We found Bum on our way up the hollow and went to sit on his porch with his aunt, Liza McKenzie, two of his sisters, Alice and Dicy — and of course Shermie. As soon as Liza figured out who we were she looked at Lawrence and said he was just a small boy the last time she’d seen him.
“Yeah, I guess around 1940 or ’41 was the last time I come to this area,” Lawrence said.
Liza said, “Well, I lived in Kentucky about sixty years. Perry County, up in Hazard.”
I said to her, “Is that where Milt Haley was from?” and she said, “I don’t know but now Ed Haley was borned and raised right around here. When he was a boy, he got up on top of that house down there where Aunt Mag used to live — in that old two-story house — and rolled off in a box. Mother said, ‘Lord, Ed, are you hurt?’ He said, ‘No, God no. It’s give me eyesight.’ He said he jarred his eyesight back.”
I liked Liza right away.
I asked her if she had any pictures and she said, “Loretta’s mother had all the pictures of Ed Haley I ever did know. They used to have a picture down there at Loretta’s of Ed’s mother. She was a pretty woman.”
She looked at Clifton and said, “Clif, I believe your mother had a picture of Ed Haley that was made down there at the old home where he was born and raised. Down there where Aunt Mag used to live. I know they had them.”
Clifton remembered it.
“Yeah, they was sitting out in the yard,” he said. “They was together. She was in the chair and he was standing. He didn’t have no pants on.”
Clifton said, “Yeah, you’re right. They was a picture down there. But I looked; they was so many pictures in that box.”
Box of pictures? I thought.
Before I could ask about them, Clifton said, “There’s one down there faded out. It’s in a big frame. I got it in another building.”
He told me, “I can show them to ya.”
About that time, Cas Baisden came up to the porch. Bum said he was Liza’s 83-year-old twin brother. I asked Cas if he remembered Ed and he said, “I knowed him, yeah. He was raised up here. Old man Peter lived down at the mouth of the holler and his boy lived up the road here and old man Ed’d go up there and he’d come down that road a running and jumping just like he could see and cut the awfulest shine that ever was.”
Lawrence joked, “That’s probably how Clyde got to be the way he was.”
Cas said, “Yeah, I guess Clyde took after him. Clyde went out here and got down in a well once and they had the awfulest time that ever was getting him out. Way back in top of a mountain.”
I asked Cas about the first time he ever saw Ed and he said, “It’s been many a year ago. He stayed down here, him and his wife and them. They’d play music and drink and fight and scratch with one another and them boys was so mean… He’d get so drunk he couldn’t walk.”
Bum knew that Ed was real “easy to get mad about music,” but said he could get him to play nearly anything he wanted because Ed liked him. He’d ask Ed to play something like “John Henry” and he’d say, “Are you sure that’s what you want me to play? You know, I was just thinking about playing that.” If Ed didn’t like someone Bum said he’d “goof around” and not play for them.
Things kinda tapered off after that. Nobody knew anything about Ed having any brothers. Cas had heard about Ed’s father, who he thought was named Green.
“You know, he got killed when I was a little fella, I guess,” Cas said. “His name was Green. They took him over yonder on Green Shoal, they said, and killed him. Walked him down here and up Smoke House and over and down Piney and across the river.”
I asked if Lawrence looked like Ed and Liza said, “Yes, he does. Ed was a bigger man than he is. Ed was a big man.”
But Lawrence looks like Ed in the face?
“Yeah, he looks like him all over.”
Cas said, “Ed was a taller man. I guess he takes after his mother. She’s a little short woman.”
Lawrence agreed: “Yeah, she was about five feet tall — not much bigger than Aunt Liza.”
I told Turley that Lawrence and I needed to visit Joe Mullins, who had been gone during our last trip to Harts Creek. Turley completely deflated us: Joe, he said, had recently suffered a stroke. He now lived with his daughter Connie Mullins in a trailer just up the creek. Turley pointed the way. Driving a short distance, Lawrence and I parked our car by the creek and walked over a little narrow bridge where an army of barking dogs greeted us. At the porch, Connie introduced us to her brother, Clifton. We stepped on inside and found Joe seated in a wheelchair, surrounded by more dogs. His mind — or at least his ability to communicate a great deal — was all but gone due to the lingering effects of his stroke. Lawrence sat next to him with his hand on his arm. Almost in tears over Joe’s condition, he tried to rekindle Joe’s memories by saying, “I’m Ed Haley’s boy.”
I hung out with Joe’s kids — Connie, Clifton and Loretta. While all were reasonably young, Clifton and Connie had Parkinson’s Disease.
“They’s four of us got it,” Clifton said. “They said it runs through the family some way another. Musta come down the tree somewhere.”
I asked him how old he was.
“38,” he said.
Clifton had just moved back to Harts.
“I got hurt in Michigan and Daddy was sick so I said, ‘Well, it’s a good chance for me to go help my daddy and my sisters.'”
Clifton’s sisters said he was the one who found Ed’s smashed fiddle years ago in the rafters of Uncle Peter’s old smokehouse.
“I was up in there — we was playing around one day — and it fell out on me,” he said. “And I just looked at it and I said, ‘Well, I’ll try to glue it together.’ I started gluing it and it wouldn’t glue so I dumped it into the creek. I didn’t know whose it was. I was about eight but all the pieces wasn’t there to it. When it hit that guy it just splintered everywhere.”
Clifton suggested that we visit Bum and his family just up the hollow. Two years earlier, Bum had told originally Lawrence and I how he had witnessed Ed smash the fiddle over a man’s head while at a tavern on Crawley Mountain. Bum lived only a short distance from Joe’s trailer, up the hollow past Uncle Peter’s old homeplace, in a house situated near Enslow Baisden’s log cabin.
Satisfied with our stop on West Fork, Lawrence and I said our farewells to the Kirks and went to see Turley and Violet Adams on Trace Fork. After some small talk about new developments, Turley told us about his uncle Johnny Hager and father Johnny C. Adams traveling with Ed in the early days. He said Uncle Johnny was the one who got Haley to take his music on the road, while his father just traveled around with them.
“They left here playing music together,” Turley said. “My father just helped them take care of their musical instruments — carried it around and stuff — but they done the music. He would sing with somebody but he never did sing by hisself. And Ed Belcher, I think, played with them then. He could play anything but played a guitar mostly.”
So where all did they travel to?
“They played up at Logan on the radio at one time,” Turley said. “They had a program on up there, Ed Belcher did. Oh man, that’s been back in the thirties. Maybe ’36, ’35. I was just a little bitty boy. I just heard these tales — I don’t know them for sure.”
I asked about Johnny Hager.
“I was just a great old big boy the last time I seen Johnny Hager,” Turley said. “He came to our house, stayed around a little while and left. He was kindly a small fella. My dad was, too. Ed would make two of ary one of them. He was a great big feller, Ed was. Now Ewell Mullins, they was all buddies. Now Johnny Hager and Ed could play music. I heard an old guy on television one day talking about how him and Ed used to play in front of a church somewhere together. Yeah, he called him ‘Blind Fiddling Ed Haley.’ Said he’s just a real good friend to him. But he lives in Inez, Kentucky, that feller does.”
I said, “Well, isn’t Inez where Milt is supposed to be from?”
Turley said, “Milt, now my dad just could remember him. He said he was a hard-working fellow and when he’d come in home he’d just tell them boys, ‘Right now, we got to have a fight and get everything settled and we’ll be all right.’ They liked to fight. I guess that was Ed and he had how many more — two more?”
I said, “You mean Ed had brothers?” and Turley said, “I think he did. I believe my dad said he had a brother and one of them got in a fight one time and he bit Milt’s ear off right in the yard right down there. Now, they was Milt’s boys. I guess Ed is Milt’s boy, ain’t he?”
Lawrence said he’d never heard of his father ever having any brothers or sisters, but it sure was a strange coincidence that we heard a story about “Milt’s ear” right after hearing Bob Adkins’ account of Green and “the nick.” Maybe Milt had the nick — which would’ve reversed their roles in Bob’s story of their final days.
So Ed had brothers?
“Far as I know, they was two or three more of them from the tales they told, you know,” Turley said. “Uncle Peter and Aunt Liza used to tell it. Said every time they come home — Milt and them boys — said he’d just fight with all of them at one time. Have a good time. Say, ‘Now we’re friends.’ Back then, that’s what they believed in.”
This was a major development.
“I just heard these tales,” Turley said. “I don’t know how true they are. About Milt coming home and say, ‘Now, we’ll straighten ‘er out right now and we won’t have no more problems while I’m here.’ That’s the way he run his family, you know. That old woman said, ‘I’ll agree to that. That’s the way it ought to be done.’ I don’t guess she could do anything with them boys.”
Hoping for clues about Ed’s “brothers,” I asked if any of the old gravestones in the cemetery behind Turley’s had any writing on them. Unfortunately, Violet said all the markers had rolled down the hill in recent years and the land had leveled out to where it didn’t even resemble a cemetery. All she knew about the cemetery was that there was a “big grave” in it at one time that belonged to a woman with the last name of Priest (she was the only person buried there who her mother-in-law had actually known).
Turley said he last heard Ed play the fiddle at Clifford Belcher’s tavern on Harts Creek where he played for money and drinks. Violet remembered him playing music all night at her father’s home on Hoover Fork with Robert Martin (her great-uncle) and Bernie Adams. She described Bernie as a “real skinny” bachelor who sang “a little bit but not much” and who “was a real good guitar player, but he never would hardly play.”
“He’d get to drinking and he’d play but if he wasn’t drinking he wouldn’t play,” she said.
Turley said Bernie could also play the banjo, harmonica, fiddle and accordion.
Back at Iris Williams’, we met another of her brothers, Shelby Kirk. We told Shelby a little of what we’d heard about Milt’s death from Roxie Mullins, who he said had recently died, then listened to his version of the trouble.
“They brought them in there sometime that night and they said they was killed at the edge of daylight,” he said. “There was a boy John Fowler told me once, he said, ‘I’ve heard my aunt Belle Fowler tell about that.’ Said she was there, a little girl. Said in one of them rooms they had apples picked off of a tree and had them stored, poured out you know, up there in a room. And said she got in that pile of apples and covered her head up with them apples to keep from hearing that when they was getting ready to kill them. They said they was a crying and a begging, wanting not to be killed away from their families and their children but they went right on and did it anyhow. They said they led them out the back door one at a time and as they come out that back door they was a fellow hit them with a double-headed axe — sideways, top of the head.”
I asked Shelby where the killing took place and he said it occurred on the Green Shoal side of the river, opposite where Mr. Kirk had showed us.
“The old house is still standing right there,” he said. “It’s just got some weather-boarding on it. An old log house.”
Shelby tried to describe the way law and order worked around Harts in Milt Haley’s day.
“Boy, they used to have mobs,” he said. “Used to have an outfit called the Night Riders down in here. If they got it in for me or you one — if we’d done something, you know — why, they’d pull straws to see who was gonna do the killing.”
Mr. Kirk hopped in the car with Lawrence Haley and I and guided us to “Presto’s garden,” a small corn patch located just off of the hill from the Haley-McCoy grave. It was late afternoon: the air was clear and the remains of the sun slanted through the trees on the hillside. Lawrence Haley chose to stay at the garden due to his heart condition, but I made the steep climb toward the grave with Mr. Kirk just behind me. A few minutes later, we stopped at an indentation — a round shallow crater about seven feet in diameter. It had a little pile of stones on each end and was just as Bob Adkins had said it would be. We walked back and forth studying the “bowl” and the markers and I took some pictures.
At the bottom of the hill, we got back in the car and rode up Low Gap Road to the site of Milt Haley’s murder. On the way, I told Mr. Kirk what we’d heard about Ed’s mother Emma Jean Mullins being shot in the face.
“See, I hadn’t heard that part of it,” he said. “Well now, you know them Adamses and Mullinses up there on Hart married back and forth for generations. That’s quite possible. Of course, them Brumfields and them Adamses had trouble over that log boom they had had there at the mouth of Hart. It’d catch water and hold it back like a dam. They’d float them logs all out of Harts Creek back in yonder, then when the backwater come up in the spring of the year they’d make them into a raft and float them out of here and take them to the town of Guyandotte. That’s the market. They claimed the Brumfields got to sawing the ends of them logs off and re-branding them. I don’t know what the extent of their trouble was but they had some misunderstanding over that lumber and then Runyon and whiskey got involved in it down on that houseboat where they’s selling whiskey. All of them drinking, you know. They’d all go down there and get drunk and talk this shit up, you know, and get it started, get it going, down there where the booze was. Things were getting out of hand. Whiskey’s destroyed an awful lot of people in this country. A lot of my relatives.”
Mr. Kirk said, “They’s supposed to killed them at daylight or immediately after daylight. The story that I’ve heard on it has been that they were both knocked in the head with the flat side of a double-bit axe. Killed them separately. Hit them right in the top of the head there. And I’ve heard people say they was shot up you know, and some said they were chopped up with an axe. But my grandmother, she was awful critical of the Brumfields and their conduct. She was an Adkins — part Dingess. Bill Brumfield’s widow. By her being pretty critical of them, I feel like she handed me what she had as being true. But now they was organized into kind of a posse. She said they called theirselves ‘The Night Riders.’ Vigilante group. Operated all the time at night. They were pretty sneaking in what they did.”
They must’ve had some serious shortcomings, because Mr. Kirk said they “tried to organize themselves into the Klan, but the Klan wouldn’t have them.”
After surveying the site of Milt’s murder, we drove down to the mouth of Harts Creek where Mr. Kirk pointed out the site of the recently burned Al Brumfield house.
“Except being a landmark, it wasn’t worth much,” he said. “They used to have a meal-house out there to ground meal for people. Had a store in here. That’s Al Brumfield and Aunt Hollene. He was in his fifties when he died of typhoid fever. Watson Adkins later bought his house and lived there. Had a store over here for years. Now, Runyon had a boat down yonder — great big boat — barge built in there and had a store in it. He run poker games. Selling whiskey. Had a few groceries in there. Al and his bunch trying to do the same thing over here.”
All during our ride with Mr. Kirk, he kept pointing out spots where murders had taken place. As we made our way back up West Fork, I asked him why there’d been so many killings around Harts Creek. He didn’t hesitate in saying, “Whiskey. Whiskey’s caused it. This section of country up through here — this West Fork section — has had a few killings. It wasn’t as bad as back yonder. Whiskey involved in every bit of that.”
Lawrence Haley agreed that whiskey was the primary cause of trouble in the old days, even mentioning how one of Uncle Peter Mullins’ boys once killed a “revenue man” around Trace Fork. He said it “it took just about everything Uncle Peter had to keep him out of jail.”
Mr. Kirk said, “Is that the one they called ‘Reel-Footed’ Peter? Ewell’s daddy?”
Lawrence confirmed that it was — and that it was his great-uncle — and Mr. Kirk said, “I can remember old man Peter. I believe it was his right foot that was curled in. Man, he’d work in the woods, draw a team…”
Mr. Kirk had heard a lot about Milt Haley’s trouble with the Brumfields. His version of events, along with that of Roxie Mullins, Bob Adkins and the Goldenseal article, comprised the bulk of what I knew of Milt’s death.
“I feel like that I’ve got pretty much the base of what happened, but there’ve been add-ons and deletions and so on along the way,” he said. “It was a tragic thing.”
The whole trouble had nothing to do with John Runyon, as we’d previously heard.
“The real thing behind it, them Adamses over in yonder and the Brumfields, they got into it over the timber,” Mr. Kirk said. “What they’d do, them people’d cut that big timber and put it in them creeks. Then they’d get spring floods and float them out. Brumfield had what they called a boom in down there to catch that timber. Then they’d make them into rafts and raft them down the river to the town of Guyandotte. There was a log market there. And Al got to stealing their logs.”
That was an interesting new development in the story, I thought. I mean, maybe Al Brumfield wasn’t completely innocent in the trouble. And maybe Milt was, in the eyes of at least some locals, justified in ambushing him.
“Word of mouth that’s come down to me from my mother and grandmother, some of the Adamses was supposed to hired McCoy and Haley to shoot Aunt Hollene, old man Al Brumfield’s wife. I remember her well. She had a hole in her jaw there. When she’d eat or talk, spit would work up in it. Or if she would eat candy or something, you could see the candy. She was a tough old lady. She’d been blowed up in a sawmill and had a short leg — walked with a cane. Cussed like a sailor every time she made a step. But they shot her.”
Now where did this shooting take place?
“The shooting was supposed to took place up on Big Hart there at the mouth of Thompson Branch,” Mr. Kirk said. “They was coming down the creek. They’d been up there visiting Hollene’s parents. She was one of them Dingesses from up there.”
Mr. Kirk said Al was shot in the arm and fell from his horse, while his wife was shot in the face.
Surprisingly, there were rumors of Milt and Green’s innocence, but Mr. Kirk “never did hear that expounded on.”
“I’ve heard it said a time or two, ‘Well, I doubt them being the ones that did it.’ I never would get into a discussion ’cause — not that it mattered either way to me in one sense — but I was convinced that they did it.”
Once Milt and Green were captured in Kentucky, a lynch mob formed in Harts consisting of Hugh Dingess (Hollena’s brother), French Bryant and several Brumfields. They joined up with Victor Shelton, a local lawman.
“You see, old man Victor Shelton was a constable or JP down here and he was a friend to them Brumfields,” Mr. Kirk said. “He went over there to Kentucky with them and they turned them over to Victor Shelton. When he come back across the river into West Virginia he just turned them over to the Brumfields and he come on back. They had horse roads all through these mountains and creeks everywhere. He probably left them over in there around Twelve Pole somewhere and went on back down in here around Ranger someplace where he lived. But that’s the way they got in charge of them.”
After taking possession of Milt and Green, the mob re-crossed the Tug River at the present-day town of Kermit in Mingo County and went up Jenny’s Creek (or possibly Marrowbone Creek) to Twelve Pole Creek. They entered Harts Creek at the head of Henderson Branch and made their way to Hugh Dingess’ home on Smoke House. At that location, they ate a big meal and spent the night. The next day, they headed up Bill’s Branch and crossed a mountain onto Piney Creek. They rode down Piney to the West Fork (just above Iris Williams’ home), went a short distance up Workman Fork, turned up Frank Fleming Hollow and dropped down off of the ridge to a home near the Guyandotte River. (Mr. Kirk was very adamant about this home being on the west side of the river, not at the mouth of Green Shoal where Bob Adkins had said.) By that time, “Dealer Dave” Dingess, Charley Brumfield, Burl Farley, Will Adkins and “Black John” Adkins had joined the gang.
At this home, the mob questioned Milt and Green separately and tried to secure a confession. As one was led out the door, he hollered to his friend, “Don’t tell ’em a damn thing!” — but his partner told it all, thus deciding their guilt in the eyes of the mob. (Based on what we’d heard from Bob Adkins, I figured that it was Green McCoy who made the confession.)
A host of young local ladies, including Stella Abbott, cooked a chicken supper as Milt and Green’s last meal. Either Milt or Green (undoubtedly an emotional wreck) said he wasn’t hungry, so his partner replied, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow ye may die.” Supposedly, a Brumfield nearby them then said, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow ye shall die.”
Mr. Kirk said French Bryant supposedly killed Milt and Green, although he’d also heard that Burl Farley, a timber boss from Harts Creek who was connected to the Dingess family, “gave the order” to shoot them.
“Old man French Bryant was a big old mountaineer-type fellow,” Mr. Kirk said. “Rough talking, grouchy. Most people liked him pretty good. French Bryant was married three times, I reckon. Yeah, that old man, I went to his funeral. He’s buried right at the head of Piney there.”
There was a lot of confusion over the murders. Word was spread through the community that Haley and McCoy were killed by a mob who’d taken them from the Brumfield posse. Mr. Kirk dismissed that notion, saying, “The ones who got them in Kentucky were the ones who killed them.” He was certainly a good source for that statement considering his family connection to the Brumfields.
Lawrence and I hung onto Mr. Kirk’s every word as he described Milt Haley’s burial, which he said occurred the day following the murders.
“The next morning, Melvin Kirk, who was my father’s father, and several other people — I don’t know who else — went with Ben Walker and got them either in a sled or an old wagon and hauled them around there,” he said. “My grandfather helped them take them around there and clean them up. Back then they didn’t take them to a funeral home — they just wrapped them and made a rough burial preparation. I think they made a coffin for them and buried them on the old man Walker’s property. Of course, there was a preacher at the burial because old man Ben Walker was an ordained preacher. He’s the one that married my father and mother in 1911.”
Mr. Kirk turned our attention toward a mountain across the creek.
“See that gap yonder in the hill? Right over there, they call that the Walker Branch. That’s where old man Ben Walker lived. He was an old preacher. He owned all of this land in here. You can go right over there and turn right and go up that side of the river right over to where they were killed.”
I asked Mr. Kirk whose decision it was to bury Milt and Green at that location and he said, “The old man Ben Walker decided where to put them. I never did go to their grave. A lot of people thinks it’s down in the lower end of that garden. There are some graves down there, but that’s not it.”
He wasn’t sure why they chose to bury them in a single grave.
“I guess it was just maybe the work involved. I think they’ve been quite a little bit of that done here where there was multiple deaths. Whenever I was young, my daddy and I would ride down that creek. He’d tell me, ‘Right up on that hill is where Haley and McCoy’s buried.’ He called his daddy ‘Paw.’ Said, ‘Paw and Ben Walker took them up there and buried them.’ Just got a rock for a marker.”