Al Brumfield, Allen Martin, Andrew D. Robinson, Andrew Robinson, Anthony Adams, Appalachia, Ben Adams, Ben Robinson, Boardtree Branch, Chloe Gore, Chloe Mullins, crime, David Robinson, Dicy Adams, Elizabeth Abbott, genealogy, general store, Greasy George Adams, Green McCoy, Harts Creek, Harvey Adams, Henderson Dingess, history, Hollena Brumfield, Hugh Dingess, Jackson Mullins, John Frock Adams, John M. Adams, John Robinson, Joseph Adams, Joseph Robinson, Lincoln County Feud, Logan County, Logan County Banner, Lucinda Brumfield, May Adams, Meekin Branch, Milt Haley, Peter Carter, Rhoda Robinson, Sallie Dingess, Solomon Adams, Spicie McCoy, Susan Abbott, Ticky George Adams, timber, Trace Fork, Victoria Dingess, Viola Dingess, West Virginia, Wilson Abbott
Ben Adams — the man who supposedly hired Milt Haley and Green McCoy to assassinate Al Brumfield — was born in 1855 to Joseph and Dicy (Mullins) Adams on Big Harts Creek in Logan County, (West) Virginia. His older sister Sarah married Henderson Dingess and was the mother of Hollena Brumfield, Hugh Dingess and several others. He was a first cousin to Jackson Mullins, Milt Haley’s father-in-law, and a brother-in-law to Chloe Mullins, Milt’s mother-in-law, by her first marriage to John Adams.
In 1870, 17-year-old Ben lived at home with his mother, where he worked as a farmer. He was illiterate, according to census records. His neighbors were Andrew Robinson and Henderson Dingess, both of whom had married his sisters (Rhoda J. and Sally). In the next year, according to tradition, he fathered an illegitimate child, William Adams, who was born to Lucinda Brumfield (niece of Paris).
In 1873, Ben married Victoria Dingess. Victoria was born in 1856 and was a first cousin to Hollena Brumfield and Hugh Dingess. The marriage made for an interesting genealogical connection: Ben was already Hugh’s uncle; now he was also his brother-in-law, as Hugh was married to Victoria’s sister, Viola (his first cousin). Ben’s daughter Sally, who was named after Hollena’s mother, later married a cousin of Spicie McCoy, Green’s wife. For all practical purposes then, Ben Adams was genealogically connected to all sides of the feud — making it a true intra-family feud from his perspective.
For the first decade or so of his marriage, Ben lived with his mother on family property, although he did acquire land and open a general store business. In 1880, he was listed in the Lincoln County Census with his mother Dicy, aged 63, and family. He was 26 years old, Victory was 23, Sally was six, son Charlie was four, daughter Patsy A. was two, and son Anthony was a few months old. George Greaar, age 20, was a boarder. In 1881, he purchased 25 acres on the Meekin Branch of Trace Fork. Three years later, he was listed in a business directory as the proprietor of a general store. At that same time, his brother-in-law and neighbor Henderson Dingess was a distiller.
Later in the decade, Ben fathered three more children: George “Greasy” (1885), Harvey (1886), and May (1889). In 1889, the time of Milt Haley’s ambush of Al Brumfield, Adams owned 260 acres on the Boardtree Branch of Trace Fork valued at $1.00 per acre in Logan County.
Anthony Adams — Ben’s brother and ally in the 1889 troubles — was a prominent timberman on Harts Creek. Anthony had been born in 1849 and was the husband of Pricie Alifair Chapman, Burl Farley’s half-sister. In 1884, Adams was listed in a business directory as a blacksmith. In 1889, he owned two 50-acre tracts of land, one valued at $3.50 per acre with a $30 building on it, the other valued at $2.00 per acre. By that time, he had three sons of fighting age who may have participated in the feud: Solomon Adams (born 1869), Horatio “Rush” Adams (born 1871), and Wayne Adams (born 1874), as well as a son-in-law, Harrrison Blair (born c.1867).
A quick examination of the Adams genealogy gives a clue as to Ben’s other 1889 allies. First there was brother “Bad John” Adams. Adams was deceased at the time of the Haley-McCoy incident, but he had been married to Chloe Gore — mother of Emma Jean (Mullins) Haley. He had three sons of fighting age in 1889: Joseph Adams (born 1859), John Frock Adams (born 1861), and Ticky George Adams (born 1865)…as well as son-in-law Sampson Thomas.
Rhoda J. Robinson was a sister to the three Adams brothers. She had several children who may have allied with Ben: David Robinson (born 1860), Ben Robinson (born 1866), John R. Robinson (born 1868), and Joseph Robinson (born 1870). There was also brother Solomon Adams, who may have offered his loyalty to Ben, along with sons John M. Adams (born 1869) and Benjamin Adams (born 1867), and sons-in-law David Robinson and Peter Carter (c.1873).
As for Ben himself, he stayed busy with timber after the feud. According to an 1896 article from the Logan County Banner: “Benj. Adams, of Hart, is hauling some fine poplar from trace fork.” In 1901, he married Venila Susan Abbott, a daughter of Wilson and Elizabeth (Workman) Abbott, and had at least eight more children (born between 1901 and 1921). Not long after his remarriage, he was accused of murdering a local postman named Jim Allen Martin — and nearly went bankrupt paying for his legal defense. He died in 1910 and was buried on the hill near the mouth of Trace Fork.
Brandon kept me up to date on his research by writing me incredibly detailed letters. I was becoming a fan of his writing style. In one letter, he identified the “murder house” where Green McCoy and Milt Haley were killed at Green Shoal.
“As you might recall, when we were trying to locate the George Fry home at Green Shoal, old-timers kept mentioning the homes of Tucker Fry and Baptist Fry as well. To avoid any confusion, I want to clarify so that you might keep the three names and the two houses straight. Baptist Fry was an uncle to George Fry. (His wife, Marinda, was the mother of Ben Walker, who helped bury Haley and McCoy.) Baptist’s home stood against the mountain at Fry across Route 10 where a maroon and white house stands today. When he died in 1881, it passed into the hands of his son Tucker Fry, who lived there with his wife and two children in 1889. The George Fry home — the one where Milt and Green were killed by most accounts — stood across present-day Route 10 and just upriver where Lonnie Lambert’s house is today.”
In another package, Brandon sent this scrap of information from the Doris Miller Papers at the Morrow Library in Huntington, West Virginia. “Al Brumfield — Harts,” it read. “Hollena. Logging people. — tied up logs. Kept overnight. Washed and ironed clothes. They went out and broke off tops of winter onions as they went thru garden to creek.”
Brandon also visited Dick Thompson at Thompson Branch of Harts Creek. Dick was a first cousin to Lawrence Kirk and a grandson to Bill Brumfield. He killed a man back in the early ’30s and served time in the state penitentiary. Dick welcomed Brandon into his home, which, incidentally was just down the hill from the site of the 1889 ambush of Al Brumfield.
Every six months or so, Dick said, Ed Haley and his family came to Harts by train. Not long after they arrived in Harts, somebody would haul them up the creek where they stayed all over. Everyone knew Ed, Dick said, and he “had some of the finest boys you ever seen.” He stayed with Dick’s father Andy Thompson and his grandfather Brumfield, two local moonshiners in the Cole Branch area of Harts Creek. (This was an interesting revelation, of course, because it meant that Ed, son of Milt Haley, visited with Bill, son of Paris Brumfield.)
Dick said Ed “could play anything on that fiddle” but he only remembered “Old Dan Tucker”. Ed used to tell a story about how he’d never stay at Old Dan Tucker’s again because he had to sleep in a feather bed that threw him to the floor. Dick said Ed played a lot in taverns with Bernie Adams, an excellent guitar player. Sometimes they made up to one hundred dollars a night. Ed played periodically in Dick’s tavern on Harts Creek. One night, around 1936-37, Dick closed up and took several men (including Ed) to a tavern in the head of nearby Crawley Creek. A little later, Ed got into it with Millard Adams and hit him over the head with his fiddle. (Another variation of the “fiddle over the head story…” Sol Bumgarner had told me that Ed did that to a Stollings, while Dave Brumfield implied that it happened around 1945, not in the late ’30s. Maybe Ed was just fond of using his fiddle as a weapon in fights.)
Al Brumfield, Anthony Adams, Ashland, Bill's Branch, blind, Brandon Kirk, Cain Adkins, Cecil Brumfield, Chapmanville, Charley Davis, Cow Shed Inn, Crawley Creek, Dave Brumfield, Dick Thompson, Earl Brumfield, Ed Haley, Ellum's Inn, fiddler, fiddling, Fisher B. Adkins, Green McCoy, Harts Creek, Henderson Dingess, Hoover Fork, Hugh Dingess, John Brumfield, Kentucky, Lincoln County, Lincoln County Schools, Logan, Logan County, Milt Haley, music, Piney Fork, Smokehouse Fork, Trace Fork, Trace Mountain, West Fork, West Virginia, writing
A few days after visiting Earl Brumfield, Brandon dropped in on his good friends, Charley Davis and Dave Brumfield. Davis was an 88-year-old cousin to Bob and Bill Adkins. Brumfield was Davis’ son-in-law and neighbor. They lived just up Harts Creek near the high school and were familiar with Ed Haley and the story of his father, Milt. Charley said he once saw Ed in a fiddlers’ contest at the old Chapmanville High School around 1931-32. There were two other fiddlers in the contest — young men who were strangers to the area — but Ed easily won first place (a twenty-dollar gold piece). He was accompanied by his wife and a son, and there was a large crowd on hand.
Dave said Ed was mean as hell and laughed, as if it was just expected in those days. He said Ed spent most of his time drinking and playing music in all of the local dives. Sometimes, he would stop in and stay with his father, Cecil Brumfield, who lived in and later just down the road from the old Henderson Dingess place on Smoke House Fork. Dave remembered Ed playing at the Cow Shed Inn on Crawley Mountain, at Dick Thompson’s tavern on main Harts Creek and at Ellum’s Inn near Chapmanville. Supposedly, Ed wore a man out one time at a tavern on Trace Mountain.
Dave said he grew up hearing stories about Ed Haley from his mother’s people, the Adamses. Ed’s blindness was a source of fascination for locals. One time, he was sitting around with some cousins on Trace who were testing his ability to identify trees by their smell. They would put first one and then another type of limb under his nose. Dave said Ed identified oak and walnut. Then, one of his cousins stuck the hind-end of an old cat up under his nose. Ed smiled and said it was pussy willow.
Dave said he last saw Ed around 1945-46 when he came in to see his father, Cecil Brumfield. Ed had gotten drunk and broken his fiddle. Cecil loaned him his fiddle, which Ed never returned. Brumfield later learned that he had pawned it off in Logan for a few dollars to buy a train ticket to Ashland. Cecil bought his fiddle back from the shop and kept it for years.
Dave’s stories about Milt Haley were similar to what his Aunt Roxie Mullins had told me in 1991. Milt supposedly caused Ed’s blindness after getting angry and sticking him head-first into frozen water. Not long afterwards he and Green McCoy were hired by the Adamses to kill Al Brumfield over a timber dispute. After the assassination failed, the Brumfields captured Milt and Green in Kentucky. Charley said the two men were from Kentucky — “that’s why they went back there” to hide from the law after the botched ambush.
The vigilantes who captured Milt and Green planned to bring them back to Harts Creek by way of Trace Fork. But John Brumfield — Al’s brother and Dave’s grandfather — met them in the head of the branch and warned them to take another route because there was a rival mob waiting for them near the mouth of the hollow. Dave said it was later learned that Ben and Anthony Adams — two brothers who had ill feelings toward Al Brumfield — organized this mob.
The Brumfield gang, Dave and Charley agreed, quickly decided to avoid the Haley-McCoy rescue party. They crossed a mountain and came down Hoover Fork onto main Harts Creek, then went a short distance down the creek and turned up Buck Fork where they crossed the mountain to Henderson Dingess’ home on Smoke House Fork. From there, they went up Bill’s Branch, down Piney and over to Green Shoal, where Milt played “Brownlow’s Dream” — a tune Dave said (mistakenly) was the same as “Hell Up Coal Hollow”. Soon after, a mob beat Milt and Green to death and left them in the yard where chickens “picked at their brains.” After Milt and Green’s murder, Charley said locals were afraid to “give them land for their burial” because the Brumfields warned folks to leave their bodies alone.
Brandon asked about Cain Adkins, the father-in-law of Green McCoy. Charley said he had heard old-timers refer to the old “Cain Adkins place” on West Fork. In Charley’s time, it was known as the Fisher B. Adkins place. Fisher was a son-in-law to Hugh Dingess and one-time superintendent of Lincoln County Schools.
In the years following the Haley-McCoy murder, the Brumfields continued to rely on vigilante justice. Charley said they attempted to round up the Conleys after their murder of John Brumfield in 1900, but were unsuccessful.
In West Virginia, Brandon was busy interviewing local folks about Ed Haley and his father’s 1889 murder. He first dropped in on Earl Brumfield, a grandson to Al Brumfield, who lived at Barboursville, near Huntington. Earl was born in 1914 — nine years after Al’s death — and was a Depression era schoolteacher in Harts. At the time of Brandon’s visit, Earl was bed-fast and withered with age and in poor health and was barely able to speak plainly. Brandon started asking him general questions about the Brumfields.
Earl said Al Brumfield was bad to chase women throughout his marriage to Hollena. He had a mistress in a little town downriver named Betty Meade, who bore him two illegitimate children. When Hollena found out about his affair, she enlisted the help of her brother-in-law Jim Brumfield to kill the woman. Supposedly, Al knocked Jim’s gun away just before the shooting started and did it with such force that he broke his younger brother’s arm.
Earl said Al had other affairs. One time, Hollena was in the yard and saw him with a woman hid behind a log across the river. Outraged, she fetched a shotgun and shot at him every time he poked his head out from the log. This, of course, sounded like a tall tale — but it surely had a glimmer of truth in it.
Apparently, Al’s infidelity was a constant source of trouble in his marriage. Earl laughed telling about it, but it would have made for a terrible situation, especially since Hollena was a shattered beauty. Maybe Al’s infidelity was what drove Hollena to have her reported affair and love child with Fed Adkins in the early 1890s. Either way, Hollena had her revenge when Al was sick and near the end of his life. According to Earl, she often confined him to the upstairs of their house while she stayed downstairs. If he needed something or was feeling contrary, he would peck his cane on the floor to get her attention.
A few days later, Pat Haley called me from Ashland with news that Mona was visiting. This was a new development: Pat and Mona were apparently patching up some of their differences. Pat knew I would want to speak with Mona and, in spite of whatever hard feelings existed between them, she was willing to give me access to her.
When Mona took the telephone, I told her about getting the new copies of Ed’s recordings. She immediately began to talk about her father making them.
“I was only about fourteen, fifteen,” she said. “I didn’t pay much attention. My oldest brother made the records, him and his wife.”
The whole thing took place around the dining room table.
“You know, they were made on plastic,” Mona said. “And they would brush the plastic strips away as the thing would cut the records. It was kinda tedious, I do remember that.”
Mona said Ed sat about three feet across the table from the recording machine, while Ella was a little closer.
“It shows in the records, don’t it?” she said. I didn’t want to say anything but I totally agreed.
She remembered that Ed listened to each record after it was made and liked what he heard.
“He was talking mostly to my oldest brother,” she said.
I had other questions for Mona, mostly dealing with her general childhood memories. I asked, “Do you remember the house being dark when you were growing up, because obviously they didn’t have any need for light.”
“We had gas lights at home, and after that we had electric,” she said. “Not overly dark, no. We had plenty of light. Always except bedtime, and then my mother would get her big New York Point books out and read to us in the dark.”
“Could your dad see any light at all?” I asked.
“No,” Mona said. “They were both completely blind. My mother said the only thing she remembered was daylight. And I don’t know how old she was when she went blind, but it was infancy, toddler, something like that.”
Mona seemed to be in a particularly talkative mood, so I pressed her for clues about Ed’s music. I asked her how her father’s eyes appeared when he played and she said, “He looked straight out. He never slouched unless he was drinking and then he put one leg behind him and one in front of him.”
Mona said Ed was not a short bow fiddler.
“Long bow, except where it was needed. But he always played that bow to the end,” she insisted.
She didn’t remember her father “rotating” the fiddle at all, although Lawrence Haley (and others) had sure made a big deal out of it. She said Pop always rosined his bow up “real good” before playing but never had any caked on the fiddle. She thought he used Diamond steel strings, which he bought in a local music store named Wicks. He patted his foot in what I call two-four-time when fiddling but “it didn’t override the music.”
I asked Mona if Ed was a loud fiddler and she said, “Oh, yes. You know his voice was strong, too. I’ve been around places with Pop and Mom and people would hear him from far off and come to him. You know, like in the workplace. He always had a crowd around him — always. Always when he played on the street or at the court house square or when he played at the Catlettsburg Stock Market.”
I asked if she remembered Ed playing on trains and she said, “Yes, we’d get in the backseat longways the width of the train and he’d play.” People sometimes gave him money but he mainly played for himself. “Just to pass time,” Mona said.
I was very curious about Ed’s mode of travel, especially considering his blindness and the great distance of ground he covered in his lifetime. I asked Mona if her father hitchhiked a lot and she said, “I don’t think he did. I think he walked more than he hitchhiked.”
Did he sing or whistle while he walked?
“No,” she said. “My mother did that for our benefit, you know. To pacify us, I guess.”
Mona said Ed loved playing for dances because he “enjoyed hearing people dance” and preferred it to the street “a hundred percent.”
I told her that someone said Ella didn’t care a whole lot for playing on the street and she said, “I never heard Mom complain about nothing except Pop drinking.”
I wondered if Ed drank on general principles.
“Whenever he felt like it,” she said. “Whenever somebody brought him something and asked him to take a drink, he would. And there’s times he has gone out and got it, too. Aw he’d cuss real bad. He’d say, ‘god almighty goddamn,’ like he was disgusted with the whole world. We lived down on Greenup Avenue between Greenup and Front and trains went by. His bedroom was in the front, and he cussed one time. I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘Them god almighty goddamn trains just act like they put their damn whistles in the window and blow.'”
I said, “Let me ask you this. In their relationship, was your mother or your father the dominant one, would you say?”
Mona surprised me a little bit when she said, “I’d say my mother was the dominant one until Pop was drinking.”
Ella was also the disciplinarian.
“Mom, she’d pinch a piece out of you, buddy,” Mona said. “She wouldn’t make a scene in a store or anything but she’d just grab you and pinch you and say, ‘Quieten down.’ She did it to me.”
Just before I hung up with Mona, I told her some of the things I’d found out about Ed’s genealogy on my recent trip to Harts. She listened quietly, then said, “Well see, the story I got was that Green McCoy shot this lady. And that’s the story that Pop told me, that I understood. Now, it may be wrong. My memory might be wrong or maybe I didn’t want to believe it the other way.”
When I got back to Nashville, I had this boxed package in the mail from Mark Wilson, the folklorist who co-produced Parkersburg Landing. Inside the box was a pile of wire recordings, looking very much like a gossamer bird’s nest, which Mark said were Lynn Davis’ recordings of Ed Haley from the forties. I had no idea why Mark had these wires, or really why he had sent them to me. Some years before, I had called him about Ed and received a cool reception, sort of like, “Why don’t you leave all of this to the real folklorists?”
I took the wire recordings to Lee Hazen, a studio engineer and friend whose life-long hobby was wire recordings, and he told me right away that they were way beyond hope. “Even if you took pieces of them and run them through and taped them and then assembled the tape?” I asked.
He said it would require someone with enough patience to spend the rest of their life untangling them. I decided to keep them safe though and maybe someday, who knows? But wouldn’t it be awful to get them all together and discover that they were not even of Ed?
Later that spring, Bruce Nemerov notified me that he’d completed his work on Ed Haley’s recordings. I got a hold of the new copies, which included an audio log. There were several records that Bruce didn’t copy.
Abner Vance, Andrew D. Robinson, Anthony Adams, Burl Farley, Cain Adkins, Caleb Headley, Elisha Vance, Enoch Baker, Evermont Ward Brumfield, George T. Holton, Henry H. Hardesty, Imogene Haley, Jeremiah Lambert, John H. Napier, Milt Haley, Patton Thompson, Robert Mullins, writing
Cain Adkins arrived on the West Fork of Harts Creek around 1870. During the decade, he purchased a 40-acre farm from his father-in-law, Abner Vance, situated on West Fork and valued at $2.00 (and then $4.00) per acre. In 1880, according to census records, Adkins was a farmer and neighbor to Boney Lucas (his son-in-law), Elisha Vance (his brother-in-law), Abner Vance, Overton McCloud (his brother-in-law) and Marvel Vance (his brother-in-law). In 1881, Abner Vance deed him a 25-acre tract. In that same year, he was listed in land records as owning a $50 building on the 40-acre tract. The next year, the value of his 25-acre tract increased from $1.50 per acre to $2.00 per acre. In 1884, he bought 140 more acres from A.A. Low, attorney, and E. and O. Estep. One part of this, a 40-acre tract, contained a building valued at $100. It was situated between his 25-acre tract and a 185-acre 1852 grant and an 860-acre 1856 grant to Isaiah Adkins. The other 100-acre tract of land was part of the 247-acre 1856 grant to Vance.
According to the Adkins family history, Cain was a United Baptist preacher, farmer, teacher, and justice of the peace. He taught school throughout the 1870s, according to educational records. But he was best known as a preacher; his name appears frequently in county marriage books. In 1877, he married Burl Farley (a member of the future 1889 mob) and Mary Ann Dingess, sister to Hollena Brumfield. In 1884, he married Milt Haley and Emma Mullins: “Thomas M. Hauley, age 25, born Cabell County, son of B.H. Hauley and N. Muncy, married Imogene Mullins, age 15, born Logan County, daughter of J. Mullins and C. Gore, on the 22nd day of March 1884 by Canaane Adkins, Minister, at Logan, WV.”
Cain’s various occupations would have made him a real renaissance man in the community. First of all, as a country doctor, he would have been in contact with most local families. As a teacher, he would have taught many of the local children at his school. In those days, church congregations usually met in schoolhouses — as there were no church buildings — so Cain would have preached to many members of the community at his school. Again, this occupation would put him in close touch with many locals — preaching funerals, marrying people, and so forth. As a law officer, he would have had to deal with local criminal activity — which (in addition to his preaching) may have put him in direct conflict with Paris Brumfield.
In addition to Adkins, Roberts, Mullins and Fowler, John H. Napier, a 41-year-old physician, was a prominent resident at the mouth of Harts Creek. John had settled in Harts in 1879 with his young wife (a niece to Cain Adkins), five children and a nephew. He quickly took up business, although he never bought property. “Mr. Napier is a prosperous merchant in Hart Creek district, with business headquarters at the mouth of the creek,” Hardesty wrote.
By the mid-1880s, the local economy was humming along, spurred by the timber industry. In 1884, the same year that Milt Haley and Emma Haley were married, a new post office called Warren was established five miles up Harts Creek on the bank of its south side below the mouth of Smokehouse Fork. In that vicinity, which encompassed Milt Haley’s section of the community, Andrew D. Robinson was postmaster, Van B. Prince (a former schoolteacher) was a physician, Benjamin Adams was a general store operator and Joseph Williamson was a mason. Henderson Dingess (father to Hollena Brumfield) and Benjamin Hager were distillers, and Anthony Adams and Robert Mullins were blacksmiths. McCloud & Company was the major general store in the vicinity. The post office serviced three to five hundred people semi-weekly.
At that time, according to Hardesty, Jeremiah Lambert of the Bend of the River was a justice of the peace and Aaron Adkins of Little Harts Creek was a constable. Evermont W. Brumfield — a brother to Paris Brumfield — was the county jailer. Patton Thompson was a constable and a deputy-sheriff. Caleb Headley — a brother-in-law to Burl Farley — was a physician on Fourteen Mile Creek. There were ten public school buildings in the district with a student population of 334. George Thomas Holton of Fourteen was a local schoolteacher. Enoch Baker, a Nova Scotian, was busy in timber with a “lower dam” on Brown’s Run of Smokehouse Fork according to 1883 deed records.
Admiral S. Fry, Andrew D. Robinson, Andrew Robinson, Appalachia, Big Branch, Bill Fowler, Chapmanville, Confederate Army, Dicy Roberts, Elias Adkins, Francis Fork, G.S. Fry, general store, Green Shoal, Harts, Harts Creek, Harts Creek District, Henry H. Hardesty, Henry S. Godby, history, Hollena Brumfield, Isham Roberts, Jack Johnson, James P. Mullins, Joseph Workman, Marsh Fork, Martha Jane Brumfield, merchant, Milt Haley, Paris Brumfield, Sallie Dingess, Sand Lick Run, teacher, Thomas H. Buckley, timber, West Fork
The town of Harts — originally named Hart’s Creek — was established at the mouth of Big Harts Creek in the summer or fall of 1870 when Henry S. Godby, a peg-legged Confederate veteran from Chapmanville, petitioned the government for the creation of a post office called “Hart’s Creek.” At that time, Green Shoal was the most thriving spot in the Harts section of the Guyandotte River. A.S. Fry was its chief businessman and postmaster. Godby’s effort to establish Harts as a postal town was a short-lived venture. By 1876, Green Shoal still reigned supreme in local affairs. According to a business directory, it could boast a gristmill, free school and a Baptist and Methodist church. T.H. Buckley and G.S. Fry were physicians, while Joseph Workman was a clergyman.
Around that time, in 1876, Bill Fowler — a local general storekeeper — petitioned the government for the creation of a “Hearts Creek” post office and established his business headquarters at Harts. Fowler had migrated to the area in 1847 and married a daughter of Elias Adkins, an early settler. After a short stint as a schoolteacher in 1871, Fowler was by 1876 a general storekeeper and owner of some 30 acres of land on the Marsh Fork of West Fork. In March of 1877, he became postmaster of “Hearts Creek;” he was also a saloon keeper according to oral tradition. As his business interest generated profits (primarily in timber), he extended his land holdings. In 1878, he purchased 75 acres on the Guyan River from Abner Vance, valued at $5.00 per acre. The following year, he added a 90-acre tract to his estate on the west side of the Guyan River, valued at $3.25 per acre, which he purchased from brothers-in-law, Aaron and Enos Adkins.
Throughout the period, Fowler was unquestionably the chief businessman in Harts. Curiously, Andrew D. Robinson replaced him as postmaster of Hearts Creek in 1879. Robinson was a Union veteran and former township clerk, justice of the peace, and secretary of the district board of education. He was a brother-in-law to Ben Adams, as well as Sallie Dingess (Hollena Brumfield’s mother). In 1881, Robinson shortened the name of the Hearts Creek post office to “Hart.”
The Green Shoal area, meanwhile, fell into a state of decline as a local economic center. A.S. Fry gave up his postmaster position in 1878. He maintained his local business interests well into the next decade, then turned them over to his son George and left to pursue a hotel business in Guyandotte, a town situated at the mouth of the river in Cabell County. The Green Shoal post office was discontinued in 1879.
By 1880 — roughly the time that Milt Haley came to Harts from “over the mountain” — Harts reigned supreme as the hub of local business affairs. In that year, according to census records, the population of the Harts Creek District was 1,116. There were 1,095 white residents, fifteen blacks and six mulattos. 93-percent of locals were born in Virginia or West Virginia, while six percent were born in Kentucky. Most men worked at farming, although A.S. Fry and Paris Brumfield both had stores. In 1882-1883, Brumfield was listed in a state business directory as a distiller.
At that time, Bill Fowler was the undisputed kingpin of the local business scene. According to Hardesty’s History of Lincoln County, published around 1884, Fowler owned 200 acres of land at the mouth of Harts Creek and 254 acres on Mud River. He also owned 200 acres on Sand Lick Run, a branch of Francis Fork, based on land records at the Lincoln County Courthouse. “That situated on Hart creek produces well,” Hardesty wrote, “and has a good orchard and a part is heavily timbered with oak, poplar and pine; coal and iron ore are quite abundant.” Fowler was the father of four small children, recently born to his second wife.
There were other notable business folks in the neighborhood, namely Isham Roberts, who operated a store near Fowler on the Guyandotte River. He was the son of Dicy Roberts and the stepson of Jack Johnson, a local farmer. In the early 1880s, he married Martha Jane Brumfield, a daughter of Paris Brumfield, and opened a store on rental property at the mouth of Harts Creek. By 1884, when Hardesty wrote his history of the county, he referred to Roberts as “a prosperous young merchant in Hart Creek district, having his headquarters on Guyan river, at the mouth of Big Hart creek. His prices are the most reasonable and the business very extensive.” Roberts was the postmaster at Harts from 1883 until 1884, when Dr. T.H. Buckley replaced him.
James P. Mullins, who operated a general store building above Roberts at Big Branch, was also a budding merchant. By 1882, Mullins was the owner of a $200 storebuilding situated on a 203-acre tract of land. Over the next few years, he added another 55 acres on lower Harts Creek and 150 acres on Francis Fork (this latter tract likely acquired for timbering purposes). Hardesty referred to Mullins as being “of good business qualifications and prosperously engaged in merchandising, with business headquarters on Hart creek, one and one-half miles from its mouth.” In that year, Mullins purchased an additional 93 acres on Harts Creek. One year later, the value of his store building increased by $100, hinting at his growing prosperity.
After visiting with Ida, Billy directed us to Maude Duty, who lived on Big Ugly Creek. Born in 1905, Maude was a daughter of John E. Fry, a longtime justice-of-the-peace in the district, and a niece to Tucker Fry, one-time occupant of the “murder house.” At the time of our visit, Maude was bed-fast, physically feeble, and near death. She hadn’t seen Billy for a few years but soon remembered him and began to whisper answers to his questions concerning the murder house and her husband’s family, the Dutys. She agreed with Billy that the murder of Milt and Green had taken place at her Uncle Tucker’s house at the mouth of Green Shoal. She didn’t know anything about Milt living with Bill Duty but remembered that Ed Haley visited him fairly often on Broad Branch. She said she used to dance to his fiddling when he came to her father’s home.
It was a small but crucial bit of information indicating a strong connection between Ed, Milt, and the Duty family that went beyond the 1870 census.
At that point, Ida gave us her account of the Haley-McCoy murders.
“Some man that lived down there at Hart had a business and Al Brumfield had a business,” she said. “Al Brumfield, he wanted to get rid of him so he would get all the trade and so he was supposed to paid them so much to kill him. And they hid as they come out of Harts Creek, they said, one Sunday afternoon, I believe. They were hired to shoot and kill Al, but they hit the woman. She was riding on behind him on a horse. I can remember seeing her. She married again after that — a Ferguson. She wasn’t a very large woman. She died with a big hole in her cheek there where they shot her. They said they went into Kentucky and got them and they was supposed to delivered them back to the law over at Hamlin, our county seat. And they stopped down there to stay overnight. That was supposed to been the house of John Fry across the track there, I was told. That was a stop-off place. Do you know where Lonnie lives now? Well now, there’s where the log house stood.”
Ida stopped, thinking, then said, “I used to hear Dad and them talk about it. He said where their horses were tied in those fences… You know how they used to build the old log rail fences? He said they tore that place apart that night, those horses and all the shooting and everything going on. And said when they were eating supper that night — Green McCoy and Milt Haley — said one looked over to the other’n and told him, said, ‘You better eat all you want because this will be our last meal.’ Sure enough it was. Started shooting them in the bed and they was handcuffed together. I don’t know what hour it was but it was some time in the nighttime, you know, after they’d gone to bed. Now Grandma Cat was at that house that night when those men were killed. And they said when that was going on she hid up a chimney — big open fireplace. She hid up in there. It was kindly a rough time, they said.”
I asked Ida if she ever heard anyone mention the names of the vigilantes.
“Who was in the pack?” she said, laughing. “People just surmised it, I guess. I wasn’t told but my daddy, he always thought Uncle Charley — that was one of his brothers — was in on it. He was a huge man, Uncle Charley was. As well as I remember, he was real fair-complected. He finally got killed afterwards. Uncle Charley, I went to his funeral. He was a big, fat round-faced fellow and he had bullet wounds in his cheeks. Back then, the undertakers, you know, they didn’t have all that stuff to work with then.”
Brandon asked Ida if Bill Brumfield was in the gang and she said, “Uncle Bill? Now, I never did hear his name mentioned. He was accused of murdering, you know, but not them.”
Billy said, “They was about 20 or 30 of them. Wild times.”
I asked Ida if she ever saw the “murder house” and she said, “No, but my mother told me about it. At that time, she was going to school around at what they call the Toney Addition. And she said when they went out of Green Shoal that morning to school, you know, Milt and Green was laying out in the yard still handcuffed together. Mother thought they was colored people. They were beat up, I guess, and shot, you know, and blood all together — that’s the reason she thought they looked like colored people. That’s what she said. Now, she seen them. And I remember tales they’d left a little stream of blood run down through the yard. There was blood all over. I remember that very clearly, her telling us that.”
Ida said the old Fry home at the mouth of Green Shoal was torn down years ago, probably when the site was “built up” by the railroad around 1904.
To get to Ida’s house, we drove a short distance up Green Shoal Road, a somewhat narrow strip of pavement that snaked its way alongside the creek. We were welcomed inside by some of her family, who knew Billy and Brandon. Just inside the door, I spotted Ida sitting in a chair near a bed and a fireplace. In the initial small talk, we learned that Ida was born on Green Shoal in 1914 and had lived there all of her life. Brandon began by showing her a picture of her grandfather, Paris Brumfield. She said her father Jim Brumfield (1880-1965) had spoken of him.
“Dad said he kindly mistreated their mother,” she said. “He drinked an awful lot. The children were afraid of him. Now, I can remember Dad talking about seeing him get killed. Uncle Charley was the one killed him, his own son. I think Dad said he was about 16 years old — maybe older. Dad said he was hid up on the hill behind a foddershock when Uncle Charley shot him. Said he was laying down the drawbars and said Charley told him not to come any farther and he just kept going and he shot him in the back. He said he saw the dust jump out of his jacket. He’s told us kids that lots of times.”
Jim was practically raised by his brother Al in Harts because his mother died not too long after his father’s murder. In 1900, he was with his brother John at Chapmanville when they were attacked by the Conleys. He was stabbed and carried a piece of the knife blade in his body for the rest of his life. A little later, he fell out with his older siblings (Al, Rachel, and Charley), who he felt had “swindled” him out of some of the family property.
Brandon asked Ida if she remembered going to visit Hollena Brumfield and she said, “I never was there. Dad didn’t think much of her as a sister-in-law.”
Ida said she’d kinda been raised away from all the Brumfields around Harts.
“They used to come here, but we never was down in there too much,” she said. “The first time I was ever in Uncle Charley’s house is when I attended his funeral. And Uncle Bill’s house, I never was there at all. But I always liked him. He was here quite a bit, Uncle Bill was, you know. Spent a little time in jail for killing a man. I was afraid of him, though. He was a little guy and wore a little sandy mustache. He dodged around up in here after they found this man dead. He’d been dead quite a while and he’s supposed to got beat up at Uncle Bill’s house. I think he beat him up with an axe handle as well as I remember. They carried him back in there someplace. That’s what we were told. Billie killed Uncle Bill. Said he was drinking whiskey out of a half a gallon jar and Billie slipped around the house and shot him. They thought that was over his mother, too. They was really rough down in there.”
Ida said she heard about the Haley-McCoy killings from her mother Letilla Dial and grandmother Cat Fry (the infamous “Aunt Cat”). Ida’s mother Til was raised by Sarah Lucas, who married a Brumfield and then later a Workman. Hearing the name Lucas caused me to ask Ida if she knew anything about Boney Lucas.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “They was raised up on the creek here. Boney Lucas — I’m not sure but I believe that was Aunt Sarah Workman’s brother. I can remember hearing her talk about Boney Lucas. Now, they were raised down here someplace in a log house.”