A few days later, Brandon and I left the festival and headed toward Charleston and on to Harts via Corridor G and Boone County. We reached Harts around three in the morning and parked the bus at the local Fas Chek near a fire station and bridge. Brandon’s uncle Ron Lucas, the manager of the store, had given us permission to park there. The next morning, Billy Adkins met us at the bus and we decided to see Doska Adkins, a woman of advanced age and granddaughter of Bill Duty. Maybe Doska would know about Milt Haley living with her grandfather, who had settled on nearby Big Ugly Creek.
In no time at all, Brandon, Billy and I were charging over Green Shoal Mountain talking genealogy and well on our way to Big Ugly country.
About twenty minutes later, we turned off of the main road into Fawn Hollow and began climbing a rocky driveway toward Doska’s house. We soon spotted Doska cutting brush out near her yard. She was a small-framed woman crowned with a tuft of white hair, having every bit the appearance of “the helpless old widow” — barring the machete in her hand, of course. I could tell right away that things were about to get interesting.
We followed Doska into her home, stepping quickly past a barking dog tied up on her porch. Inside, on the living room wall we spotted a mass of more than forty bushy squirrel tales hanging together in a pattern, which she said were her hunting trophies for the season. Sensing our interest in such things, she showed us a stuffed squirrel that she herself had killed, stuffed and mounted onto a small log. Before we could really ask her anything about Milt Haley, she told us all about how to pickle squirrels for later eating, then opened a desk drawer full of snake rattlers…more trophies.
It took us a few minutes to sit down and actually focus on the reason for our visit. When I told Doska about my interest in Ed’s life, she said he used to stay with her father, Jeff Duty. It didn’t take him long to get familiar with a place, she said, and he couldn’t be fooled with paper money.
“How often would he come there to stay?” I asked.
She said, “Well, I don’t know how often. If I was around, I was real little. I don’t remember him but I’ve heard Daddy talk about him.”
Brandon asked Doska, “Did your dad and Ed play music together?” and she said, “Yeah.”
We wondered what songs Jeff Duty played.
“They was one he played on the fiddle that I thought was real pretty,” Doska said. “I think he called that the ’11th of January’ and he’d play a while and then he’d pick a piece in it. Yeah, man he used to sit on the porch of an evening down yonder where I was raised and play for us.”
Brandon asked, “Was your dad considered the best fiddler up around this part?”
Doska said, “He was pretty good and he could play a banjo, too.”
I asked if her grandfather Bill Duty ever talked about Milt Haley and she said, “No, all of my grandparents was dead before I was born. See, I was born in 1917 and I never seen nary one of my grandparents. Mommy used to have a picture of my grandpaw but I don’t know what happened to it.”
Billy asked her, “Was Ed Haley any relation to you at all?”
“No, he’d just come through here — I don’t know why — and he liked to stay at my daddy’s,” she answered. “Didn’t matter who come through this country. If they’d ask to stay all night somewhere they’d say, ‘You can go to old man Duty’s and stay all night.’”
Of course, knowing what we knew about Milt and the Dutys it seemed likely that Ed came around Jeff for reasons more than his hospitality. As Bill Duty’s son and a fiddler, he would’ve been an excellent source on Milt — the father Ed never really knew.
Doska said her grandfather Duty’s home was no longer standing on Broad Branch but I wanted to see the site anyway. (It was, after all, very possibly the place where Milt settled with the Duty family in the early 1880s.) We asked Doska to accompany us but she said she looked awful; she had been cutting brush all day, she said, and wasn’t dressed to go anywhere. After a while, though, we persuaded her to go with us.
On the way to Broad Branch, Billy suggested that we stop and see 89-year-old Eunice Ferrell. Eunice had settled on the creek years ago and married a son of the Tom Ferrell mentioned in “The Lincoln County Crew”. She was a very friendly Mormon, slumped over with age. I told her I was interested in “Blind Ed Haley,” an old fiddler from Harts Creek, and she said she didn’t know about him. Her father-in-law had been a fiddler, though. She knew something about Tom’s trouble with the Butchers.
“They said they was in a card game and this man was trying to run the horse over him,” she said. “And he killed him but he got out of it.”
We told Eunice that we were going to see the old Duty place on Broad Branch if she wanted to go and she was all for it. We helped her into the car and took off.
Along the way, I stopped the car so Doska could point out her father’s home — the place where Ed used to stay. Brandon said some “hippie-types” from a big city had moved into the place several years ago.
“Michael Tierney lives there now,” Eunice said. “He’s a lawyer. Catholic man. He’s a good neighbor.”
We were having a blast.
“I’m glad I come,” Eunice said.