As I made my way up the Welch County courthouse steps, local counsel met me at the top and asked whether I had seen the bullet holes. “The bullet holes?”, I asked. He then pointed to the side of the courthouse where one of those gray history signs was standing. The attorney told me that he would show me when we finished court.
I then walked into a courtroom that looked like something from a movie set. It had the dark wood and plenty of seating. Years ago, people did not watch TV for entertainment; they went to the courthouse to watch cases. This courthouse had plenty of seating, which hearkened back to those days.
We finished up our hearing, which included several motions and a setting of the upcoming trial. Then, we walked outside to the side of the building. That’s when I learned the story of Chief-of-Police Sid Hatfield. (Wiki)
William Sidney “Sid” Hatfield (who is listed as distantly related to William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfiled, leader of the Hatfield clan of the Hatfield/McCoy fame ) was born in 1843. He had a reputation for hard living and fighting, and was a surpise appointment as Police Chief of Matewan by Mayor Testerman, in 1919.
As a defender and supporter of the United Mine Workers of America who had unionized all the coal miners, he used his office in leading a resistance against Baldwin-Felts operatives. Baldwin-Felts had sent representatives to the town to evict minors and even offered Hatfield and Mayor Testerman bribes, so that they could station machine guns in the town. Both refused the bribes. The coal mine owners would cheat the minors at the scales by paying them less than the entitled weight payment for the coal. They also decided that they wanted to break up the union by getting rid of minors who had joined.
These Baldwin-Felts detectives were basically a private police force that had some U.S. Government sanction for their actions. They were supposed to keep things from getting out of hand for the coal mine owners. Against them stood Hatfield. (Here is more of the history of the two sides here)
In the Battle of Matewan which stemmed from those hostilities, the Mayor was killed. Thereafter, Hatfield married his widow which led to the accusation that Hatfield had some responsibility in the killing of the Mayor. The battle gave Hatfield some celebrity including a part in a short film. In that battle, Albert and Lee Felts were killed which led to a desired vengence for their death.
Thomas Felts sought revenge for the death of his brothers. Unrelated to that battle, Hatfield and his deputy, Edward Chambers, were set to stand trial for conspiracy charges on another matter. Probably part of revenge for not taking the side of the coal mine owners.
Both men arrived at the Welch courthouse on August 1, 1921, with their wives. History records that they were both unarmed. That’s where several Baldwin-Felts men were waiting for them. They shot them on those courthouse steps.
Hatfield was shot in the arm and multiple times in the chest. He died instantly. Chambers was shot several times and ultimately shot in the head. All this took place right in front of their wives. None of the “detectives” were ever charged with a crime, as they all claimed that they shot the men in self-defense.
Today, the bullet marks remain. Also, there was an Oscar-nominated 1987 movie titled Matewan starring David Strathairn as Sid Hatfield. I left the courthouse thinking… not your everyday courthouse!
And for pic o’ day we have a bit of a battle with a clear winner:
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