Book Excerpt: ‘Blood in West Virginia’

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 21, 2014

Brandon Ray KirkPlease welcome guest author Brandon Kirk. Kirk is a historian as well as a descendant of Lincoln County, WV feudists. The Lincoln County Feud (1881-1890) arose out of personal grievances between two prominent residents in a rough-and-tumble West Virginia timber town, and escalated into a struggle for supremacy between business competitors and political rivals. Kirk has spent the last twenty years researching the history of the once-famous vendetta. He has conducted numerous interviews with other feud descendants (most born prior to 1930) and collected many period newspaper articles and photographs. His newly published book Blood in West Virginia is the result; we’re pleased to present an excerpt from the first book-length account of this sensational dispute.


Al Brumfield made his way down Harts Creek toward home, his belly full of food and liquor. He sat at the head of his horse, his wife seated sidesaddle immediately behind him. Hollene’s brothers, Harve and Dave, rode on separate horses nearby. It was three o’clock in the afternoon.

At Thompson Branch, some two miles downstream from Henderson Dingess’s farm, the trail narrowed and took to the hill. Al, looking up toward the Hot Rock—a cluster of large rocks and brush—spotted two men hiding in a sinkhole. Instinctively, he slumped away from that direction.

Blood in WV cover

“Hollene…” he said.

Before Hollene had time to react, a single shot from a high-powered Winchester rifle exploded into the air. Al’s startled horse jumped and spun wildly.

Another shot. Hollene fell to the ground, her face torn to pieces, black from powder burn and smattered in blood.

Dave Dingess, riding nearly beside Al and Hollene, had also spotted the two men hiding among the rocks. He had put up his hand before the second shot, then felt it go numb. Feeling little pain, he had quickly turned his horse and slid over toward its side opposite the shooters, and clung to his saddle, keeping his arms around the horse’s neck, until he maneuvered to safety. He and Harve galloped back up the creek toward home and help. No shots came their way. But Dave’s hand was covered in blood.

Al, meanwhile, tried to regain control of his horse. He looked down at his wife, then up toward the rocks.

Another shot—this time finding its mark.

Al fell to the ground, rolling in the dust. He felt pain at his right elbow and all through his arm, then numbness. His arm was covered in blood—shot and broken—useless from the fall.

His horse sped away down the creek.

Al crawled toward Hollene, reaching under his jacket for a pistol. Then came another shot, this time grazing his breast and ripping the fabric of his vest. The pressure was intense.

Al followed his horse downstream to safety.

For a brief moment, the scene was completely quiet.

Two men wearing hats came off the hill to survey the damage.

“We made a mess of this,” one said to the other as they stood over Hollene. “They’s goin’ to be hell to pay.”

Al Brumfield, prominent merchant, whisky boat operator, and feud leader. Photo courtesy Lilly Brumfield Ray.

Al Brumfield, prominent merchant, whisky boat operator, and feud leader. Photo courtesy Lilly Brumfield Ray.

“We got to kill her now,” said the other. “She’s seen us.”

Hollene, barely conscious, could hear the men but not see them. Her eyes were filled with blood.

“Please don’t shoot me again,” she gurgled, trying to speak. “You’ve already killed me.”

About then, the men heard shots in the distance.

It was Al Brumfield, returning up the creek under cover with his pistol pointed in their direction. Due to his broken arm and the distance between them, his shots were errant; still, they caused the two attackers to scramble back up the hillside. Brumfield did not pursue them. Instead, he continued on toward his wife, hoping his assailants would not shoot him again.

By the time Al reached Hollene, his wife was in the arms of Mrs. Jane Adkins, a twenty-four-year-old midwife who lived nearby in a single-story log cabin with her husband and four children. Jane sat in the road, Hollene propped against her.

Al bent down toward his wife. It was a gruesome sight. The entire right portion of her face was torn open. Al could hardly look at her.

“So help me God!” he swore. “I’ll kill whoever it was did this. Did you see who it was, Jane?”

“No, Al,” Jane said, remaining calm. “I saw two men, but I couldn’t make out who they was.”

“Hollene,” he said loudly, taking her hand in his.

“She’s knocked plumb out,” Jane said. “But she’s still alive.”

“Oh God,” Al cried. “How can she possibly be alive?”

Al mostly kept his eye on Hollene, figuring she might die at any second, but also looked anxiously toward the mountain where, just a few moments earlier, his attackers had waited in ambush. For all he knew, the men still lurked up there, watching, ready to shoot again. He had never felt as helpless as he did at that moment, hunkered in the road with his mauled wife. He had no horse, no way to move Hollene, and no friends to help him should his attackers return to finish them all. He knew that his pistol was useless against Winchester rifles and that his ability to fire it was limited by the poor condition of his arm. All he could do was hold Hollene’s hand, feeling the faint pulse in her wrist, unsure if each passing breath would be her last.

At that moment, two horses thundered toward them from up the creek.

Al rose up, feebly clutching his pistol.

It was Dave and Harve Dingess.

“Are you and Hollene all right?” Harve asked, riding up to the scene, kicking up dust.

Green McCoy and Milt Haley: timber men, fiddlers, suspected murderers. Photo courtesy Nellie Richardson Thompson

Green McCoy and Milt Haley: timber men, fiddlers, suspected murderers. Photo courtesy Nellie Richardson Thompson

A bit closer, he could see for himself.

“Oh my God,” he said.

For a moment, everyone was quiet. The horror of the scene was complete.

“She’s still alive,” Jane said, trying to keep everyone calm. “She ain’t in no pain cause she’s knocked out. But we need to wrap somethin’ tight around her face or else she’ll bleed to death.”

Dave climbed down from his horse and took off his shirt, tearing it into pieces. His hand was bleeding.

“You get shot too, Dave?” Al asked.

“Just a nick here in my hand,” Dave said. “It ain’t nothin’.”

“Who in hell did this?” Harve asked, looking up toward the rocks.

“Hell if I know,” Al said. “I couldn’t see ‘em good.”

As Harve spoke with Al, Dave carefully wrapped his sister’s head in the tattered pieces of his shirt, following Jane’s instructions.

Harve noticed that Al’s arm was hurt.

“How’s your arm?” he asked.

“It’s broke,” Al said.

Al looked at his wife, the greater portion of her face disappearing under the remains of Dave’s shirt.

“Harve, you ride back up the creek and get help,” he said. “Find Burl or Charlie or Hugh. Get a wagon, too. We’ll need it to get Hollene back up Smokehouse. And tell your paw to send for a doctor.”

“All right, Al,” Harve said.

He turned his horse, looking again to the mountains, not sure if his sister would be alive or not when he returned.

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Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 20, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with guest author Beth Durham. Durham blogs weekly about the legends and lessons from Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau at “We’ve all enjoyed the B-westerns where the trail-weary cowboy rides into a town only to discover it has been abandoned and is now only a ghost of a town,” she says. “At the mention of ghost towns, that’s the image that comes to mind – the gold rush settlements of the Old West. But Appalachia has her own version of ghost towns and they are plentiful.”

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

“The Chattahoochee Park pavilion was part of a Gainesville, GA amusement park, Chattahoochee Park, built about 1900 on the banks of what was then Lake Warner. The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, an Atlanta-based non-profit, included the aging pavilion in its 2012 list of the state’s top 10 “Places in Peril.” Journalist Jeff Gill tells us how the structure was rescued in this Gainesville Times article.

We’ll wrap things up with an excerpt from the introduction to Sheree Scarborough’s latest book, African American Railroad Workers of Roanoke: Oral Histories of the Norfolk & Western, which just published. “Roanoke is one of America’s great rail centers and prides itself on that history,” she says. “It was the original headquarters to N&W Railway for 100 years and continues to be an important location for Norfolk Southern Corporation. African Americans have a long history with the railroad, a history that began before the Civil War when enslaved people helped construct tracks across the country, and one that exists through to the present day.”

And thanks to the good folks at Champion Electrograph Records Archives, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Pie Plant Pete in a 1930 recording of Waiting For the Railroad Train.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.

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Was it murder? Or a heart attack?

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 18, 2014

“I went up to Wise that night along with my cousin and not meaning no harm,” testified Edith Maxwell at her murder trial. “Along in the evening Raymond Meade came along and said he would give me a lift back to my house in Pound. There was some more people in the car with him but we let them out down the road a piece and Raymond Meade says to me: ‘Let’s go to the Little Ritz and get something to eat.’ ”

“The Lonesome Pine Girl,” accused of killing her father Trigg on July 20, 1935, attracted the attention and support of newspaper, magazine, and radio reporters, as well as women’s organizations, across the United States and Canada. Her nickname is a reference to a well known 1908 John Fox novel, The Trial of the Lonesome Pine, that portrayed the lifestyle of mountain residents in a rather one-dimensional manner.

 popular was the tale with the American public that a third production of it–
this one in sound and color–was being filmed, with considerable publicity,
even as Edith Maxwell faced the first of two trials in the Wise County, VA courthouse.

The media coverage the case received for nearly 
two years rivaled that given to the Scopes “monkey trial” of the 1920s. By the end of Maxwell’s ordeal, even Eleanor Roosevelt had gotten involved.

Edith Maxwell in Wise County prisonWhy the national spotlight? The Maxwell case was a clash between modernity and tradition, between “women’s rights and reason against bigotry and fanaticism.” On the side of bigotry and tradition was the “code” of the Virginia mountains, where women and children had to obey and submit to the father, even when he physically abused them.

Edith had left home for two years of teacher’s college, highly unusual for a young woman of her circumstances. After attending Radford State Teachers College (later Radford University), Maxwell reluctantly returned to Pound, where she associated with the “bright young set,” tested the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and became frustrated by the limitations of small-town life.

Raymond Meade tried to get her to drink some liquor, Edith continued in her November 1935 court testimony, but all she took was some potato chips and a glass of ginger ale. She told him it was getting late and she had better be starting for home because she was going blackberrying next morning. When she got home around midnight her little sister, Mary Catherine, warned her: “Your bed covers is in Pappy’s room but don’t go in there. He’s drunk and he’s going to run Ma out of the house tomorrow.” But Edith went in anyhow. Pappy woke up.

‘I’m goin’ to whip you,” he said.

“Pappy, don’t you do it,” said Edith.

Pappy chased her out of the bedroom and grabbed a carving knife. “Pappy, don’t you cut me,” said Edith.

“I’ll show you I can whip you,” said Pappy.

Edith fell to the floor and fumbled for a pair of old high-heeled shoes she had given her Ma. She flailed out with one of them. Pappy fell back. Edith, half-naked from the fight, caught up a covering, ran out of the house. She could hear Pappy moaning: “Jesus, Jesus, why can’t a man whip his own child?” Trigg was soon dead, allegedly from the beating Edith gave him.

The prosecutor tried to show that Edith was a fast filly who had saddened her honest mountaineer father with her late hours and citified ways. But he could not shake her story of the fight. It was further corroborated by Edith’s 11-year-old sister Mary Catherine who, when twitted by the prosecutor for forgetting certain details, leaned out of the witness chair and yelled: “And you wouldn’t remember so good either if you had been as scared as I was that night with Pappy a-yellin’ and a-cussin’ and Edith a-tryin’ to outrun him!”

Edith, argued her lawyers, had exercised no more than her “God-given right of self-defense.” But that did not impress the jury, which, after less than an hour’s deliberation, returned a guilty verdict.

Despite expert medical testimony that Trigg’s wounds could not have caused his death and that he had probably died of a stroke or heart attack, rumor and innuendo were enough to send Edith to jail for five years of a 25 year sentence.

She was pardoned by Gov. James H. Price in December 1941 – thanks, in part, to a letter written on her behalf by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Upon her release, Edith changed her name to Ann Grayson and eventually made a new life for herself in Jacksonville, Fla., after marrying Otto Abshier, the owner of an Indianapolis trucking company.

The day after Trigg Maxwell died, his wife Ann, along with their daughter, had been indicted, but never brought to trial. Was Trigg Maxwell hit by Edith? Or was it Ann? Or was he hit at all?


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The Swamp Rabbit engineer had to back up a mile to retrieve a lost cow-catcher

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 17, 2014


by Charles A. David
Greenville News
July 18, 1926

You may name your boy Percival, Algernon, or Montmoresst, but if some chap at school dubs him “Sorrel-top,” “Bully,” or “Buster,” the nick-name will stick and his real name forgotten. So it has been with this little railroad–its owners christened it the Carolina, Knoxville and Western, but some fellow with a bit of humor in his make-up spoke of it as “The Swamp Rabbit,” and that appropriate name continues to the exclusion of the longer and higher-sounding one.

Its owners christened it the Carolina, Knoxville and Western, (shown here in 1888), but local wags quickly dubbed it "The Swamp Rabbit."

Its owners christened it the Carolina, Knoxville and Western, (shown here in 1888), but local wags quickly dubbed it “The Swamp Rabbit.”

When the route was surveyed, if it ever was, it was evident that if they followed the swamp bordering the river, that little grading would have to be done, and building the line would be just that much cheaper.

So we find that the railroad hugs the edge of the swamp from its starting point just below the “medder” to its terminal on the south bank of the Saluda, where the money gave out and the road suddenly stopped, and it gazes sadly across the stream that has never been bridged.

The road as it now stands, and it looks as if it was destined to stand there forever, is only some fifteen miles long–just a trifle longer than its name–its real name, I guess.

The road is now a little more than a right-of-way, and two wavy streaks of rust; but at one time it held hope of great things for Greenville, as it was intended to link this section with the rich coal fields of Tennessee, and we all dreamed dreams and had visions of cheaper coal, and a direct line over the mountains.

But the lack of money and the antagonism of rival interests sounded its death knell, and blasted our hopes. The road started out bravely, with the very best intentions, with head up and tall over the dashboard, planning to cross the mountains on a wonderful grade that had just been discovered, hesitate briefly at Knoxville, and then strike out into the boundless West.

But as it neared the foot of the mountains something happened–funds ran low, the enthusiasm languished, and the bubble that promised so much, burst with a sickening thud, leaving Knoxville and Greenville just as far apart as ever, and coal still sells around ten and twelve dollars a ton.

To add to its many troubles, the road got into court, and for years it was bombarded with attachments, injunctions, judgments and the like, and then rival factions took a hand, with the result that at one time the rails were taken up and sold, leaving nothing but the crossties, and most of them rotten.

But by some hook or crook new rails were procured, and once more the road was in a usable condition. One serious trouble with the road was that the name was too long for the length–it was misleading, as no one could understand why a road bearing the name Knoxville and Western should begin and end in the upper part of Greenville County, and people got to looking on the whole thing as a joke. For a while at first, daily trains were operated—I should have said train, not trains—which came down some time during the morning, and went back to the starting point in the afternoon, and spent the night where it was cool and pleasant.

It never was a train that bothered much about regular hours for leaving and arriving, and a hide-bound schedule was beneath its notice. It left when it got good and ready, and made no rash promises as to when it would arrive.

There was something delightfully informal about this friendly little railroad, and there was a certain element of chance about riding on it that added to the zest of the trip. It did not always stop at the same place, but you could flag it down anywhere simply by holding up your hand, and it would slow down and let you get on.

No one could keep from having kindly feeling for anything so obliging, and I came to have something akin to affection for it.

At that time one of my good friends and myself did considerable fishing, though we caught mighty few fish, and Montague, one of the stations, and in the streams about Riverview, so we came to be fairly regular patrons of the road, and the conductor never refused to take us on, or let us off, no matter where we might be.

Most of the rolling stock was second hand, and had been retired on a pension by some other road, and under the varnish of the passenger coach could distinctly be read the legend, “Pennsylvania RR. Co.,” showing that it was far from home and friends. I did not know until I became intimate with it that so many things could get the matter with a locomotive as happened to the motive power of the C.K. &W.

Some days it would make the trip without a single break down, and then again, it would have to stop for repairs every few miles. For instance, I remember returning one night from Marietta where I had been to attend the funeral of a friend, and coming down during a heavy rainstorm, the engineer discovered that he had lost the cow-catcher, and he had to back the train a mile or so before he found it in a ditch by the track, where it had come loose and dropped off. Such little things were constantly happening, but no one thought anything of them and took it as a matter of course.

The “Swamp Rabbit,” true to its name, did not mind inequalities in its pathway, so the track went up and down, following the lay of the land wherever possible. Lack of funds for the upkeep of the roadbed, light rails, and cheap equipment generally, served to make it one of the roughest I have ever encountered, and before a passenger got to the end of his journey he was considerably shaken up, and found that he owned bones that he did not know he possessed. I have heard that some of the farmer’s wives utilized this shaking up, and made the railroad to do their churning. They would take their churn of buttermilk along with them when going to town, and when the whistle blew for Greenville, all they had to do was to take off the top and remove the butter to a plate—it had been churned by the motion of the train. I do not say this was true, but it certainly was possible.

I remember one day that my fishing companion and myself boarded the train in Greenville for a day’s outing in the country, and from the time we pulled out I noticed that it was running even slower than usual, and I inquired the cause, and the conductor coolly informed us that the car just ahead was loaded with dynamite for Wing’s quarry, several miles up the road, and he wanted to get it there with as little jolting as possible. Very reassuring, that, to the two fishermen sitting there gripping reels in one hand and lunch in the other! But the conductor told us that he had carried up several loads of the stuff and none of it had exploded yet. After that experience we always made it a point to find out what the car in front was loaded with before we bought tickets.

The “Swamp Rabbit” road is still running in a spasmodic kind of way, hauling gravel, cordwood, and an occasional coop of chickens.

They will tell you that they are only running tri-weekly freight, but they do not tell you that that means you come down one week and try to get back the next, but find that live passengers are barred.

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Francis Scott Key’s descendants in western Maryland

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 16, 2014

In 1870 Alice Key Howard [the author’s aunt], a daughter of Mrs. Charles Howard, bought from a man named Stabler a four room hunting lodge with separate kitchens, standing in a dense grove of oaks, many of whose survivors still surround the present house.

This picture, “The Foot Paths Through The Glades,” is a reprint of a painting, artist unknown, made for the American Bank Note Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It presents a true-to-life scene in Mt. Lake Park, Maryland, around 1890. The paths were made of tan bark.

This picture, “The Foot Paths Through The Glades,” is a reprint of a painting, artist unknown, made for the American Bank Note Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It presents a true-to-life scene in Mt. Lake Park, Maryland, around 1890. The paths were made of tan bark.

Even in my memory there was an oak grove with a path through it where the present Shafer house now stands. Several additions and wings were built before the original four room lodge became the low rambling red structure, now known as 79 Alder Street.

Willed by Alice Key Howard to her niece, Elizabeth B. Howard, its present owner, it was for eighty years the summer home of many of Francis Scott Key’s grandchildren and great grandchildren.

One grandson, John Ross Key, a notable painter, especially of mountain scenery, was a frequent visitor, and one of his paintings of “The Old County Bridge” was long in the possession of an Oakland family.

McHenry Howard, father of Elizabeth G. Howard, was a passionate fisherman, and with his first cousin, Dr. James McHenry Howard, went by horseback, or by horse and buggy, over then all but impossible roads, on month long fishing trips to the Cheat and Elk Rivers. His diary, illustrated in part by his own sketches, is immediately destined to the Garrett County Historical Society.

Another granddaughter of Francis Scott Key’s, Mrs. Edward Lloyd of Wye House, Talbot County, spent much time with her mother in Oakland, as did Mrs. Charlton Morgan (Ellen Key Howard) of Lexington, Kentucky. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Charlton Morgan and their children spent several winters in Oakland, one at least at 79 Alder Street.

A notable group of boys played together in Oakland in those days. Cal Crim, Henry McComas, Charles McHenry Howard and Thomas Hunt Morgan. Thomas Hunt Morgan, winner of the Nobel Prize for biology in 1933, and known before his death several years ago as the greatest living biologist in the world, received his first schooling in what I understand was a log cabin schoolhouse in Oakland. He and his cousin, Charles McHenry, were great rattlesnake hunters and amassed a trophy of rattles which I still own.

In 1893, Mrs. Charles Howard (Elizabeth Phoebe Key) celebrated her 90th birthday in Oakland. All day a stream of visitors poured in, people from Oakland and Deer Park. (I have her letter written to an absent member of her family which also, with her picture, will go to the Garrett County Historical Society.) In the evening, a large dinner party was given and I vividly remember the long table decorated with ferns and with ninety candles blazing.

In 1897 she died there, and again I remember the American Flag in red, white and blue flowers which covered the coffin, sent by “Doctor McComas.”

Many members of the family have died at 79 Alder Street, the little daughter of Dr. Edward Lloyd Howard and Laura Maynard Howard first, in 1894. Since then, Mrs. McHenry Howard in 1908, McHenry Howard in 1923, and their daughter May Howard in 1943.

A very deep love for Oakland and Garrett County is born into, and inherited by, all the descendants of Francis Scott Key, who have spent their summers at 79 Alder Street, and though for the past two years the present writer is the only member of the family to get there, and that, in all too short a stay, yet it is always with a deep sense of homecoming, of belonging in great part to Garrett County, that I return.

“A Summer Home in the Mountains,” by Julia McHenry Howard, Tableland Trails magazine, Summer 1953, pp 2-4, Felix G. Robinson, publisher

Julia McHenry Howard (1886-1959) was a great-granddaughter of Francis Scott Key, composer of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

2 Responses

  • dianne (morrow) avona says:

    In the 1950s, I lived across from the Howard house on Alder St. in the Warnick Apartments. My friends and I would sneak onto the property and play “Nancy Drew” and make a mystery about the people from that house.

  • Lisa Simmons says:

    I am trying to find any connection to Francis Scott Key thru my great-grandfather James Thomas Key of Union County, AR. My grandmother (96) says that we are related, but I can’t find the missing link if there is one.

    I think I would need to know the sons, grandsons and great-grandsons’ names. I’ve searched some on the internet but don’t find much past a list of the children’s names. Thanks for your help.

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