GREAT INTERSTATE STRIFE OF THE LAST DECADE
It started over a Hog Case and
Lasted Many Years-Romance in it Reconciliation
and Then Murder and Retaliation-Governors of Kentucky and West Virginia
Drawn into it-Stopped by The Raids of a Kentucky Sheriff.
The New York Times- May 3, 1896
recent mysterious murder near Huntington, West Va., of Robert K McCoy of
the mountaineer family of Pike County, Ky., and the suspicion that the
Hatfields were mixed up in his disappearance, recalls memories of the
great McCoy-Hatfield feud, which was one of the most sensational subjects
for the last generation.
The McCoy-Hatfield feud has long been considered an incident of the past.
It was believed the two factions had become so scattered and punished that
they would not renew it. During the time it lasted, however, it formed one
of the most romantic episodes in the history of the two States
concerned-Kentucky and West Virginia.
The utter disregard of human life, the frontier lawlessness in the center
of Eastern civilization, the daring rides of parties into the two states,
killing, burning, and kidnapping, and the actions of the two Governors,
each apparently endeavoring to shield his own outlaws, furnished details
of a romantic story that caught the attention of the whole Nation. The
Americanized vendetta was more interesting than the original.
Several causes for the feud have been given. The real cause, however, was
the utter lawlessness of the region in which it raged. The region is
mountainous, without railroads, and with only un-kept wagon roads, unfit
for any but the roughest wagons. Schools were hardly known among the
mountaineers. Few churches were to be found within a days journey, and
these were generally kept open only during revival time.
Education and Christian influence, therefore, had but little opportunity
for operation. Added to this, there was but little opportunity for
operation. Added to this, there was but little disposition to enforce the
law. Officers and courts were so incompetent that the settlers generally
found more satisfaction to themselves in taking the law into their own
hands, and settled their disputes by main force.
The traffic in illicit whisky was a fruitful source of contempt for the
law. Many mountaineers kept their quiet stills where they manufactured
their "moonshine" whisky, and the men of the country round
seemingly felt called upon to aid this illegal traffic, while the women,
who had but very little influence with their lords and masters, did not
count. Few of them, anyway, could comprehend the enormity of the
conditions under which they were living.
The Hatfields and the McCoys were the leading families on the opposite
sides of the Little Tug River, which separates the two States. "Old
Rand'l' (Randolph) McCoy, the head of his family, lived on Blackberry
Branch of Pond Creek, in Pike County, Kentucky, while near him, in Logan
County, West Virginia, lived "Bad Anse" (Anderson) Hatfield, the
head of his family.
The two factions were very large. All the mountain families are unusually
large, and these two were extremes. Kinfolk bound to the head of the
family by the strong ties that are bound up in the Southern families were
also intermarried in a few instances.
The trouble arose during the days of the war, when the McCoys had a band
of riders on one side and the Hatfields on the other. These bands were
ostensibly organized for the protection of property during the war, but
they were often engaged in pillage, and they often came into each other's
The first death in the feud came about through a dispute over two of the
sharp-nosed, razor-backed hogs that are the indispensable possessions of
almost every mountaineer family, Floyd Hatfield, who lived near old Rand'l
McCoy, was accused of stealing two hogs from the latter. He retorted that
the hogs were his property, and the case was brought before a local
magistrate and settled in favor of Hatfield.
Soon after the trial Randolph McCoy and two of his sons came upon Floyd
Hatfield, Deacon Ellison Hatfield, the latter's brother; young Bill
Stayton, and some others, who were fishing. A dispute over the hog case
arose, in the course of which Randolph McCoy accused young Stayton, a boy
of eighteen, resented this and knocked the old man down with a stone. The
younger McCoys were prevented from taking vengeance then, but six months
later young Stayton was shot dead at one of the Pike County creeks. There
seems to be no doubt that he was waylaid by Parish and Sam McCoy, nephews
of Randolph, though the two boys when arrested, were acquitted in the
court of Justice Wall Hatfield.
A truce was affected, however, through the influence of a candidate in
Pike County, for whom both the families were working on election day, the
Hatfields showing their neighborly feeling by coming into the State of
Kentucky and helping their friend.
Another case of ill feeling, however, came up soon after. This was a case
of love, not ideal, but having elements of romance in it. Rose Anna McCoy
had become intimate with "Jonce" (Johnson) Hatfield, and thus
the heads of the two houses and paternal motives for keeping peace. After
a time, however, "Jonce" Hatfield grew distasteful to the McCoys,
and two of the sons of Randolph, with a party of others set out to bring
him to justice, many indictments being out against him in Kentucky.
He was caught at a rendezvous with the McCoy girl, and was taken into
custody. She secured a horse from her father's barn and made her way over
the terribly rough roads, in the dark night, and alarmed "Bad Anse"
Hatfield and his household. The Hatfields soon made up a strong party, lay
in wait for the McCoys and their prisoners, and rescued the son of
their leader. It seems almost miraculous that no blood was shed on this
occasion, as both parties were ready to fight. The girl was afraid to
return to her father until a year later, when she and her child were
turned out from the house of the Hatfields.
No bloodshed marked the rivalry between the two families for the next two
years. At the Pike County election, in August, 1882, however, came
the fatality that started the reign of murder. A relative of both the
Hatfields and McCoys was a candidate for office, and the leaders of the
two factions again came together to work for his election.
During the day illicit whisky was freely given to the men of both
factions, and in the afternoon they were feeling very belligerent and only
a little incident was needed to start a fight. This came when Talbot McCoy
met Elias Hatfield, known as "Bad Lias" and demanded $1.75 that
had been borrowed from him. Hatfield denied the debt, and McCoy
immediately threw him down and began to pound him. In the midst of this
operation, Deacon Ellison Hatfield carrying a large pocket-knife, and
Elias, his brother, carrying a pistol.
The constable pretended to arrest Talbot McCoy, but generally peaceful
Deacon Hatfield, now fired with corn whisky, dared the other fight a man
his size,and Talbot drew out a knife like that held by the Deacon. The two
closed and fought for a long time. After cutting McCoy once Hatfield's
knife closed on his hands, and he threw it away, and only used his fists,
while McCoy used his knife with terrible effect, and little Budd McCoy,
only nine years old, stood in the crowd and used another knife on Hatfield
whenever he had a chance.
In spite of this, however, Hatfield threw McCoy to the ground and seized a
large jagged stone. He was holing this, and was about to strike Talbot
when Farmer McCoy shot him and knocked him over. Farmer McCoy immediately
dropped his pistol and fled up the road. Elias Hatfield shot at him five
times, and then with, Constable Hatfield, pursued him on foot. They over
took him and arrested him, with Talbot and young Randolph McCoy, who was
accused of having cut Ellison Hatfield, though it afterward was proved
that he was mistaken for his brother, Budd.
Ellison Hatfield died the following Wednesday. He had been cut
twenty-seven times, besides being shot. The three McCoys were taken to the
house of John Hatfield Monday night by the officers, but in the morning
about seventy Hatfields gathered and took them away from the officers,
drove them along to a secluded cabin, tortured them in many ways, and
waited to see if Ellison Hatfield would die.
When his death came on Wednesday a swift messenger took the news to the
Hatfield party and they notified their prisoners of the fate that was in
store. The pleadings of the mother and wife of Talbot McCoy had no effect
on their captors, while the men of the McCoy family did nothing to help
them. That night they were taken to the Kentucky side, tied upright, and
the two men were shot, while the boy was left there to moan. It occurred
to the party afterward, however, that the boy knew them all, and one was
sent back to kill him. A man supposed to be Alex Messer, returned to the
boy and fired two barrels of buckshot into his head.
The Coroner's jury next day, under Coroner Joseph Hatfield, brought in a
verdict that the men had come to their death at "the hand of persons
unknown," and the bodies were delivered to the McCoys, who had them
decently buried. They made no attempt, however, to take vengeance. The
Hatfields seemed now possesses of a determination to kill old Randolph,
the head of the McCoy family. They made an ambush for him in June, 1884,
when he was known to be attending court, and only a mistake as to the
identity of the men prevented their success. Two witnesses at the trail
happened to be dressed precisely the same as Randolph and Calvin McCoy,
and to bear very much the same appearance. In the dusk they were the
recipients of the bullets from the Hatfield rifles, and were maimed for
Soon after this a Hatfield raid was betrayed to the McCoys, and they
escaped. The wife and mother-in-law of a Bill Daniels one of the Hatfield
faction, were suspected of betraying the secret. Consequently, one night
Capt. Hatfield and Tom Wallace went to Daniels's house, cowed him by
covering him with a loaded shotgun, and brutally beat both women, breaking
ribs and other bones, so that one died and the other suffered the rest of
her life. As a result of this
another McCoy was killed, this time Jeff, brother of Mrs. Daniels. He was
enticed into an ambush by "Bad Anse" Hatfield, who agreed to
help him catchTom Wallace. He was taken prisoner, and was being led along
by a mounted man, when he saw a chance to escape. He ran across the
fields, crossed the Tug River and was escaping on the hillside, when one
of the several shots fired after him killed him.
The Governors of the two States now became mixed in the affair. Gov.
Buckner of Kentucky offered large rewards for the Hatfields chiefly
concerned, and asked for a requitsion from the Governor of West Virginia.
Gov. Wilson, whoever refused to grant it for a long time, and it was not
until the close of 1887 that the real work of suppressing the feud was
begun. In that year, however, a noted character, one Frank Phillips, a
Deputy Sheriff, took the matter in hand, revived the spirits of the McCoys
and their friends, and began raiding West Virginia.
Phillips had supposed that a requisition was coming from the Governor of
West Virginia, but he did not wait for it. He set out for the Hatfield
leaders. His first raid was made Dec. 9,1887, in company with some of the
McCoys, and he brought to Virginia one Tom Chambers. The second raid was
made Dec 20 and Selkirk McCoy and Jeff
Christian, two of the Hatfield faction, were taken from McDowell County,
West Virginia, to the Pike County jail in Kentucky. The last raid of the
Hatfields was made in revenge for this action. New Year's night nine
Hatfields, led by Uncle Jim Vance, attacked the house of Old Rand'l McCoy.
Two girls were in one end of the house, and one Allaphare McCoy, who
answered the knocking at the door, was shot by Ellison Mounts by the order
of Vance. The house was then set on fire and the door on the other end was
shot to pieces. Old Rand'l put out the fire with buttermilk from the
churn, and shot off four fingers from the hand of Tom Mitchell as he was
reaching up with the torch under the roof. Calvin McCoy from the attic
also shot at the attacking party and drove then under cover.
Mrs. McCoy started from the door to go to her daughter who had been shot,
but Jim Vance broke two ribs with the butt of his gun and struck her on
her head with his pistol, stunning her. Calvin McCoy was driven from the
attic by the fire, and ran for a corn crib 100 yards away. He was killed
when he almost reached it. The old man ran gantlet in safety, however.
Then the gang went away, and two girls and little Melvin McCoy, the son of
Jonce Hatfield, ran out.
Phillips led another raid six days later and killed old Jim Vance after a
hard fight and captured several Hatfields. A number of raids followed,
until the Hatfields were driven to take refuge in the mountains, and the
feud was practically ended. There were a number of incidents afterward and
complications between the Governors of the two States. Some of the
Hatfields were sent to prison and others were hanged. The feud, however,
became almost dead after the raids of Phillips.
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