A West Virginia Coalfield Love Story

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    Article headline: Lima News (Ohio) March 5, 1922
    Article headline: Lima News (Ohio) March 5, 1922

    Following what would become known as the “Battle of Matewan,” Sid Hatfield would emerge as a true mountain legend.

    Newspapermen from across the county would descend upon Mingo County, West Virginia, writing of the town’s larger than life police chief who stood up for his community against powerful mine bosses and their militant arm.

    Dubbing Hatfield “Two Gun Smilin’ Sid Hatfield,” as a consequence of having his upper teeth crowned in gold and due to the fact that as police chief he carried two revolvers on his hips at all times, the media created a powerful persona for the young lawman.

    The May 19, 1920, shootout on the streets of Matewan had left seven of the Baldwin-Felts detectives dead. On the townspeople’s side, only two miners had been killed, along with the town’s mayor, Cabell Testerman.

    As the people of Matewan buried their mayor and mourned the loss of two of their miners, residents found solace in the fact that at least one local official had resisted bribes and remained faithful to the common-man. Hatfield, who stood up to the Baldwin-Felts Detectives, referred to as ‘thugs’ by the townspeople, had been elevated to an almost mythical status throughout the hills of southern West Virginia.

    Not everyone, however, was pleased with the news of miners, led by a rogue police chief, rising up in arms. Fearing that he was on the verge of losing control of the coalfield town of Matewan, West Virginia Governor John J. Cornwell, dispatched the entire state’s police force of fifty men to reestablish order on the banks of the Tug River. Hatfield and the miners are said to have cooperated with the state’s police, stacking their weapons inside the hardware store of Hatfield’s deputy, Ed Chambers.

    With both of his brothers dead, at the hand of Hatfield, Baldwin-Felts leader Thomas Felts, vowed to see revenge and within days had undercover detectives trailing Hatfield’s every step.

    A Scandalous Marriage
    It had been only ten days since the town of Matewan had played host to a deadly shootout on its streets.

    Sid Hatfield was being praised as the true and just gun-slinging hero of the hills.

    While making a secret trip to Huntington, however, the spotless reputation of the police chief would take a severe blow, when local police charged him and the newly widowed Mrs. C.C. Testaman with having “improper relations.”

    Turns out that the young Mrs. Testaman had met Hatfield in Huntington and the couple checked in to a local hotel room under the name, “Mr. & Mrs. Hatfield.”

    According to reports, the two spent a night in jail and were married the following day, before returning to Mingo County.

    Immediately, rumors began to swirl around the couple’s new matrimony.
    Chief promoter of these rumors was Thomas Felts, who maintained that Hatfield was the individual who shot Mayor Testaman, not his brother. Felts argued that in the confusion of gun-battle, Hatfield intentionally shot the mayor in order to take his young and desirable wife.

    Hatfield’s case was not helped any when he took over the mayor’s jewelry store and converted it into a hardware store. Within no time, the mayor’s former place of business was selling among — other things — arms and ammunition.

    As news of the newfound romance took root, Jessie Testaman, the 18- year-old bride of Mayor Testaman, became a person of sensation, propelling her and her new husband to international stardom.

    An Ohio newspaper wrote: “Though scarcely twenty years of age, she has already lived long, if life can be measured by tragedy, romance and the mysterious play of fate. She was born in the mountains of West Virginia, and the grim setting of her life has never changed. She was herself of the ‘mountain people’; a daughter of the mysterious ragged hills whose richness in coal has brought about feuds, and massacres and strife and civil warfare; Her first husband, C.C. Testaman, was Mayor of the little mining town of Matewan, friend and sympathizer of the miners in their industrial struggles. Sid Hatfield, Testaman’s boy chief of police, was on the same side. Throughout that entire section, he was regarded as one of the most dangerous killers allied with the striking miners against the private detectives, the ‘Cossacks,’ State troopers and strike breakers who were fighting the battles of the ‘coal barons.’”

    Despite rumors and the outrageous timing of their matrimony, no new pieces of evidence in nearly a century have ever surfaced to prove that Hatfield was responsible for the mayor’s murder. Neither have any feuds between Testaman and Hatfield been uncovered which may have proved such an incident.

    Sadly, this West Virginia love story would take a tragic end on the afternoon of August 1, 1921.

    Facing trumped up gun charges in McDowell County, Hatfield, his deputy and their wives, walked up the steps to the McDowell County Courthouse, in Welch, West Virginia.

    Both men, unarmed, were gunned down in cold blood by a large contingency of Baldwin-Felts Detectives, while their wives held their arms.

    Escorting her husband’s lifeless body back to Mingo County, Hatfield’s wife, twice made a widow by gunfire, vowed, “I’ll never forget you, my sweetheart.”

    More than 2,000 people joined in the funeral procession, trailing behind Hatfield’s coffin.

    Hatfield was carried across the Tug River and buried in Pike County, Kentucky.

    The people of Bloody Mingo mourned, as a steady drizzle of rain began to fall from the sky. Eulogizing Hatfield, union attorney Samuel Montgomery echoed these words in reference to the slain 28-year-old and his partner, Ed Chambers, “even the heavens weep with the grief stricken relatives and bereaved friends of these two boys.”

    One final wrinkle In what can only be described as a strange turn of events: Hatfield’s widow, the former Mrs. Testamen, remarried within six months. Jessie’s new husband was an anti-union lawman, West Virginia State Trooper Sylvester Petry; however, the two eventually divorced and Jessie then married a fourth husband, living to the age of eighty-two.

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