Amos Morris, Billy Adkins, Brandon Kirk, Calhoun County, Doc White, Dolly Bell, fiddler, fiddling, history, Ivydale, Jimmy Triplett, John Hartford, John Morris, Johnny Hager, Laury Hicks, Minnie Moss, music, Ocie Morris, Pigeon on the Gate, Stinson, Walker, West Virginia, Wilson Douglas, writing
Around that time, as Billy and Brandon wandered in the woods of eastern Kentucky, I called Jimmy Triplett, a fiddler and protégé of Doc White in West Virginia. Doc, in addition to being Ed’s friend, was a jack of all trades — fiddler, doctor, dentist… I’d recently heard that he was a photographer and wondered if maybe he had pictures of Ed or Laury Hicks. Jimmy wasn’t really sure.
“It was way back when he was a youth that he took pictures,” he said. “I guess he was considered an amateur, but he made a lot of photographs used for postcards.”
I asked Jimmy if Doc ever talked about Ed and he said, “Yeah, he talked about how good he was and everything. He said that he was one of the best that he ever heard.”
What kind of tunes did Doc play?
“The main one Doc plays is ‘Pigeon on the Gate’ — he got that from Ed Haley,” Jimmy said. “I think it would be in standard tuning — it’s a D tune. I don’t know that there’s that many other tunes that he got off of Ed Haley that he played, but he talked about him a whole bunch and then described seeing him and his wife play.”
Jimmy played a tape over the telephone of Doc talking and playing “Pigeon on the Gate”.
“Here’s one they call the ‘Pigeon on the Gate’,” Doc said. “Ed Haley, a blind man, played that tune from Kentucky. Best fiddler that ever I heard draw a bow. His wife was blind and she played the mandolin. They used to come through the country and stop at our houses and stay for days and play with us. You ought to’ve heard him play the fiddle. He’d make them fellas over there sick.”
Jimmy referred me to John Morris, an Ivydale-area fiddler who’d known Doc and even learned “Pigeon on the Gate” from him. John was too young to remember Ed personally (he was fifty-something) but had heard a lot of stories.
“I growed up hearing about Ed Haley from my dad,” John said. “I heard a lot of other stories about him later. He used to come here and stay at my grandparents’ house some. Their names were Amos and Ocie Morris. They just lived about a mile and a half from the train station and it was on the way to Calhoun County and they were from Calhoun County. He’d ride the train to Ivydale. If it was the evening train, usually a lot of people from Calhoun County — the next county back — stayed at my grandparents’ house. He’d stay at my grandpaw and grandmaw’s up here and then go on the next day. He usually, I think, visited with Laury Hicks mostly.”
What about Laury?
“Laury Hicks was evidently a riverman,” John said. “I believe it was Aunt Minnie Moss that said he could take a hog’s head of salt or something under each arm and he poled boats up and down the Elk River and hauled supplies when they used them flatboats. I’ve heard stories of his strength — what a strong and robust kind of a man he was. My dad said that when Laury Hicks died, Ed Haley wasn’t here and the next time he come through they took a chair and set it out at Laury Hicks’ grave and Ed Haley sat out on Laury Hicks’ grave and fiddled for about four hours.”
John said stories abounded about Ed among the people of Calhoun County.
“They told that they was having church over there someplace one night in an old school building or something on top of the hill between Walker and Stinson,” he said. “Ed happened to be in the country and they wanted him to play some hymns. He got started playing and he got off of playing hymns and they wound up breaking up church and having a dance. And they was about to take him up over it — about to get in trouble with the law over it — for breaking up church.”
I asked John if he thought that was a true story and he said, “Well, I’ve heard that. I know Ed cussed all the time. He was bad to cuss and swear. I heard that my Grandmaw Morris about put him away from the table for swearing at the table. Dad said he swore continuously.”
It was coincidental that John would mention Ed’s profanity. A few days later, Brandon met a niece to Johnny Hager at a genealogical meeting and she said Johnny quit traveling with Ed because he used foul language and because he had another woman in Calhoun County. Supposedly, when this woman died Ed played the fiddle at her grave all night. This “other woman” story may have had some merit: Wilson Douglas told me that Ed had an illegitimate daughter in that country.