Brandon and I also called Bob Bryant, a son of the infamous French Bryant, who lived with his son at the mouth of Piney Creek on West Fork. Billy Adkins had encouraged us to call Bob, saying that he would probably tell us what he knew of the Haley-McCoy murders. When we called Bob, his son said we were welcome to talk with his dad, although he warned us that his memory wasn’t very good.
Bob said he was born on Piney in 1911.
When I asked him about French Bryant he said he knew very little about him because his dad “was pretty old” when he was born. He said he did remember his father talking “some” about the Haley-McCoy affair.
“Milt and Green were pretty rough fellers who got in a lot of trouble all the time,” Bob said. “They were bad to drink. Milt Haley and Green McCoy was fiddlers — I think so. Maybe they was. Yeah, I almost know they was. One of them picked the banjo, I believe, but I don’t know for sure.”
Bob said Hugh Dingess, who was “kind of an outlaw,” organized a posse to fetch Milt and Green after they shot Al and Hollena Brumfield. They found them over around Wolf Creek in Martin County, Kentucky.
“Them Dingesses up there killed them,” Bob said. “It didn’t take much to get them to shoot you back then. People’d shoot you just to be a doing something.”
I asked Bob if he ever heard anything about who took part in what he kept calling “the shooting” and he said, “Hugh Dingess and four or five more.”
He paused, then said, “A few of them I wouldn’t want to tell you.”
We were just waiting for him to say his father’s name when he said, “Short Harve Dingess was pretty rough. Seems like he was in that bunch some way.”
Some of the others were: Al Brumfield, Charley Brumfield, Fed Adkins, and Burl Farley.
Bob never identified his father as a member of the mob but mentioned that his father was a friend to the Dingesses on Smokekouse.
He said he remembered seeing Ed play at the schoolhouse above the mouth of Piney when he was nineteen years old.
“He was a real fiddler,” Bob said.
In subsequent weeks, Brandon and I went through most of our information — processing it, sorting it, discussing it. We thought more about the story of Milt causing Ed’s blindness by dipping him in ice water and wondered how anyone would have ever equated those as cause-effect events. I got on the phone with Dr. Tom Holzen, a doctor-friend of mine in Nashville, who said Milt’s dipping of Ed in ice water, while a little crude, was actually the right kind of thing to do in that it would have lowered his fever. Based on that, Milt seems to have been a caring father trying to save Ed’s life or ease his suffering. Was it the act of a desperate man who had already lost other children to disease?