Appalachia, Big Ugly Creek, Doska Adkins, Eunice Ferrell, genealogy, history, James Ferrell, John Hartford, Lincoln County, Mayme Ferrell, photos, Rector, West Virginia
06 Saturday Jun 2020
Posted Big Ugly Creek, John Hartford, Rectorin
02 Tuesday Apr 2019
Posted John Hartford, Lincoln County Feud, Musicin
24 Tuesday Oct 2017
Posted John Hartford, Musicin
06 Tuesday Oct 2015
Posted Ed Haley, John Hartford, Lincoln County Feudin
04 Sunday Oct 2015
Posted Ed Haley, John Hartford, Lincoln County Feudin
Appalachia, Ashland, Ashland Daily Independent, Blood in West Virginia, books, Brandon Kirk, Dave Lavender, Ed Haley, Ed Haley Memorial Fiddle Contest, Empire Books, fiddlers, fiddling, Goldenseal, Greenup, Hannibal H. Holbrook, Harts Creek, Herald-Dispatch, history, Huntington, John Hartford, Kentucky, music, Poage Landing Days, Steve Haley, The Kentucky Explorer, U.S. South, West Virginia, writing
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, WV, and the Ashland (KY) Daily Independent have recently provided great coverage of the book and related research projects. Many thanks to these newspapers for supporting regional history. Here are the links to the stories:
I am honored that some of my writing will appear in forthcoming issues of Goldenseal and The Kentucky Explorer, two of my absolute favorite magazines. The Winter issue of Goldenseal will feature a story about Ed Haley’s background on Harts Creek and his later visits to the community. A smaller story details John Hartford’s search for Ed Haley in the Harts Creek area. The December issue of The Kentucky Explorer will feature a story about Ed Haley’s friendship with Dr. H.H. Holbrook of Ashland and Greenup.
12 Wednesday Aug 2015
Posted John Hartford, Musicin
26 Sunday Jul 2015
Posted Cemeteries, John Hartfordin
26 Friday Jun 2015
banjo, bluegrass music, Brandon Kirk, country music, fiddle, fiddler, history, John Hartford, life, Madison, Marie Hartford, music, Tennessee, writers, writing
Let me try to describe John’s hands. They were very small in every way. He had frail hands as a gentleman might have, with little hair on them. I don’t recall that his fingers were unusually long. His knuckles were slightly larger than his actual fingers, maybe because his fingers were so thin. He kept his fingernails clean and filed smooth with a file. I remember he often filed his nails while on the bus during road trips; sometimes he filed his nails when conversations barely held his interest, half-listening. He absolutely never bit his fingernails. He seldom used his hands for any type of physical work because he didn’t want to risk hurting them; they were, he said, what paid the bills. The skin on his hands was somewhat loose and pale. When you shook his hand, it was very soft, although I’m sure he had slight callouses on the ends of his left hand fingers from playing the fiddle nearly every waking minute of the day. When I first met John at Morrow Library, he shook my hand and insisted that I call him John, not Mr. Hartford. When I later visited his home in Nashville during the summer for weeks or a month, before I had moved to Nashville, he would always shake my hand before I left for West Virginia. I recall at the end of my first trip how he stood in his driveway between his house and the guest house and remarked that we shouldn’t say goodbye because we would see each other again. John did not particularly like goodbyes; he preferred until next times. At the end of his life, upon commencement of his chemotherapy, he would shake very few people’s hand. Due to the chemotherapy, he was particularly concerned about germs. At that time, we shared a laptop and I always took care to clean the keys with alcohol before passing the laptop to him for manuscript review. I did this because I did not want to pass germs and make him ill; he never asked me to do it. Actually, I recall times he told me that it wasn’t necessary, but I did it anyway. Almost always, if he met someone at an event, they would greet him with a handshake, which he had to decline. It was awkward and in a peculiar way I think he enjoyed it. I may be mistaken, but it seems as if he contemplated or did in fact wear gloves for a short time just for handshakes. On a few occasions, he complained about having shaken hands with stout men who nearly crushed his hand; he detested an unnecessarily firm handshake because he said it might affect his ability to play. Later, after I moved to Nashville and visited and stayed many days and nights in his home I observed and he said that one of his favorite things to do was to sit with Marie on the bedroom couch at night and hold her hand while the two of them watched television. These were, of course, private moments and I only intruded if I had a question about the manuscript or a related matter. John’s wrists were small. He never wore a watch on his wrist, preferring instead to keep a pocket watch – usually tucked in his overalls front pocket or in the pocket of his vest, which he nearly always wore. If I remember correctly, his watch was colored gold, not silver. When I think of his hands, I see them holding a fiddle and bow at the dining room table and on stage, I see them moving across a banjo, I see them holding a fork and knife at dinner, I see them placing tiles on a Scrabble board during our games together, I see them holding a glass of red wine late at night during our conversations, I see them holding a book or a magazine at the couch by the fireplace, I see them gripping the wheel of his Cadillac on our way to Piccadilly Cafeteria, I see them pushing PLAY and turning up the volume on his car stereo…
10 Wednesday Jun 2015
05 Thursday Mar 2015
book, books, Brandon Ray Kirk, Ed Haley, history, John Hartford, Madison, photos, Tennessee, writing
31 Sunday Aug 2014
Posted Ed Haley, John Hartford, Musicin
Arthur Smith, banjo, Ben Walker, Benny Martin, Bernie Adams, Billy Adkins, blind, Brandon Kirk, Buddy Emmons, Clayton McMichen, Doug Owsley, Durham, Ed Haley, fiddlers, fiddling, Green McCoy, Haley-McCoy grave, Harts, history, Imogene Haley, Indiana, Jeffersonville, John Hartford, Johnny Hager, Lawrence Haley, Mark O'Connor, Matt Combs, Melvin Kirk, Michael Cleveland, Milt Haley, Mona Haley, music, Nashville, North Carolina, Smithsonian, Snake Chapman, Tennessee, Texas Shorty, Ugee Postalwait, Webster Springs, West Virginia, Wilson Douglas, writing
When Ed first went out into the neighborhood with his dad’s fiddle and armed with his melodies (as interpreted by his mother) I think he probably caused not a small sensation amongst family and neighbors and his ear being as great as it was I think he picked up an incredible amount of other music really fast. I think he played with a lot of ornaments when he was a teenager and up into maybe even his thirties. Snake Chapman and Ugee Postalwait have alluded to this. Snake said the dining room recordings just didn’t sound as old-timey as he remembered Ed playing and Ugee said she remembered him and her dad talking about the little melodies between the notes. Of course Ed had to have been through a lot of subtle changes in style since that time. I think in later years he stripped a lot of the ornaments out of his fiddling in order to appeal to the Arthur Smith-Clayton McMitchen crowd who loved the radio style that was so much in vogue at that time. This might have helped make a little more money on the street. People have always liked to hear someone play and sound just like what they hear on the radio or a record. But I think if someone had asked Ed if he had done that consciously that he would have denied it and if he was in a bad mood they might have even had a fight on their hands.
I keep having this idea of Ed imitating other instruments on the fiddle because I’ve tried it myself and wouldn’t it be something that some of these great parts was really an imitation of John Hager’s banjo playing. I’d love to know where that passage is or whether it even exists.
It’s obvious that when Ed had good firm second that wouldn’t slow down for anything, he really leaned back on the beat and got in that little pocket where so many great musicians like to be. Ella and Mona really held up a good solid beat, but I’ll bet Ed was hard on them — a real taskmaster. It’s all in that rhythm section. Wilson Douglas told me one time that Ed always told him to play it real lazy. Texas Shorty, Benny Martin, and Buddy Emmons refer to it as holding on to the note as long as you can before you start the next one. This is an important part of Ed’s feel and sound and it really comes through on the dining room recordings. I get it by playing as slow as I can against a beat I hope is not gonna move, and then I swing the notes with a dotted note feel — a real lilt if I can get it — and just drag on the beat as hard as I can ’cause I know it’s not gonna slow down. I’d love to know just when Ed figured that out or if it was always there. I always think of Ed in his younger years playing on top of the beat or even ahead of it like I did when I was young and full of piss and vinegar. Actually when you’re playing alone you do hafta pretty well stay on top of the beat to hold the time or at least set it, cause you are the beat but you have to keep from rushing which we will tend do when we get to hard passages in order to get them over with. We’ll not do that no more. Mark O’Connor told me one time that while he is playing a tune he’ll play on top of and behind the beat on purpose. He described playing behind it as letting the beat drag you along…almost like water skiing. Oh, to have known what Ed and John Hager or Bernie Adams sounded like together.
I think Ed worked on his fiddling probably daily most of his life so it is fair to say that it was changing all the time. This would explain the varying descriptions of his playing that have come down. I’m sure they’re probably all accurate. Lawrence, Ugee, and Mona always said Ed played with great smooth long bow strokes and Snake Chapman always was adamant about him playing with short single strokes and Slim Clere said the same thing — that he bowed out everything — no bow slurs. Of course, in the dining room sessions you can hear both ways. It’s amazing how well Ed did without the feedback of working with a tape recorder. What an incredible ear he had. As far as I know, the only time he probably heard himself played back was the recordings we have. I hope there are others out there but I’ve come to doubt it.
Brandon and I have always had a gut feeling that if we’d dug down into the hillside a little further at Milt and Green’s grave we might have found something. We only went down five feet and then we were defeated by the rain. What if we had gone down the requisite six feet? What if, like the probe, Owsley had misjudged the bottom of the grave shaft due to the mud and water? What if it hadn’t rained and muddied up the work area? If Melvin Kirk and Ben Walker went so far as to bury the men in a deep grave, why not assume they would have gone for the standard six feet grave traditionally dug? In the following weeks, old timers around Harts kept telling Brandon and Billy, “If they didn’t dig at least six feet, it’s no wonder they didn’t find anything.” We didn’t want to question the professionalism of experts like the Smithsonian forensic team or seem like we wanted to find Milt and Green so badly that we couldn’t accept the concept that they were gone…but what if? The explanation that Doug Owsley gave us about the coal seam and underground stream made a lot of sense. Needless to say we were really disappointed. I had started to rationalize that not finding anything might indicate that they were buried in the nude and just thrown in the hole with no box or winding sheet or anything.
I was in Durham, North Carolina, the other day and I saw a fiddler on the street and I automatically found myself thinking of Ed. I didn’t have to fill in or rearrange much in my imagination to see him there playing on the street — even though this man was standing up, and played nothing like him. Of course when Ed was younger he probably stood up to play all the time like in the Webster Springs picture…dapper and wearing his derby. I always seem to picture Ed sitting down. Another great thrill for me is a young blind fiddler from Jeffersonville, Indiana, named Michael Cleveland who when he plays I can see Ed at nineteen. He stands up so straight he almost looks like he’s gonna fall over backward the way Lawrence said his dad did. When he plays I can’t take my eyes off of him thinking of Ed. Now my friend Matt Combs, who has done a lot of the transcriptions for this book, sits with me and plays Ed’s notes off of the paper, and I play off the top of my head, so in that sense it’s like playing with him.
I guess it’s time to just leave this alone and get back to my study of the fiddle. Maybe get geared up for “Volume Two.” I spend long hours here at the dining room table with my tape recorder and I can hear Lawrence and feel Ed as I try and play my way back into the past. I find that the study of Ed’s music leads me to the study of all music and the way it’s played.
28 Thursday Aug 2014
Posted Ed Haley, John Hartford, Musicin
Brandon Kirk, Ed Haley, fiddle, fiddler, fiddling, history, Howdy Forrester, John Hartford, Lawrence Haley, music, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. South, writing
For me a “tune” is a specific order of notes played by a certain person on a certain day at a certain time and given a certain name and if you want to really pin it down you could include the latitude and longitude of the event. If you were not there to personally witness this happening then the word of some one else is okay as long as you include that in the triangulation so that when you have put out this information you can lean back and say to your listener, “Now…you know as much about it as I do and you can draw your own conclusions.” This works for events and etc. Sometimes these sort of documented rumors are as close as we can get to the truth and it’s better than nothing.
I’ve been thinking about how much Ed probably wouldn’t like to think about a whole lot of what we have put in this book. For sure he didn’t like to talk about it, especially to his family. I guess I don’t blame him — he lived it. It’s easy for us to get into all of it from our totally secure positions here in 2000 knowing what we know. And from the vantage point of our research, there are probably some areas where we know things that Ed never did.
We decided to call this book “The Search for Ed Haley: Volume One” because we know that after it comes out people will be calling us saying, “Well, you didn’t call me,” and “You didn’t get that right,” and no telling what. But then that gives us fuel for Volume Two. Of course there is the chance (and it has crossed my mind) that when this book comes out that some of the old Harts Creek animosities might still be smoldering and some people might feel hurt. God, I hope not. Everybody has encouraged us and said it was time to bring out the truth.
In case you hadn’t figured it out, Brandon wrote most all of this book and I just went through and “Hartfordized” it. Even though I have my name up top, Brandon is the one who did all the work. A typical day for us would be Brandon back in the office transcribing taped interviews, making chapters out of them, and working and reworking the words. Me, I’ll be sitting at the dining room table out in the other room sawing on a fiddle. At first when Brandon would bring me a chapter I would go through it on the laptop and make corrections and reword some things. Then Brandon very quickly caught on to what it was I was after, and after awhile he would bring me chapters and I would just read them in amazement and not do anything to them, and we would just go on. It really is wonderful, ’cause even though we know every word in the book when we read it back we still learn things. “Oh, that’s why that happened that way. Well I’ll be damned.”
I’ve given this story a lot of thought and most of what I’m about to say is from instinct and gut reaction cause we didn’t necessarily have cold hard facts. I think Ed learned a lot from his mother in the period right after his dad’s death when he and her probably spent a lot of time in that cabin hid out together from the community at large and his only contact was through his mother’s family (his grandparents). Ed found a fiddle that his father had left behind (very possibly the one in the photograph which looks home made) and started sawing around on it. His mother in her grief over her late husband was probably all the time whistling and singing the old melodies, most of which he had played, and Ed picked them up much in the way that Howdy Forrester told me he picked up a lot of melodies from his mom’s whistling and singing around the house. They were the melodies Ed and his mother shared. His unusually natural technique developed because he had such a great ear and naturally not being able to see he was not in a position to pick up bad technical habits from other fiddlers. His mother probably coached him much in the same way that Lawrence coached me a hundred years later…saying things like, “That just don’t sound right.” “Pop never played that many notes.” “Pop’s groups of notes were smaller.” But then because we both could see, Lawrence also said things like, “Your bow hold don’t look like Pop’s” and “Pop held his fiddle down here and turned it.”
25 Monday Aug 2014
Posted Big Harts Creek, John Hartford, Lincoln County Feudin
25 Monday Aug 2014
archaeology, Bill Bryant, Bill Mccoy, Billy Adkins, Brandon Kirk, Brownlow's Dream, Cheryl Bryant, Chip Clark, Dale Brown, David Haley, Doug Owsley, Green McCoy, Haley-McCoy grave, Harts Fas Chek, Jimmy McCoy, Joanna Wilson, John Hartford, John Imlay, Lara Lamarre, Lawrence Kirk, Malcolm Richardson, Milt Haley, New York City, Rebecca Redmond, Smithsonian, State Historic Preservation Office, Steve Haley, Ted Park, Ted Timreck
Sometime during the next few months, we decided that the grave exhumation would take place on May 6, 1998. I rolled into the Harts Fas Chek parking lot on the 4th and hung out with Brandon and Billy until after midnight. Steve and David Haley showed up the next day, as did Jimmy and Bill McCoy and their families. It wasn’t long until Doug Owsley arrived with his crew. His team consisted of four people: Malcolm Richardson, (his former boss and) the field supervisor; John Imlay and Dale Brown, chief excavators; and Rebecca Redmond, recorder. Along to chronicle the event was Chip Clark, a professional photographer; Ted Timreck, a video documentary specialist from New York City; and Ted Park, a writer for Smithsonian magazine.
I knew right away that these guys meant business.
We all went up to the grave that evening, but “the dig” didn’t start until early the next morning.
The weather was perfect and the hillside became alive with people. In addition to myself, the Haleys, the McCoys, Brandon, and Owsley’s crew, there was Billy Adkins, Lawrence Kirk, Bill and Cheryl Bryant (the property owners), and Lara Lamarre and Joanna Wilson of the State Historic Preservation Office.
Most of the day was filled with probing, scraping, talking and then — well — more probing, scraping and talking. Within an hour, the diggers verified that it was a single-shaft grave. As the day progressed, it became obvious that the grave was deeper than the estimated two feet.
Actually, it seemed to just keep “going,” causing us realize that the probes had been a bit deceiving.
At some point, Owsley’s diggers bumped into a coal seam, which had a small underground stream beneath it. Rich said the stream was a bad find because it had probably deteriorated Milt and Green’s bodies in its seasonal cycle of drying up and trickling over the last hundred or so years. He still felt, however, that teeth and certain larger bones might be preserved.
Just before nightfall, Rich said it would be best to stop working and cover the hole because it was supposed to rain sometime in the next few hours. Owsley mentioned that we were only inches away from the shaft floor…only inches — and he was sure of it this time. We were all too excited to go to bed, so we gathered around a big fire up by the grave. The Smithsonian folks requested that I play some fiddle tunes. I played “Brownlow’s Dream” and joked to Brandon that it might help “raise” Milt out of the ground. All jokes aside: it was a little spooky up there, in spite of the twenty or so people clustered around the fire. I remember shining my flashlight up the hill toward the grave every now and then just to make sure…
After about a half an hour, rain began to sprinkle on our gathering. We filed off of the hill and settled in to bed in Harts. Brandon and three of his buddies pitched a tent near the grave and spent the night as “guards.” All were descendants of major participants in the 1889 feud: either mobsters or members of the burial party. The rain soon dissipated, creating a starry night, and left them gathered around a fire and talking about the feud that claimed the lives of Milt and Green. It was an incredible night of stories. So many things had come full circle. For Brandon, it was overwhelming to just think about how he had earlier stood at Milt’s and Green’s grave surrounded by many descendants of the feudists. Expectations and anticipation was at a high water mark. Such was the excitement that Brandon and his friends didn’t go to sleep until around 5 a.m. when a heavy rain forced them into their tent.
Unfortunately, the rain came down in buckets during the early hours of the morning and created horrible working conditions for the forensic team. Their crude covering over the grave was no match for the rain, which whipped in from all angles. Most horribly, the rain caused the underground stream to gush forth and fill the bottom of the grave shaft completely.
After only a few frustrating hours of digging through clay, mud, and several inches of water, Owsley concluded that the crew had reached the bottom of the grave. They had not located a single bone, tooth, belt buckle or bullet fragment.
Even when Brandon fetched a cheap metal detector, the diggers couldn’t come up with anything.
Milt and Green were gone.
16 Saturday Aug 2014
Posted Big Harts Creek, Culture of Honor, Ed Haley, John Hartford, Lincoln County Feud, Warrenin
Ben Adams, Bertha Mullins, Bill Thompson, Billie Brumfield, Brandon Kirk, Buck Fork, Cas Baisden, crime, Dingess, Dump Farley, Ed Haley, Ewell Mullins, Greasy George Adams, Green Shoal, Harts Creek, history, Imogene Haley, Jim Martin, John Frock Adams, John Hartford, Jonas Branch, Lincoln County Feud, Liza Mullins, Milt Haley, moonshining, Peter Mullins, Weddie Mullins, West Virginia, writing
Cas knew that Ed sold his homeplace at the mouth of Jonas Branch to Ewell Mullins. He said it originally stood below a big sugar tree in the bottom above Uncle Peter’s. (It was moved on logs.) It was a “little old two-room plank house” consisting of the “eating room,” which had a flat-rock chimney in the back with a fireplace and a “sleeping room.”
Cas best described the kitchen, which was just “out at the back” of the house.
“They wasn’t no floor in it,” he said. “It just sat on the ground. It was the length of the house — I guess maybe about eight feet wide — and they cooked out there in that. They cooked out there, packed it in, and set it on the table and they eat and everything in the same house. I’ve seen that old woman, Ewell’s wife, put fence rails in the stove — had a cook stove — and she’d stick them in there and set a chair on them till they burnt up to where they wouldn’t fall out. Me and her old man and his brother, we’d go up on that cliff and drag wood down that creek and the snow knee deep.”
Brandon asked Cas about the fate of Ewell’s house and he said they first enlarged it.
“We moved an old storehouse we had down the field there out there and put it beside of it,” he said. “It was there when the old man Ewell died ’cause the old storehouse had a crack up over the bed and his mother come in there and she was whining about that. Man, the snow’d blow in at him.”
Cas continued, “Then we turned around and tore that down and built this other to it. Tore that other’n down and built it back, too.”
He said the newer home was built on the same spot as the old one but it didn’t resemble it in any way.
Based on this testimony, we concluded that Ewell’s original home was truly gone.
Speaking of Uncle Peter, Brandon asked about him.
“Ah, he was a tomcat now, that old man was,” Cas said. “He was crippled in one foot and he walked on the back of it. Had his shoe made turned back. Prohibition men would come in and… I’ve seen him down there right below where Kate lived — he’d go out and hit that cliff. He’d get them bushes and swing up and go right up over them cliffs. He was bad to drink in his last few years. Well, they all the time made liquor and fooled with it. Finally got to drinking the stuff.”
Cas said Peter was bad to fight if provoked but Aunt Liza “was just like all other old women. She was a good old woman. She just stood and cooked.”
Cas thought that Ed’s mother was related to Uncle Peter, but wasn’t sure how.
“Wasn’t his dad named Milt Haley?” he asked.
“Well, you know they killed him down there around Green Shoal,” he said. “I heard somebody not too long ago a talking about them taking them over there and hanging them. I never did know too much about it. Nobody never talked too much about things back then.”
Cas had also heard about Ben Adams but didn’t know of his involvement in the 1889 troubles. He said Ben was a “pretty mean fellow” who lived in a log cabin still standing just up the creek.
“He had some kind of a brewery up here,” Cas said. “They had it built back in the bank. Sold booze there. Bootleg joint. I don’t know if all the old rocks and things is gone from there or not. He lived on Trace when he killed Jim Martin.”
Part of Ben’s old mill-dam was reportedly still visible in the creek at the Greasy George Adams place.
Cas told us again about Weddie Mullins’s death at Dingess, West Virginia. Weddie was an uncle to Ed Haley.
“I never did know too much about it,” he said. “We was little when that happened, I guess. Him and some of them Dingesses got into it and they shot and killed Weddie. And old man John Adams went down and looked at him, said, ‘What do you think about him?’ ‘Oh, I believe he’ll make it.’ Said he just hoisted that pistol, brother, and shot him right in the head and killed him. Said, ‘I know he won’t make it now.'”
This “old man John Adams” was Emma Haley’s half-brother, “John Frock.”
Cas said John could be ruthless.
“His wife was a coming out the gate and he shot her in the head and killed her,” he said. “Shot her whole head off. He was a little feller. He lived right there where Louie and them lived.”
Cas didn’t know what that killing was over.
“Back here at one time it was dangerous to even stick your head out of the door, son,” he said. “Why, everybody packed guns. Anybody’d kill you.”
The jockey grounds were rough places.
“A fella tried to run a horse over me up there at the mouth of Buck Fork and Billie Brumfield laid a pistol between his eyes and said, ‘You run that horse over him, you’ll never run it over nobody else.’ I believe it was before he killed his daddy.”
Cas said Dump Farley was at a jockey ground one time “right down under the hill from where Bill Thompson lived in that cornfield playing poker and he shot the corn all down. Talk about fellers a rolling behind the stumps and things.”
10 Sunday Aug 2014
Posted Big Harts Creek, Ed Haley, John Hartford, Musicin
blind, Brandon Kirk, Cacklin Hen, Cas Baisden, Clyde Haley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, Ewell Mullins, fiddling, Harts, Harts Creek, history, John Hartford, Logan County, music, Peter Mullins, Robert Martin, Trace Fork, West Virginia, World War II, writing
Early the next morning, Brandon and I arrived on the bus in Harts and drove to see Cas Baisden, who we spotted in a porch swing up main Harts Creek, just above the mouth of Smoke House Fork. It was a pastoral scene: a somewhat old farmhouse, several chickens in the yard and a few cattle in the distance who’d done a marvelous job of clearing the mountainside just back of the place. As we pulled up to the house, I realized that it was built fairly high off of the ground — probably as a precaution against flooding. Cas just kind of stared down at us as we unloaded from the car.
Once he figured out who we were, he invited us in to the living room. There we learned that Cas was eighty-seven years old and had spent his whole life on Harts Creek.
“I was born in 1910,” he said. “The only five years I was gone from here was when I was in the Army. I left here the second day of April ’42. I spent five year in the Air Force. Never was off the ground.”
Wow — I had to ask, “What is the secret to living so long?”
“Working, working, buddy,” Cas said. “I work ever day a little bit. I wish you’d a seen the coal and stuff I packed in this morning. I got two calves down there and chickens and cats and dogs. I live on tobacco, Cheerios, and milk.”
Ever drink any whiskey?
“Barrels of it,” he said. “It’s been ten or twelve years since I quit fooling with drinking. Yeah, I went up here and joined the church and things. A fella never knows what he misses when he gets in a church. I used to be rougher’n a cob.”
Cas was partly raised by Uncle Peter Mullins, so he remembered Ed Haley well.
“He’d come up there to Peter’s and just go from house to house playing music and eating,” he said. “He used to go up to Ewell’s — I guess where he was raised — and come down that road just a running and hollering and whooping and cutting the awfulest shine that ever was and you wouldn’t a thought he could a stayed in that road. I don’t know how he done it, but he’d take spells like that. If he got a hold of you with a knife, though, he was dangerous. Hang on you and cut as long as they’s a thread on you. Him and that old woman, they’d get drunk and they’d fight up there. You know, it’s a wonder they hadn’t a killed one another. I believe they did try to cut one another up there at old man Peter’s one time.”
What about the Haley kids?
“Why them young’ns would do anything,” Cas said. “Clyde went out here where Robert Martin used to live on that mountain and went down in the well and they had a time a getting him out. And up here a little bit was a big sycamore and he was up in there and we’d throw rocks at him, son, and if we’d a hit him and knocked him out of there he’d been killed. I believe Clyde was the meanest one among them, I don’t know.”
I asked Cas if he ever played music and he said, “Nah, I done well to call hogs. But now Ed was about as good a fiddler as they was. Nobody could play better than Ed. He could play anything on earth he wanted to play.”
Cas had memories of Ed playing at Uncle Peter’s, either outside for small crowds or inside for “big dances” before “they finally broke up and quit.” The old dances started about the “edge of dark” and people would just “jump around — most people never could dance” – until sun-up. There was no trouble — just “fiddle, dance, drink” — although a person had to watch out for what Cas called the “old hedgehogs.”
I asked him if Ed ever drank much at the dances and he said, “Sure. He’d get to drinking and have more fun than the one’s a dancing.”
When Ed wasn’t around to play dances on Trace, Robert Martin would show up and fiddle tunes like “Cacklin’ Hen”. Martin had the first radio “that was ever in this country” so people went to his house “out on the mountain” and listened to it until “way late in the night.”
08 Friday Aug 2014
Posted Chapmanville, Ed Haley, John Hartford, Musicin
Ashland, Brandon Kirk, California, Catlettsburg, Catlettsburg Stock Yard, Chapmanville, Clyde Haley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, genealogy, Halbert Street, history, Horse Branch, Jack Haley, Jean Thomas, John Hartford, Junius Martin, Kenny Smith, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Logan County, Mona Haley, music, Ohio, Pat Haley, Patsy Haley, Ralph Haley, Ralph Mullins, Rosie Day, San Quentin, South Point, Wee House in the Wood, West Virginia, Wilson Mullins, writing
The next day, Brandon and I got Mona to ride around town and show us some of the places where Ed played, as well as where he’d made the home recordings on 17th Street. In the car, she tried to recount the places the family had lived since her birth at Horse Branch in 1930.
The first place she remembered was an old brown house built on a slope at Halbert Street. This was the place where Ralph built the trap door.
When Mona was seven or eight years old, the family moved to 337 37th Street.
When she was about thirteen, they moved to 105 17th Street. She lived there in 1944 when she married Wilson Mullins and moved away to Chapmanville, near Harts. After her divorce, she moved back to 17th Street. At that time, Ed was separated from Ella and living in West Virginia.
For a brief spell, the Haleys lived at 5210 45th Street. Rosie Day lived nearby in a basement apartment.
Around 1948, the family moved to 1040 Greenup Avenue. Mona lived there when she married Kenny Smith and moved to South Point, Ohio.
Around 1950, Ed, Ella, Lawrence, Pat, and little Ralph moved to 2144 Greenup Avenue. Jack and Patsy lived there for a while because Patsy — who was pregnant with twins — wanted to be near the hospital. It was there that Ed passed away in February of 1951.
Thereafter, Ella stayed intermittently with Lawrence and Pat in Ashland or with Jack and Patsy in Cleveland until her death in 1954.
Brandon and I drove Mona around town later and she pointed out the sight of the Catlettsburg stock sale, where she remembered Ed making “good money” around 1935-36. She also directed us to at least three different locations of Jean Thomas’ “Wee House in the Wood.” One was remodeled into an office building and used by the county board of education, while another was out in what seemed like the middle of nowhere on a wooden stage in a valley surrounded by tall grass. Brandon and I thought this latter location was almost surreal, like something out of a weird dream.
Later at dinner, Mona told us what happened to her records.
“I sent Clyde some records when he was in San Quentin, California but he never brought them back with him,” she said.
I told her that some guy named Junius Martin had brought Lawrence some of Ed’s recordings and she said, “Seems like Junius Martin was one of Pop’s drinking buddies. I thought his name was Julius.”
07 Thursday Aug 2014
Posted Ed Haley, John Hartfordin
Allie Trumbo, Ashland, Beautiful Isle of Somewhere, Brandon Kirk, California, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Doug Owsley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, Florida, genealogy, history, Jack Haley, Janet Haley, Jimmy Haley, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, life, Margaret Ryan, Mona Haley, music, Noah Haley, Oak Hill Cemetery, Ohio, Pat Haley, Patsy Haley, Ralph Haley, Ralph Payne, Rosemary Haley, Wilson Mullins, World War II, writing
Early in December, Brandon and I met at Pat Haley’s. All of our excitement focused on the upcoming meeting with Owsley’s forensic team, although it wasn’t long until we were in the familiar routine of asking Pat and Mona questions. Mostly they spoke of Ralph, a key player in Ed’s story. It was Ralph who recorded Ed’s and Ella’s music. Pat said Patsy knew a lot about Ralph, so she called her in Cleveland.
Patsy said Ralph was a nice and intelligent person.
“All the kids looked up to him when they were growing up,” she said.
As far as Patsy knew, Ralph never had any contact with his real father but he did take the last name of Payne when he was older.
Around 1936, Ralph married Margaret Ryan, an eighteen- or nineteen-year-old Cincinnati girl. The newlyweds took up residence with Ed and Ella, and Ralph stopped drinking (at his wife’s insistence). Margaret remained living with the Haleys during the war, when Ralph was overseas fighting the Japanese.
During the war, Ralph had an affair with a Filipino woman named Celeste, who Pat said bore him a son. Mona thought he actually married Celeste. According to her, his plan was to “set” Margaret up after the war, divorce her and return to his Filipino bride. He had Celeste’s name tattooed on his body. When he returned home from the war, he told Margaret, when she saw his tattoo, that Celeste had been the name of his ship. Ralph and Margaret soon left Ashland and moved to Cincinnati.
It was around that time that Patsy came into the family. She said she married Jack in California on October 25, 1946 and met Ed the following Thanksgiving in Ashland. She and Jack moved in with him for three months at 105 17th Street. Mona, Wilson Mullins, and little Ralph were also living there at the time. Jack only stayed for about three months because he couldn’t find work. Patsy said they moved out near Ralph in Cincinnati. Ella’s brother Allie Trumbo lived there, as did several of her close friends. Mona and her family soon followed them there and found an apartment in the same building.
Mona said Ralph’s thoughts were with Celeste: he was in the process of getting Margaret “set up” when tragedy intervened.
One Sunday in May of 1947, Jack, Patsy, Ralph, Margaret, Mona, Wilson, and little Ralph went fishing at a park about 25 miles outside of Cincinnati. At some point, Patsy said Ralph and Mona began talking about hanging upside down in a nearby tree. Mona climbed up the tree and Patsy took her picture. Then Ralph got in the tree and fell. As he lay on the ground, he told his family that his neck was broken and requested that they put a board under him until the doctors could arrive. Ralph was taken to a hospital where he told Ella, “When I bite down on the ice it makes a musical tone in my head.”
On Thursday, May 22, 1947, Ralph died at the age of 34. The family was afraid that Ella might hear of his death over the radio. She was staying at Mona’s apartment at the time.
On May 24 — Mona’s birthday — Ralph was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery near Cincinnati. Patsy said Ed never made it to Ralph’s funeral, nor did Lawrence, who was in the service in Florida but Mona remembered that Lawrence was there on emergency leave. Someone played “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere”, Ralph’s favorite hymn.
Celeste later wrote Ella, mentioning how her son had an ear problem. When the family wrote to tell her of Ralph’s death, she figured they were making it up just so she would stop writing.
We figured that Ralph was Mona’s favorite brother since she had named her oldest son after him, but she said Jack was her favorite brother because he had taken up for her the most. She said Ella had been the one who named her son after Ralph. She also spoke highly of Noah, who contracted malaria and saw a lot of combat during World War II.
“Noah was good to send things home to Mom and Pop during the war,” Mona said. “And when he came home he laid carpet and fixed doorbells did things like that for Mom there at 17th Street.”
Noah went to Cleveland around 1950. Pat said Noah’s wife was a high-strung person. Their daughter Rosemary killed herself when she was eighteen. She wanted to get married but her mother protested, so she went into her brother’s room and shot herself in the head. In later years, Noah and Janet divorced. Pat said Noah’s son Jimmy really did a good job of looking after them. Janet died several years ago.
06 Wednesday Aug 2014
Posted Ed Haley, John Hartford, Lincoln County Feud, Musicin
Ashland, Brandon Kirk, Clyde Haley, Doug Owsley, Ed Haley, fiddle, Green McCoy, Haley-McCoy grave, Harts, Harts Fas Chek, Jimmy Johnson Bring Your Jug Around the Hill, Jimmy McCoy, John Hartford, Kentucky, mandolin, Milt Haley, Mona Haley, Noah Haley, Pat Haley, Salt River, Shove That Hog's Foot, Ugee Postalwait, West Virginia, writing
After the contest, we all gathered at Pat Haley’s. The dining room table was crammed with food and the refrigerator was stuffed with every conceivable drink. People filled the downstairs rooms, many even spilling out onto the front and back porches. Once the kitchen was cleared, I got my fiddle and planted myself in a hard-back chair near Clyde and Noah. I immediately gave Mona a mandolin I’d brought so she could second me with those haunting “Ella chords.” Ugee perched nearby us in a chair where she hollered out the names of tunes and lyrics and even danced when she got too excited. We kept the music going, while Pat served up the food.
There were some new musical developments, little comments here and there that were important to know. When I played “Salt River”, for instance, Mona said it was the same tune as “Shove That Hog’s Foot”. She sang:
Shove that hog’s foot further in the bed,
Further in the bed, further in the bed.
Shove that hog’s foot further in the bed,
Katy, won’t you listen to me now?
Ugee said Ed had a way of making his fiddle sound like moonshine pouring from a jug when he played “Jimmy Johnson Bring Your Jug Around the Hill”. It took me a while to figure out what she meant by that.
As music filled the kitchen, Brandon was busy with Jimmy McCoy in the TV room. Jimmy knew very little about Green’s death, although he’d heard that the Brumfields killed him because they were jealous of his music. At some point, we got Jimmy to sit for pictures with all of Ed’s grandsons, mimicking the Milt and Green picture. Everyone did it, even those who weren’t really sure why they were sitting with a stranger crossing their legs and gripping invisible jacket cuffs.
I headed back to Nasvhille the next day but Brandon went to Harts with Jimmy, where he and Billy Adkins showed him the local sites…including the Haley-McCoy grave. Brandon figured it was the first time any of the McCoys had been to the grave in at least 45 years.
A month or so later, Brandon received a letter from Doug Owsley regarding the exhumation of the Haley-McCoy grave.
“Thanks for the McCoy family permissions for the excavations at the Haley/McCoy Burial Site,” it partly read. “I think that it will be advisable for me to make a short trip to West Virginia in advance of the arrival of the field crew to meet you and Mr. Hartford and to make a quick survey of the site area.”
A few letters and telephone calls later, we learned from Owsley that he wouldn’t be able to make the preliminary trip to Harts. However, he was sending two associates, who we were to meet at the Harts Fas Chek.
06 Wednesday Aug 2014
Posted Ed Haley, John Hartford, Musicin
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