By Dwight Williamson
The years from 1920 through 1932 should be of great historical significance to Logan Countians and the names of Chafin and Hatfield figure prominently during this time period when political control of the county meant everything to its leaders.
The Prohibition era, which lasted from 1920 until 1933, caused more problems than it solved and created a situation in which Logan County’s inhabitants were looked upon by outsiders as lawless and murderous. For many outsiders, it appeared that the mountain people of Logan County feared neither God nor the Federal government, as Prohibition agents trying to foil the efforts of moonshiners were being shot and killed on a regular basis.
King coal had grown from the early 1900’s as coal camp communities sprang up in nearly every hollow of the county. Coal companies not only owned the communities, but just about everyone else, including police, school teachers, politicians and even the local pastors, who were also on the company’s payroll. Coal miners, many of whom had come into these hills seeking a better life for their families, hailed from Italy, Hungary, Poland, Russia and other European countries. African-Americans, more commonly called Negroes at that time, came from mostly the Carolinas and Alabama to work in the mines. Few native born Logan Countians actually worked in the coal mines until the 1930’s; the exception being some very young boys used in the early mining days.
Don Chafin and his hundreds of deputies were on the payroll of the Logan County Coal Operators Association. Chafin was paid to keep the miners from organizing in a union, so it was only natural that he, along with his army of 2,000 men, chose to fight the approaching miners in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921. His efforts made him a hero in the eyes of Logan business people, who thought their little city might have been destroyed by the marching miners.
At the time, a sheriff could not serve consecutive terms in office. Chafin, however, had accumulated great wealth and owned much of Logan County, particularly within the city limits of Logan. A short stint in an Atlanta prison because of testimony by his former saloon business ally, Tennis Chafin, caused him much embarrassment. However, before Chafin’s appeals were denied and no pardon received from President Calvin Coolidge, and before leaving for prison in October of 1925, he fought desperately against the election of Tennis Hatfield for sheriff in the November election of 1924. And, even though all other offices were won handily by Republicans, Chafin’s candidate, Emmett Scaggs, narrowly won over Hatfield.
Hatfield contested the election, and 16 months later, the State Supreme Court heard testimony about Chafin and some of his men’s threats and intimidations at certain precincts on Election Day. The court threw out Mud Fork and Striker precincts for election violations, thus awarding Hatfield the job. According to Hatfield, the appeals process cost him $60,000. The sheriff’s salary at the time was about $3,500 annually. However, Hatfield was counting on the coal operators’ contributions and his control of certain gambling establishments and illegal liquor sales as future income.
Though his term was abbreviated, Tennis arranged for his brother, Joe, to win the job for the next four years, while he prepared to follow him in 1932. What neither he nor his brother counted on was the sudden emergence of Howard B. Lee into the county. Lee, who was the state’s Attorney General, had been ordered into the county to prosecute the case of Enoch Scaggs, who had killed Logan Police Chief Roy Knotts in December of 1930. Logan Judge Naaman Jackson had met with the Governor and Lee in regards to the case; Jackson pleading for help for a county he saw as lawless. Judge Jackson did not feel that justice could be served because of Logan deputies intimidating jurors and witnesses in the case—as they had in many others. Governor William Conley sent 16 state policemen to Logan to protect a special jury bused in from Monroe County. At the time, there were only a few state troopers located in the various state counties.
In the trial of Enoch Scaggs, it became apparent that Scaggs, who owned slot machines in the county and had been a deputy with a nasty reputation, murdered Chief Knotts because Knotts had agreed to “clean up” the city by ridding it of gambling machines, most of which were owned by Tennis Hatfield, while his brother was sheriff. As the “hit-man,” Scaggs had been convinced that the jury would be rigged and that he would be found not guilty. However, no one had counted on a special prosecutor, or jury. Scaggs was found guilty of 2nd degree murder and was sentenced by Judge Jackson to the maximum of 18 years in prison.
By this time, Lee, who had spent considerable time in Logan preparing for the trial, had identified many problems of the county; one being that nearly everyone was allowed to carry a weapon, particularly felons and ex-convicts. Describing Logan as a “Gunman’s Paradise,” Lee sought for and received from the legislature a bill that restricted the carrying of deadly weapons by anyone but dully authorized police officers.
As it turned out, the Depression year of 1932 would stand out as one of the most important years ever in the history of Logan County, for different reasons. Not only would Tennis Hatfield lose in his efforts to regain the sheriff’s office, but it would end the Hatfield political dominance as even former Governor and then Sen. Henry Hatfield was defeated. In addition, a new era was ushered in with the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the election of every Democratic candidate in Logan County. Also of relevance in 1932 was the gruesome murder of Mamie Thurman, the wife of Logan Police Chief Jack Thurman. The following is the surprising connection of Mamie Thurman to the political times of the sons of Devil “Anse” Hatfield.
Prior to the murder of Police Chief Roy Knotts, the President of the Logan City Commission was local banker Harry Robertson. At the time, there was no Mayor or City Council. Instead, a City Manager and the Commission formed the city’s government. In 1931, the Commission was deadlocked as to whether or not to keep the City Manager, W.M. Healy. The Logan Banner reported that Robertson would not break the deadlock to keep Healy unless he agreed to fire patrolman O.E. Jenkins, and hire Jack Thurman. The Banner described Jenkins as a very good policeman who was being “sacrificed at the altar for Thurman’s man.” “President Robertson has fought, bled and torn his pants for Thurman,” wrote one disgruntled reporter.
In reporting that Thurman was chosen over Jenkins, the newspaper account relayed that it was done so “although nobody can point to a single partisan or discredible act on the part of Jenkins during his term of service.” The newspaper further reported that Thurman sent word to The Banner that it had published enough scandal against him in regard to the job. The story said, “It was an important message because it may reveal that there is one more officer in the land that feels he has been called on from “On High” to regulate the press.” Fact is, Harry was seeing Thurman’s wife, who had worked with him at the old Guyan Valley Bank, and Thurman’s hiring would guarantee the rent on the apartment the couple rented from Robertson.
It should be noted that before Clarence Stephenson’s murder case appeal was turned down by the State Supreme Court in 1933, following his conviction of killing Mamie in 1932, her husband (Jack) and Harry Robertson—Mamie’s admitted lover and landlord—would neither hold their city positions because a new form of mayoral and council government was put into place with Thurman and Robertson let go.
Between 1924 and 1932 the Hatfield’s and former sheriff Don Chafin only agreed on two things: (1.) coal miners did not need a union and (2.) state policemen were not needed or wanted in Logan County. There was much that went on between the opposing factions. After one deputy, Amos Sullivan, was shot and another, Henry Napier, arrested for trying to destroy the Coal Valley News in Boone County, which published the Guyan Valley News that had been critical of the Hatfield’s—accusing them of running a slot machine racket in Logan County—Sullivan wound up telling a grand jury that Tennis Hatfield paid him $500 to destroy the newspaper plant, which just happened to be owned by Don Chafin. Prior to turning himself into the authorities, Sullivan had been arrested in Kentucky for the charge and a Logan deputy and assistant prosecuting attorney Ira Hager illegally brought him to Logan where he supposedly escaped. The Logan Bar Association then unsuccessfully tried to impeach Hager.
During this time Chafin was also under fire, accused of going to Charleston to use his influence in trying to rid West Virginia of state troopers, several of whom were in trouble for being bought off by the Hatfield clan in their efforts to maintain gambling machines and illegal liquor in the area. During a probe of the state police department initiated by Chafin in 1931, Boone county Senator M.T. Miller told the investigative committee that Chafin “was the man who had inaugurated the “thug system” in Logan County and that “now he comes here to this legislature and wants to get rid of the state police.” Chafin would later be arrested at his office for possession of liquor as it was widely suspected that Chafin was behind the investigation of state policemen who were paid by the Hatfield’s.
In a Senate investigation in Charleston, there was testimony by a former deputy, Mack Lilly, of a party at the home of Tennis Hatfield in which several state policemen, Ira Hager and others were drunk on the very night Joe Hatfield’s deputies arrested Don Chafin for possessing liquor in downtown Logan.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Howard Lee was applying the pressure to Sheriff Joe Hatfield. Lee and Governor Conley told Hatfield that he would be impeached and indicted for various illegal activities if he did not follow rules set forth by Lee. Hatfield discharged 14 deputies who had been paid by the coal companies and agreed to re-hire others that were improperly dismissed. The Charleston Gazette reported that Lee had made Logan “a safe place to live in.” “Lee has quietly been applying pressure to wipe out the conditions he encountered here when engaged in the prosecution of Enoch Scaggs,” the Gazette reported.
Another Gazette story said that Lee reported that “conditions in the famous subdivision of the state are greatly improved.” Slot machines, according to Lee, had been shipped out of state or destroyed. Gambling parlors had been closed and “speakeasies” had shut their doors. Lee would sometime later say that Joe Hatfield turned out “to be a very good sheriff.”
Tennis, along with his sidekick, Ira Hager, entered the political realm of 1932 by easily winning their primary nominations in May. C.C. Chambers, who four years later would defeat Judge Naaman Jackson for Circuit Judge, and then serve 32 years as Logan’s only judge, lost in his Democratic Primary bid for State Senate; it would be the only election he would ever lose. Elba Hatfield, the son of Cap Hatfield, who had died a few years earlier, also would lose in his re-election bid for Justice of the Peace. Hatfield, however, would file a libel suit for $100,000 against Chafin’s Guyan Valley News for reporting that Hatfield was involved in the 1921 raid of a Sharples coal camp during the Battle of Blair Mountain. Hatfield declared that he had never even crossed Blair Mountain in his life. Ira P. Hager also lost in his bid for the Senate.
Meanwhile, the wily Don Chafin was making the headlines again state wide. At a huge Republican rally in Huntington during the ’32 election, Walter Hallanan told the crowd that if Democrat H.G. Kump was elected governor “Don Chafin would be running things in West Virginia.” He declared that the former sheriff “is not now running things in Logan County and will not be permitted to run things in West Virginia.” The national Republican committeeman called Chafin a “discredited Logan County citizen” and said he would take on Chafin’s bet of up to $25,000 that Kump would be elected Governor. It would be a bet that the committeeman would soon regret.
“This same Logan County gentleman, Don Chafin, is indefensibly lined with the terrorism which prevailed in that county in the 1920’s when laboring men were denied their constitutional rights and everything was resorted to from assassinations to skullduggery,” Hallanan declared.
1932 was not a good year for the Hatfield’s, of which there were four Hatfield sheriffs then serving in southern West Virginia, and numerous Hatfield or family related deputies throughout southern West Virginia and even in Gallipolis, Ohio. All the Hatfield’s, including Sen Henry Hatfield, were defeated in the Democratic landslide that saw every county in West Virginia go Democratic. Ironically, Howard B. Lee, a Republican, who had brought normalcy to Logan, also was defeated. Lee, the author of several books, including “Bloodletting in Appalachia,” is noted for his efforts to eliminate government corruption. He died at the age of 105 at a Florida nursing home in 1985.
Though Elba and Tennis Hatfield wanted to challenge the 1932 election outcome, neither candidate had the finances to take their cases forward—particularly after a Democratic controlled County Court ruled against them in their charges of numerous irregularities in nine precincts, including Mud Fork and Striker, the two precincts that originally got thrown out when Hatfield was elected the first time in 1924.
A bitter divorce from his wife Sadie, who had brought forth nine children to Tennis, saw the determined mother take her divorce case all the way to the Supreme Court, after which she declared that she had forged Don Chafin’s name to several documents which helped send him to prison. Sadie said that Tennis and Joe Hatfield had forced her to forge Chafin’s name to the documents.
Gone was Tennis’ famous father, Devil Anse, his mother, Levisa, his two murdered brothers, Troy and Elias, older brother Cap, his wife and children, and now—with no political power—Tennyson Samuel Hatfield may have become desperate. According to his grandson, the late Stephen Hatfield, Tennis Hatfield burned down the old Hatfield home place in early January of 1933, just about four months after 10,000 people showed up there for a Hatfield reunion. “Daddy always said grandpa burned the house down because he owed so much money. Liquor and women was his downfall, is what daddy always said,” Stephen told this writer about a year before he died. Stephen’s father was Tennis’s son, Jack Hatfield, one of the few in the Hatfield clan that remained on Main Island Creek until his death.
The January 13, 1933 edition of The Logan Banner reported that “Tennis Hatfield late Tuesday evening saw the last of what was once the large and beautiful Hatfield homestead crumble in ashes. Fire of unknown origin, but thought to have started near the old mud chimney in the center of the house, completely destroyed the building, and its costly furnishings, besides a rare collection of priceless relics of the Hatfield family,” the writer reported. Tennis was the only Hatfield child born at the Island Creek home place, which was built by his father and older brother, Cap, in the year of 1890.
The newspaper declared the loss at $15,000, of which Tennis said $1,400 was the value of a radio set that was inside the structure. Hatfield said the home was insured for $10,000. It was said that a “splendid” view of the home place could be seen from the Hatfield Cemetery that overlooked the valley. It is there that Tennis and his brother, Joe, are buried close to their parents. Tennis, whose life resembled that of a “shooting star” that burned brilliantly, but quickly, died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 63 on August 12, 1953. At the time of his death, he was living in Logan with his sister, Rose Browning.
In a 1942 interview, Tennis was the proprietor of a beer joint called “The Silver Moon.” Located just a few yards from where the family home once stood, it was written that Tennis felt at ease with a beer in one hand a nickel for the jukebox in the other. “There’s no harm in selling beer,” said Tennis. “What’s more, there’s no harm in drinking it either, in reason.”
Joe Hatfield died in 1963 at the age of 83. His faithful wife, Grace, is buried alongside him at the family cemetery. None of their immediate family lives in Logan County. The Logan Republican Executive Committee in 1933 ousted Joe as Chairman of the GOP when he refused to resign voluntarily. It is said that Joe never delved in politics again.
Chester “Cush” Chambers, the most renowned judge ever in Logan County, and who is a story unto himself, bought two grave plots at Logan Memorial Park at McConnell, where he possibly could have been buried near Mamie Thurman, but sold the plots when the cemetery was abandoned. He died September 30, 1973 at the age of 82 and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Pecks Mill.
C.C. Chambers, and Don Chafin, like the many Hatfield’s, who left their mark of political strife on Logan County, played influential and key roles in the history of the county, for both good and bad purposes.
Don Chafin, no doubt satisfied with the election results of 1932, moved to Huntington where he made his home following the Democratic landslide. He sold much of his property in Logan and visited often. His home on Main Street still stands today— just a minute’s walk from where the garage apartment of Jack and Mamie Thurman once stood.
The colorful Chafin, once declared the “King” of Logan County, died August 9, 1954 in Huntington at the age of 67 as one of the wealthiest men in West Virginia.
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.