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.

Surviving the Storms of Life: The 1937 Flood

Huntington, West Virginia, during the great flood of 1937

The severe weather we have been experiencing here reminds me to tell you about the Great Flood of 1937, known in these parts as simply the 1937 Flood.  While it was long ago, and obviously before my time, people in this area still talk about it, and there are old photos in many homes and businesses of the damage.  The water was so high in places that it even covered and washed away houses, and it completely wiped out entire towns along the Ohio River.

West Virginia has many, many large bodies of water.  We even have a lot of waterfalls, which is not well known to those who have not actually explored the more rural areas.  There is not only the mighty Ohio River, which is a mile across where Huntington meets Ohio, there is also the Guyandotte River, Big Sandy River, Monongahela River, Kanawha River, Greenbrier River, New River, and too many others to list.  Lots of the creeks here are so large that they are considered to be rivers as well.

Naming the rivers reminds me of an amusing story.  When I was in high school, I was very involved in 4-H and student government programs.  Through those programs, I came to know the late A. James Manchin, at that time Secretary of State.  Now, A. James was quite the character.  A tubby man with a loud booming voice, he was a real oldtime politician, and quite beloved throughout the state.  For some reason he took a shine to me, probably just because I was an awkward brainy kid from a poor family – salt of the earth, as he might say.  I actually liked A. James quite a bit, and he was always very nice to me, but even as a kid I realized he was a little on the wacky side.

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Surviving the Storms of Life, West Virginia Style

Last night, probably in part due to the extremely high heat, we experienced a storm far more severe than we usually get in these parts.  Hubby and I were sitting in the family room watching television during the storm, the electricity was going on and off, and all of a sudden he was up in a flash, running outside and looking at the sky in a particular direction.  When I went to ask him if everything was okay, he said that the wind just did not sound right.

That may have been the understatement of the year.

He was listening for a train sound (which we get here all the time, since there are lots of railroad tracks in the area) because he said that is the sound of a tornado.  Mind you, we do not normally get tornadoes in this area since we are surrounded by hills, but it has happened, and that wind was fierce.

My niece was in her apartment at the University of Alabama when the tornado tore the town of Tuscaloosa to bits.  Her phone was down and I was the only family member online at the time, so she sent me a chat message and asked me to tell her mom and dad that she loved them.  Of course, I had no idea what was happening there, but I was alarmed by that message, obviously.  When I asked her what was going on and she told me about the storm and described the horrible sound she was hearing, hubby told me to tell her as quickly as my fingers could type to stop what she was doing immediately, grab her mattress, get in the bathtub and pull the mattress over her, because she was about to get a direct hit by a massive tornado.

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Catfish Man of the Woods

Catfish Man of the Woods

When I was a child, I remember my grandparents taking me to see an Appalachian herbalist named Catfish Man of the Woods (his real name was Clarence Gray, but everyone called him Catfish).  He was quite the character, to say the very least, LOL.  He kept a canning jar filled with his own urine on his mantle, and I remember that it was clear as water, which he attributed to his herbs having long past cleansed his body of toxins, and he would drink it because he believed drinking ones own urine had health benefits.

Do I drink my own urine?  Absolutely not, LOL.

So Catfish was a very unusual person, to say the very least.  He lived in Mason County, which is very rural to this day.  He was barely literate, having been declared ineducable by the third grade, and he talked a mile a minute so you had to listen carefully to understand what he was saying, but he had an encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine.  His knowledge of herbs was so advanced, in fact, and he was such an unusual and interesting person, that a documentary was made about him, and he was even once a guest on The Johnny Carson Show.

Some have said that Catfish was an autistic savant.  Back when he was a child, an autistic child would (incorrectly, obviously) indeed have been considered ineducable, especially in rural schools.  I cannot say whether he was an autistic savant, since I am not a doctor.  However, having met him many times, what I can say is that it is very possible, and even somewhat probable.  Either way, Catfish was a great guy, very funny and very friendly – he never met a stranger – and I thought the world of him.

Catfish combined traditional Appalachian folk medicine with traditional Native American medicine, and many people absolutely swore by him and his treatments.  Even today, many folks in West Virginia use traditional Appalachian herbal medicine, including me.

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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.

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Hatfields & McCoys: A comparison with the oral family history [Updated]

As previously stated, I hail from the Hatfield clan, of the infamous Hatfield/McCoy feud, and have heard the oral family history since I was a young child.  I thought it might be interesting for viewers of the Hatfields & McCoys miniseries if I compared the series to the family oral history, as well as history in general.

Devil Anse was a very tough character, that much is undeniable.  There is a reason they called him six foot of the devil and 180 pounds of hell, after all.  What they did not show at all is that he had a great sense of humor, and loved to play practical jokes.  He also looked absolutely nothing like Kevin Costner in the miniseries, as you can see in the photo at left.

The actors portraying the family are far more attractive than the actual Hatfield family (naturally, since they are actors), which is something my family finds endlessly amusing.  Not only did Anse look absolutely nothing like Kevin Costner, but Vicey was actually short and plump, and Johnse did not look like the dreamboat he is portrayed as being.  Roseanna McCoy was not even a blonde.  The offensive thing about that is, there is nothing wrong with not looking like a Hollywood actor, and in fact most people do not look like a Hollywood actor, so why did the actors not look anything like the actual people involved?  You can see individual photos of Johnse and Roseanna by clicking the link below to my post about their relationship.  The following is a photo of Devil Anse and his wife Levicey, to show you just how much they did not look like the actors in the miniseries.

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Devil Anse and Vigilantism in West Virginia [Television]

The History Channel will be airing a three-episode historical miniseries on the Hatfield/McCoy feud starting tonight, starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton.  I have a unique interest in the miniseries, since it is actually reenacting part of my family history.

As a direct descendant of Devil Anse Hatfield (my great-great-great grandfather), of course I have heard stories about the feud for my entire life. It will be especially interesting to see to what extent the miniseries corresponds with that oral family history.

My great-grandmother remembered Devil Anse fondly. She said that he had a great sense of humor and loved to play practical jokes, that he always had a twinkle in his eye, and that he absolutely doted on his children and grandchildren.  She also said that he was fiercely protective of his family, as history is very well aware.

She once told me that no one was surprised when Anse kidnapped the McCoy boys and ordered their execution after they murdered his brother Ellison, and that no one really cared that he did it because they considered it justice done. This does not surprise me at all, even today.

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