“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Matewan in Mingo County, West Virginia — The American South (Appalachia)

Matewan Area History

Matewan Area History Marker image. Click for full size.
By Duane Hall, August 7, 2015
1. Matewan Area History Marker
Inscription.  Matewan and the surrounding area have a rich and sometimes violent history that revolves around coal, the railroad and flooding. In the early 19th century, the Ferrell family settled in the area along the northern edge of Tug Fork and a then-unnamed tributary. Legend has it that Richard Ferrell named the tributary Mate Creek after his favorite dog, Mate, who drowned during a hunt while chasing a bear across the ice at the mouth of Mate Creek. The remainder of the town’s name is attributed to Erskine Hazard—a civil engineer working for the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W, now Norfolk Southern Corporation). Hazard laid out and mapped the community already developing along the north edge of the Tug Fork in 1890, and suggested naming the settlement after his hometown of Matteawan, New York. An abridged version of the name, Matewan, became common usage, likely to match the name of the nearby creek. The railroad reached the town in 1892, which attracted newcomers to the area, as did available jobs at the nearby mines of the Williamson Coal Field. Coal companies built housing for workers throughout the area, and Matewan was incorporated in 1895.

Matewan Markers in Front of Replica Train Depot image. Click for full size.
By Duane Hall, August 7, 2015
2. Matewan Markers in Front of Replica Train Depot
area is known for violence associated with the Hatfield-McCoy feud, which some claim was exaggerated by the press. The post-Civil War feud involved multiple generations of Hatfields, led by “Devil Anse” Hatfield, and McCoys, led by Randolph “Ole Ran’l” McCoy. The McCoys lived primarily on the Kentucky side of Tug Fork while the Hatfield on the West Virginia side. The first violence between the families reportedly occurred in 1865, shortly after the end of the war. Local ex-Confederate militia, calling themselves the Logan Wildcats, were suspected of killing returning Union soldier, Asa Harman McCoy, who was Randall McCoy’s brother. Although no one was charged with the murder, it was rumored that Devil Anse Hatfield and the Logan Wildcats were involved. Repeated violent encounters between 1878 and 1891 led to the deaths of approximately 12 members of the two families.

The Mine Wars of the early 1920s centered around the United Mine Workers’ attempt to organize miners in the southwestern West Virginia smokeless coal fields. The union controversy combined with other factors created a volatile climate in the area that erupted in several violent events: the Battle of Matewan on May 19, 1920; the three-day Battle of the Tug May 12-14, 1921; the killing of Police Chief Sid Hatfield and his deputy, Ed Chambers, in Welch on August 1, 1921; and the Battle
Matewan Markers image. Click for full size.
By Duane Hall, August 7, 2015
3. Matewan Markers
View to south; Tug Fork flood gate in background
of Blair Mountain in August and September of 1921.

The turmoil set off by these events caused Governor Cornwell to activate the recently established West Virginia State Police to restore order. Cornwell and successive Governor Ephraim Morgan repeatedly requested and received help from federal troops. Both governors declared martial law in Mingo County on several occasions—at one time for a stretch of 15 months (June 1921--September 1922). By 1922 the state’s militia (national guard) and the State Police’s less than 300 members were stretched thin by the numerous incidents of labor unrest.

Tug Fork has caused flooding in the area since the earliest recorded settlement, and it has flooded Matewan an estimated 36 times since 1949. Major floods in 1957 and 1963 were followed by a record flood of April 4, 1977, which led to the destruction of over one-third of all dwellings, City Hall, a medical clinic and other facilities. Following the devastation of that flood, legislation was passed providing for construction of floodwalls in the region. Construction of the Matewan floodwall and supporting levee began in 1985, a year after another major flood hit the town, and was completed in 1996. A mural on the 2,350-foot wall depicts the Battle of Matewan and other events in local history.

The Matewan Depot replica museum includes details about these and
View to East Towards Downtown Matewan image. Click for full size.
By Duane Hall, August 7, 2015
4. View to East Towards Downtown Matewan
other aspects of the region’s history. The Hatfield-McCoy feud and Battle of Matewan are regularly commemorated in the reenactments and other heritage events.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: DisastersLabor UnionsRailroads & StreetcarsSettlements & Settlers. In addition, it is included in the The Hatfield-McCoy Feud series list.
Location. 37° 37.365′ N, 82° 10.096′ W. Marker is in Matewan, West Virginia, in Mingo County. Marker is at the intersection of State Highway 1056 and Main Street, on the right when traveling south on State Highway 1056. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Matewan WV 25678, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Matewan and the Railroad (here, next to this marker); Sid Hatfield (a few steps from this marker); Mingo County / State of Kentucky (a few steps from this marker); Matewan Massacre (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Hatfield-McCoy Feud (about 800 feet away); Divided Loyalties (about 800 feet away); M.E. South Church (approx. ¼ mile away); a different marker also named Matewan Massacre (approx. 0.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Matewan.
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. It was originally submitted on August 31, 2015, by Duane Hall of Abilene, Texas. This page has been viewed 369 times since then and 14 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on August 31, 2015, by Duane Hall of Abilene, Texas.
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Mar. 2, 2021