Aaron Adkins, Al Brumfield, Bill Abbott, Bill Adkins, Bill Fowler, Billy Adkins, Brandon Kirk, Cain Adkins, crime, Fed Adkins, feud, Green McCoy, Harts Creek, history, Isaac Adkins, John W Runyon, Mac Adkins, Milt Haley, Paris Brumfield, Ras Fowler, West Virginia, Will Adkins, writing
In the months following my trip to Harts, Brandon finished his undergraduate work at college and moved into a three-room house at Ferrellsburg. He spent his mornings and afternoons teaching in the local schools and his evenings hanging out with Billy Adkins. One night, he interviewed Billy’s father, Bill, Sr. — that colorful old fiddler laid up with Alzheimer’s. As Billy asked his father questions, Brandon crouched in the doorway prepared to write down his answers. At first they weren’t even sure if Bill was awake. Then, his eyes still closed, he began to tell a little bit of what he knew about the Brumfields and their 1889 troubles.
Al Brumfield, Bill said, put in a four-log-wide boom at the mouth of Harts Creek and charged a tax on all logs passing through it. John Runyon arrived on the scene just as Brumfield was making a small fortune and put in a rival business. “John Runyon was against the Brumfields,” Bill said. He bought twelve Winchester rifles and armed several men to protect his property, then hired Milt Haley and Green McCoy to kill Brumfield. In the ambush, Al was shot in the arm and his wife was shot in the mouth. Haley and McCoy immediately left the area but were soon caught on Tug Fork and jailed in Kentucky. A Brumfield posse got the necessary legal papers and brought the two back to Harts through the Twelve Pole Creek region.
They were on their way down Harts Creek when a spy warned them of an ambush organized by “old man Cain Adkins” at the mouth of Big Branch. Thereafter, the Brumfields went over a mountain to the Guyandotte River and crossed it in boats. They took Haley and McCoy to an old log house later owned by Tucker Fry where they were killed by a mob that included Bill’s uncles Will Adkins and Mac Adkins.
Bill said his uncle Will Adkins died just after the Haley-McCoy killings on November 23, 1889.
“He got drowned in the backwater over here,” he said. “They had a boom across the creek four logs wide. He fell off in the backwater there and drowned hisself. I think Dad was the cause of it. Him and old Bill Abbott was in a row with each other. Uncle Will come along and heard them. He started across there to see what was wrong, to help Dad out if he needed any help. Of course, he fell in that water and drowned himself. He’s buried up on the hill at Ferrellsburg. Old Bill Fowler bought his tombstone. Boy, she’s a big’n. I bet it cost him right smart of money. Uncle Will was named after old Bill Fowler. He was kin through marriage. He married Granddad Aaron’s sister.”
Bill said John Runyon’s attack on Brumfield was one of several violent attempts to secure the property at the mouth of Harts Creek. A little later, Paris Brumfield feuded with Bill Fowler, a local merchant, miller, farmer, and a saloon operator. Fowler was a highly successful businessman; unfortunately, he built his interests on land that Brumfield desperately wanted. Finally, presumably after some trouble, the Brumfields “burned Bill Fowler out”. Bill’s father, Fed Adkins, said he stood at the riverbank watching barrels of alcohol explode straight into the sky as Fowler’s store and saloon burned away.
“The whiskey run into the river,” one Fowler descendant later told Brandon. “They said he had big costly horses and it burned them, too.”
In 1890, after intense pressure from the Brumfields, Fowler sold his property at the mouth of Harts Creek (two tracts of land totaling 165 five acres on the west side of the river) to Isaac Adkins. One tract, according to land records at the Lincoln County Courthouse, was 75 acres and worth six dollars per acre, while the other was 90 acres worth four dollars per acre. Fowler left Harts and settled at Central City in present-day Huntington. Al Brumfield, meanwhile, acquired the Fowler property and employed Ras Fowler, a son of Bill, to work his store. The younger Fowler was a schoolteacher and postmaster. Actually, he was postmaster at the time of the Haley-McCoy trouble.