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The Hatfields and the McCoys

The Hatfields and the McCoys

Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    The Hatfields and the McCoys
    Book Description:

    The Hatfield-McCoy feud has long been the most famous vendetta of the southern Appalachians. Over the years it has become encrusted with myth and error. Scores of writers have produced accounts of it, but few have made any real effort to separate fact from fiction. Novelists, motion picture producers, television script writers, and others have sensationalized events that needed no embellishment.

    Using court records, public documents, official correspondence, and other documentary evident, Otis K. Rice presents an account that frees, as much as possible, fact from fiction, event from legend. He weighs the evidence carefully, avoiding the partisanship and the attitude of condescension and condemnation that have characterized many of the writings concerning the feud.

    He sets the feud in the social, political, economic, and cultural context of eastern Kentucky and southwestern West Virginia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By examining the legacy of the Civil War, the weakness of institutions such as the church and education system, the exaggerated importance of family, the impotence of the law, and the isolation of the mountain folk, Rice gives new meaning to the origins and progress of the feud. These conditions help explain why the Hatfield and McCoy families, which have produced so many fine citizens, could engage in such a bitter and prolonged vendetta

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2908-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-8)

    A story carried by numerous newspapers in June 1977 reported great agitation among residents of the eastern Kentucky town of Pikeville over a proposal to move the graves in the Dils Cemetery to make way for a civic center and sports arena. The outcry against what ordinarily might have seemed the march of progress arose from the fact that the cemetery provided the last resting-places of Randolph McCoy, his wife Sarah, and other members of the famous Kentucky feuding family. Some of the opponents of removal of the graves must have reasoned that those whose lives had known so little...

    (pp. 9-18)

    Most writers on the Hatfield-McCoy feud, regardless of their conclusions about its origins, agree that it did not begin before the Civil War. Some claim has indeed been made that the vendetta had its beginnings in the English civil strife of the seventeenth century, when the Hatfields allegedly supported Oliver Cromwell and the McCoys defended the rights of the Stuarts and Charles II. If any such division between the two families ever existed, it had totally subsided by the time they settled in Kentucky and West Virginia. For nearly half a century, in fact, they lived at peace with each...

    (pp. 19-29)

    In the months following the death of Staton the Hatfields continued to make frequent journeys into Kentucky, but they always traveled in well-armed bands. One reason for their caution lay in the numerous legal charges against them in Pike County. They included complaints against Devil Anse and Johnse for carrying concealed and deadly weapons, against Floyd Hatfield for giving spirituous liquors to a minor, and against Devil Anse and his brother Elias, as well as Thomas Chafin, Moses Chafin, John Staton, the brother of Bill, Elias Hatfield, Jr., Floyd Hatfield, and Frank Elam, for banding together for the purpose of...

    (pp. 30-36)

    The Hatfields and the McCoys showed little inclination to maintain the tempo of action that characterized the week following the election of 1882, which left Ellison Hatfield and Tolbert, Pharmer, and Randolph McCoy, Jr., dead. Some of them may have occasionally fired upon a member or a cabin of the opposing clan. Stories circulated of men who mysteriously disappeared and of hunters who came upon unidentified bones, which they assumed to be of human origin and about which they kept a discreet silence. Such reports, which may have contained an element of truth, must be accepted, however, with considerable reservation,...

    (pp. 37-48)

    The hopes of Devil Anse Hatfield that he might calm the volatile situation following the killing of Jeff McCoy by adopting a conciliatory attitude rested upon the assumption that the clan leaders themselves could control future events. The 1880s, however, brought unusual turbulence to Kentucky, with much of it rooted in Civil War and political discord, with whiskey acting as a catalyst for both. In many respects the Hatfield-McCoy feud was a manifestation of a deep political and social malaise that fostered widespread troubles in eastern Kentucky. Perhaps no clan leader such as Devil Anse could give complete assurances against...

    (pp. 49-57)

    Pike county shared both the political and judicial afflictions which prevailed in much of eastern Kentucky. The Hatfield and McCoy clans, like the feuding factions of Breathitt, Perry, Rowan, and other counties, were large and politically significant. They or their partisans frequently held positions of administrative and judicial responsibility, ranging from sheriffs to justices of the peace and constables, and dominated juries, as did the feudists in other counties. When it came to dealing with the Hatfield-McCoy feud, law-enforcement authorities in Pike County proved no more effective than those in other disturbed sections of Kentucky. Nor did the authority of...

  10. 7 NEW YEARʹS DAY 1888
    (pp. 58-67)

    Until the autumn of 1887 the Hatfield-McCoy feud remained primarily a family vendetta, waged without effective intervention by the constituted authorities of either Pike or Logan counties. The election of Governor Buckner and his support of the proposals of Perry Cline, however, lifted the feud into the political sphere. Although Buckner’s motives were unquestionably altruistic, his intercession did not herald a new evidence of the majesty of the law or of swift and certain justice. Rather, through the machinations of Cline and his associates, it resulted in an infusion of the cheapest and most corrupt kind of politics. Other feuds...

    (pp. 68-75)

    With much of Pike County seething with anger over the events of the night of January 1, Randolph McCoy demanded that Sheriff Harmon Maynard take action, but Maynard declined to go into West Virginia without extradition papers. Frank Phillips, however, was of different mettle. Sensing the support of the people and posing as a state agent armed with full authority, he organized a band of some twenty-seven men for a foray into Hatfield territory.¹

    Expecting a new effort on the part of Governor Buckner to extradite them to Kentucky, the principal leaders of the Hatfield clan took oaths before Justice...

    (pp. 76-83)

    Events along the Tug Fork in January 1888 almost inevitably drew the governors of Kentucky and West Virginia more deeply into the problems relating to the feud. On January 9 Governor Buckner wrote Wilson that he had received reports of the attack upon the McCoys on the night of January 1 and inquired whether there was any good reason why the men indicted for the murder of the McCoy brothers in 1882 should not be rendered to Kentucky.¹

    Because of sickness in his family and his absence from office with the Board of Public Works, Wilson did not reply to...

    (pp. 84-91)

    The day after Judge Barr rendered his decision, United States Deputy Marshal J. V. McDonald left for Pikeville to serve the writs of habeas corpus. Contrary to the dangers depicted by Eustace Gibson in his arguments before Judge Barr, the marshal found the town of Pikeville quiet. Rumors persisted, however, that the Hatfields would try to rescue the prisoners. For that reason, a carefully chosen guard, under the direction of Perry Cline himself, accompanied them to Louisville. The guard included Lee Ferguson; Jim York, the attorney for Randolph McCoy; Charley Yoste, a deputy sheriff of Pike County; Jim Sauers, first...

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 92-100)

    During the weeks following the decision of the Supreme Court, detectives arrived in Kentucky and West Virginia from all parts of the nation. They hoped to collect the rewards offered by Kentucky for the Hatfields and by West Virginia for the McCoys, which by the summer of 1888 totaled almost eight thousand dollars. Some of them aspired to the fame that might come from capturing the principal feudists, particularly Devil Anse.

    The wily mountaineers took precautions against capture by ambitious and unscrupulous detectives. None did more to insure his safety than Devil Anse. Shortly after the attack on the McCoys...

    (pp. 101-109)

    In late august 1889 the trial of the Hatfields and their associates for the McCoy murders opened in Pikeville. Before it commenced, Lee Ferguson, the commonwealth attorney for Pike County, extracted a confession from Ellison Mounts, whom detectives had captured in October 1888 and whom Ferguson regarded as the weakest member of the Hatfield clan. Mounts admitted that he had participated in the murder of the three McCoys on the night of August 9, 1882. He provided an account of their detention at the schoolhouse on Mate Creek, identified Charles Carpenter as the man who tied the brothers to the...

    (pp. 110-117)

    Many residents of both Pike and Logan counties predicted that the Hatfields would never suffer Ellison Mounts to die on the gallows. His execution was originally scheduled for December 3, 1889. Under Kentucky law, however, Mounts automatically had thirty days to file a petition for a rehearing, but he filed no petition. On the evening of December 17 Governor Buckner set the hanging for February 18, 1890. The delays in the execution and the appearance in Pikeville in late January of mysterious strangers, who claimed to be tracing persons illegally cashing checks and horse thieves, strengthened expectations that the Hatfields...

    (pp. 118-124)

    The desire of the Hatfields and the McCoys for peace could not entirely overcome their habit of resorting to violence in the settlement of disputes. Three incidents are illustrative of the persistence of the tendency to turn to arms. They included the murder of John and Elliott Rutherford and Henderson Chambers by Cap Hatfield and his stepson, Joe Glenn; the slaying of Humphrey E., or Doc, Ellis by Elias Hatfield, the son of Devil Anse; and the killing of Detroit, or Troy, and Elias Hatfield at Boomer, West Virginia. Only the second of the incidents had any relation to the...

  19. Epilogue
    (pp. 125-126)

    The feuds that erupted in the southern Appalachian Mountains in the late nineteenth century have long since receded into history and are but slightly known to most Americans today. The Hatfield-McCoy vendetta has proved a striking exception and has, in fact, become a part of the folk history of the nation. Many of the feuds had political overtones, but the Hatfield-McCoy troubles were rooted in the everyday life of two families who were essentially no different from thousands of others in the southern mountains. Antagonisms born of wartime emotions, anger over relatively trivial incidents such as the alleged theft of...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 127-138)
  21. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 139-142)
  22. Index
    (pp. 143-151)