8th of January, Arkansas Traveler, Big Branch, Billy Adkins, Billy in the Lowground, Blackberry Blossom, Brandon Kirk, Dood Dalton, Ed Haley, Ferrellsburg, fiddling, Green McCoy, Green Shoal, Harts Creek, Henderson Dingess, history fiddle, Lop-Eared Mule, Milt Haley, Mingo County, Soldiers Joy, Ward Browning, West Fork, West Virginia, writing
A week or so later, Brandon and Billy visited Ward Browning, an older gentleman in Ferrellsburg whose wife was a descendant of Henderson Dingess. Ward said Milt Haley was from “back in the country at the head of Harts toward Mingo County.” The first year of Ed’s life, Milt dipped him repeatedly in water because someone told him it would make a baby healthy; instead, it made him go blind. Milt was hired with Green McCoy to kill the Brumfields. Later, they were captured and taken across the river from Green Shoal and kept under a dogwood bush where they were beaten through the night and then killed around daylight.
Ward said he used to see Ed Haley at Dood Dalton’s home on Big Branch in the late 1930s. Ed would stay around Dood’s place for two or three weeks at a time. He was a “star” — the best around. He and Dood sat on the porch and played for crowds of people in the yard who clapped their hands and had a good time. There was never any trouble. No one took him for granted. He sometimes made up to four dollars a day playing there in hard Depression times.
Ward said Ed carried his fiddle in a case and kept a stick to find his way in the road. He had a great personality and would tell wild stories of his exploits. He drank heavily and was “bad to fight,” but was always sober at Dood’s. Ward said he played “Billy in the Lowground”, “Lop-Eared Mule”, “Arkansas Traveler”, “Soldiers Joy”, “Blackberry Blossom”, and ‘8th of January”.
Brandon was also busy at the Haley-McCoy grave on West Fork. He seemed to be coming around on my idea to exhume Milt Haley and Green McCoy. I’d joked him relentlessly that we might do it only to find it completely empty. He was still against the idea, although his curiosity was getting the better of him.
“As I had been dwelling a lot on the Haley-McCoy grave recently, I finally decided to satisfy my curiosity to a limited extent,” he wrote. “I borrowed a metal detector and raced up to the grave on West Fork at the edge of dark to see what it would pick up (belt buckle, handcuffs, perhaps even the murder weapon). I first tested it on my keys, which I laid upon the ground. Running the detector over them caused a loud buzz. I then placed a pile of leaves over the keys and the detector still buzzed. As a last preliminary test, I laid a thick rock on top of my keys and ran the machine over it and it still registered the buzz. Content that the machine worked fairly well, I then eagerly began gliding it over the grave. Unfortunately, I picked up no real buzz. There was one spot that seemed to repeatedly register a slight buzz but nothing conclusive.”
Brandon signed his letter, “Digging Around (Almost Literally)…”