Al Brumfield, Anthony Adams, Ashland, Bill's Branch, blind, Brandon Kirk, Cain Adkins, Cecil Brumfield, Chapmanville, Charley Davis, Cow Shed Inn, Crawley Creek, Dave Brumfield, Dick Thompson, Earl Brumfield, Ed Haley, Ellum's Inn, fiddler, fiddling, Fisher B. Adkins, Green McCoy, Harts Creek, Henderson Dingess, Hoover Fork, Hugh Dingess, John Brumfield, Kentucky, Lincoln County, Lincoln County Schools, Logan, Logan County, Milt Haley, music, Piney Fork, Smokehouse Fork, Trace Fork, Trace Mountain, West Fork, West Virginia, writing
A few days after visiting Earl Brumfield, Brandon dropped in on his good friends, Charley Davis and Dave Brumfield. Davis was an 88-year-old cousin to Bob and Bill Adkins. Brumfield was Davis’ son-in-law and neighbor. They lived just up Harts Creek near the high school and were familiar with Ed Haley and the story of his father, Milt. Charley said he once saw Ed in a fiddlers’ contest at the old Chapmanville High School around 1931-32. There were two other fiddlers in the contest — young men who were strangers to the area — but Ed easily won first place (a twenty-dollar gold piece). He was accompanied by his wife and a son, and there was a large crowd on hand.
Dave said Ed was mean as hell and laughed, as if it was just expected in those days. He said Ed spent most of his time drinking and playing music in all of the local dives. Sometimes, he would stop in and stay with his father, Cecil Brumfield, who lived in and later just down the road from the old Henderson Dingess place on Smoke House Fork. Dave remembered Ed playing at the Cow Shed Inn on Crawley Mountain, at Dick Thompson’s tavern on main Harts Creek and at Ellum’s Inn near Chapmanville. Supposedly, Ed wore a man out one time at a tavern on Trace Mountain.
Dave said he grew up hearing stories about Ed Haley from his mother’s people, the Adamses. Ed’s blindness was a source of fascination for locals. One time, he was sitting around with some cousins on Trace who were testing his ability to identify trees by their smell. They would put first one and then another type of limb under his nose. Dave said Ed identified oak and walnut. Then, one of his cousins stuck the hind-end of an old cat up under his nose. Ed smiled and said it was pussy willow.
Dave said he last saw Ed around 1945-46 when he came in to see his father, Cecil Brumfield. Ed had gotten drunk and broken his fiddle. Cecil loaned him his fiddle, which Ed never returned. Brumfield later learned that he had pawned it off in Logan for a few dollars to buy a train ticket to Ashland. Cecil bought his fiddle back from the shop and kept it for years.
Dave’s stories about Milt Haley were similar to what his Aunt Roxie Mullins had told me in 1991. Milt supposedly caused Ed’s blindness after getting angry and sticking him head-first into frozen water. Not long afterwards he and Green McCoy were hired by the Adamses to kill Al Brumfield over a timber dispute. After the assassination failed, the Brumfields captured Milt and Green in Kentucky. Charley said the two men were from Kentucky — “that’s why they went back there” to hide from the law after the botched ambush.
The vigilantes who captured Milt and Green planned to bring them back to Harts Creek by way of Trace Fork. But John Brumfield — Al’s brother and Dave’s grandfather — met them in the head of the branch and warned them to take another route because there was a rival mob waiting for them near the mouth of the hollow. Dave said it was later learned that Ben and Anthony Adams — two brothers who had ill feelings toward Al Brumfield — organized this mob.
The Brumfield gang, Dave and Charley agreed, quickly decided to avoid the Haley-McCoy rescue party. They crossed a mountain and came down Hoover Fork onto main Harts Creek, then went a short distance down the creek and turned up Buck Fork where they crossed the mountain to Henderson Dingess’ home on Smoke House Fork. From there, they went up Bill’s Branch, down Piney and over to Green Shoal, where Milt played “Brownlow’s Dream” — a tune Dave said (mistakenly) was the same as “Hell Up Coal Hollow”. Soon after, a mob beat Milt and Green to death and left them in the yard where chickens “picked at their brains.” After Milt and Green’s murder, Charley said locals were afraid to “give them land for their burial” because the Brumfields warned folks to leave their bodies alone.
Brandon asked about Cain Adkins, the father-in-law of Green McCoy. Charley said he had heard old-timers refer to the old “Cain Adkins place” on West Fork. In Charley’s time, it was known as the Fisher B. Adkins place. Fisher was a son-in-law to Hugh Dingess and one-time superintendent of Lincoln County Schools.
In the years following the Haley-McCoy murder, the Brumfields continued to rely on vigilante justice. Charley said they attempted to round up the Conleys after their murder of John Brumfield in 1900, but were unsuccessful.