Just a few days ago, a group of television producers announced plans for a reality show based on the Hatfields and McCoys that would be shot in the Tug Valley of West Virginia, the home of the infamous family feud.
Unfortunately, Hazel Thompson of Columbia City didn’t hear about the auditions until it was too late to sign up.
No matter. She has no interest in being on any reality show, she said, even though she would make the perfect candidate. She is Devil Anse Hatfield’s great-great-granddaughter.
Not everyone would be willing to acknowledge that relationship. The feud between two families, one which lived on the Kentucky side of the river and the other on the West Virginia side, raged on and off for about 25 years in the late 1800s.
Tales of the feud became known nationally and became an embarrassment to some who lived in that part of the country.
Even today, the Hatfields and McCoys stands as a catchphrase for any dispute between neighbors who can’t get along.
The Hatfields and the McCoys also got a historic revival in just the last month with the airing of a three-part miniseries on the History channel, and among those tuning in was Thompson.
Can you blame her? How many people can say there’s a miniseries on TV about an almost universally recognized event, and one of the main characters is your great-great-grandfather?
Sure, Thompson was interested and wanted to see it, but she also wanted to see whether the show would be historically accurate.
She does question some things. For example, the sort of guns they had back then weren’t repeaters. They were the type that you load and shoot once, Thompson said.
No, her son corrects her. They had repeaters by then, and the Hatfields, who had a lumber operation, probably came in contact with enough outsiders to have such modern weapons.
What little is left in the family as far as artifacts has been passed down to her, though, and firearms aren’t among them.
There’s a photo of the Hatfield clan, posing without guns. Seated in the front row is Devil Anse himself. Behind him stands his daughter, and beside him sits his granddaughter, who is Thompson’s grandmother.
I asked Thompson whether she had it right. Anse’s daughter looked a lot younger than the woman she identified as his granddaughter.
No, she’s right, Thompson said. Her grandmother had 13 children.
Thompson isn’t in the least embarrassed, though, that her family, including her great-great-grandfather and possibly other ancestors, played an integral role in what most would regard as an out-of-control war between families. It’s part of history, but she certainly isn’t like that.
I’m not ashamed of where I come from, but I hadn’t even been born then, Thompson said.
They lived in their own cult world, Thompson’s son, Lester, said. They took care of their own. They didn’t look to the law.
There’s other history in the family. Once the feud was over, some Hatfields continued in the logging business in the Tug Valley.
Late one night, before she was born, Thompson’s father set out on foot with another family member and walked over the mountains of Kentucky to Hazard, where they took to using different first names. No one quite knows why, but there was a reason, Thompson said.
It wasn’t until 1960, nearly a century after the start of the feud, that Hazel Thompson moved to Indiana with her husband, who was desperate to give their children a life of something other than mining coal.
Most of the rest of her family remained in Kentucky, including a brother who, shortly after Thompson’s parents died, piled up most of their parents’ possessions in the garden and burned them.
Thompson managed to salvage what was left, including a wreck of a Bible and a handful of photos and papers.
That’s all that’s left, that and memories.