The Hatfield and McCoy Feud

This seems to be all the rage at the moment.  The History channel just finished a 3 night mini series on the subject, a new movie called Bad Blood comes to theaters next month and a few more books have recently been written and released.  Staying true to how I generally work when writing my blogs I looked beyond the movies, we all know they are not completely accurate, as well as try to work my through all the other works to come to an un-bias reality.  Considering this feud likely started in the 1860's and spanned several years sometimes makes it difficult to sort through.  This story rings true with the fact that both sides have a story and that the truth is somewhere in the middle so I will try to go with what seems to have been confirmed, for the most part, and state what is uncertain when I can.  Seeing as this feud not only ended nearly 120 years ago, it spanned nearly 50 years.
What we do know is that the McCoy family lived on the Kentucky side of Tug Fork and that the Hatfield family lived on the West Virginia side.  This seems to not really be an actual river but more of a large creek that came off of the Big Sandy River as it was very easily passable.  Despite who people think were "running" the feud on each side, it is pretty well established that the leader of the McCoy family was Randolph "Randal" McCoy and the leader of the Hatfield family was Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield.  I often suspect because they appeared to have the largest of the families involved, as well as they were the fathers of Roseanna McCoy and Johnson "Johnse" Hatfield, the one portrayed as "star-crossed" lovers in folk lore.  While they were the fathers of Roseanna and Johnse the image that legend has given us of their romance is far from the truth.

One of the biggest questions or debates centers on what event started the feuding to begin with.  Some say it started in January 1865 when Asa "Harmon" McCoy (brother to Randal) was murdered by Jim Vance (Uncle to Devil Anse) and a group, or posse, he formed.  Most of those in the area had fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, including Harmon's brother Randal, but Harmon had fought for the Union.  In this era of time that was considered to be disloyal and treason.  I personally do not believe that this is what started the feud, it certainly would not have helped over the years but I do not believe it was as significant as has been believed.  Harmon knew his life was in danger.  Jim Vance had apparently made no qualms about letting Harmon know this.  The thing is, this was not unusual for the times and by many accounts even many from the McCoy family felt that Harmon had "asked" for what he got.  I have a line in my own personal genealogy in which all the brothers, save one, fought for the Union.  Legend is that when the lone brother returned from the war he had to live across the river from his family, many who disowned him and that he and his brothers (those who still spoke to him) would have to cross the river in the dead of night to visit.  

The next real incident that people look at happened 13 years later, in 1878 when Randal McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield (believe this to be a cousin of Devil Anse) of stealing one of his pigs.  Another Hatfield Anderson "Preacher Anse" (Devil's cousin) was the presiding judge.  Legend is that to make things "fair" Preacher Anse comprised a jury of six Hatfields and six McCoys.  I am puzzled as to how he thought this would make things better.  There was already tension in the families (which I will address in a bit).  Presumably one would believe that the jury would side with whichever family they belonged to and that the judge, a Hatfield himself, would be the deciding vote.  The judge either betrays his family or leaves the McCoys believing there was no justice.  As it was, one of the McCoy jury members actually sided with the Hatfields which allowed them to win the case.  The jury member was later murdered by the McCoys, however, those accused stood trial and were acquitted by reason of self defense.

Now, back to why there was already tension among the family.  Of course there were still at least a few who held a grudge against the Hatfields for the murder of Harmon McCoy.  However, there was another thing that had the emotions running high.  The Hatfields, not only were considered to be more prosperous and politically connected than the McCoys, but they seemed to be getting more so.  Devil Anse had obtained land in which he was basically clearing the timber.  It has been said that he had been able to take the monies obtained from doing this to obtain more land over time, which in turn made him more money and more influential.  Perry Cline was a relative of the McCoys and an attorney.  He in particular did not like the idea that Devil Anse was making money off the timber and basically wanted a piece of the action and tried any and all means, legal and illegal to do so.  Many believe it was Perry Cline who continued the feud going by egging on Randal McCoy.  

Add to this, a few years into the feud in walks "Bad" Frank Phillips, a former James/Younger gang member who convinced Cline and Randal McCoy that he would be a bounty hunter for them to capture the Hatfields of which the animosity was building against.  It appears that Phillips decided willy nilly which members he would bring in to supposedly face charges and which he would just outright murder.  Likely his most famous kill during that time was to Jim Vance, uncle to the Hatfields in 1888.  Just as Phillips and Cline were pushing Randal McCoy, Jim Vance apparently was doing the same to Devil Anse.

After the pig incident, still blood was boiling a bit, came the "romance" between Roseanna McCoy and Johnse Hatfield.  Legend would have us believe that they were desperately in love but could not marry because of their feuding families.  Not knowing a lot about this before looking into I would have thought the same and I honestly thought I recalled that the romance is what ended the feud.  Shows you what I know.  Reality is that Johnse Hatfield was what we would call today a "player."  He was romancing women all over the area.  Most say he was not in love with any of them but would say whatever he could to get them to have sex with him.  It is true that Randal McCoy disowned his daughter when she took up with Johnse, and that she lived for a time with the Hatfields although not married.  It is also true that Devil Anse would not allow for the marriage either but most say that is likely more because Randal McCoy would not give his blessing and he would not want the same done with one of his daughters.  During this time Roseanna became pregnant but by many accounts Johnse was already done with her.  Her brothers would continually do things such as kidnap Johnse, find warrants to have him arrested for and flat out injury him.  Devil Anse would find out, sometimes due to Roseanna informing him and would go rescue him.  However, it has been said that at that point he never did anything to the McCoy brothers because had Roseanna been his sister or daughter he would have done the same and that Devil Anse knew that Johnse was asking for it.  In the end Johnse deserted Roseanna.  She had a baby girl that lived less than a year and she died around the age of 30.  It has been said she died of a "broken heart" and I read somewhere that in that time period that translated into suicide.  I am not sure anyone knows for sure.  Johnse then went on to marry Roseanna's cousin, Nancy, daughter of Harmon McCoy and had two children with her.  After 5-6 years they split and eventually Nancy married "Bad" Frank Phillips and had more children with him while Johnse went on to marry three or four more times before dying in 1922.

However, if anyone thought the feud may die out the events of 1882 changed that.  It was then that three sons of Randal McCoy (and brothers to Roseanna) first stabbed several times (exact count varies) and then shot Ellison Hatfield, brother of Devil Anse.   The McCoy brothers were arrested but a Hatfield posse all but interceded and held them hostage.  Rumor is that Devil Anse told the boys if his brother lived they would be returned to the jail to face charges but if he died, they would too.  Ellison died a short time later and the McCoy brothers (Tolbert, Pharmer, and Randal Jr) were tied to trees and shot by a firing squad of Hatfields.  Even still there were some that believe that while it was vigilante justice that took place that the boys would have been hung for murder.  In the ensuring years, between 1882 and 1888, there was a lot of tension, and at least a few murders.  The Governors of Kentucky and West Virginia had been contacted, courts had been involved over the years but in essence it was two families that simply hated each other it seemed.  

Then New Years night of 1888 became the beginning of the end of the feud.  Jim Vance and several Hatfield family members (Devil Anse EXcluded) surrounded the Randal McCoy home in the dead of night.  They opened fire on the home and then set fire to it.  Supposedly this was done to bring Randal McCoy out of apparent hiding (although no one has really said he was hiding).  However, during the raid Randal was able to escape but two more of his children died and his wife was severely beaten.  One of the children that died was one of his young daughters.  This act was the final straw it seems not only for the McCoy's but also for the law authorities.  In all 8 people were tried and convicted for this raid.  Jim Vance did not make it to trial as Frank Phillips had caught and murdered him prior.  One of the participants was Valentine "Wall" Hatfield, brother to Devil Anse.  He along with six others were sentenced to life in prison, however by all account that amounted to 13-14 years or so.  One member, Ellison "Cotton Top" Mounts was hung for his part in the raid.  Ellison was the illegitimate son of Ellison Hatfield (killed in 1882) and his nickname may tell you why first cousins should not breed.  In today's time Ellison would not have been hung for his part in the raid and I believe he was the only one who was because either he really was the one who shot the young girl on accident or was convinced to say so.  He truly was mentally challenged which as I said, today would have spared his life.  

Randolph "Randal" McCoy died in 1914 from injuries from falling in a cook fire.  It was said that he never let go of his hate against the Hatfields.  One would have to struggle not to blame them.  All in all it seems he lost the most.  He lost four sons and a daughter to murder, his wife was maimed (it has been said she spent the rest of her life in a mental facility) and he had disowned a daughter.  Some say that he brought it on himself, some say Perry Cline and "Bad" Frank Phillips pushed and pushed Randal mentally to make the choices that he did and in the end his choices are what got him where they did.  

Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield died in 1921 at the age of 81.  Unlike McCoy, Hatfield did not lose any of his children.  Some blame the Hatfields for the feud because the McCoys seemingly lost more.  However, in the end those convicted were all Hatfield relatives.  And, just as Randal McCoy had Cline and Phillips in his hear most believe Jim Vance was in Devil's.  Well, maybe not so much in his ear as causing more trouble than any other Hatfield and was widely considered to be a "wild card" and all but did what he wanted, when he wanted.

One has to wonder what the Hatfields and the McCoys that were involved in the now infamous feud would think of not only their actions back then, what they would have done differently and how their feud has been seen in history.



  1. all of what you have just said in this blog saying that the history channels portraying of the feud wasnt all accurate and you trying to show different in this blog, shows no basically wrote what the history channels 3 day event was about.


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