Cap Hatfield led an interesting life

By Dwight Williamson - Guest Columnist

Some of the most renowned residents ever in Logan County, W.Va., have never really left.

In fact, though their spirit’s may have long ago vanished, their human remains still belong to the people of the county in which they chose as their final resting places. I am speaking of the mighty Devil Anse Hatfield clan, nearly all of whom are buried at the Hatfield Cemetery at Sarah Ann. However, one widely known member of the feuding Hatfield’s, Cap Hatfield, who led a rather picturesque life, is buried a short distance from the rest of his clan at Stirrat on what was the home of his stepson, Joe Glenn.

Named after his infamous father, William Anderson “Cap” Hatfield II is buried alongside his wife, Nancy Elizabeth, in what is known today as the “Cap Hatfield Cemetery.” Although some reportedly considered him as a “lawless murderer” during the Hatfield-McCoy feudal period, there is much more to the life of Cap Hatfield than most people know. Like most of the clan, especially Cap’s brothers (Joe and Tennis) Cap Hatfield led one very interesting life.

Cap has been described as the most dangerous of the Hatfield clan, particularly during the feud, and was a key figure in the New Year’s Eve assault on the McCoy’s Kentucky homestead in which the home was set on fire and a 16-year old McCoy daughter was shot dead trying to escape, while her brother was killed, and Mrs. McCoy knocked “senseless” as she tried escaping the burning home. Her husband, Randall, did escape the scene and would live on to continue a feud that lasted nearly a half century.

Many stories, books and even the award winning television mini-series about the feud have been presented, but the story of Cap Hatfield has never been told; mainly, because he regretted some of his actions and he never agreed to anyone writing a story about his life, despite requests, the last one in 1928, just two years before his death. However, in a 1929 front page Logan Banner story celebrating his 65th birthday, there was some interesting information printed that helps define Hatfield’s life. About 18 months later, Cap Hatfield would die from what was described as a brain tumor. At the time prior to his death, he was the oldest living Hatfield participant of the feud.

The Banner described Cap as “the most active figure in the Hatfield-McCoy feud,” and that “his name was familiar to newspaper readers throughout the country before he was out of his teens.” As one of 13 children raised by Devil Anse and Levisa Hatfield, there was no time for any formal education, therefore, at the time of his marriage when he was 18 to Nancy (Smith) Glenn, he could not read or write, but under her tutelage he not only learned to read, but became an extensive reader. To round out his education, The Banner reported that Cap studied law, taking a correspondence course, and was admitted to the bar association in 1905.

Hatfield reportedly helped in liberal measures to encourage the education of his children, “to provide for them the advantages that were denied to him.” His oldest son, Coleman Hatfield, became a lawyer after attending what was then known as “Normal College” in Athens, Ohio, and West Virginia University. Another son, L.W. “Elba” Hatfield was elected Justice of the Peace and was the presiding judge in the preliminary hearing of Clarence Stephenson, who was later convicted of the murder of Mamie Thurman in 1932.

Another son, Robert Hatfield, who served as deputy and county jailer under back-to-back Logan sheriffs Joe and Tennis Hatfield, was described as a civil and mining engineer, who was educated at Tri-State College in Indiana. Levisa, Cap’s oldest daughter, no doubt after Cap’s mother, lived in Philadelphia in 1929, while another daughter, Louise, (Mrs. Charles A. Carter) at the time lived in Miami, Fla. The Banner reported that the younger daughters, Flossie and Muriel, resided with their parents, but “had been teachers in the county for the past few years.”

In 1925, Cap Hatfield was still a respected deputy even at his advanced age, according to the local newspaper, which reported, “Today, and for several years past, as a deputy sheriff ‘Cap’ has been an effective agent in preserving peace and good order in his community. His mere presence is a powerful deterrent to those who at times are inclined to give free reign to their wild impulses.”

It is interesting to note that although thousands of visitors have been to the legendary Hatfield Cemetery at Sarah Ann to look in amazement at the life-sized statue of the patriarch leader of the clan, who is surrounded by his family at the old cemetery on the hill, few even know how to get to Cap Hatfield’s gravesite.

It is also interesting to report that after Cap’s wife died twelve years after him in 1942, there was a property dispute among the immediate family that led to a chancery lawsuit that, according to Logan County Clerk records, was entered Nov. 7, 1946. The lawsuit, which was styled “Louise Hatfield Carver vs. John M. Glenn, and others,” was not officially placed in the deed books or partitioned out and divided into separate parcels of land until July 18, 1953. Legendary Judge C.C. Chambers was the presiding official who oversaw the properties that were partitioned to Robert and Mary Hatfield, Muriel Hatfield Beres, L.W. “Elba” Hatfield, and Joe and Georgia Glenn. The property consisted of 79.124 acres and was originally surveyed for Nancy Hatfield in 1923. The official cemetery, which has a right-of-way leading to it across some of these properties, is on record as the “Nancy and Cap Hatfield Cemetery.” A concrete bridge across Island Creek to Cap and Nancy’s old home place still bears the name of the widely known and well-respected, William Anderson “Cap” Hatfield. The vacant land now stands as a beacon to those few people who know of its whereabouts on a lonesome portion of a highway named after a NBA basketball great — Jerry West. Route 44 up Island Creek is so named because the Los Angeles Lakers star wore the number “44” during his playing days.

The following letter was reportedly published in the Feb. 24, 1891 Wayne County News. It shows that long before his death Cap Hatfield was ready to stop the bitter fighting, and just how far he had come from being an 18-year-old killer, who could not read or write. Here’s the letter:

“I ask your valuable paper for these few lines. A general amnesty has been declared in the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud, and I wish to say something of the old and the new. I do not wish to keep the old feud alive and I suppose that everybody, like myself, is tired of the names of Hatfield and McCoy, and the “Border Warfare” in time of peace. The war spirit in me has abated and I sincerely rejoice at the prospect of peace. I have devoted my life to arms. We have undergone a fearful loss of noble lives and valuable property in the struggle. We being, like Adam, not the first transgressors. Now I propose to rest in a spirit of peace.”

By Dwight Williamson

Guest Columnist

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for the Logan (W.Va.) Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County magistrate.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for the Logan (W.Va.) Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County magistrate.