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Transcript of interview with Margaret Hatfield, June 11, 1992, for the film "West Virginia"

Source: WV History Film Project


Q: Margaret, tell me who was Devil Anse Hatfield?
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MH: Devil Anse Hatfield was probably one of the most colorful, charismatic ... Devil Anse Hatfield was probably one of the most color and charismatic characters in West Virginia history, and for that matter in American folklore. But unlike a lot, well of legendary figures, somebody bit Paul Bunyan, ? ? there was somebody that existed that that story started from. There's a kernel of truth in the biggest leading detail in the world. But Devil Anse, he existed. He was real and actually who he was he was the son of Ephraim? Hatfield and Nancy? Vance. He came along at a time in history when it was possible to be a character ten feet tall. He fulfilled all the requirements. ...


Q: Margaret, start that up again.
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MH: Devil Anse Hatfield, he was the son of Ephraim Hatfield and Nancy? Vance. But he came along at the time in history when legends were being built and he had all the material for it. He was witty; he was a practical joker. He was a very tough, crusty old character. Now, all legends start with a kernel of truth. Johnny Appleseed was a real person, so was probably was Mike Fike 'Paul Bunyan.' And for all I know Pecos Bill. A lot of things got built on to Devil Anse that he just didn't do, but an awful lot of it was true. Some of it -- he let people believe what they wanted to believe about him; he didn't bother to deny it. I mean there were stories that were told that you should have had better sense than to believe. If you did, then that that was your problem. He'd let you go along with it.

Q: What was he like a person though and what was he like to his grandsons and --
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MH: He was one of the most popular people that I have ever heard of or done any research into. They said you could tell when Devil Anse Hatfield was coming to town because every dog and kid in the country would be out following him. ... Children loved him. I've never heard anyone who personally knew the man say a hard word against him.

Q: How was it that he became at the center of this storm that we call the Hatfield-McCoy feud?
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MH: For one thing, Devil Anse and several of the other Hatfield were at the center of that storm simply because the tallest pine tree gets struck by lightning. They were property owners; at one time the Hatfield family owned the biggest part of the Tug valley. Well, they owned both sides of the river from over around ?? Beach at Knox? Creeks all the way down to almost to Williams and a lot of the watershed creeks, Mate? creek where we are now. This creek from one end to the next was Hatfield country, Pigeon creek, Blackberry creek, from the mouth of Blackberry all the way around the river, what the called the big bend of the river, clear into the head of Blackberry creek.
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This was Hatfield country; these people owned tremendous enormous tracts of land, the Hatfields and their near relatives, the Vances, also the Farrels, Musicks, Davises -- all these people were closely related. They were first cousins, double first cousins. Some of them so close, some of them related so different ways that they didn't know how they were related.

Q: So how did that land ownership relate to the trouble?
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MH: The land ownership -- at that time you've got to remember at the time of the Hatfield and McCoy feud which some of the trouble may have started in the Civil War -- my research leads me to believe that it probably didn't. The land ownership at that time in the 1870's and 1880's, people were in here, agents in here buying enormous tracts of mineral. They were also buying timber for big outside holding companies. And of course the people to get to, the people that you wanted to buy the mineral off of, you had to deal with the Hatfields and as I said their near kin. If you could run those people off, if you could run those families off, you could get that land very, very cheap or especially the mineral, they weren't interested in the land. If you get the mineral -- well they brought it in some instances for twenty five cents an acre.

Q: How did the McCoys, McCoy family get involved in land speculators and the Hatfields. Pull it all together.
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MH: The McCoy family had no intent of ??? or anything like that. The McCoy family was used by land speculators. There was trouble going on and hard feelings going on and land speculators. My mother always said there was never a lawyer so ignorant or worthless that he couldn't cause trouble for people. And lawyers in places like ? there's a book, the lady's name is Miller, she's from WVU, there's a book about that particular, the economic aspects of that area, that sometime -- You see the Hatfields and the Vances came in here in the late 1700's. The first white man he may have been half Indian, the first white into this area was a man named Abner Vance. He came from Abbington. He killed a man in Abbington, Virginia. Shot him off a horse ? ? river and he came down here hiding from the law. Now he was related to the Hatfield family. He may have been -- you get into frontier genealogy in that time, it is harder than -- you can't imagine because the census were inexact.

Q: What's important to know about the kind of people the Hatfields came from.
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MH: The Hatfield that came down here, Ephraim Hatfield came from Virginia. Now Ephraim Hatfield I was told at one point in my life -- I don't know if this is true or not -- but Ephraim Hatfield was a drummer, continental drummer at the Battle of Kings Mountain. His father, I do know this for a fact, his father Joseph Hatfield was chief scout for Campbells Virginians at Kings Mountain in ?. And they came down in here a lot; it was possible. You know that they paid Revolutionary War soldiers in land patents cause the government had no money. ...


Q: Was this really a family feud that we've heard so much about -- this Hatfield-McCoy feud?
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MH: It wasn't the whole family on either side. It was really a couple of families out of two big clans. Now there were parts of the McCoy family that had nothing whatsoever to do with it, just as there were parts of the Hatfield family. People write about the Hatfields leaving Tug river by the flocks, herds and gaggles. They didn't. One family or two families of Hatfields moved away from Tug river and that area. That's like saying 'I dipped two soup ladles out of the sea.' They're still over there; look in the Matewan phone book.

Q: I want you to tell me about some of the characters involved in the feud. I'm just going to give you some names. ...


Q: Tell me why the story is a tragic story.
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MH: It's a tragic story ... The story of the Hatfield-McCoy feud is tragic in that neither family caused that feud. It was incidents that wouldn't have happened if they hadn't have been instigated from with out to a great extent. It was done by self-serving people who had their own little particular ax to grind who wanted to gain control of property or what-have-you. They used people to -- for example, let me tell some of the McCoy family, Ranel McCoy's family in particular who were really the only ones that were deeply involved in it. Those people didn't have the money to patent? the Hatfields. They didn't really have the political base or anything else, and they were just, they were prodded into something that was totally -- as I said messing with people that they knew better than to mess with, that these people were dangerous as a cocked pistol.

Q: The Hatfields were that dangerous?
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MH: ... If you pushed. Normally, they were the friendliest, most generous hospitable people on earth. But if you pushed them, it was very, very risky business. They wouldn't let their own push them, much less somebody else. And that's what happened.

Q: Let's talk about some of these players. Cap Hatfield.


Q: Margaret, let's talk about some of these folks. Cap Hatfield
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MH: Cap Hatfield was sort of a debt? unto himself. From all I have been able to find out from research and talking to people, I think Cap really enjoyed a bad hat, a bad character. Now when he died in the early 30's, he died in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. They operated on him and they found that he had a bullet fragment in his skull pressing on his brain, which may have accounted for some of his shall we say "antisocial" behavior. What happened to his eye, there's all kinds of stories goes around about why Cap only had one eye and his name was William Anderson Hatfield, Junior.
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Why they called him Cap that it because Devil Anse's rank in the Confederate army. There was no such thing. When Cap was about nine or ten years old, he put his own eye out. He did what every kid in the country had been told to do at least told not to do at least fifty thousand times. Pistols and rifles used to load them with a percussion hammer. ...

Q: How'd Cap Hatfield put out his eye. Give it to me in brief form.


Q: Tell me how Cap lost his eye?
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MH: A percussion cap like what was used on a pistol or a rifle to set off the charge of powder, Cap got one and he put it one rock and he smacked it with another rock and naturally it blew up. That's what put his eye out. He didn't shoot his own eye out. Though McCoy shot his eye out. His brother didn't put his eye out. He put, he accidentally doing a greenhorn kid trick, put his eye out. That's why he was also called 'Cap.'

Q: What about Ellison, who was killed on election day.
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MH: Ellison Hatfield was probably had one of the best reputations ? ? none? of the Hatfields. He wasn't a trouble maker. He had no bad reputation for liquor, women, or anything else that some of the other men unfortunately were pre-disposed to. Course they didn't know anything about it and they said people made up deliberate slanders.

Q: One of those might have been Johnse Hatfield?
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MH: Now Johnse was a ladies' man, and he wasn't a bad character really. He wasn't considered to be dangerous or anything of the sort. He was supposed to have been extremely good looking. If he looked anything like some of the others, I can understand why women had the problems staying away from Johnse. But he was also a very strong and a very brave man because that's how he got out of the Kentucky Penitentiary. He killed a man with a ? --

Q: That's a little far afield for us. Let's keep going. Uncle Jim Vance?
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MH: Now Jim Vance was known. A lot of the people who knew him called him Crazy Jim. Jim Vance's family when he was about fourteen or fifteen years old, they lost tremendous tracts of land. He didn't own land until he was up in his sixties, till Devil Anse took the Grapevine Tract back from Perry Cline and his associates. Jim Vance evidently must have sharecropped or something like that. Jim Vance was an old, bitter man, and he blamed the Clines and the McCoys for the loss of all that land; and he was determined to make them pay for every rock, clod, and gravel, and every deer the Vance family had ? ?.


Q: Let's switch to the other side of the fence.
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MH: Do I have to?

Q: Yes, you do. Let's talk about the three McCoy boys that stabbed Ellison.
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MH: The three McCoy boys, the oldest one -- that would have been Tolbert, and then there was Pharmer -- I think they called him Dick -- and the young one, Bob. The young one, Bob, was about fifteen, sixteen years old. Tolbert McCoy was in his late twenties. Now Tolbert had a reputation as a trouble maker, especially when he was drinking. They got over there on that election ground and like a lot of other people, Tolbert was the one who started it. Pharmer and Bob jumped into it. What happened -- really what they did to Ellison Hatfield was a very, very foul dirty trick. Ellison Hatfield was not armed. They jumped on him; they shot him once. They stabbed him about 32 times. Tolbert had a pistol; the other two had knives, and when three men jump on one, now granted, Ellison Hatfield was six foot four and he weighed about, probably about 230 pounds. But three armed men on one unarmed man, is pretty sorry behavior.

Q: Further downstream, actually before that, Roseanna McCoy.
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MH: Roseanna McCoy. Roseanna back then -- I get this from people who knew her, had seen her personally -- she was a very pretty girl. She was up to an age -- now we hear about what Roseanna did. Roseanna's ride and what have you, and we think of a fifteen or sixteen year old girl. Roseanna McCoy was in her early twenties. She was older than Johnse Hatfield. These mountain girls -- getting on a horse and riding of a night -- that was nothing. They'd grown up riding horses, mules, and billy goat if they could catch one. Very few people rode saddles because saddles are expensive. Now what Roseanna did was tore a strip off the end of her petticoat, made a hackamore? bridle, which most of us knew how to do by the time we were old enough.
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Made a hackamore bridle, which means she tied a slipknot in the end of it, put it over the horse's jaw and came across the mountain from Burwood? There's a well marked road across through there. As a matter of fact, that road we called it the sledge road. It was there until I was a good sized child in the fifties. It's across the river down there in the shoals, in the ol' Hatfield bottom and went down about to where Cumberland Village is now, Matewan High School, down there at the logging camp where Devil Anse and Ells?? Elias and all of the rest of the Hatfields were down there cutting timber.
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She went down there to them. Now once she topped that ridge and hit down the Tug river side of it, she was going go across McGinnis Hatfield's corn field and across the river into another Hatfield bottom and down that road. As far as Hatfields were concerned, she was in danger of anybody getting her per se was minimal. But now the fact that she did do what she did was pretty -- it took -- because she knew that her daddy was going to take a hide of her and feathers off of her when he caught her for what she had done.

Q: Do you think that Devil Anse objected to that romance?
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MH: Devil Anse objected to that romance because of who she was. Not because she was a McCoy, but because she was Ranel? McCoy's daughter because the parents and brothers and sisters have been known to have, especially in this area, undue influence on one partner in a marriage. Well, that later found that out when Johnse married Nancy McCoy, who was Roseanna's first cousin. I think they wished he'd have married Roseanna because if he had, Roseanna's family wouldn't have anything to do with her.

Q: You hear a lot about all the men in the Hatfield and McCoy's feud, but you seldom hear, aside from Roseanna's story, about Nancy and Roseanna and Vicy Chafin. What was the role of these women?
MH: Now Nancy apparently, her chief role was trouble.


Q: Margaret, tell me about these women.
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MH: The women of Appalachia, and this is still true in a lot of cases, they're much stronger than the men. This happens all over the south, but especially in Appalachia. The men, in facing sickness, unemployment, something like that, generally they'll cave in. The women don't. The women -- you couldn't kill one of them with a hammer. The old women were very soft spoken. They appeared to be subservient, but you didn't have to be around them very long until you found out who crowed and who laid the eggs. You knew who ran that place. So many of them were natural born ladies. These women -- they didn't survive, they prevailed.

Q: And they prevailed against some pretty tough conditions here in these mountains?
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MH: They prevailed against horrible conditions. The ones -- an awful lot of them died in childbirth. An awful lot of them died, lost babies to ailments that a dollar's worth of medicine would have cured. Sometimes it was from lack of proper food, lack of proper sanitary conditions and as my grandma always said, 'Poor people had poor ways.' They couldn't do any better than they did. They didn't have the where-with-all that -- as I said they not only survived, they prevailed. There's an old lady up here that's sent about five kids to college digging ginseng.


Q: ... we forgot a couple of folks, one of your favorites, Frank Phillips.
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MH: Frank Phillips had a chip on his shoulder. Now his family had one time owned a considerable amount of property. He was raised as an orphan from somewhere over on the John's creek, over in that area. He just had -- he lost a good part of that property through fraudulent dealing of lawyers who were entrusted as his guardians. Frank Phillips had a bad attitude. Frank was possibly would have been willing to fight with anybody, but as I said, it was a chip on his soldier. And he was another one that was used. They knew he had a bad attitude.

Q: But did he have sort of a life long vendetta against Devil Anse.
MH: He had no reason to, aside from the fact that he married Nancy McCoy after Johnse left and Vance took up with her.

Q: But another player in this did and that was Perry Cline.
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MH: Perry Cline did have sort of a life long vendetta and the thing that people say: 'Why would Perry Cline want two or three hundred acres of property that belonged to Devil Anse when he owned so much more of his own?' But the thing of it was where that was accessed the mouth of Peter creek and all of that through there, and that property -- where as the rest of that property was up the creek -- that property was on the river. Now on the river was where the wanted logs grown; you get the two hundred foot trees out of there -- the hardwood furniture. The furniture great wood and it sold better then than it does now. And that's what he wanted with that property.

Q: One of the things that was said about the feud that it was a series of mountain justice events, where justice was meted out at the end of a Winchester. Was that really the way it was?
MH: In some instances, it was.


Q: Let's pick up that train of thought, which was that it was reported that this was mountain justice at the end of a rifle, but there is actually another side to it. There were --
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MH: Well, there was another side to it. Very often it was, I have heard members of the Hatfield family refer to a Winchester rifle as a Hatfield lawyer, which to a point, that had a tendency to happen every once in a while. But now you go back in the old court records and you find a whole series of actual law suits, like where Devil Anse took back the Grapevine tract of land.

Q: Say that again for me shorter. Say ... I've heard ...
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MH: It has been said by members of the Hatfield family that a Winchester rifle, a yellow boy carbine, was a Hatfield lawyer. They also said that a 38 special was a discussion ender. But all the way down through the feud years you also find records in the court houses of where there were actual litigations where these people actually went to court and tried to do it the right way. Now, very often the courts disappointed them.

Q: This is another case of the actual and what was reported being really different and all throughout this feud you've got newspapers in the big cities in the east writing one thing, and another thing is happening. Tell me about this yellow journalist?
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MH: For one thing it sold newspapers. ... The yellow journalism sold newspapers, and these people would come down here and they wrote stories. They were looking at the people of Appalachia from their own cultural bias from what sociologists call 'ethnocentrism' and the Appalachians were different. They only way that a bigot has to look is down his nose. He can't look straight ahead. That was part of the problem there. But the wilder the story, the more yellow-back novels you sold, the more newspapers you sold. It continued up until, even today sometimes you'll find some of the wildest stories I ever saw in my life. There wasn't no possible way that it could have happened.

Q: What effect did that all mis-reporting on the feud have for the people who lived here?
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MH: It caused the Hatfields in particular to be very bitter. It caused them not to talk. The people who knew what happened, who actually knew what happened were very reluctant to talk about it. Also, you've got to remember that some of those people lived into the forties and fifties, and outs? murder one doesn't have a statute of limitations. Those warrants were still out. As a result they were hesitant to talk about it.

Q: What are some of the lessons of the Hatfields and McCoys. What do they tell us about this place and these people?
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MH: That, as I said earlier, it is an older culture. It is a different culture. Appalachians meet every qualification for being a minority group. They always have been. As my grandma said, 'We've always been here and we've always been different.' Culturally different and because of that, we deal with things differently. ... that was the way on the frontier, and remember these people had been more or less isolated in this area since the late 1700's. On the frontier, that was the way you handled things because you didn't have courts and formal structured government to deal with it for you. And these people, their memories of formal structured government in the stories that have been passed down went back to the Revolutionary War.
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Why did we fight the Revolution? Because of strong central government. They were against it, and the same thing with the Civil War. I think that had a lot to do with why so many people in this area were Confederate sympathizers. It certainly wasn't because of slave ownership, because they didn't own them. It was because of the idea of strong central government they didn't like. They really still don't.

Q: Why have you been so drawn to the Hatfield-McCoy feud?
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MH: Because I am one. But also because when I was growing up in the late forties and fifties, there were still a lot of people around. I've talked to people who knew Roseanna McCoy personally. They grew up with her; I've talked to people who were on the election ground when Ellison Hatfield was killed. I've talked to three people many years ago who were on the river bank when the McCoys were shot. And these stories you would hear them, you'd hear them and it just caught my attention.


Q: Margaret, there's been a lot of people moving away from the southern coal fields in the last 20-25 years.
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MH: It goes back farther than that. From right after the end of World War II up until the mid-1970's, I'd say somewhere around four-fifths of every high school graduating class, left. They didn't do so by choice, but there was no employment; there was nothing here, and nothing to come back to. They left to go -- a few of them went to college, they left to go into the service or find work. And as I said, there was no other choice, no way for them to come back here. Now some of them in the last few years as we're getting older, they've retired from jobs here and there, they drift back to live here after they retire.

Q: What impact has that out migration had on this area?
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MH: ... The out migration has taken the seed corn out of this area. We don't have the people that the population base, the young population base, that are having families and raising them here, that produce the strength in government, in schools, in your society. We just don't have -- the older people tend to be more conservative. Younger people tend to be more liberal an progressive. We don't have that young population base.

Q: What will that mean for this area in the future?
MH: I can only speculate. Now some of the people who left out of here, who had to go because of employment ...


Q: Margaret, look in your crystal ball. What's the impact of that out migration?
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MH: As I said before, a lot of the people that left here, they kept their ties and their children do come back. But the out migration means decreasing population, a continually decreasing population; and it also means an increasingly large number of people who stay here simply because they can't make it any where else. They're not -- they don't have sufficient educational level; they're --. In the face of change you got three choices: adapt, migrate, or die. They're not adaptive enough to be able to migrate, so they stay here even though there's nothing to do except maybe draw welfare or whatever. And at the rate it's going unless something drastic happens, I don't see it getting ...

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