The hatfield and mccoy feud
The Hatfield and McCoy Feud
The feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families involves political, social, cultural and economic factors that happened between West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky in the early twentieth centuries (Otis 15). The feud highlights the weaknesses of institutions like education systems and churches, the legacy of the early civil wars, the importance of law, exaggerated family importance, and isolation of mountain folk.
The Hartfield-McCoy Feud was a prolonged conflict fought in the 1880s between neighboring families living in the Tug Valley (Otis & Rice 27). The Hatfields inhabited the Logan County which consist of the present Mingo in West Virginia. The McCoy, on the other hand, lived mainly across the Tug Fork near Pike County in Kentucky. The families were led by Anderson Devil Anse for Hatfield and Randolph for McCoy. The families were deeply rooted in the area and even intermarried among themselves as well as with other neighboring families. Among several conflicts that happened in Eastern Kentucky, Hatfield-McCoy feud was the most notorious. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the long-lasting conflict between the two families.
The explanation as to who was loyal to the family leaders Devil Anse and Randolph McCoy is based on the economic conflict caused by the opportunity to sell timber and secondly by coal and railroads. Devil Anse was the successful timber entrepreneur among the local in Tug Valley. He employed men more than 35 to cut the timber and float it to Cincinnati (Evans et al. 34). Some his employees were related to the McCoy families hence known as the Hatfields. An example is the Selkirk McCoy together with his two sons. On the other hand, Randolph McCoy and his father had failed dismally in the timber business that led to their hatred towards Devil Anse. Randolph obsession with Devil Anse’s success was more pronounced when he rejected his daughter’s relationship with a Hatfield. Also, his detest made him vindictive and a quarrelsome person.
The second phase of the conflict was fueled by the development of coal mines and building of roads. The feud now involves Perry Cline, who grew up as Devil Anse’s and lost a 5,000 acres of a land court case to Anse. He was forced to move to Pikeville from West Virginia where he made new friends with influential politicians. He later used his connections to restart conflict and take his revenge on Devil Anse (Waler & Altina 55).
The origin of the violence can trace to back to the murder of Harmon McCoy in January 1865 in Pike County. Harmon was a Union Army veteran and Randolph McCoy’s brother. He was believed to have been murdered by the Logan Wildcats, which was a Confederate guerillas’ band led by Devil Anse Hatfield. It is his murder that contributed to a hard feeling among the McCoy family and later led to the feud (Otis & Rice 33).
Another instance that added to the dispute was the 1878 incident where Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield of hog theft; both were from the Pike County. The resulting trial at Anderson’s home, their neighbor who was also a justice of the peace and a Baptist minister. Although Randolph McCoy’s nephew testified for Hatfield and Selkirk McCoy, Randolph cousin offered a decisive acquittal vote. However, Randolph McCoy’s cousin was later killed by brothers Paris and Sam McCoy following the trial. Another incident of 1880 election at Blackberry Creek in Pike County also increased tension between the two families (Waler & Altina 41). Johnse Hatfield, son of Devil Anse, slipped away with Randolph McCoy’s daughter Rose Ann from the election grounds. The two had a relationship that might have been successful but instead ended up widening the rift between the two families.
The conflict between the families became much pronounced in the 1882 election. Ellison Hatfield, Devil Anse’s brother, was seriously wounded by three McCoy brothers in a drunken Sprawl (Waler & Altina 65). The incident was fueled by an argument over a mild debt owed on a fiddle. Ellison later succumbed to his wound. As a result of the incident, Randolph sons Tolbert, Randolph McCoy Jr and Pharmer were captured and later shot dead in a bush in Kentucky.
Following the 1882 killings, the feud increased as an attempt by McCoy to have Hatfield tried in the courts failed. Pikeville lawyer, Perry Cline who earlier disagreed with Devil Anse over timberlands convinced the Kentucky governor to ask extradition from the West Virginia governor. The governor rejected the extradition request and later erupted an armed conflict between the two states.
The media had started reporting the conflict between the two families in 1887 (Evans et al. 53). However, in the account of the media, they portrayed Hatfields as violent backwoods hillbillies who wandered across the mountains causing violence. Therefore, what was initially a local story of two conflicting families later became a national legend cementing the seed of rivalry among the Americans. The Hatfields may or may not have been aware of the stories aired about them by the media, but recognized the bounty on their heads. Therefore in an attempt to end the feud once and for all, some Hatfields and their supporters planned to attack Randolph McCoy together with his family. Devil Anse’s son Cap his ally Jim Vance led a group of men to raid McCoys’ home on January 1, 1888. Randolph managed to escape into the woods. The incident led to the death of Randolph McCoy’s grown children Calvin and Alistair. His wife, on the other hand, was left badly beaten suffering crushed skull by the Hatfields.
A few days after what was popularly known as New Year’s massacre, Frank Philips, the bounty hunter went searching for Cap Hatfield and Jim Vance. Philips killed Vance in his hunt and took nine family members of Hatfield together with their supporters and sent them to jail. This act led to fighting, putting the Hatfields on the defensive throughout the conflict, being hunted in their neighborhoods, West Virginia. The two sides were then involved in a pitched battle at Grapevine Creek (Otis & Rice 72). Years of legal permutations occurred as a several of courts judged the legal merits of the case concerning the Hatfields. The case then proceeded all the way to the Supreme Court where a decision was reached that the Hatfields be tried.
The trial began in 1889 and eventually, the four Hatfield sons plus their supporters were indicted for the cabin fire and sentenced to life, and Ellison Mounts, their cousin who was believed to Ellison Hatfield’s son was then sentenced to death as an end to the family war. Mounts who was also nicknamed Cottontop was known to be mentally ill. He was viewed as a scapegoat by the Hatfields after performing atrocities. Although, public execution was prohibited in Kentucky, many people gathered to witness his hanging on February 18, 1890 (Evans et al. 76).
Evans, Mari-Lynn(Ed), et al. The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier. Random house, 2004
Rice, Otis K, The Hatfields and the McCoys. Lexington: University press of Kentucky, 1982
Waller, Altina L. Feud: Hatfields, McCoys and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900. Capel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
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