By the mid-1990s, after several years of research, word had begun to leak out about my interest in Ed Haley. Around the first of 1995, Bluegrass Unlimited ran a story that prompted Bob Hutchison, a musician from Alledonia, Ohio, to write me.
“I played with an old fella down in Athens county (Ward Jarvis) who had played a lot and learned a lot from Ed Haley,” he wrote. “He played banjo with Ed and learned a lot of his tunes when he was a young man. He said Ed was the best he’d ever seen. Ward was in his 70’s when I got to know him and he was no slouch himself on the fiddle. He said Ed was big on different tunings on the fiddle. I learned the Icy Mountain tune from Ward that he had learned from Ed. Other tunes I remember him crediting Ed with were Camp Chase, Jimmy Johnson, Three forks of Reedy. Banjo Tramp was another of Ed’s. Ward has been dead for several years… Ward was originally from Braxton Co. W.Va.”
Ray Alden offered more information about Jarvis.
“In 1972 I went to Amesville, Ohio to visit instrument craftsman Ron Chacey,” he wrote. “Ron, on a very foggy night, brought me through some hilly back roads up to see Ward Jarvis, who had moved to the area in 1943 from Braxton County, West Virginia. Ward was 78 years old. I remember that special evening in which Ward played many unusual tunes, such as ‘Icy mountain,’ as well as a Kenny Baker Tune he had just learned from a record. It was lucky, since I didn’t have a tape recorder that evening, that Richard Carlin later went to tape Ward Jarvis [in 1976]. Old time musicians Dana Loomis and Grey Larson joined Richard and accompanied Ward at that session. Ward’s source for ‘Banjo Tramp’ was Ed Haley, who had a substantial influence over the Ohio River Valley Musicians in Ward’s younger days.”
Ray Alden’s statement about how Ed influenced a number of “Ohio River Valley Musicians” made me realize that thinking of him as a “Kentucky fiddler” or even a “West Virginia fiddler” was inaccurate. Early on, I’d dismissed the “Kentucky” label used on the Parkersburg Landing album, since he was born and raised in Logan County, West Virginia, and spent a great deal of time in central West Virginia, a hub for great musicians. Also, Lawrence Haley once said that he preferred to think of his father as a West Virginia fiddler because of how he was treated in Ashland. But I had to think, especially after reading Ray Alden’s statement, that it would be best to refer to Haley (in geographical terms) as a middle Ohio River Valley fiddler (or maybe even a Guyandotte-Big Sandy Valley musician) since his sphere of influence wasn’t limited to a single state.
Sometime in the middle of January 1995, I met Ugee Postalwait’s son at one of my shows in Birmingham, Alabama. It was my first encounter with Harold Postalwait, a rather robust man — clean-shaven with a beer gut and decked out in a snap-up shirt, cowboy hat and boots shined to perfection. He showed me Laury Hicks’ fiddle and some old family photographs.
After hanging up with Pat, I called Ugee Postalwait — Laury Hicks’ daughter in Akron, Ohio — to tell her about getting the picture of Ed from Maxine McClain. Ugee was full of energy. Her memory was obviously working in overdrive.
“I used to know all of them,” she said of the old musicians in her part of the country. “They was all to our house. They’d come from miles around to hear Dad play, especially when Ed was in the country. Maybe they’d stay two or three days at our house. I’d get up of a morning to look see who was in the house asleep and who all I was gonna have to cook breakfast for, when I was a girl growing up. The young men would sleep in the boys’ room and they’d sleep in the floor. Then they’d sleep four crossways in the bed, too. As I get old, I get to thinking about all of them and wonder how in the world my dad ever fed them all. I been a cooking ever since I was nine years old for workhands and people like that. One morning — I never will forget I wasn’t very old, then — got up and got breakfast. We’d had cabbage the day before for supper. A big pot of cabbage. And Ed and Ella was there. I never put cabbage on the table for breakfast. Ed looked at me and he said, ‘Ugee, what did you do with that cabbage last night?’ I said, ‘It’s in there.’ ‘Well why didn’t you put it on the table for breakfast?’ I said, ‘Well who eats cabbage for breakfast?’ He said, ‘I do.’ Now I never seen anyone eat such a mess of cabbage for breakfast. Him and Ella did. Ella said, ‘Oh, we always eat the same thing we had for supper.’ I never will forget that. From that time on, whatever was left over from supper, I’d warm it up, you know, and fix it for their breakfast ’cause they would eat it. They liked cabbage or kraut.”
Ugee really laughed telling about that, then started in with another tale.
“One time they was some Baileys there and I believe they was some of them McClain boys, and I was peeling tomatoes for supper — you know, slicing them and putting them on the plate — and I had a plate on one end [of the table] and one on the other end. And Manuel Martin was there too, and Commodore Cole. And I looked in both places and them tomatoes was gone. ‘What in the world? Some of them’s come in and hid my tomatoes.’ I looked out and Ed was standing there sitting on the walk — I never will forget — a laughing, and he said, ‘Wait till she finds out.’ I said, ‘Ed did you get them tomatoes in there?’ He said, ‘We ate every one of them.’ I said, ‘If I could find the plate, I’d break it over your head.’ That Commodore Cole, he said, ‘You wouldn’t dare do that.’ Ed said, ‘Don’t dare her too much, Commodore. I know her.’ And they was a eating them tomatoes as fast as I was a peeling them. Them ornery birds, I never will forget that.”
“The last time I ever seen Ed was at his house,” Ugee said. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Ugee, can you still make a rhubarb pie?’ I said, ‘Why lord yes, I reckon I can. Why?’ He said, ‘Well, I want a rhubarb pie.’ And I made four and I never seen no such eating as he done that evening, him and Ella, on them rhubarb pies while they was hot — with milk cream over them. I can see them yet. I went down to Ashland, Kentucky. They lived on 45th Street.”
A few weeks later, I called Lawrence Kirk, whose ancestors had played various roles in the story of Milt Haley’s death. I hadn’t spoken with him for several months. We talked more about Milt Haley’s murder.
“Back in the old days, these people’d get into trouble here and they’d run backwards and forwards across that Tug River,” he said. “That was the state line and the law didn’t bother them. If you crossed the state line, you was safe. But they got the papers out and went over there and got Haley and McCoy. Inez is where they went to and got them. Yes, sir. They either came up Jenny’s Creek or Marrowbone Creek. See, they had horse trails all through these woods back in them days. They come right across Twelve Pole and down Henderson up there in the head of main Hart. Come right down and up what they call the Bill Branch — some people calls it the Hugh Dingess Branch — right down Piney Fork. It’s a straight shoot through there. I’ll tell you what. Come up sometime when you’ve got a day or two and we can drive right through there.”
Boy, that sure sounded good to me.
In the meantime, Pat kept me up on everything. She said Mona was helping her look after Lawrence and had even spent the night. Clyde had come in for Christmas.
“They had a red hat on him and a great big sign across the front which said ‘Clyde.’ They had a pair of pants that was rolled over about three times tops, the shoes was way too big, and, I mean, it was sad. The hat was red, his sweater was blue, and his shoes was white. Mona said they got half-way home from Cincinnati, and he was just talking away, you know, about things that had happened in their past, and then he began looking out the window and all of a sudden he turned around and he said, ‘Who in the hell are you?’ And she thought, ‘Uh, oh, it’s gonna be good.’ Larry was very happy to see him.”
In one of those “passing the torch moments,” Lawrence reached the telephone to his sister, Mona. I told her about Milt Haley being a fiddler, and she said, “Really? Well we didn’t never know that.”
I figured that Ed had kept all of the details about Milt hidden from his kids, but Mona said, “Well, he talked about it some, because I wouldn’t know what I know about it if he hadn’t. You did find out what I told you was true, didn’t you? It wasn’t my dad’s mother that was killed, the way I heard it. It was one of the Hatfield women. Got half her face shot away and it killed her. That’s why they retaliated against Green McCoy and my grandfather. That’s only hearsay, but it had to come from Pop. I do remember him saying that.”
Pat seemed pleased that Mona was visiting Lawrence.
“He asks for her a lot,” she said.
I wanted to know more about Lawrence’s condition.
“He sits with his eyes closed and he found a pair of sunglasses that look exactly like the ones his daddy wore,” Pat said. “These are a pair that one of the kids bought. They were laying on the dining room table and he picked them up and said, ‘There’s my glasses.’ He insists on wearing them and you would think it was Ed Haley back many years ago. He talks about horse and buggies a lot. He sits with your book constantly. He does not like to look at the picture of his mother’s tombstone. What keeps you in his mind a lot, he listens to the tapes and he knows he gave you the records. Beverly was here this past weekend. He knew who she was but he was still talking in riddles. But today he’s pretty much himself. He got up and got dressed about 5:30 and he’s been roaming ever since.”
I called Lawrence and Pat to tell them about this new discovery. Pat put me on the telephone with Lawrence, who seemed to be doing better. I asked him why he thought none of the Haley kids ever learned the fiddle.
“I think Pop took interest in us as far as he knew how to take interest in us,” he said. “Whatever he could’ve taught us he most certainly would have. But we’d ruther be out running in the woods than sitting at a table trying to learn ‘Forks of Sandy’ or something like that. He would ruther teach it to the ones who could and who showed interest in it, and let it go at that. Pop never did try to get me to learn the fiddle because I was left-handed. I guess he figured that would be too much of a challenge for him even, to try to teach violin to a left-handed violin player.”
I told Lawrence he knew more about the fiddle than a lot of professional musicians and he said, “Well, I guess I learned just about as much of it as he did. I appreciate any good words that can be said about me and the violin. My sister’s here and if you could get her interested, she might be able to tell you as much about it as I can. She took more interest in the music of our mother, I know that. But she could pick up the fiddle and play the fiddle and play the mandolin and the piano and other instruments.”
Lawrence said, “Now if you want to talk to my sister a minute, maybe she can tell you something. If she can’t, I don’t know who else to tell you. She could probably tell you as much about it as any of us.”
Around that time, I received a very important letter in the mail from Brandon Kirk, the Harts genealogist. “Here are some documents pertaining to your research which I found in the F.B. Lambert Collection here at Marshall University,” he wrote. “There is a good chance that there may be more references in the collection regarding old time fiddlers.” Along with Brandon’s note was a single photocopied page of an interview with someone named Sam Vinson Harold on February 22, 1951. “Ed Haley was originally from Kentucky, about Ashland,” Lambert wrote. “I think he is living yet. Milt Haley, Blind Ed’s father, was a great fiddler. Some one shot him, on his porch, at mo. of Green Shoals.” Harold claimed to have penned the tune about Milt Haley’s death, “The Lincoln County Crew”, with someone named Tom Ferrell. This interview — while small in content — was a great find because it was the first solid reference that Milt was a fiddler, which meant Ed would’ve had music around in his childhood and could’ve possibly even begun learning to play by watching him.