Albert C. Felts


Sid Hatfield





On May 19, 1920, at 11:14 a.m., Albert C. Felts, Superintendent of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, stepped off a passenger train in Matewan, West Virginia. Accompanied by eleven private detectives , he was there to serve eviction notices to striking miners at the Stone Mountain Coal Company, just beyond the city limits of Matewan. Six hours later, Albert Felts, his brother Legrand Felts and five other private detectives lay dead in the streets of Matewan, along with the mayor of Matewan and two bystanders.

Much has been written about this incident and a movie by John Sayles was released in 1987 called "Matewan", a fictional account of the incident in 1920. In 1990, a trove of records were found and donated to the Eastern Regional Coal Archives located in Bluefield, West Virginia. These records were the personal copies of Thomas L. Felts, a partner in the detective agency and the brother of two of the slain detectives in Matewan. The records included newspaper articles of the massacre and subsequent trial of Sid Hatfield, the Chief of Police in Matewan and 15 others. It also included the actual trial transcripts, the interoffice memos of the detective agency as it went about the business of trying to piece together the incidents of that day as well as documentation of the Mohawk incident which precluded the shoot-out in Welch, West Virginia in which Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers were killed.

The myth of this incident is deep and widespread.  Misrepresentations of the facts have been rampant for nearly a century and the fictionalized account of the incident as related in John Sayles movie only added to the magnitude of the myth.  A major part of the myth is that there was a ‘shootout’, much in the manner of the old west archetype of the gunslinger matching forces with the sheriff at high noon in the middle of the street.  In the actual chain of events, Sid Hatfield, the Chief of Police of Matewan, orchestrated premeditated mass murder in collusion with pro-union officials and county law enforcement. On the telephone a half hour before the shootings, Sid Hatfield told Tony Webb, the chief deputy of the Mingo County Sheriff's department, that "they would kill the God damned sons-of-bitches before they left town" and set a trap for the detectives at the Chamber's Hardware Store with snipers posted in the upper stories of the buildings, on the streets and along the railroad tracks.  Never suspecting the absolute deadly intent of the chief of police and the armed multitude of miners and town people, the detectives walked into trap totally unsuspecting of the consequences.  Other than three detectives that had permits to carry pistols, all of the detectives were defenseless as they had been instructed by A.C. Felts to dismantle their rifles and stow them in their luggage before leaving the hotel and setting out for the Matewan Depot to catch the evening train out of town. Lured to the hardware store, Hatfield stepped inside the store as Felts talked to Mayor Testerman in the doorway... without warning Hatfield pulled his pistol and shot Felts in the left temple instantly killing him. At this signal, the wanton killing of the detectives began. Hatfield would later lament that it was a shame they didn't kill all twelve detectives instead of just seven. Through court testimony, detective agency memos and statements from eye witnesses, this website will debunk the myth surrounding this terrible tragedy.