Appalachia, banjo, Bell Morris, Billy Adkins, Brandon Kirk, Bud Workman, Bumble Bee, Charley Davis, crime, Dave Dick, Don Morris, Ed Haley, Greasy George Adams, Green McCoy, Green Shoal, Harts, history, Hollena Brumfield, Hollene Brumfield, Hugh Dingess, Irvin Workman, Milt Haley, Peter Mullins, Ranger, Route 10, Toney, writing
Back at Billy’s, the subject of the “murder table” came up again. Supposedly, the table upon which Milt and Green had eaten their last meal somehow eventually ended up in the possession of Billy’s family. He suggested visiting his aunt Don Morris, who as a child had eaten from the table many times. Taking the cue, we loaded in the car and drove up Route 10 to Don’s house. Don lived at Toney, a small residential settlement just upriver from Green Shoal.
Don was a pleasant lady — very eager to help — and was aged probably in her seventies. After all the introductions, I asked her about the table. She said her grandfather Irvin Workman must have gotten it soon after the 1889 troubles. “He had it way back when he was raising his family,” Don said. “Then my dad, Bud Workman, when he moved out with my mother, they took the table with them.”
I asked, “Who told you that table was the Haley-McCoy table?” and she said, “My dad. It was in his father’s house before it was in his.”
“And you said that people would come by to see it?” I asked. “Who would come to see it?”
Don said, “I imagine it was relatives of the people that was involved in it.”
Don seemed to remember the table well, so I asked her for some paper so I could try to sketch it based on her memories. I started out asking about the length of the table, the style of its legs, and so forth…estimating everything by comparing it to Don’s current table. It was like doing a police sketch. After I had a rough drawing of the table, I asked her about the size and angle of the bullet holes.
Satisfied, I asked Don if she’d heard anything about Milt and Green’s death.
“It was pretty complicated,” she said. “Well, they got those men in and fed them. They knew they was gonna kill them all the time and they let them eat first. I can’t remember too much about the actual thing, because they didn’t talk too much about it in the family. Grandpa did sometimes. Well, I understood they shot them around the table after they ate. But it was execution style. Now, I couldn’t swear to it.”
Don figured the only light in the room was a kerosene lamp in the middle of the table. There was a story, Brandon said, that Hugh Dingess “shot out the lights” just before the murders — which presumably meant this lamp. While this may have occurred (perhaps so no one could witness the subsequent murders and thus testify in a future trial), it seemed unlikely. I mean, the room was probably really crowded if only half the people supposedly there were actually there and shooting in the room would have seemed dangerous. Of course, shooting a kerosene lamp could have set the whole house on fire.
“Well, I have heard they did, and I’ve heard they didn’t, so I couldn’t say which is true,” Don said of the lights. “I don’t think they could have without burning down the table.”
Brandon asked, “Was one of the men supposed to have played music before they killed him?” and she said, “He sang, didn’t he? It seems to me he played the banjo and sang a song. I guess they thought since they was going out anyway they might as well go out in style.”
I said, “Now, I heard that the wives went down there to try to plead for their lives and they turned them away. Have you ever heard that?”
Don answered, “Yes, I’ve heard that, but whether or not it’s true I’m not sure. My husband’s mother Bell Morris was related to the McCoys.”
I said, “Just for the record, what happened to that old house?” and she said, “I bet it burned.”
Don wondered why I was so interested in Milt Haley and I explained that I was researching the story of his son, Ed Haley, of which he was a very important part. I asked if she ever heard Ed play and she said, “I’m not sure, seems that maybe I did a long time ago. I think Haley played with Dave Dick. Dave played banjo. He was blind.” Brandon said Charley Davis had described Dick as a “pretty good” banjo-picker who mostly played “little ditties” like “Bumble Bee”. He lived downriver around Ranger but stayed in Harts for a week or so at a time with different families, sometimes playing for dances. Kids used to imitate him by bumping into things.
After mentioning Ed’s name to Don our conversation dwindled off to me asking if she knew people like Peter Mullins, Greasy George, or Hollena Brumfield. She gave answers like, “Well, I used to know a Peter Mullins. His foot was turned back. I remember watching him go up the hill there at the house.” As for Hollena Brumfield: “I knew one down here at this big old house at Hart. They put in a restaurant and you know it didn’t do too well. She said, ‘We got hotdogs on ice.’ Yeah, I knew those people.”