Two months later, Brandon was still digging, but in a different way. He was knee-deep in land records at the Lincoln and Logan County court houses. He was curious — based on the economic aspect of the 1889 feud — to know about property ownership for feudists, particularly those with land around the mouth of Harts Creek.
He started with the Brumfields.
In 1889, Paris Brumfield owned 771 acres of land worth $1020, while his wife owned 367 acres worth $483. Al Brumfield had 295 acres (195 acres on Brown’s Branch and 100 acres on the Guyan River) worth $642. By combining Al’s totals to that of his parents, the Brumfields owned a total of 1433 acres of land worth $2143. A little further up Harts Creek, Henderson and Sarah Dingess owned 546 acres (five tracts) worth $1234.50 with a building valued at 100 dollars.
How did these totals compare to the land holdings of their enemies?
Well, Cain Adkins owned 205 acres worth $420 (with no buildings listed for 1889), while John Runyon owned 100 acres worth $187.50. Ben Adams owned at least 340 acres in Lincoln and Logan Counties (2 tracts) worth $380. By combining Ben’s property with that of Adkins and Runyon they owned 645 acres worth $987.50 — not even half of the Brumfield family holdings.
Based on these records, we realized that it might have been the financial superiority of the Brumfields and Dingesses which caused Adams, Runyon, and/or Adkins to act out against them (through Milt and Green).
But there was also a reason for the Brumfields to feel a little threatened themselves: John Runyon, whose 100 acres of property was situated geographically closest to them near the mouth of Harts Creek, had accumulated his estate in only three years of residence in Harts. His first tract, totaling 75 acres, was worth $1.50 and was deeded by A.S. “Major” Adkins in 1887. The other tract, totaling 25 acres and worth three dollars per acre, was deeded in 1888. Neither tract contained a building, according to land records.
Al’s 100 acres near the mouth of Harts Creek, in contrast, reflected eight years of effort.
Brumfield was likely concerned that Runyon had acquired so much land at the mouth of Harts in such a short time, especially since it was property that he wanted for himself.
It was immediately clear in looking at the feud in mild economic terms that Milt Haley and Green McCoy were pawns in a larger game between local elites. While Paris Brumfield, Al Brumfield, Cain Adkins, John Runyon, and Ben Adams were leading citizens, property owners and businessmen, Milt and Green were timber laborers and musicians who owned no property whatsoever. Based on what we’d heard from Daisy Ross, it was easy to see why Green might have took a shot at Paris, but why did he attack Al? And what was Milt’s motivation for even getting involved in the whole mess? Was he pulled into the fray because of his friendship to Green, as Daisy Ross had said? Or did he have connections to Ben Adams (a possible economic dependence on the timber-boss, his residence nearby Adams on Trace, or the fact his wife was related to Ben)?
And what did either man hope to gain from the assassination of Al Brumfield? I mean, that’s a hell of a lot to risk for a side of bacon and a few dollars. I had this nagging suspicion that they were maybe innocent of the crime, but Brandon was pretty well convinced of their guilt (as had been Lawrence Haley). He did, however, leave an opening by pointing out how Bob Adkins, Howard Dalton, Joe Adams and Lawrence Kirk had all heard that they were innocent. Bob and Joe had actually mentioned other suspects: Burl Adams, a nephew to Ben Adams, and John “Frock” Adams, a half-brother to Ed’s mother (who later shot his wife’s head off with a shotgun in his front yard). There was also the testimony of Preacher McCoy, who said Milt and Green were “as innocent as Jesus Christ on the cross.”