To see the Alexander Messer letters online, go here.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In jail for more than a decade for allegedly killing a member of the McCoy family during the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud, Alexander Messer wanted to know how his daughter was getting along.
Messer sent his daughter, Haney Prater, 10 letters in the early years of the 20th century. Those letters - passed down by Prater's descendants - were given to the West Virginia State Archives earlier this summer.
"I am 76 years old," Charles Allen Reed, Messer's great-grandson, said during a telephone interview from his home in Gastonia, N.C., expressing happiness that West Virginia's archives accepted the letters.
"That is all I wanted. I did not want them to die with me. I wanted them to live and people to know a little about my great-grandfather, Alexander Messer," said Reed, who didn't even realize he had the letters until a few years ago. West Virginia archivists have since put photos of the letters online, as well as transcripts that are easier to read.
Alexander Messer allegedly helped execute three McCoy brothers in 1882 in a revenge killing after Ellison Hatfield, brother of clan leader "Devil Anse" Hatfield, was shot dead. Messer reportedly shot one of the young men, Randolph McCoy Jr., himself
After his role in the McCoy killings, Messer was captured near the town of Big Ugly, on the Logan-Boone county line.
Messer went to jail in 1888, said state archivist Debra Basham. He was tried in Pike County, Ky., and was sentenced to life in the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville, near the Illinois state line. The prison had opened there recently (and remains open).
His first letter to his daughter is dated Oct. 7, 1901.
Messer apparently dictated the letters he sent to his daughter, since he could not read or write. That explains the differences in handwriting and spellings of names in the letters, which spell his daughter's name as Haney Prater, Hanie Prather and Haynie Pratter, among other variations.
The letters mostly contain personal details, although there are some mentions of Messer's efforts to win parole.
His June 1, 1906, letter to his daughter, then living in Goodloe, Ky., said, "I am sorry to hear of your troubles; Sorry to know your mother was dead; but we all must have troubles while we are in the flesh.
"I want you when you get this if you know to write to me and tell me whether your mother married. Hope you are all well now and that there is less sickness in your neighborhood. ... God bless you."
Elizabeth Bowen, Messer's wife while he lived on Marrowbone Creek, was Haney's mother. State archivist Randy Marcum - who also is a Messer descendant - said Messer was married at least four times.