Brandon asked Billy what he knew about the old vigilantes around Harts Creek, and he said his grandfather Fed Adkins had been affiliated with the Brumfields and their gang. (We use the word “affiliated” lightly since Fed and Hollena Brumfield supposedly had a long-term affair that produced an illegitimate daughter in 1892.) They were a rough bunch, Billy said, but usually had good intentions.
“These guys’d set big poles — big switches — on the porches of whoever they wanted to try and correct in some way,” he said. “When you got up that morning and saw switches sitting on your front porch — big long poles I’m talking about, what we’d call saplings — you knew to straighten up. And if what they didn’t do wasn’t corrected, they’d hold them and whip them with those big long switches. And if that didn’t work, they’d burn their house down.”
I had to interrupt Billy by asking, “Would you know what it was you was doing wrong?”
“Yeah, oh yeah,” he said. “You was either interfering with some of their business practices or courting the wrong woman.”
Billy said the Haley-McCoy trouble started when John Runyon moved to Harts and put in a store and saloon across the creek from Al Brumfield. There was intense competition between him and Brumfield. At some point, Runyon went to Washington, DC, and tried to have the government declare Harts Creek as a navigable stream — and thus force Brumfield to dismantle his log boom. Billy heard that Al was in the process of arranging Runyon’s death when Milt and Green ambushed him. They fled to the Mingo County area after accidentally shooting Al’s wife, Hollena.
Billy said his great-uncle Will Adkins was in the mob that executed Milt and Green. Several other participants were recorded in his notebooks: “Paris Brumfield, Al Brumfield, Charley Brumfield, Bill Brumfield, Albert Dingess and other Dingesses, Will Adkins, Black John Adkins (held the horses), French Bryant.” Billy figured his grandfather Fed Adkins was also in the gang, because he hung pretty close to his brother Will and cousin “Black John” Adkins, a mulatto.
Brandon wondered why the Adkinses sided with the Brumfields in the feud since many of the old stories pitted them as enemies.
“Dad and them was real close with the Brumfields,” Billy said. “They fought amongst each other but they still was together when they needed to be.”
Billy’s notebooks finished the story.
“The mob from Harts went to get them with extradition papers. Old Cane Adkins and John Runyon had another mob at Big Branch (another story goes at the mouth of Smokehouse) to ambush and recapture and free Haley and McCoy. But a spy tipped the Harts boys off and they went up Smokehouse, Bill’s Branch, down Piney, up Frank and Catherine Fleming’s hollow, down Abbott’s Branch and killed them at the George Fry house where Gov. Sperry’s house is now.”
Billy corrected the Gov. Sperry part of his notation, saying, “That’s written back 25 years ago, this is, so it wouldn’t be there. I’d be where Doran Lambert owns now. There’s a nun lives there.”
I told Billy, “Now, there’s a story that they came in and told everybody to clear out and there was a little girl in the house and she hid in the fireplace and she saw the whole thing happen.”
“Is that supposed to be Aunt Cat?” he asked. “Yeah, I’ve heard that but I don’t know whether that’s true or not.”
I continued, “And then Roxie Mullins said that after it happened the girl ran out of the house and jumped over the bodies and ran out into the woods.”
Billy said, “Would she have been old enough to done that?”
I said, “I guess, she was the one that told Bob Adkins the story.”
Okay, so how old was she? Based on Billy’s notes, she was born in 1862, making her 27 years old in 1889…a far cry from the “child witness” portrayed in stories. Her reasons for being present at George Fry’s at the time of the murders probably had something to do with the fact that George had married her aunt (and his first cousin).
So who was the “child witness” to Milt and Green’s murder? Maybe it was Cat’s seven-year-old daughter Letilla, who Brandon said later married one of Paris Brumfield’s sons. Or was it George Fry’s six-year-old daughter, Bertha?
And what were the chances that Cat had just made up her version of the story?
“Cat Fry and all of them, they’d tell you anything in the world,” Billy said. “I’m not saying it weren’t true, but just ’cause they told you that don’t mean it was true.”
Billy said Cain Adkins and his family were the ones who fetched Milt and Green’s bodies from Green Shoal for burial. Brandon figured the burial party probably crossed the Guyandotte using the old Ferrellsburg ferryboat.
A Harts mob eventually found John Runyon in Kentucky.
“John Runyon, he went to Kentucky, the way I heard it, and a group from here went to find him,” Billy said. “My grandfather and my uncle was supposed to have been in the bunch and some of the Brumfield boys. They was a big posse of them and they found the creek that John Runyon lived on and they said they had come to get him. He walked out and met them and he said, ‘Boys, you sure you want to take me?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, we come to getcha.’ He said, ‘Boys, I don’t wanna see anybody get hurt but you better look around you.’ And they started looking and they’s probably 150 or 200 rifles up on both hillsides pointed right down at them in the creek. They’s riding up the creek there. They wasn’t any road. And he said, ‘Now, the best thing you can do is turn around and go right back to Harts Creek.’ And they did. They didn’t look back.” Billy laughed, “He said, ‘Now don’t look back.'”