By Dwight Williamson
A stringent look into the history of Logan County will reveal that from 1924 until 1932 two of Devil Anse Hatfield’s sons pretty much ruled the county, but it should be pointed out that the “dynamic duo” really was just following up on the practices of their predecessor, Sheriff Don Chafin, who previously had been declared as “King” of Logan County.
Although most people know of Chafin’s defiant stand against the marching coal miners at Blair Mountain, it should be realized as to how one man could ascertain so much power. The Chafin name had been prominent in Logan County long before Don Chafin became the youngest person ever to serve as Logan County Assessor in 1908 at the age of twenty-one. His father was elected sheriff of the county in 1894 when Don was just seven years old. For all of Don’s life, Chafin family members or their business cronies had occupied most important public positions in Logan county. Accordingly, Don Chafin would wind up spending most of his adult life serving in public office and, —along with some wise investments—he became filthy rich before moving from Logan County in 1934.
In 1912, when the coal industry was beginning to boom and unionization was spreading in many parts of the nation, Don Chafin ran for sheriff of Logan County promising to rid the county of the hated Baldwin-Felts mine guards who were hired by coal companies to make certain no unions could be formed in the Logan coal fields and to evict families from coal camp homes. Chafin was elected, and kept his promise, but then set into motion a plan whereby the coal companies paid Chafin for special deputies, whose job it was to do exactly what the Baldwin-Felts thugs had done— keep the miners from organizing or joining a union.
His brother-in-law, Frank Hurst, became sheriff after that, while Chafin was elected County Clerk and served four years. In 1920 Chafin was elected again as sheriff and the Blair Mountain Battle followed. All the while, Chafin was collecting from a half cent to a penny for each ton of coal produced in the county. Deputies were paid from this fund and Chafin pocketed his part. By 1921, Chafin told a senate investigating committee that his net worth was about $350,000.
Over the years, Chafin, and especially the Hatfield’s, had been able to make money by gaining protection for their illegal liquor operations during the Prohibition era, while hundreds of other illegal competitors were being arrested almost on a daily basis. Devil Anse Hatfield and his family had always been a political force even before the killing of his brother, Ellison, on that fateful Election Day at Blackberry Creek, Kentucky in 1882. Devil Anse’s wife, Levisa, was, in fact, a Chafin, so the Hatfield’s and Don Chafin were part of the same family. These mutual ties, and the fact that both men favored alcohol, led to Tennis, Devil Anse’s youngest son, and Don becoming business partners in what was known as the “Blue Goose” Dance Hall at Barnabus near Omar.
When Tennis Hatfield was convicted and sentenced for prohibition violations regarding the Blue Goose, he probably was expecting Chafin to use his political influences to keep him from confinement. When that didn’t’ happen, Hatfield decided to testify against Chafin in Federal Court and Chafin was tried and in 1925 was sentenced to an Atlanta prison for two years. Granted a pardon by the Georgia Governor after just 10 months, Chafin returned to find that his former deputy, Tennis Hatfield, and his brother, Joe, had taken over the political reins of running Logan County and that set the stage for a local Democrat-Republican power battle.
Described by The Logan Banner as “an object of concern to tourists,” The Blue Goose saloon mysteriously burned in January of 1929. Two Logan deputies loyal to the Hatfield’s, George and John Hooker, occupied the residential portion of the former saloon. The newspaper account said it was unknown whether there was insurance carried on the structure.
Murders, maiming’s and alcohol related crimes had been happening for many years in Logan County to the point where the jail was filled to the brim, and the county, in the midst of the Great Depression, was struggling to pay its bills. Suicides were almost as common in the county as was a coal mine injury or fatality. Sexual diseases also were rampant as prostitution was widespread, particularly among the various hotel ownerships surrounding the town of Logan. In addition, gambling was considered almost common place.
Naaman Jackson, who was named President of the First National Bank of Logan after the Guyan Valley Bank failed, was also Circuit Judge in December of 1930 when Enoch Scaggs walked into the Smokehouse restaurant in Logan and fired five bullets into the body of newly named Logan Police Chief Roy Knotts, who was said to be unarmed. Knotts accepted the position following the resignation of Logan Police Chief Lon Browning after city officials announced they wanted the city “cleaned up” in regard to illegal slot machines, liquor and prostitution. Browning resigned saying, “Gentlemen, I am not yet ready to die.”
Judge Jackson decided he had to take action and in January of 1931 requested a meeting with Governor William G. Conley and Attorney General Howard B. Lee at the governor’s office. Jackson told the men that Logan had been troubled with lawlessness since 1913 and that “most of it had been traceable to the sheriff’s office.” Jackson said a fair trial in the Scaggs murder case would be impossible because deputies would lie and intimidate potential witnesses just as he had suspected to have happened in many other cases.
Governor Conley agreed to send Attorney General Lee to Logan to prosecute the murder case and ordered at least 16 state troopers to come with him to protect a special jury impaneled from Monroe County. While Lee was in Logan preparing for the trial, he became appalled at the lawlessness he saw going on in Logan, especially the number of murders and other crimes that were being committed because nearly everyone carried a firearm, including convicted felons. Lee focused on a conviction for Scaggs, but set his long range sites on the then Sheriff Joe Hatfield and his 150 special deputies that were paid for by the coal companies.
With over 200 slot machines known to be in the county, and at least 75 of them in the crowded town of Logan, Sheriff Joe Hatfield, along with his brother, Tennis, was known to own them all. However, with more and more state police being brought into the county, it took payoffs by the Hatfield’s to secure their illegal earnings. It was brought out during a special investigation of the state police that a planned raid on the Devil Anse Hatfield property, which is where Tennis lived, had been intended, but Hatfield was warned ahead of time. In just a few years, the old Hatfield home place, just like the Blue Goose saloon, would burn to the ground while Tennis was the tenant. Today, the site near the Hatfield Cemetery remains vacant, although there are rumors of the home place being reconstructed.
In February of 1931, the prosecution dismissed charges against Don Chafin, whose offices in the Guyan Valley Bank building were previously raided by sheriff’s deputies and Chafin charged with being in possession of a gallon of liquor. The same night, the Democratic headquarters in Logan also was raided. Chafin had purchased the Guyan and Valley Drug Stores in 1923 and The Logan Banner at the time described the Guyan store as “the largest single drug company in the state.”
All of this action was taking place while Attorney General Lee was staying at the Pioneer Hotel in Logan preparing for trial, and it only served as fuel to ignite the determination of Lee to “right” the many wrongs of the ruthless county leaders.
During the Scaggs murder trial, surprising testimony came from former Logan Chief Deputy, Mack Lilly, who said that former sheriff Tennis Hatfield and local businessman Dallas Morrison owned the slot machines in the county. Lilly further testified that Hatfield tried to squeeze Morrison out of the business, as well as Scaggs, who supposedly owned machines in Logan. Several local store owners testified that they had slot machines that were owned by Scaggs.
Lilly said that he had been fired as a deputy because he opposed the illegal slot machines. Lilly added that Tennis Hatfield told him one day, “I’m the big boss in this county and I’m going to run slot machines.”
The newspaper account described many witnesses taking the stand, several saying that Scaggs shot in self-defense, but the damning evidence came from Dr. S.B. Lawson, who said Knotts’ last words at the hospital were that he was standing at the magazine rack when Scaggs came up to him and said, “Haven’t we been friends”? —and began shooting.
State police officer Tom Barton testified that Knotts told him, “Tom, I’m done for. Don’t know why Scaggs shot, but I didn’t have a chance. Several of his gang were there and in on the plot.”
Defense witnesses who testified for Scaggs admitted under cross examination that they had spent time in prison for bootlegging liquor for both Tennis and Joe Hatfield. Coleman Hatfield, police judge for Logan, told of how fines were imposed and collected from slot machine operators. He said he was unaware of Scaggs owning any machines, only Tennis.
With the assistance of Wyoming County Judge R.D. Bailey, for whom the present day dam at Justice is named, Lee got a guilty verdict from the jury. Judge Jackson sentenced Scaggs to the maximum of 18 years prison. It was a verdict that would never had happened had it not been for the special prosecutor.
With this high profile case out of the way and justice served, Lee would soon see to it that the Hatfield’s, as well as Don Chafin, were stripped of their “absolute power.”
Today, some 85 years later, plans are in the making to finally honor Roy Knotts, who was killed in the line of duty. Knotts, also a former state trooper, will in May have his name graced upon the wall of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Logan Police Chief E.K. Harper, a former state policeman, himself, has submitted the proper paperwork that will allow Knotts to be named to the group of over 20,000 officers in the U.S. who have died in the line of duty dating back to the first known death of a policeman in 1791.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.
*Published with the author’s permission and our special thanks.