Appalachia, Bertha Haines, Bob Adkins, Bob Dingess, Brooke Adkins, Caroline Brumfield, Chapmanville, Christopher Columbus Pack, Columbus, Cora Adkins, county clerk, deputy sheriff, Dr. J.T. Ferrell, Earl Wysong, Elizabeth Tomblin, Ellis Hans Isaac, Fisher B. Adkins, genealogy, Gill, Grover Gartin, Hamlin, Harts, Harts Creek, Herb Adkins, history, Huntington, Ira Tomblin, Jack Browning Cemetery, Jack Marcum, Jessie Brumfield, Lincoln County, Logan, Logan Banner, Logan County, Maezelle Brumfield, Mary Marcum, Nola Adkins, Nora Brumfield, Ohio, Pauline Scites, pneumonia, Ranger, Republican Party, Toney Johnson, typhoid fever, Verna Johnson, Vina Porter, Virginia Scites, Ward Brumfield, Wesley Tomblin, West Hamlin, West Virginia, Whirlwind
An unknown correspondent from Harts in Lincoln County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Logan Banner printed on October 22, 1926:
Grover Gartin of Ranger was calling on Miss Nola Adkins Sunday.
Herbert Adkins was transacting business in Huntington Monday.
Ward Brumfield was looking after business matters in Hamlin Tuesday.
Earl Wysong and Miss Bertha Haines of Logan were visiting friends and relatives at Harts Saturday and were entertained by Miss Jessie Brumfield.
Miss Cora Adkins spent Sunday at Gill.
Mr. and Mrs. Toney Johnson of Columbus, Ohio, spent Sunday with her mother, Mrs. Chas. Brumfield of Harts.
Mrs. Ellis Hans Isaac of West Hamlin was calling on friends here Sunday.
Miss Pauline Scites and little sister Virginia of Huntington were the guests of Miss Jessie Brumfield Sunday at Harts.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Dingess of Whirlwind passed through Harts Saturday evening enroute to Logan.
Jack and Mary Marcum of Ranger were in Harts Sunday.
Mrs. C.C. Pack and Miss Jessie Brumfield and little sister, May Zell, attended the funeral of Mrs. Wesley Tomblin, which took place at the Browning cemetery on Harts Creek Tuesday.
Ira Tomblin is very ill at present with typhoid fever.
We are very sorry to announce the death of Mrs. Wes Tomblin, who died at her home on Harts Creek Monday morning of pneumonia fever.
Mrs. Jas. Porter is very ill at this writing.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Adkins and Mrs. Brooke Adkins of Hamlin were calling on friends in Harts Sunday afternoon.
Ward Brumfield, deputy sheriff of Lincoln county, is loading ties today (Wednesday).
Fisher B. Adkins, Republican nominee for county clerk, is making a progressive campaign. Go to it, Fisher. We are going to elect the whole ticket this time.
Dr. Ferrell of Chapmanville was calling on patients in Harts and on Harts Creek Saturday.
School is progressing nicely here with Mrs. Nora Brumfield for teacher.
Good luck to The Banner!
Al Brumfield, Ann Brumfield, Appalachia, Ben Adams, Bob Adkins, Brandon Kirk, Burl Adams, Cain Adkins, crime, Daisy Ross, Ed Haley, Green McCoy, Guyandotte River, Harts, Harts Creek, Henderson Dingess, history, Howard Dalton, Imogene Haley, Joe Adams, John Frock Adams, John Hartford, John W Runyon, Lawrence Haley, Lawrence Kirk, Lincoln County, Logan County, Major Adkins, Milt Haley, Paris Brumfield, Peter McCoy, Sallie Dingess, Trace Fork, West Virginia, writing
Two months later, Brandon was still digging, but in a different way. He was knee-deep in land records at the Lincoln and Logan County court houses. He was curious — based on the economic aspect of the 1889 feud — to know about property ownership for feudists, particularly those with land around the mouth of Harts Creek.
He started with the Brumfields.
In 1889, Paris Brumfield owned 771 acres of land worth $1020, while his wife owned 367 acres worth $483. Al Brumfield had 295 acres (195 acres on Brown’s Branch and 100 acres on the Guyan River) worth $642. By combining Al’s totals to that of his parents, the Brumfields owned a total of 1433 acres of land worth $2143. A little further up Harts Creek, Henderson and Sarah Dingess owned 546 acres (five tracts) worth $1234.50 with a building valued at 100 dollars.
How did these totals compare to the land holdings of their enemies?
Well, Cain Adkins owned 205 acres worth $420 (with no buildings listed for 1889), while John Runyon owned 100 acres worth $187.50. Ben Adams owned at least 340 acres in Lincoln and Logan Counties (2 tracts) worth $380. By combining Ben’s property with that of Adkins and Runyon they owned 645 acres worth $987.50 — not even half of the Brumfield family holdings.
Based on these records, we realized that it might have been the financial superiority of the Brumfields and Dingesses which caused Adams, Runyon, and/or Adkins to act out against them (through Milt and Green).
But there was also a reason for the Brumfields to feel a little threatened themselves: John Runyon, whose 100 acres of property was situated geographically closest to them near the mouth of Harts Creek, had accumulated his estate in only three years of residence in Harts. His first tract, totaling 75 acres, was worth $1.50 and was deeded by A.S. “Major” Adkins in 1887. The other tract, totaling 25 acres and worth three dollars per acre, was deeded in 1888. Neither tract contained a building, according to land records.
Al’s 100 acres near the mouth of Harts Creek, in contrast, reflected eight years of effort.
Brumfield was likely concerned that Runyon had acquired so much land at the mouth of Harts in such a short time, especially since it was property that he wanted for himself.
It was immediately clear in looking at the feud in mild economic terms that Milt Haley and Green McCoy were pawns in a larger game between local elites. While Paris Brumfield, Al Brumfield, Cain Adkins, John Runyon, and Ben Adams were leading citizens, property owners and businessmen, Milt and Green were timber laborers and musicians who owned no property whatsoever. Based on what we’d heard from Daisy Ross, it was easy to see why Green might have took a shot at Paris, but why did he attack Al? And what was Milt’s motivation for even getting involved in the whole mess? Was he pulled into the fray because of his friendship to Green, as Daisy Ross had said? Or did he have connections to Ben Adams (a possible economic dependence on the timber-boss, his residence nearby Adams on Trace, or the fact his wife was related to Ben)?
And what did either man hope to gain from the assassination of Al Brumfield? I mean, that’s a hell of a lot to risk for a side of bacon and a few dollars. I had this nagging suspicion that they were maybe innocent of the crime, but Brandon was pretty well convinced of their guilt (as had been Lawrence Haley). He did, however, leave an opening by pointing out how Bob Adkins, Howard Dalton, Joe Adams and Lawrence Kirk had all heard that they were innocent. Bob and Joe had actually mentioned other suspects: Burl Adams, a nephew to Ben Adams, and John “Frock” Adams, a half-brother to Ed’s mother (who later shot his wife’s head off with a shotgun in his front yard). There was also the testimony of Preacher McCoy, who said Milt and Green were “as innocent as Jesus Christ on the cross.”
Adams Branch, basketball, Beecher Avenue, Ben Walker, Billy Adkins, Bob Adkins, Bob Mullins Cemetery, Brumfield Avenue, Buck Fork, Bulwark Branch, Charles Brumfield, Crawley Creek Mountain, CSX Railroad, Ed Haley, Eden Park, genealogy, Guyandotte Valley, Hannah Baptist Church, Harts, Harts Creek, Harts High School, Heartland, Henderson Branch, history, Hoover Church of the General Assembly, Hoover Fork, Huntington, Ivy Branch, John Hartford, Kiahs Creek, Lambert Branch, Lincoln County, Logan County, McCloud Branch, Mingo County, Mount Era Baptist Church, Mountaineer Missionary Baptist Church, Pilgrims Rest Church, politics, Railroad Avenue, Republican, Rockhouse Fork, Route 10, Sand Creek, Smokehouse Fork, Trace Fork, Trace Old Reguarl Baptist Church, Twelve Pole Creek, Upper Trace Fork School, Ward Avenue, Wayne County, West Fork, Whirlwind, Workman Branch, writing
The community of Harts sits indiscreetly in the narrow section of the Guyandotte Valley on land that makes up the northernmost region of the Logan County coalfield and what was once “feud country.” Located some ten miles from a four-lane federal corridor linking the state capital to eastern Kentucky and fifty miles up a two-lane rural highway from Huntington, the second largest city in West Virginia, it is a settlement just on the cusp of modernization. It is a treasure trove of hidden history, quickly disappearing even in the minds of its locals, who have little if any recollection of its booming timber era or the exciting times of the railroad hey-day. It’s really the kind of place you might drive through without noticing much — or never have a reason to drive through at all.
Basically, Harts is an old timber town divided in the center by a lazy muddy river and intersected by a two-lane highway, Route 10. On the west side of the river — site of the old Brumfield business headquarters — is an empty store, a tavern-turned-church-turned-beauty shop, a garage, and a brick tabernacle. On the east side is an old brick general store, a nice video rental establishment, a state highways headquarters, an old wooden general store, a small brick post office, a fire department, a grocery store, a hardware store, a general merchandise store, a Victorian general store-turned-restaurant, and a new brick Head Start center. Running between those buildings on the east side is a track owned by CSX (formerly C&O) Railroad. Just behind the businesses are a few dozen houses of all vintages: brick, wooden, single-story, two-story… There are no street signs or traffic lights or even stop signs.
Route 10 connects Harts with the city of Huntington to the north and with the Logan coalfields to the south. From town, Big Harts Creek Road heads west up the creek to West Fork or Smokehouse Fork, while a little unnamed road diverges north past the tracks toward extinct post offices named Eden Park and Sand Creek. The four streets in town are paved but very few locals even know their proper names, which are Railroad, Beecher, Ward, and Brumfield Avenues. Just down the river is a brick house-turned-bank, a rural health clinic, a brick construction company headquarters, a new coalmine development area called Heartland, and a mechanic shop/gas station (owned incidentally by one Charles Brumfield).
Culturally, Harts might be thought of as an inconspicuous Harlequin romance and Wild West show gone wild, at least in its not-so-distant past. Many of the rabble rousers and roustabouts are long since dead. Actually, somewhat to my disappointment, a lot of the old families are gone completely from the area and no one really feuds any more. Many residents seem to work as schoolteachers or run small stores or work in the coalmines or draw government relief. People are nice and treat each other well. Most are related or at least seem to be. They watch TV or go to church or tend their yards or hunt or fish or ride four-wheelers or hop on the four-lane at Chapmanville and drive to Wal-Mart some 45 miles away. Old-timers are quick to say that Harts has a bad reputation for no reason — the only two murders within town limits occurred almost a century ago. There are no parks, museums or movie theatres — and only a few registered Republicans. It’s the kind of place where you can leave your doors unlocked at night or if you’re gone all day…and feel safe about it.
I have to admit, after several visits to Harts, I loved it. On one visit, I learned from Billy Adkins that the old Ben Walker farm was for sale…and seriously considered buying it. (I passed on the idea when I realized that my wife would never forgive me for it.) Harts, then, would remain a place to “see.” I began telling folks out on the road that it was “my Ireland.” It represented a desire on my part to get back to the kind of places where (at least in my romantic imagination) a lot of fiddle playing originated. A lot of my friends were from these kind of places. For them, when they wanted to tap into that ancestral ancient tone, they thought of Ireland, whether they were Irish or not. For me, coming from St. Louis, Harts was the closest I could ever hope to get to that. Such places are at the heart of the music I love.
Venturing up Harts Creek, the first thing you really notice is Harts High School, a forty-some-year-old two-and-a-half-story yellow brick structure near the mouth of West Fork with a gymnasium, annex building, and a baseball field, all situated on what was a prison camp during the early fifties and, a little further back in time, the upper reaches of the Al Brumfield property (and, a little further still, an Indian camp). In many ways, this school is the lifeblood of the community — at least in the lower section of the creek. In the mid-sixties, just as Harts began to turn away from its violent past, the high school basketball team won a state championship and began building a program known regionally for its successes. Today, basketball is what this community is best known for — not the murders or moonshining traditions of years past — with crooked politics maybe finishing a close second.
A little further up the creek, just below the Logan County line, a few miles past an old country store, a little restaurant, another baseball field, and a place of worship named the Cole Branch Church of Jesus Christ of the First Born. From there, the road forks left onto the Smoke House Fork of Big Harts Creek, location of the Hugh Dingess Elementary School and Dingess, Butcher, Farley and Conley country; or the road forks right into the head of Harts Creek to “Ed Haley country.” Of course, no one calls it that. People think of it as “Adams country” or “Mullins country” and really, that’s about all there ever was in that section. Ed himself is often identified with the Mullins family — his mother’s people. The adults in this part of Harts Creek vote in Logan County — not Lincoln — and send their kids on buses over Crawley Creek Mountain to Chapmanville High School. This section of the creek — where gunshots once rang out regularly and where moonshine was so readily found — is now remarkably quiet and low-key outside of the occasional marijuana bust. Unfortunately, it seems to have lost its musical tradition as well.
Trace Fork, the site of Ed Haley’s birth, is attributed by Ivy Branch in its head, Adams Branch, and Boardtree Branch toward its middle and Jonas and Dry House Branch toward its mouth. There are several small family cemeteries on Trace, with the maroon-bricked Mountaineer Missionary Baptist Church at its mouth. In previous days, the Upper Trace Fork School (now Trace Old Regular Baptist Church) sat in its headwaters, where the Logan-Lincoln-Mingo county line meets. As a matter of fact, Ivy Branch heads near Kiah’s Creek at the Wayne-Mingo County line, while Boardtree Branch heads at McCloud Branch of Twelve Pole Creek in Mingo County. Adams Branch heads at Rockhouse Fork in Lincoln County.
A little further up the main creek is Buck Fork, an extensive tributary comparable to West Fork or Smokehouse in size. It is the ancestral home of the Mullins, Bryant, and Hensley families whose names still dominate the mailbox landscape. In previous decades, it was the location of the Hensley School and Mt. Era Church. Just below Buck Fork on main Harts Creek is a large Adams family cemetery, while just above it is the equally large Bob Mullins family cemetery.
Continuing up Harts Creek is Hoover Fork, home of the Mullins, Adams, and Carter families as well as the Hoover Church of the General Assembly. Henderson Branch, home seat for Tomblins and Mullinses is the next tributary, followed by Lambert Branch (at Whirlwind) and Workman Branch. Bulwark Branch follows (populated by Carters and Workmans), trailed by Brier Branch (Smiths) and Tomblin Branch. In the headwaters of Harts Creek are Tomblins, Daltons, and Blairs, as well as the Pilgrims Rest Church and Hannah Baptist Church.
In all sections of Harts, gossip reigns supreme as a source of local entertainment. (This in spite of Bob Adkins’ warning that people should “tend to their own business.”) Maybe that’s why we hear so much about a 100-year-old murder when we ask about it and a bunch of other things we don’t ask about. Genealogy is super important. When you sit down to talk with someone, the first thing they want to know is how you fit into the community pedigree. It’s a way of squaring you up.
Bill Brumfield, Bob Adkins, Brandon Kirk, Charley Brumfield, crime, Eustace Ferguson, Harts, history, Hollene Brumfield, John Hartford, Lincoln County, Paris Brumfield, Wesley Ferguson, West Virginia, writing
In thinking about the old Brumfields, Bob mentioned the name of Paris Brumfield, the patriarch of the clan. Brandon quickly pulled out Paris’ picture and reached it to Bob saying, “He was my great-great-great-grandfather.” Paris, we knew, was murdered by his son Charley in 1891.
“Son, he was a mean old man, I’ll tell you that,” Bob said, turning the picture upside down in his hands and slowly studying it under a magnifying glass. “He’d kill anybody. He beat up on Charley’s mother and she went down to Charley’s for protection. He went down to get his wife. He got up to the top of that fence and Charles told him, ‘You beat up on Mother the last time. You’re not coming in here.’ Paris said, ‘Ah, you wouldn’t shoot your own father.’ Drunk, you know. And Charley said, ‘You step your foot over that fence, I will.’ Directly he started in and that there ended it, son. Charley killed him right there.”
I said, “Now there was another Brumfield father-son murder later on. Who was that?”
“Ah, that was Charley’s brother,” Bob said. “Bill Brumfield, up on Big Hart. He’s a mean old devil. He ought to been killed. He had a way… He never shot anybody. He’d beat them to death with a club. He’d hold a gun on them and make them walk up to him and then take a club and beat their brains out. He come down there to Hart to get drunk once in a while and he’d run everything away from there. And Hollene set on that front porch of that little old store she had out there with that pistol in her apron and she cussed him. He knew she had that gun — he wouldn’t open his mouth to her. It was his sister-in-law, you know. He just set there and chewed his tobacco and spit out in the street. She’d tell him how mean he was, you know. But his own son killed him. He was beating up on his mother and you can’t do that if you got a son around somewhere. I don’t give a damn who you are, they’re gonna kill ya. He didn’t miss a thing there, that boy didn’t. I don’t think they did anything with him about it.”
This Bill Brumfield, I remembered, was Brandon’s great-great grandfather. As Bob spoke of his departed ancestor, I noticed how Brandon just sat there without taking any offense, as some might want to do. Gathering the information seemed more important than family pride — at least for the moment. Brandon asked Bob if he remembered anything about Charley and Ward Brumfield’s murder in 1926.
“What they got into was very foolish,” Bob said. “Charley would come up there — and Ward was his nephew — and they’d ride up into the head of Harts Creek and get them some whisky and they’d drink. They went up around them Adamses — they was kin to the Dingesses and Brumfields — and bought them a bottle of whisky from this guy and they got his wife to cook them a chicken dinner. She cooked them up a nice chicken dinner and, of course, they drank that liquor and was pretty dern high, I expect. They was sitting there eating and they was a damn fella… Who was that killed them? They’s so dern many of them a shooting and a banging around among each other that I couldn’t keep track of them. He was just kind of a straggler.”
Bob thought for a moment then said, “Eustace Ferguson. Now, Eustace Ferguson was a brother to Hollene’s second husband, Wesley. They had asked him to go with them and he caught an old mule or something and followed them. He was mad at them ’cause he didn’t like the Dingesses and Brumfields anyway. He followed them up there and they was eating dinner. He come in there and told them if they had anything to say they better say it ’cause he was gonna kill them. And Charley raised out of there and he said, ‘Well, by god, I’d just as soon die here as anywhere,’ and he started shooting and they just shot the devil out of each other. And he killed Charley and Ward and Charley shot him but he got somebody to get him to the doctor before the Brumfields got up there ’cause he knew them Brumfields would kill him if they got up there in time. He begged them not to report it till he had time to get to Chapmanville to get into the hand of the law. And those people wasn’t too friendly to the Brumfields and they kept it hid for about an hour or two before they reported that.”
I asked Bob if there were any dances around Harts in his younger days and he said, “Not in my time. They had a few dances ’round here and yonder but I was too young to go.”
Were there any dances at Al and Hollena Brumfield’s store?
“I don’t think so. They wasn’t the dancing type. I never was around her too much. Sometimes I’d be there and play with her grandchildren, Tom and Ed Brumfield. They were about my age.”
A few days later, I picked Brandon up at his apartment in Huntington and we drove to see Bob Adkins in Hamlin. We parked on the street in front of Bob’s house (just past the red light) and walked up onto the front porch where his wife, Rena, a very friendly and cordial lady, met us at the door. She welcomed us inside to the living room. We listened to Bob speak of Milt Haley’s death. It was clear that his memory had faded somewhat since my last trip to see him in 1993.
“Well, what the trouble was there, that fella Runyon, he had a saloon and a little old grab-a-nickel store right across the creek there at the mouth of Harts,” Bob said. “And Aunt Hollene and Al Brumfield, they had a big store over there on the lower side of the creek. They was competitors in a way, you know. And that fella Runyon, he wanted to get rid of them, see. He hired these two thugs to kill them. These fellas Milt Haley and Green McCoy were two characters. And a fella by the name of Runyon gave them a side of bacon and a can of lard to kill them…each.”
Bob laughed, fully aware of how it would all turn out and seemingly amused.
“They got in a big sinkhole up above the road with a high-powered gun — a .30.30 Winchester.”
According to Bob, Haley and McCoy waited in that sinkhole for Al and Hollena Brumfield to pass by.
“Ever Sunday, Aunt Hollene — she was my mother’s aunt — she’d go up to the forks of Big Hart about ten miles up there to visit her father, old Henderson Dingess. Al had a fine riding horse and he’d get on the horse and she’d ride behind him. They’d go up there on a Sunday and have dinner with her father. And they’d been up there — it was a pretty summer day — and they came along about three or four o’clock in the evening. They shot at Al’s head and that high-spirited horse jumped and that bullet missed his head and hit Hollene in the side of the jaw — knocked her teeth out. That knocked her off’n the horse. Of course, that horse sprang and run. But they had come down off’n the hill and they aimed to shoot Aunt Hollene again. And she a laying there in the road — her eyes full of blood. She couldn’t see hardly who it was. She begged them not to shoot her anymore — she told them she was dying anyway.”
So where was Al Brumfield at that time?
“Al got offa the horse down below there and come back under the creek bank and got to shooting at them see and they took off,” Bob said. “Hollene got over that. She was my mother’s aunt. I was around her home a lot. She lived in that big white house in Hart. Burned down now.”
How did they figure out who ambushed the Brumfields?
“Well, they didn’t know who it was,” Bob said. “But they noticed they weren’t around home, the Brumfields and Dingesses did. They was watching all around to see who it was. And these two guys just left their families and went into Kentucky. Just deserted their families. Then they knew who it was. After they got a hold of them, the Dingesses and the Brumfields, they told them the whole story. That was at my grandfather’s home. They took one guy out there in the yard and gagged him so he couldn’t make a noise and stuck a gun in his back and told him if he made any noise they’d shoot him. So he listened to that other fella inside the house. That other fella broke down and cried and he told them the truth about it. And they killed both of them over at Green Shoal. Took them out in the yard and shot them all to pieces. Walked off and left them. I was born and raised about three quarters of a mile below there.”
I asked Bob why the Brumfields did not avenge John Brumfield’s murder with the same ferocity. John, I knew from Brandon, was killed by Charlie Conley at a Chapmanville Fourth of July celebration in 1900.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, John Brumfield, he was mean as a snake anyway. He treated them fellers pretty rough. And they killed him up there in the head of Hart in an association ground. They just walked up to him in that association ground — a whole bunch of people there — and shot his brains out.”
An association ground?
“They had them once a year near an old schoolhouse,” Bob said. “People’d all gather in and they had a place where they traded horses. Half a mile away, an old country preacher would preach to them. It was kind of a rough place up in there at that time.”
After about thirty minutes of talking with Brandon, I was convinced that he loved the families of Harts and was wrapped up in its history. He was not only serious business but he really — I mean really — knew his stuff.
Brandon flipped a few pages in his photo album, then pointed to a picture of a black-bearded, broad-shouldered giant of a man and said, “That’s Paris Brumfield.” I’d heard a lot about him from Bob Adkins and Lawrence Kirk — and never forgot what they said about him being killed by his own son. He was Brandon’s great-great-great-grandfather.
According to the Lambert Collection, Paris Brumfield was one of the most feared loggers in the Guyandotte Valley – a man who “gloried in shooting people.” He frequently stirred up trouble in the town of Guyandotte with his friends, Jerome Shelton of West Hamlin and Pete Dingess of Harts Creek. Shelton often got drunk and wandered through the streets of Guyandotte screaming “I am God!” and other obscenities. He climbed on ladders and pretended to make speeches to taunt officers and citizens. Wild cheering from loggers always followed his cry of “Millions bow down to me!” Wilburn Bias was the only marshal in Guyandotte who Paris and his gang feared, although others like a Mr. Fuller sometimes tried to arrest him. One marshal, J. “Doc” Suiter, once came to Brumfield’s hotel room to make an arrest, but a brawl ensued in which both men crashed through a window. At some point, while rafting on the Guyan River, Paris slammed his raft into Doc’s after seeing that it was fouled on some shoals.
Brumfield was a real rabble-rouser. Not only did he drink heavily and abuse his wife: in the late 1870s he took a mistress for himself. This woman, one Keziah Ramey, originally from the Kiah’s Creek area of Wayne County, moved near Paris at Harts and quickly produced him four children. Paris was a reported murderer as well, according to local history. There are rumors about him killing pack-peddlers and someone named Charlie Hibbits (whose body was put on the “Ha’nt Rock”). Reportedly, he also murdered a man who disturbed a fiddler playing his favorite song, “Golden Slippers”. These stories are likely untrue, as the only murder positively linked to him was his shooting of a local man named Boney Lucas.
Bob Adkins had told me about it. “They had a fight right there at the mouth of West Fork and Boney got loose and he run through the creek there,” Bob had said a few years earlier. “And Paris’ daughter Rat, she run and got the gun and brought it to Paris and, by george, he shot Lucas with a Winchester right across the creek. Lucas tried to get away.” Brandon’s grandfather Ray Kirk said the trouble was “over logs,” while Lawrence Kirk said it was brought on by arguments between their children at school. Either way, their fatal confrontation occurred at the Narrows of Harts Creek, where Al Brumfield later built his infamous log boom. Paris had gone to a store on the creek with his daughter when he noticed Lucas working there in a timber crew. He and Lucas “had words,” then Lucas attacked him, initially with the butt-end of his axe. In no time, one of Brumfield’s arms was almost completely severed from his shoulder — courtesy of Lucas’ axe. Paris hollered for his daughter to give him a pistol that he’d tucked into a grocery bag, then used it to shoot Boney in self-defense.
Life in the Brumfield home was difficult. At one point, during the fall of 1891, Ann Brumfield fled to her son Charley’s home for protection. I knew from Bob Adkins what had happened next.
On November 11, 1891, the Ceredo Advance reported: “The noted desperado of Lincoln county — Paris Brumfield — was shot five times by his son Charles, on Tuesday of last week [Nov. 3]. Paris was drinking and attempted to take the life of his wife, when the son interfered with the above result. The wounded man lived only a few hours after having been shot. Paris killed several men during his life and it is said that no man could get the drop on him, but finally one of his own flesh and blood ended his career. The son has not been arrested, and probably will not be.”
In 1892, The Logan County Banner reported: “We think the papers in the State have been a little harsh with Paris Brumfield. From what we have learned we do not blame his son for killing him in the defense of his mother, and we deeply sympathize with the young man in having to imbue his hands in the blood of his father. Paris Brumfield was an overbearing man and dangerous when in whisky, yet he was surrounded by a people not noted for angelic sweetness of temper, and he was driven to many an act of which he was ashamed. There was, however, a good side to the man. He was generous and brave, and no one was ever turned [away in] hunger from his door; and, remembering his kindness to the poor, we are willing to draw the curtain over his many grievous faults.”
Brandon said many old-timers around Harts heard that Paris’ ghost would jump up behind Charley every time he got on a horse to go anywhere.
The next day, Al and his posse headed for Hugh Dingess’ “great old big house” on Harts Creek. Bob’s mother Brooke Dingess was a witness to events that followed.
“They stayed all night there and they wanted to be awful sure that they were right, you know,” Bob said. “See, they didn’t want to kill somebody that was innocent. Well they took Haley outside and put handcuffs behind him and gagged him so he couldn’t make a noise and stuck a gun in his back and told him if he made any noise they’d shoot him, see? And a funny thing happened out there, though. He broke loose from them and pretty near got away.
“And then they told McCoy that they had taken Milton down there to hang in the orchard, and if he had anything to say he had better be saying it, see? He broke down and cried and he told them the truth about it. And he told them that they pulled straws on which one would do the shooting and it fell on Green and he got sick — vomited — and he just couldn’t do it. So Haley said, ‘You ain’t got no nerve. Give me the gun and I’ll do it.’ And he claimed Haley was the one that shot. He didn’t do it.”
As if to prove his story, Green then said something to the effect of, “You go down there and check at that sinkhole and you’ll see a pile of shavings that I whittled with my long razor.”
Bob said, “Well, Haley came out and cursed McCoy and told him he didn’t have any nerve and said everything to him. Said that fellow just cried and said, ‘Now, you know I’m telling every bit the truth.'”
Bob said the mob was convinced by McCoy’s confession, but I felt it had a few holes in it. First of all, what if Green skewed the truth by blaming everything on Milt — who he thought was dead — in the hopes of saving his own life? Second of all, why would he and Milt have only had one gun between them for their ambush? Of course, maybe these details were worked out by subsequent confessions not remembered by any living person today. In any case, the mob was apparently satisfied.
Bob said, “They didn’t do anything to them there. They weren’t nobody’s fool, now. They didn’t want any murder going on around their home; then it would be too easy to pin it on them. They’d go to somebody else’s home.”
Bob said his aunt Catherine Fry — an eyewitness to subsequent events — told him the rest of the story about Milt’s murder. He said she was nineteen years old at the time and lived at the mouth of Green Shoal on the Guyandotte River. She said a mob arrived at her home during the night and woke her from her sleep.
“Well, Cat said the first thing she knew she was sitting in the living room — the front room, you know,” Bob said. “They had whiskey there. A lot of drinking going on and a whole bunch of them… Must have been ten to fifteen maybe. The Brumfields and Dingesses all mixed up, you know. Haley and McCoy were back in the bedroom under guard. They had them both in bed.”
Milt continued to verbally abuse Green for admitting their guilt.
“Around ten o’clock, somebody shot the lamp out and Cat run and jumped behind a flour barrel over in the kitchen corner until the fracas was over.”
Milt and Green were shot in bed then pulled out in the yard where the mob “took an axe and cut their heads open and shot them all up — shot them all to pieces.”
I asked Bob what happened next and he said, “They got on their horses and left — walked off and left them. Al Brumfield was one of the head fellows who was there and he was a first cousin of Dad’s. Evidently somebody else took his horse. He came down to Grandfather’s house, which was his uncle by marriage and he told Grandpaw what they had done. Grandpaw told him to go on upstairs and go to bed. No, he did not want to do that because he was afraid those McCoy and Haley people might come in on him, friends or something, [and trap him in the house]. He slept up in the hollow under a beech tree up there. It was summertime, you know. I bet he didn’t sleep good and if he did he shouldn’t have. And the next morning he got out and he ate his breakfast with Grandpaw and then he went on to Harts — home, you know?”
In the next few days, someone hauled Milt and Green’s bodies to the West Fork of Harts Creek and buried them in a single, unmarked grave.
Bob gave us directions to the grave, which he’d last seen as a boy.
“You go up main Harts Creek. It’s not over a mile, I don’t think. It’s the first big creek that turns off to your left. You turn to the left there across the creek and go up that road about a mile or a mile and a quarter and they’s a little hollow there and they’s a house right in there. It’s been a good while since I been up there. If you’ll ask some of them people there, they’ll tell you right where it is.”
Lawrence and I planned to go to Harts in a few days and find it.
Bob said, “We lived there in a house right down below there for one year before we came down here. We sold our old farm up there and we had no where to go and we moved over there on an uncle of mine’s farm. And I farmed one summer right down below there. I went up there and saw that. Had just a little stone. Two of them there. They was buried in the same grave. Them stones may be torn down and gone now. We left there in 1919 or ’20.”
Al Brumfield, Appalachia, Bob Adkins, Breeden, Cincinnati, crime, feud, feuds, Green McCoy, Guyandotte River, Harts Creek, Henderson Dingess, history, Hollene Brumfield, John Dingess, John Hartford, John W Runyon, Kentucky, Lincoln County Feud, Milt Haley, Norfolk and Western Railroad, Thompson Branch, Tug River, Twelve Pole Creek, West Virginia
Wow. So what about Al Brumfield, the guy who got into the feud with Milt?
“Well, he was a little more tamer fellow than old Paris but he was kind of a rough character — mean as a snake,” Bob said. “All those Brumfields were, you know. They was a tough outfit, all of them was.”
Al and his wife Hollena lived in a large white house at the mouth of Harts Creek, which Bob said had recently burned. They had a store and log boom nearby and kept a boat tied up at the riverbank for easy access across the Guyandotte. Things were going great for them until John Runyon (who Bob called “the root of all evil”) moved in from Kentucky.
“That fellow Runyon, he had a saloon and a store right across the creek there at the mouth of Harts, you know — a shebang,” Bob said. “And Aunt Hollene and Al Brumfield, they had a big store over there on the other side of the creek, over on the lower side of the creek. They was competitors in a way, you know. This fellow Runyon hired these two thugs to kill them, so as to get rid of their competition. And he hired Milt Haley and Green McCoy to kill them. They got a side of bacon and a can of lard and five dollars to do that…each. And these fellows, Milt Haley and Green McCoy, were two characters. I don’t know why they ever took a chance on that. Them boys got into that before they knew what they was into. Them Brumfields was mean as the devil up there.”
Bob spun out the details of Milt and Green’s ambush of Al Brumfield.
“Every Sunday, Al and Hollene would get on their horse and they’d ride up to the Forks of Big Hart about ten miles to visit her father. He was old Henderson Dingess, my great-grandfather. Al had a fine riding horse and he’d get on the horse and she’d ride behind him, see? And they’d been up there on a pretty summer day, and they’d done had dinner with her father.”
Haley and McCoy, meanwhile, laid in wait for them in a sinkhole at Thompson Branch with a .30/.30 Winchester.
“And Al and Hollene came along about three or four o’clock in the evening and those thugs laywaid them on the side of the hill up there as they came back down Harts Creek. They shot at Al’s head. That horse jumped and that bullet missed his head and hit Hollene right in the face right there and the bullet knocked her teeth out and came out this side here. It knocked her off of the horse.”
Al was carried on down the creek by his horse, which “sprang and run” so Milt and Green came off the hill toward his wife.
“They aimed to shoot Aunt Hollene again — and she a laying there in the road, her eyes full of blood. She couldn’t see hardly who it was. But she begged them not to shoot her anymore, because she figured they’d already killed her. She told them she was dying and begged them out of it.”
At that point, Al came back up along the creek bed shooting toward them “and they got scared and they run.”
Bob said, “Well, the Brumfields didn’t know who it was so they watched all around to see who it was. They watched Runyon like a hawk but he changed his name and walked right off. He left his store, his saloon and his family and went back to Kentucky. They hunted for years for him but they never did find him. He never poked his head around there anymore, not even to contact his family.”
Milt and Green also disappeared from the neighborhood — which caused locals to assume that they were guilty of some role in the trouble.
“And these two guys just left their family and went into Kentucky and just deserted their families,” Bob said. “Then they knew who it was. And they started looking for them.”
Al Brumfield put out a $3,000 reward for their capture. Detectives were told to search in river towns, as both men had run rafts out of the Guyan River.
A detective caught Green McCoy first in a Cincinnati restaurant. He identified him by noticing a nick in one of his ears. Just before apprehending him, the detective walked up and said, “I think you’re the man I’m looking for.” Once caught, Green gave the whereabouts of Milt, who was found working a butter churn on a steamboat at the river. Both men were jailed. Al Brumfield was informed of their capture by letter.
Brumfield organized two of his brothers-in-law and perhaps one of his brothers into a posse and rode to the rendezvous point (presumably in the vicinity of Cincinnati). He posed as a sheriff, paid the reward, took possession of the two men, then headed across eastern Kentucky and up the Tug River to Williamson. He and his gang rode a train on the N&W across Twelve Pole to Breeden, where they crossed the mountain and spent a night at the home of John Dingess, Hollena’s brother. Dingess ran a large country store and saloon, Bob said, but “nothing exciting happened around there.”