The Mothman, the Thunderbird, and the Curse of Chief Cornstalk

Since it’s getting close to Halloween, and it’s also Columbus Day, which of course is when the problems started between the white man and the Native Americans, I thought I’d discuss the famous Mothman of Point Pleasant, and its connection to the Curse of Chief Cornstalk.

Silver Bridge collapseA movie called The Mothman Prophecies was released in 2002, starring Richard Gere, and it was pretty popular.  According to the movie, the Mothman was trying to warn people prior to the collapse of the Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967.

On that fateful day, after hundreds of Mothman sightings and similarly strange events spanning a little over a year, the Silver Bridge (over the Ohio River, which connected West Virginia and Ohio) collapsed due to undetectable structural failure during 5:00 rush hour.  There were 37 vehicles on the bridge at the time, and 31 of them fell with the bridge.  49 people lost their lives either in the ice-cold river below, or due to falling on the Ohio banks.  Nine people were seriously injured.

After the collapse of the Silver Bridge, people stopped seeing the Mothman, which is why the sightings are attached even today to the bridge collapse.  Many people here absolutely believe in the Mothman, and have no question in their mind whether it actually existed.  The question which is still the subject of heated debate in this area, though, is whether the Mothman was here to warn us of impending disaster, or whether the Mothman caused the disaster.

Mothman statueDespite the story in the movie, I was always taught that the Mothman had nothing to do with warning us about the Silver Bridge disaster.  I was taught by one of my family elders, who was of pure Shawnee descent, that the collapse of the Silver Bridge was the vengeance of Chief Cornstalk, who in 1777 placed a blood curse upon that very area.  She believed that so strongly, in fact, that she kept a framed photo of the Silver Bridge on her wall, to remind herself of what happened.

I remember she would sit us kids on the floor around her, light up her old corncob pipe, sit back in her old creaky rocking chair, and regale us with tales of her Native American ancestors.  One of those ancestors (though I was never sure to what degree he was related, or if she just believed they were related because they came from the same tribe) was the famous Chief Cornstalk.  What follows is the story as it was relayed to me.

For millenia, the abundant Ohio River Valley around Point Pleasant was home to multiple Native American tribes, including the Shawnee.  Their leader in the late 1700s was Chief Kite-ug-gua (translated to Cornstalk), and their rock drawings exist even today.  Among those drawings are depictions of a large bird-like creature with large saucer-like eyes, known as the Thunderbird.  So the Mothman wasn’t a new thing at all, really.  It was actually something known to Native Americans for hundreds if not thousands of years, long before the Mothman ever appeared.

The Thunderbird was a servant of The Great Spirit, and it lived atop the hills and mountains.  It was huge, and according to legend, could cause wind and the sound of thunder with its wings, and lightning by blinking its huge eyes.  It is said that the Thunderbird could change its appearance to that of a man, by pulling back its beak and removing its feathers.  It was a very dangerous and wrathful spirit, and its power could be summoned through The Great Spirit, to avenge the Native Americans against their enemies.

Multiple people at the time of the Mothman sightings described very strange men dressed in ill-fitting black suits, who knocked on their doors pretending to be every imaginable type of official in order to get inside.  They acted very strangely, even being described as very clearly not human; these strange men scared people so badly, in fact, that they contacted the police and started bolting their doors.  The descriptions generally described them as having very strange eyes, and speaking in a weird sing-song voice.  Witnessed also relayed that these men seemed amazed by common everyday items, as if they’d never seen them before, so they understandably made those who encountered them extremely uncomfortable; one of the people who had such an encounter with these strangers was a local reporter.

People also described repeated interference with electrical objects.  They described televisions losing their signal and showing colors they’d never seen before (most televisions back then were black and white, so those televisions shouldn’t have shown any color).  They also described cars suddenly losing all power and dying in the middle of the road for no apparent reason, while they were being driven.

There were over 100 witnesses to the Mothman phenomena, and most were considered to be credible.  They would talk of being chased by a large, approximately seven-foot-tall birdlike creature with large glowing red eyes, sometimes at speeds of over 100 miles per hour.  They would also talk of this same creature appearing before them on remote roads or even in their own yard, sometimes peering with its large red eyes into their homes.

Many of those people were so frightened by what they had seen, and so sure that what they had seen was real, they went straight to the police station to report it.  Many also reported being paralyzed by the sight of its blood-red eyes, including one woman who actually dropped her baby as a result.  Though the baby was crying and possibly hurt, she was paralyzed and unable to respond to her baby’s cries for several minutes.

Nothing reported about the Mothman, from electrical failures to a birdlike creature to strange inhuman men in black to paralysis, fails to be explained by the Native American legend of the Thunderbird.  For that reason, many believe that the Mothman was actually the Thunderbird, especially since paralysis related to the color of blood is actually mentioned in the Curse of Chief Cornstalk.

In the late 1700s, Chief Cornstalk tried to keep peace between the Native American tribes, and the white man intruders.  Though the Native Americans had been driven to the Ohio side of the river by the white man, and so many Native Americans were killed in that bloody battle that the Ohio River and its banks turned red – an event which my grandmother said was “200 years to the day before that bridge fell down” – Chief Cornstalk was often successful in convincing other tribes to allow the white man to live within their fort at Point Pleasant without being attacked.  Eventually the other tribes decided to attack the fort and take back their land, however, and when Chief Cornstalk couldn’t convince them to not attack, he went to the fort with his young son, as proof that he had peaceful intentions, in order to warn them.

Though he went to the fort in peace, the Chief and his son were taken captive in the belief that it would stop the Native Americans from attacking the fort.  However, that changed when a couple of soldiers were out hunting, and one was killed by Native Americans due to the fact that they were holding Chief Cornstalk and his son hostage.  When the other soldier returned with the dead body, his fellow soldiers were enraged.  They burst into the room where Chief Cornstalk and his son were being held, and murdered them both in cold blood.

Legend has it that with his dying breath, Chief Cornstalk placed a curse upon Point Pleasant, calling upon The Great Spirit to avenge their deaths.  The curse of Chief Cornstalk, as I was told the story, is as follows:

“I was the white man’s friend.  Many times I have saved the white man and his people from harm.  I never made war with you, except to protect our land.  I refused at the peril of my own people to join your enemies in the red coats.  I came to this fort as your friend, and you have murdered my young son, who harmed no one, and you have murdered me when I came only to save you.  For this, may the curse of the Great Spirit rest upon this land and its inhabitants.  May it be blighted by nature, and may it be blighted in its hopes.  May the strength of its people be paralyzed by the stain of our blood.”

The Curse of Chief Cornstalk is something taken very seriously in this area, by the way.  I was taught from a young age that the Native Americans really do have supernatural powers, due to their close relationship with nature, and that a Native American curse is something to be taken very, very seriously.

Do I believe that Native American curses are real?  Well, let’s just say I’d go completely out of my way to never make a full-blooded Native American angry, especially one who still practices their ancient culture.  Perhaps that’s out of respect, or perhaps it’s out of fear.  But most likely, given what I was taught as a child, it’s a little bit of both.

Belief in Native American legends, including a belief that they could place curses upon you, is very common in West Virginia.  As a result, many here believe that the Mothman was really the Thunderbird, and that it arose to extract the vengeance of Chief Cornstalk.

When you think about it, it actually makes more sense to believe that the Mothman was the vengeful Thunderbird, than that it came to warn people of impending disaster.  Truth is, the Mothman never warned anybody about anything, it just scared people half to death.  Some claimed they had nightmares about bodies floating in the river surrounded by Christmas presents, and that was in the movie too, but (quite conveniently) those people never told anyone about those dreams until after the disaster.  So the Mothman never gave any hint that a disaster was coming, much less where it would occur, even when it appeared in human form and could have done so very easily.

Of course, no one really knows for a fact what the Mothman was, or if it even really existed at all.  It could have been a very large bird (we have some really humongous birds in this state) seen in darkness and at an angle, so that it looked much larger than it really was.  The eyes could have been a reflection from headlights or flashlights, which made them appear both red and extremely large.  It could even have become a case of mass hysteria, especially once the stories started circulating. Maybe the strange men were just visiting from another country.  Maybe the electrical problems were caused by overhead electrical wires, or a bad batch of automobile batteries being sold at a local store.  The number of possible logical explanations for the various Mothman phenomena are nearly endless.

So did the Mothman try to warn us about the collapse of the Silver Bridge?  Was the Mothman actually the wrathful Thunderbird which caused the collapse of the bridge, as part of the Curse of Chief Cornstalk?  Or, was the Mothman just a figment of people’s imaginations?  In West Virginia, you’ll find plenty of people who believe in each of those theories so strongly, they’ll argue with you about it all day long.

Either way I look at it, the simple truth is that we’ll never actually know the truth about the Mothman of Point Pleasant.  It sure is interesting to think about it, though.


Hatfield-McCoy Trail Celebrates Anniversary in Mingo County

The Hatfield-McCoy Trail will be celebrating its anniversary this weekend.  It’s actually a really cool place to go, especially for those who enjoy four-wheeling.

Here are some details from WCHS-TV, in case anyone’s interested and close enough to attend:

Gilbert , Mingo County , West Virginia

The Hatfield-McCoy Trail is marking its birthday with a national trail event and a parade.

About 500 four wheelers will be parading down the streets of Gilbert Friday.

Meanwhile, 1,000 all-terrain vehicles will be prowling the streets and trails around town this weekend.

It’s called Trailfest and is expected to bring riders from all 50 states and 4,000 people to the small Mingo County community.

Events include demonstration rides, mud pit, drag racing, and equipment display by vendors and manufacturers, housing and feeding the riders is a major boost for the local tourist economy.

Appalachian Horror Story: My Own Ghost Story

It’s that spooky time of the year again, and I’ve just started watching the new season of one of my favorite television shows, American Horror Story.  Each season has the same very talented actors, but a completely different story and location.  This season is set in New Orleans, it’s about witches and voodoo, and so far it’s a truly rich and detailed story, as expected.

Since I love horror stories so much, I thought October was a good time to tell you some Appalachian horror stories, including some which have been passed down from generation to generation.

First, I’ll start with my very own ghost story.  What I’m about to tell you, I absolutely believe to be true, and I still believe it really happened to this very day.

My mother died very unexpectedly when I was 16 years old.  Over the years I had visited with her, sometimes staying for a little while, though I was raised by my grandparents in the little house on top of the hill.  About a year before her death, mommy lived with all of us at Mammaw and Pappawa’s house.  She was more like a big sister to me than a mom, since she was a teenager when I was born and Mammaw had raised me from the time I was a baby, but I loved mommy dearly.

Yes, we kids always called her “mommy”, and we all still do; though in other areas people tend to change “mommy” to “mom” at school age, it’s extremely common around here to always call your mother “mommy”, no matter how old you may be.

Shortly before she died, mommy had been hospitalized after being pistol-whipped by her ex-husband, who she was back with again (she went back and forth with him repeatedly like many abused women do, sadly).  Nobody knew about it because she didn’t call; she was understandably embarrassed, and didn’t want us to see her that way.  We found out only because my best friend’s mom, who worked in housekeeping at the hospital, told us she was a patient there.

Of course I went to the hospital to see her right away.  She had been beaten to a pulp, and as a 16-year-old kid who had been pretty sheltered by my grandparents from the harsh realities of my mom’s life, I was shocked by it.  When I asked her who did that to her, she just looked at me and said, “You know who did it”.  From what I understand, she had been beaten so viciously because he had told her to get his poker buddy an ashtray, and she told him to get it himself.

I went to see her every day, usually walking the four mile round trip to and from the hospital since I hadn’t yet saved up enough money to buy a car; I started working the day after I turned 12, first as a volunteer candystriper at that same hospital, then later in a minimum-wage position at a local sporting goods store, as soon as I was old enough to legally get a real job.  While I was leaving the hospital one day after visiting her, walking down the creepy but familiar dim hallways old hospitals had back then, I passed my stepfather, the same one who had beaten her.  I don’t think he saw me, or maybe he did and thought better of saying anything, since obviously I knew what he had done.  As I passed by him, I looked back just because I was so surprised to see him there, and I saw a sawed-off shotgun sticking out from under his sport coat.  I was kind of hysterical, I have to admit since I thought he was going to actually kill my mom, so I ran to tell the first security guard I could find and begged him to do something, anything, to protect my mother.

Not surprisingly, since I was just a kid and it was pretty unbelievable that someone would bring a concealed sawed-off shotgun to the hospital, they didn’t believe me.  I swear to this day that it was true, though.  Not only was he carrying that sawed-off shotgun into the hospital, stuck down the back of his pants with the butt of the gun concealed by his sport coat (though the split at the bottom of the sport coat moved when he walked, which is how I saw it), he was known to carry weapons, and he was also known to have killed several people (though the cops later told me, as an adult, that though they knew it was him, they could never prove it).  So what I saw that day wasn’t even that unusual for him, but no one believed me because I was just a kid, and they probably thought I either had a wild imagination, or had seen something else which I mistook for a shotgun.  I knew exactly what his sawed-off shotgun looked like though, because I’d seen it many times before.  The hospital didn’t even bother to look for him, though I told them exactly where he was going.  When I asked my mom about it the next day, she refused to discuss it at all, but she also didn’t deny he had brought his sawed-off shotgun into her room.  I think he did that to scare her away from pressing charges, and it worked.

When mommy was discharged from the hospital a couple of weeks later, my best friend (who had a family car she was allowed to use) and I picked her up because she didn’t have a car.  I begged mommy to come stay at Mammaw and Pappaw’s house, because obviously I was worried about her returning to such a dangerous situation, but she refused to even consider it, probably because she felt like she would be placing all of us in danger.  So with a very heavy heart, we took her back to the rented house where she lived with her ex.  She didn’t want us to come inside, probably because she didn’t know how he might react.  I’m sure she was only protecting us by not inviting us in though, because normally we were welcome.  I watched her walk inside, and she peeked through the curtains and waved, as if to say she was okay.

That was the last time I ever saw my mother alive.

A few weeks later, Mammaw got a phone call from her sister.  Her sister and brother-in-law had a police scanner, and they’d sit and listen to it for hours on end.  Back then, the cops around here didn’t really use radio codes like they should have, they mostly just said what they needed to say, so anybody listening in knew exactly what they were talking about.  She had called to tell Mammaw that my mother had been found dead in an old rundown residential hotel downtown.

For the first time in my life, I saw Mammaw – the strongest woman I’ve ever known – have a complete breakdown, but at the time, we had no idea why.  She dropped the phone and started wailing and crying, screaming incoherently, and she even physically collapsed.  Pappaw was trying to figure out what was wrong, and we kids just stood there in horror, not comprehending what could possibly cause Mammaw to react that way.  We were very, very scared to see Mammaw that way, and we clung to each other for dear life.  My younger sisters were crying hysterically, and I was hugging them and desperately trying to calm them down while terrified myself, and attempting to understand what had happened.  That evening, Mammaw and Pappaw sat us kids down and told us that our mother – her youngest daughter – had died.

To this very day, I don’t understand why my aunt didn’t come to our house and tell Mammaw that awful news in person, so she could break it to her gently and be there to comfort her.  She just lived on the other side of the hill, so there was nothing stopping her from doing that.  I thought telling Mammaw something like that over the phone, just blurting it out like it was exciting neighborhood gossip, was one of the cruelest things I’d ever known anyone to do.  I still think that.  It was just sick, as if she got some kind of thrill out of being the first one to relay such horrible news.

Needless to say, after that day, I never liked my aunt, and I finally understood why Mammaw had never really liked her.  She was a very cruel-hearted woman, and though she’s long gone, I still have never forgiven her for the way she handled that situation.  She traumatized all of us, but especially poor Mammaw, who to her dying day never really got over being informed so callously about the death of her youngest child.

The next day, Mammaw, Pappaw, and Mammaw’s older daughter (my favorite aunt, she’s just wonderful) went to the hotel to gather my mother’s things, which were few.  They were told she’d checked in earlier in the week.  Though she had been told there were no rooms ready, she promised to clean it herself, she just needed a place to stay immediately.  Since the lady who owned the hotel knew my mom and liked her (pretty much everybody around here knew everybody else back then), she agreed to let her have the room.

The hotel residents told Mammaw that they had heard my mom cleaning the room, but that night they heard heavy footsteps in the room for hours, which they said was obviously a man, and there was a lot of noise, which they described as sounding like furniture being moved around.  That was the night, the medical examiner determined, that my mother died.  The next day, the man who lived across the hall realized her room was unlocked, and he had stolen the television from her room (because the one in his room wasn’t as nice, he told the police), along with a few other things.  He had just walked around my mother’s corpse, still clinging in death to the bedpost, but didn’t bother to tell anyone what he had seen, because then they would know he had stolen from her room.  So it was not until days later, when one of the residents complained of an odor and the landlord realized she hadn’t seen my mom since she moved in, that anyone (other than the thief and her murderer, obviously) realized what had happened.  However, since the crime scene had been compromised by that lowlife thief who stole from a dead woman, the man who murdered my mother would never be brought to justice.

Evidence being compromised wasn’t the only problem with the investigation, though.  A very big part of the problem was that my stepfather was a well-known criminal who had connections in the police department, and he used to pay cops to look the other way; I know this for an absolute fact, because I was with him more than once when he was doing it, they were basically on his payroll, and he considered it a part of “doing business” (though none of his “business” was legal – he was a gambler and a pimp, and owned a private club downtown where large quantities of drugs were sold, and his hookers plied their trade).  In the end, there was no real investigation into my mother’s death, and one longtime detective actually resigned over the way the case was handled.  So exactly what happened to my mom is something of a mystery to this very day, and people still talk about it.  I even saw a question someone (who said they were her friend) had left on a local gossip website about a year ago, asking if anyone knew what had really happened to her.

The coroner ruled her manner of death undetermined, because she had taken pills of every imaginable description.  However, the police officer who resigned didn’t believe it was even possibly a suicide, and neither did the man who owned the funeral home.  He told me many years later, because I specifically asked him what he knew about my mother’s death,  that she was nearly decapitated, that her head was barely attached when he received her body.  That obviously doesn’t happen from popping pills (which my mom was known to do), nor does it suggest suicide.  What the coroner didn’t know is that my stepfather had bragged many times about killing someone else, by forcing them to take a bunch of pills to make it look like a suicide.  I guess we’ll never know exactly what happened to her, but at the same time, we know enough to know she was murdered.  Her ex actually tried to have her cremated, though nobody in our family has ever been cremated and he had no legal right to do that, and poor Mammaw had to prove that they weren’t married anymore, in order to stop that from happening.  My family thought he wanted her cremated to hide evidence of what he had done.

At the funeral, things only intensified.  My uncle on my dad’s side refused to let me go into the room where my my mom’s casket was, because despite the best efforts of the funeral home, and despite her high-neck dress covering up the damage to her neck, she still looked like she had been beaten to death.  He said that since I look so much like her, I didn’t need to have that picture in my head (and he was absolutely right).  When Mammaw went in to see her body though, she started screaming over and over again, “No, that’s not my baby!” because she had been beaten so horrifically (and her body had lain undiscovered for so long) that she didn’t even look like herself anymore; and I can still hear her screams of horror in my mind to this very day, just as I can still hear the screams on the day Mammaw was told about her death.

Undercover cops were everywhere at the funeral home, supposedly to protect the family (though some said it was to protect her ex, who’d been paying them off for years, from our family).  Mammaw’s baby brother was a tough-as-nails truck driver, and he came in from out of state for the funeral; he not only intended to kill my mom’s ex-husband if he showed up at the funeral, he even brought his gun to the funeral home and made no secret of it, he wore it right out in the open in a holster on his side.  Sure enough, her ex showed up, but the police quickly surrounded him and escorted him out before my family could get near him.  Though Mammaw was adamant before the viewing that she didn’t want him there, when she got wind that he was actually there, she started screaming, “Let him in!  Make that sonofabitch see what he did to my baby!”  It was just absolute chaos, extremely frightening and traumatizing, especially in the eyes of a sheltered 16-year-old girl.

The scariest part didn’t begin until long after her funeral, though.

Months later, I started hearing strange sounds in the house that would wake me up at night, though normally I’m such a deep sleeper that even an alarm clock won’t wake me up.  One night I remember waking up to footsteps walking through our little house, from the living room over the metal floor furnace (which was right by my bedroom, and made a unique sound when you’d step on it), and into the kitchen.  I heard the silverware drawer being opened, and moments later, closed again.  I was always too scared to look, to be honest, though I probably could have seen them from my bed since our bedroom door was always open.  At the time I told myself that a thief was breaking into our house, but nothing was ever missing.

That happened every night for months, the same exact thing over and over and over again, always at exactly the same time.

Then one night, my younger sisters woke me up.  They were both wide awake, sitting on the sides of their beds, and talking excitedly to somebody in whispers, but loud enough for me to hear since their beds were very close to mine.  They were obviously talking to our mom, which shocked me to the core.  When they realized I was sitting up in bed looking at them, they whispered, “Look, Mommy’s here!” and pointed to the area in between their beds.  I still didn’t see anything, though admittedly it was very dark in our room, and thought my sisters just wanted to believe she was there, maybe from a dream, and had just let their imaginations get away with them.  I didn’t say anything to Mammaw about that, because I didn’t want to upset her or get my sisters in trouble.

Those kinds of weird goings-on continued in that house for well over a year, with me always coming up with a logical explanation for it.  Then one day, I had an experience of my own, wide awake in the middle of the day, and there was no denying it anymore.

I had gone for ice cream one afternoon with a boy I liked, along with his older married sister and her husband (I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere with boys, unless there was an adult chaperone).  When they dropped me off at home, no one was there.  I knew Mammaw and Pappaw and my sisters had gone for ice cream too, which is something Pappaw liked to do to get Mammaw out of the house (though she’d never go inside, so he’d bring her cone to her – always vanilla – in the car).

Now, back then, nobody around here ever locked their doors.  So I just walked inside, like any other day.  As soon as I was fully inside the house with the door closed behind me, I heard my mother’s voice, loud and clear and plain as day, saying my name.  My head immediately turned to the right front corner of the living room, where we kept the telephone, because the voice was so clear that I knew exactly who it was and exactly where the voice had come from, just as I would if somebody was sitting there talking to me.  However, I saw no one there.  All I saw was a shadow, where no shadow should have been.

I backed out the front door and, scared half to death, waited on the porch for Mammaw and Pappaw to get home.

A few days later, I was still really scared by it, so I finally got up the guts to say something to Mammaw, not knowing how she’d react to it.  She listened quietly, then she just looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, your mommy won’t bother you anymore.  She didn’t mean to scare you.”

To this day, I firmly believe my mother spoke to me from beyond the grave.  I also now believe she had been talking to my sisters, and that Mammaw knew she was there too.  I think her spirit came back to that little house on the hill where she would forever be safe, just as I had begged her to do the last time I saw her.

Others who lived there after Mammaw moved said that they heard and saw strange things in that house as well, and it came to be known as a haunted house.  Today, the house has been torn down and there’s nothing there, it’s just an empty lot.  Sometimes I wonder where my mom went after the house was torn down, or if she went anywhere.

Try though I did to come up with alternate explanations, I now actually believe that mommy came home to our little house on the hill after she died.  I just wish I hadn’t been so scared by it, because I have never again heard her voice or seen or heard any sign of her, just as Mammaw said would happen.  i still wonder what she wanted to tell me, though.  Maybe she just wanted to say “I love you”, but maybe she wanted me to know how she died, since she went out of her way to get my attention, and did so in a way I could no longer deny.  I guess I will never know.

So, that’s my personal ghost story.  Do any of you have a personal ghost story to share?  If so, feel free to put them in the comments section.

Who shot Jimmie and Mary Thompson? [Feuds]

Nancy Hatfield, daughter of Devil Anse who was known as Nannie, died about 30 years before I was born, so sadly I never knew her.  However, I have heard stories over the years about her, and I thought I would impart an especially interesting one here.

Nannie was, I was told, a very loving woman, but fiercely protective of her family.  So I was told that she would feud, though as a female, she was only peripherally involved in the famous Hatfield McCoy feud.

That actually sounds about right, since many women in my family are prone to feuding behavior.   Those “feuds” are usually nothing more than a protracted argument between them and another family, but those arguments can go on for years, to the point that no one even remembers who or what started it.

Nannie was married twice, to John Vance and then to Charlie Mullens.  John Vance was her cousin, which was not at all unusual back then.  His great-grandparents Susannah and Abner Howard were also Devil Anse’s great-grandparents, but they were descended through different children.

Interestingly enough, given the well-known dispute between the Hatfields and McCoys over a pig, this is yet another Hatfield story involving murder and a pig.

Nannie and John lived in Logan County and worked a plot of farmland, when they started having problems with pigs rooting in their corn.  If you are not familiar with farming, pigs rooting in the corn can destroy the entire crop very quickly, so it was a very serious problem.   The pigs belonged to Jimmie and Mary Thompson, who worked a landlocked parcel which required that they cross Hatfield/Vance land to get to their own crops.

The pig rooting problem had been going on a while, and they had been warned that if they did not control their pigs, they themselves would be shot.  Even to this day, people in my family will not warn someone twice about anything (though of course, we are also not threatening to kill anybody), so I am not really surprised at what happened next.

When the pigs returned one time too many,  John and Nannie waited in the field for the Thompsons to cut through, and carried through on the threat.  While cutting through the Hatfield/Vance land on their way to tend their crops, the Thompsons were shot.  Jimmie was shot in the abdomen and died a few hours later, and Mary was shot in the arm and elbow and suffered serious lifelong injuries.

The Thompsons were not armed, despite having been warned directly of impending violence.  It seems they did not take the warning seriously.  It is very possible they thought it was just angry talk, and not an actual death threat.

John Vance and Rhoda “Blackey” Vance Pack (who was also there) were charged with murder.  John was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison.  The relatively light sentence, as I understand it, was due to the fact that the Thompsons had been warned, and were trespassing at the time.  Back then, trespassing was a very serious offense, and it could get you shot.

While it would not be surprising to anyone who watched the Hatfields & McCoys miniseries if a male Vance killed someone, or even if a male Hatfield killed someone, there have always been rumors that Nannie was the one who actually shot the Thompsons that fateful day.

As the story was relayed to me, the shooting of the Thompsons had little to do with the pigs, despite the dispute over them.  As I understand it, the Thompsons had a lot of children, and were extremely irresponsible parents who had tired of taking care of their large brood.  They removed their belongings from their cabin and set it ablaze, with the children still inside.  While the older children thankfully got the younger children to safety, when Nannie heard about what they had done, it sealed their fates, and she shot them both.  At least, that’s what I was told, and I have seen an old letter from one of the Thompsons’ daughters, which seems to back up that story.

While I really and truly hope that was not the case on either side, I have actually seen women in my family brandishing firearms in anger, and women in my family tend to be fiercely protective of all children, not just their own;  so I also cannot just discount those rumors out of hand.  The truth is, I do not know if she did it, or exactly why she (or John, or both) did it, and I doubt anyone but them ever actually knew for sure.  I do know it is possible Nannie did it despite John being convicted simply because, in my family, the husband will take the fall for the wife, for the sake of their children.

For the record, I would never in a million years pull a gun in anger, though I have lots of guns and am very skilled in their use.   I firmly believe that you do not ever pull a gun on a person, unless you actually intend to kill them.  So the only way I’d ever pull a gun on someone is if I felt that I had no choice.

I can however say that if pigs were constantly rooting in my corn, I might shoot the pigs after first warning the neighbors to keep them contained, but I’d feel very bad about it since the pigs were just being pigs, and the humans should have stopped them.  Maybe Nannie and John felt the same way about the pigs being pigs.  Either way, it would never even occur to me to kill the neighbors.

Of course, I was not raised by Devil Anse during the Hatfield McCoy Feud, either.

Surviving the Storms of Life: Caring For A Dying Friend

In my last post about the “Hatfields & McCoys: White Lightning” reality show, I mentioned that I was absent from the blog for a while due to the death of a close friend.  After receiving a very kind comment from a lady by the name of Susan, I thought it may be helpful to someone out there if I explain what happened.

My husband is originally from the mountains of Virginia (then later the mountains of North Carolina, near the Virginia border) and he had a dear friend there who I’ll call K, who was originally from West Virginia.  K eventually ended up back here, along with my husband; my husband and I met shortly thereafter.  K worked for my husband for many years, in his construction business.  They spent lots of time together outside of work as well, and they and their wives at that time (both ladies are now sadly deceased) even took vacations together.  They were best friends for over 30 years, so K was family to us.

Last year, K became very sick with lung cancer, though he was only about 50 years old.  This was his second round with the disease, and this time, they removed his entire lung.  If you’ve never seen the scar from lung-removal surgery, it’s really horrendous.  It actually looks like a giant shark took a bite out of the person, from their neck to the bottom of their ribs, and curving down around to their side.  In fact, we referred to K’s surgery scar as his “shark bite”.

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“Hatfields & McCoys: White Lightning”

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but our friend we were caring for (lung cancer) passed away, and to be completely honest, I just didn’t feel like writing on the blog until a very nice fella by the name of “Jim” left a comment, and asked me if I have a comment on the TV show “Hatfields & McCoys: White Lightning”.  As a matter of fact (as you all probably figured) I certainly do.  I originally wrote this about a week or so ago, but I just realized that for some reason it didn’t post, so here we go again…

First of all, let me point out once again that the Hatfields and McCoys are no longer feuding – far from it, in fact, no matter what anyone may say on this “reality” television show.  We get along just fine, and many Hatfields and McCoys are good friends.  No “reality” TV show is ever going to change that, no matter how much they try.  And boy, does that show try to give the impression that we’re still feuding.  In fact, they come right out and say that the Hatfields and McCoys have been “feuding for over 100 years”.  That is an out-and-out lie, and anybody with an internet connection knows it.  In real reality, the feud ended over 100 years ago.

Now, let me also point out that while there are still very real feuds in West Virginia, especially in the southern part of the state where the family clans live in close proximity, none of those feuds involve the Hatfields and McCoys.  Sure, sometimes Hatfields or McCoys might disagree, with each other or with another family, and they might even cuss each other or get into a fist fight, but that’s not a feud.  That’s an argument, or at worst, a fight.  A feud is a full-out armed war between families, and if our families were feuding, believe me, I’d definitely know about it.  So I can say for an absolute fact that there is no feuding going on between the two families, regardless of how many times this television show states otherwise.

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Hatfield/McCoy Feud

I finally (at long last) finished my post comparing the Hatfield/McCoy feud as I know it, having heard the oral family history, with the miniseries starring Kevin Costner.

It is significantly more detailed than the original relatively short post, and it also answers many questions which were asked repeatedly in comments on the prior posts about the feud.

If you have an interest in the subject matter, feel free to check it out here.