bed,” Liza said. “Well, just blow out the light,” Ella answered. “I’m going to read a while.” Liza said, “How’re you going to read in the dark?” Ella said, “Well, I can’t see no way.”
Enslow’s mentioning of Aunt Liza conjured up a great memory from Lawrence.
“Uncle Peter liked to wore me to death one time. Me and my brother Jack went with him up there behind his house and he had a old team of oxen we was snaking logs out of a hollow with. These oxen got hot. One of them got in the creek trying to cool off. Well, Uncle Peter couldn’t get him to move, so he went over underneath a tree and sat down. Well, me and my brother Jack was a cutting up, you know. He was teasing me. I was younger than he was. And I picked up a big rock and throwed it at him and hit Uncle Peter right where it hurts. And he got up. I knowed I could outrun him. My brother — I looked at him — he took off. And I was afraid to move. Uncle Peter come up there. I thought, ‘Well, I’m dead meat.’ It looked like he pulled down a half a tree and got a hold of me and he didn’t let go until he wore that limb out.”
I asked Enslow about Ed Haley’s music.
“I used to hear him play all them old tunes,” he said. “He’d sit and play for hours and hours at a time, him and her.”
Enslow motioned toward Lawrence, saying, “His mother played a mandolin and had a thing on that sat on her shoulders there and had a harp and played them both at the same time.”
He leaned back a little, reflecting, “Yeah, he played all the old music. He’d make up songs. Be sitting around and just directly he’d write a song. Like ‘Hell Up Coal Hollow’ and two or three more he made up that way. You’d come up and say, ‘What was that Ed?’ He’d just tell them what it was.”
Enslow and Bum said Haley made “Hell Up Coal Holler” and named it for Cole Branch, a tributary of Harts Creek. I didn’t know if Ed was the source of that story but I later learned that “Hell Up Coal Hollow” (at least the title) actually predated Haley’s lifetime. As I was gradually learning, Ed wasn’t preoccupied with historical accuracy and was good at creating temporary titles and weaving stories based on coincidence.
Enslow said, “Ed had some kind of saying he always said when he played on the radio down there about ‘carbide acid and acifidity gum’ or something.”
Lawrence said he’d never heard anything about his father playing on the radio but Enslow seemed sure of it.
“He played on the radio down there at Ashland or Huntington or somewheres way back there. I’m pretty sure they said he did.”
I wondered what acifidity gum was and no one knew, although Lawrence had heard Ed talk about it. (We later learned it was an old folk remedy for treating asthma.) Enslow said Uncle Peter asked Ed about it one time and he said, “Well, you have to get a little comedy with the music.”
Wow — so Ed told jokes?
Enslow said, “I guess to draw their attention or something.”
I asked Enslow if he’d ever heard Ed play for a dance and he said, “Well, I used to go to lots of things he played for, but I can’t remember now. They’d go out there on that mountain and play all night at Robert and John Martin’s. They’d be maybe two hundred people out there. Robert Martin all the time played the fiddle and I don’t know whether John played or not.”
Enslow thought Ed and Robert played their fiddles “together,” but Bum added, “Bob played a little different than Ed did. He played newer stuff.”
Enslow thought for a moment, then said, “Yeah, my dad, he used to play the banjo all the time, him and his nephew. They used to play for dances way back years ago.”
What was his name?
Bum said, “I was telling him about Grandpaw taking them two little sticks and beating on the fiddle for Ed.”
Someone said, “He’s the one had the big old feet and he’d get up and dance and play the banjo.”
Enslow said, “They called him ‘Jig-Toe’ Baisden. He wore a twelve or thirteen shoe and he’d get up on his toes and dance. And Noah Mullins, Uncle Peter’s son, he could flat dance. He’d get on his heels and dance all over. He called their square dance about all the time.”