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Story with Martin County roots subject of new book

Brumfield (click for larger version)
01/11/2008 - HARTS, W.Va. — Over 100 years ago, in October 1889, two West Virginia men accused of attempted murder were apprehended and jailed in Martin County, Ky. The two men — Milt Haley and Green McCoy — were subsequently returned to West Virginia, where they were murdered by a mob.

The story is the subject of an upcoming book written by Brandon Kirk, a West Virginia historian and high school teacher.

McCoy and Haley (click for larger version)
"I first heard the story of Milt Haley and Green McCoy back in the late 1980s when I started doing genealogy and researching local history," Kirk said. "It is well-documented in old newspapers and magazines."

In September 1889, Al Brumfield, a prominent businessman in Harts, W.Va., was shot from ambush while riding down Harts Creek. Brumfield was shot in the arm, while his wife — who rode behind him on the same horse — was shot in the face. Two men, McCoy and Haley, left Harts about that time and became the primary suspects. Brumfield put out a reward for their capture.

"For some reason, when Milt and Green left West Virginia, they came to Martin County," Kirk said. "I don't think either man had any family here. McCoy's family lived down on Peter Creek in Pike County."

In late October, a detective located Haley and McCoy in Martin County and captured them. McCoy was reportedly in a restaurant, while Haley was working on a steamboat. Both were placed in the county jail.

"That's another mystery," Kirk said. "Why would those men stay in Martin County so long after the shooting? And why didn't they go farther away from the state line?"

As the story goes, a West Virginia gang quickly rode over to the county seat of Inez and took possession of Haley and McCoy. The gang returned the two prisoners to West Virginia where they were murdered by a mob at Green Shoal, Lincoln County.

"This is interesting," Kirk said. "There is no record of extradition in the papers for either the West Virginia or Kentucky governor. I guess I'm kind of curious how two men wanted for a crime in West Virginia but captured in Kentucky could be turned over to West Virginians for punishment without some document filed somewhere. And there's nothing in the courthouses. Both Martin and Lincoln County had courthouse fires after 1889."

Kirk was busy researching the feud story and other similar tales when he was sought out by John Hartford, the late songwriter and country musician best known for the hit "Gentle on my Mind." Hartford was researching Ed Haley, a blind fiddler from Harts who had settled in Ashland just after World War I. Ed Haley was a son to Milt Haley.

"John and I were researching some of the same stories and he liked my writing style so we decided to collaborate on an Ed Haley book project," Kirk said. "I spent the next six years of my life working with him. We had the book all ready to publish when John passed away. It's been tied up in his estate since then."

Kirk, meanwhile, has focused his attention on writing a book strictly about the 1889 feud.

"I've exhausted about all of the sources I can locate," Kirk said. "I've interviewed a large number of people and spent countless hours in libraries and courthouses in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. I've written letters and studied over old newspapers. But I know there is still more out there."

One thing Kirk would like to know more about is the life of John W. Runyon, a one-time resident of Martin County.

According to various accounts of the feud, some oral and some published, Runyon hired Haley and McCoy to murder Brumfield. At the time of the feud, Runyon was a business competitor to Brumfield.

According to genealogy books, Runyon was born in February 1856, the ninth child in a family of 10 children. His parents were Adam and Wealthy (Muncy) Runyon, Jr. John married Mary M. Williamson on Dec. 25, 1878 in Martin County. She was a daughter of Stephen and Ellender (Blevins) Williamson. She was born in 1861. They were the parents of two children: Aquillia Runyon, born 1879, and Wealthy Runyon, born 1881. They also raised a niece, Mary Runyon, who later married Bill Fields.

John Runyon was raised in the vicinity of Nats Creek at the Lawrence-Martin County line. His father-in-law was a resident of Rockhouse Fork in northern Martin County. Runyon was a farmer and timber man. He came to Harts, W.Va., around 1888 and bought 100 acres of land above the mouth of Harts Creek on the Guyandotte River. He was a deputy sheriff of Lincoln County.

After the 1889 feud, he sold his property to Brumfield and returned to Martin County. Around 1893, he briefly lived in Wayne County, W.Va. By 1900, he was a resident of Baileysville in Wyoming County, W.Va., where he had some legal difficulties with the timber firm, Buskirk and Wittenberg. He spent his later years in Martin County, dying Jan.. 12, 1925.

His widow, Mary Runyon, lived for many years in the vicinity of Stidham. She died in 1956 and was buried at Milo in Martin County.

John Runyon's children and grandchildren were long-time residents of Martin County.

Aquillia Runyon married Samuel W. Porter in 1896 in Martin County. They had two children: John W. Porter, born 1897 and Aubrey L. Porter, born 1898. John was the father of Analena Porter, born 1917, and Virginia Lee Porter, born 1919. Aubrey served in World War I. Aquillia died in 1910 and was buried at Milo, Martin County.

Wealthy Runyon married Clarence Hinkle in 1896 in Martin County. She had one child: Hattie Hinkle, born 1899. She later remarried to a Fry. She died in 1903 and was buried at Milo, Martin County.

"John Runyon's role in this story is still somewhat of a mystery to me," Kirk said. "A lot of old stories place him at the heart of the 1889 feud. But I can't be sure about it until I can locate some of his descendants and hear their version of the story. I think it's really important to give respect to all sides. And at this point, Runyon's family is the only group I have not yet located."

Kirk may be contacted by writing P.O. Box 4834, Chapmanville, WV 25508, by telephone at 304.855.3826 or by e-mail at

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