attorney general, Battle of Gravepine, Battle of Scary Creek, Cap Hatfield, Charleston, civil war, Confederate Army, crime, Dan Cunningham, detective, Devil Anse Hatfield, Ellison Mounts, feuds, Frank Phillips, Hatfield-McCoy Feud, Howard B. Lee, Jim Comstock, Johnse Hatfeild, Kentucky, Logan Wildcats, Nancy Hatfield, Roseanna McCoy, Tug Fork, Union Army, West Virginia, West Virginia Women
Howard B. Lee, former Attorney General of West Virginia, provided this account of Nancy Hatfield (widow of Cap) in the early 1970s:
Our next stop was at the home of Nancy Elizabeth, the same home where I visited with her and Cap during my campaign. For nearly three hours I asked questions and listened to that remarkable woman recount many of her experiences as the wife of America’s most celebrated feudist.
Nancy Elizabeth’s home also held a number of guns, pistols, and other relics of the feud days. But the most interesting item was Cap’s bullet-proof, steel breastplate, designed to cover the entire front half of his body from his beck to his lower abdomen.
“Mrs. Hatfield,” I said, “judging from the three bullet marks on it, this breastplate was a great protection to Cap; but what was to prevent an enemy from shooting him in the back?” Her eyes flashed as she replied: “Mr. Lee, Cap Hatfield never turned his back on an enemy or a friend.”
“I have read two stories, Mrs. Hatfield, each purporting to give the true cause of the feud: One book stated that it was the result of a dispute between a McCoy and a Hatfield over the ownership of a hog. Another book said that it grew out of the seduction of a McCoy girl by Johnson Hatfield, oldest son of Devil Anse. Is either one of these stories true?”
“No, neither story is true,” she replied. “The McCoys lived on the Kentucky side of Tug River, and the Hatfields lived on the West Virginia side. Hogs don’t swim rivers. I never heard the girl story until I read it in a book, written long after the feud was over. Both stories are pure fiction.”
“The truth is,” she continued, “in the fall of 1882, in an election-day fight between Ellison Hatfield, a younger brother of Devil Anse, and three McCoy brothers, Ellison was shot and knifed. He died two days later. In retaliation, Devil Anse and his clan captured and shot the three McCoy brothers. It was these four senseless killings that started the feud.”
In answer to my inquiry, Nancy Elizabeth said: “Yes, there had been ‘bad blood’ between the two families since the Civil War. In that struggle the Hatfields were ‘rebels’,–loyal to their State, Virginia. Devil Anse organized and was the captain of a company of Confederate sympathizers called the ‘Logan Wildcats’. They were recruited for local defense; but they left the county long enough to take part in the battle of Scary, fought along the banks of the Kanawha River, a few miles below Charleston.
“The McCoys, and their mountain neighbors, were pro-Union; and to protect their region against invasion by ‘Virginia rebels’, they organized a military company called ‘Home Guards’. There were occasional border clashes between the two forces, with casualties on both sides. The war ended only seventeen years before the feud began, and the bitterness still existed in the minds of the older generation, and they passed it on to their children. It was the old sectional and political hatreds that sparked the fight between Ellison Hatfield and the McCoy brothers.”
Nancy Elizabeth declined to estimate the number killed on either side of the feud.
“It was a horrible nightmare to me,” she said. “Sometimes, for months, Cap never spent a night in our house. He and Devil Anse, with others, slept in the nearby woods to guard our homes against surprise attacks. At times, too, we women and our children slept in hidden shelters in the forests.
“But these assaults were not one-sided affairs. The Hatfields crossed the Tug and killed McCoys. It was a savage war of extermination, regardless of age or sex. Finally, to get our children to a safer locality, we Hatfields left Tug River, crossed the mountains, and settled here on Island Creek, a tributary of the Guyandotte River.
“No, there was no formal truce ending hostilities. After a decade or more of fighting and killing, both sides grew tired and quit. The McCoys stayed in Kentucky and the Hatfields kept to West Virginia. The feud was really over a long time before either side realized it.
“Yes, Kentucky offered a large reward for the capture of Devil Anse and Cap. The governor of West Virginia refused to extradite them because, said he, ‘their trials in Kentucky would be nothing more than legalized lynchings’. It was then that Kentucky’s governor offered the reward for their capture–‘dead or alive’. Three attempts were made by reward seekers to capture them.
“Dan Cunningham, a Charleston detective, with two Cincinnati detectives, made the first attempt. They came through Kentucky, and crossed Tug River in the night; but the Hatfields soon captured them. A justice of the peace sentenced them to 90 days in Logan County jail for disturbing hte peace. When released, they were told to follow the Guyandotte River to Huntington, a distance of 60 miles, and ‘not to come back’.
“Next, a man named Phillips led two raids from Kentucky into Hatfield territory. In the first, he captured ‘Cottontop’ Mounts, a relative and supporter of the Hatfields, and took him to Pikeville, Kentucky, where he was hanged. But the second foray met with disaster at the ‘Battle of the Grapevine’. Phillips, and some of his followers escaped into Kentucky, but some where buried where they fell.
“This was the last attempt of the reward seekers. However, Kentucky never withdrew the reward offer, and that is why Devil Anse and Cap were always alarmed and on the alert.”
Source: West Virginia Women (Richwood, WV: Jim Comstock, 1974), p. 151-152
This song was composed and sung by Elder Abner Vance, under the gallows, about 80 years ago. Given by Rev. A.M. Lunsford, October 14, 1897.
[Published by Request.]
Green are the woods where Sandy flows.
And peace it dwelleth there;
In the valley the bear they lie secure
The red buck roves the knobs.
But Vance no more shall Sandy behold,
Nor drink its crystal waves,
The partial judge pronounced his doom,
The hunter has found his grave.
The judge he said he was my friend
Though Elliott’s life he had saved.
A juryman did I become
That Elliott he might live.
That friendship I have shown to others,
Has never been shown to me;
Humanity it belongs to the brave,
And I hope it remains to me.
‘Twas by the advice of McFarlin
Judge Johnson did the call,
I was taken from my native home
Confined in a stone wall.
My persecutors have gained their request,
Their promise to make good,
For they ofttimes swore they would never rest,
Till they had gained my heart’s blood.
Daniel Horton, Bob and Bill,
A lie against me swore,
In order to take my life away,
That I might be no more.
But I and them together must meet
Where all things are unknown.
And if I’ve shed the innocent blood
I hope there’s mercy shown.
Bright shines the sun on Clinche’s hill,
And soft the west wind blows,
The valleys are covered all over with bloom,
Perfumed with the red rose.
But Vance no more shall Sandy behold,
This day his eyes are closed in death,
His body’s confined in the tomb.
Farewell my friends, my children dear,
To you I bid farewell,
The love I have for your precious souls
No mortal tongue can tell.
Farewell to you my loving wife,
To you I bid adieu,
And if I reach fair Caanan’s shore
I hope to meet with you.
Source: Logan County Banner (Logan, WV), 13 November 1897.
A.M. Dial, Appalachia, Battle of Blair Mountain, Charles L. Estep, Claude Gore, coal, Coal River, crime, Ed Cook, Edgar Combs, Elmer Gore, Everett Wellman, George Chafin, H.E. Keadle, history, Isaac Brewer, Joe Blair, John Browning, John C. Gore, John Cafelgo, Lawrence Adkins, Lee Belcher, Logan County, Simp Thompson, United Mine Workers of America, W.F. Butcher, West Virginia
Appalachia, Battle of Blair Mountain, Blair Mountain, Charleston, crime, deputy sheriff, Edgar Combs, Ephraim Morgan, genealogy, governor, Harold Houston, history, Howard Gore, Huntington, J.E. Wilburn, John Gore, John Wilburn, labor, Logan, Logan Banner, Logan County, Moundsville, prosecuting attorney, United Mine Workers of America, West Virginia, West Virginia Federation of Labor, Wheeling Metal and Manufacturing Company
From the Logan Banner of Logan, WV, in a story dated August 14, 1925, comes this bit of history relating to the “armed march” on Logan and Mingo counties in 1921:
FEDERATION ASKS PARDON FOR MAN WHO KILLED GORE
The West Virginia Federation of Labor has been holding its annual convention in Huntington during the past week.
On Tuesday morning the convention unanimously passed a resolution calling upon Governor Howard M. Gore to pardon or parole Edgar Combs who is serving a sentence imposed in connection with the murder of John Gore who was killed on Blair mountain when the “Red Necks” made their famous “armed march” in an attempt to invade Logan and unionize this field.
The resolution was presented Monday by Attorney Harold Houston, of Charleston, counsel for the United Mine Workers in District 17.
The resolution was as follows:
“Whereas Edgar Combs is now confined in the state penitentiary at Moundsville serving a life sentence imposed by the circuit court of Logan county for the alleged murder of John Gore, killed on Blair mountain during a clash between members of the ‘armed march’ of 1921 and a posse of Logan county; and
“Whereas he is now the only person serving in the penitentiary for an offence connected with said uprising, the Rev. J.E. Wilburn and John Wilburn, his son, having turned so-called ‘state’s evidence’ and been pardoned by Governor Ephraim H. Morgan, the said pardon to take effect early in the year 1926; and
“Whereas all of the many hundreds of prosecutions growing out of said trouble have been dismissed and abandoned by the prosecuting attorney of Logan county; and
“Whereas Edgar Combs has a wife and five infant children dependent upon him for maintenance and support, his wife at the present time working for the Wheeling Metal and Manufacturing company in an effort to keep her family together.
“Therefore, be it resolved by the eighteenth annual convention of the West Virginia Federation of Labor assembled at the city of Huntington W.Va. that we earnestly petition the Honorable Howard M. Gore, Governor of West Virginia, to grant and extend executive clemency to Edgar Combs, and either pardon or parole him for said alleged offense.
“And be it further resolved, that a copy of this resolution be immediately forwarded to Governor Gore for its consideration.”