Amon Ferguson, Annie Dingess, Appalachia, Ashland, Beatrice Adkins, Big Creek, Bill Porter, Camden Park, Charles Brumfield, Charleston, Fisher B. Adkins, genealogy, Harts, Hendricks Brumfield, Herbert Adkins, history, Holden, Howard Brumfield, Huntington, Ina Dingess, James Auxier Newman, Jessie Brumfield, John Beamins, John McEldowney, Kentucky, Lincoln County, Logan, Logan Banner, Ora Dingess, Robert Dingess, Rosco Dingess, Sand Creek, Shirley McEldowney, singing school, Sylvia Shelton, West Virginia
An unnamed correspondent from Harts in Lincoln County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Logan Banner printed on July 3, 1925:
Mr. and Mrs. Rosco Dingess of Blair spent the week end visiting friends and relatives at Harts.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Dingess of Logan and sister Miss Ina Dingess were visiting relatives at Harts Sunday.
Miss Jessie Brumfield of Harts was shopping in Logan Saturday.
Mr. and Mrs. Fisher B. Adkins of Harts spent Sunday at Camden Park in Huntington.
Mr. and Mrs. John McEldowney returned to their home at Charleston Sunday after a few weeks visit with friends and relatives at Harts.
Mrs. John Beamins of Holden was the guest of Mrs. Robert Brumfield at Harts Sunday.
Miss Sylvia Shelton of Sand Creek passed through our town Sunday.
Mr. Amon Ferguson of Huntington was calling on Miss Ora Dingess at Harts Saturday and Sunday.
Mr. Charles Brumfield and little son Howard were visiting relatives in Huntington and Ashland, Ky., this week.
Mr. James Auxier Newman of Huntington was calling on friends at this place Monday while eanroute to Big Creek.
People at this place were glad to see Hendrix Brumfield on our streets again.
Rev. Gartin is teaching a successful singing school at Harts. Everybody is invited to come.
Miss May Caines of Wayne was calling on Miss Jessie Brumfield at Harts Sunday.
Herbert Adkins was transacting business in Logan Saturday.
It was a great shock to the people of this place to hear of the death of Bill Porter, for he had a wide circle of friends at Harts.
Albert Adkins, Alva Koontz, Amon Ferguson, Annie Dingess, Appalachia, Ashland, attorney general, Bell Adkins, Bessie Adkins, Bob Brumfield, Bob Dingess, Brooke Adkins, Burl Farley, Cabell County, Caroline Brumfield, Cora Adkins, Decoration Day, Ed Brumfield, genealogy, Harts, Hazel Toney, Herb Adkins, history, Hollena Ferguson, Huntington, James Auxier Newman, Jessie Brumfield, Kentucky, Lace Marcum, Lincoln County, Logan, Mary Ann Farley, Nora Brumfield, Ora Dingess, Robert Hale, Ruby Adkins, Shelby Shelton, Toney Johnson, Verna Johnson, Wayne, Wayne County, Wesley Ferguson, West Virginia
An unnamed correspondent from Harts in Lincoln County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Logan Banner printed on June 5, 1925:
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Dingess of Logan spent Saturday and Sunday with her mother, Mrs. Chas. Brumfield at Harts.
Miss Cora Adkins was shopping in Logan Saturday.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Brumfield of Harts spent Decoration Day in Wayne county.
Mr. Edward Brumfield and Wesley Ferguson spent several days visiting friends and relatives at Wayne.
Attorney General Lace Marcum of Huntington has been visiting Chas. Brumfield and family at Harts.
Mr. and Mrs. Toney Johnson of Ashland, Ky., spent Decoration Day with Mr. and Mrs. Chas. Brumfield at this place.
Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Adkins has purchased them a fine new Studebaker car last week.
Miss Hazel Toney and Mr. Eplings of Huntington were calling on Miss Jessie Brumfield Sunday.
Misses Jessie Brumfield was shopping in Huntington Saturday.
Mr. James Auxier Newman a state road inspector of Huntington was the guest of Miss Jessie Brumfield Tuesday at Harts.
Mr. Robert Hale and Mrs. Hollena Ferguson were seen out car riding Monday evening.
Mr. Amon Ferguson, Ora Dingess, Bell Adkins were seen out car riding Sunday evening.
Mr. and Mrs. Burl Farley of Cabell County and Mr. and Mrs. Albert Adkins and daughter, Miss Ruby, of Hamlin were the guests of Mrs. Chas. Brumfield at Harts Sunday.
Mr. Alva Koontz of Huntington is out new State inspector this week in Harts.
Mr. and Mrs. Shelby Shelton and children of Huntington spent Decoration Day at Harts.
Alderson Rutherford, Amon Ferguson, Appalachia, Ashland, Bill Adkins, C & O Railway, Caroline Brumfield, Clyde Rutherford, conductor, Cora Adkins, Enos Dial, Essie Adkins, F.D. Adkins, Fisher B. Adkins, genealogy, Hamlin, Harietta Carey, Harts, Hazel Toney, history, Huntington, Ida McCann, Inez Adkins, Inez McCann, James Powers, Jerry Lambert, Jessie Brumfield, Keenan Toney, Kentucky, Lincoln County, Logan, Logan Banner, Lola Adkins, Midkiff, Ora Dingess, Peach Creek, Roxie Tomblin, Ruth Adkins, Sand Creek, Saul Bowen, Toney, Verna Johnson, West Virginia, Woodrow Rutherford
An unnamed correspondent from Harts in Lincoln County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Logan Banner printed on May 29, 1925:
Jerry Lambert, of Sand Creek, was in Harts Sunday.
F.B. Adkins made a business trip to Huntington the latter part of the week.
Mrs. R.L. Powers, and little son, James, have returned from Logan where she has been by the bedside of her little niece, Miss Ruth Adkins, who is very low with fever.
F.D. Adkins was transacting business in Logan Tuesday.
Clyde Rutherford, C. & O. conductor of Peach Creek, was the guest of F.D. Adkins and family Sunday.
Amon Ferguson of Hamlin was calling on Miss Ora Dingess Sunday.
Misses Jessie Brumfield, Ora Dingess, Amon Ferguson and Enos Dial were seen out driving Saturday evening.
Miss Cora Adkins was visiting friends in Logan last week.
Miss Hazel Toney, of Huntington, was the pleasant guest of Misses Cora and Inez Adkins Saturday night.
Mrs. Toney Johnson, of Ashland, Ky., is visiting her mother, Mrs. Chas. Brumfield.
F.D. Adkins was the dinner guest of K.E. Toney Saturday.
Bill Adkins and Harrietta Carey were seen out walking Saturday evening.
Misses Lola and Essie Adkins, Lillie and Harriette Cary, and Roxie Tomblin were in Harts Saturday.
Mrs. W.M. McCann has been visiting her daughter, Mrs. Watson Adkins.
Alderson Rutherford and little son, Woodrow, of Peach Creek, and sister, Mrs. Saul Bowen of Midkiff, were calling on friends here Sunday.
Herb Adkins made a business trip to Logan Saturday.
Alice Dingess, Annie Dingess, Appalachia, Bill Thompson, Bob Dingess, David Dingess, Dixie Mullins, Emmett Scaggs, genealogy, Georgia Curry, Harriet Curry, Harts Creek, Hinton, history, Howard Adams, Hulet Blair, Huntington, Inez Dingess, Jake Workman, John Wysong, John Yurkanin, Kentucky, Lawrence Mullins, Logan, Logan County, Lucinda Collins, Lucy Dingess, Mary Ann Farley, Missell Dingess, Queens Ridge, Roach, Sidney Mullins, singing school, Thelma Dingess, Tom Brumfield, West Virginia
An unnamed correspondent from Queens Ridge in Logan County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Logan Banner printed on August 7, 1925:
David Dingess was transacting business in Logan Monday.
E.F. Scaggs was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Dave Dingess Thursday.
Tom Brumfield was calling on Miss Thelma Dingess Sunday.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Dingess were seen out car riding Sunday.
Misses Inez and Lucy Dingess were visiting their grandmother Sunday and were accompanied by Miss Ula Adams.
Misses Harriet and Georgia Curry and their niece attended singing school at Harts Sunday and reported a good time.
Mr. John Wysong of Logan has been visiting relatives of this place for the past week.
Mrs. Cinda Collins left early Monday morning on the Huntington train for Hinton where she will spend a few days with her daughter.
Mrs. Missel Dingess has been visiting her mother at Roach, W.Va., for the past week.
Mr. and Mrs. Bill Thompson were visiting the latter’s mother Sunday.
Mr. Jake Workman was calling on Miss Dixie Mullins Sunday.
Mr. John Yurkanin and Hulet Blair were the dinner guests of Mrs. Alice Dingess while enroute to Ashland, Ky.
Sidney Mullins made a flying trip to Logan Saturday.
Lawrence Mullins is building a new dwelling house.
Mr. and Mrs. Howard Adams were the guests of the former’s mother Sunday.
NOTE: Queens Ridge is located in Wayne County; the post office served Upper Hart during the 1920s.
Appalachia, Ashland, author, authors, coal, Guyandotte Valley, history, Kentucky, Logan Banner, Logan County, physician, poems, poetry, Thomas Dunn English, Three Forks, Viola Ann Runyon, West Virginia, writers, writing
From the Logan Banner of Logan, WV, comes this bit of history about Veola Ann Runyon, authoress-poet of Logan County. The story is dated January 13, 1922:
LOGAN COUNTY HAS AN AUTHORESS-POET
Mrs. Veola Ann Runyon, of Three Forks, Has Had Much of Her Work Published.
We never know in what nook or corner we may find unknown talent or beneath what bushel measure we may and a shining light unless, perchance, we may trip across a clue that may lead us to a welcome discovery. Such was the case with a representative of The Banner on a recent trip to Three Forks, when he fortunately learned of the presence there of Mrs. Veola Anne Runyon, a poet and talented writer of fact and fiction.
Mrs. Runyon was born in Ashland, Ky. Her grandfather was a French physician and author. From him she derived the gifted talent at at the early age of sixteen she began writing stories and for the past ten years she has been a regular contributor to several of the largest magazines of our country. She has in preparation at the present time a romance which will be happily connected with the coal mining industry, while she has in the hands of her publisher two other books, one dealing with scientifical and botanical work and the other on entomological facts.
The story now in preparation will be eagerly sought by all readers in Logan County, due to the fact that part of the plot will be based upon knowledge gained within this county. Mrs. Runyon was requested by her publishers to write a story closely connected with the mining industry and so not knowing the details connected with the industry she came to Three Forks, and while stopping at the Club House there she is gathering facts that will prove invaluable in her latest work.
Mrs. Runyon is a gifted writer and is filled with the love of the work. She is also deeply interested in botanical work and the study of nature. Through persuasion we were able to secure some of her poems for publication in The Banner, and we are pleased to announce that arrangements have been made with her for regular contributions to the columns of this paper.
Her presence here will recall to mind another author who came to Logan County in years gone by. Dr. Thos. Dunn English recognized the beauty of these mountains and the nearness of true nature and came here during the period between 1850 and 1860. Some of his poems deal with life in the Guyan Valley.
With her ability and fluency of language, Mrs. Runyon should find in these grand majestic mountains and wonderful natural beauty an invaluable aid to inspiration that will enable her to complete a wonderful story that should attract the favorable attention of the most critical.
Note: I cannot locate any biographical information for this writer. Three Forks, according to one source, is also known as Saunders (Buffalo Creek).
Appalachia, Ashland, Bob Brumfield, C&O Railroad, Caroline Brumfield, Chapmanville, Charley Brumfield, Ed Brumfield, Enos Dial, genealogy, Hamlin, Harts, Herb Adkins, history, Huntington, Ironton, Jessie Brumfield, Kentucky, Lincoln County, Lizzie Nelson, Logan Banner, Ohio, R.M. Sevin, Verna Johnson, West Virginia
An unnamed correspondent from Harts in Lincoln County, West Virginia, offered the following news, which the Logan Banner printed on April 3, 1925:
Charles Brumfield of Harts has been transacting business in Ironton, Ohio, the past week.
Mrs. Toney Johnson, of Ashland, Ky., has been visiting her mother, Mrs. Chas. Brumfield Harts.
Herbert Adkins of Harts is prospecting business in Huntington.
Miss Jessie Brumfield is teaching a successful school at Rector. She spent the week end with homefolks at Harts and was accompanied by Miss Cora Adkins and Mrs. Herbert Adkins and Mrs. Robert Brumfield of Harts.
Mrs. Robert Brumfield of Harts was shopping in Logan Saturday.
Edward Brumfield of this place is preparing to attend school at Hamlin.
Charles Brumfield is building a fine residence costing about seven thousand dollars at Harts.
Mrs. Robert Dingess of Queen’s Ridge returned to her home after a short visit with her mother, Mrs. Charles Brumfield, of Harts.
Miss Lizzie Nelson of Harts is attending high school at Chapmanville.
R.M. Sevine, C&O brakeman of Huntington was calling on Miss Jessie Brumfield of Harts.
Enos Dials and Edward Brumfield and Miss Jessie Brumfield were seen out walking Sunday evening at Harts.
A.J. Dickerson, African-Americans, Appalachia, Ashland, Dan Claytor, Fannie Hill, genealogy, history, John Smith, Kentucky, Logan County, Lucy Woodie, Mary Johnson, Minnie Gayhart, Nathaniel Hogans, Samuel Thomas, Stone Branch, West Virginia, Will Woodie
A correspondent named “S.T.B.” from Stone Branch in Logan County, West Virginia, offered the following “colored” news, which the Logan Banner printed on January 12, 1923:
Mrs. Lucy Woodie has been visiting home folks at Ashland and we are very glad to have her back again.
Rev. Dan Claytor preached for us Sunday night. It was a very small attendance. Dear people, why don’t you come to the church and hear the word of the Lord?
Mrs. Minnie Gayhart is very sick at this time. We hope to see her improving soon.
Hughie Smith was here Tuesday. Hurry up, Hughie. Things are looking very sad without you.
Mrs. Mary Johnson and Mrs. A.J. Dickerson were seen going to the store Monday.
Mrs. Fannie Hill is progressing nicely with her school.
Nathaniel Hogans is able to be at school again.
Stone Branch is getting more like a city every day.
Famous combinations: A.J. Dickerson and his wagon; Mr. Will Woodie and his slop bucket; Samuel Thomas and his oil can; John Smith and his baby; Mrs. Lucy Woodie and her traveling bag.
Appalachia, Ben Haley, Chloe Mullins, Cleveland, Clyde Haley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, genealogy, history, Imogene Haley, Jack Haley, Jackson Mullins, Janet Haley, Laura Belle Trumbo, Lawrence Haley, Margaret Ryan, Milt Haley, Mona Haley, music, Nellie Muncy, Noah Haley, Pat Haley, Patsy Haley, Ralph Payne, Sherman Luther Haley, William Trumbo, Wilson Mullins
Not too long after talking with Patsy, her son Scott sent me a copy of Ed’s genealogy, most of which came directly from Ed and Ella. “James Edward Haley was born in August and was the son of Milt and Imogene (Mullins) Haley,” the notes began. “He died February 4, 1951 in Ashland, KY. He married Martha Ella Trumbo, a daughter of William A. and Laura Belle (Whitt) Payne Trumbo. She was born July 14, 1888 and died November 26, 1954 in Cleveland, OH. At the time of their marriage, Ella had one child from a previous relationship: Ralph A. Payne who married Margaret Ryan and who died on May 22, 1947.”
Patsy listed Milt Haley’s parents as Benjamin Haley and Nellie Muncy, and Emma Jean (Imogene) Haley’s parents as Andrew Jackson Mullins and Chloe Ann Gore.
There was detailed information on Ed and Ella’s children.
“Sherman Luther Haley, the oldest, died as an infant. Clyde Frederick Haley was born on June 13, 1921 and never married. Noah Earl Haley was born on October 26, 1922 and married Janet J. Fried in September of 1951. Allie Jackson Haley was born on April 6, 1924. He married Patsy J. Cox on October 25, 1946 and died on March 23, 1982. Lawrence Alfred Haley was born on January 8, 1928. He married Patricia M. Hulse in February of 1949. Monnie May Haley was born on May 5, 1930 and married in 1945 to Wilson Mullins.”
Allie Trumbo, Appalachia, Ashland, Ashland Cemetery, Bath Avenue, Boyd County, Calvary Episcopal Church, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Clyde Haley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, Francis M. Cooper, genealogy, history, Huntington, Jack Haley, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Lezear Funeral Home, Michigan, Minnie Hicks, Mona Haley, Morehead, Noah Haley, Ohio, Patsy Haley, South Point, William Trumbo
After Ed’s death, Ella lived with Lawrence and his family in Ashland. Every Thursday, she went to Cincinnati where she sold newspapers until Saturday. On Saturday nights, Lawrence would meet her at the bus station in Ashland and bring her home. She and Lawrence would then go into her bedroom where she would empty out her bounty from special slips Aunt Minnie had sewn into her bodice and count her money. It was somewhat of a humbling job for Ella; her own brother Allie Trumbo would call her “Penny Elly” and tease her for taking in pennies and nickels at Cincinnati. The whole experience came to a humiliating end when she “wet” on herself at the bus depot one afternoon. Apparently, no one would help her to a bathroom.
Pat said Ella took to her bed shortly afterwards and didn’t live much longer.
The day after Thanksgiving in 1954, Ella died of a stroke while staying with Jack and Patsy in Cleveland. Lawrence showed me her obituary from a Huntington newspaper:
HALEY – Funeral services for Mrs. Martha Haley, 66, 4916 Bath Avenue, who died Friday night at the home of a son, Allen Haley, at Cleveland, O., will be held today at 3:30 P.M., at the Lezear Funeral Home by the Very Rev. Francis M. Cooper, rector of the Calvary Episcopal Church. Burial will be in Ashland Cemetery. The body is at the funeral home.
Mrs. Haley suffered a stroke while visiting her son. She was born July 14, 1888, at Morehead, Ky., a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Trumbo.
Surviving are three other sons, Lawrence Haley, Ashland, Noah E. Haley, Cleveland, and Clyde F. Haley, Michigan; one daughter, Mrs. Mona Mae Smith, South Point, O.; a brother, Allie Trumbo, Cincinnati; and nine grandchildren.
Sensing that Ella’s death might be a sensitive subject, I just kind of left it at that.
Ashland, Big Sandy River, Blackberry Blossom, Blaze Starr, Bluegrass Meadows, Boyd County, Clark Kessinger, Dave Peyton, Delbarton, Duke Williamson, Ed Haley, fiddle, fiddler, fiddlers, fiddling, Georgia Slim Rutland, Grand Ole Opry, Hank Williams, Herald-Dispatch, history, Huntington, Jennies Creek, John Fleming, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Lynn Davis, McVeigh, Mingo County, Minnie Pearl, Molly O Day, Molly O'Day, music, Parkersburg Landing, Pike County, Pond Creek, Short Tail Fork, Shove That Hog's Foot, Skeets Williamson, Snake Chapman, Texas, West Virginia, Williamson
Early that summer, I was back at Lawrence Haley’s in Ashland with plans to visit Lynn Davis in Huntington, West Virginia. Lynn had been mentioned in the Parkersburg Landing liner notes as a source for Haley’s biographical sketch and was the widower of Molly O’Day, the famous country singer. Snake Chapman had told me that Molly and her family were close friends to Haley, who visited their home regularly in Pike County, Kentucky. I was sure Lynn would have a lot of great stories to tell about Ed. At our arrival, he was incredibly friendly — almost overwhelming us with the “welcome mat.” All we had to do was mention Ed’s name and he started telling us how he and Molly used to pick him up in Ashland and drive him up the Big Sandy Valley to see Molly’s father in southeastern Kentucky.
“That was back in the early forties,” he said. “We’d come to Ashland and get him at his home up on Winchester about 37th Street. They was a market there or something you turned up by and we’d go there and pick him up and take him up to Molly’s dad and mother up in Pond Creek, Kentucky — above Williamson. There’s an old log house up there — it’s been boarded up and sort of a thing built around it so people couldn’t get in and tear it up or something — but it’s falling down. He’d stay up there with Molly’s dad and mother for several days. They’d take him to Delbarton, a coal town over there from Williamson, and they’d just drive him around, buddy. Now Molly’s brother, he really loved Ed’s fiddling.”
Lynn was referencing Skeets Williamson, Molly’s older brother and a good fiddler by all accounts. Lynn showed me an album titled Fiddlin’ Skeets Williamson (c.1977), which referenced him as “one of country music’s more skilled fiddlers during the 1940’s — one of the best in his day.”
Skeets was born in 1920 at McVeigh, Kentucky, meaning he was approximately 35 years younger than Haley. As a child, he played music with Molly and his older brother Duke Williamson, as well as Snake Chapman. “During these years, the famous fiddler of Eastern Kentucky, Blind Ed Haley, became a tremendous influence on him,” the album liner notes proclaimed. “Skeets (along with Clark Kessinger) still contend that Haley was the greatest fiddler who ever played.” During a brief stint on Texas radio, Skeets met Georgia Slim Rutland, the famous radio fiddler who spent a year listening to Haley in Ashland.
I asked Lynn more about his trips to Haley’s home on 37th Street.
“We used to go down to his house and Molly’d say, ‘Uncle Ed, I’d just love to hear you play me a tune.’ Well he’d be sitting on the couch and he’d just reach over behind the couch — that’s where he kept his fiddle. He always had it in hand reach. So he would get it out of there, man, and fiddle.”
Sometimes Lynn and Molly would join in, but they mostly just sat back in awe.
“You’ve seen people get under the anointing of the Holy Ghost, John,” Lynn said. “Well now, that’s the way he played. I mean, I’ve seen him be playing a tune and man just shake, you know. It was hitting him. I mean, it was vibrating right in his very spirit. Molly always said, ‘I believe that fiddlers get anointed to the fiddle just like a preacher gets anointed to preach.’ They feel it. Man, he’d rock that fiddle. He’d get with rocking it what a lot of people get with bowing. It was something else. But he got into it man. He moved all over.”
Lynn said Ed was a “great artist” but had no specific memories of his technique. He didn’t comment on Ed’s bowing, fingering or even his fiddle positioning but did say that he mostly played in standard tuning. Only occasionally did Ed “play some weird stuff” in other tunings.
Lynn’s memories of Haley’s tunes seemed limited.
“Well, he played one called ‘Bluegrass Meadows’,” he said. “He had some great names for them. Of course one of his specials was ‘Blackberry Blossoms’. He liked that real good, and he’d tell real stories. He would be a sawing his fiddle a little while he was telling the story, and everybody naturally was just quiet as a mouse. You know, they didn’t want to miss nothing.”
What kind of stories?
“Well, I know about the hog’s foot thing. He said they went someplace to play and they didn’t have anything to eat and those boys went out and stole a hog and said they brought it in and butchered it and heard somebody coming. It was the law. They run in and put that hog in the bed and covered it up like it was somebody sleeping. And Ed was sitting there fiddling and somebody whispered to him, said, ‘Ed, that hog’s foot’s stickin’ out from under the cover there.’ So he started fiddling and singing, ‘Shove that hog’s foot further under the cover…’ He made it up as he went.”
The next thing I knew, Lynn was telling me about his musical career. He’d been acquainted with everybody from country great Hank Williams to Opry star Minnie Pearl. We knew a lot of the same people — a source of “bonding” — and it wasn’t long until he started handing me tapes and records of Molly O’Day and Georgia Slim Rutland. He said he had a wire recording of Ed and Ella somewhere, but couldn’t find it. He promised me though, “When I find this wire — and I will find it — it’s yours.”
Sometime later, he called Dave Peyton, a reporter-friend from the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, to come over for an interview. With Peyton’s arrival, Lynn (ever the showman) spun some big tales.
“Now, Molly’s grandfather on her mother’s side was the king of the moonshiners in West Virginia and he was known as ‘Twelve-Toed John Fleming’,” Lynn said. “He had six toes on each foot. Man, he was a rounder. Little short fella, little handlebar mustache — barefooted. He was from the Short Tail Fork of Jenny’s Creek. And the reason they called it that, those boys didn’t have any britches and they wore those big long night shirts till they was twelve or fourteen years old.”
Lynn was on a roll.
“I preached Molly’s uncle’s funeral. Her uncle is the father of Blaze Starr — the stripper. That’s Molly’s first cousin. In her book, she said she would walk seven miles through the woods to somebody that had a radio so she could hear her pretty cousin Molly sing. She was here in town about three or four months ago. We had breakfast a couple times together. She’s not stripping anymore. She makes jewelry and sells it. She’s about 60 right now.”
Appalachia, Ashland, blind, Clark Kessinger, Doc Holbrook, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddler, fiddlers, fiddling, Georgia Slim Rutland, history, John Hartford, Kentucky, mandolin, music, Slim Clere
The cassette player was giving Slim fits. I used the opportunity to ask him more about Ed. His answers came swift and sure, leaving little room for doubt.
Me: What kind of strings did Ed Haley use?
Slim: Believe it or not — gut. He used an aluminum-wound A, an aluminum-wound gut D and a silver-wound G. Professional stuff.
Me: Did Ed use a flat bridge or a round bridge?
Slim: I would say a round bridge.
Me: Did he ever talk about who he learned from or any of that?
Slim: No, but I think Clark Kessinger stole some of his stuff.
Me: When Ed played, was it loud?
Slim: He played very soft. He wasn’t rough.
I could hear Slim’s wife talking — she was helping him with the cassette player. Slim told her I was on the other end of the line and she got on the telephone and said, “Are you the one that does the riverboat things? I have seen you on Ralph Emery’s show. I have enjoyed you tremendously because you’re different.” That flattered me, of course, but I had more questions for Slim, who was still battling the tape player.
Me: Did you ever hear Ed sing?
Slim: No, but I’ve heard people say that he could play a guitar well.
Me: Was he easy to get to know?
Slim: He was a very congenial guy. You’d go around where he was playing, he’d hand you his fiddle. “Here,” he’d say. In other words, he was a very cordial guy.
Me: Did you ever see him play away from his wife?
Slim: He always had that woman with him. And when she played with him it seemed like she was straining to keep her eyes closed. She did not have a happy look on her, I remember that. But she played a Taterbug mandolin; they had a good tone.
I asked Slim where he first met Ed and he said, “I knew him a long, long time – maybe 25 years. Down in Ashland, Kentucky. Well, I know exactly where he used to live down there. He lived in a little old four-room house that had a bunch of steps going up on the porch there. And he used to sit out there on the porch and rock and fiddle. I think it was a kind of open rocker. I don’t think the chair had those high handrails on them. It didn’t matter to him. He relaxed that way, see.”
I asked Slim to describe how Ed looked.
“His hair was a kind of a dark brown, I believe,” he said. “He was fair complected and his hands were as soft as a rag. He had a little hand — and his fingers were pointed. It seems to me like his eyes were pretty well blanked out. He didn’t wear glasses, like most blind men do. And his wife didn’t either. He didn’t have too much action. Being blind, he didn’t have any personality or anything like that. You almost had to close your eyes to appreciate the guy. He always had that woman with him. She kept good time. Of course, she didn’t make any runs or nothing. And he had a son that was a good guitar player but he was ashamed to play with Ed and his mother because they were blind.”
Slim remembered Doc Holbrook, although he didn’t necessarily equate him as Ed’s good friend.
“Doc Holbrook is the one that loaned Clark Kessinger a fiddle to play on. See, there was years and years that Clark never did own a fiddle. And when Doc Holbrook wanted his fiddle back, Clark got mad at him for taking his fiddle away from him. Doc said, ‘You’ve had it all this time. Had a chance to buy it and never would.'” I wondered if this was the same fiddle that Ed had given Doc but Slim didn’t know about any of that.
Slim confirmed that Ed was acquainted with Georgia Slim Rutland, the popular radio fiddler. “Yeah, I bumped into Georgia Slim in Macon, Georgia in a contest in 1937 and I was telling him what a great country this was up here and when I came back up here, here he was.” I had heard that Georgia Slim moved to Ashland just to hear Ed Haley and Slim sort of agreed. “Well, he was down there a while. I remember I told him about Ed Haley myself.”
Appalachia, Art Stamper, Arthur Smith, Ashland, Big Sandy River, Billy Lyons, Blackberry Blossom, blind, Charles Wolfe, Clark Kessinger, Clayton McMichen, Duke Williamson, Ed Haley, fiddle, fiddler, fiddlers, fiddling, Fox in the Mud, Frazier Moss, Fred Way, Ft. Gay, Grand Ole Opry, history, Huntington, Joe Williamson, John Hartford, Kentucky, Kermit, Kirk McGee, Levisa Fork, Louisa, Mark Howard, Matewan, Mississippi River, Molly O'Day, music, Nashville, Natchee the Indian, Ohio River, Old Sledge, Packet Directory, Paintsville, Parkersburg Landing, Pikeville, Prestonsburg, Red Apple Rag, River Steamboats and Steamboat Men, Robert Owens, Roy Acuff, Sam McGee, Skeets Williamson, Snake Chapman, square dances, St. Louis, Stacker Lee, Stackolee, steamboats, Tennessee Valley Boys, Tri-State Jamboree, Trouble Among the Yearlings, Tug Fork, West Virginia, Williamson, WSAZ
Back in Nashville, I was knee-deep in Haley’s music, devoting more time to it than I care to admit. I talked so much about it that my friends began to tease me. Mark Howard, who was producing my albums at the time, joked that if Ed’s recordings were of better quality, I might not like them so much. As my obsession with Haley’s music grew, so did my interest in his life. For a long time, my only source was the liner notes for Parkersburg Landing, which I had almost committed to memory. Then came Frazier Moss, a fiddling buddy in town, who presented me with a cassette tape of Snake Chapman, an old-time fiddler from the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy in eastern Kentucky. On the tape, Snake said he’d heard Haley play the “old original” version of “Blackberry Blossom” after he “came in on the boats” at Williamson, West Virginia.
This was making for a great story. I was already enthralled by Haley’s fiddling…but to think of him riding on “the boats.” It was the marriage of my two loves. I immediately immersed myself in books like Captain Fred Way’s Packet Directory 1848-1983: Passenger Steamboats of the Mississippi River System Since the Advent of Photography in Mid-Continent America (1983) to see which boats ran in the Big Sandy Valley during Haley’s lifetime. Most of the boats were wooden-hulled, lightweight batwings – much smaller than the ones that plied the Mississippi River in my St. Louis youth – but they were exciting fixtures in the Big Sandy Valley culture.
“I have seen these boats coming down the river like they were shot out of a cannon, turning these bends, missing great limbs hanging over the stream from huge trees, and finally shooting out of the Big Sandy into the Ohio so fast that often they would be nearly a mile below the wharf boat before they could be stopped,” Captain Robert Owens wrote in Captain Mace’s River Steamboats and Steamboat Men (1944). “They carried full capacity loads of sorghum, chickens and eggs. These days were times of great prosperity around the mouth of Sandy. Today, great cities have sprung up on the Tug and Levisa forks. The railroad runs on both sides, and the great activity that these old-time steamboats caused has all disappeared.”
During the next few weeks, I scoured through my steamboat photograph collection and assembled pictures of Big Sandy boats, drunk with images of Haley riding on any one of them, maybe stopping to play at Louisa, Paintsville, Prestonsburg and Pikeville, Kentucky on the Levisa Fork or on the Tug Fork at Ft. Gay, Kermit, Williamson, and Matewan, West Virginia.
Finally, I resolved to call Snake Chapman and ask him about his memories. It was a nervous moment – for the first time, I was contacting someone with personal memories of Ed Haley. Snake, I soon discovered, was a little confused about exactly who I was and why I was so interested in Haley’s life and then, just like that, he began to offer his memories of Ed Haley.
“Yeah, he’s one of the influences that started me a fiddling back years ago,” Snake said, his memories slowly trickling out. “I used to go over to Molly O’Day’s home – her name was Laverne Williamson – and me and her and her two brothers, Skeets and Duke, used to play for square dances when we first started playing the fiddle. And Uncle Ed, he’d come up there to old man Joe Williamson’s home – that’s Molly’s dad – and he just played a lot for us and then us boys would play for him, me and Cecil would, and he’d show us a lot of things with the bow.”
Molly O’Day, I knew, was regarded by many as the most famous female vocalist in country music in the 1940s; she had retired at a young age in order to dedicate her life to the church.
“And he’s the one that told me all he could about old-time fiddling,” Snake continued. “He said, ‘Son, you’re gonna make a good fiddler, but it takes about ten years to do it.'”
I told Snake about reading in the Parkersburg Landing liner notes how Haley reportedly wished that “someone might pattern after” him after his death and he totally disagreed. He said, “I could have copied Uncle Ed – his type of playing – but I didn’t want to do it because he told me not to. He told me not to ever copy after anyone. Said, ‘Just play what you feel and when you get good, you’re as good as anybody else.’ That was his advice.”
I didn’t really know what to make of that comment. I mean, was Haley serious? Was he speaking from personal experience or was it just something he told to a beginning fiddler for encouragement?
After that, my conversation with Snake consisted of me asking questions – everything from how much Haley weighed to all the intricate details of his fiddling. I wondered, for instance, if Ed held the bow at the end or toward the middle, if he played with the fiddle under his chin, and if he ever tried to play words in his tunes. I wanted to know all of these things so that I could just inhabit them, not realizing that later on what were perceived as trivial details would often become major items of interest.
Snake answered my questions precisely: he said Haley held the bow “up a little in the middle, not plumb on the end” and usually played with the fiddle at his chest – “just down ordinarily.” He also said Haley “single-noted” most of his bow strokes, played frequently in cross-key, hated vibrato and used a lot of “sliding notes.” He seldom got out of first position, only occasionally “going down and getting some notes” that he wanted to “bring in the tune” and he definitely tried to play words in his music.
“The old fiddlers through the mountains here – and I guess it’s that way everywhere – they tried to make the fiddle say the words of the old tunes,” Snake said.
“Uncle Ed, he was a kind of a fast fiddler,” he went on. “Most old-time fiddlers are slow fiddlers, but he played snappy fiddling, kindly like I do. Ah, he could do anything with a fiddle, Uncle Ed could. He could play a tune and he could throw everything in the world in it if he wanted to or he could just play it out straight as it should be. If you could just hear him in person because those tapes didn’t do him justice. None of them didn’t. To me, he was one of the greatest old-time fiddlers of all time. He was telling me, when I was young, he said, ‘Well, I could make a fiddle tune any time I want to,’ but he said he just knowed so many tunes he didn’t care about making any more. He played a variety of tunes that a lot of people didn’t play, and a lot of people couldn’t play. He knew so many tunes he wouldn’t play one tune too long.”
I asked Snake about Haley’s repertoire and he said, “He played an old tune called ‘Old Sledge’ and it was one of his good ones. He played tunes like ‘Trouble Among the Yearlings’, but when he was gonna play it he called it ‘Fox in the Mud’. He made that up himself. One of the favorite tunes of mine he played was the old-time way of playing ‘Blackberry Blossom’ and he played it in G-minor. Ed could really play it good. They was somebody else that made the tune. Uncle Ed told me who it was – Garfield. He said he was a standing fiddling near a big blackberry patch and it was in bloom at the mouth of the hollow one time and this fella Garfield played this tune and he asked this fella Garfield what the name of the tune was. He said, ‘Well, I ain’t named it, yet,’ and he turned around and spit in that blackberry patch with a big bunch of ambeer and said, ‘We’ll just call it ‘Blackberry Blossom’.”
“Yeah, Uncle Ed, he had tales behind every one of them like that, but that’s where he said he got the name of it. He said he named it there…spitting in the blackberry blossom.”
Snake only remembered Haley singing “Stacker Lee”, a tune I’d heard him fiddle and sing simultaneously on Parkersburg Landing:
Oh Stacker Lee went to town with a .44 in his hand.
He looked around for old Billy Lyons. Gonna kill him if he can.
All about his John B. Stetson hat.
Stacker Lee entered a bar room, called up a glass of beer.
He looked around for old Billy Lyons, said, “What’re you a doin’ here?
This is Stacker Lee. That bad man Stacker Lee.”
Old Billy Lyons said, “Stacker Lee, please don’t take my life.
Got a half a dozen children and one sweet loving wife
Looking for my honey on the next train.”
“Well God bless your children. I will take care of your wife.
You’ve stole my John B. Stetson hat, and I’m gonna take your life.”
All about that broad-rimmed Stetson hat.
Old Billy Lyons said, “Mother, great God don’t weep and cry.”
Oh Billy Lyons said, “Mother, I’m bound to die.”
All about that broad-rimmed Stetson hat.
Stacker Lee’s mother said, “Son, what have you done?”
“I’ve murdered a man in the first degree and Mother I’m bound to be hung.”
All about that John B. Stetson hat.
Oh Stacker Lee said, “Jailor, jailor, I can’t sleep.
Old Billy Lyons around my bedside does creep.”
All about that John B. Stetson hat.
Stacker Lee said, “Judge, have a little pity on me.
Got one gray-haired mother dear left to weep for me.”
All about that broad-rimmed Stetson hat.
That judge said, “Old Stacker Lee, gonna have a little pity on you.”
I’m gonna give you twenty-five years in the penitentiary.”
All about that John B. Stetson hat.
It was one awful cold and rainy day
When they laid old Billy Lyons away
In Tennessee. In Tennessee.
Snake said Haley used to play on the streets of Williamson, West Virginia where he remembered him catching money in a tin cup. In earlier years, he supposedly played on the Ohio River and Big Sandy boats and probably participated in the old fiddlers’ contests, which Snake’s father said was held on boat landings. These impromptu contests were very informal and usually audience-judged, meaning whoever got the most applause was considered the winner. Sometimes, fiddlers would just play and whoever drew the biggest crowd was considered the winner.
I asked Snake if he ever heard Ed talk about Clark Kessinger and he said, “Skeets was telling me Ed didn’t like Clark at all. He said, ‘That damned old son-of-a-gun stands around and tries to pick up everything he can pick up from you.’ And he did. Clark tried to pick up everything from Uncle Ed. He was a good fiddler, too.”
Snake said Clayton McMichen (the famous Skillet Licker) was Haley’s favorite fiddler, although he said he knew just how to beat him. This made me think of the line from Parkersburg Landing, “In regard to his own fiddling, Haley was not particularly vain, although he was aware that he could put ‘slurs and insults’ into a tune in a manner that set him apart from all other fiddlers.” (I wasn’t exactly sure he meant by slurs and insults.)
Snake could tell that I was really into Haley.
“Try to come see me and we’ll make you as welcome as we possibly can,” he said. “I tell you, my wife is poorly sick, and I have a little trouble with my heart. I’m 71. Doctors don’t want me to play over two or three hours at a time, but I always like to meet other people and play with them. I wouldn’t have no way of putting you up, but you can come any time.”
Just before hanging up, I asked Snake if he had any Haley recordings. He said Skeets Williamson had given him some tapes a few years back and “was to bring more, but he died two years ago of cancer.” Haley had a son in Ashland, Kentucky, he said, who might have more recordings. “I don’t know whether he’s got any of Uncle Ed’s stuff or not. See, most of them old tapes they made, they made them on wire recordings, and I don’t know if he’s got any more of his stuff than what I’ve got or not.”
I told Snake I would drive up and see him in the spring but ended up calling him a week later to ask him if he knew any of Ed’s early influences. He said Ed never talked about those things. “No sir, he never did tell me. He never did say. Evidently, he learned from somebody, but I never did hear him say who he learned from.” I felt pretty sure that he picked up tunes from the radio. “Ed liked to listen to the radio, preferring soap operas and mystery chillers, but also in order to hear new fiddle tunes,” the Parkersburg Landing liner notes read. “A good piece would cause him to slap his leg with excitement.” I asked Snake if he remembered Haley ever listening to fiddlers on the radio and he said, “I don’t know. He must have from the way he talked, because he didn’t like Arthur Smith and he liked Clayton McMichen.”
What about pop tunes? Did he play any of those?
“He played ragtime pretty good in some tunes,” Snake said. “Really you can listen to him play and he slides a little bit of ragtime off in his old-time fiddling – and I never did hear him play a waltz in all the time I ever heard him play. He’d play slow songs that sound old lonesome sounds.”
Snake quickly got into specifics, mentioning how Haley only carried one fiddle around with him. He said, “He could tune right quick, you know. He didn’t have tuners. He just had the keys.”
Did fiddlers tune low back in those days?
“I’d say they did. They didn’t have any such thing as a pitch-pipe, so they had to tune just to whatever they liked to play.”
Haley was the exception.
“Well, it seemed like to me he tuned in standard pitch, I’m not sure. But from hearing his fiddling – like we hear on those tapes we play now – I believe he musta had a pitch-pipe at that time.”
I wondered if Haley spent a lot of time messing around with his fiddle, like adjusting the sound post, and Snake said, “No, I never did see him do that. He might have did it at home but when he was out playing he already had it set up the way he wanted to play.”
Surprisingly, Snake didn’t recall Haley playing for dances. “I don’t think he did because I never did know of him playing for a dance. He was mostly just for somebody to listen to, and what he did mostly was to make money for a living playing on the street corner. I seen him at a fiddling contest or two – that was back before I learned to play the fiddle. That’s when I heard him play ‘Trouble Among the Yearlings’. He won the fiddling contest.”
What about playing with other fiddlers?
“Well, around in this area here he was so much better than all the other fiddle players, they all just laid their fiddles down and let him play. The old fiddlers through here, they wasn’t what I’d call too good fiddlers. We had one or two in the Pikeville area over through there that played a pretty good fiddle. Art Stamper’s dad, he was a good old-time fiddler, and so was Kenny Baker’s dad.”
After hanging up with Snake, I gave a lot of thought to Haley reportedly not liking Arthur Smith. His dislike for Smith was documented on Parkersburg Landing, which stated plainly: “Another fiddler he didn’t care for was Arthur Smith. An Arthur Smith record would send him into an outrage, probably because of Smith’s notoriously uncertain sense of pitch. Cecil Williamson remembers being severely lectured for attempting to play like ‘that fellow Smith.'”
Haley probably first heard Smith over the radio on the Grand Ole Opry, where he debuted in December of 1927. Almost right away, he became a radio star, putting fiddlers all over the country under his spell. His popularity continued to skyrocket throughout the 1930s, during his collaboration with Sam and Kirk McGee. In the late thirties, Haley had a perfect chance to meet Smith, who traveled through southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky with the Tennessee Valley Boys. While unlikely, Haley may have met him at fiddling contests during the Depression. “In the thirties, Haley occasionally went to fiddle contests to earn money,” according to Parkersburg Landing. At that same time, Smith was participating in well-publicized (usually staged) contests with Clark Kessinger, Clayton McMichen and Natchee the Indian. Haley, however, tended to avoid any contest featuring Natchee the Indian, who “dressed in buckskins and kept his hair very long” and was generally a “personification of modern tendencies toward show fiddling.”
In the early 1940s, Haley had a perfect opportunity to meet Smith, who appeared regularly on WSAZ’s “Tri-State Jamboree” in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington is located several miles up the Ohio River from Ashland, Kentucky and is West Virginia’s second largest city.
In the end, Haley’s reported low opinion of Smith’s fiddling was interesting. Arthur Smith was one of the most influential fiddlers in American history. Roy Acuff regarded him as the “king of the fiddlers,” while Dr. Wolfe referred to him as the “one figure” who “looms like a giant over Southern fiddling.” Haley even had one of his tunes – “Red Apple Rag” – in his repertoire. Maybe he got a lot of requests for Smith tunes on the street and had to learn them. Who knows how many of his tunes Haley actually played, or if his motives for playing them were genuine?