Albert Dingess, Alice Dingess, Birdie, blind, Brandon Kirk, Cecil Brumfield, Cripple Creek, Dorothy Brumfield, Ed Haley, fiddler, fiddling, Harts Creek, Henderson Dingess, history, Holden, Hugh Dingess Elementary School, John Brumfield Jr., John Hartford, Kentucky, Logan County, Louisa, Milt Haley, music, Smokehouse Fork, West Virginia, Wildwood Flower, writing
About a half hour later, we drove up the Smoke House Fork of Harts Creek to see Dorothy Brumfield. Dorothy lived in a white one-story home situated on a hillside overlooking the Hugh Dingess Elementary School, just down the stream from the old Henderson Dingess homeplace. Dorothy had been born in 1929 at Louisa, Kentucky, but came to Harts when she was seventeen and soon married John Brumfield, a son of Ed’s friend, Cecil. Her father was a descendant of Albert Dingess, a member of the 1889 mob.
I started the conversation by asking Dorothy about Ed. She said she never knew him personally but heard that he lost his eyesight after his father dipped him in water. She also heard that he was a great fiddler when he got “pretty high” but was mean and eager to fight if he drank too much.
Dorothy knew the story about Ed borrowing a fiddle from her father-in-law Cecil Brumfield; her husband later acquired it. “He had come through here and borrowed a fiddle off of Paw Brumfield, him and Bernie Adams, and went up yonder to Logan and pawned it,” she said. “Paw Brumfield liked to never found it.”
Dorothy said the only time she actually saw Ed was when her husband brought him home early one Sunday morning around 1949-50.
“My husband worked at Holden, and I’d heard tell of Ed Haley but I hadn’t met him,” she said. “So John stopped at the top of Trace Mountain at this place. Back then, they called them saloons. And he was supposed to been in at one o’clock in the morning. He didn’t make it. Oh, did I get mad when four o’clock come in the morning. Here he knocked on the door and I could tell someone was with him, but I couldn’t make out that it was a blind person with him. I thought it was just somebody real drunk that had passed out. He got here in the house with him and I fixed them something to eat.”
“Why didn’t I know you all was over there and got me a babysitter and caught me a ride over there and had me a time?” Dorothy said to her husband. “What would you done if I’d walked in?”
“What, mam?” Ed said.
“All them women John had over there tonight,” she said to Ed.
“Mam, he didn’t have no women,” Ed said.
“Now sir, you told me you couldn’t see,” she said. “How do you know?”
“Well, John sit beside of me,” Ed said.
A little later, Dorothy fixed Ed a bed and she went and asked her husband, “Would you tell me who in the world you’ve brought home with you again?”
John said he’d stopped in at that saloon and found Ed playing music “and a bunch of them women dancing” and he “wouldn’t leave Ed there. When they closed, he brought him here.”
“Well, then they got up the next morning and I said, ‘Now John you help him around and show him around.’ I was already mad at John for laying out. Little bit jealous, too. We hadn’t been married long.”
Dorothy said she cooked a big breakfast for everyone.
“Mam, have you got any onions?” Ed asked her at the table.
“Yes I have but why would you want an onion for breakfast?” she said.
“Don’t you know what onions are good for?” Ed said. “Many a things.”
Dorothy said Ed seemed intelligent by the morning conversation.
After breakfast, Ed went back into the front room and played the fiddle for Dorothy’s kids in front of the fireplace. She said he held his fiddle under his chin and played “Wildwood Flower” and an extremely fast version of “Cripple Creek”.
John said, “Ed, play that there ‘Birdie’ for these children.”
“Well, he stayed around and I think they drunk all the booze up,” Dorothy said. “John, he was wanting more booze, too, so he went off with Ed to Aunt Alice’s or somewhere and got some liquor and he didn’t come back till about dark. I don’t know where all he took Ed. When he come back, he kept telling me why he brought him here. He said that he didn’t want to leave him. If something happened, he wouldn’t forgive hisself. Nobody else wouldn’t take him after all the big time was over with.”