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Al Brumfield, Andrew D. Robinson, Beech Fork, Ben Adams, Bob Dingess, Brandon Kirk, crime, diptheria, Goble Richardson, Green McCoy, Green Shoal, Guyandotte River, Harrison McCoy, Harts, Harts Creek, history, Lincoln County Feud, Lynza John McCoy, Milt Haley, Monroe Fry, music, Paris Brumfield, Ross Fowler, Sallie Dingess, Sherman McCoy, Spicie McCoy, Warren, Wayne, Wayne County, Wayne County News, West Fork, writing
A few weeks later, Brandon called Nellie Thompson in Wayne, West Virginia. Nellie reportedly had the picture of Milt Haley and Green McCoy.
“I don’t know if I have anything like that or not,” Nellie said, “but I do have an old letter from Green McCoy.”
Almost hyperventilating, he asked her to read it over the telephone.
Nellie fetched it from somewhere in the house, said it was dated May 19, 1889, then read it to him and said he was welcome to see it.
The next day, she called Brandon back and said, “I think I’ve found that picture you were looking for. It’s a little tin picture with two men in it.”
A few days later, Brandon drove to see Nellie about the picture and letter. Before dropping in on her, he spent a little time at the local library where he located a story about Spicie McCoy.
“As I promised last week, today we will explore the life of a lady who claimed to have a cure for diphtheria,” the story, printed in the Wayne County News (1994), began. “Spicie (Adkins) McCoy Fry was so short that if you stretched out your arm she could have walked under it. Anyone who lived in the East Lynn area knew who Spicie Fry was because she had probably been in almost every church around to sing at a revival meeting, something she loved to do. Spicie was well educated. She saw that her children went to school. Once out of grade school, Spicie’s sons took advantage of correspondence courses in music, art, and any other subject they could get thru the mail order catalog. Spicie’s son Monroe Taylor Fry was a self-taught musician.”
After a short time, Brandon drove to Nellie’s home, where she produced a small tin picture of two men sitting together. One of the men was obviously Green McCoy based on the picture we had already seen of him. The other fellow, then, was Milt.
As Brandon stared at the tintype, Nellie handed him Green’s letter. It was penned in a surprisingly nice handwriting, addressed to his brother Harrison, and was apparently never mailed. At the time of his writing, it was spring and McCoy had just moved back to Harts — probably after a short stay with his family or in-laws in Wayne County. He may’ve been there with his older brother, John, who’d married a girl almost half his age from Wayne County earlier in February.
Dear Brother. after a long delay of time I take this opertunity of droping you a few lines to let you know that I am well hoping when these lines reaches you they may find you all the same. Harrison you must excuse me for not writing sooner. the cause of me not writing is this[:] the post master here is very careless. they let people brake open the letters and read them so I will write this time to let you know where I am and where Lynza is. I have moved back to the west fork of Harts Creek and Lynza is married and living in wayne co yet on beach fork. everybody is done planting corn very near in this country. every thing looks lively in this part. tell Father and mother that I[‘m] coming out this fall after crops are laid by if I live and Lynza will come with me. tell all howdy for me. you may look for us boath. if death nor sickness don’t tak[e] place we will come. Harrison I would rather you would not write anymore this summer. people brakes open the letters and reads them so I will not write a long letter. Brumfield and me lives in 2 miles of each other and has had no more trubble but every body says that he will kill me if I don’t kill him. I look to have trouble with him so I will close this time.
On the back of the letter was written the following: “My wife sends her best respects to you all and says she would like to see you all. my boy is beginning to walk. he is a spoiled boy to[o].”
Clutching carefully onto the tintype and letter, Brandon asked Nellie what she’d heard about Milt and Green’s death. She didn’t really know much, but her brother Goble Richardson said he’d always heard that pack-peddlers who boarded with Paris Brumfield never left his home alive. These men were supposedly killed, tied to rocks, and thrown to the bottom of the Guyan River where the fish ate their rotting corpses. Soon after the “disappearance” of these pack-peddlers, Paris would be seen riding the man’s horse, while his children would be playing with his merchandise.
When Brandon arrived home he studied over Green McCoy’s letter — all the cursive strokes, the occasional misspellings, trying to extract something from it beyond what it plainly read.
Strangely, the letter didn’t reveal to which Brumfield — Al or Paris — Green referred when he wrote, “every body says that he will kill me if I don’t kill him.” It seems likely, though, based on what Daisy Ross had said, that Green referenced Paris.
Still, it was Al Brumfield who was ambushed only three months later.
What started their trouble?
And who was the careless postmaster who allowed people to “brake open the letters and read them?”
At the time of the Haley-McCoy trouble, Harts had two post offices: Harts and Warren. The postmaster at Harts — where McCoy likely received his mail — was Ross Fowler, son to the Bill Fowler who was eventually driven away from Harts by the Brumfields. Ross, though, was close with the Brumfields and even ferried the 1889 posse across the river to Green Shoal with Milt and Green as prisoners (according to Bob Dingess) in October of 1889. A little later, he worked in Al Brumfield’s store. The postmaster at Warren was Andrew D. Robinson, a former justice of the peace and brother-in-law to Ben Adams and Sallie Dingess. Robinson seems to have been a man of good credit who stayed neutral in the trouble.
Angeline Lucas, Brandon Kirk, Cain Adkins, Daisy Ross, East Lynn, Faye Smith, genealogy, Green McCoy, Harts Creek, history, John Hartford, Kenova, Lee Adams, Lincoln County, Lynza John McCoy, Mary McCoy, Spicie McCoy, Stiltner, Twelve Pole Creek, Wayne County, West Fork, West Virginia, writing
Things got kind of quiet after that. I asked Faye if we were wearing her mother out and she said, “No, I don’t think so. She sits there and… Of course, she makes quilts. She’s made twenty since the first of the year. We’ve got them stacked upstairs. She made sixty-four the year before last. Last year she only made fifty-four. I don’t know how many she’ll make this year. She makes them upstairs. She pulls herself up there — you know, a handrail.”
Brandon asked if Daisy sold her quilts and Faye said, “Yeah, she sells them. Well, she gives us kids all one every year for our birthday. I’ve probably got forty or fifty.”
I asked how much they sold for and Faye said, “Thirty dollars.”
I said, “Have you got one you’d sell me?” and Faye laughed and said, “I’ve got a dozen if you want them. As a matter of fact, she’s even got her name and the date she completed it on each quilt.”
Faye looked over at her mother and said loudly, “He wants to buy one of your quilts.”
Daisy said, “Well, they’re upstairs.”
Brandon, Faye, and I went upstairs and fished through a bunch of quilts in a bedroom. We bought several; they were great souvenirs.
Back downstairs, Daisy told us more about Green McCoy’s “other family” in Eden, Kentucky.
“He had two children by his first wife,” she said. “Mary come and seen us and we was all tickled about it. I don’t know how she found us. She’d come to Kenova and stayed with some woman and found out where we lived up there above East Lynn in Stiltner way up in the country in a hollow. And she stayed a week or two. I don’t know how long she was aiming to stay, but she’d stayed with some lady and cleaned house and she cleaned out her wardrobe and took it with her and the law came and got ‘er. We don’t know what ever happened to Mary — we never heard from her no more. She was from down in Kentucky somewhere. I was just a little girl when she come up there.”
As for Green’s other child: “They had another’n, but I don’t know whether it was a girl or a boy.”
Not long before we left, Daisy revealed a final interesting connection between Green McCoy’s family and Cain Adkins’ family. She said Green McCoy had a brother named John who came around Cain’s place on Harts Creek.
“He’d go up there when Mom and Green lived out there in one of Grandpaw’s shacks. I think he was younger than Green.”
He might have been the same John McCoy, Brandon said, who land records showed owning 526 acres on Twelve Pole in Lincoln County in 1883.
About two years after Green’s death, John had a fling with Spicie’s sister, Angeline Lucas (Boney’s widow).
“Aunt Angeline went and had a young’n by him,” Daisy said.
A little later, she married Lee Adams and had seven more children, bringing her total to fourteen.
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After the feud, Cain Adkins settled on Laurel Creek in Wayne County and never returned to Harts. Not long afterward, he began suffering from some type of lingering illness.
“Grandpaw, he played a fiddle,” Daisy said. “They had him to play the fiddle on his deathbed. Somebody came in and they wanted to hear a song and he played it for him. He said, ‘They ain’t no harm in a fiddle. If they’s any harm, it’s when no one plays it.’ I’ve heard Mom tell the last song he played, but I don’t know what it was he played. Mom said it made him feel better.”
Cain died of Brights Disease in 1896.
His widow Mariah lived many more years.
“Grandmaw was a good person — she went to church every Sunday. The last ten years she went blind and stayed with Mom. Mom waited on her.”
She died in 1931.
It took Spicie years to forgive the Brumfields for killing Green. Even after remarrying Goble Fry (her first cousin) in 1893, she was unable to cope with Green’s death and always cried when recounting the tale of his murder. For years, her bitterness kept her from joining the church.
“She felt like he hadn’t done nothing to be killed for ’cause she loved him better than anything,” Daisy said. “Before she was baptized, my brother Sherman had went off to work — him and a bunch of boys — and they was all telling what church their mother belonged to and Sherman said to Mom, ‘Mom, I had to tell them you didn’t belong to the church.’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I can’t forgive the Brumfields.’ He said, ‘You can’t forget it, but you got to forgive them or you’ll go to the same place where they did.’ I heard him say that. I was a young woman.”
These were apparently inspiring words, because Spicie was baptized soon afterwards and formed a gospel quartet, “The McCoy Time Singers.” Her son, Sherman McCoy, was a key member.
“Brother Sherman could play any kind of instrument, but banjo is what he played mostly,” Daisy said. “He played all kinds of pretty tunes on the banjo that wasn’t gospel. And when he was on WCMI he wanted people to write in and tell him to play the gospel music, but he had to play the one that got the most requests and he didn’t get very much requests for the gospel. But Mom and Sherman sung them gospel songs on there. They had a program on WCMI one time.”
Daisy said the only known recordings of the McCoy Time Singers had been destroyed years ago.
“They made records of their quartet singing and they peeled up. Got damp. Monroe, my brother, got some and even wrapped them in cloth and they still peeled.”
I wanted to know more about Sherman McCoy, so I got out my banjo and played a little bit for Daisy. She said he played a lot with his uncle, Winchester Adkins (one of the best fiddlers in Wayne County), and a guitar player named Oscar Osborne.
“Brother Sherman was one of the best banjo players I ever heard,” Daisy said. “I’ve heard them on television but I’ve never heard anything to beat Brother Sherman. He played a guitar and taught music lessons. He played all kinds of jigs. Did you ever play ‘The Indian Girl’? He didn’t like to play that one very much because he had to tune it different but that was the prettiest tune I ever heard on the banjo. It sounded like he had more than ten fingers.”
I asked Daisy about Sherman playing with Ed Haley and she said, “He played music with Ed Haley and they played in Catlettsburg.”
That’s all she knew about it but I wondered just how well they actually knew each other. Was it possible that Ed named his oldest child Sherman Luther Haley after Sherman McCoy? I could just picture them loafing together as young bachelors.
Daisy said Green McCoy’s other son, Green Jr., was a singing instructor. She remembered the first time he came into contact with a guitar.
“Uncle Cain, he played a guitar,” she said. “He come down one time and wanted Green to see his guitar. Green only seen that guitar one time and worked a week and got him a guitar and tuned it up and was playing on it. He was gifted.”
What happened to him?
Faye said, “Uncle Green, he hadn’t been dead but I’d say about eight or ten years. He played a guitar good.”
Daisy said Green’s son Luther plays the guitar on the radio in the Columbus-Chillicothe area.
“Uncle Green said he was absolutely the best he ever heard,” she said.
She didn’t know much about Luther or have any recordings of him but had a videocassette tape of Green Jr. picking the guitar and singing in 1975. (I couldn’t help but note that Green Jr. and Ed Haley both had sons named Luther.)
Spicie’s children by Goble Fry also were talented musicians, hinting at a musical strain in her genetics as well.
“Uncle Monroe was a Fry — that was Mom’s brother — and Harkins — they both played music,” Faye said. “But now, Uncle Monroe could play, I guess, about any type of instrument. I remember him playing ‘Salty Dog’ one time.”
Daisy really bragged on her brother Harkins Fry, a music teacher and songwriter. He wrote one gospel song called “Time Has Made A Change”, which Daisy and Faye sang for us:
Time has made a change in the old homeplace.
Many of my friends have gone away,
Some never more in this life I shall see.
Time has made a change in me.
Time has made a change in the old homeplace.
Time has made a change in each smiling face,
And I know my friends can plainly see
Time has made a change in me.
In my childhood days I was well and strong.
I could climb the hillside all day long,
But I’m not today what I used to be.
Time has made a change in me.
When I reach my home in that land so fair.
Meet my friends awaiting me over there.
Free from toil and pain I shall ever be.
Time has made a change in me.
Angeline Lucas, Bill Frazier, Brandon Kirk, Cain Adkins, Cain Adkins Jr., Daisy Ross, Faye Smith, feud, Harts Creek, history, John Hartford, Laurel Creek, Lee Adams, Lena Adkins, Lincoln County, Liza Adkins, Mariah Adkins, Mittie Adkins, Napier Ridge, Ranger, Sherman McCoy, Spicie McCoy, Stiltner, Wayne County, West Virginia, Winchester Adkins, writing
I asked Daisy again about her mother’s escape from Harts Creek.
“Grandpaw and the oldest boy had to come on out and come down into Wayne County to save their lives,” she said.
This seeming abandonment of his family in such a dark time appeared to be a blemish on Cain’s otherwise “spotless record.” I thought about that and said, “Seems to me like the safest way to get everybody out was to get the menfolk out first. And also, too, the menfolk could have got out of there quicker without the womenfolk.”
Faye said, “Well, I remember Grandmaw saying the Brumfields said they’d kill everything from the housecat up. I guess that’s why Grandpaw left, but I still wonder why he left the womenfolk. I can’t help it if it is my great-grandpaw.”
Not long after Cain left Harts, Daisy’s grandmother, Mariah Adkins, killed twelve sheep and some hogs and stored the meat in barrels, then loaded the barrels and all of the other family possessions onto a rented push-boat.
“They couldn’t get nobody to row the boat,” Daisy said. “Grandmaw tried to hire a colored man and he said he would, but he said, ‘I know they’d kill me.’ So they had to do it all theirselves. And Mom and Sissy done the rowing.”
“It was a pretty big size boat cause they had all the stuff they had in their house and their barrels of meat all in there,” Daisy said. “But they couldn’t get nobody to row the boat. Grandmaw tried to hire a colored man and he said he would but he said, ‘I know they’d kill me.’ So they had to do it all theirselves. And Mom and Sissy done the rowing.”
Those on the boat were 46-year-old Mariah Adkins, 23-year-old Spicie McCoy, 18-year-old Mittie Adkins, 13-year-old Lena Adkins, 13-year-old Liza Adkins, nine-year-old Cain Adkins, Jr., and one-year-old Sherman McCoy. Daisy wasn’t sure if Aunt Angeline (aged 28) was on the boat with her six kids, including a newborn.
“I don’t know whether she was already down here or not,” she said. “She didn’t come on the boat with them, I don’t think. She come down and married Lee Adams and lived out on the Napier Ridge.”
Daisy gave a chilling account of the ride down-river.
“Mom was about four months along with my brother Green and she had that little baby. Sherman was about a year and a half old — and it was raining and cold. 8th day of January. They come down through there and the peach trees was in full bloom, she said. Had been kind of a warm spell and the peach trees bloomed out that year. Mom said she was cold; she was numb.”
As they crept out of Harts, little Sherman McCoy pulled a long hair pin from his mother’s hair and stuck it repeatedly in her breast. She was afraid to take it from him because he might cry and alert the Brumfields of their exodus.
“He’d take that straight pin and poke it in her breast and pull it out,” Daisy said. “She knowed she was gonna be drowned every minute, so she wouldn’t scold him for it. She said, ‘It didn’t hurt and he had fun at it.’ He was just a little fella.”
It was the beginning of a rough ride: Mariah almost tipped the boat twice before allowing her daughter Mittie to pilot it.
The Adkinses spent the night at Ranger where they stored their goods at a local home. The next day, they got off the boat at Branchland and crossed over a mountain to Laurel Creek in Wayne County.
“Then they got Bill Frazier from Stiltner to go back up there to Ranger in a wagon — he was a young man then — and haul whatever they had stored down there,” Daisy said. “By the time he got there, the hams and meat didn’t have much meat on them.”
This story about the Adkins family’s exodus constituted one of those unforgettable tales in our search. Hearing about the Brumfield threat to kill “everything from the housecat up” caused Brandon to feel horrible that his ancestors would’ve perhaps harmed innocent women and children. Things had apparently come to that in Harts. Women shot from ambush. Young widows. Orphans. The entire community seemed to be coming undone. Of course, the determination of the women and children to survive their horrible ordeal was both inspiring and awesome, especially considering they weren’t the strong, raw-boned mountaineer women which one imagines them to have been. (Spicie McCoy only weighed about 91 pounds.)
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