Allen Martin, Anthony Adams, Ben Adams, Boardtree Branch, Brandon Kirk, Charley Brumfield, crime, Ed Haley, Ewell Mullins, fiddling, Greasy George Adams, Green McCoy, Green Shoal, Harts, Harts Creek, history, Jeff Baisden, John Hartford, Jr., Kentucky, Lincoln County Feud, Logan County, Milt Haley, moonshining, murder, music, Paris Brumfield, Peter Mullins, Sol Adams, Still Hollow, Ticky George Adams, timbering, Trace Fork, Vilas Adams, West Virginia, Will Adkins, writing
Trying to lift our spirits, we went to see Vilas Adams, who lived on the Boardtree Branch of Trace Fork. Vilas was a great-grandson of Ben Adams and a grandson of Ticky George Adams. He was very friendly, inviting us inside his very nice home where his wife fed us a whole mess of good food, which we ate between asking questions.
I first asked him about his memories of Ed Haley, who he said frequented Ewell Mullins’ store during the late 1930s and early forties.
“Down there at old man Ewell’s store, they’d gather in there of an evening and tell tales, old man Jeff Baisden and them,” Vilas said. “My grandpaw Ant Adams and I would walk down there and then Ed would walk down there from Uncle Peter’s. It was a quarter a mile — just a little hop and a jump I call it. Ed would come in there and fiddle for them and if they wanted a certain song, they’d give him a quarter or fifty cents. That was good money I guess back then.”
Vilas’ grandfather Anthony Adams (a brother to Greasy George) always gave Ed a quarter to hear his favorite tune.
“What was Ed like?” I asked.
Vilas implied that he was withdrawn.
“Mostly he stayed with that fiddle,” he said. “He was good.”
Like most of the other older people in Harts, Vilas knew about the Haley-McCoy killings.
“My grandpaw would tell me them tales but I wouldn’t pay no attention,” he said. “He was telling about them fellers — Sol Adams — going over there and locating them and they went back and captured them. Well, his daddy Anthony tried to waylay them and take them back through here somewhere. They thought they’d come through these hills somewhere but they missed them.”
So, Sol Adams — a 20-year-old nephew to Ben Adams who was often called “Squire Sol” because of his status as an officer of the law — “went over and located Haley and McCoy” in Kentucky after the ambush. Meanwhile, his father Anthony and uncle Ben Adams, organized a gang to recapture them as the Brumfields brought them back through Harts Creek. This seemed strange: why would Sol operate against the interests of his family? And why would he have even been compelled to even become involved since he was a Logan County justice and the crime had occurred in Lincoln County?
Brandon asked Vilas if he knew who had been in the Adams gang and he said, “No, I’ve heard my grandpaw talk but I’ve forgot some of it. They was somebody from down around Hart somewhere. He said they took them over around Green Shoal or over in there somewhere and killed them. Grandpaw said they maybe hit them with axe handles.”
Vilas said his grandfather told him something horrible had happened to most of the men who murdered Haley and McCoy.
“He said just about every one of them that was in on that, something bad happened to them,” he said. “I heard one of them’s own boy killed one of them. And one of them got drowned and my grandpaw said the river wasn’t deep. Said he fell off a horse or something right at the mouth of Hart.”
Of course, Vilas was referring to Paris Brumfield, who was killed by his son Charley in 1891, and to Will Adkins, who drowned at the mouth of Harts Creek on November 23, 1889.
Brandon asked Vilas about “old Ben Adams” and he almost immediately started talking about the old timber business.
“See, that was my great-grandpaw,” he said. “They would build splash dams. They had one right out here. They had them tied some way or the other. And they built them up on Hart there, maybe up on Hoover, and they’d work all winter and put them logs in the creek. And in the spring when them floods come, it would wash all them logs down around Hart and then they’d put them together and raft them on down to Kenova. I guess that was all they had to make a living — timber and farm.”
Ben, of course, made his living in timber. He lived at the mouth of Adams Branch, a little tributary of Trace Fork presently referred to as Still Hollow.
“Over there at what we call Still Hollow, they said he had a still-house there and he had a license to make apple brandy back then,” Vilas said. “And he would go with a wagon everywhere and get apples. They was a log house over there in the mouth of that holler — just down the road here a little ways. When I was a boy the old log house was there, but it rotted down. Just one-story as far as I can remember. The old well’s there. He had some kind of an old store or saloon right there.”
Vilas speculated very little on Ben Adams’ personality, but compared him to his son, Greasy George Adams: “always a likeable fella but seemed like trouble followed him.” He heard that after Ben’s first wife died, he lived with first one woman, then the next. He eventually got into a heap of trouble by murdering a local postman, Jim Martin.
“He killed a fella right over there at the mouth of that hollow,” Vilas said. “My grandpaw said he had some sort of an old store or saloon and he was shooting out the door. Right there in the mouth of that holler. It broke him. Lawyers. Lost everything he had.”
It was rumored that Ben’s and Martin’s trouble had something to do with a woman or a right-of-way.