Now that another Hatfield-McCoy Marathon can be termed as a success in neighboring Mingo County, as well as in Pike County, Kentucky, the town of Williamson — so named for Wallace Williamson, a distant relative — is gearing up for yet another festive activity this coming weekend. The downtown event has been dubbed as “The Inaugural Whiskey Jam Powersports Festival” and will feature a musical performance by recording artist Colt Ford, aptly described as a “country rap pioneer.”
Also scheduled for country music stints during the weekend event are The Davisson Brothers and Nashville recording artist Sweet Leah. Some may recall the Davisson Brothers’ past performance at Logan’s Freedom Festival several years ago. However, it will likely be Colt Ford who highlights the show.
It’s nice to see Williamson kicking off this festival, which, like Logan’s annual festival, could grow into a huge event, attracting local vendors and outsiders to yet another coal town that once was a vivacious small city.
Like Logan County, Boone, Wyoming, McDowell and several other coal mining counties that for over 100 years helped forge the growth of this country, Mingo has lost many jobs and has fallen victim to a population decline. With this in mind, it is good to see positivity emerging where the local economy is not exactly booming.
By comparison, I sort of look at the situation as I do when I pass by an aged home that has seen its better days. The old homeplace may need a new paint job and a new roof, but the fact that the owner continues to display the American flag and nice flower baskets that are placed neatly about the porch and yard tells me there is still a great pride within the ownership.
Last week’s marathon, which originated in 2000 with only 13 participants, has grown to where prior to last year’s COVID pandemic there have been over 1,000 participants from many parts of America, and it has been described by the Weather Channel as one of America’s “toughest marathons.”
In addition, last week in Matewan the “Matewan Massacre” play was again produced in the streets of the town where a standoff between the Baldwin-Felts detectives had come into that area to evict coal miners and their families from company houses due to the men joining the UMWA.
The confrontation came about as the detectives were about to depart by train back to Bluefield when Matewan Mayor Cabell Testerman and his Police Chief Sid Hatfield, along with union sympathizers, ended up shooting in a gun battle. The ensuing skirmish left seven detectives dead, as well as three townspeople, including Mayor Testerman.
In March 1921 the trials for 19 accused miners and Chief Hatfield ended with nobody being declared guilty. Later, after a change of conspiracy involving a miners incident at Mohawk in McDowell County, Baldwin-Felts detectives, seeking revenge, assassinated Chief Hatfield and his deputy Ed Chambers Aug. 1, 1921, on the steps of the McDowell County courthouse at Welch.
Less than a month later coal miners from across West Virginia and other places gathered in Charleston more determined than ever to unionize coal miners in southern West Virginia. Thus began the march to Logan County that culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain and the glorifications of sheriff Don Chafin as Logan’s hero, Chafin being hailed as such for saving the town of Logan from sure destruction and looting, according to newspaper accounts of that time period.
Like most history, there is always more to it than the bare facts. For instance, in Chafin’s case he and his many deputies were being paid by coal operators to do the same thing the Baldwin-Felts detectives were being paid for — keeping the miners from organizing. In fact, when Chafin ran for sheriff the first time and took office in 1912, he won on the basis that he promised to keep the detectives from operating in Logan County.
Being paid by coal operators at least a nickel per ton of coal mined within the county, Chafin had a great deal at stake in keeping the miners from joining the UMWA. In fact, he became part owner of the Chafin-Jones-Heatherman mine operation at Peach Creek and he also helped start the Aldredge Coal Company.
Another interesting tidbit of history is that Matewan’ s Chief Hatfield married Mayor Testerman’s wife just 12 days after the mayor was killed and one day after the couple were charged with having “improper relations” in a Huntington hotel room. There were even those who thought Hatfield may have been the person who shot Mayor Testerman.
Of interest, too, is the fact that the sheriff of McDowell County, Bill Hatfield, a relative of Sid Hatfield, had assured Hatfield and Chambers that they would have the fullest protection when the two men were to come to court there. The day before the trial, however, the McDowell County sheriff left for a short vacation in Virginia.
About two years after the Blair Mountain Battle, Tennis Hatfield, the youngest son of Devil Anse Hatfield, was federally charged with bootlegging whiskey at the Blue Goose Inn at Barnabus, which is a small community located near Omar. When Hatfield revealed to the feds that Chafin was a partner in the Blue Goose establishment and it became known that the federal government was likely also going to charge Chafin, another feud almost erupted.
Cap Hatfield, the older son who had taken over the clan’s leadership following Devil Anse’s death, supposedly — with his pistol strapped to his leg — went to the home of Chafin at the structure that still stands on Main Street in Logan and reportedly made it clear to the sheriff, as well as employees of the jail in Logan, that his brother had better be kept “healthy” while Tennis was waiting to be transported to an Atlanta, Ga., prison.
Interestingly, Chafin was elected Logan County assessor at the age of 21 and became sheriff at age 25. After his first four-year term, state law would not allow sheriffs to succeed themselves, so Chafin was appointed Logan County clerk. However, had he been convicted of the cold-blooded murder of a young man while he was still county clerk, the Blair Mountain Battle, as well as much of American history, would certainly read differently today. For better, or worse, who knows?
There is just such a tremendous amount of Logan County history which needs to be unveiled that could be of interest to many people who visit our hills for various reasons. As to just how we can utilize and display Logan’s rich history is the question at hand.
For anyone who has ever visited the Matewan Museum at the former train station in that small trail town, you likely know from the signed guest book the number of folks who visit from nearly every location in the country. In my opinion, Logan has the potential to be even better than that.
A microbrewery near Lewisburg makes and distributes “Devil Anse” beer, and as you enter Pike County, Kentucky, a welcome sign declares the county to be the “home” of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. And if you travel to Pikeville, one can visit Chirico’s restaurant: the restaurant being the former home of McCoy feud leader Randall McCoy. Chirico’s, as Loganites should know, was started by Logan’s Frank Chirico.
In Logan County, we have the unkept Hatfield Cemetery, a vacant piece of land that once was the site of the Hatfield homeplace, and a short distance away toward Logan is a nice piece of vacant property that served as the location for the home of Cap Hatfield, considered the fiercest of the clan during the famous feud. Unfortunately, Cap’s two-story house was allowed to wither away and fall down several years ago.
On the bright side of things, Don Chafin’s former home in Logan, which was on the verge of collapse just a few years back, was wisely saved before the roof caved in, and may yet become a historic museum. Part of the former Logan Woman’s Club Library also will continue to be used by the club.
Back in Pike County, the Hillbilly Days celebration that brought in annually about 100,000 people to that event has been cancelled again this year, but a Hatfield-McCoy reunion is again planned, and what is titled Hatfield-McCoy Heritage Days is slated for September.
While Logan does have its Freedom Festival, which is a terrific event, the fact is that it is the town/city of Logan which puts on the non-historical function that allows many local young folks to enjoy what very well could be their only summer-type vacation treats. Regardless, I can envision countywide additional activities, such as a competitive river regatta race that could bring visitors to a high profiled competition that could feature trophies, as well as money.
It would be nice to see ways explored that might take advantage of creating an environment that would entice visitors to spend more time enjoying our local history, as well as riding the trails. And the only way to do that is to develop, advertise and display it.
Feuds, civil war history, coal mining history — including the Buffalo Creek flood — Indian lore, and numerous murders of interest (Mamie Thurman, etc.) could all be wrapped into a week-long package that could be enticing to vacationers, trail riders and others.
Perhaps it’s time for younger people to get involved with re-introducing Logan County and its wonderful past to the rest of the world.
As I have said many times, “Without history, there can be no future.”
This being the 100th anniversary of the Blair Mountain Battle, perhaps it is time to “organize” another movement.