WILLIAMSON, W.Va. — A local book publisher has reprinted one of the earliest journalistic accounts of the now-famous Hatfield and McCoy Feud. Initially published in book form in 1889, An American Vendetta: Story of Barbarism in the United States was published at a time when the feud was still underway, and at a time when Yellow Journalism was commonplace.
“Many people across the country first came to hear of the story through the pages of this book,” Keith Davis, CEO of Woodland Press, told Williamson Daily News. “Penned by New York World reporter Theron C. Crawford, An American Vendetta presents the only known interview with Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield conducted at his cabin in Logan County. The Hatfield cabin and his fort is described in detail, and Cap is also interviewed.”
At the time of Crawford’s writings, the feud was perhaps at its greatest intensity, and passions were running high in the Tug Valley. For example, the brutal massacre at Randall McCoy’s cabin by the Hatfields, which resulted in the death of two of his children, Alifair and Calvin, had taken place just months earlier that same year, on New Year’s Day, 1888.
One week later, on January 8, 1888, Jim Vance was killed near his home by Hatfield archenemy and McCoy advocate, “Bad Frank” Phillips, having been shot in the head at close range. It was in the shadow of this bloody backdrop that Devil Anse, during his interview with Crawford, stressed that he wanted peace with the McCoys—but had no intention of disarming or surrendering to law officers or bounty hunters. Peace, it turns out, was still a few years off.
Appalachian historian Robert Y. Spence once explained that in October 1888, Crawford traveled to southern West Virginia, and was escorted to Logan County by John B. Floyd, a state senator and friend of the Hatfields. The two men actually stayed over at the home of Devil Anse, as the interview process continued into the night. It happened to be the same year that Devil Anse sold his property (in current Mingo County) and moved his family from his cabin along the Tug to Main Island Creek to avoid Kentucky bounty hunters and detectives.
Critics have noted that Crawford, for some unknown reason, comes off with a derogatory tone about the territory—“a barbarous, uncivilized, and wholly savage region”—and also about the Hatfield clan.
According to historian Dean King, in his work, The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys, The True Story: “He [T.C. Crawford] painted a detailed portrait of what he had observed, often in stark and unflattering terms, but Dr. Coleman C. Hatfield, grandson of Cap Hatfield, once wrote in his book, The Tale of the Devil: The Biography of Devil Anse Hatfield: “Crawford’s account of the feud is of interest for perhaps two important reasons: this was the first extensive work depicting the troubles between the families, other than occasional articles that appeared in The Louisville Courier-Journal and other area newspapers; secondly, the fact that Crawford worked in New York City, the information capital of the nation, meant it would receive more attention than other accounts.” Dr. Hatfield also felt that because Crawford’s work was illustrated (by a penman named Graves,) it helped set the image of the mountaineer in popular imagination.
“Due to the timing of Crawford’s writings, his colorful interviews, and his vivid description of the region and the feud participants, this unique volume has invaluable historical significance,” Davis added. “As we celebrate West Virginia’s sesquicentennial and also recognize the 125th year since T.C. Crawford traveled to the furthest reaches of Logan and Mingo Counties, we are delighted to bring this book back into print.”
An American Vendetta is available locally at Reed’s Home Decor at Southside Mall, South Williamson, KY; at the Coal House—Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce in downtown Williamson, WV; and at ARH Gift Shop, 260 Hospital Drive, South Williamson, KY. For additional information, contact Woodland Press, an independent book publishing firm in Chapmanville, or see www.woodlandpress.com.
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