Devil Anse: A Sinner Redeemed?

devil-anseNeal Pollard

I just finished reading best-selling author Lisa Alther’s book, Blood Feud: The Hatfields & The McCoys, The Epic Story of Murder & Vengeance. It chronicles the often-confusing causes and effects, crimes and consequences between these two families. While it was neither the longest-standing nor bloodiest feud of its kind in 19th-Century America, it, probably thanks to T.C. Crawford’s stereotyping, contemporary book about the hillbilly feud, is by far the most famous. Alther, related by an ancestor’s marriage to the McCoys, includes a great many fascinating facts concerning the feud and its aftermath. None interested me more than something she mentions several times throughout the book. Long after the feud, an elderly Devil Anse Hatfield, the patriarch of the Hatfield side of the fight, was baptized by Dyke Garrett, a former Civil War chaplain, and Devil “went on to found a Church of Christ congregation in West Virginia” (142; cf. Hatfield and Spence, Tale of the Devil, 97).  I do know that a member of the church where I preached in Virginia, transplanted from West Virginia, was a direct descendent of Devil Anse, but I did not know about his baptism.

The Christian Chronicle did a feature on this in 2012, authored by Bobby Ross, Jr.  Ross interviewed Doug Foster, church historian at Abilene Christian University, who seemed doubtful that the Hatfields were anything other than primitive Baptists. However, Foster confirmed that Garrett was a member of the church of Christ. A genealogical site managed by Charles Douglass Brown echoes Alther’s report that Hatfield helped establish a church of Christ in an unspecified West Virginia location (https://www.geni.com/people/William-Anderson-Devil-Anse-Hatfield/6000000006903464087). A man taught by Alexander Campbell, Alexander M. Lunsford, is said to have converted Dyke Garrett in the 1870s. “Garrett began his ministry near Crooked Creek in Logan County on December 14, 1878” (http://blueridgecountry.com/blogging/hatfields-mccoys-revisited-blog/hatfields-and-mccoys-revisited-week-4religion/). One year soon thereafter there were nearly 100 conversions in Logan and Boone Counties, and growth continued to occur in the area built on the foundation of their work (ibid.).

All of this lends credence to the multiple reports that Hatfield, goad of so many McCoy murders, responded to the gospel call about a decade before his death. How sincere he was at the time or how faithful he was thereafter is difficult to tell. But, if he was, there is truth to Ms. Alther’s tongue-in-cheek designation of Hatfield as “a sinner redeemed” (p. 171). What Scripture makes clear is, that a sinner who sincerely turns from sin and obeys from the heart (cf. Rom. 6:17) follows Paul’s example. The apostle wrote, “Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16). If so, what a redeeming end to a tragic, tragic tale. Certainly, whatever our past, obedience to the gospel brings triumph where there was once tragedy! “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).

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