As far as can be ascertained, Harts — the place of Ed Haley’s birth — first appeared in written history as “Heart Creek” on a John Wood map sketched some time between 1809 and 1824. Reportedly, the creek was named for Stephen Hart — an early settler — or perhaps for his father, who was reportedly scalped by Indians at the mouth of Little Harts Creek. Stephen Hart first appeared in Logan County records in the late 1830s, settling on Crawley Creek, near Harts. Some claim that he lived at the mouth of Harts Creek on a hill in a rock cave, while others say he lived in Dock Bottom near the mouth of Smoke House Fork. More than likely, he had shanties constructed along various creeks at different times used for hunting camps. All historians agree that the Smoke House Fork of Harts Creek was so named because it contained Hart’s smoke house.
“At the forks of Hart’s Creek, where Henderson Dingess now lives, Stephen Hart had a cabin,” writes Henry Clay Ragland in his 1896 Logan County history. “He cared nothing for the soil, but put in his time hunting the deer which were so abundant on the creek. On the left-hand fork, a short distance from his cabin, he built a house in which to cure his venison, in order to take it to the settlement whenever an opportunity would offer itself.”
According to written record, the first settler of present-day Harts was Richard Elkins, a hunter, farmer and ginseng digger. Elkins migrated to the mouth of the creek from “The Islands of Guyandotte” (Logan) in 1809 or 1815, some fifteen years after the last Indian had roamed the valley. At that time, Harts Creek was in Cabell County, Virginia. Jacob Stollings, who was granted 185 acres in the lower section of the creek by the State of Virginia in 1812, soon joined Elkins. Other neighbors along the Guyan River were William W. Brumfield, who lived at the mouth of Ugly Creek, and Squire Toney, who lived in the bottoms above Douglas Branch. Brumfield was the grandfather of Paris Brumfield.
“At the coming of white men, this region was a wilderness inhabited only by wild animals,” wrote Fred B. Lambert, an early local historian. “There was a buffalo trail extending in the general direction from the Guyan Valley to Mud River and buffalo passed up the valleys in the summer. Wild game was plentiful — deer, turkey, bear and also such animals as panthers, wild cats, and wolves. The otter and beaver were found on Guyan River at an early day. Wild hogs roamed the woods. At times in the early morning the air would be darkened by pigeons. There were elk in this region, but they were exterminated as early as 1815.”
During the later teens, Peter Dingess, Garland Conley, Charles Spurlock, Abner Vance, and Richard Vance settled in the vicinity of Harts Creek. These men were the ancestors of many persons involved in the Milt Haley story.
“The first settlers to find homes in Hart’s District were from the counties of northern Virginia,” according to Kile Topping, an early historian. “Many of these settlers belonged to the hardy class of hunters and ginseng diggers, who later gave up this occupation to become timbermen. They came here from Virginia through the mountains on foot, or down the Kanawha Valley in covered wagons. Some came in push boats from nearby counties and Ohio. Most of the traveling was done on horseback. There was no salt here and the old settlers dug their ‘seng’ and carried it on horses to the Salt Licks of the great Kanawha River, where they exchanged it for salt and other merchandise.”
During the early 1820s, there were minor improvements locally. James White built the first grist mill around 1821. “It was a small tub-wheel mill, water being the propelling power,” according to Hardesty’s History of Lincoln County, West Virginia (c.1884). In 1823, a Methodist minister named William West preached the first sermon in Harts (and became the namesake for West Fork). In 1824, Harts was incorporated into the new county of Logan. By that time, William Thompson lived in the head of West Fork, Isham Tomblin lived on Harts Creek, Joseph Gore (Ed Haley’s great-great-grandfather) lived on West Fork and Isaac Brown lived across the Guyandotte River from Green Shoal. Moses Workman and John Abbott were perhaps in the area as well, the latter located near Isaac Brown.