Dwight Williamson: Tracking down descendants of the famous Hatfield clan

There are two historically connected names that are mostly found in Logan and Mingo counties in West Virginia, and in Pike County, Kentucky. Those names — Chafin and Hatfield — are shrouded in past controversy and include numerous killings and murder. From Devil Anse to infamous sheriff Don Chafin, Logan County has provided plenty of nationwide newspaper fodder since the celebrated 19th century days of the Hatfield-McCoy feud all the way to and including the Blair Mountain Battle of 1921.

For my subdued self, every time I travel either the route to and over Blair Mountain or into the territory of Sarah Ann where the Hatfield Cemetery is located just nine miles from Logan, I feel a sense of dismay. I mean, for the most part, there’s nothing much located at either location. Granted, there are a few homes to go along with the hills and mountains that are mostly owned by land companies, but that is about it.

Of course, we know that Mingo County was a part of Logan until 1895, and records show that Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Leviacy (Chafin) Hatfield owned many thousands of acres throughout the county during that time when Hatfield became a rather wealthy man, participating in the timber business that preceded the coal mining days. As the life-sized statue would indicate at his family cemetery, the leader of the Hatfield clan was well to do for the standards of that time.

So what happened to the Hatfield fortune? There were 13 children born into the renowned feud family. Although two of them (Paris and Troy) were killed in a shootout in Fayette County involving an illegal liquor dispute, and even though two other sons (Tennis and Joe) served back-to-back terms elected as Logan County sheriffs during the mid to late 1920’s, what happened with all of the property that was handed down to family members even before Devil Anse and Levisa died? That story will be conveyed at a later date.

Nevertheless, there are few, if any, actual direct relatives to any of the Hatfield family living in the immediate area of the former homeplaces of the various family members, including Devil Anse, Cap, Tennis, Robert, and several other children who were given property in areas not far from the Hatfield Cemetery. However, if you cross over Horsepen Mountain into Mingo County and even into Wyoming County, you will find many of the descendants of the Hatfield clan. Both Johnse, the eldest son of Devil Anse, who was married three times, and another son, Robert, who also married thrice, lived and died at Wharncliffe near Gilbert.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to know some of the Hatfield family and even a son of the legendary Don Chafin — John, who ran the mining operations of Chafin Coal at Rich Creek and sponsored the softball team I was a member of, Chafin Coal. What I knew about John Chafin was that he seemed to be a fair man who treated his employees very well.

The player/manager of our softball team, Jim Evans, an employee at Chafin Coal, spoke very highly of Don Chafin, who once rewarded our entire team with dinner and drinks at the former Connie’s Supper Club after we had captured a tournament championship.

Another former Chafin Coal employee I once interviewed for a story said that the men employed there never had to go on strike because whatever they asked for — wage increases, etc. — they received.

“He told us, he figured his father had done enough to coal miners in the past,” the former employee explained. “He even let the truck drivers drink whiskey on the job.”

This writer can recall at least one Christmas party Chafin put on for employees and their families at the former Holden Recreational Center, now a cancer center near the Whitman Creek exit. Today, the Chafin family still owns well over a thousand acres in the Rich Creek area.

Aside from knowing both Jim and George Howes from Sarah Ann, who are great grandchildren of the man whose statue towers in the Hatfield Cemetery, I had the pleasure of getting to know two other brothers, Grant and Joe Browning, also great grandsons of Devil Anse, who regularly visited and decorated their family graves at the Sarah Ann location. Both men have now passed away, Grant in Tennessee and Joe in Ohio. Joe regularly emailed me concerning the plight of the cemetery and his willingness to donate family items to any museum that might be built near the cemetery property. Joe’s last visit to the cemetery came when he was 85 years old.

Sometime in the early 1980s, I sat down with Henry Hatfield, a son of Tennis, who was the youngest son of Leviacy and Devil Anse. I interviewed him at his house that now is abandoned and falling down on Main Island Creek. Later, I got to know his brother, Jack Hatfield, in the latter days of his life.

It was Jack’s son, Steve, and his wife who a few years back hand delivered some old pictures and a few other things they wanted me to have “because nobody else in the family wants them.” Both of them, being younger than me, died shortly thereafter.

That is the extent of the family I knew that lived anywhere close to the former Hatfield homeplace or the well-visited cemetery. I know of no one else directly related to the Hatfield family who resides in that area.

Having said that, I must explain, too, that my former optometrist, Arabel Hatfield, is the daughter of Coleman Hatfield, who was the grandson of Devil Anse. She currently resides at Midelburg in Logan and just recently retired. She has agreed to allow me to interview her sometime in the future, and I look forward to that occasion.

In the meantime, I have a Dec. 9 eye appointment with Dr. Michael Beres, yet another great-grandson of the world-renowned feud leader. Beres, I believe, is from the William Anderson “Cap” Hatfield side of the family, as is Arabel Hatfield.

Only within the past few months have I met a Hatfield family member, yet another great-great-grandson of Devil Anse; his connection being to Robert Hatfield, a son of the leader of the family. This man, Jack Hatfield, I believe, has Wyoming County family connections, but came to Logan from Tennessee. It is this gentleman via the Hatfield-McCoy Foundation that is in the process of opening a museum at the former homeplace site of his feuding great-grandfather. I will be relaying a full story about this project as it prepares to open soon. In the process of meeting Hatfield at the site, I was pleased to be accompanied by local historian Brandon Ray Kirk and another person with direct ties to the Hatfield-McCoy Feud, Courtney McCoy Quick.

While history freaks like Kirk and myself enjoy digging up the past, Courtney and Jack are not only resurrecting the past but looking toward a future with investment — Hatfield with the museum and McCoy with the totally refurbished four-story former Logan Corporation building behind the Logan post office.

Renamed McCoy Station due to its proximity to the railroad tracks in Logan, the restaurant there has recently opened with very good reviews, while much more is planned for the remainder of the huge historical structure.

An in-depth story is planned for both of the Hatfield and McCoy locations, but in the meantime, it is good to see optimism abounding, and two former family foes making exciting things happen in Logan County — especially since I hear there have been over 100,000 trail passes sold for the upcoming Hatfield-McCoy Trail season.

Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media