Billy Adkins, Brandon Kirk, Carolyn Johnnie Farley, Ed Belcher, Ed Haley, fiddler, fiddling, George Mullins, guitar, Harts Creek, Hattie Farley, history, Hollene Brumfield, Lewis Farley, Logan County, Mary Ann Farley, Mason Conley, music, Rosa Mullins, West Virginia, writing
The next day — the 106th anniversary of Milt Haley’s death – Billy Adkins suggested that we go see Carolyn “Johnnie” Farley on Brown’s Run of Smoke House Fork. She was a granddaughter to Burl Farley, one of the ringleaders of the Brumfield mob. There were other interesting connections: her grandmother was Hollena Brumfield’s sister and her mother was Ben Adams’ niece. Her ancestors, then, represented both sides of the trouble, helping to make her a great source on the 1889 feud. Billy said she was old enough to remember Ed, too. His notes showed her as being born in 1924.
Without really hesitating, we went outside through a small rain shower and boarded the car and took off up the creek. We were oblivious to the poor weather and kept pointing to spots that were probably only significant to us.
“Now that was part of the old Al Brumfield farm.”
“There’s where the old boom was.”
“Here’s where the ambush took place.”
Our fascination with all the sites continued after we turned up the Smoke House Fork.
“There’s the Hugh Dingess Elementary School.”
“There’s the old Henderson Dingess place.”
“There’s where the old Dingesses are buried.”
“There’s Cecil Brumfield’s place. Ed used to visit there.”
We finally reached Browns Run. Johnnie Farley’s white house was just up the branch on the left, accessed by a muddy driveway filled with ruts and sharp jutting rocks. We parked behind the house, where several wooly dogs and a flock of tiny chickens surrounded us — three strangers ankle-deep in mud holes.
Almost immediately, Johnnie came out the back door and spotted Billy — one of the most recognized and popular guys in Harts — and told us to come on inside. She led us through the kitchen and a hallway, past a giant photograph of her grandmother, Mary Ann Farley (Hollena’s sister), and into a very dim living room. We all sat down on furniture that was literally surrounded by papers, books and pictures. Johnnie was obviously a packrat — a woman after my own heart.
Billy began introducing Brandon and I, but Johnnie stopped him short and looked at me with her ice blue eyes and said, “Oh I know who you are. I’ve got some of your records.” Her spirit and energy were immediately apparent — she spoke as if we were old friends. Her husband sat quietly nearby in a comfortable chair. He was in poor health.
I asked Johnnie if she remembered Ed and she said, “Yes, I knowed Ed Haley. He used to come through this country and pick and play the fiddle. I knowed Uncle Ed good. That old man could stop at any man’s house and they’d take him in and keep him all night and feed him. And he’d come through and stop you know and Mom and the girls would have a meal on the table. They’d just say, ‘Uncle Ed, come on.’ And they’d help him, show him the wash-pan and stuff, let him wash his hands, and he’d just go sit right down and eat with us. Whenever he’d come through out of the Chapmanville area he’d stay with one of my uncles and aunts that lived across the hill. That was George and Rosa Mullins. He’d go across the mountain ’cause he liked drinking and they had it over there — moonshine. And he stayed there week in and week out. People was good to him. He wasn’t mistreated.”
I asked Johnnie how old she was when Ed used to come around and she said, “I was about 10, maybe 12.”
She tried to describe him.
“Well, Ed was a little bit maybe heavier than you are, ’bout as tall. I know he kinda had a great, big belly on him. He was a great big fat man. I’d say Ed weighed around 170 pound. To my recollection, Ed had slim hands and slim fingers. He wore shaded glasses and he wore an overcoat — a brown one — and he had an old brown hat. I believe he smoked a pipe. He wore real old-fashioned shoes and old yarn socks. Uncle Ed drunk a lot. He was a good person. He was humble. He didn’t bother nobody. The only harm you could say he done was to hisself and that was drinking. He was around a lot of people, but Uncle Ed didn’t talk too much. He wouldn’t confront his own feelings. He wouldn’t open up fully to nobody.”
I asked Johnnie if she ever saw Ed drunk and she said, “I never did see him drunk — really drunk, no. I’ve seen him drink but not drunk.”
What about singing?
“No. I heard him fiddle but never sing. He played old tunes. ‘Turkey in the Straw’ and just quite a lot of the old-fashioned first fiddle player’s tunes. Uncle Ed was a good fiddler. He could make a fiddle talk. Mason Conley played the guitar and he’d get with him and play. And they was an old man traveled a lot with him named Ed Belcher. They had an old tune they played called ‘Sally Goodin’.”
Now, what happened to Ed Haley?
“I believe Ed died up around Ed Belcher and them. He drinked himself to death.”