From Clifton’s, we went to see Charlie Conley, Jr., a fiddler who lived on the Conley Branch of Smokehouse Fork of Harts Creek. Wirt Adams had mentioned his name to us the previous summer. We found Charlie sitting on his porch and quickly surrounded him with a fiddle, tape recorder, and camera.
When I told him about my interest in Ed Haley’s life, he said Ed played so easy it was “like a fox trotting through dry leaves.”
Charlie said Ed was a regular at Clifford Belcher’s tavern.
“Right there, that’s where we played at on the weekends,” he said. “He used to play there a lot, the old man Ed Haley did. Me and another boy, Alton Conley — he’s my brother-in-law, just a kid… I bought him a guitar and he learned how to play pretty good. He could second pretty good to me, but he couldn’t keep up with that old man. He knowed too many notes and everything for him. The old man realized he was just a kid.”
Charlie told us an interesting story about how Ed came to be blind.
“Milt and Burl Farley, they was drinking where Burl lived down at the mouth of Browns Run. And Ed was just a little baby — been born about a week. Old man Burl said to Milt, ‘Take him out here and baptize him in this creek. It’ll make him tough.’ And it was ice water. He just went out and put him in that creek and baptized the kid and the kid took the measles and he lost his eyes. That’s how come him to be blind.”
That was an interesting picture: Milt and Burl hanging out on Browns Run. We had never really thought about it, but there was a great chance that all the men connected up in the 1889 troubles knew each other pretty well and maybe even drank and played cards together on occasion. For all we knew, Milt may have worked timber for Farley.
Brandon asked Charlie if he knew what happened to Milt Haley.
“They said the Brumfields killed him,” Charlie said. “Him and his uncle was killed over at a place called Green Shoal over on the river somewhere around Big Creek. They were together when they got killed. That was way back. I never knew much about it.”
Obviously Green McCoy wasn’t Ed’s uncle, but I had to ask Charlie more about him.
“All I can tell you is he was old man Ed’s uncle,” he said. “They lived over there on the river, around Green Shoal.”
So Ed was raised on the river?
“No, he lived down here on the creek, right where that old man baptized him in that cold water at the mouth of Browns Run,” Charlie said. “That’s where he was born and raised at, the old man was.”
I guess Charlie meant that Green lived “over there on the river,” which was sorta true.
He didn’t know why Milt Haley was killed, but said, “Back then, you didn’t have much of a reason to kill a man. People’d get mad at you and they wouldn’t argue — they’d start shooting. Somebody’d die. I know the Conleys and the Brumfields had a run in over there on the river way back. Oh, it’s been, I guess, ninety year ago. Man, they had a shoot-out over there and right to this day they got grudges against the Conley people. I’ve had run-ins with them several times. I say, ‘Look man, this happened before my time. Why you wanna fool with me for?’ But they just had a grudge and they wouldn’t let go of it.”
When we asked Charlie about local fiddlers, he spoke firstly about Robert Martin.
“They said Robert was a wonderful fiddler,” he said. “I had a half-brother that used to play a guitar with him when he played the fiddle named Mason Conley. I used to play with his brothers over there on Trace and with Wirt and Joe Adams. Bernie Adams — he was my first cousin. They said Robert was a wonderful fiddler.”
What about Ed Belcher?
“Yeah, Ed was pretty good, but he couldn’t hold old man Ed Haley a light to fiddle by. Belcher was more of a classical fiddler. Now, he could make a piano talk, that old guy could. I knowed him a long time ago. I noticed he’d go up around old man Ed and every oncest in a while he’d call out a tune for him to play. Ed’d look around and say, ‘Is that you, Belcher?’ Said, ‘Yeah,’ and he’d set in a fiddling for him. Maybe he’d throw a half a dollar in his cup and walk on down the street.”
Brandon said to Charlie, “Ed Belcher lived up at Logan, didn’t he?” and Charlie blew us away with answer: “Well now, old man Ed Haley lived up there then at that time. They lived out there in an apartment somewhere. The little girl was about that high the last time I seen her.”
Well, that was the first I heard of Ed living in Logan — maybe it was during his separation from Ella, or maybe there was an earlier separation, when Mona was a little girl.
I asked about a tune called “Warfield” and Charlie said, “That ‘Warfield’ is out of my vocabulary, buddy. I’ve done forgot them old tunes, now.”