Al Brumfield, Arena Ferrell, blind, Brandon Kirk, Cat Fry, crime, feud, Green McCoy, Green Shoal, Harts, history, Hollene Brumfield, Ida Taylor, J.L. Caldwell, Jake Davis, Jim Brumfield, Lincoln County, Lon Lambert, Mae Brumfield, Milt Haley, Paris Brumfield, Virgie Rooney, Watson Lucas, West Virginia, writing
In the early summer of 1996, Brandon made contact with Vergia Rooney, a daughter of Jim Brumfield and granddaughter of Paris Brumfield. Vergia was born in 1899 (making her the oldest person interviewed in this project) and was raised on Green Shoal. She was an older sister to Ida Taylor, with whom we had spoken in 1995. She had lived in Texas since 1930.
Vergia said Al Brumfield practically raised her father, who was young when his parents died. Later, when Vergia was about five years old, she went with her father to visit Al at his beautiful two-story white house in Harts. As far as she remembered, Al was well-dressed, clean-shaven, and had dark hair. He was blind, so he wore dark glasses and kept a cane near him. “He was suffering from a progressive illness he had which terminated to him being blind,” Vergia said. For much of the visit, Al sat in the first story front room facing the river, what he called the “sitting room.” He eventually adjourned to the kitchen where he sat at the table and had coffee and a piece of cake.
Vergia said Al’s home was nice and had a store built next to it so close that the two buildings almost touched each other. The whole place was busy with workers, all of whom were supervised by Aunt Hollena Brumfield. Vergia didn’t remember Al having a gristmill but he did have a large barn just up the creek in a bottom. A little further, behind Mae Brumfield’s present-day house, was his log boom, which had in earlier years been the scene of a lot of trouble.
This “earlier trouble,” of course, was the 1889 feud, which Vergia said started when some “McCoy outlaws” became jealous over the Brumfield boom and ambushed Al and Hollena as they rode a single horse down the creek. It was never proven, but Milt Haley and Green McCoy were accused of committing the ambush. They were taken to a two-story, log house at the mouth of Green Shoal and beaten to death by a Brumfield mob.
Vergia’s grandmother Cat Fry hid under a bed during the killings.
The morning after Milt and Green’s murder, Vergia’s mother spotted their bodies on her way to school.
“It was an awful sight,” Vergia said. “They were draped on the front steps and yard. One of them lay across the doorstep going into the house.”
There was never a trial because people like Cat Fry, who knew a lot about the killings, seldom discussed it. Vergia didn’t hear anyone mention the names of the participants when she lived in Harts because many of the people involved were still alive in the community.
Vergia said the murders occurred at the present-day Lon Lambert place at the mouth of Green Shoal. It was vacant when she first remembered it and was in terrible condition. At that time, it faced upriver and had a front and back door, which she remembered swinging open at times, with two steps leading into each of the two doorways. There were windows in the front and back of the house. It had, at most, two rooms on the bottom floor. The upstairs was used as a “drying room” for apples and peaches. Around 1905, Al Davis moved in and remodeled it. He tore the downriver side (back) away, which had pretty much collapsed, and boxed in the old door on the front of the house. A new front door was constructed to face the railroad tracks.
Vergia’s memories of Al Davis living in and remodeling the old Fry home were interesting in that he never owned the property. From 1902 until 1915, the property was in the hands of J.L. Caldwell, who likely rented it to Davis and perhaps others. Watson Lucas bought it in 1919 from Arena Ferrell.
“I am unable to remember in detail about the house as I never was inside the home until Watson Lucas brought the property,” Vergia later wrote Brandon. “I was there twice but several times after the Lamberts purchased the property from Watson Lucas. There were 2 BR, 1 LR-Kitchen, DR and bath room downstairs and I believe, there was a ladder [inside the house] utilized to [get] upstairs for awhile. I was never upstairs, but I think there [were] two rooms upstairs later on.”
Watson’s daughter-in-law Mabel Lucas remembered the home when she moved to Harts in 1939-40 as having four rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs. There was no staircase in the house; to get upstairs, one had to climb a set of steps built outside against the upriver side of the building. So far as Mabel knew, the place was a frame house (not log), insinuating that the old Fry home had been torn down in previous years.