Monday, May 16, 2011

William Anderson Hatfield

"They were brothers' boys," my grandmother said, describing the kinship of her father, Lloyd Hatfield, and William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield. I would have said "first cousins," but I wasn't from that place and time. Lloyd didn't take part in the war with the McCoys, but he did live in Mingo County and his family was only too aware of the potential for violence. When my grandmother ventured away from home as a child, it was always in the company of armed adults. And she slept with a loaded pistol under her pillow every night, until nearly deaf and blind from age it became too great a risk for other family members. My uncle Charlie put it away for safe keeping.
Much has been written about the Hatfield-McCoy feud, and some of it is surely true. The rest has to be viewed as myth, fiction, or outright lies. And unless clearly documented in court records and similarly reliable sources, it is often very difficult today to tell which is which. For example, there are multiple explanations for the nickname "Devil Anse." My personal favorite cites a Civil War battle in which Captain Anderson Hatfield led his men up a hill in the face of bullets raining down on them so thick that "no one but the Devil himself could have made it up that hill unscathed." The story has a ring of romantic fiction to it, but maybe if we keep telling it long enough it will turn out to be true.

Another favorite story was published in the Concord College (W.VA.) alumni newsletter in 1994 by Kyle McCormick, who was then Director of the West Virginia Department of Archives and History. He wrote that in 1904 or 1905 a group of armed men rode up to the home of the president of Concord College, in Athens, where the leader introduced himself as Anderson Hatfield. It seems that a young member of the Hatfield family was a student there at the time. The young man was night blind and depended on a lantern held out in front to make his way around campus at night. The other students called him "Moon Eye" and would throw rocks to try to break his lantern and leave him helpless. Moon Eye built a shield around the lantern to protect it from rocks, so one night a student shot it out with a .22 rifle. The armed men arrived a few days later. Devil Anse went door to door throughout the town explaining that someone had been shooting at Moon Eye and asking probing questions. It appears the shooter was never identified and the riders left late the same night. But no one ever shot at Moon Eye again!

The Hatfield-McCoy feud has become the archetype for the post-Civil War family clashes that broke out along the border states between the Union and the Confederacy. And while there are documented instances of extreme violence, it was by no means the most intense or biggest of them. For example, more people were killed in the Martin-Tolliver war in Rowan County, KY, where it has been reported that the danger was so great the town of Morehead lost nearly half its population as people fled the violence.
Devil Anse and his family are buried at Island Creek in Logan County, having moved out of Mingo County to put the feud behind them. Their cemetery is on West Virginia route 44, north of US 52. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, but when we were there in 2007 there were signs of vandalism and the site was poorly cared for. It's a pity.

1 comment:

  1. Jim, I can now report that I have completely backtracked my way through your blog. I have enjoyed every step of the way. I will continue to come back from time to time. I agree that the Hatfield Cemetery needs to be restored and protected. I have learned a lot from you here. Thanks, Roger