Addison Vance, Al Brumfield, Benjamin Fowler, Bill Fowler, Cain Adkins, Charley Brumfield, Ed Haley, Effie Fowler, Emzy Petrie, Ferrellsburg, genealogy, George H. Thomas, George Washington Fowler, Harts Creek, Henry H. Hardesty, history, Isham Roberts, James P. Mullins, John H. Adkins, John H. Napier, John W Runyon, Milt Haley, Salena Vance, writing
The Lincoln County Courthouse — which holds deed records, vital statistics, and criminal records for the Harts Creek District — burned on November 19, 1909, taking with it whatever records might have existed pertaining to the 1889 feud. Thanks to a now-forgotten arsonist reportedly hired by a gas company to eliminate locals’ claims to mineral rights, we can locate little information in the courthouse on Milt Haley’s death or Brumfield family antics. However, somehow, we do have access to Lincoln County land records since 1867 and they reveal quite a bit about the happenings at the mouth of Harts Creek in the late 1880s. (The Logan County Courthouse, which holds similar records on Ed Haley and his family, has fared little better: it was burned by Yankee soldiers during the Civil War.)
Al Brumfield, according to Brandon’s research, first settled with his wife in a small, boxed house on property owned by his mother and located just below the mouth of Harts Creek at the Shoals along the Guyandotte River. In 1888, some seven years after his marriage, he secured his first piece of property on Brown’s Branch, courtesy of his mother. More importantly, according to land records (in one of those moments where written records confuse the story by totally conflicting with oral tradition), he did not own any property at the mouth of Harts Creek at the time of the Haley-McCoy trouble. Al apparently bought land there from Bill Fowler immediately after the Haley-McCoy trouble. The earliest documented account of him owning the log boom was an 1895 deed, which partially read, “…about three hundred yards above the mouth of said creek where the log boom is now tied.”
One thing for certain: Brumfield wasted little time in eliminating his business competitors at the mouth of Harts Creek immediately following the Haley-McCoy murders. In 1889, he had four primary rivals: (1) Bill Fowler; (2) John Runyon; (3) Isham Roberts and, to a lesser extent, (4) James P. Mullins. Fowler was his cousin, Runyon was no relation, and Roberts was his brother-in-law. Mullins was located more than a mile up Harts Creek at Big Branch and operated a business that was likely past its prime.
In 1890, Brumfield acquired two tracts of land (a 95-acre tract worth 113 dollars and a 25-acre tract worth 75 dollars) from Runyon. We don’t know what price was paid for this land (thanks to the courthouse fire) but considering the circumstances it may have helped save Runyon’s life in the wake of his possible role in the Haley-McCoy fiasco. In that same year, a stubborn Bill Fowler sold two valuable lots on the west side of Guyan River totaling 165 acres to Isaac Adkins, not Al Brumfield. Fowler was apparently resisting the urge to sell out to his ambitious younger cousin who had reportedly burned his business. One tract was 75 acres and worth six dollars per acre, while the other was 90 acres and worth four dollars per acre. The property was worth 810 dollars. Meanwhile, in 1891, Brumfield’s brother-in-law, Isham Roberts, who was referenced in a circa 1884 history as a “prosperous young merchant” at the mouth of Harts Creek, sold out and moved upriver near Fowler Branch (present-day Ferrellsburg).
Not only did Fowler, Runyon and Roberts sell out — they moved away completely. Fowler took his wife and four children (Bettie, age 15, Effie, age 14, Benjamin Franklin, age 12, and George Washington, age 10) and moved to Central City in Huntington. In May of 1892, his wife bought Lot 6 Block 88 in Central City from Susan Porter and her husband. On October 19, she deeded it to Louis H. Taliaferro, who deeded it back to William Fowler, who deeded it back to Taliaferro, who deeded it back to Mrs. Fowler. The Fowlers were in Central City in 1900. According to family tradition, Roberts moved to Oklahoma because of his wife’s disapproval of the violent deeds committed by her family. Several years later, she sold her interest in her father’s estate to Charley Brumfield — the man who had murdered her father in 1891.
Aside from businessmen, the 1889 troubles drove away other important citizens from Harts. First was Cain Adkins, a doctor, lawman, preacher and schoolteacher. In 1891, Cain Adkins sold 40 acres to John H. Adkins, who thereafter claimed the remainder of the farm. Two years later, in 1893, John and his wife Sallie deeded “the Canaan Adkins Farm” (205 acres) to Salena Vance for $607.50. In 1895, Vance and others sold the farm to J.A. Chambers, who in turn deeded it to Louis R. Sweetland in 1897. Thereafter, Salena Vance acquired the property again (jointly with her children, John and Nettie Toney) and sold it to George H. Thomas and E.O. Petrie in 1913. Later that year, Petrie sold his half-interest to Thomas. In 1914, the property contained a 300-dollar building.
In addition to Preacher Cain, John H. Napier, a doctor and in-law to Adkins, seems to have fled the community around 1890. According to Hardesty’s History of Lincoln County, West Virginia (c.1884), Napier settled near the mouth of Harts Creek in 1879. His wife, Julia Ann Ross, was a niece to Cain Adkins. Her older sister married Cain Adkins’ brother-in-law, Addison Vance, of Piney. John was listed in the 1880 census as a thirty-seven-year-old physician with a wife (age 30) and five children, as well as a nephew. He did not own property locally, although his occupation as a doctor and businessman might have made him particularly threatening to an ambitious person like Al Brumfield. “Mr. Napier is a prosperous merchant in Hart Creek district, with business headquarters at the mouth of the creek,” Hardesty wrote.