'Devil Anse'
Hatfield monument


In 1888, when he was almost fifty,
Notorious, wanted, and bone-weary of the feud,
William Anderson ("Devil Anse") Hatfield
For greater safety and in hopes of tranquillity
Moved his family from their old homestead
On the West Virginia side of Tug Fork
Twenty-six miles upcountry
Across mountain ridges and along narrow valleys
To a rude vastness deep in Logan County,
Distant from Kentucky and the McCoy clan,
A wooded, seclusive, undeveloped tract
Of several hundred acres on Island Creek,
Where he would live for the rest of his life.
The man of twenty-one (James Lewis Curry)
And the girl of six (Lucinda Chafin)
Who would become my maternal grandparents
Were then living on tributaries of Island Creek:
Lewis on Cow Creek, Cindy on Pine.
Cindy's father, Joshua Chafin, happened
To be a first cousin of Anse's wife,
Levisa (called Vicy) Chafin Hatfield.
On Island Creek the Hatfields lived for some years
In a newly-built, puncheon-floored cabin having
Two large rooms, each with a stone fireplace;
A passageway between the front room and the kitchen;
And a loft. Around the fireplace in the front room
Sat a number of straight-back chairs with seats
Of woven hickory bark. To sleep the large family
And any who might stay overnight there were beds
In the front room, the passageway, and the loft.
Back of the house, to be used in case of attack,
Stood a windowless fort, low-roofed and constructed
Of huge logs, with one massive door and portholes
To fire from. Armed lookouts and patrols guarded
All approaches to the area constantly.


By Anse's reckoning the move to Island Creek
Took place when his twelfth child and eighth son,
Born February 10, 1888, was six months old.
The child was named E. Willis Wilson Hatfield
After the incumbent governor:
E. (for Emmanuel) Willis Wilson, popularly
Known as Windy Wilson, a fiery individual
Sympathetic to the Hatfields; he had refused
To honor the requisition made five months earlier
By Governor Simon Bolivar Buckner of Kentucky
For the arrest and remand to Pike County
(There to stand trial on the charge of murder)
Of Anse and others on the Hatfield of side of the feud.
Governor Buckner would later deny the requisition
Of Governor Wilson for the return to West Virginia
Of Hatfield kinsmen seized outside of Kentucky
And held in the Pike County jail for trial by jury.
(Those tried were found guilty, and with one exception
Were imprisoned for life. Ellison Mounts,
The bastard son of Ellison Hatfield,
Anse's older brother
Whose murder by three McCoys had started the feud
After years of enmity between the two families,
Was hanged at the edge of Pikeville in 1889.
A piece of the rope was sent to Anse as a warning.)
Henry D. Hatfield, a son of Anse's
Younger brother Elias, would become a surgeon
And the owner of a hospital in Huntington;
West Virginia's fourteenth governor (1913-17);
And a United States senator (1929-35).
Anse's son Elliot would become a medical doctor
With a practice in Charleston, the state capital.
Two other sons, Joseph and Tennis, were each
At different times elected sheriff of Logan County
And served in that locally powerful office.
Willis, now eighty-eight, is the last of the family,
The sole survivor of thirteen children.
Willis lives on Rum Creek, in a small frame house.
He gets around well and dresses dapperly,
Is partial to bow ties and English tweeds.
He owns a horse, though he no longer rides,
And is still much attracted to the ladies.


As the danger to them from bounty hunters
And their mortal enemies in Kentucky gradually receded,
A legal and political stalemate having developed
Which brought a kind of peace to the border country,
The Hatfields on Island Creek were able to relax
The martial rigor of their security measures
And in time lead ostensibly normal lives.
Island Creek was then sparsely settled,
Self-sufficient for the most part, and little traveled
Except near the mouth, at the town of Logan,
Where the creek waters merge with the Guyandot River
By one side of a large island, the site
Of countless prehistoric Indian villages.
From Logan to the Hatfield place was fifteen miles
Of climbing dirt road and watery crossings.
A stranger's progress up the Creek in daytime
Would be announced by a series of code birdcalls
And other animal sounds resounding to confound
And thwart any adversary rash enough to come there.
But the fear of sudden and ferocious attack remained.
Anse and his immediate family were marked persons.
Randolph McCoy had reportedly vowed to broil
And eat a steak carved from one of Anse's sons.
(one could hardly blame him for it if he did:
The Hatfields had killed five of his children.)
Johnson ("Johnse") Hatfield, Anse's firstborn
And the lover of Rosanna McCoy, was once captured,
But before he was securely in the enemy's hands
Was rescued by a force of Hatfields on horseback,
Anse at their head, after Rosanna's famous ride
Through night and storm to tell Anse what had happened.
"Cap" Hatfield, Anse's second son and namesake,
Would plow with a Winchester strapped on his back.
When out of doors and not otherwise armed,
Anse would always wear or keep at hand
A roomy leather pouch with a shoulder strap,
Tailored most likely from a saddlebag,
Whose full contents people speculated about.
Willis told me that the pouch held chewing tobacco
(A plug of Snaps, Brown's Mule, or Sweepstakes)
And a loaded Smith & Wesson .38-caliber pistol.
On those occasions when he appeared in town,
Be it Logan, Williamson, Huntington, or Charleston,
Anse would travel with vigilant circumspection.
Whenever possible he would stand or sit with his back
To a wall or tree, and would leave a room or site
Rather than go into the midst of assembled people.


Anse made considerable money from logging
On his own and other timberland in Logan County,
Which the stretched clear to Kentucky and Virginia,
Before the fission which produced Mingo County in 1895.
The log cabin and the grim fort disappeared,
Replaced by a dignified two-story white frame house,
L-shaped with a gabled porch-on-porch in front.
The heavy iron-and-concrete bridge over the creek
That curved before the Hatfield home was not,
As a few scribbling outlanders laughably thought,
A cunning drawbridge over a natural moat.
Like my grandparents, and Lewis in particular,
Anse was the soul of hospitality.
His having been an arch feudist known
By reputation in many distant places
(Even in vaguely imagined New York City,
One of whose newspapers, the World,
Had sent ace reported T. C. Crawford
To interview him in 1888)
Joined with his natural charm and vitality
To make dining at his home a piquant experience
Enjoyed alike by relative, friend, and stranger.
Lewis and Cindy with their children often visited
Anse and his family, being received always
With much warmth and affection, food and drink.
Willis considered Lewis his best friend.
Isa Mae (my mother's sister) would say
In later years that Aunt Vicy had fixed
The best cabbage she had ever tasted.
Wild and domestic meats, vegetables from the garden,
Pone, biscuits, corn bread, or boiling-water bread
(All made with fresh stone-ground meal or flour
From grain Anse took to Major Ed Peck's water mill),
Soft white butter, gravy, relishes, honey,
Jellies and preserves, cakes and pies,
And warm ambrosial berry cobbler with dip
Were consumed in prodigious quantities
From pans and dishes crowded on the long dining table.
Buttermilk, sweet milk, or strong "b'iled" coffee,
Whichever was wanted, would be served each person.
Menfolk who so desired (and most did)
Could privately "take a dram" (or two, or three)
Of the clear, heady, unregulated corn whiskey
Made in abundance by Anse and several of his sons.
Its quality was locally famous and much appreciated.
The Hatfields provided food and lodging for the night
To occasional travelers, such as iterant preachers
And swarthy pack peddlers hard to understand
But as full of news as they were of wares,
And once (as later recounted) to William G. Baldwin,
Head of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency,
Who had come in disguise using an assumed name.
Anse found him out, but gave the discomfited man
Safe passage out of the Creek the next morning
After a leisurely breakfast Vicy had prepared
Of ham, eggs, biscuits, gravy, honey, and molasses.


Though he could also be fierce, as people knew,
Anse was ordinarily gentle, affable, and kind.
He loved to talk with everybody and to hear any news.
His eyesight was exceptionally keen as demonstrated
In target shooting even late in life;
And he read men with the same sharpness.
Like Cindy, to whom Pine Creek had afforded no school,
He was illiterate but had much mother wit.
Contrary to the conception I once had of him,
Anse was not what is called a really big man.
He missed by about two inches being six feet tall.
"He was awful strong and wiry," said Joe Hatfield.
He kept his weight at around 175 pounds.
He was very proud of his hair and full beard,
Grizzled now but once as black as a male cowbird.
In idle moments he would take out a comb
And carefully comb the chest-length beard.
"He had brown eyes," a daughter-in-law said,
"And I remember to this day how snapping they were."
Vicy had blue eyes. Willis's eyes are gray.
Vicy could both read and write "a little."
She was friendly, "sweet," but "quiet-turned."
By today's standards she would be seen as overweight,
But then she was only comfortably "medium."
Like most older women of her time and standing,
She wore dresses modestly dark with full skirts
That barely cleared the floor when she walked,
With scant trim, long sleeves and high necklines.
She would not allow playing cards in her house,
And one of her favorite sayings was this:
"A pound of fear is worth a bushel of love."


The Hatfields kept not only the expected
Hogs, cows, chickens, ducks, and geese
But also peafowl, guineas, a few racoons,
And two full-grown black bears raised from cubhood,
One named Fanny and the other Bill.
Anse would spar with the bears to entertain visitors.
The cubs (two of a litter of four) were given
To Anse by Don Hinchman, who had killed their dam
In self-defense. (The others fell to Jim Wagner,
A famous blacksmith in Logan and a jokester,
Who kept them for a few years as they grew adult.
He would take them out for comical drives
As if they were people and get them drunk on liquor.
He later slaughtered them and sold the meat.)
Bill was peaceable and allowed to wander about
Within limits. Fanny, though, was irascible
And either confined to the bear pen
Or, weather permitting, tethered in the yard
On a long trace chain (a heavy kind
Used in plowing with a horse). When Joe Caldwell,
Son of Anse's daughter Elizabeth, was a boy,
Fanny once chased him up a pear tree
And then, as he screamed, came climbing after him.
She got so mean that Anse finally
Traded her off to a preacher for a one-eyed mule.
(Which Willis says was purblind.)
When a crew of men got her into a crate
And loaded it onto the preacher's wagon,
Ulysses S. Browning among those helping,
Fanny somehow managed with one swipe of a paw
To leave Ulysses with a bare behind.
Bill one day dropped over dead by the garden fence.
Peacocks walking in the yard would suddenly flourish
Their tails like outsized psychedelic warrants.
Children could watch the masked raccoons daintily
Dabble their food in water before eating it.
The Hatfields owned beautiful horses, my mother said,
And when she was a girl it thrilled her to see
Young Hatfield men gallop by on swift horses.
Every so often Anse would want to go on a bear hunt
And would get together a party of men to go with him.
They and the dogs would be gone for several days.
Lewis now and then went along on such a hunt,
As did my father when a young bachelor.
Anse was a great hunter of all kinds of game.
He practically "lived in the woods," as Willis says.
His favorite company was a hound named Watch,
A black-and-tan male with a yellow head,
Famous for dispatching fiercely any snakes come upon.
Anse in his prime once killed a wild bear solely
By stabbing it to death with a hunting knife.
(Willis adds that it was only a young bear.)


In the morning of New Year's Day, 1921,
Anse felt unwell after eating breakfast.
He went out on the front porch and sat for a while.
His grandson Joe Caldwell, Betty's boy, sat near him
To keep him company. They exchanged a few remarks.
Anse fingered the cane he now used. Presently
Joe came inside with the news that his grandfather
Was unable to speak. He had suffered a stroke.
He was carried to his bed, and a doctor was brought.
Five days later he succumbed to pneumonia.
The New York Times, like many other newspapers
In all parts of the country, announced his death,
but misreported his age. He was eighty-one.
Lewis and Cindy, along with my parents and others
Of the family, were among the estimated five thousand
Mourners and friends and sensation-craving spectators
Who attended his wintry, open-air funeral.
The still body lay in a coffin of golden oak.
Directed by the singing master Sim Thompson,
A choir of men and women sang a cappella
Old hymns from the shape-note books.
Uncle Dyke Garrett, a lifelong friend of Anse
And fellow soldier during the Civil War,
Who had baptized Anse in the waters of Island Creek
The same year that Troy and Elias met their deaths,
Conducted the service assisted by Green McNeely,
Another famous and beloved mountain preacher.
In a mixture of snow and freezing rain
The coffin was laboriously carried up
To the gravesite. Under black umbrellas
It was opened for a final view of Anse,
Then closed and lowered into a steel vault.


Not long after their father's death,
Joe and Tennis Hatfield commissioned
Through a monument company in Huntington
A life-sized statue of Anse, of Carrara marble,
Fashioned in Italy using photographs they provided;
For this they paid $3500.
The statue was hauled by mule team on the last leg
Of its long journey to the Hatfield family cemetery
On Island Creek, above the hamlet of Sarah Ann.
The family has professed to see a likeness of Anse
In the bearded figure of Latinized visage,
Expressionless, arms at the sides, constrained
In frock coat, leggings, and other dry goods,
that stands on a tiered pedestal bearing the surname
HATFIELD in large letters, by the head of his grave
And that of Vicy, who followed him there in 1929.
Ten of the children and members of their families
Are buried in adjoining or nearby graves.
Vandals or souvenir hunters have hacked a chunk
From the statue's backside, have unscrewed and stolen
The draped classical urns that formerly topped
The pillarlike twin monuments of Troy and Elias,
The sons killed in a gunfight at Boomer in 1911.
Once in a great while the statue is sandblasted
To remove dark stains brought about by weather
And secretions from the indigenous trees around.
A State historical marker by the highway below
Prompts tourists to climb the steep, rock road
Up to the cemetery. They photograph Anse's monument
And leave behind on the path in front of the graves
Paper and plastic waste from their camera film.
Dog mess quickly decays and disappears,
But their plastic droppings remain indefinitely.
It is probably better to rest in unvisited tombs.

Anse On Island Creek and Other Poems; Paul Curry Steele; Mountain State Press; Charleston, West Virginia; 1981
photograph by Robert T. Johnson


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