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.

What Is A Dad? [Fathers Day]

I wanted to take a quick moment to wish all the dads out there a Happy Fathers Day!

Today got me thinking, what is a dad?  We all are accustomed to thinking of dads in terms of biological fathers, adoptive fathers and stepfathers.  However, that has not really been my experience.

There are lots of unsung dads out there, who deserve the title as much as (or more than) those we normally think of as fathers.  They can be grandfathers, uncles, or even friends of the mom when there is no dad in the picture.  I find those men to be extraordinary individuals, since they become dads purely out of love, and not due to obligation.  Those of us who have those dads are especially lucky, because we can honestly say that our dads chose to be our dads.

Papaw with his dog Bear, sitting at the end of the driveway to my childhood home on the hill. This was taken circa 1985, after he got sick, and about a year before his death.

My dad was my step-grandfather, who we called Papaw (pronounced pap-paw).  He was an extraordinary man, simply stated.  He started taking in his step-grandchildren very shortly after marrying my grandmother (who he barely knew when they married, but that is another story for another time), starting with my brother and me when I was only a few months old.  He eventually raised four of us from infancy.

Papaw worked his fingers to the bone in order to provide for us, but he never once complained.  He was not very educated, though he was also neither illiterate nor stupid, and he valued education for us kids; he worked most of my life as a local truck driver.  Though he could have made much more money driving long distance, since he had the license and skill to do that, he wanted to be home with us every evening.

I do not remember him ever taking a day off, or even a vacation day.  We certainly never went on any vacations of any type, because there was just not the money to do things like that.  We lived in a very poor part of town, in a rundown little house up on top of a hill so steep, with a road so winding, that you could not even get up or down it when the snow fell, unless you walked.  Papaw used to park his car at the bottom of the hill and walk on snow days so he could still get back and forth to work, both arms inevitably filled to overflowing with groceries.

It takes a lot of food to feed four growing kids, after all, and Mamaw took in babysitting for extra cash as well, so there were always at least three or four additional mouths to feed (but usually even more than that, especially when their mothers could not get up the hill to pick them up).  That translates into daily trips to the grocery store just to keep food on the table, but as always, he never once complained, even when he had to carry those groceries on foot up that steep winding hill in a big snowstorm.  Instead he would walk in the door after working all day and then taking that long freezing walk, Mamaw would make him some fresh hot coffee in her old percolator on the stove to warm him up, and he would come into the living room with a smile as big as the whole outdoors, to play with us kids and watch the news while Mamaw cooked supper.

Continue reading