Allen Brumfield — the man Milt Haley supposedly ambushed — was born in March of 1860 at Harts, in what was then Logan County, Virginia. His parents were Paris and Ann B. (Toney) Brumfield. Paris was a Confederate veteran, storekeeper and local politician — and one of the most notorious figures in the early history of Harts. Ann was a red-haired orphan raised by a property-rich school-teaching aunt. In 1880, 20-year-old Al Brumfield was listed in census records as living with his cousin, W.T. “Bill” Fowler, the chief businessman in Harts. Al was recorded as a farmer but was likely watching Fowler’s business closely, learning everything he could. His father, meanwhile, a heavy-drinking violent sort, had recently moved his mistress (and her illegitimate children) near the family home.
Upon reaching manhood, Brumfield was relatively tall with sandy-colored hair. He was a Democrat in politics. He married Hollena Dingess around 1881, presumably in Lincoln County. Hollena was the daughter of Henderson and Sarah (Adams) Dingess, somewhat wealthy residents of the Smoke House Fork of Big Harts Creek. Al and Hollena had six known children: Henry Beecher Ward Brumfield (born April 1883), Grover Cleveland Brumfield (born January 1884), Hendrix Brumfield (born November 29, 1886), George Brumfield (born c.1888), Belle Brumfield (born January 19, 1892), and Shirley Brumfield (born May 1, 1894).
Soon after marrying, Al built a small, boxed house on the bank of the Guyandotte River at the Shoals just below Harts. Nearby, he ran a whiskey boat. He and his wife were equally ambitious in their desire to accumulate wealth and political power. In a bold move to corner the timber market in Harts, Brumfield constructed a boom at the Narrows on Harts Creek to catch all logs coming out of the creek. Each logger was assessed a ten-cent per log tax. In a short time, he was on his way to amassing a small fortune.
In the early 1890s, he forced his cousin Bill Fowler to sell him his important property at the mouth of Harts Creek, where he began construction of a beautiful two-story white home. It was completed in two years and was a real mansion in its day. Illuminated with carbide lighting at a time when few people in the valley had the monetary power to afford such a luxury, it was dubbed “The Light House” by loggers who plied the river.
Throughout the 1890s, Brumfield was the business kingpin in Harts. He complemented his timber business by operating a store, saloon, ferry, sawmill and gristmill — and protected his entire business interest by serving as leader of the local vigilante group. In 1899, he successfully petitioned the government to reinstate the Harts post office, which had been discontinued in 1894, and served as its postmaster from 1900 until 1905.
“There is a postoffice in Hart’s creek now, and Al Brumfield is the postmaster,” wrote The Cabell Record on Thursday, April 5, 1900.
Almost simultaneous with Brumfield’s successes were his personal tragedies. On November 3, 1891, his brother Charley murdered his father, which had numerous implications within the family. In that same time frame, Al took on a mistress who bore him two illegitimate children and caused a great deal of spousal grief. And poor Hollena — who had already been shot in the face — was severely crippled when a steam-operated gristmill exploded with her inside, throwing her sixty feet into the air and breaking her hip. A little later, around 1900, Brumfield’s son George died of stomach trouble. And on July 4, 1900, his brother John was murdered by Charley Conley at a Fourth of July celebration in Chapmanville.
Just after the turn of the century, Al began to suffer from some debilitating disease, which eventually caused him to go blind. “Al Brumfield, of Hart, recently returned from Cincinnati, where he had his eyes treated, says that his sight is better,” according to The Cabell Record of Thursday, May 2, 1901. “He was almost blind.” Hollena hired George Ward, a local Negro, to care for him. In 1904, perhaps sensing that he might not survive the sickness, he deeded much of his property to his wife.