Married the Man Who Killed Her Husband and Then…

A STALWART, booted mountaineer was kneeling at the feet of the prettiest widow in the West Virginia hills. As he knelt they looked steadily into each other’s eyes. Each seemed to be challenging the other.

The woman was the widow of Sid Hatfield, famous feudist and gun-fighter in the Mingo mine wars. And the man was Sylvester Petry, State trooper and member of the “Law and Order” clan that had slain Hatfield.

It was the man who broke the silence with a startling question.

“Will you marry me?” he asked.

“Oh, how can you dare to think of such a thing?” the young widow gasped.

“I dare because you did it once before,” replied her suitor — and she lowered her eyes, for it was true.

Less than two years earlier, according to court testimony, which is of official record, she had “married the man who killed her husband.”

On this former occasion she had been the eighteen-year-old girl-bride of C.C. Testaman, Mayor of the little town of Matewan. Testaman was shot dead in the famous “Matewan massacrre” — a battle between strike sympathizers and detectives. And a State witness swore that the shot was fired by Hatfield, who was then acting as Mayor Testaman’s own chief of police.

Two weeks later, Hatfield married Mrs. Testaman.

And now that Sid Hatfield, in his turn, had been laid in the grave, making his wife a “gun widow” for the second time, Sylvester Petry was asking her hand in a third marriage.

He must have read surrender in her lowered eyes, for they were wedded within a week, and the lovely girl of the feud country found herself a bride  for the third time within the brief period of less than eighteen months.

Three times the matrimonial wheel has spun for her. Three times she has been lifted for a brief time into the sunlight of love on the apex of its upward swing, and twice she has been dropped suddenly into the shadows of widowhood when flashing guns set the wheel revolving again.

Though scarcely twenty years of age, she has already lived long, if life can bee 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.

Here, particularly during the past three years, intermittent guerrilla warfare has raged. Her first marriage occurred in the midst of one of these clashes. 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.”

There was no known feud between Testaman and Hatfield, but prior to the street battle in which Testaman was slain, according to whispers which were repeated openly in court and became part of the official record, Hatfield, the chief of police, had noted the beauty of Testaman’s girl bride, by far the most attractive woman in the little mountain town.

Then came the fatal morning of the “Matewan massacre,” on May 19, 1920. A band of coal mine detectives, clothed with State authority, had entered Matewan and evicted a number of families of striking miners, whose houses were wanted for imported strike breakers.

Though the Mayor, the chief of police and practically the whole population of the town were their bitter enemies, the detectives were allowed to complete their work, while the residents watched in sullen silence.

The detectives, nearly a score of them, were assembled on the platform of the railroad station, in the sunshine, waiting for a train that was due within an hour. Mayor Testaman and a few citizens were standing near. Hatfield was nowhere in sight.

Suddenly a single shot rang out. Almost immediately a fusillade followed. The quiet scene was instantaneously changed to bloody confusion. Testaman lay writhing on the platform, mortally wounded. Several of the detectives were down, clutching at their breasts. And from doorways, from behind trees, from behind corners of houses, rifles and pistols were spitting fire.

The detectives who had not been hit darted for shelter, returning the fire as they ran. More than a hundred shots were discharged.

Ten men lay dead or dying in the streets of Matewan. Seven were detectives, two were miners and the tenth was Mayor Testaman.

It occurred to no one at the time that Sid Hatfield could have had anything to do with the slaying of Testaman, for they were friends and were both on the same side in the mining feud. Or if it did occur to any one, he kept silent.

When the news of the battle was flashed to Charleston, a force of State police rushed to the scene. Nineteen persons were arrested and put on trial at Williamson, the county seat of “Bloody Mingo.”

The principal defendant was the rugged, youthful smiling Sid Hatfield — now a bride-groom. But he wasn’t on trial for killing Testaman. He and the others were on trial for the battle with the detectives, and “Smiling Sid” surrounded by his friends in the heart of Mingo County, was confident of a general acquittal.His confidence was in a way justified. Though still a young man he was a feared and famous character. He was a cousin of the noted “Devil Anse” Hatfield, and a member of the noted Hatfield clan, known throughout all America in connection with the Hatfield-McCoy feud that raged for many years along the West Virginia-Kentucky border.

Witness after witness was examined, and “Smiling Sid” still smiled. Beside him sat his bride, the “gun-widow” of a few weeks.Suddenly the name of Testaman was heard from the witness stand — and just as suddenly Sid Hatfield ceased to smile.

“_____ the shot that killed C.C. Testaman was fired from inside the door of a hardware store,” the witness was saying, “and the shot was fired by his own chief of police, Sid Hatfield.”

A silence like death filled the courthouse. A hundred pairs of eyes stared at Hatfield, whose jaw was set in grim defiance, and at the woman who was flushing crimson by his side.

Captain S.B. Avis, attorney associated with the prosecution, lifted an accusing arm and pointed dramatically to the pair.

“And the fact remains,” he said slowly, “that within ten days the widow of Testaman became the bride of Sid Hatfield.”

For a tense moment anything might have happened. What actually did happen, however, was that Sid Hatfield and the other defendants were acquitted, and

“Smiling Sid” and his bride resumed their honeymoon at Matewan.

A jewelry store which Mayor Testaman had owned was converted by Hatfield into a hardware store, which sold among other things, arms and ammunition.

This store, it was said, became a popular meeting place for the striking miners, who recognized in his a leader. His sympathies were all on the side of the miners as opposed to the coal operators and the “Cossacks,” who were now in complete control of the district and were keeping a watchful eye on “Smiling Sid” and his companions. Sid was known as a dangerous character and a “two-gun” man.

One night the little town of Mohawk, where old miners had gone on strike and outsiders had been brought in to take their places, was “shot up.”

Hatfield, his boon companion, Ed Chambers, and several others later were arrested charged with participation in the shooting.

On the day of the trial Mrs. Hatfield and Mrs. Chambers decided to accompany their husbands to Welch.

*   *   *   *   *

It has never been proven in court exactly how Hatfield was slain. Just as he and Chambers, with their wives on their arms, approached the court house a shot rang out, followed by a fusillade. Hatfield and Chambers both fell dead, riddled with bullets. A group of “Cossacks” — detectives, the “law and order” men — stood on the staircase, holding smoking pistols.

According to their story, they fired when they saw Sid reach toward his pocket. A pistol was picked up from beside the body of the slain “Two-gun man.” Reports were conflicting. Mrs. Hatfield declared that her husband was unarmed.

Hatfield’s body was carried back to Matewan by his widow. The largest crowd of mountaineers ever seen in that section gathered for the funeral. Mrs. Hatfield clad in deep mourning, stood at the head of the coffin as the long line of mountain folk filed by for a last look at the face of their dead friend and hero. As the coffin was being closed the black-garbed widow fell across it and sobbed:

“I’ll never forget you, my sweetheart.”

But fate stood at her side.

Six months later, almost to a day, she became Mrs. Sylvester Petry, wife of a member of the law-and-order armed force that embraced the man or men who had slain her second husband.

Lima News (Lima, Ohio) Mar 5, 1922

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4 Responses to “Married the Man Who Killed Her Husband and Then…”

  1. kelceefarra Says:

    I used to live near Matewan…

  2. Paulina Testerman Says:

    Cable Cornelius Testerman is my husband’s 3rd great uncle. We just started doing our family tree & it’s so exciting to learn about people who had the same blood coursing through their veins as our children do. Thanks for this great story & documentation!

  3. Charlie Davenport Says:

    Interesting hit piece from the Lima [Ohio] News. We can safely say union activity was, and still is, “anti-establishment” and generally had the propaganda machines of the day
    aimed at them.

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