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.”
Allen Martin, Anthony Adams, Ben Adams, Boardtree Branch, Brandon Kirk, Charley Brumfield, crime, Ed Haley, Ewell Mullins, fiddling, Greasy George Adams, Green McCoy, Green Shoal, Harts, Harts Creek, history, Jeff Baisden, John Hartford, Jr., Kentucky, Lincoln County Feud, Logan County, Milt Haley, moonshining, murder, music, Paris Brumfield, Peter Mullins, Sol Adams, Still Hollow, Ticky George Adams, timbering, Trace Fork, Vilas Adams, West Virginia, Will Adkins, writing
Trying to lift our spirits, we went to see Vilas Adams, who lived on the Boardtree Branch of Trace Fork. Vilas was a great-grandson of Ben Adams and a grandson of Ticky George Adams. He was very friendly, inviting us inside his very nice home where his wife fed us a whole mess of good food, which we ate between asking questions.
I first asked him about his memories of Ed Haley, who he said frequented Ewell Mullins’ store during the late 1930s and early forties.
“Down there at old man Ewell’s store, they’d gather in there of an evening and tell tales, old man Jeff Baisden and them,” Vilas said. “My grandpaw Ant Adams and I would walk down there and then Ed would walk down there from Uncle Peter’s. It was a quarter a mile — just a little hop and a jump I call it. Ed would come in there and fiddle for them and if they wanted a certain song, they’d give him a quarter or fifty cents. That was good money I guess back then.”
Vilas’ grandfather Anthony Adams (a brother to Greasy George) always gave Ed a quarter to hear his favorite tune.
“What was Ed like?” I asked.
Vilas implied that he was withdrawn.
“Mostly he stayed with that fiddle,” he said. “He was good.”
Like most of the other older people in Harts, Vilas knew about the Haley-McCoy killings.
“My grandpaw would tell me them tales but I wouldn’t pay no attention,” he said. “He was telling about them fellers — Sol Adams — going over there and locating them and they went back and captured them. Well, his daddy Anthony tried to waylay them and take them back through here somewhere. They thought they’d come through these hills somewhere but they missed them.”
So, Sol Adams — a 20-year-old nephew to Ben Adams who was often called “Squire Sol” because of his status as an officer of the law — “went over and located Haley and McCoy” in Kentucky after the ambush. Meanwhile, his father Anthony and uncle Ben Adams, organized a gang to recapture them as the Brumfields brought them back through Harts Creek. This seemed strange: why would Sol operate against the interests of his family? And why would he have even been compelled to even become involved since he was a Logan County justice and the crime had occurred in Lincoln County?
Brandon asked Vilas if he knew who had been in the Adams gang and he said, “No, I’ve heard my grandpaw talk but I’ve forgot some of it. They was somebody from down around Hart somewhere. He said they took them over around Green Shoal or over in there somewhere and killed them. Grandpaw said they maybe hit them with axe handles.”
Vilas said his grandfather told him something horrible had happened to most of the men who murdered Haley and McCoy.
“He said just about every one of them that was in on that, something bad happened to them,” he said. “I heard one of them’s own boy killed one of them. And one of them got drowned and my grandpaw said the river wasn’t deep. Said he fell off a horse or something right at the mouth of Hart.”
Of course, Vilas was referring to Paris Brumfield, who was killed by his son Charley in 1891, and to Will Adkins, who drowned at the mouth of Harts Creek on November 23, 1889.
Brandon asked Vilas about “old Ben Adams” and he almost immediately started talking about the old timber business.
“See, that was my great-grandpaw,” he said. “They would build splash dams. They had one right out here. They had them tied some way or the other. And they built them up on Hart there, maybe up on Hoover, and they’d work all winter and put them logs in the creek. And in the spring when them floods come, it would wash all them logs down around Hart and then they’d put them together and raft them on down to Kenova. I guess that was all they had to make a living — timber and farm.”
Ben, of course, made his living in timber. He lived at the mouth of Adams Branch, a little tributary of Trace Fork presently referred to as Still Hollow.
“Over there at what we call Still Hollow, they said he had a still-house there and he had a license to make apple brandy back then,” Vilas said. “And he would go with a wagon everywhere and get apples. They was a log house over there in the mouth of that holler — just down the road here a little ways. When I was a boy the old log house was there, but it rotted down. Just one-story as far as I can remember. The old well’s there. He had some kind of an old store or saloon right there.”
Vilas speculated very little on Ben Adams’ personality, but compared him to his son, Greasy George Adams: “always a likeable fella but seemed like trouble followed him.” He heard that after Ben’s first wife died, he lived with first one woman, then the next. He eventually got into a heap of trouble by murdering a local postman, Jim Martin.
“He killed a fella right over there at the mouth of that hollow,” Vilas said. “My grandpaw said he had some sort of an old store or saloon and he was shooting out the door. Right there in the mouth of that holler. It broke him. Lawyers. Lost everything he had.”
It was rumored that Ben’s and Martin’s trouble had something to do with a woman or a right-of-way.
Andy Mullins, Ashland, banjo, Ben Adams, Bernie Adams, Bill Adkins, Brandon Kirk, Buck Fork, Claude Martin, Clyde Haley, Devil Anse Hatfield, Devil's Dream, Dingess, Drunkard's Hell, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddling, George Baisden, George Mullins, Greasy George Adams, Harts, Harts Creek, Henderson Branch, history, Hoover Fork, John Frock Adams, Johnny Canub Adams, Kentucky, Lincoln County, Logan County, Mona Haley, music, Ralph Haley, Roxie Mullins, Sally Goodin, Soldiers Joy, Ticky George Adams, Trace Fork, Weddie Mullins, West Virginia, Wilson Mullins, writing
Throughout the winter 1996, Brandon kept busy interviewing folks around Harts for new Ed Haley-Milt Haley leads. In March, he wrote me about recent developments, including the death of Bill Adkins, Sr. — the old fiddler in Harts. At Bill’s wake, Brandon met Andy Mullins, who had recently moved back to Harts Creek after settling in Michigan in 1952. He was the son of Roxie Mullins.
Andy said, when he was a child, Ed Haley spent summers with his parents. Ed also stayed with George Mullins on Buck Fork, George Baisden (a banjo player) in the head of Hoover Fork, “old John Adams” on main Harts Creek, and Johnny Adams (Ticky George’s son) on Trace Fork. Ed had a big, fat belly. Sometimes, he came with his wife, a quiet woman who would eat dinner and then sing for an hour or so while playing the mandolin. Their daughter “Mona Mae” traveled with them, as did her husband, Wilson Mullins.
Andy didn’t remember much about Ed’s other children. He said Clyde stayed six months at a time on Harts Creek and “wouldn’t work a lick” and “couldn’t stay out of trouble.” He heard that Ralph used to hang upside down from a bridge in Ashland.
When Ed was young, Andy said, he supposedly played a lot of music with George Baisden. Later, he played with Bernie Adams and Claude Martin. Andy remembered that Ed didn’t saw the fiddle — he played smooth — and he was a good singer. His voice was like a bell. When he played music with Bernie and Claude, people gathered in and brought food and booze. Andy never saw Ed drunk, although he would get pretty high. Ed and Bernie were hateful. Somebody might request a tune and Ed would say, “What do you think I am, a steam engine?” — then play it five minutes later. Andy remembered Ed playing “Devil’s Dream”, “Drunkard’s Hell,” “Soldiers Joy” and “Sally Goodin”.
Andy was familiar with Ben Adams, who he said operated a mill-dam at Greasy George’s place on main Harts Creek. Ben used this dam to back the creek all the way up to Henderson Branch. Before turning it loose, he would go and tell people to get out of their homes. His nephew, “old John Adams” (a.k.a. “Long John” or “John Frock”), was the one who went to Dingess and killed the man who had shot Ed’s uncle, Weddie Mullins. Andy said the doctor had this man on a table working on him when John showed up and “wasted” him. John Frock let Ed cut his fingernails one time and he cut them up so badly that his fingers bled. (Mona had told me a similar story, except she thought that Ed had cut Devil Anse Hatfield’s nails.)
Ben Adams, Billy Adkins, Bob Mullins Cemetery, Brandon Kirk, Cat Fry, Chapmanville, Eunice Mullins, Ewell Mullins, Greasy George Adams, Green McCoy, Harts Creek, Hell Up Coal Hollow, history, Hugh Dingess, Imogene Haley, John Frock Adams, John Hartford, Johnny Hager, Little Harts Creek, Louie Mullins, Milt Haley, Oris Vance, Peter Mullins, Sherman McCoy, Sol Bumgarner, Spicie McCoy, Ticky George Adams, Turley Adams, writing
Back in the car, I mentioned to Brandon and Billy that we hadn’t made any real progress on learning what happened to Emma Haley. Billy suggested trying to locate her grave in the old Bob Mullins Cemetery at the mouth of Ticky George Hollow on Harts Creek. He said it was one of the largest and oldest cemeteries in the area. I told him that I was all but sure that Emma was buried in one of the “lost” graves on the hill behind Turley Adams’ house but wouldn’t mind checking it out anyway.
We drove out of Smoke House and up main Harts Creek to the Bob Mullins Cemetery, which was huge and very visible from the road. We parked the car and walked up a steep bank into a large number of gravestones. Some were modern and easily legible but most were of the eroded sandstone vintage with faded writing or completely unmarked. I located one stone with crude writing which read “E MULL BOR 69 FEB ?8 DEC 1 OCT 1899.” It could have easily been Emma Haley — who was born around 1868 and died before 1900. However, Brandon read it as “E MULL19 SEP 188?-1? OCT 1891.” We couldn’t agree on the markings well enough to satisfy ourselves.
As we stood at the “E MULL” grave, Brandon pointed across Harts Creek.
“Greasy George lived over there where that yellow house is,” he said.
He then pointed across Ticky George Hollow to Louie Mullins’ house, saying, “That’s where ‘John Frock’ Adams lived.”
John Frock was Ed Haley’s uncle and a suspect in the Al Brumfield ambush at Thompson Branch.
“Ticky George lived on up in the hollow,” Brandon said.
We walked down the hill to speak with Louie but learned from his wife Eunice Mullins that he’d passed away several years ago. Eunice was a daughter of Greasy George Adams. She said Ed used to play music at her father’s home. She also confirmed that Ewell Mullins, her father-in-law, bought Ed’s property on Trace. He lived there for years and was a storekeeper before moving to the site of her present home, where he operated yet another store. Ed played a few times at this latter location before it was torn down around 1950.
From Eunice’s, we went to Trace Fork to take a closer look at Ed’s old property. Along the way, as we drove by Uncle Peter’s place, we bumped into Sol Bumgarner walking near the road. He invited us up to his house, where we hung out for about half an hour on the porch. I played a few fiddle tunes and asked about people like Uncle Peter, Ben Adams, and Johnny Hager.
Bum said Uncle Peter Mullins lived at the present-day location of a tree and swing near the mouth of the hollow in a home that was part-log. Ben Adams, he said, lived further up Trace and hauled timber out of the creek with six yoke of cattle. He remembered Ed’s friend Johnny Hager standing on his hands and walking all over Trace.
I reminded Bum of an earlier story he told about Ed splintering his fiddle over someone’s head at Belcher’s tavern on Crawley Creek. He really liked that story — which he re-told — before mentioning that Ed composed the tune “Hell Up Coal Hollow” and named it after the Cole Branch of Harts Creek. Cole Branch, Brandon said, was the home of his great-great-grandfather Bill Brumfield who kept the hollow exciting around the turn of the century.
After an hour or so on Trace Fork, we decided to see Oris Vance, an old gentleman on Little Harts Creek who Billy said was knowledgeable about early events in Harts. We drove out of Harts Creek to Route 10, then turned a few minutes later onto Little Harts Creek Road. As we progressed up the creek on a narrow paved road past trailers, chicken coops, and old garages, I noticed how the place quickly opened up into some beautiful scenery with nice two-story brick homes.
In the head of Little Harts Creek, near the Wayne County line, we found Oris walking around outside in his yard. He was a slender, somewhat tall fellow, well-dressed, and obviously intelligent. His grandfather Moses Toney was a brother-in-law to Paris Brumfield. Toney and his family had fled the mouth of Harts Creek due to Brumfield sometime before the 1889 feud.
Oris told us the basic story of Milt Haley’s and Green McCoy’s murders as we knew it up to their incarceration at Green Shoal. He said Hugh Dingess, a grandson to the “old” Hugh Dingess, was his source for the tale. At Green Shoal, one of the prisoners begged the Brumfield gang not to kill him so that he could see his children, but the mob gave no mercy and blew Milt’s and Green’s brains out.
“Cat Fry looked out of a window in the top of the house and saw out into the yard,” Oris said, apparently referencing her view of their grisly corpses.
Oris said he saw Green McCoy’s widow at a singing convention in Chapmanville in the early ’30s. She was an alto singer in a gospel quartet with her guitar-playing son. When Oris saw her, she was sitting with songbooks in her lap near a hotdog sale across the road from the old high school.
Ben Adams, Billy Adkins, Brandon Kirk, Cas Baisden, Clyde Haley, crime, Dingess, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, Ewell Mullins, genealogy, Greasy George Adams, Harriet Baisden, Harts Creek, history, Jeff Baisden, John Frock Adams, Johnny Hager, Maggie Mullins, murder, music, Peter Mullins, Ticky George Adams, Weddie Mullins, West Virginia, writing
One fall day, Brandon and Billy drove to see 80-something-year-old Cas Baisden, a son of Jeff and Harriet (Jonas) Baisden. Cas lived on a farm near the mouth of Smoke House with a relative of Uncle Peter Mullins. He had been mostly raised by Uncle Peter and had vivid memories of watching Ed Haley play in his yard, as well as in the house. He said Ed didn’t usually have a very big crowd around him. “People didn’t care a bit, even though he was about as good as they was,” Cas said. He said Ed and his wife could play anything. “He was real skinny and would drink anything he could get his hands on.” He added that Ed knew all the roads and trails up around the creek and could walk them as well as a sighted person.
Ed’s uncle Weddie Mullins married Cas’ aunt, Maggie Jonas. Cas said Weddie went to Dingess to get some booze one time and was killed in a shooting scrape. The man who shot him was laid up in bed when Weddie’s half-brother John Adams came in and asked, “Do you think he’ll make it?” Someone said he might live so Adams pulled out his gun and said, “I know he won’t,” and opened fire on him. Later, in unrelated events, Adams “blew his wife’s head off.”
Cas said Ed’s uncle Ticky George Adams was harmless. He was a small man, short and chubby, who dug ginseng a lot on Big Creek. George was a brother-in-law to Ed’s friend Johnny Hager, who came from the North Fork of Big Creek and stayed a lot with Ewell Mullins and others around Harts. Johnny was a good fellow, a musician and a non-drinker.
Cas knew that Ed sold his homeplace on Trace to Uncle Peter’s son, Ewell Mullins. It was a plank building with two long rooms. In the rear of the eating room there was a flat-rock chimney with a long fireplace. The other room was used for sleeping. Later, an old store building was pushed up against the sleeping room to make a kitchen. The house had no porch.
Cas said Ed’s son Clyde Haley was “like a monkey” when it came to climbing trees; one time, he climbed 40 feet up into a tree and all the other kids ran away because they didn’t want to see him fall.
Cas remembered sketches about Ben Adams but didn’t know if he had been involved in the 1889 feud. At one time, he operated a store on main Harts Creek below the mouth of Smoke House. Across the creek, he had a saloon made entirely of rock. Later, he lived on Trace. Cas said part of his old mill-dam could be seen in the creek at the Greasy George Adams place.
Anna Adams, Billy Adkins, Brandon Kirk, Chapmanville, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddling, Gaynelle Thompson, history, Imogene Haley, John Adams, Kiahs Creek, Little Harts Creek, Logan County, Milt Haley, Mona Haley, music, Roxie Mullins, Ticky George Adams, Wayne County, West Virginia, writing
In Chapmanville, Brandon and Billy dropped in on Gaynelle (Adams) Thompson, a granddaughter of Ticky George Adams who spent a lot of time with Aunt Roxie Mullins during her “last days.” Gaynelle said Ed Haley’s mother never remarried after Milt’s death and died prematurely when Ed was eight to ten years old. She said Ed used to visit her parents, John and Anna Adams, on Trace Fork during the summers in the ’30s and ’40s. “Everybody in the country thought they was nothing like him,” she said. Gaynelle heard that Ed was a drinker and could get rough but said he was well mannered at the Adams home. He never cursed or drank and talked mostly to Gaynelle’s mother. He came with his daughter and wife and stopped visiting when he became too sick to travel just a few years before his death. In earlier years, he played on Kiah’s Creek and Little Harts Creek near the Wayne County line.
Alice Dingess, Clifford Belcher, Ed Haley, Ewell Mullins, Frank Farley, Geronie Adams, Great Depression, history, Jeff Mullins, Joe Adams, Logan, moonshine, Peter Mullins, Sewell Adams, Tennis Mullins, Ticky George Adams, Virgil Farley, Will Farley, writing
After talking for some time about Ed’s music, our conversation drifted toward his family on Harts Creek.
“Old man Peter Mullins, everybody called him ‘Reel-foot Peter’ cause he had his foot cut off here and had a special shoe made,” Joe said, referencing Ed’s uncle. “He walked kindly on his heel. He worked on log jobs but he couldn’t do much. He gathered ginseng. He made most of his money on moonshine. He hauled it up to Black Bottom in Logan and sold it. He liked to drink. They drunk moonshine most of the time. They were good old people.”
Now would Ed drink a lot with Uncle Peter when he was around Harts?
“Old man Ed every now and then he’d take a few drinks of it,” Joe said. “I’ve seen him pretty high. It didn’t take much of that moonshine to get in your hair. I’ve seen it just as clear as a crystal. You could look through the bottle just like looking right on in a looking glass and you could shake it and about seven beads’d pop up there on top of it and they’d just roll around and around. And you couldn’t smell it. I’ve seen some that you’d look at and it’d look like muddy water and you could smell it through the bottles. But they made good whiskey. They generally made it out of chop or corn and if they’d double it back and use good clear water it was good. You could just turn it up and it wouldn’t take your breath.”
Brandon asked what Ed was like when he was “feeling high” and Joe said, “He seemed like he was in a good mood about all the time. When I was around him I never did hear him say nothing out of the way to nobody. Old man Ed, he was a fine old man but he got over here at a beer garden. Clifford Belcher had a beer garden on this mountain — it was the meanest place that ever was — and he was over there playing one night and they was a big bunch of them a playing cards and the law come in to arrest them all. Some of them boys jumped out the window. And Ed got into it with somebody in there and they said that fellow said something and Ed just come over and took that fiddle by the neck and busted it all to pieces over that fellow’s head. I don’t know what he said to him but I come along there after it happened. They arrested a whole bunch of them fellows and put them in a cattle truck, the state police did, and took them to jail. They was about fifteen or twenty of them. They was Geronie Adams and Virgil Farley and Frank Farley. They loaded them up and hauled them to Logan and them fellows a cussing. They said, ‘You just might as well keep quiet. You’re going to jail.’ I think they took Ed to jail, too.”
Brandon said he’d heard several old-timers talk about how people used to play jokes on Ed when he was at Trace and Joe agreed.
“They played all kinds of tricks on him,” he said. “They was an old man stayed up here, old man Jeff Mullins. He was Peter’s wife’s brother. They called him dumb, but now he wasn’t as dumb as they thought he was. He stayed up there when Ed and them was up there and they was all the time playing pranks on Ed and him. Tennis Mullins, Ewell’s boy, he was big and fat and he run the store all the time. He was all the time fooling with Ed and old man Jeff.”
I asked how Ed took it when people joked with him and Joe said, “He was good about it. He never got mad. I know up there one time they was out there at old man Peter’s where they was a bridge there and they was a bunch of trees there. And old man Ewell Mullins, he was all the time fooling with Ed. He told Ed, he said, ‘We’ll climb a tree here to the top and let them cut it down.’ Well, Ed couldn’t see. Ewell, he climbed up the first limb about ten feet high and said, ‘Cut ‘er down boys!’ He jumped off about the time it started to fall. And Ed climbed right in the top of it. I bet he was forty feet up there. And they cut it and it fell and skinned him all over and liked to killed him. Ewell never would tell him though that he was just up a little bit on the tree.”
Joe said he also remembered Ed’s uncle Ticky George Adams.
“The old man as far as I know he never did work on no public works of no kind or draw no release or nothing,” he said. “He kept his family… He went from house to house — and everybody raised all kind of stuff and had cattle and plenty of milk and butter and eggs and everything — and every place he stopped they give him something. He had a little pole on his back with a sack on it. You’d see him a going bent over just kindly in a long run. He’d go up Trace and go through the head of Trace. And old man George would go around that a way and come down Rockhouse by Will Farley’s and back up through my Uncle Sewell’s and Aunt Alice’s down here. Everybody’d give him something. They’d give him a stick of butter or give him some milk or give him some meat or give him some eggs or something another. That’s the way he raised his family. Those Hoover times was hard.”
The next day, Billy and Brandon suggested that we visit 70-year-old Joe Adams on Trace Fork. Joe had all the right genealogical connections to know about many of the major characters in Ed and Milt’s story. According to Billy’s records, both of Joe’s grandfathers were brothers to Ben Adams, a key player in the 1889 feud. Joe’s grandmother was a Mullins, while the other was a half-sister to Burl Farley. (Burl Farley of course was in the Brumfield mob and even “gave the order to shoot” Milt and Green, according to some sources.) Brandon reminded me that he had talked with Joe earlier in the summer and heard him speak about having played music with Ed in his younger days.
As we pulled up to Joe’s nice house at the mouth of Trace, he and his wife met us at the end of their driveway. Joe, I noticed right away, looked a lot like Kenny Baker and was dressed in work clothes, indicating that he was probably in the middle of some project (a garden, working under a truck hood…). When we got out of the car, Mrs. Adams laughed and jokingly said, “Billy, is that you? What are you a doing up here?” Billy told them who I was and the reason for our visit and Joe basically said, “Well, come up to the porch and I’ll tell you boys all I can.” We gathered in chairs and swings under Joe’s carport where the conversation just took off. Joe was born in 1925.
I asked Joe when he first played with Ed and he said, “I’d say that was around ’40 up to ’43. It was before I went in the Army. We was down there at old man Peter Mullins’ — just out in the yard up there. They had a big old porch and they had a bunch of seats out under a bunch of big apple trees and stuff. Big shade. Had a swing out there. And I said, ‘How about bringing your fiddle out and playing a few tunes?’ And he told one of them boys — I forgot which one it was — said, ‘Go in there and bring my fiddle out here.’ He didn’t have it in a case that day but they brought it out and he played ‘Red Wing’ and he played ‘Soldiers Joy’ and he played ‘The Arkansas Traveler’ and he said, ‘Well, I’m tired now,’ and he just laid the fiddle down and we just quit. Sat around and talked a few minutes. He had some of them boys take it back and put it back in the house when he got through playing it. He took good care of his fiddle.”
“Now after I come out of the Army in ’46 and it seems to me like I seen Ed once after that and he left here and I never did see him anymore,” Joe said.
Brandon asked Joe where he remembered Ed staying on Harts Creek.
“I remember him staying up there with old man Peter and Liza and he stayed there off and on for years,” he said. “His wife and some of the children were there. Aunt Rosie married George Mullins on Buck Fork — he stayed up there a lot, too. Johnny Hager stayed with Ticky George Adams — old man George and Vic — that lived up in that holler up here at this store. Greasy George lived across the creek. And old man Ed, he’d go up there.”
What about Johnny Hager?
“Johnny Hager, he played a fiddle, too,” Joe said. “He didn’t play much. Just once in a while maybe he’d pick it up and play one tune. I had an older brother that’s dead, Howard — he played with them a lot. He played a fiddle, a guitar, mandolin, accordion, anything. He played anything he picked up. And we played around here for years.”
Joe said, “I played with a man lived right up in the head of this creek — I don’t know whether you ever heard tell of him — Robert Martin. He lived on top of the hill back there. Him and John Martin was the only two houses back there. He was a good fiddler. Robert played like ‘Lady of the Lake’ and ‘Blackberry Blossom’ and ‘Sugar Tree Stomp’. He had one he said he made it hisself and he made it for old man Will Farley — he called ‘Possom Creek’.”
Robert Martin left Harts, Joe said, after his brother John was murdered at Big Branch.
“You may have heard something about that,” he elaborated. “When they got in that trouble and his brother got killed down here at Big Branch they claimed that Robert cut him, but I don’t think so. I think it was somebody else. And he moved down here at Branchland and me and my brother’d go down there and play with him. He lived on that riverbank and he’d come out there and play with the fiddle till the bow got plum wet and he’d take it in and hang it up and go get another one. We played lots of times till three or four o’clock in the morning with him and then we’d come back to the house.”
Al Brumfield, Allen Martin, Andrew D. Robinson, Andrew Robinson, Anthony Adams, Appalachia, Ben Adams, Ben Robinson, Boardtree Branch, Chloe Gore, Chloe Mullins, crime, David Robinson, Dicy Adams, Elizabeth Abbott, genealogy, general store, Greasy George Adams, Green McCoy, Harts Creek, Harvey Adams, Henderson Dingess, history, Hollena Brumfield, Hugh Dingess, Jackson Mullins, John Frock Adams, John M. Adams, John Robinson, Joseph Adams, Joseph Robinson, Lincoln County Feud, Logan County, Logan County Banner, Lucinda Brumfield, May Adams, Meekin Branch, Milt Haley, Peter Carter, Rhoda Robinson, Sallie Dingess, Solomon Adams, Spicie McCoy, Susan Abbott, Ticky George Adams, timber, Trace Fork, Victoria Dingess, Viola Dingess, West Virginia, Wilson Abbott
Ben Adams — the man who supposedly hired Milt Haley and Green McCoy to assassinate Al Brumfield — was born in 1855 to Joseph and Dicy (Mullins) Adams on Big Harts Creek in Logan County, (West) Virginia. His older sister Sarah married Henderson Dingess and was the mother of Hollena Brumfield, Hugh Dingess and several others. He was a first cousin to Jackson Mullins, Milt Haley’s father-in-law, and a brother-in-law to Chloe Mullins, Milt’s mother-in-law, by her first marriage to John Adams.
In 1870, 17-year-old Ben lived at home with his mother, where he worked as a farmer. He was illiterate, according to census records. His neighbors were Andrew Robinson and Henderson Dingess, both of whom had married his sisters (Rhoda J. and Sally). In the next year, according to tradition, he fathered an illegitimate child, William Adams, who was born to Lucinda Brumfield (niece of Paris).
In 1873, Ben married Victoria Dingess. Victoria was born in 1856 and was a first cousin to Hollena Brumfield and Hugh Dingess. The marriage made for an interesting genealogical connection: Ben was already Hugh’s uncle; now he was also his brother-in-law, as Hugh was married to Victoria’s sister, Viola (his first cousin). Ben’s daughter Sally, who was named after Hollena’s mother, later married a cousin of Spicie McCoy, Green’s wife. For all practical purposes then, Ben Adams was genealogically connected to all sides of the feud — making it a true intra-family feud from his perspective.
For the first decade or so of his marriage, Ben lived with his mother on family property, although he did acquire land and open a general store business. In 1880, he was listed in the Lincoln County Census with his mother Dicy, aged 63, and family. He was 26 years old, Victory was 23, Sally was six, son Charlie was four, daughter Patsy A. was two, and son Anthony was a few months old. George Greaar, age 20, was a boarder. In 1881, he purchased 25 acres on the Meekin Branch of Trace Fork. Three years later, he was listed in a business directory as the proprietor of a general store. At that same time, his brother-in-law and neighbor Henderson Dingess was a distiller.
Later in the decade, Ben fathered three more children: George “Greasy” (1885), Harvey (1886), and May (1889). In 1889, the time of Milt Haley’s ambush of Al Brumfield, Adams owned 260 acres on the Boardtree Branch of Trace Fork valued at $1.00 per acre in Logan County.
Anthony Adams — Ben’s brother and ally in the 1889 troubles — was a prominent timberman on Harts Creek. Anthony had been born in 1849 and was the husband of Pricie Alifair Chapman, Burl Farley’s half-sister. In 1884, Adams was listed in a business directory as a blacksmith. In 1889, he owned two 50-acre tracts of land, one valued at $3.50 per acre with a $30 building on it, the other valued at $2.00 per acre. By that time, he had three sons of fighting age who may have participated in the feud: Solomon Adams (born 1869), Horatio “Rush” Adams (born 1871), and Wayne Adams (born 1874), as well as a son-in-law, Harrrison Blair (born c.1867).
A quick examination of the Adams genealogy gives a clue as to Ben’s other 1889 allies. First there was brother “Bad John” Adams. Adams was deceased at the time of the Haley-McCoy incident, but he had been married to Chloe Gore — mother of Emma Jean (Mullins) Haley. He had three sons of fighting age in 1889: Joseph Adams (born 1859), John Frock Adams (born 1861), and Ticky George Adams (born 1865)…as well as son-in-law Sampson Thomas.
Rhoda J. Robinson was a sister to the three Adams brothers. She had several children who may have allied with Ben: David Robinson (born 1860), Ben Robinson (born 1866), John R. Robinson (born 1868), and Joseph Robinson (born 1870). There was also brother Solomon Adams, who may have offered his loyalty to Ben, along with sons John M. Adams (born 1869) and Benjamin Adams (born 1867), and sons-in-law David Robinson and Peter Carter (c.1873).
As for Ben himself, he stayed busy with timber after the feud. According to an 1896 article from the Logan County Banner: “Benj. Adams, of Hart, is hauling some fine poplar from trace fork.” In 1901, he married Venila Susan Abbott, a daughter of Wilson and Elizabeth (Workman) Abbott, and had at least eight more children (born between 1901 and 1921). Not long after his remarriage, he was accused of murdering a local postman named Jim Allen Martin — and nearly went bankrupt paying for his legal defense. He died in 1910 and was buried on the hill near the mouth of Trace Fork.