The next day, Lawrence and I decided to go see 89-year-old Bob Adkins in Hamlin, West Virginia. In a recent Goldenseal article, Bob had given his biography, including his family’s connection to the story of Milt’s murder. Since reading his narrative, I’d been anxious to ask him about Milt, as well as to confirm or disprove my suspicion that his father’s first wife Emma Jane Hager was the same person as Ed’s mother.
To get to Bob’s house, we took Route 10 out of Huntington to Lincoln County. We turned off onto Route 3 just inside the county line at West Hamlin, then drove on for about ten minutes, crossed a hill and cruised into Hamlin — Lincoln County’s seat of government. Bob Adkins’ nice two-story house sat just past a block of small struggling businesses and through the only red light in town. We found Bob out back relaxing on a patio near a flower garden in full bloom.
After all the introductions, I mentioned my theory about Ed’s mother, which Bob shot out of the water right away. He was positive that Emma Jane Hager was not the same person as Emma Haley.
“No, Emma Jane Hager was old man Philip Hager’s daughter,” Bob said. “Dad got her from Griffithsville, 10 miles toward Charleston. Dad come down there and stole her.”
Bob knew all about Milt’s death but stressed that what he knew about it was hear-say, that he didn’t want to get sued and that we couldn’t take his word as gospel because there was “so dern many of ’em a shootin’ and a bangin’ around amongst each other” in Harts that he sometimes got his stories confused. Maybe Bob did have a foggy memory, as he claimed, but I found him to be a walking — or rather, sitting — encyclopedia of Harts Creek murders.
“I was born and raised up there until I was nineteen years old, but I was never afraid,” Bob said. “I walked all hours of the night and everything and do as I please, but I always tended to my business, you know. Kin to most of them. I never bothered nobody. Nobody never bothered me, but that doesn’t say they wouldn’t shoot you. Well, all you had to do was tend to your own business.”
Bob eased into the story of Milt’s death by giving Lawrence and I some background on the Brumfields. He knew a lot about them because Hollena Brumfield, the woman Milt supposedly shot, was his mother’s aunt and “about half way raised her.” She was a Dingess prior to marrying Al Brumfield.
“Now those Dingesses up there, I never knew of them to bother anybody much,” Bob said of his kinfolk. “Some of the older ones shot and banged around a little bit. But look out for them Brumfields. They was into it all the time. If they couldn’t get anybody else to shoot, they’d shoot theirselves — their own people.”
Al Brumfield’s father Paris was the most notorious of the old Brumfields.
“Well, one thing, he killed an old pack peddler up there at Hart, took his stuff and threw him in the river,” Bob said of the Brumfield patriarch. “And he killed another man, too. I forget the other fellow’s name. Son, he was a mean old man, I’ll tell you that. Why, he’d kill anybody. He lived about three quarters of a mile from the mouth of the creek down the river there in at the end of a bottom, see?”
Bob kind of chuckled.
“Yeah, killed that old pack peddler,” he said. “That’s what they said he did. I don’t know. He was a mean old devil. And boy, he’d killed two men.”
I wanted to know more about the Brumfields since they seemed to have been so wrapped up in the story of Milt Haley.
“What happened to Paris Brumfield?” I found myself asking.
“I tell you, old Paris, he got what was coming to him,” Bob said. “He was as mean as a snake and he would beat up on his wife every time he got drunk. And Paris’ wife got loose from him and she came down to her son Charley’s for protection. Charley was a grown man and was married and had a family and he lived down the road a quarter of a mile. Charley told her to come on in the house and there’d be nobody to bother her there and he told her to stay back in the room and he would take care of it. Old Paris, he was drunk and he didn’t get exactly where she was and he finally figured out where she was and old Paris come down there to get his wife. When he come down, Charley, his son, was setting on the porch with a Winchester across his lap. A Winchester is a high-powered gun, you know? And that day and time, they had steps that came up on this side of the fence and a platform at the top of the fence and you walked across the platform and down the steps again. That kept the gates shut so that the cattle and stuff couldn’t come into the yard. Well, he got up on that fence and Charley was setting on the porch with that Winchester. He said, ‘Now, Paw don’t you step across that fence. If you step across that fence, I’m going to kill you.’ And Paris quarreled and he fussed and he cussed and he carried on. That was his wife and if he wanted to whip her, he could whip her. He could do as he pleased. He was going to take his wife home. Charley said, ‘Now, Paw. You have beat up on my mother your last time. You’re not going to bother Mother anymore. If you cross that step, I am going to kill you.’ And he kept that up for a good little while there. ‘Ah, you wouldn’t shoot your own father.’ Drunk, you know? And Charley said, ‘You step your foot over that fence, I will.’ Paris was a little shaky of it even if he was drunk. Well, after a while he said, ‘I am coming to get her,’ and when he stepped over that fence, old Charley shot him dead as a doornail.”
You mean he killed his own father?
“His own father,” Bob said. “He killed him. That got rid of that old rascal. And that ended that story. They never did even get indicted for that or nothing. Everybody kept their mouth shut and nobody didn’t blame Charley for it because old Paris had beat up on his mother, you know? Everyone was glad to get rid of him.”