Sid Hatfield

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Not to be confused with Sidney Hatfield. ‹See Tfd›

William Sidney "Sid" Hatfield (May 15, 1891 or 1893[1] – Aug 1, 1921), was Police Chief of Matewan, West Virginia during the Battle of Matewan, a shootout that followed a series of evictions carried out by detectives from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency.[2]

History[edit]

Hatfield was born in Blackberry, Pike Co., Kentucky, the tenth of twelve children (of whom nine survived infancy) of Jacob Hatfield (c. 1843/45 - 1923), a tenant farmer, and his wife Rebecca Crabtree (b. circa 1856). His grandfather, Jeremiah Hatfield, was a half-brother to Valentine Hatfield (1789 - 1867), grandfather of William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield, leader of the Hatfield family involved in the famous Hatfield-McCoy Feud (see Hatfield Family Tree) According to the 1900 Census, two older brothers, Orison and Hereford, an older sister Chloe, and a younger sister and brother, Martha Alice and Freeland, were then still living at home with him and their parents. His eldest sister Vandalia or Vandella was already married by this time, and an older brother, Melvin, had left home.

As a child, Hatfield worked on his father's farm. He became a miner in his teens, and then worked as a blacksmith for several years. He received his nickname, "Smilin' Sid", because of the gold caps on several of his upper teeth. He seems to have had a reputation for hard living and fighting, and his appointment in 1919 to the post of Police Chief of Matewan, by the mayor, Cabell Cornelis Testerman (1882-1920), surprised some of the more 'respectable' townsfolk.[3] However, he was a staunch supporter of the United Mine Workers of America, as was Testerman: together, they were instrumental in leading the mining community's resistance to the Baldwin-Felts operatives. Operatives offered both men substantial bribes to allow them to station machine guns in the town. Hatfield and Testerman refused. The Battle of Matewan was precipitated by the Baldwin-Felts agents' attempts to evict the families of unionized miners.

On June 2, 1920, in Huntington, he married Jessie Lee Maynard (1894-1976), the widowed second wife of Testerman, who had been mortally wounded in the battle. The speed of the marriage led to an attempt at arrest and accusations by Thomas Felts and the Baldwin-Felts spy, Charles Everett Lively, that he, not Albert Felts, had shot the Mayor because of his desire for Jessie. However, according to Jessie, her first husband, aware of the danger of their situation, had asked that his friend take care of her and their young son, Jackson (1915-2001), should he be killed.[4]

The battle had given Hatfield a degree of celebrity. He appeared in a short film, Smilin' Sid, for the United Mine Workers (UMWA), and was photographed with other UMWA activists, including Mary Harris 'Mother' Jones. However, he was aware that his life was in danger from Felts, who sought vengeance for his brothers Albert and Lee. He was indicted on murder charges stemming from the Matewan shootout but was later acquitted by the jury. He was sent to stand trial with his friend and deputy, Edward Chambers, on conspiracy charges for another incident, in Welch, West Virginia. Both men arrived in Welch on August 1, 1921, unarmed and accompanied by their wives. Several Baldwin-Felts men shot them on the McDowell County Courthouse steps. Hit in the arm, and three or four times in the chest, Hatfield died instantly.[5] Chambers was shot several more times, as his wife tried to defend him, and finished off with a bullet in the head by Charles Everett Lively.[6] None of the Baldwin-Felts detectives was ever convicted of Hatfield's assassination: they claimed they had acted "in self-defense".

There was an outpouring of grief for the fallen local heroes at the funeral, which was attended by at least 3,000 people, and conducted with full honours from the Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias and Redmen (he was a member of all of these organisations).

Legacy[edit]

Director John Sayles' Academy Award-nominated 1987 film Matewan starred David Strathairn in the role of Hatfield.

West Virginia: A Film History mistakenly identifies him as Albert Sidney Hatfield, as well as claiming that he was not related to "Devil Anse" Hatfield. This may be because of rumours that he was illegitimate, and so possibly not of Hatfield descent.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The 1893 date is usually given, and appears on his gravestone. However, according to the 1900 Census for Pike Co., KY, 0104 Magisterial District 5, Blackberry Precinct, he was born in 1891, and his sister Martha Alice in 1893.
  2. ^ West Virginia "The History of An American State"
  3. ^ See interview with Dixie Accord in documentary West Virginia: A Film History
  4. ^ Lon Savage, Thunder in the Mountains: the West Virginia Mine War, 1920-21, 1985, pp. 26-28.
  5. ^ Death Certificate. Mrs Hatfield's distress is suggested by her confusion over her father-in-law's name: the correct name, "Jake", has been struck out and overwritten with "Freeland", the name of Sid's younger brother.
  6. ^ Both the film Matewan and Newsinger's review of it, "Matewan: film and working class struggle", mistakenly claim that it was Hatfield to whom Lively gave the coup-de-grace: Sallie Chambers' testimony and the injuries noted on the two men's death certificates make it clear, however, that it was Chambers.
  7. ^ Lon Savage, Thunder in the Mountains, p. 10: however, the name Savage gives for Sid's putative father, Crabtree, is his mother's maiden name, and he gives no source for the claim.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]