Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 13, 2013

Summer is truly a good time to get out and soak up some regional history

Knowing where the old Princeton Airport was or being able to point where United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis once slept on Stubby Currence’s office couch upstairs at the Daily Telegraph offices makes one a part of history. I sometimes tell people that I know so much about the past because I have lived through more of it than almost anybody. As a teacher I do think it is part of my job to give the latest generation(s) as much information as I can about this — or any other — area because we are more likely to be prepared for the future if we have the foundation of yesterday’s information to stand on.

Some of the most delightful days and nights I ever spent at the newspaper were those researching area history. Together with Dr. Terry Mullins and J. Franklin Long, among others, we reviewed a great deal of Four Seasons Country events from 1880 to 1990. From the old days of the livestock drives through Thompson Valley down to the North Tazewell railroad station to the summary of the famed Park Central High School Thundering Herd athletic teams, that research effort was a real treat.

In part because of the wide variety of activities I have been part of over the past 40-plus years, I have never (sadly!) taken the time to join any local historical societies. Too many press boxes, curriculum lessons, interviews, tests to grade, or games to play have kept me out of those most worthy groups. Still, in all the madness I have had opportunities to be part of a host of activities. One of the most interesting was over at Boissevain when David Phipps and several local citizens organized the Boissevain Miner’s Memorial Park & Museum a generation ago. That led to the Poke Salad Bluegrass Festival, among other events, and it was all a grand effort. Although the park is now owned by Tazewell County and the festival is only a memory those days will shine forever.

During this very summer, when most English teachers are reading novels and preparing for literary endeavors, yours truly has just finished a dynamic duo of historic works. One is called — “Cradle of America: Four Centuries of Virginia History” by Peter Wallenstein. The learned professor was a teacher of history at Virginia Tech when the tome was published in time for the Old Dominion’s 400th birthday party in 2007. It was thoughtfully provided by son Derek and daughter-in-law Katie on a recent holiday.

 The second book is entitled  — “The Feud” and chronicles the history of the Hatfield and McCoy showdown in both West Virginia and Kentucky in the generation after the Civil War. Written by Dean King, who was a classmate of Historic Crab Orchard Museum and Pioneer Park director Charlotte Whitted, the story is packed so full of information one might have to read it two or three times, up, down, and sideways to get everything in perspective.

After having finished those two books, there should be a few columns worth of material to pass along to you, Lord willing, in the coming months and years. For example, a couple of Tazewell Countians were involved in the famed feud back in the days when Devil Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy led their families through some mighty murderous times. The Virginia book begins with a preface prior to the original settling of Jamestown but mentions many items related to Southwest Virginia, including references to Cedar Bluff native, Gov. George C. Peery.

Since school is almost always at the top of my personal priority list, a couple of references intrigued me. Devil Anse Hatfield was, at one time, a school trustee (school board member). That led into a situation where he personally helped a relative with a school-related matter and the term — nepotism — crept up somewhere in the back of my mind, which should always be a concern for any school official, or any politician, for that matter.  

Although I have never met Prof. Wallenstein, it was a treat to visit with Dean King down at the museum in Tazewell a few days ago. King told a variety of stories about his work with the feud and even related that he was shot at during one of his visits to the bloody area. A host of local fans showed up for a pot-luck dinner and discussion. One of those was my friend, Rusty Hatfield, who told me that Wall Hatfield, one of the significant members of the family at the time of the conflict, was his great-great-grandfather.

Rusty, who taught for several years at Tazewell High School, is now the minister for a trio of local Episcopal churches. He is a multi-talented individual who has been an English teacher, band director, choir director, coach, athletic director, actor (that might be a pre-requisite for the jobs mentioned previously) and a history buff. Rusty is a Matewan native, as well, so he has more connections than a whole home electrical system.

Summer is truly a time to get out and soak up some history around here. With Zak Wasilewski pitching here in Bluefield, local fans have yet another link to sports history. From Bullet Bill Dudley of Graham to Zolly Toth of the Pocahontas Indians, and Mike Compton of Richlands, there are a host of local stars. Graham’s two-time Super Bowl man, Ahmad Bradshaw, is now a member of the Indianapolis Colts while the old Bulldog Billy Wagner, here during All-Star week, was one of major league baseball’s best relievers for more than a decade.

Historically speaking, this may be the only column I write this decade on the 13th day of the 13th year of the century!

Larry Hypes a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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