Andy Mullins, banjo, Bernie Adams, Bill Adkins, Bill Monroe, Billy Adkins, Black Sheep, blind, Bob Dingess, Brandon Kirk, Buck Fork, Claude Martin, Dingess, Dobie Mullins, Drunkard's Hell, Ed Haley, Floyd Mullins, George Baisden, George Mullins, Green McCoy, Grover Mullins, guitar, Harts Creek, history, Hollene Brumfield, John Hartford, Logan County, Maple Leaf on the Hill, measles, Michigan, Millard Thompson, Milt Haley, Mona Haley, moonshine, music, Naaman Adams, Roxie Mullins, Smokehouse Fork, Ticky George Hollow, Trace Fork, West Virginia, Williamson, Wilson Mullins, writing
From Naaman’s, we drove out of Trace and on up Harts Creek to see Andy Mullins, who Brandon had met a few months earlier at Bill Adkins’ wake. Andy had just relocated to Harts after years of living away in Michigan; he had constructed a new house in the head of Ticky George Hollow. Andy was a son to Roxie Mullins, the woman who inspired my fascination with Harts Creek. Andy, who we found sitting in his yard with his younger brother Dobie, was very friendly. He treated us as if we had known him for years.
“I was just catting when you fellas come up through there,” Andy said to us. “One of the girls lost a cat down there over the bank last night — a kitten. This morning I went down there and it was up in that rock cliff and I took its mother down there and it whooped the mother. And I took one of the kittens down there and it whooped the kitten. The old tomcat, he come down there and he whooped it. It went back up under that damn rock.”
I liked Andy right away.
We all took seats in lawn chairs in the front yard where Andy told about Ed Haley coming to see his parents every summer when he was a boy, usually with his wife. He described him as having a “big, fat belly” and weighing about 200 pounds.
“He wasn’t much taller than Dobie but he was fat,” Andy said. “I can remember his eyes more than the rest of him because his eyes was like they had a heavy puss over them or something. It was real thick-like. Not like they were clouded or anything.”
Even though Ed was blind, he could get around all over Harts Creek and even thread a needle.
Andy had heard that Milt caused Ed’s blindness.
“They said that Ed got a fever of some kind when he was a baby and Milt went out and cut a hole in the ice and stuck him under the ice in the creek to break the fever,” he said.
Andy knew very little about Milt.
“Just that Milt got killed, that was it, over shooting the old lady down at the shoal below Bob Dingess’ at the mouth of Smokehouse,” he said.
“All the old-timers that knows anything about his daddy is probably dead,” Dobie said.
Brandon said we’d heard rumors that Milt and Green were innocent of shooting Hollena Brumfield and Andy quickly answered, “That’s what my father-in-law told me.”
Changing the conversation back to Ed, Andy said, “Ed used to go up on Buck Fork to George Mullins’ to stay a lot and up to Grover Mullins’. He lived just above George’s place — the old chimney is the only thing still standing.”
He also went up in the head of Hoover to see George Baisden, a banjo-picker who’d hoboed with him in his younger days. The two of them had a lot of adventures, like the time Ed caught a train at Dingess and rode it over to Williamson to play for a dance or at a tavern. Just before they rolled into town, George pushed him off the train then jumped off himself. It made Ed so mad that George had to hide from him for the rest of the night.
I asked Andy if Ed ever told those kind of stories on himself and he said, “He told big tales, I’d call them, but I don’t remember what they were. Well, he set and talked with my grandmother and grandfather all the time he was here, and Mom. I never paid any attention to what they talked about really. I guess, man, I run these hills. I was like a goat. Hindsight is 20/20.”
Not long into our visit with Andy, he got out his guitar and showed me what he remembered about Bernie Adams’ guitar style. From there, he took off on Bill Monroe tunes, old lonesome songs, or honky-tonk music, remarking that he could only remember Ed’s tunes in “sketches.”
I asked, “Do you reckon Ed would sing anything like ‘Little Joe’?” and he said, “I don’t know. It’s awful old. I heard him sing ‘The Maple on the Hill’. He played and sang the ‘Black Sheep’.”
“He played loud, Ed did,” Dobie said.
“And sang louder,” Andy said immediately. “He’d rare back and sing, man.”
The tune he best remembered Ed singing was “The Drunkard’s Hell”.
I wanted to know the time frame of Andy’s memories.
“1944, ’45,” he said. “I was thirteen year old at that time. Now in ’46, we lived across the creek up here at Millard’s. Him and Mona Mae and Wilson — they wasn’t married at the time — went somewhere and got some homebrew and they all got pretty looped. That was up on Buck Fork some place. Ed got mad at Wilson and her about something that night and that’s the reason they didn’t play music — him and Claude Martin and Bernie Adams.”
I asked Andy about Ed’s drinking and he said, “Just whatever was there, Ed’d drink. He didn’t have to see it. He smelled it. Ed could sniff it out.”
Brandon wondered if Ed ever played at the old jockey grounds at the mouth of Buck Fork. Andy doubted it, although it sure seemed to me like the kind of place for him to go. There was moonshine everywhere and men playing maybe ten card games at once.
“They’d get drunk and run a horse right over top of you if you didn’t watch,” Andy said. “It was like a rodeo.”
The last jockey ground held at the mouth of Buck Fork was in 1948.