In 2001-2002, I wrote a series of popular stories for the Logan Banner that merged aspects of well-known Hatfield-McCoy books written by Otis Rice and Altina Waller in the 1980s. I had previously enjoyed Rice’s narrative and Waller’s analysis; I did not conduct any new research. Even though I believed the definitive Hatfield-McCoy Feud book remained unwritten, my purpose in writing these stories was not a step toward writing a book; my purpose in writing these stories was to revisit the narrative with some analysis for Banner readers. My hope was that readers would see what I saw: first, fascinating history (or folk story) for its own sake; second, the power of history to create a popular type of tourism.
I was fortunate during this time to meet Jean Hatfield. Jean, born in 1936, operated a Hatfield family museum at Sarah Ann, WV. Jean was not a native of West Virginia but had lived her entire adult life locally and had personally known several of Anderson Hatfield’s children. I really appreciated her desire to promote regional history. She “got it.” She inspired me. Anytime that I drove up Route 44, I stopped to visit Jean at the museum. She was always welcoming. Knowing her reminded me that every Hatfield (and McCoy) descendant is a source of information–and that for the most part they have yet to tell the story in their own words. Three notable exceptions include The McCoys: Their Story by Truda Williams McCoy (1976), The Tale of the Devil (2003) by Coleman Hatfield and Bob Spence, and The Hatfield and McCoy Feud After Kevin Costner: Rescuing History (2013) by Thomas Dotson.
What follows is Part 1 of my interview with Jean, which occurred on August 7, 2001:
You were telling me some of the things you have. Family things.
Like the guns and gun molds and knives and things like that that belonged to the Hatfields. And of course as you can see here in the shop I’ve got all kinds of photographs. Still have more. I just don’t have the room to display all that I have.
You mentioned a gun specifically.
I have three of the pistols that belonged to Grandpa [Devil Anse]. The last one that he carried in his pocket. And then I have a large .38/.40. I also have a little silver pearl handle squeezer that my husband’s father gave him when he was running for sheriff before he died.
Which one of those boys was your father-in-law?
Tennis. That was Devil Anse and Levisa’s youngest son. He was just like 6 years old, seven years old when the feud was going on. I think he was born in 1889. And the feud actually started around 1886. So he was just a little boy, him and Uncle Willis both. Willis, if you remember the old picture of them in front of the old log house, Willis was sitting on one side and Tennis was sitting on the other side. Both of them was small boys.
Is that the one where they have the little coon skin caps?
Uh huh. It’s a very common picture. I think about everybody has that one.
Did you say you had an axe, too?
Yeah, I’ve got a little axe that they called their kindling axe. They chopped their wood up to start their fires with. Little short handle. Maybe the handle on it is like 28, 29 inches long. And it’s got two cutting sides so it would be a double-bitted axe. And I have gristmill rocks that they used to use to grind their meal up from their corn that they raised. They were pioneer people. They had to do everything on their own because there was no convenience store at that time. Anything they had… They floated their logs down to Catlettsburg in the fall and then they’d take a train back with their flour and sugar and things like that they needed for winter. And the rest of the things I would imagine they canned and dried so they had plenty of food the winter.
So they had their own mill?
Oh yeah. They’d grind their own corn into meal.
Where did it sit?
Uncle Joe had one over here across the road but now they had one earlier over ___. That was the area that they were in when the feud was going on. That’s where they done a lot of their timbering back over in that area.
What little town is there now that’s close to where they lived?
Red Jacket, over in that area. Close in around Matewan.
So you remember your father-in-law pretty well?
Well no. He died two weeks after my husband and I met. But I knew Willis and I knew Rosie [Browning] and Betty [Caldwell] and Uncle Joe. They were all Devil Anse’s children.
A lot of these things I read about, you don’t get a good idea of what they were like. Do you know anything that would make them seem like real people? Any stories? Things you’ve never seen in print?
Well, like Johnse. He was the ladies’ man. He was the one that fell in love with Roseanne and they wouldn’t let them marry. Now Tennis and Willis and Joe pretty well hung together. They were more buddies than the rest of them. Aunt Rosie was a nurse. So she nursed everybody. She was like a mother figure to all of them.
Did she nurse in a hospital?
I think she did nurse at one time in one of the hospitals. Probably one of Big Doc’s hospitals. Dr. Henry D. But she was always the type to go to the homes and take care of them, more or less. And Aunt Betty was very religious, so she was like the minister to the family.
Do you know what her religion was?
I would say Baptist. What was the older one? Probably United. But she was religious all of her life. They were human. I have a lot of people in the years that I’ve been here tell me that their grandfather and grandmother stayed at Grandpa and Grandma’s house because he wouldn’t let nobody go by if it was getting dark because they had wild bears and panthers and things like that. He was afraid people would get hurt. So he would make them come in the house and they would feed them supper and they’d sleep and the next morning at daylight they could go on. He’d done took care of their horses and everything. I would have give anything if he would have had some kind of a register that people could have signed that they have stayed all night with him. Because I still have people telling me, “My grandma, my great-grandma did this” and “My great-grandma did that.” And they took a lot of people in that didn’t have homes and let ‘em work and live with ‘em. They were kind people. But I think that they just didn’t like to be pushed around. Right now, everybody’s that way. They’ll give you anything they got, but just don’t try to take it off of ‘em. Now my husband, he was a very large man. He was like 6’2” when I met him. And I always called him my gentle giant because he was just as gentle as he could be. But you didn’t want to make him mad. He did have a temper. But I very seldom ever saw it. And they loved people. They liked dealing with people. Most of them were storekeepers. Two of Grandpa’s sons were doctors. Of course, Tennis was sheriff, Joe was sheriff. Lias and Troy, they were storekeepers. So they always were dealing with the public. You don’t deal with the public without repercussions if you’re mean.
Did you say something about having a chifferobe?
Yes. A handmade chifferobe and it has a little hidey-hole in the top of it where you could hide guns or money or whatever you want in it.
Do you know where the fort was?
I have never figured that out. I don’t know whether it was… There may have been one over on Beech Creek or Ben Creek, over in that area. But as far as I know from the family telling me, it didn’t exist. But I know their house was built back off of the road. Well, back at that time, there wasn’t a road. You had to go down through the creek to get anywhere. And trespass on other people’s property to get to Logan. I think this road went in here in 1932 or 1938. But even when Henry’s father put the monument up for Grandpa, there was no road here. That was in 1928. And they had to use mules and sleds and everything else to get that stone up on the mountain.