Al Brumfield, Bill Brumfield, Bill Fowler, Billy Adkins, Black John Adkins, Brandon Kirk, crime, Fed Adkins, feud, Green McCoy, Harts, Harts Creek, Harvey "Long Harve" Dingess, history, Hollena "Tiny" Brumfield, Hollene Brumfield, John W Runyon, Lincoln County Feud, logging, Milt Haley, Paris Brumfield, Pat Adkins, writing
Later in the summer, Brandon visited his friend Pat Adkins, who lived in a little trailer just back of where the old Al Brumfield home once sat at the mouth of Harts Creek. Pat was raised in the magnificent Brumfield house and was its owner at the time of its burning. He was a first cousin to Billy Adkins.
Pat first spoke about Al and Hollena Brumfield, who he said charged people a ten-cents-per-log tax at their boom. The tax was a constant source of friction in the community. Even Al’s in-laws weren’t fond of the fee…and apparently weren’t spared from it, either.
“One time, Harvey Dingess had a big huge amount of logs out there and he said he wasn’t gonna pay no ten cents a log tax,” Pat said. “Harvey was Hollene’s brother. They all liked to drink so he come in there being jovial and friendly and brought Al and Hollene in a big special-made malt whiskey. They got a big drunken party going and finally around twelve o’clock they all got so drunk they went to bed. Harve had his men stationed over there on that hillside and when he waved a light from that porch upstairs them men come down there and cut that splash and let his logs through. The Brumfields got up the next morning — all their hangovers — and went out and looked and that splash had been cut and all of his logs had been run through and Harve was gone. He was on his way to Huntington to sell them.”
Brandon asked Pat if the log boom was the root of the 1889 troubles.
“Bill Brumfield’s wife, Aunt Tiny, told me about the famous posse ride to lynch Milt Haley and Green McCoy,” Pat said, cutting to the chase. “Runyon had a store up on Hart and that was among Hollene’s relatives up in there and she had the big timber operations down here — the splash dam, you know — and had a saloon. Runyon had a legal still where people brought their apples in and stuff to make brandy. Somebody else run one of them too up there — a Dingess. They was into it over the business. Runyon thought that if he could kill them, he could take control of the mouth of Hart. When Hollene came into business that was what she done. She killed out her enemy, or never killed him — burned him out. That was Bill Fowler. Bill Fowler was a businessman and he come into possession of the mouth of the creek. He had him a big saloon out there and she burned him out and burned his saloon and then she took it over. So, I guess Runyon got the same idea: ‘You took it. Now I’m going to get it from you.’ So he hired these guys to kill them and if he’d a killed them they’d a been out of the way and that woulda pretty well cinched him for it. He had plenty of money and he’d a rolled in here and coulda bought it. He’d been the top man then.”
According to Pat, locals quickly determined that Haley and McCoy were involved in the ambush of Al and Hollena Brumfield and formed a mob to capture them.
“They formed about sixty men,” he said. “I know Black John Adkins was in it. John was there a holding the horses. He wasn’t taking no part in it — just going along to show he was in support. I think everybody in the country around in this area and all of Hollena’s relatives were in it. Runyon, he left the country when he realized that they might be coming after him because they suspected him as hiring them.”
Pat said Mrs. Brumfield believed that her husband Bill was too young to have participated in the killings but would have “been in on it if he’d a been old enough.” Pat didn’t think his Grandpa Fed Adkins was in the mob either, but then said, “He might have been — probably was. You know, the killing took place there, I think, about where Lon Lambert’s house is, down under that riverbank. Black John said when Paris came out from under that bank he was just as bloody as he could be where he had stabbed on them men. Said, Paris Brumfield was bloody as a hog. Said, he just took a knife and cut them to pieces and I think they gave Paris the honor of killing them because it was a vengeance killing. They dared anybody to ever touch their bodies. I think they laid about nine days and got to smelling so bad they finally give them permission to bury them.”
In Pat’s view, those who participated in the killing of Milt and Green were not typically violent men. Haley’s and McCoy’s apparent guilt in ambushing Al Brumfield provided a justification for their bloody murders in the eyes of locals and ensured that the “peace-keeping” reputations of the vigilantes would endure as stories about the feud were handed down to later generations. For instance, despite the dangerous reputation of Paris Brumfield, Pat said, “Other than the killing of Haley and McCoy, he was really not a mean person. That was understandable that he helped kill Haley and McCoy if somebody was trying to kill your son. I never heard that he was a mean person. I don’t think he deliberately went around plotting up mean things to do. And I don’t think he was a cruel person.”
Just before Brandon left Pat, he asked him about growing up in Al Brumfield’s house. Pat said when he was young he often hid behind some large framed Brumfield family photographs stacked in an upstairs room. There was one in particular that he remembered: a picture of Al Brumfield — worn and blind, sitting in a chair on a porch.