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THE HATFIELDS AND THE McCOYS

THE HATFIELDS AND THE MCCOYS

In 1878  near the Kentucky-West Virginia border, two families became engaged in a feud that would become the epitome of family rivalries in America. While the actual feud would last for twelve years, it has become the poster child for family strife. All of us have most likely heard of the famous conflict but how many understand the origins and results?


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The McCoys, led by patriarch, Randolph "Randel" McCoy, lived on the Kentucky side of the Tug river in Pike County, Kentucky, while the Hatfields, led by William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield, occupied the West Virginia side in Mingo County, West Virginia.

The popular folk tale claims that the feud began over ownership of a pig and while that makes a good story, the origins of the conflict were much more complicated.

Both families fought in the American Civil War, the majority on the Confederate side and it was during the war that the first incident in the feud occurred.  Harman McCoy, who was hated because he had joined the Union army,had been discharged from the army early because of a broken leg.

Several nights after he returned home, he was killed by a group of ex-Confederates called the "Logan Wildcats".  Devil Anse Hatfield was a suspect at first but later confirmed to have been at home sick at the time of the murder. Even though Hatfield was cleared of participating in the murder, the seeds for the feud had been sown.

Bad feelings between the families already existed due to a secret romance between Johnson ("Johnse) Hatfield, son of Devil Anse, and Rose Anne McCoy, the daughter of Randolph McCoy.

Further complicating the dynamics of the two groups, Floyd Hatfield, cousin of Devil Anse, and Randolph McCoy, had married sisters.

Perhaps the final straw was the incident with the infamous pig. In 1878  Randolph McCoy claimed ownership of a hog, which Floyd Hatfield had. In truth, the dispute was over land or property lines and the ownership of that land. The pig was only in the fight because one family believed that since the pig was on their land, that meant it was theirs; the other side objected.

The individual presiding over the case was Anderson 'Preacher Anse” Hatfield and the McCoys ended up losing the case, primarily over the testimony of Bill Staton, a relative of both families. In June 1880, Staton Hatfield was killed by two McCoy brothers, Sam and Paris, who were later acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.

From this point on, the feud would rapidly expand in scope and in violence.

The escalation continued in 1882 when Ellison Hatfield, brother of "Devil Anse" Hatfield, was murdered by three  McCoy brothers; Tolbert, Pharmer, and Bud. Ellison was stabbed 26 times and finished off with a shot.  The brothers were themselves murdered in turn as the vendetta continued to grow.

Between 1880 and 1891 , the feud claimed more than a dozen members of the two families, becoming headline news around the country, and compelling the governors of both Kentucky and West Virginia to call up their state militias to restore order after the disappearance of dozens of bounty hunters sent to calm the conflict.

The violence was now not only between the Hatfields and the McCoys, but between the states of Kentucky and West Virginia.  Both governors called in the National Guard as more raids were staged by the McCoys into Hatfield territory.

In 1888, Wall Hatfield and eight others were kidnapped by a posse and brought to Kentucky to stand trial for the murder of Alifair McCoy, who had been shot running from a burning building that had been set aflame by a group of Hatfields. The governor of West Virginia, E. Willis Wilson, accused Kentucky of violating the extradition process by kidnapping the Hatfields and appealed the matter all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

In May of 1889, the Supreme Court ruled against West Virginia and the Hatfields stood trial in Kentucky.  All eight were found guilty of murder. Seven were sentenced to life in prison and one was hanged, but since public
hangings were illegal in Kentucky, to evade the law the scaffold was fenced, and was placed at the bottom of a hill so as to be visible to the throng above. Thousands attended the hanging in Pikeville, Kentucky.

Finally, in 1891, the two families agreed to stop the fighting. The feud, which lasted for over a decade and claimed the lives of twelve men, was finally over, but the legend had been born.

Old Randall McCoy died of burns from a fire in the home of his nephew on March 28, 1914.  He was 88.
‘Devil’ Anse Hatfiled would live another 7 years, but on the morning of New Year's Day, 1921, he felt unwell after eating breakfast.
He went out on the front porch and sat for a while, where he suffered a stroke. He was carried to his bed, and a doctor was brought in, but five days later, on January 6, 1921, he succumbed to pneumonia.

Eventually, in 1979, the two families united for a special week's taping of the popular game show Family Feud, in which they played for a cash prize and a pigwhich was kept on stage during the games.

On June 14, 2003, on the initiative of Reo Hatfield, an actual peace treaty was drawn up and signed in Pikeville by representatives of the two families, even though the feud had ended over a century before. The idea was symbolic: to show that Americans could bury their differences and unite in times of crisis, most notably following the September 11 attacks.

Many tourists each year travel to parts of West Virginia and Kentucky to see the areas and historic relics which remain from the days of the feud.

Additionally, an entire recreation area, the 500 mile Hatfield-McCoy Trails system, has been created around the theme of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud.


 
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