“Daddy said grandpa was a skirt chaser. He said that one time he traded a whole hollow to a man just for a woman.”
Those were the words of Stephen Hatfield, grandson of Tennis Hatfield Sr., former Logan County Sheriff, who himself was the son of the world renowned feudist, William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield. Stephen, whose father was Jack Hatfield, granted this writer an interview a few years ago before his death. He and his wife, Debbie, showed up in my office one day with a box of Hatfield memorabilia that the two wanted me to have. Despite my objections, the two insisted that their health was bad and that none of their immediate family was interested in the various photos and other things they had placed in a cardboard box. Sadly, both of the visitors would die within two years of their visit. Stephen, however, would leave us with some interesting information that not just anyone could or would provide. This information coincides with related articles of days gone by when the Hatfield’s controlled Logan County in more ways than one.
The entire history of Logan County would certainly be different, if it had not been for certain events that led to murders; murders where the accused managed to, frankly, “get away with murder.” For instance, though Don Chafin first became sheriff in 1912, it was while he was a deputy county clerk in 1917 that he shot and killed Frank Kazee, 26, about three miles from Logan on a Mud Fork road in an area that is now known as Hedgeview. Had Chafin been convicted of the cold blooded murder, perhaps there would never have been a “Blair Mountain” battle, or even a reign by the Hatfield’s, Tennis and Joe, both of whom served as back-to-back sheriffs in Logan County from 1924 until 1932. Both men had worked for Chafin while he was sheriff, and Tennis had been partners with him in the operation of an illegal liquor establishment at Barnabus called the “Blue Goose.”
By re-visiting the 1917 murder by Chafin, it appears that political control of Logan was also evident then as well, when at Chafin’s trial the special prosecutor declared that a material witness, Cage Kirk, who was a passenger in the vehicle in which Frank Kazee was shot and killed, “was being held out of the jurisdiction of the court” and he implicated the deputy sheriffs of the county for the abduction. The sheriff at the time was Frank Hurst, brother-in-law of Don Chafin, and was the person who sold the house to Chafin that now stands empty on Main Street in Logan. The controversial structure once served as a Logan public library and was operated by the Logan Woman’s Club, which today still claims ownership. As you should suspect, a jury found Chafin not guilty of murder and in 1920 he was re-elected as sheriff. The Battle of Blair Mountain would follow in 1921.
The Hatfield name was a powerful force in Logan County, though the old man had died January 6, 1921. After Devil Anse’s youngest son, Tennis, spent time in a penitentiary on federal charges of selling moonshine at The Blue Goose Inn, he returned home and thereafter testified against his partner in crime, Don Chafin. While Chafin was headed to prison in 1925, following a long appeal process and a failure to obtain a pardon from Republican President Calvin Coolidge, the Hatfield name still carried much weight, but when Chafin received an unexpected pardon from the Georgia governor after just 10 months of a two-year sentence, Logan County became a battlefield for a Chafin-Hatfield all-out war.
The 1924 election saw every office in Logan County go to the Republicans in the General Election, except for the office of Sheriff where Emmett Scaggs reportedly narrowly defeated Tennis Hatfield. Scaggs, who would later help prosecute Clarence Stevenson for the murder of Mamie Thurman, was supported by Don Chafin, who badly wanted to defeat the man who was trying to send him to prison. But ultimately, it would be Chafin—the so called savior of the town of Logan during the Blair Mountain ordeal—who would cost Scaggs the election.
The Logan Banner described the elections as “….so bitter that at times it endangered the lives of every individual espousing the cause and from which animosities arose that demanded stout hearts to defy.” To the Republican Party it meant the end of gang rule and to the Democrats it meant eviction from a domain they had long dominated. The Banner reported that to the Democrats defeat meant “the shearing off of salaries to the members of the ‘big family,’ the seizure of the last vestige of power and finally utter ruin.”
Allegations of voter fraud was filed by Hatfield in front of the Logan County Court, composed of two Democrats and one Republican, and sitting as a Board of Canvassers. The County Court, which is now called the County Commission, denied a favorable decision to Hatfield. Next, the Hatfield side appealed to Logan Circuit Judge Robert Bland and the Democrat handed down an opinion not favoring the Republicans. Finally, Hatfield’s lawyers tried for relief before the West Virginia Supreme Court and this time was awarded a “writ of mandamus” which compelled the Logan Circuit Court “to complete and furnish proper bills of exceptions” that brought the case before the high court for a ruling.
All of the legal work and many weary hours of producing evidence of Democratic frauds through various witnesses took time, so Scaggs wound up serving as Sheriff for 16 months before the Supreme Court issued a decision. The court’s decision affected the offices of Sheriff, Assessor, one County Commissioner and the office of Justice of the Peace. The Banner reported that “Logan Republicans went wild with joy this morning when news was flashed that the five judges of the State Supreme Court had concurred in the decision” to throw out Mud Fork and Striker precincts, which meant Republicans gained every office.
The decision sharply criticized Don Chafin and seven of his former deputies for intimidating the voters in the Mud Fork district. The Supreme Court ruled that the constitution of the state had been violated by Chafin and his forces. In court remarks, it said the court “regrets many voters have lost their votes but the court thought it was necessary in correcting a fraud.” The final tally showed Hatfield receiving 7,120 votes to Scaggs’ 6,992.
Chafin, the leader of the Democratic Party, and his armed deputies allegedly voted for people at the Mud Fork precincts and with their guns intimidated voters. Chafin even struck one man in the face when he challenged his actions. Chafin reportedly then announced that he was now “running the place.” Striker precinct was thrown out because Democrats simply took over the polling place and refused to allow Republican poll workers on the grounds.
Tennis Hatfield, with a large gathering of friends, anxiously awaited the news from Charleston while in the office of attorney Ira P. Hager, who would become Assistant Prosecuting Attorney and later aid the Hatfield cause by violating the law when Hatfield’s deputies were ordered to destroy the offices of the Coal Valley newspaper in Boone County because the newspaper had opposed the Republicans Party in an election. When the call came in with the Supreme Court ruling, the Banner reported that “a shout of joy went up from the gathering and there was a wild rush into the streets.”
While it was a tremendous victory for the son of a man known worldwide, it would be the beginning of the end of the Hatfield fortune. His ascent to power would lead to many deaths, including the 1930 murder of Logan Police Chief Roy Knotts, who was assonated in what turned out to be an act associated with the gangland power of the Logan County mobsters.
(Part III of this series will be published later and it shall reveal the testimony of an ex-wife of Tennis Hatfield, who sought revenge in a divorce from her “skirt chasing” and drunkard husband.)
BITS AND PIECES
Speaking of elections, Logan has always been strongly Democratic even before West Virginia was formed…..the reason was that most people in the county owned or approved of owning slaves, and that is proven by the election of 1860, when Logan County was much larger than it is…..in that 1860 election, Abraham Lincoln did not get a single vote in Logan County…..a recent state poll shows Donald Trump leading Hillary Clinton in West Virginia with 49 percent of the vote compared to 31 percent for Clinton and 10 percent for Johnson…..my prediction is that Logan County will be 80% or more for Trump and that Johnson will get more votes than Clinton; just remember you heard it here first….. congrats to the Logan Wildcats soccer team for getting its second win of the year in its inaugural season…..and to the football squad’s Braxton Goff, who caught four TD passes in his first game ever for Logan High…..I’ve been around the game of baseball a long time and, while I thought Willie Mays of the SF Giants was a spectacular centerfielder, I can honestly say that the Reds’ Billy Hamilton may be better…..if he could hit like Willie, which he never will, he would be Hall of Fame bound…..unfortunately, I have terrible news to report: according to reliable sources, “bad” heroin has hit our county, as 14 or more heroin overdoses were reported just Thursday night, and I’m now hearing that nearly 60% of all babies born at Logan Regional Hospital are being born addicted to drugs…..our world is crumbling all around us from drug addiction…..nearly every town in West Virginia has what is described as Historic Districts…..when an out-of-towner recently asked me where the town of Logan’s was, I said it starts at the Water Street Bridge and ends at the Water Department at East End…..happened to read where Oklahoma suffered 890 earthquakes last year and has had 375 so far this year…..the story related that there were only two earthquakes in 2008, before the state’s fracking boom…..with all of the abandoned coal mines we have in this area, I sure hope fracking never becomes a part of this area’s economy; the entire county might sink into oblivion…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You can observe a lot just by watching.”—former New York Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra…..while on the subject of baseball, with all of the plays that are being overturned with instant replay, doesn’t that make you wonder how many games in the past were lost due to bad calls?…..same goes for football, which had a lot more money riding on every game bet in Vegas and everywhere else……the 1971 Logan High School basketball team was special, going undefeated in the regular season…..recently, two starters were inducted into the LHS Hall of Fame……another starter, Virdell Banks, told me at a recent class reunion that he was asked to go in with Brent George and Alfred Vance, but he chose to wait to receive the honors when his daughter, Danielle Gardner, does so…..Gardner, who graduated in 2003, was a track star……what most people do not know is that her father, Virdell Banks, broke the long jump record that was previously set by Logan all-time great athlete, James Davidson…..and what Virdell didn’t know was that LHS grads have to wait 20 years before entered into the Hall, so, Virdell, who is 62, should go in next year along with former teammate James Green…..Green not only was the center on the basketball squad, but pitched and played first base, and was the quarterback of the football team…..add to that a nearly straight “A” average in academics, and I say, “put him in coach”…..squirrel hunting season opened Sept. 10th, and this year’s season has been extended one month and will end Feb. 28th for those who like to freeze their tail ends off in the hills…..DID YOU KNOW that Oscar and Louise Townsend sold what was known as the Townsend Hotel to Alvie and Thelma Justice back in 1964?…..the significance here is that the hotel was later named the Justice Hotel at West Logan and Oscar Townsend, Mamie Thurman fans may recall, was a boarder in the house of Harry Robertson, who was Mamie’s lover…..FINAL NOTE: In Iowa, where apparently beer lovers dominate, the fans have a school song that is played after every Iowa football win……the song titled “In Heaven There is No Beer” was played after the team’s win last Saturday over Miami of Ohio…..the quarterback, C.J. Bethard, refused to stand for the team song and was consequently suspended for one game…..Bethard, who said he simply doesn’t like the taste of beer, in my opinion, had the right to do so, as does Colin Kaepernick of the SF 49’ers. And, as Americans, we all have the right to condemn either one you choose…..personally, I think they’re both a little on the “crazy” side…….
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.