The 12-Year feud Between the Hatfields and the McCoys

The Hatfield-McCoy feud has gone down in history as one of the most famous battles between families of all time. Most agree that the feud symbolizes the violence associated with 19th-century Appalachian mountain culture, though in more recent years some have claimed the feud was more complex, involving competition over resources and corporate economic development in the West Virginia/Kentucky region. Also, it is believed that the feud between the two families foreshadowed the bloody coal mine wars of the 1920s.

The Hatfields, led by William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield, were a financially successful family, having realized the importance of timber in the region early on. The family tended to brag about their success, fostering jealousy amoung the other families in Tug Valley. The McCoys, led by Randolph McCoy, harbored the most resentment for the Hatfields because their efforts in timber had ended in disaster.

The feud began, according to legend, in 1878 when Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield of stealing his hog. At the time, this was a very serious offense as livestock was one of the most important components of the farming economy in Tug Valley. The court ruled against Randolph McCoy and though he accepted the verdict, resentment between the two families festered.

The feud became more heated four years later, when Devil Anse's son Johnse Hatfield courted and impregnated, but did not marry, Randolph McCoy's daughter Roseanna. Shortly after this affair Roseanna's three brothers killed Devil Anse's brother Ellison. The court system broke down due to confusion about jurisdiction, so Devil Anse retaliated himself by killing Randolph McCoy's three sons near what is now Matewan, WV.

No legal action was taken against Devil Anse until five years later when Perry Cline, an attorney who was also a distant cousin of Randolph McCoy, used his influence with the Governor of Kentucky to reissue the murder indictments against the Hatfields. The process was apparently too slow for Cline's liking however, because he recruited a posse to cross into West Virginia and capture nine Hatfield sympathizers. This action led to a series of skirmishes along Grapevine Creek and an attempt by the Hatfields to murder Randolph McCoy on January 1, 1888. In the attempt, two of Randolph's children were killed in a fire.

Despite the efforts by the Governor of West Virginia, Devil Anse Hatfield was never jailed or tried in court. He sold his Tug Valley lands and took his family to Sarah Ann, West Virginia.

The feud had lasted twelve years and left twelve dead.

The information in this write-up is based on a web article entitled The Hatfield and McCoy Feud by Altina Waller