William M. Trumbo — Ella Haley’s father — was born in October of 1861 to Thomas Isaac and Celia Ann (Oxley) Trumbo of Morehead, Kentucky. Thomas Isaac was a son of John L. and Sarah (Manley) Trumbo of Bath or Fleming County, Kentucky, while Celia Ann was the daughter of Prior and Isabel (Neal) Oxley. She was born in Kentucky or Ohio or Indiana (it varies in each census record). Thomas and Celia lived in Morehead across Triplett Creek from Dr. Raine’s Cottage Hotel. In 1870, Thomas was listed in the Rowan County Census as the county jailor. There were six children living in his home, aged newborn to 13 years, including son, William, who was 11. Daughter Lucy was living at Pine Grove with her new husband, John Martin — later a key participant in the Martin-Tolliver feud. The Thomas Trumbo home survived until at least 1984, according to one local history. (“The Thomas Isaac Trumbo House stands across Triplett Creek from the Raine Hotel. Dr. Raine’s Cottage Hotel was the site of many feud incidents.”)
William Trumbo married Laura Belle Whitt around 1878. They were the parents of five children: Zora Trumbo, born March 1879; Texas Anna Trumbo, born January 1885; Martha Ella, born February 1888; Allie W. Trumbo, born May 1891; and Luther Trumbo, born March 1893.
The Trumbos made their home in Morehead, where William was listed in the 1880 census as twenty-one years old. In 1884, Laura Belle Trumbo — William’s wife (who became pregnant in the spring of that year) — inadvertently played a key role in initiating the Martin-Tolliver Feud while at a pre-election dance in Morehead.
“During the evening Mrs. William Trumbo got tired, excused herself, and went upstairs to what she thought was her room,” writes John Edd Pearce in Days of Darkness: The Feuds of Eastern Kentucky (1994). “It was not. By mistake she got into the room of H.G. Price, a wealthy timber dealer and owner of the steamboat Gerty. When Price returned to his room, he was pleased to find on his bed what seemed to be a bonus, and he attempted to make the most of the situation. Mrs. Trumbo screamed, fled, and told her husband of her horrible experience.”
Unfortunately for Price, Mrs. Trumbo was related by marriage to the Logan and Martin families, both of whom made dangerous enemies.
“On election day Trumbo sought out Price and demanded that he apologize publicly to his wife,” writes Pearce. “Price replied — not dishonestly — that he had done nothing wrong, had found Mrs. Trumbo on his bed, and had done what any man would have done under the circumstances. A fight broke out. Friends of the men joined in, to the cheers of drunken onlookers.”
John Martin, a brother-in-law to Mrs. Trumbo, jumped in on the Trumbo side and soon got into a shooting scrape with Floyd Tolliver — which effectively ended the brawl. But tensions remained throughout the fall.
“It was a bleak day in December, 1884, following the August election in Rowan County when John Martin and his wife Lucy Trumbo and two of their small children climbed into their jolt wagon out on Christy Creek and rode into town,” writes Jean Thomas in Blue Ridge Country (1942). In no time at all, Martin bumped into Tolliver, who he shot dead before turning himself in to authorities. Not long thereafter, a mob of men shot Martin to death on a train at Farmers, a settlement about five miles from Morehead.
“When the train bearing John Martin’s bullet-torn body reached Morehead, he was carried, still breathing, into the old Central Hotel where he died that night,” writes Thomas. “In the meantime his distracted wife had sent for their children and her mother who was staying with the family on the farm on Christy Creek. An old darky who had long lived at the county seat mounted his half-blind mule and rode out along the lonely creek that cold winter night to carry the sad tidings to the Martin household. He also rode ahead of them on the journey back with the corpse of John Martin later that same night.”
Along the way, Granny Trumbo — Ella’s grandmother — warned the children gathered in the back of the wagon, “Hush! No telling who’s hid in the brush to kill us.” Years later, the children remembered how she sat “bravely erect on the board seat of the wagon beside her widowed daughter, gripped the reins and urged the weary team onward along the frozen road, keeping close behind the silent horseman ahead.”
It was the first violent acts in a three-year row that would claim twenty lives, almost destroy a town and inspire the song, “The Rowan County Crew”, supposedly written by Blind Bill Day. Ironically, this tune had the same melody and lyrical rhythms as “The Lincoln County Crew”, a song partly composed about the murder of Ed Haley’s father.