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The Legacy

By Paula Blankenship

Matewan, West Virginia is a small town nestled in the Tug River Valley, rich in it’s history of coal mining and ties to it’s past through the legacy’s of the infamous Hatfield’s  & McCoy’s and the Matewan Massacre.

The people of Matewan are a resilient people who have seen the town boom during the coal-mining era, demolished during floods and the ensuing federal projects to protect the town from flooding, and are again in a rebuilding stage to preserve not only their town and livelihoods, but also their history.

Matewan has been a smelting pot of peoples and ideas over the years.  It saw the birth of the coal industry and it’s unions, and the death of many local citizens because of them.  It’s past is not pretty, but it reflects the sprit of the American people and the cultures that brought this country where it is today. 

Although there have been many family feuds over the history of the United States that have been longer and bloodier, none have captured the imagination of the American people as the Hatfield & McCoy Feud.  This was mostly due to the burgeoning American press, who sent reporters in to talk to the families, take photographs, and sensationalize the whole affair.

Many locals feel that the Hatfield & McCoy Feud was actually a result of the Civil War.  Anderson Hatfield, known as “Devil Anse” fought for the Confederacy, and Randall McCoy fought for the Union.  The Civil War saw both sides fighting against neighbors and friends, and rumors were rampant about who shot whom during the battles.  Feeling ran high after the war, so it is not far fetched to believe that something as simple as a misplaced pig was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The Tug River area along the West Virginia and Kentucky borders saw the beginnings of this deadly feud.  Devil Anse Hatfield’s home was located on the West Virginia side of the river near Matewan, and he owned many acres of farmland along the banks of the Tug River, much of which in later years, he sold to the Norfolk and Western Railroad.  Randall McCoy’s home was located on the Kentucky side of the Tug River.

The Matewan Massacre, as it is now called, on May 19,1920 was the beginning of the modern day coal mining industry.  It has gone down in history as possibly one of the deadliest single shootout’s in the United States, and the turning point for the modern day United Mine Workers of America.  The coal company’s hired the Baldwin-Felt’s Security Agency to evict local miner’s, who had joined the newly formed Local of the UMWA, from their company homes.  The miner’s got word of this, and met the team at the Matewan Train Depot.  There ensued a shoot-out that left nine men dead and changed the future of coal mining forever.

The National Park Service has designated the town of Matewan as a Historical Landmark because of these events.  The town has been working hard to preserve as much of it’s past as it can, and is becoming quite a tourist attraction. The Matewan Development Center, which was founded by coal companies, the local bank, area businesses, and local citizens, has undertaken the restoration of the town and the preservation of its history.  Thanks to their efforts, the town now looks as it did in the 1920’s.  They have developed a small museum of their past, and offer tours of the area.  Next door to the Matewan Development Center, sits a cozy little restaurant called the Matewan Depot that promotes the theme of the train station.  There you can enjoy a home cooked meal and view some the town treasures while watching modern day trains rumble by.  The floodwall, which has recently been completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has become a major tourist attraction in itself.  The history of the town from its beginnings to its present is engraved on the outside of the wall.

The Matewan Area Community Action Team was formed in 1995 to celebrate the town’s 100th birthday.  This group of local citizens and civic organizations continue today to sponsor events to promote their town and history, such as the Matewan Homecoming, the Hatfield and McCoy Auto Show, The Hatfield & McCoy Bike Show, and the ATV rodeos to promote the Hatfield & McCoy Trail System. Starting June 4-11, 2000 the Matewan Area Community Action Team will be working hard to put on the Hatfield & McCoy Festival in Matewan. The Hatfield & McCoy Festival is designed to be a week long event reuniting the descendants of these two families. This event will involve several communities along the Tug River Valley and is endorsed by the West Virginia Department of Tourism in hopes of becoming an annual event.

The town is dedicated to its involvement in the new Hatfield & McCoy Trail System, which owes its beginnings to ideas developed in the Matewan Development Center.  They are working hard to make this ATV Trail System a major economic asset to the community.  The town is also excited about the recent return of the six acres of property inside the floodwall, which has been under the control of the federal government since the early 1990’s.  Plans are underway to develop this area to promote both the local economy and tourism.

If Devil Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy were alive today they would be surprised to see what has happened to their legacy.  Many of the local residents can trace their ancestry back to these two proud men.  While some will talk freely and proudly of this past, many would be glad if history forgot it ever happened.

The Town of Matewan is thriving on its local citizen’s dedication to preserving their heritage so that future generations can learn from the successes and pitfalls of their past.  They are proud of their place in history and dedicated to seeing that this American legacy lives on in the hills of West Virginia.

Matewan, West Virginia is located in Mingo County at the intersection of State Route 65 and 49.  For more information contact the Matewan Development Center at (304)426-4239 or visit their website at www.matewan.com.

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