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The Tale of The Devil,
This review is from: The Tale of the Devil: The Biography of Devil Anse Hatfield (Hardcover)
A collaborative effort of Coleman C. Hatfield and Robert Y. Spence, The Tale of The Devil purports to be a biography of Anderson Hatfield, more commonly known as Devil Anse Hatfield, of Hatfield and McCoy fame, but it's more than that. Assisted by original manuscripts from Coleman A. Hatfield, a grandson of Devil Anse, the authors describe several significant members of the Hatfield family in their changing mileaus.
Not intended as an account of the infamous Appalachian feud, The Tale of The Devil nevertheless describes the issues surrounding the feud from an insider's perspective, admittedly from the vantage point of a Hatfield, yet respectful of the McCoys, and written with an awareness of the existence another point of view.
"Geography explains people." The story goes on, beyond this opening statement in the forward to prove the truth of it, including a description of the geography in which the events will take place, and of the people who lived there, in the area along the Appalachian mountain chain, near the Kentucky border in what is now known as Logan County, West Virginia.
The authors depend heavily upon research conducted by Coleman Alderson Hatfield, the son of William Anderson (Cap) Hatfield, and the eldest surviving grandson of the legendary Devil Anse Hatfield. Coleman A. Hatfield was a lawyer with a photographic memory and a passion for the truth of his heritage, even when it wasn't pretty.
Chapter one begins where you might expect, with the birth of Anse Hatfield in a log cabin on the Straight Fork of Mate Creek, a tributary of the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River which marked the border of western Virginia, now known as West Virginia, and Kentucky.
Then the authors back up briefly, introducing the reader to the lives of Ephraim (Big Eph) and Nancy Hatfield, the Devil's parents, and describing the importance of the land to the people who lived there.
While we know Anse Hatfield as the leader of the Hatfield family during its feud with the McCoys, the Devil would rather have been known for what he enjoyed most, bear hunting. His first bear hunt took place in the fall of 1854, when he was fifteen years of age. Out of bullets, the bear treed, he determined to stick it out. That he did, for two days, until his brother finally found him, and went to get some bullets. Anse Hatfield was to kill many more bear during his long life.
While the book is a biography of the Devil Anse Hatfield, the reader is invited into what is known of the lives of many of the people around him, including the first Ephraim (Eph-of-All) Hatfield, his great-grandfather, who died when Anse was sixteen years old.
A great deal of space is devoted to effectively describing the setting in which the Hatfield family lived, so that the reader can understand decisions that have so often been misinterpreted.
Other Hatfield family members, friends, and allies that you will learn of include Abner Vance, Anse's great-grandfather on his mother's side of the family, who was executed in 1819 for the murder of a man who had taken advantage of his daughter.
Other significant Hatfields appearing in these pages are Anse Hatfield's eldest children, Johnse and Cap Hatfield, both of whom were born during the Civil War. Often described by feud authors as being the meanest of the Hatfields, Cap Hatfield is given a human face by the authors, although not excused for all of his actions.
Cap's older brother, Johnse, was popular with women and had frequent love affairs, including one with Roseanna McCoy, the daughter of Randal McCoy, which many authors have cited as the cause of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. The authors dismiss this theory, pointing out that Johnse's first wife was Nancy McCoy, the daughter of Harmon McCoy.
Around 1870, Anse Hatfield took in a young man by the name of Dan Christian, who became like a brother to Johnse and Cap. During the later feud years, Dan was to save the life of Cap and his stepson, Joseph Glenn.
Readers of this book will learn about James Nighbert and Henry Clay Ragland, both of whom were to have a lot to do with the changing economic landscape of Logan County.
While various authors have traced the beginning of the Hatfield and McCoy feud to the Civil War, and the fact that the Hatfields were mostly in the area of southwestern Virginia, a Confederate state, while the McCoys resided in Kentucky, a Union state, the authors of The Tale of The Devil point out that many of the McCoys fought on the side of the Confederacy, and that Anse Hatfield and Randal McCoy were together involved in the killing of General Bill France, an action that was indirectly connected to the feud only because of events later in the war and by the impact it had on the lives of the two men.
While Randal McCoy was a Confederate, his brother, Asa Harmon McCoy was a northern sympathizer and close friend of General France.
Learning that Asa Harmon McCoy was was seeking revenge against Anse Hatfield for the killing of France, Jim Vance, Anse's uncle on his mother's side, took preventative action, capturing McCoy and, perhaps accidentally, killing him.
The authors cite, as the beginning of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, the week of August 7, 1882, when Ellison Hatfield, Anse's younger brother, was shot in the back and killed by a group which included Tolbert, Pharmer, and Randal McCoy, Jr., the sons of Randal McCoy.
That night, someone took the McCoy brothers across the Tug where they bound them to pawpaw bushes and shot them dead. Devil Anse Hatfield was suspected of the crime, but was never convicted of murdering the McCoys.
And the feud was on. The authors follow its progress, describing the roles played by several other family members, friends, and others.
The book doesn't end with a conclusion to the feud, however. The end, in fact, is gradual and uncertain, while the reader shares in the changing times and politics of Appalachia, the birth and actions of other Hatfields who were to have an impact on their worlds.
The Tale of the Devil includes a mixture of humor, darkness, and insight, told with a sense of reality that can only result from familiarity.
Anyone with an interest in American history will enjoy this book, and those who desire to learn more about a tale of which so much has been written will appreciate learning the truth about the Devil Anse Hatfield.