Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series of stories that will feature interviews conducted with direct descendants of the Hatfields and McCoys.
BLACKBERRY – “Ol’ Devil Anse would be smiling if he were alive to see that peace in the valley between his descendants and the McCoy clan is alive and well ,” remarked Karen Snively, a Charleston, W.Va., native who stopped by the Hatfield and McCoy reunion on Sunday to take advantage of some wonderful photo opportunities and to meet descendants from both sides of the famous feud.
Well over 200 members of the Hatfield and McCoy clans united for food, fellowship and fun on the porch of the reproduced cabin and lawn of the “Hog Trial Site” located at the foot of Blackberry Mountain. One only had to take a seat at any spot at the site to hear stories of bygone days and memories that have been passed down from generation to generation being swapped between the families.
Ron Blackburn, a Pike County native who was one of the reunion organizers, also participated in the Hatfield and McCoy Festival, assisting interested parties with their family genealogy. Blackburn, who is a descendant of the Hatfield clan, showed the Daily News one of his prized possessions, his great-great grandfather George Hatfield’s (born in 1804) family bible that contained entries of family birth’s including that of Anderson “Preacher Anse” Hatfield, who was born on Sept. 25, 1835.
Blackburn also explained the history behind the reproduction of the cabin that is situated on the “Hog Trial Site” property, and stated that the front steps crudely chiseled from slabs of stone and those that make up the chimneys are from the original home place.
“When Ellison Hatfield, the brother of Devil Anse, was killed on the election ground that’s adjacent to the Hog Trial Site, they carried him onto the back porch of the cabin, washed the blood off of him – treated his wounds as best as they could, put a clean shirt on him and took him home,” said Blackburn.
“There’s a lot of history here in this location … yes sir – a lot of history.”
William Keith (Bill) Hatfield Jr., the great-grandson of Devil Anse himself, traveled to the Tug Valley area for the Hatfield and McCoy Festival all the way from Tulsa, Okla., and granted the Williamson Daily News an interview.
“My 83 year-old father, William, who resides in Little Rock, Arkansas, is the only surviving son of Tennyson and Sadie Hatfield, the youngest son of Anse and Levicy,” stated Hatfield.
“I heard so many stories from my grandmother about Anse, and although he has always been portrayed as a ruthless man our family remembers the side of him that wasn’t shared with America, and that is of a gentle soul who was a loving and devoted father and grandfather who cherished his family.”
Hatfield, who pastors a church in Oklahoma, commented on the family photo of his great-grandfather and sons that was taken by a New York Times reporter during the times of the feud, explaining that his grandfather, Tennyson, is the youngest child in the front pictured with a scowl on his face and then proceeded to share the story of what stemmed the angry look on the youngster’s face.
“When the reporter came to interview Anse and the family, he asked the family patriarch and his sons to hold their guns in the photo,” remarked Hatfield. “Tennyson is said to have looked around and seen his brothers holding guns, so he decided he was going to do the same. When his father refused to allow this, my grandfather got really upset and was pouting when the picture was snapped, thus explaining the intense scowl on his face.”
Hatfield’s sister, Heather Vaillancourt, had been quoted in a magazine article from a May 2012 edition of “The Greenbrier” which is printed in Arkansas, saying that Anse had grown so sick of the fighting and bloodshed that he actually wrote a letter to the President of the U.S. asking for help ending the feud. He asked the President to bring peace to the Tug River Valley, explaining that neither he nor his family members could travel anywhere outside their home without constantly being on their guard and looking over their shoulder.
“He felt like there was a viable chance a McCoy or a hired gunman could be hiding behind every tree,” Vaillancourt stated. “He simply wanted to live the remainder of his life in peace.”
The letter the great-granddaughter is speaking of is now reserved and displayed as part of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., for all to see and read.
Vaillancourt also goes on to explain how the head of the Hatfield clan was dubbed the nickname “Devil Anse”, and said that although there are many who believe it was due to his meanness, that was not the case.
“”He had the ability to suddenly disappear after an engagement with the Union soldiers during the Civil War, who were recorded as saying that “only the devil himself could get away that fast”.
Hatfield commented on Kevin Costner’s portrayal of his great-grandfather, and said overall, he was very pleased with how closely he felt the actor captured the essence and personality of the man made famous by the family feud.
“My grandparents described Devil Anse as a man capable of hiding emotion and who didn’t display anger easily,” said Hatfield. “He was very seldom ever remembered as losing his temper in public.”
Hatfield also commented on the first minutes of the mini-series that concentrated on the Civil War, and stated that if he could have changed or added any true facts to the show it would have been the story as to the real reason Anse left the Confederate Army before the war between the states ended, and of his continued fighting against the Union as a member of the “Logan Wildcats”, a team of guerilla fighters who defended their families, homes and neighbors.
“The reason he left the army or deserted as some would choose to call it, was because he had received word from his family that Union soldiers were attacking homes in the area, killing anyone who resisted, taking whatever they wanted or that was of any value and burning everything that remained in their path,” Hatfield explained. “He was simply a man who was passionate about his family and did what he felt he had to do to protect them from harm.”
“I’m not saying it was right or wrong, I’m just saying this is what happened.”
In truth, Hatfield said his great-grandfather was a wealthy man, owning more than 5,000 acres of prime, hardwood timber, and stated that in the time frame in which he lived, his house was considered a mansion.
“They had a hunting cabin that was finer and offered more amenities that most people’s houses in those days,” said Hatfield. “They were like the Kennedy’s of West Virginia.”
The New York Times’ photo that has remained immensely popular throughout the years was actually taken in front of the hunting cabin, according to Hatfield, because his grandfather didn’t wish to share his prosperity with the world.