Dow Jackson and Ben Adams, $7.00, Big Sandy National Bank of Catlettsburg, KY, 19 September 1899.
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Benjamin “Ben” Adams (1855-1910), son of Joseph and Dicy (Mullins) Adams, was a prominent logger, splasher, distiller, and tavern operator at Warren-Spottswood in Logan County, WV. He was a key participant in the Lincoln County Feud.
Albert Thornton, Alice Dingess, Alonzo, Anna Adams, Appalachia, Battle of Cloyd's Mountain, Beatrice Adams, Ben Adams, Bob Dingess, Brown's Run, Browns Run School, Buck Fork, Buck Fork School, Bud Dingess School, Bulwark School, Chapmanville District, civil war, Cole Adams, Confederate Army, Conley School, Crawley Creek, Daisy Dingess, Dalton School, Dave Dingess School, Dixie Mullins, E. Burton, East Fork, Ed Dalton, education, Edward Chapman, F.M. McKay, Fisher B. Adkins, Fisher Thompson, genealogy, George Doss, George Mullins School, Harts Creek, history, Hoover School, Howard Adams, Hugh Dingess School, Ina Dingess, Ivy Branch School, J.A. Vickers, J.L. Thomas, John Conley, John Dingess, L.D. Stollings, Lee Dingess School, Limestone Creek, Local History and Topography of Logan County, Logan County, Lower Trace School, Manor School, Marsh Fork, Melvin Plumley, Middle Fork, Native Americans, Pigeon Roost, Piney School, Reuben Conley, Road Fork, Rocky School, Sallie Dingess, Smokehouse Fork, Stephen Hart, Striker School, T. Doss, Thelma Dingess, Three Fork School, Tim's Fork, Timothy Dwight, Twelve Pole Creek, Ula Adams, Union Army, West Fork, West Virginia, White Oak School, Workman School, World War I
Teachers identified the following schools in Chapmanville District of Logan County, WV, and offered a bit of local history in 1927:
Dave Dingess School, est. 1814
Ula Adams, teacher
One room frame school
“Harts Creek derived its name from Steven Harts, said to have been killed by Indians on the creek.”
Striker School, est. about 1874
Edward Chapman, teacher
One room frame building
Three Fork School, est. 1878
One room frame building, originally a log house
Nine Confederate veterans live here: George Doss, T. Doss, L.D. Stollings, Ed Dalton, Ruben Conley, John Conley, Ben Adams, E. Burton, Melvin Plumley. A Union veteran lives here; he originated elsewhere. Three branches of Crawley Creek are Road Fork, Middle Fork, and Pigeon Roost. Alonzo is the local post office.
Bulwark School, est. 1880
Robert Dingess, teacher
One room frame building
“All fought on the Confederate side” during the Civil War. One man gained great merit from our district as a marksman with the American marines during World War I.
Lee Dingess School, est. 1891
Cole Adams, teacher
One room frame
Five local men served in the Confederate Army.
Browns Run School, est. 1892
Ina Dingess, teacher
One room frame building
“Sent several soldiers to help the South.” The fork is named for a Brown who lived at its mouth.
Buck Fork School, est. 1894
No teacher given
One room frame building
A Church of Christ exists nearby. Three local men served in the Confederate Army. One local soldier lost both hands in World War I.
Ivy Branch School, est. 1895
Anna Adams, teacher
Albert Thornton was the first teacher here. “Trace Fork received its name from the original road leading to Twelve Pole Creek.”
Hugh Dingess School, est. 1897
Sallie Dingess, teacher
One room frame building
Conley School, est. 1897
J.L. Thomas, teacher
One room frame building
The first house built on Smoke House Fork at its mouth had no chimney for quite a while and smoked badly.
Dalton School, est. 1897
Thelma Dingess, teacher
One room frame building
“This district furnished a lot of Civil War veterans and played her part.”
Bud Dingess School, est. 1904
Beatrice Adams, teacher
One room frame building
“East Fork named on account of its being the most Eastern fork of Harts Creek.” One local soldier served in the Confederate Army.
Hoover School, est. 1910
Howard Adams, teacher
One room frame building
A Christian Church exists in the vicinity. Four local men served in the Confederate ARmy. “Harts Creek named from Steven Harts murdered by Indians.” Three boys went from here and one was wounded at the battle of Argonne.
George Mullins School, est. 1910
Dixie Mullins, teacher
One room frame building
“Buck Fork named from large number of male deer on creek.”
Rocky School (no date)
Daisy Given Dingess, teacher
References an Indian mound on Pigeon Roost where tomahawks, arrowheads, etc. can be found. Indian burial ground.
Under the Tim’s Fork entry, it says that John Dingess was killed in battle at Cloyd’s farm. Tim’s Fork is named for Timothy Dwight, who lived there.
Lower Trace School, est. 1919
Alice Dingess, teacher
Two room frame building
“Sent several soldiers to help the South.” Also, “Harts Creek named from Steven Harts.”
Piney School, est. 1921
F.M. McKay, teacher
One room building
No permanent churches exist locally; people meet occasionally in one of the school houses. Four local men served in the Confederate Army. “Piney was named because of so much pine growing there.”
White Oak School, est. 1922
Fisher Thompson, teacher
One room rented frame building
Manor School, est. 1923
Located at Limestone
Workman School, est. 1924
Fisher B. Adkins, teacher
One room frame building
Marsh Fork derived its name from the marshy land near its mouth.
Source: Local History and Topography of Logan County by J.A. Vickers (Charleston, WV: George M. Ford, State Superintendent, 1927).
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The following list of Logan County marriages for the period of 1893 to 1900 reveals the names of preachers operating in the Harts Creek area. The source for this material is “Marriage Record 2 (1892-1913),” pages 2-146, which is located at the Logan County Clerk’s Office in Logan, WV. Many thanks to the county clerks and their employees who have always been so helpful to my research these past twenty-five years. NOTE: Marriage records for the Lincoln County section of the community are unavailable.
Isaac Fry March 1893 John H. Adkins and Caroline Nelson
W.D. Garrett March 1893 Floyd Bryant and Mary E. Baisden
Washington Dempsey April 1893 Spencer Mullins and Syntha A. Workman
Washington Dempsey June 1893 Harvey Smith and Hester C. Collins
Washington Dempsey 07 July 1893 William Mullins and Mary Mullins
Washington Dempsey 14 September 1893 Henry Spry and M.J. Tomblin
Isaac Fry 14 October 1893 John Brumfield and Harriet Dingess
Washington Dempsey 09 December 1893 Robert Amburgey and Rebecca Hall
None Given February 1894 Robert Workman and Mattie Vance
W.D. Garrett 09 March 1894 John Q. Adams and Maggie Perdue
J.G. McNeely 11 April 1894 John Murphy and Matilda Dalton
Washington Dempsey 24 April 1894 Ben Adams and Polly Adams
Washington Dempsey 04 June 1894 Wayne Adams and Minerva McCloud
None Given June 1894 Joseph Workman and A.E. Thompson
Washington Dempsey July 1894 or 1895 James E. Farley and Darthula Dingess
None Given 05 July 1894 John B. Thompson and Julia White
P.H. Dingess 10 July 1894 James Thompson and Margret Baisden
W.D. Garrett 09 December 1894 Nasby Smith and Caroline Farley
W.D. Garrett 22 December 1894 Wash Farley and Mahala Pridemore
Pyrrhus Hensley 19 January 1895 J. McNeeley and Ollie Barley
None Given May 1895 William H. Watts and Yantie Dingess
Peter H. Dingess July 1895 Burwell Adams and Bettie Adams
Gordon Farley July 1895 Hugh Conley and Mary Shadrack
Peter H. Dingess July 1895 Wash Priest and Margaret Lynch
John F. Farley September 1895 Charley Lilly and Jane Conley
W.D. Garrett 21 September 1895 Robert Owens and Rebecca Hall
Washington Dempsey 01 November 1895 Floyd Bryant and Mary J. Smith
Washington Dempsey December 1895 Melvin Baisden and Matilda Collins
None Given February 1896 John Workman and Mary Lambert
None Given 19 May 1896 Robert Mullins and Delphy Workman
P.H. Dingess 24 January 1897 John H. Mullins and Martha Jane Burns
M.A. Robinson 22 March 1897 A.D. Robinson and Polly Aldridge
P.H. Dingess, Sr. 27 April 1897 Wedington Mullins and Margarett Jonas
W.D. Garrett 03 April 1898 Charley Workman and Linnie Haner
K.H. Bevins 10 April 1898 Floyd Stollings and Ann Conley
Wash Dempsey 03 May 1898 Ralph Nelson and Caroline Browning
Jesse R. Browning 07 September 1898 Jesse Robinson and Mary A. Browning
W.D. Garrett 12 April 1899 Wallace Toney and Julia Lucas
M.A. Robinson 03 August 1899 Albert G. Vance and Sarah E. Workman
M.A. Robinson 03 September 1899 John W. Workman and Lucinda Pool
Wash Dempsey 22 September 1899 William Mullins and America Mullins
Washington Dempsey 22 September 1899 S.P. Spry and Lucinda Bryant
Wash Dempsey 22 September 1899 Moses Tomblin and Rhoda Simpkins
Wash Dempsey 14 October 1899 Louis Thompson and Brazilla Collins
M.A. Robinson 27 November 1899 James B. Mullins and Emily Jane Johnson
Wash Dempsey 07 December 1899 George Spaulding and Harriet Carter
H. Fry 23 February 1900 John Mans and Emily Workman
M.A. Robinson 27 February 1900 Elias Thompson and Elizabeth Dempsey
Isaac Fry 09 March 1900 Jeff McCloud and Louisa Thompson
W.D. Garrett 04 April 1900 George Thompson and Lucy Conley
Wash Dempsey 10 April 1900 Isaac Tomblin and Lucinda Collins
Wash Dempsey 17 April 1900 John A. Vance and Rhoda Browning
None Given July 1900 Antony Bryant and Lucinda Lucas
M.A. Robinson 01 November 1900 E.B. Lilly, Jr. and Clarissa G. Riddle
P. Hensley 23 November 1900 James Tomblin and Julia Hensley
Ben Adams, Ben Walker, Bill Fowler, Billy Adkins, Brandon Kirk, Cat Fry, Chapmanville High School, Charley Davis, Ed Haley, French Bryant, Fry, Green McCoy, Harts Creek, Henderson Dingess, history, Iris Williams, James Davis, John Brumfield, John Hartford, John W Runyon, Kentucky, Lincoln County, miller, Milt Haley, Spring Branch, West Fork, West Virginia, writing
That evening, Brandon and I met up with Billy Adkins and went to see James Davis on West Fork. James lived on Spring Branch of West Fork, a little hollow just across the creek from Iris Williams. A few years back, his older brother Charlie had told Brandon about seeing Ed win a twenty dollar gold piece in a contest at the old Chapmanville High School.
We found the eighty-something-year-old James laying on the couch with a little fuzzy dog crawling all over him like a monkey. He said he didn’t remember Ed, so I mentioned how he was Milt Haley’s son, which got an immediate reaction. He had heard the story of Milt’s death from Cat Fry, although he didn’t immediately offer up any details. Actually, James was hesitant to talk about the 1889 murders — almost as if the participants were still around and living next door. His answers to our questions were very evasive.
We learned from James that it was Bill Fowler (not John Runyon or Ben Adams) who hired Milt and Green to ambush Al. It was all over competition between businesses. Fowler was a saloon operator and a gristmill operator, while Brumfield ran a log boom.
“They was all there making money,” he said. “You know how that stirs up trouble. Some a making a little more money than others. They was bucking one another, like money men does.”
Milt and Green ambushed Al and Hollena one Sunday as they rode down the creek on a single horse after a visit with Henderson Dingess. In the attack, Mr. Brumfield was shot through the arm, while his wife was shot in the face. Milt and Green were soon captured in Kentucky by the Adkinses and Brumfields, who held them them at Fry. Neither man would admit to anything so John Brumfield shot one of them in the head. He reputedly put his toe at the hole and said, “I put a bullet right there.”
Brumfield was himself shot in the head a few years later.
French Bryant, “who was pretty hard to handle,” was also involved in the killings.
Afterwards, people were afraid to touch Milt’s and Green’s bodies until Ben Walker allowed them to be buried on his property. The whole event “shook people up pretty bad.” Fowler sold out at the mouth of Harts and moved away.
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.”
Al Brumfield, Albert Dingess, Anthony Adams, Ben Adams, Bill Brumfield, Bill's Branch, Billy Adkins, blind, Blood in West Virginia, Boardtree Bottom, Brandon Kirk, Buck Fork, Burl Farley, Carolyn Johnnie Farley, Cecil Brumfield, Charley Brumfield, Charlie Dingess, crime, Ed Haley, Fed Adkins, fiddling, French Bryant, George Fry, Green McCoy, Green Shoal, Hamlin, Harts Creek, Harve "Short Harve" Dingess, Hell Up Coal Hollow, Henderson Dingess, history, Hugh Dingess, John Brumfield, John Dingess, Kentucky, life, Lincoln County Feud, Low Gap, Milt Haley, murder, Paris Brumfield, Polly Bryant, Smokehouse Fork, Sycamore Bottom, Tom Maggard, Trace Fork, Vilas Adams, West Fork, West Virginia, Will Adkins, Williamson, writing
Al rounded up a gang of men to accompany him on his ride to fetch the prisoners in Williamson. Albert and Charlie Dingess were ringleaders of the posse, which included “Short Harve” Dingess, Hugh Dingess, John Dingess, Burl Farley, French Bryant, John Brumfield, and Charley Brumfield. Perhaps the most notorious member of the gang was French Bryant – “a bad man” who “did a lot of dirty work for the Dingesses.” On the way back from Kentucky, he tied Milt and Green by the arms and “drove them like a pair of mules on a plow line.”
“French Bryant run and drove them like a pair of horses ahead of these guys on the horses,” John said. “That’s quite a ways to let them walk. Old French, he married a Dingess. I knew old French Bryant. When he died, he was a long time dying and they said that he hollered for two or three days, ‘Get the ropes off me!’ I guess that come back to him.”
When the gang reached the headwaters of Trace Fork — what John called “Adams territory” — they sent a rider out ahead in the darkness to make sure it was safe to travel through that vicinity.
Waiting on the Brumfield posse was a mob of about 100 men hiding behind trees at Sycamore Bottom, just below the mouth of Trace Fork. This mob was led by Ben and Anthony Adams and was primarily made up of family members or people who worked timber for the Adamses, like Tom Maggard (“Ben’s right hand man”).
As the Brumfield rider approached their location, they began to click their Winchester rifles — making them “crack like firewood.” Hearing this, the rider turned back up Trace Fork, where he met the Brumfields and Dingesses at Boardtree Bottom and warned them about the danger at the mouth of Trace. They detoured safely up Buck Fork, then stopped at Hugh Dingess’ on Smokehouse where they remained for two or three days, not really sure of what to do with their prisoners. They made a “fortress” at Hugh’s by gathering about 100 men around them, fully aware that Ben Adams might make another effort to recapture Milt and Green.
While at Hugh’s, they got drunk on some of the red whiskey and apple brandy made at nearby Henderson’s. They also held a “trial” to see if Milt and Green would admit their guilt. They took one of the men outside and made him listen through the cracks between the logs of the house as his partner confessed on the inside. About then, the guy outside got loose and ran toward Bill’s Branch but was grabbed by “Short Harve” Dingess as he tried to scurry over a fence.
After this confession, the Brumfields and Dingesses considered killing Milt and Green on the spot but “got scared the Adamses was gonna take them” and headed towards Green Shoal.
John didn’t know why they chose George Fry’s home but figured Mr. Fry was a trusted acquaintance. He said they “punished” them “quite a bit there” but also got one to play a fiddle.
“These people that killed them, they made them play their last tune,” John said. “One of them would play and one guy, I think, he never would play for them. I forgot which one, but they never could get one guy to do much. The other one’d do whatever they’d tell him to do. That’s just before they started shooting them. The tune that they played was ‘Hell Up Coal Hollow’. I don’t know what that tune is.”
After that, the mob “shot their brains out” and left them in the yard where the “chickens ate their brains.”
A neighbor took their bodies through Low Gap and buried them on West Fork.
John said there was a trial over Haley and McCoy’s murders, something we’d never heard before. Supposedly, about one hundred of the Brumfields and their friends rode horses to Hamlin and strutted into the courtroom where they sat down with guns on their laps. The judge threw the case out immediately because he knew they were fully prepared to “shoot up the place.”
This “quick trial,” of course, didn’t resolve the feud. Back on Harts Creek, Ben Adams often had to hide in the woods from the Dingesses. One time, Hugh and Charlie Dingess put kerosene-dowsed cornstalks on his porch and set them on fire, hoping to drive him out of his house where they could shoot him. When they realized he wasn’t home, they extinguished the fire because they didn’t want to harm his wife and children. Mrs. Adams didn’t live long after the feud. Ben eventually moved to Trace Fork where he lived the rest of his life. Charlie never spoke to him again.
John also said there seemed to have been a “curse” on the men who participated in the killing of Haley and McCoy. He said Albert Dingess’ “tongue dropped out,” Al Brumfield “was blind for years before he died,” and Charlie Dingess “died of lung cancer.” We had heard similar tales from Johnny Farley and Billy Adkins, who said mob members Burl Farley and Fed Adkins both had their faces eaten away by cancer. Vilas Adams told us about one of the vigilantes drowning (Will Adkins), while we also knew about the murders of Paris Brumfield, John Brumfield, Charley Brumfield, and Bill Brumfield.
Just before hanging up with John, Brandon asked if he remembered Ed Haley. John said he used to see him during his younger days on Harts Creek.
“When he was a baby, old Milt wanted to make him tough and he’d take him every morning to a cold spring and bath him,” he said. “I guess he got a cold and couldn’t open his eyes. Something grew over his eyes so Milt took a razor and cut it off. Milt said that he could take that off so he got to fooling with it with a razor and put him blind.”
John said Ed made peace with a lot of the men who’d participated in his father’s killing and was particularly good friends with Cecil Brumfield, a grandson of Paris.
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That winter, Brandon made contact by telephone with John Dingess, a Connecticut resident who proved to be one of our best sources on the 1889 feud. John was born on the Smokehouse Fork of Harts Creek in 1918. A grandson to Henderson Dingess, he moved away from West Virginia after serving his country in World War II.
John said Henderson Dingess met his wife Sallie while boarding with her father Joseph Adams on Harts Creek. Henderson didn’t care much for his in-laws (he said they were “hoggish”), particularly his brother-in-law Ben Adams. Ben lived over the mountain from Henderson on main Harts Creek where he operated a small store. He and Henderson feuded “for years.” At some point, Henderson’s oldest son Charlie Dingess got into a racket with Ben over a yoke of cattle and “almost killed him in a fight” at Cole Branch.
The feud between Henderson’s family and Ben Adams reached a new level of tension when Ben refused to pay the sixteen-cents-per-log fee required by Al Brumfield to pass logs through his boom at the mouth of Harts Creek. Brumfield “was more of a businessman” than a feudist but “got into it” with Adams at his saloon near the boom. In the scrape, Ben pulled out his pistol and shot Al, who was spared from harm only because of a button on his clothes. Al subsequently fetched a gun and chased Ben up the creek — a very humiliating thing as there was probably a whole gang of people to witness his flight.
Ben soon gathered up a party of men with plans to force his timber out of Harts Creek under the cover of darkness. Before he could put his plan into action, though, the Dingesses caught wind of it and warned the Brumfields who promptly armed themselves with .38 Winchesters and .44 Winchesters and gathered in ambush on the hill at Panther Branch near the mouth of Harts.
Ben, anticipating trouble, put his wife, the former Victoria Dingess, at the front of his gang in the hopes that it might discourage her cousins from shooting at him as they came down the creek. It was a bad idea: the Brumfields and Dingesses shot “her dress full of holes.”
This was particularly horrible since she was probably pregnant at the time.
The next day, she came to her uncle Henderson’s to show him what his boys had done to her dress but he never punished them.
At that point, Ben was probably hell-bent on revenge and arranged for Milt Haley and Green McCoy, who John called two “professional gunmen,” to “bump Al off.”
John was sure of Ben’s role in the events of 1889.
“Ben Adams, my father’s uncle, he gave them a .38 Winchester apiece and a side of bacon to kill Al Brumfield,” he said.
Milt and Green caught Al one Sunday as he made his way back down Harts Creek after visiting with Henderson Dingess. He rode alone, while Hollena rode with her younger brother, Dave Dingess. As they neared Thompson Branch, Milt and Green fired down the hill at them from their position at the “Hot Rock.” Al was shot in the elbow, which knocked him from his horse and broke his arm, while Hollena was shot in the face. Al somehow managed to make it over a mountain back to Henderson Dingess’, while Hollena was left to crawl half a mile down to Chapman Dingess’ at Thompson Branch for help.
Upon learning of the ambush, Harvey Dingess (John’s father) hitched up a sled to one of his father’s yokes of cattle and fetched Hollena, who remained at Henderson’s until she recovered.
Immediately after the shootings, there was a lot of gossip about who’d been behind the whole affair. John said there was some talk that Long John Adams had been involved “but the Dingess and Brumfield people never believed it.” Everyone seemed to focus in on Milt and Green, who’d recently disappeared into Kentucky (where McCoy was from).
“They used to, if you committed a crime in West Virginia, would run away to Kentucky,” John said. “In the hill part of Kentucky there on the Tug River.”
Brumfield put up a $500 reward and it wasn’t long until a man rode up to Henderson Dingess’ claiming to have caught Milt and Green in Kentucky. He was sent to Brumfield’s home near the mouth of Harts where he found Al out back shoeing an ox steed. They talked for a while, then Brumfield told him, “You put them across the Tug River and when I identify them you’ll get your money.”
Al Brumfield, Andrew D. Robinson, Beech Fork, Ben Adams, Bob Dingess, Brandon Kirk, crime, diptheria, Goble Richardson, Green McCoy, Green Shoal, Guyandotte River, Harrison McCoy, Harts, Harts Creek, history, Lincoln County Feud, Lynza John McCoy, Milt Haley, Monroe Fry, music, Paris Brumfield, Ross Fowler, Sallie Dingess, Sherman McCoy, Spicie McCoy, Warren, Wayne, Wayne County, Wayne County News, West Fork, writing
A few weeks later, Brandon called Nellie Thompson in Wayne, West Virginia. Nellie reportedly had the picture of Milt Haley and Green McCoy.
“I don’t know if I have anything like that or not,” Nellie said, “but I do have an old letter from Green McCoy.”
Almost hyperventilating, he asked her to read it over the telephone.
Nellie fetched it from somewhere in the house, said it was dated May 19, 1889, then read it to him and said he was welcome to see it.
The next day, she called Brandon back and said, “I think I’ve found that picture you were looking for. It’s a little tin picture with two men in it.”
A few days later, Brandon drove to see Nellie about the picture and letter. Before dropping in on her, he spent a little time at the local library where he located a story about Spicie McCoy.
“As I promised last week, today we will explore the life of a lady who claimed to have a cure for diphtheria,” the story, printed in the Wayne County News (1994), began. “Spicie (Adkins) McCoy Fry was so short that if you stretched out your arm she could have walked under it. Anyone who lived in the East Lynn area knew who Spicie Fry was because she had probably been in almost every church around to sing at a revival meeting, something she loved to do. Spicie was well educated. She saw that her children went to school. Once out of grade school, Spicie’s sons took advantage of correspondence courses in music, art, and any other subject they could get thru the mail order catalog. Spicie’s son Monroe Taylor Fry was a self-taught musician.”
After a short time, Brandon drove to Nellie’s home, where she produced a small tin picture of two men sitting together. One of the men was obviously Green McCoy based on the picture we had already seen of him. The other fellow, then, was Milt.
As Brandon stared at the tintype, Nellie handed him Green’s letter. It was penned in a surprisingly nice handwriting, addressed to his brother Harrison, and was apparently never mailed. At the time of his writing, it was spring and McCoy had just moved back to Harts — probably after a short stay with his family or in-laws in Wayne County. He may’ve been there with his older brother, John, who’d married a girl almost half his age from Wayne County earlier in February.
Dear Brother. after a long delay of time I take this opertunity of droping you a few lines to let you know that I am well hoping when these lines reaches you they may find you all the same. Harrison you must excuse me for not writing sooner. the cause of me not writing is this[:] the post master here is very careless. they let people brake open the letters and read them so I will write this time to let you know where I am and where Lynza is. I have moved back to the west fork of Harts Creek and Lynza is married and living in wayne co yet on beach fork. everybody is done planting corn very near in this country. every thing looks lively in this part. tell Father and mother that I[‘m] coming out this fall after crops are laid by if I live and Lynza will come with me. tell all howdy for me. you may look for us boath. if death nor sickness don’t tak[e] place we will come. Harrison I would rather you would not write anymore this summer. people brakes open the letters and reads them so I will not write a long letter. Brumfield and me lives in 2 miles of each other and has had no more trubble but every body says that he will kill me if I don’t kill him. I look to have trouble with him so I will close this time.
On the back of the letter was written the following: “My wife sends her best respects to you all and says she would like to see you all. my boy is beginning to walk. he is a spoiled boy to[o].”
Clutching carefully onto the tintype and letter, Brandon asked Nellie what she’d heard about Milt and Green’s death. She didn’t really know much, but her brother Goble Richardson said he’d always heard that pack-peddlers who boarded with Paris Brumfield never left his home alive. These men were supposedly killed, tied to rocks, and thrown to the bottom of the Guyan River where the fish ate their rotting corpses. Soon after the “disappearance” of these pack-peddlers, Paris would be seen riding the man’s horse, while his children would be playing with his merchandise.
When Brandon arrived home he studied over Green McCoy’s letter — all the cursive strokes, the occasional misspellings, trying to extract something from it beyond what it plainly read.
Strangely, the letter didn’t reveal to which Brumfield — Al or Paris — Green referred when he wrote, “every body says that he will kill me if I don’t kill him.” It seems likely, though, based on what Daisy Ross had said, that Green referenced Paris.
Still, it was Al Brumfield who was ambushed only three months later.
What started their trouble?
And who was the careless postmaster who allowed people to “brake open the letters and read them?”
At the time of the Haley-McCoy trouble, Harts had two post offices: Harts and Warren. The postmaster at Harts — where McCoy likely received his mail — was Ross Fowler, son to the Bill Fowler who was eventually driven away from Harts by the Brumfields. Ross, though, was close with the Brumfields and even ferried the 1889 posse across the river to Green Shoal with Milt and Green as prisoners (according to Bob Dingess) in October of 1889. A little later, he worked in Al Brumfield’s store. The postmaster at Warren was Andrew D. Robinson, a former justice of the peace and brother-in-law to Ben Adams and Sallie Dingess. Robinson seems to have been a man of good credit who stayed neutral in the trouble.
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After talking with Luster, we drove to see Naaman Adams on Trace Fork. We talked in the yard with Naaman, who wore a straw hat and work clothes. His mother, we knew from Billy’s records, was Imogene Mullins, a first cousin to Ed’s mother and her namesake.
Naaman said his grandfather Ben Adams had lived in an old log cabin at the mouth of Adams Branch on Trace. Ben had feuded frequently with his neighbors and once ordered sixteen rifles for protection — eight .32 Winchesters and eight .38 Winchesters. To our surprise, Naaman said he had one of those very rifles. Disappearing momentarily into his house, he returned outside with a magnificent 1873 model .38 Winchester. Pointing to a dark spot on its butt end, Naaman said it had been caused by rifle fire. Apparently, during a feud, as Ben stood in his doorway shooting at his enemies, someone fired back, striking his rifle and causing the spot. He didn’t know if this incident occurred during the 1889 troubles.
Of the old feuds, Naaman said: “People back then feuded amongst themselves but ganged up on outsiders. People’d be killed and nobody knew who did it.”
Naaman said Ben’s feud “just died out” when a lot of the participants moved away from the area. The law eventually confiscated most of his guns. Someone located one of them in the old Logan Courthouse when it was torn down in the sixties. Bob Dingess had a .32, as did Ernest Adams, while a Hall on Twelve Pole had a .38.
Just before we left, Naaman mentioned that his wife was a daughter of Ewell Mullins, Ed’s first cousin. Ewell, of course, was the man who had bought Ed’s Trace Fork property in 1911. Naaman said when his father-in-law had bought the property, it contained a one-story boxed log house, which stood near a sugar tree toward the branch. Later, Ewell moved the house further up the bottom; old-timers had told Naaman about placing logs under the house and rolling it. In the 1950s, Naaman and several other men demolished the house. They did it in stages: first, the front was removed and rebuilt, then the back was removed and rebuilt. The newer home — the one there now, which we had nicknamed the “red house” — was patterned in its design after the older one.
This was a little disheartening: there didn’t seem to be anything left from Ed’s time on Harts Creek (nor in Ashland or in Calhoun County).
Al Brumfield, Albert Dingess, Ben Adams, Bill's Branch, blind, Buck Fork, Dorothy Brumfield, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, feud, French Bryant, Green McCoy, Harts Creek, Harve "Short Harve" Dingess, history, Hollene Brumfield, Hugh Dingess, John Brumfield, Lincoln County Feud, Logan County, Milt Haley, Piney, Smokehouse Fork, Ticky George Adams, timbering, Violet Mullins, West Virginia, writing
Sensing that Dorothy had told all she knew about Ed and knowing that she was one-quarter Dingess, we asked her about Milt Haley.
“Some terrible things went on about Ed’s daddy,” she said. “I heard about that.”
Dorothy blamed the trouble squarely on Ben Adams. She said he was a “bully” who wanted to control all the timber on Harts Creek. He hired Milt Haley and Green McCoy to kill Al Brumfield but they accidentally shot Hollena.
“And them men that shot them went back in towards Kentucky somewhere and they put out a reward for them,” Dorothy said.
Haley and McCoy were soon caught and a Brumfield posse took possession of them.
Ben Adams organized a mob to free them at the mouth of Smoke House Fork but the Brumfields were warned by a spy and detoured up Buck Fork and over a mountain to Hugh Dingess’ house.
“The Adamses come a hair of catching them,” Dorothy said. “You can just imagine what kind of war would have been if they had a got them.”
A large number of men gathered in at Hugh’s for protection, including Albert Dingess (her great-grandfather), “Short Harve” Dingess (her great-uncle), John Brumfield, and French Bryant, among others. At some point, they took Milt outside and shot a few times to scare Green into making a confession inside Hugh’s, but Milt yelled, “Don’t tell them a damn thing. I ain’t dead yet!” McCoy yelled back, “Don’t be scared. I ain’t told nothing yet!”
Dorothy said the mob eventually took Milt and Green up Bill’s Branch and down Piney where they “knocked their heads out with axes and the chickens eat their brains.”
Just before we left Dorothy, we asked if she remembered any of Ed’s family. She said his uncle Ticky George Adams (the grandfather of her late husband) was a ginseng digger who spoke with a lisp and loved to heat hog brains. This image contrasted sharply with what others around Harts Creek had said: that he was a moonshiner who’d shoot someone “at the drop of a hat.” Violet Mullins had told us earlier how Ticky George would get “fightin’ mad” if anyone called him by his nickname. The only thing Dorothy knew about Ed’s wife was, “She went in the outside toilet and then after that some woman went in there and said they was a big blacksnake a hanging. They said she went places and played music.”
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