Perceptions of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud and of Southern Appalachia in general often differ greatly among insiders and outsiders. The following letter from Lafe Chafin of Mingo County, WV, reveals his disdain for inaccurate reporting by the New York Times about the feud and his community:
Chafin Scores New York Times For News Story
Mingo Prosecutor-Elect Takes Exception To Story Recalling Old Family Feud and Tells Some Facts About State.
Penchant for publication by New York newspapers of news stories calculated to place West Virginia in an unfavorable light before the public and to ignore publicity matter favorable to the state is charged in a communication forwarded by Lafe Chafin, prosecuting attorney-elect of Mingo county in The New York Times on December 12.
The letter reads:
The New York Times.
New York, N.Y.
Your attention is invited to an article published in the New York Times on Sunday, November 16, 1924, on page 20 of section 8, headlined, “One More Hatfield Bites the West Virginia Dust.” The article appears on the back page of section 8. Hence, it is apparent to the reader that you did not care to dignify it as news matter for the public but simply used as filler. No doubt you had run out of anything else to print on this page and so ran this in the thought that it would be interesting reading for those who have heard of the feud days in West Virginia. The article is unsigned. Hence, I am taking you, as editor, to task for permitting the publication of it and what I shall say will be offered in a spirit of friendly criticism and I hope you will accept it as such.
To begin with, you deliberately publish an untruth when you say, at the head of the article, that Alex Hatfield was killed and that Mingo county was humming and teaming with excitement. It is true that a man by the name of Alex Hatfield was shot about ten days prior to the recent election, but it is not true that he was killed, or even seriously wounded. He sustained a flesh wound and this is known only to a few people. Alex Hatfield is not the son of the mountaineer who started as bloody a feud as the south has ever known. In fact, he is not related in any way to the Hatfields who were involved in the so-called Hatfield-McCoy feud. The writer of the article simply seized upon the fact that a Hatfield had been shot as an excuse to rehearse his conception of the so-called Hatfield-McCoy feud, and he proceeds to write in a dime-novel fashion his notion of what happened in the fight between the Hatfields and the McCoys.
If it were not for the fact that your paper is read so universally and by people who do not know of conditions in West Virginia and Mingo county, I should not write you this letter. The so-called Hatfield-McCoy feud is dead and has been dead for twenty-five years or more. Every community, like every family, has its family skeleton, but we bury our skeletons and try to keep them buried until someone like you comes along and resurrects them.
I shall not take the time to point out all the slander and untruths included in this article, because most of it is untrue, as all who know conditions here will attest. I want particularly to call your attention to the fact that the apparent excuse for the article, if any there is, lies in the fact that a man by the name of Hatfield was shot about ten days prior to the recent election. Notwithstanding the fact that he only sustained a flesh wound, you carry a story in this article almost a month later, to-wit, November 16, 1924, that he was killed and that the county was all in excitement and that it has never forgotten the days of the so-called feud. A publication of the standing of The Times cannot afford to publish such misstatements and to libel this community in such manner.
Would it not be better to publish facts about West Virginia and about our community? In the thought that you were misinformed in this instance, I purpose giving you some facts that you can publish with safety and without fear of contradiction.
The population of West Virginia in 1920 was 1,500,000. Ninety per cent of the population is native white American. Less than four per cent is foreign born. Ninety-eight per cent of the farm population is native American stock. Less than six per cent of the population is illiterate. The per capita wealth is $1,429.64. There are twelve state educational institutions to train for leadership in the professions. There are 213 high schools, with an enrollment of 35,000. There are 1,800 high school teachers. Five thousand five hundred complete high school courses each year. There are 500,000 enrolled in the elementary schools. The per capita cost of education based on enrollment is $44.20.
This is the kind of publicity we want and we feel it is the kind that we deserve. Our natural resources are unmatched by any other state in the union. While these resources are decreasing, our human resources are increasing, in value. Like any community, we have had, and how have our problems, but we are doing our best to solve them. You are not helping us to solve them by publishing such articles as you published in our issue of November 16.
I would be glad to know that you have given some attention to this letter, and it seems to me that in justice and fairness to our county the party responsible for the article appearing in your issue of November 16, should be taken to task.
It so happens that I am the prosecuting attorney-elect of Mingo county and I resent such libel, not only as a citizen of the county, but as an official. Since I cannot prosecute the writer of the article for this libel, I think I at least ought to take this matter up with you as the editor and ask you to correct it insofar as you might be able to do so.
Yours very truly,
Source: Logan (WV) Banner, 19 December 1924.