Later that evening, back in Ashland, Lawrence and I talked about Haley’s tunes. Ed told him all about “Bonaparte’s Retreat”.
“When the French first went in, they was pushing the Russians pretty hard,” Lawrence said. “The high string going in. The Russians were retreating. When they got to a certain point, the cannons started booming and the Russians started turning the tide on them. Part of the highs, I guess, was the French Napoleon troops coming out in a hurry and the Russians right behind them and then they’d be a spell of like an old dirge or something, like they was coming out defeated. They was slacking off on ’em and letting them retreat back out of there. They knew they wasn’t gonna make it on account of the weather. Just gonna let them freeze to death. Then they’d boom the cannon and push them a little bit faster. Then the dirge come up again. That’s the way Pop kinda explained it to me. He’d say, ‘Now you listen to these cannons boom. The Russians are getting ready to turn the tide on Napoleon’s troops’.”
Lawrence had no idea where Ed heard that story.
“Same way with ‘Lost Indian’,” he said. “It seemed like, the way he explained it, this old Indian would look at something and see a far off peak that he recognized and he’d be happy and hooping and hollering and trying to get over to it and then whenever he’d get over there he would find out it wasn’t the place he thought it was. And he’d sit down and kind of reminisce, I guess, and feel bad towards his self because he wasn’t where he thought he was at so he could get home. He’d stand up and look around again and maybe see another peak or familiar point as being close to his tribe and he’d go to it with a little bit of enthusiasm and glee because he thought he’s getting home and it’d turn out the same way. He wasn’t getting no where. He was still a ‘lost Indian’.”
Charlotte Spaulding, Grace’s daughter, guided Lawrence, Pat, and I to see 81-year-old Babe Hale. I told him about my interest in Ed’s life and he started talking about his Aunt Josie. I showed him one picture of Ed and he said, “That looks just like her almost.” I pulled out Ed’s picture from Parkersburg Landing and he said, “Looks more like Uncle Mont.” I was pretty sure that there was some kind of family connection between Ed and Mont and Josie, especially when Babe said his brother George Hale had went by the nickname of “Milt.” Maybe Josie and Mont were somehow Milt Haley’s children by a previous marriage.
“Josie’s mom and dad are buried down here at Grey Eagle,” Babe said. “He was killed in a raft. You know, they used to take logs down the river. They’s big rafts, trees tied together. And he was killed that way. He was killed on a raft.”
Babe told me more about Josie Cline — some very peculiar details.
“Josie collected toll up there, and when I’d go across, I had to pay, too. It didn’t make any difference to her: she’s gonna get three cents some way or other. But she was really manly. She wore men’s shoes and everything.”
So she wore a long dress all the time?
“Oh yeah,” Babe said. “She was really an old-fashioned woman.”
Charlotte said, “She looked like a man, didn’t she, Babe?”
I asked Babe what tunes she and Mont played and he said, “Oh, God, ‘Sourwood Mountain’ and everything. No, they could really knock it off now, both of them.”
We went to Grace’s briefly before heading back to Ashland. I was under the impression that Grace might have confused Ed with Mont Spaulding, although she had claimed to know about Ed’s banjo-picking friend, Johnny Hager.
“Yeah, he played the banjo with her,” she had said. “He was a little man. He was with them. They was two or three people traveled with them.”
The next day, Lawrence, Pat, and I drove up the Tug Fork to see 80-year-old Grace Marcum in Kermit, West Virginia. I was hoping for more information on the Muncy family, who may have been connected genealogically to Haley. It was a long drive through Wayne County up the Big Sandy Valley on Route 52. There was nothing. Then we came to Fort Gay, West Virginia, an interestingly-named town at the mouth of the Tug Fork. A little further south was some of the emptiest country I have ever seen — just the Tug and occasionally the old N&W Railroad. We finally reached the village of Crum, then crossed into Mingo County and to the old railroad town of Kermit. It was completely dead, with just a shell of a strip of old businesses. Across the river was Warfield, Kentucky.
Once we located Grace, I asked her if she had ever heard of Milt Haley.
“They called him ‘Milty,’ didn’t they?” she said. “Yeah, that’s what I heard him called.”
What about Ed Haley?
“He used to play the fiddle for us down there at the square dance,” Grace said. “Daddy built a big hotel and he’d have square dances downstairs in that big dining room. He used to play the fiddle for us down there. Him and Josie Cline and her brother Mont Spaulding was awful good friends. We’d give them twenty-five dollars a night, my daddy. They played at Warfield a lot. Across the river there. Some of her people lived there, some of Josie’s people. I don’t know who it was.”
At that point, Lawrence said, “We used to ride the N&W out of Kenova up the Tug Fork here up to Williamson and all through there. And he’d play music at some of the hotels and at the courthouse and places like that up at Williamson. Coming back, he’d usually stop here and see these Muncys and we’d stay, maybe, overnight with them.”
Grace seemed to know exactly who Lawrence was talking about.
“That was Rush and Loosh and Old Man Sammy. Yeah, I can remember. Dad sold the store out to Uncle Sammy, and he run the business there a long time. Dad got paint poison, and we liked to lost him. Rush lived in Kenova for years, but his wife died and he come up here and stayed with Loosh. Rush was the oldest one.”
Lawrence said, “Well, that’s what my dad used to do for a living was to go around and play during court days. He might stay in Williamson as long as they had a court session a going. And then come back through here and stop and see — I didn’t know that they’s his kinfolk — the Muncys was any kin to him. I’ve heard him talk about Mont Spaulding.”
So wait a minute. Ed played music with someone named Mont Spaulding and Josie Cline?
“Yeah, well, Ed come in ever once in a while, but Ed was getting pretty old,” Grace said. “And he stayed with Josie and them. Wherever they played, he went with ’em. Pretty nice old man. Well, him and Loosh Muncy and Rush Muncy was close. Now, they didn’t only play for Dad. They played for other people. Let’s see, Thursday night and Saturday night down here, and then they’d go to Borderland and play up there on Thursday and Friday nights. They made it good. Let’s see, Mont Spaulding, and a Haley and Josie Cline. Them three was the ones that… I paid them off myself. I know.”
The next morning, Lawrence and I went to see Dr. Paul Holbrook, son of Ed’s close friend, Dr. H.H. Holbrook of Greenup, Kentucky. Paul hadn’t located the silver cup Ed was supposed to have given his father for delivering Mona in 1930, but did have three very important Wilcox-Gay records his father made of Ed on a “tin machine” in Greenup. On one of the records, Ed played “Fifteen Days in Georgia” and “Wake Up Susan”. On another was Ed’s version of “Over the Waves”, with some Dinah Shore recordings on the flip side. There was also a recording of Doc playing “Ragtime Anna” on December 27, 1941 (supposedly using the fiddle Ed had given him). Paul allowed me to borrow these three records, which I found to be unbelievably scratchy.
Later that day, Lawrence told me more about his mother’s background. He said Ella came from the Trumbos, a somewhat affluent family headquartered in Morehead, Kentucky. Morehead, Lawrence reminded me, was a small college town located thirty miles west of Ashland. Ella’s father William Trumbo — who Lawrence called “Paw” — was an active participant in the early events of the famous Martin-Tolliver feud (a.k.a., the Rowan County War), while her aunt was married to one of the feud’s chief participants, John Martin.
“That’s the feud Larry always talked about until you came along,” Pat said to me. “Mom’s father and apparently her uncle was involved in that.”
Pat and Lawrence knew something about the Trumbos.
“William Trumbo was a large landowner down there on Triplett’s Creek,” Pat said. “That’s where the Trumbos are buried — on the hill behind Triplett’s Creek. We’ve been there. The graves have fallen stones for markers. It was hard for us to get down and inspect them very well to see dates and things.”
Pat told me a little something about Ella’s brother Allie, as well as Texas Anna, who Pat called “Sissy”.
“Sissy. Mom’s sister, had a son, Bill Busby,” Pat said. “I never met Bill Busby but apparently he had a speech impediment and a hearing impediment. And then she was with a man when I came over here in 1949. He was a paper hanger.”
Later that night, Lawrence, Pat and I looked through a box of family photographs. Most were “modern” pictures featuring side burns, bellbottoms, or trendy 80s sweaters, but there were a few treasures. Early in our dig, I came across an old postcard with Ed, Ella, and Ralph pictured on it. Toward the bottom of the box was a small, dark picture of Ed in between Ella and someone named Margaret Arms. Lawrence said Margaret was Ed’s cousin, originally from around Paintsville, Kentucky, “or somewhere,” who ran a barbershop on Court Street in Cincinnati. Mona later told me that Margaret used the last name of Thomas because she was married to or lived with a man by that name. Margaret used to give her jewelry.
At the bottom of the cardboard box, under the flaps, was a dark, faded picture of Ed and Ella sitting on the street with their instruments. The photo was small and blurred, but I could make out that Ed wore some kind of a billed cap and was getting ready to play a tune.
“Pop looks like he might have been getting ready to play a piece and was letting my mother know without coming right out and saying what piece of music he was gonna play,” Lawrence said of the picture. “He was maybe hitting a lick with the fiddle bow, sort of like a ‘tune-up lick’ or two.”
Lawrence pointed to his mother, who had her right arm behind the mandolin, and said, “They kept a cup on the street in front of them or some kind of place where people could put change and my mother would take that up and she would put it behind her mandolin and count the take for their piece of music. And that’s what she’s doing right there.”
In the photograph, Ed obviously had the fiddle placed against his chest, and it appeared as if he held the bow as far to the end of the frog as possible. I practiced the hold in front of the mirror in the living room, then showed it to Lawrence, who said, “That’s it. That looks right.” I could tell right away this bow hold allowed for greater leverage in playing close to the frog as well as for pulling an extremely long bow. It was very similar to a bow hold I’d learned as a boy from Gene Goforth and Benny Martin, but the emphasis was never as far back as Ed was holding it. In fact, when I first saw this picture I even thought Ed might be holding it by the “frog screw.”