blind, Brandon Kirk, Cacklin Hen, Cas Baisden, Clyde Haley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, Ewell Mullins, fiddling, Harts, Harts Creek, history, John Hartford, Logan County, music, Peter Mullins, Robert Martin, Trace Fork, West Virginia, World War II, writing
Early the next morning, Brandon and I arrived on the bus in Harts and drove to see Cas Baisden, who we spotted in a porch swing up main Harts Creek, just above the mouth of Smoke House Fork. It was a pastoral scene: a somewhat old farmhouse, several chickens in the yard and a few cattle in the distance who’d done a marvelous job of clearing the mountainside just back of the place. As we pulled up to the house, I realized that it was built fairly high off of the ground — probably as a precaution against flooding. Cas just kind of stared down at us as we unloaded from the car.
Once he figured out who we were, he invited us in to the living room. There we learned that Cas was eighty-seven years old and had spent his whole life on Harts Creek.
“I was born in 1910,” he said. “The only five years I was gone from here was when I was in the Army. I left here the second day of April ’42. I spent five year in the Air Force. Never was off the ground.”
Wow — I had to ask, “What is the secret to living so long?”
“Working, working, buddy,” Cas said. “I work ever day a little bit. I wish you’d a seen the coal and stuff I packed in this morning. I got two calves down there and chickens and cats and dogs. I live on tobacco, Cheerios, and milk.”
Ever drink any whiskey?
“Barrels of it,” he said. “It’s been ten or twelve years since I quit fooling with drinking. Yeah, I went up here and joined the church and things. A fella never knows what he misses when he gets in a church. I used to be rougher’n a cob.”
Cas was partly raised by Uncle Peter Mullins, so he remembered Ed Haley well.
“He’d come up there to Peter’s and just go from house to house playing music and eating,” he said. “He used to go up to Ewell’s — I guess where he was raised — and come down that road just a running and hollering and whooping and cutting the awfulest shine that ever was and you wouldn’t a thought he could a stayed in that road. I don’t know how he done it, but he’d take spells like that. If he got a hold of you with a knife, though, he was dangerous. Hang on you and cut as long as they’s a thread on you. Him and that old woman, they’d get drunk and they’d fight up there. You know, it’s a wonder they hadn’t a killed one another. I believe they did try to cut one another up there at old man Peter’s one time.”
What about the Haley kids?
“Why them young’ns would do anything,” Cas said. “Clyde went out here where Robert Martin used to live on that mountain and went down in the well and they had a time a getting him out. And up here a little bit was a big sycamore and he was up in there and we’d throw rocks at him, son, and if we’d a hit him and knocked him out of there he’d been killed. I believe Clyde was the meanest one among them, I don’t know.”
I asked Cas if he ever played music and he said, “Nah, I done well to call hogs. But now Ed was about as good a fiddler as they was. Nobody could play better than Ed. He could play anything on earth he wanted to play.”
Cas had memories of Ed playing at Uncle Peter’s, either outside for small crowds or inside for “big dances” before “they finally broke up and quit.” The old dances started about the “edge of dark” and people would just “jump around — most people never could dance” – until sun-up. There was no trouble — just “fiddle, dance, drink” — although a person had to watch out for what Cas called the “old hedgehogs.”
I asked him if Ed ever drank much at the dances and he said, “Sure. He’d get to drinking and have more fun than the one’s a dancing.”
When Ed wasn’t around to play dances on Trace, Robert Martin would show up and fiddle tunes like “Cacklin’ Hen”. Martin had the first radio “that was ever in this country” so people went to his house “out on the mountain” and listened to it until “way late in the night.”