Where History Meets Adventure

Matewan History

Throughout the past century, the southern coalfields of West Virginia have seen some of Appalachia’s most rambunctious history. From family feuds to mine wars, Matewan has always been center stage as stories unfold.

Hatfield & Mccoy Feud

The Hatfield-McCoy Feud is one of the most infamous feuds in American history. This feud rocked the Tug Valley from the end of the Civil War to the 1880s. On one side, William Anderson, or “Devil Anse” Hatfield, was the father of 13 children in Logan, West Virginia. Across the river in Pike County, Kentucky, Randolph McCoy lived with his 13 children.

The two families had several conflicts between them. Notably, there was a lawsuit in 1873 between the Hatfields and McCoys regarding the ownership of a pig. In a trial held at Hatfield house by a Hatfield judge, the court ruled in favor of Hatfield, heightening tensions between the families.

The feud would prove to go much deeper than this lawsuit, as the hatred escalated throughout the next decade. This led to a series of conflicts that culminated in 1882 when Tolbert McCoy and his two brothers murdered a Hatfield. Ellison Hatfield was stabbed 26 times and shot. Ellison died on the afternoon of August 9, 1882. That night, the three McCoy men were executed across the Tug River in Matewan. This served as the catalyst for open warfare between the Hatfields and McCoys for the remainder of the 1880s.

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The Battle of Matewan (Matewan Massacre)

On May 19, 1920, Albert C. Felts and 12 of his men were murdered by a group of armed men led by Sheriff Sid Hatfield. This started when Mr. Felts attempted to evict families from property owned by the Stone Mountain Coal Corporation.

Later that evening, Felts and his men returned to a hotel in Matewan to rest before leaving on a 5 p.m. train. However, Sid Hatfield knew where they were heading. This led to a confrontation at the train station where Mr. Felts showed an arrest warrant for Sid Hatfield.

Hatfield seemed calm as he was being escorted into town toward Chambers Hardware Store. As a crowd started to surround Mr. Felts outside of the store, Mayor Testerman proceeded to examine the warrant. During this time, Hatfield shot Mr. Felts in the head.

This led to Hatfield’s men opening fire on Felts' mostly unarmed men and shots being fired. Every man in Felts' crew was killed and some of the bullet holes from the battle can still be seen today in the old post office.

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UMWA/Mine Wars

In 1883, a new railway opened up, providing a major opportunity for growth in the coalfields of southwestern West Virginia. This led to a population increase, especially with European and African American immigration. However, the entire economic system was run by the coal industry, leading to price gouging and low wages. When miners’ wages increased, coal companies would raise store and housing prices to keep miners oppressed.

Mine safety standards in West Virginia fell so far behind that a U.S. soldier had a better statistical chance of surviving World War I than surviving in a West Virginia coal mine. This led to the formation of small unions until the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) formed in 1890.

In 1912, the Kanawha-New River Coalfield operators rejected the UMWA’s wage increases for the mine workers. The workers walked off site on April 18, leading up to one of the most violent strikes in American history, the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strikes.

Later that year, Governor William E. Glasscock declared martial law and dispatched a 1,200-man state militia to disarm the miners and mine guards who had been receiving ammunition and weapons from the UMWA.

On the night of February 7, 1913, an armored train led by coal operator Quin Morton rolled through a miners tent colony at Holly Grove and opened fire, killing around 16 people. Eventually, new governor Henry D. Hatfield would issue a series of terms for settlement of the strike.

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Battle of Blair Mountain

Following the Matewan Massacre, Sid Hatfield became a hero to the miners. A crowd of around 5,000 gathered on the capitol grounds in Charleston to protest the murder of Hatfield and Ed Chambers. UMWA leaders Frank Keeney and Bill Blizzard urged the miners to fight and encouraged a march on Logan.

On August 24, the march began as nearly 5,000 men crossed Lens Creek Mountain. They wore red bandanas, earning the nickname “red necks.” President Harding dispatched World War I hero Henry Bandholtz to Charleston to assess the situation, and meet with Keeney. If the miners continued, each would be guilty of treason. But many kept marching forward after a raid by state police in Sharples the night of the 27.

Blair Mountain surrounds Logan as a natural barrier. As soon as the miners entered the area, fighting began. Chafin’s forces were under the command of Colonel William Eubank of the National Guard. On the other side, Minister James E. Wilburn organized a small armed group to support the miners. Extreme warfare ensued, including Eubank’s troops brining in planes dropping bombs.

President Harding sent in federal troops on the first of September, including an air squadron. At least 12 miners and four men from Chafin’s army were killed and the defeat of the miners temporarily ended the UMWA’s organization efforts in the southern coalfields.

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The Historic Landmark

On February 18, 1997, the Matewan Historic District was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior. The ceremony took place 77 years after the Battle of Matewan on May 19, 1997. The landmark recognized Matewan for its significant role in the early days of labor organization in America.

The process to designate the Matewan Historic District began in 1987 with a grant from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History to survey and inventory the historic resources in Matewan. In 1992, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funded the preparation of the district’s National Register of Historic Places nomination. That award was received in April 27, 1993. In 1994, Robert C. Byrd worked with the Matewan Developmental Center to prepare the National Historic Landmark nomination to be submitted in February of 1995. The nomination finally made its way before the board in December 1996 and was officially announced the following February. Matewan became the seventeenth designation in the state of West Virginia and only the second in the country under the American Labor Theme Study.

Citation: The National Historic Landmark. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2015, from http://matewan.com/History/nhl.htm

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The Tug Valley

The Tug River Valley is home to the Great Appalachian Valley and the Ohio River. Its history goes back to the French and Indian War during the Big Sandy campaign in 1756. Commander Andrew Lewis was to move quickly down the valley with his men and conduct a search and destroy mission, but the rough terrain proved to be too difficult. Many of his men turned back, and those remaining boiled leather thongs or “tugs” to combat starvation – hence the name, Tug Fork.

The environmental conditions of the valley influenced the drawing of the Virginia-Kentucky border in 1792. Eventually, in 1863 it would become the West Virginia-Kentucky border while also being divided into a third piece for Virginia because West Virginia did not want a third panhandle.

During the 1790s, settlers from Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland developed a mixed economy based on farming, hunting and harvesting forest resources. However, as late as 1890, most residents in the Tug Valley had to leave the area for basic business services until the Norfolk & Western Railroad was built. The railroad stimulated growth in Matewan, Williamson, and the surrounding region. The railroad both helped and hurt the area as it also caused people to shift farther away from the Tug Valley into Charleston, Huntington, and Louisville.

Citation: Williams, J. (n.d.). The Tug Valley. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://matewan.com/History/tug valley.htm

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Mountain Culture

The culture of the Tug Valley region was shaped by a culture of warfare. The settlers feuded with the Native American Indian population, therefore, there was little cultural interchange. The culture the settlers brought was western European in broad derivation, the settlers being predominantly of British and German decent. Tug pioneers brought distinctly American patterns of non-intensive land use and American ideals of government.

Mountaineers were not a lawless people, instead taking a utilitarian view of politics and the law, resorting freely to the courts, and seeking whatever advantage government might bestow. Left alone, Tug people became more like themselves. They were overwhelmingly white with negligible slave or free black populations, almost entirely Protestant, and they spoke English which grew increasingly archaic by outside standards.

Timbering was the first modern industry to come to the area beginning in the 19th century. During this period, a large influx of immigrants made their way to the area—predominantly from western Europe. During the post-war era, mine mechanization and other economic changes pushed the Tug population in size and broad demographics in what may be viewed as a new direction—or an old one. Although the demographics of the area have changed over time, descendants of the settlers and the core population of centuries ago can be found in the area.

Citation: Sullivan, K. (n.d.). Mountain Culture and Tug Valley Life. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://matewan.com/History/mtn culture.htm

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Mining Life

Similar to other areas of southern West Virginia, the Tug Valley has been shaped by the bounds of mining life. Although coal mining in southern West Virginia was dark, dirty, and dangerous work, it appealed to many hardworking men.

Before new machines were created after World War II, mining was a highly labor intensive industry. Mining towns began to emerge after the railroad was brought through the hills of West Virginia.

Isolation bred close-knit ties of family, neighborhood, church, and home. Forbidden by a superstition from entering the mines, coalfield women built elaborate support networks based around the work rhythms of the weekly household chores. Relations between management and miners also varied widely, but helping to lessen tensions was the widespread practice of the early operators actually living in the mining town itself. Additionally, when coal tonnage stayed high, seldom was there labor unrest. But owing to the nature of the industry, sudden drops in demand could throw miners out of work, producing the potential for trouble.

The rural nature of the coalfields meant that there was little or no law enforcement, and county government was nonexistent or inefficient. Although such violence was hardly the norm, ties between miners and company could deteriorate rapidly and with tragic consequences, such as the events in Matewan during the spring of 1920.

Citation: McGehee, S. (n.d.). Mining Life. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://matewan.com/History/minelife.htm

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The Floods

In 1974, a United States Army Corps of Engineer planner described Matewan as having the most severe flooding problem in America. Since 1949, Matewan flooded 36 times.

In 1953 alone, between February 15 and March 15, four floods damaged the community. Over the years, the floods have varied in degree from the minor backing up of Mate Creek to the catastrophic floods of 1957, 1963, 1977, and 1984.

Flooding has plagued the Tug Valley since its earliest history. In 1863, the worst flood in 100 years devastated the region. The pioneer settlers of the Matewan area avoided the ravages of the Tug by building on high ground well away from the river. The May 1984 flood, the region's second-largest flood of this century, again ravaged the town. Having suffered 33 floods in 35 years, there was less in property and human spirit for the river to take. With each flood, more community members left town. These people were good citizens and good neighbors, each making a contribution to the town. Since the floodwall has been built, community members have begun to return to the area.

Citation: McCoy, R. (n.d.). The Floods. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://matewan.com/History/floods.htm

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website_pic.jpeg250px-Hatfieldsmccoys2.jpgThe Cinemas

The small town of Matewan has been the spotlight for two major films.

John Sayles directed Matewan the movie in 1987. The film tells the story of a Union organizer named Joe Kenehan. The plot concerns a fictional 1920 labor action against the Stone Mountain Coal Company of Matewan.

Chris Cooper plays a former Industrial Workers of the World member sent by the United Mine Workers to organize the miners into a strike. Cooper has problems achieving solidarity at first; additionally, he is plagued by the underhanded activities of company spy Bob Gunton and by a goonish detective agency hired by the company to "keep the peace.”

Sayles’ recreation of the era in which Matewan is set is impeccable. Adding to the authenticity are several rousing pro-labor songs, written in the style of the period by Sayles himself.

More recently, Matewan has been in the spotlight for the History Channel’s Hatfields & McCoys miniseries. This miniseries, featuring a cast led by Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as the family patriarchs, tells the story of the feud that nearly launched a war between Kentucky and West Virginia. The series debuted in 2012 and won five Emmy Awards including honors for Costner (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie) and Tom Berenger (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie). Costner also won a Golden Globe (Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television) in 2013.

Citation: Matewan—The Movie. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://matewan.com/History/movie.htm

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Notable Descendants

devil_anse2jpeg.jpgDevil Anse Hatfield- William Anderson Hatfield was born in 1839 in Logan County, West Virginia. Hatfield married Levicy Chafin, the daughter of a neighboring farmer. Right after they married, Hatfield signed up to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War. After the war, he returned to the area to settle down with his wife and began working in the timber and real estate business. Devil Anse was a strong and fierce leader, which made him the Hatfield patriarch during the Hatfield & McCoy feud.

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randall_mccoy_jpeg2.jpgRandall McCoy- Randall McCoy grew up in the Tug River Valley, marked between the Kentucky and West Virginia border. McCoy grew up in poverty and learned to hunt and farm. In 1849, McCoy married his first cousin, Sarah "Sally" McCoy. They settled on a 300-acre farm in Pike County, Kentucky. McCoy joined the Confederates during the Civil War and fought alongside Devil Anse. It has been said that the famous feud began after Randall McCoy accused Devil Anse’s cousin Floyd Hatfield of stealing one of his hogs.

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sid_hatfield.jpgSid Hatfield- Sid Hatfield was born in Pikeville, Kentucky, in 1891. Hatfield is famous for his involvement during the Matewan Massacre. When Baldwin-Felts detectives came to the town to evict tenants, Hatfield put a stop to the orders. He was also involved in the shootout that occurred in downtown Matewan.

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john-hendricks-480.jpgJohn Hendricks- John Hendricks was born in Matewan, West Virginia, in 1952. He lived in Matewan for eight years until his family moved to Alabama in 1952. He attended the University of Alabama in Huntsville and after graduation founded Discovery Channel. He served as a chairman of the company for 32 years until he retired in 2014.

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CharlieMcCoy_profile.jpgCharlie McCoy- Charlie McCoy was born in Oak Hill, West Virginia, in 1941 and has played with notable musicians including Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Chet Adkins. He has appeared on several shows including Hee Haw, The Johnny Cash Show and multiple Country Music Award Shows. In 2009, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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In their own words

"A must see..."

“The museum was so nice to visit, well put together story of the area. The folks inside were extra nice and told some great stories! A must see if you are in the area.”

-Mary from Walton Hills, OH, about the Depot Museum