#126: Volentine’s Day


126.1  Hatfields & McCoys…a miniseries that originally aired on The History Channel over a year ago…hugely successful…generally agreed to be extremely well done, even award-worthy…has sparked renewed interest in the history of the feud, and in American history in general, which is a good thing certainly. Still and all, this is a fictionalized account of what happened…it would have been more honest to call it Winfields & McCalls, something like that. Trust me, if a history teacher gave you a test on this stuff, and all you knew was what you saw in those 6 hours, you’d flunk…and miserably.

126.2  Not to pick on this production…deviating from fact to make it a “better story” is a problem that plagues all so-called “historical” drama…TV, movie, or written word. And what drives this point home is the 2-hour documentary The History Channel produced to accompany the miniseries. You may have noticed that in the documentary, they recreate several key events…and things happen differently than they do in the miniseries. Wha–?? Does make it confusing to the casual viewer…and especially to the student who thinks they can “learn” something from watching a TV show…well, it’s a start, kiddo, but that’s all it is!

126.3  Before putting the Hatfields and McCoys to bed…for now anyway…I’d like to take a stab at untangling one more puzzle…that of the multiple Valentine Hatfields. It is widely agreed…in fact, I’ve found nobody to dispute it, not even the creators of the miniseries…that the character played by Powers Boothe is a composite. Devil Anse’s older brother Valentine did not preside over the Hog Trial…that was Anderson “Preacher Anse” Hatfield, son of Devil Anse’s grandfather Valentine’s half-brother George…thus Devil Anse’s father Ephraim’s half-1st cousin. I charted out this relationship back in #122 as Chart 429…below, I have expanded this chart to include a passel more Valentines…removing George and Preacher Anse…simply no room!…but leaving in Devil Anse as a point of reference.

chart 440

126.4  It is my contention that Boothe’s role is a composite of 3 real-life individuals, not 2…and I will say at the outset that I could indeed be proven wrong…but for now, it’s my story and I’m sticking to it. In Chart 440, some of the Valentines have their wives identified to the right in red…this is to further help differentiate one from another. Some have nicknames. And I’ve highlighted 3 of them in yellow. Devil Anse’s older brother Valentine…nicknamed “Wall”…I shall for the sake of convenience refer to as Brother Val. Valentine Wallace Hatfield, Devil Anse’s father Ephraim’s 1st cousin, nicknamed “River Wall,” I’ll call Cousin Val. Both of these are key to understanding the events of the feud.

126.5  The third I’ve highlighted is Devil Anse’s grandfather Valentine, I’ll call him Grandpa Val. He died in 1872, before things really started to heat up, but he’s relevant to sorting out the nicknamesand I believe it’s those nicknames that really fuel the confusion. BTW, in the title of this post, Volentine is the way I wanted to spell it…since this is what appears on several census reports…and we’ll be coming back to that.

chart 440 a

126.6  So…it all turns on the killing of William R. “Bill” Staton, sometimes spelled Stayton and occasionally given incorrectly given as Stanton or Stratten. He was the son of Randall McCoy’s 1st cousin Nancy McCoy Staton, and the brother-in-law of both Floyd “Hog Thief” Hatfield and Devil Anse’s brother Ellison…altho Bill himself did not marry a Hatfield, which you’ll sometimes see stated…2 of his sisters did. He gave crucial evidence at the Hog Trial in favor of the Hatfields and was found dead 2 years later, June 18, 1880. Evidence pointed to Randall’s nephews Paris and Squirrel Hunting Sam McCoy. Ellison, as brother-in-law of the diseased, swore out an arrest warrant for the pair. Paris turned himself in and was freed after a bench trial, which means no jury, only a judge. Sam was taken into custody, tried by a jury, and found not guilty by reason of self-defense.

126.7  Some historians think that this verdict was “ordered” by Devil Anse himself, as a way to end the feud…and that the “second phase” was reignited not by the McCoys but by lawyer Perry Cline. Not sure how that theory jibes with the murder of Ellison Hatfield, but that’s a debate for another day. For now, let’s go to Pikeville, Kentucky, and view the 2 “dueling plaques” the tourist will find there…


126.8   …and yes, one might wonder what other kind of post office there is besides “U.S.”…but we must try to focus! I said “dueling” because, incredibly, these 2 signs give different years for the Hog Trial…1873 and 1878. I tend to think, but am in no way absolutely convinced, that 1878 is correct…this is the type of crap (pardon my French) the earnest researcher has to wade thru. What is of importance here is that the larger monument states, referring to the murder of Bill Staton: “…a trial presided over by Valentine Hatfield, uncle of Devil Anse.” 

sign closeup

126.9  Now if we were to go by the “preponderance of evidence,” we would say this is wrong…several published books, as well every web-site that I’ve found that goes into any detail, claim it was the Valentine I’m calling Brother Val who was the judge…sometimes called “justice of the peace,” but as I understand it, actually called in those parts a “magistrate.” Interestingly, an on-line transcription of an article from the Wheeling Intelligencer newspaper, dated November 23, 1889, and headlined “Devil Anse Tells the True History,” has him stating this: “My brother Ellison prosecuted them [Paris and Sam] for murder. He swore out a warrant for their arrest and asked me to execute it. [Who was the magistrate exactly?] I refused to do it because the McCoys and I had alway been good friends.” 

126.10  I know…grain of salt and all that…especially given that at the beginning of this article, Devil Anse says, or is reported to have said, that 11 children were born to his grandparents Valentine Hatfield and Elizabeth Vance. Not true…Grandpa Val’s wife, Devil Anse’s paternal grandmother, was Martha “Mattie” Weddington. Elizabeth Vance was the name of both Grandpa Val’s own paternal grandmother, and Devil Anse’s maternal grandmother, the mother of his mother Nancy Vance. Is it any wonder we’re all confused?

126.11  But what do we then make of the “Uncle Val” mentioned on the plaque? Either it’s right or it isn’t. Assuming for the moment it is right, did Devil Anse in fact have an Uncle Valentine in the first place? Well, according to Chart 440, he had at least 2…and I should mention that while these Valentines are culled from various sources, all are found on the most comprehensive list I’ve found, here…an index of literally thousands of individuals, Hatfields and allied families…


…and no, there aren’t 176 Valentines…the 15 that I have on Chart 440 are referenced here multiple times…on census records, on the birth records of their children, etc. …plus a few more Valentines that I couldn’t “hook up” to any of these relatives. But you will see on Chart 440  that Devil Anse does have one Uncle Valentine…his father’s youngest sibling, born 19 years after Ephraim in 1831…making him just 7 years older than Devil Anse himself. Very little is known about him…he is believed to have never married…and one census record lists him as living with his parents at age 19, and an “idiot”…feeble-minded, I guess they mean.

126.12  Then there is Valentine Wallace Hatfield, born 1819, the one I’m calling Cousin Val. He is Devil Anse’s father Ephraim’s 1st cousin…and of the right age and generation to be called “uncle” by Ephraim’s children. What’s more, he married Devil Anse’s mother Nancy Vance’s sister, Aunt Mary “Polly” Vance! And most people, then and now, call their blood aunt’s husband “uncle”…an uncle by marriage. So if Devil Anse had an Uncle Valentine who could have functioned as a magistrate, Cousin Val looks like the one.

126.13  On the other hand, what if the Pikeville plaque is wrong? It seems problematic that it would be left that way, for all the world to see…altho the discrepancy in the dates of the Hog Trial is in plain view too, isn’t it? The question is, how could Devil Anse’s brother be mistaken for his uncle? And it is here that we must plumb the profoundly perplexing depths of birth names versus nicknames…and let me simply state what I know to be fact, and see what conclusions can be reasonably drawn from them.

126.14  Grandpa ValBirth name: Valentine Hatfield. Nickname: Wall, or, “later in life” as one web-site puts it, Uncle Walley. No clue from anyone anywhere as to the origin of this nickname. One very tenuous hint is that one Hatfield girl married a man named Valentine Combs, and he was nicknamed Vollie.  Could the “val” of Valentine have been pronounced, by some folks anyway, to rhyme with the word “fall”? Thus from “Vol” (pronounced “vawl”) to “Wall”? I know, very thin…but we’ve got precious little else. And remember “Volentine” on some census forms? Spelled wrong? Heard wrong? Transcribed wrong all these years later?


126.15  Cousin ValBirth name: given variously as Valentine Hatfield and Valentine Wallace Hatfield. Nickname: both Wall and River Wall. Now obviously, that middle name of river allenWallace is a tempting solution to the origin of Wall. And while Wallace isn’t always quoted as his middle name, he had a son who is always called John Wallace Hatfield. There is even a cemetery in Pike County, Kentucky called the John Wallace Hatfield Cemetery. As for River Wall, above you see pictures of actual river walls. I don’t think it’s that tho…my best guess is the nickname was to distinguish him from his uncle, Grandpa Val…why “river”? Because he was born, raised, and died in Buskirk, Kentucky, across the “river” from West Virginia where most, but not all, the Hatfields lived. And…John Wallace Hatfield had a son they called “River Allen,” also from Buskirk…so I think “the guy across the river” is plausible…

126.16 …because these nicknames seem to be given quite often to identify one relative from another…Devil Anse and Preacher Anse…Bad Lias and Good Lias…Devil Anse’s father Big Eaf and Devil Anse’s great grandfather Eaf of All. Would they then turn around and say: But let’s call every Valentine “Wall” and leave it at that?  Now that’s not plausible, at least not to me. For the record, there was considerable chronological overlap: Cousin Val and Grandpa Val were both alive for 53 years…Cousin Val and Brother Val for 56 years…all 3, for 38 years. And I might mention that on that master index, it’s one person per nickname, no double-ups…for what that’s worth.

126.17  Brother ValBirth name: given variously as Valentine Hatfield, Valentine David Hatfield, Valentine D. Hatfield…and yes, even Valentine Wallace Hatfield. Nickname: again, both Wall and River Wall. What’s more, he had a son referred to as Valentine Hatfield, Valentine David Hatfield, and sometimes, tellingly, Valentine David Hatfield Jr.

126.18  And along with these 3 actual Valentines we must consider the mysterious “Uncle Wall.” Was Brother Val called this? By Devil Anse’s many sons, daughters, nephews, and nieces…sure, why not? By Devil Anse himself? No evidence has surfaced that I’ve seen. Accounts of the feud that I’ve read…in books, magazines, and newspapers from the 1940s up to the 1970s, call Brother Val either Wall, Val, or Valentine. Wall is also used in contemporaneous newspaper articles…and in one instance, Walt.

126.19  So we are back to that vexing Pikeville sign…”Valentine Hatfield, uncle of Devil Anse”…mistake or not? If it is a mistake, was it simply a “slip of the pen” in stone…they meant “brother” but they put “uncle”? Or did they really mean to say “uncle,” but intended that this refer to the brother? I have by no means seen all the documented accounts of this famous feud…but my impression is that Brother Val was not, when folks were writing this stuff down, commonly, if ever, referred to as “Uncle Wall.” In first hand accounts…”oral histories”…perhaps…but would this have caused the authors of this sign to feel it appropriate to call his brother his uncle? And further, would they then expect that people would understand who they were talking about?

126.20  Again, I have to question whether Devil Anse himself would have called Brother Val “Uncle Wall,” since he already had not one but two real Uncle Walls…one his father’s brother, and one both his father’s 1st cousin and his mother’s brother-in-law, that is, his aunt’s husband. Taking this to its logical conclusion, is it really credible to think that despite all their supposed knowledge and research, the authors of the sign ended up actually believing that the individuals I’ve been calling Cousin Val and Brother Val were the same person?

126.21  That seems far-fetched to me…altho we must add this interesting fact: Cousin Val and Brother Val died the same year, within 5 months of each other, to the day!  Brother Val on February 18, 1890 in the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Lexington…and Cousin Val on July 18, 1890, in his home town of Buskirk, Kentucky.

126.22  In conclusion, dear friends…considering this lovely mishegoss as a whole…I am for now 3 in 1taking the simplest solution to be the correct one: that the sign must be taken at face value…and “uncle” means uncle, not brother. Thus it was was Cousin Val…Valentine Wallace “River Wall” Hatfield, born 1819 (some say 1820), 1st cousin to Devil Anse’s father…who dealt with Sam and Paris McCoy. Cousin Val is the “uncle of Devil Anse” referred to on the plaque…and as such, it was not he who was arrested, tried, and sentenced for the Pawpaw Tree Incident…that was Brother Val, Devil Anse’s older brother, Valentine David Hatfield, born 1834.

126.23  Which then means that  Powers Boothe’s character is a composite of 3, not 2, actual individuals. But how, you might ask, can I be right and presumably everybody else, other that the authors of the sign, be wrong? Chalk it up to the grandaddy of all the-name’s-the-same genealogical snafus. Stranger things have happened. Let me know if you can point me in the direction of documentation either pro or con. Next week, more Q’s & A’s…be seein’ ya…

wicked ballsy

gun fiddle

This magazine, dated December, 1957, has the story “Guns and Gunners of the Feuding Clans”…a retelling of the tale with special emphasis on their firearms. OK, so I have a thing for vintage cowgirls…sue me…that’s actress Anne Francis. Point is, one of the alleged “guns” is this 2-way fiddle…is such a thing even possible? Could it be played like a normal fiddle? No, they don’t claim this is the instrument about which there was an argument…presumably that was a 1-way fiddle…


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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