Al rounded up a gang of men to accompany him on his ride to fetch the prisoners in Williamson. Albert and Charlie Dingess were ringleaders of the posse, which included “Short Harve” Dingess, Hugh Dingess, John Dingess, Burl Farley, French Bryant, John Brumfield, and Charley Brumfield. Perhaps the most notorious member of the gang was French Bryant – “a bad man” who “did a lot of dirty work for the Dingesses.” On the way back from Kentucky, he tied Milt and Green by the arms and “drove them like a pair of mules on a plow line.”
“French Bryant run and drove them like a pair of horses ahead of these guys on the horses,” John said. “That’s quite a ways to let them walk. Old French, he married a Dingess. I knew old French Bryant. When he died, he was a long time dying and they said that he hollered for two or three days, ‘Get the ropes off me!’ I guess that come back to him.”
When the gang reached the headwaters of Trace Fork — what John called “Adams territory” — they sent a rider out ahead in the darkness to make sure it was safe to travel through that vicinity.
Waiting on the Brumfield posse was a mob of about 100 men hiding behind trees at Sycamore Bottom, just below the mouth of Trace Fork. This mob was led by Ben and Anthony Adams and was primarily made up of family members or people who worked timber for the Adamses, like Tom Maggard (“Ben’s right hand man”).
As the Brumfield rider approached their location, they began to click their Winchester rifles — making them “crack like firewood.” Hearing this, the rider turned back up Trace Fork, where he met the Brumfields and Dingesses at Boardtree Bottom and warned them about the danger at the mouth of Trace. They detoured safely up Buck Fork, then stopped at Hugh Dingess’ on Smokehouse where they remained for two or three days, not really sure of what to do with their prisoners. They made a “fortress” at Hugh’s by gathering about 100 men around them, fully aware that Ben Adams might make another effort to recapture Milt and Green.
While at Hugh’s, they got drunk on some of the red whiskey and apple brandy made at nearby Henderson’s. They also held a “trial” to see if Milt and Green would admit their guilt. They took one of the men outside and made him listen through the cracks between the logs of the house as his partner confessed on the inside. About then, the guy outside got loose and ran toward Bill’s Branch but was grabbed by “Short Harve” Dingess as he tried to scurry over a fence.
After this confession, the Brumfields and Dingesses considered killing Milt and Green on the spot but “got scared the Adamses was gonna take them” and headed towards Green Shoal.
John didn’t know why they chose George Fry’s home but figured Mr. Fry was a trusted acquaintance. He said they “punished” them “quite a bit there” but also got one to play a fiddle.
“These people that killed them, they made them play their last tune,” John said. “One of them would play and one guy, I think, he never would play for them. I forgot which one, but they never could get one guy to do much. The other one’d do whatever they’d tell him to do. That’s just before they started shooting them. The tune that they played was ‘Hell Up Coal Hollow’. I don’t know what that tune is.”
After that, the mob “shot their brains out” and left them in the yard where the “chickens ate their brains.”
A neighbor took their bodies through Low Gap and buried them on West Fork.
John said there was a trial over Haley and McCoy’s murders, something we’d never heard before. Supposedly, about one hundred of the Brumfields and their friends rode horses to Hamlin and strutted into the courtroom where they sat down with guns on their laps. The judge threw the case out immediately because he knew they were fully prepared to “shoot up the place.”
This “quick trial,” of course, didn’t resolve the feud. Back on Harts Creek, Ben Adams often had to hide in the woods from the Dingesses. One time, Hugh and Charlie Dingess put kerosene-dowsed cornstalks on his porch and set them on fire, hoping to drive him out of his house where they could shoot him. When they realized he wasn’t home, they extinguished the fire because they didn’t want to harm his wife and children. Mrs. Adams didn’t live long after the feud. Ben eventually moved to Trace Fork where he lived the rest of his life. Charlie never spoke to him again.
John also said there seemed to have been a “curse” on the men who participated in the killing of Haley and McCoy. He said Albert Dingess’ “tongue dropped out,” Al Brumfield “was blind for years before he died,” and Charlie Dingess “died of lung cancer.” We had heard similar tales from Johnny Farley and Billy Adkins, who said mob members Burl Farley and Fed Adkins both had their faces eaten away by cancer. Vilas Adams told us about one of the vigilantes drowning (Will Adkins), while we also knew about the murders of Paris Brumfield, John Brumfield, Charley Brumfield, and Bill Brumfield.
Just before hanging up with John, Brandon asked if he remembered Ed Haley. John said he used to see him during his younger days on Harts Creek.
“When he was a baby, old Milt wanted to make him tough and he’d take him every morning to a cold spring and bath him,” he said. “I guess he got a cold and couldn’t open his eyes. Something grew over his eyes so Milt took a razor and cut it off. Milt said that he could take that off so he got to fooling with it with a razor and put him blind.”
John said Ed made peace with a lot of the men who’d participated in his father’s killing and was particularly good friends with Cecil Brumfield, a grandson of Paris.