All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century

Larry Holzwarth - April 23, 2019

The fabled feud between the Hatfields of West Virginia and the McCoys of Kentucky was one of the most storied of American history. It began in 1863, the same year West Virginia was admitted to the Union as a state, separated from the Virginia which had become the most critical state of the Confederacy. Both families for the most part supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, and participated in the border warfare which erupted among the population. But one member of the McCoy clan openly supported the Union, enlisting in the 45th Kentucky regiment in 1863. The feud erupted into open violence during the war, in part covered by quasi-legal actions as a result of the conflict.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Devil Anse Hatfield is seated second from left in this photograph of some of the Hatfield Clan. Wikimedia

It had its roots in issues which preceded the American Civil War and carried over well beyond the end of hostilities in 1865. Both families participated in the manufacture and sale of illegal whisky in the mountainous country around Tug Fork on the Big Sandy River. Both maintained contacts with the legal authorities on their sides of the river, the Hatfields in Logan County (in a region which is now Mingo County) in West Virginia, the McCoys in Pike County, Kentucky. The Hatfields were relatively well-to-do for the region and the time, earning their money from timber and whiskey, and considering the McCoys to be little more than white trash, thieves, and murderers. Here is the story of the feud which entered the American language as the symbol of longstanding hatred and violence between families.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Devil Anse Hatfield, said to be the leader of the Hatfield clan throughout the feud. All that is interesting

1. The feud began in earnest during the American Civil War

In the early days of the Civil War the western counties of Virginia seceded from the state which had seceded from the Union, creating the new state of West Virginia. The state’s residents were divided in their loyalties with some supporting the Confederacy and others supporting the Union. The same situation existed in Kentucky, particularly in the region of the state which was part of Appalachia. Both the Hatfield family, an extended clan in the Big Sandy River region of West Virginia, and the McCoy clan of Kentucky for the most part supported the South, and men from both families served in the irregular forces of the regions as well as in the Confederate regiments raised in Kentucky and Virginia. Many of the units were home guard militia regiments.

As the Civil War evolved, irregular units and militia regiments frequently ambushed and killed those of the opposing view. The Pike County Home Guards were one such unit which supported the Union, with a company of the guards led by William Francis, a close friend of the McCoy family. His guards shot Moses Cline in an ambush, and though Cline survived, his friend William Anderson Hatfield – known as “Devil Anse” or simply “Anse” – retaliated in 1863 by ambushing Francis as he left his home, killing him. The bad blood between the McCoys and the Hatfields began to take on a personal nature as well as political during the sporadic raiding in 1863, while Asa Harmon McCoy recovered from wounds he received in battle in a hospital in Maryland. Harmon had been serving with the 45th Kentucky Infantry regiment of the Union Army.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
The feud was a series of murders and destruction of property perpetrated by both sides. Pike County Tourism

2. Asa Harmon McCoy was murdered after leaving the Union Army

Asa Harmon McCoy was the brother of Randolph McCoy (considered the patriarch of the branch of the family involved most deeply in the feud). Asa served in the Union Army, and was mustered out after recovering from a broken leg in 1865. Irregular supporters of the South considered Asa and those like him as traitors to country and family. From Logan County, on the West Virginia side of the river, a group of self-appointed home guards known as the Logan Wildcats patrolled the roads and settlements on both sides of the river, enforcing their views of the law with violence and intimidation. Several Hatfields were members of the vigilante group, including Anse Hatfield, who held considerable authority since he also employed many of the men in his timber operations.

Asa Harmon McCoy was near his home in 1865, returning from the war, when he was accosted by the Logan Wildcats on January 7, 1865, near his home. He had been discharged from the army only 13 days earlier. Asa was killed in the confrontation with the group, which was clearly a murder, but there was little investigation by authorities and nobody was ever charged with the killing. One of Anse Hatfield’s uncles, James Vance, known to the family as Uncle Jim, was widely believed to have been the murderer, and tradition regarding the feud continues to point to him as the culprit. The murder was not the beginning of the feud, but bad blood between the clans and their associates began during the war, and simmered for a decade after.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Devil Anse and his brother, Valentine “Wall” Hatfield, operated a profitable timber operation similar to this. West Virginia Gazette

3. Anse Hatfield employed many members of the McCoy family after the war

In the immediate post-war years the increased market for timber ensured that Anse Hatfield’s business prospered, and many of the men later involved in the feud between the families worked in his timber operations. Anse was the patriarch of the Hatfield family due to his successful business, while on the other side Randolph McCoy – known as Old Ran’l – held a similar role. Randolph McCoy was not as well off financially as Anse, though he had large landholdings and livestock. Despite the tensions between the families – both looked sneeringly at the other – Anse employed members of the McCoy clan, and there were social connections between the families, including marriages.

Although Anse was regarded as the patriarch of the Hatfield clan he had an older brother who was also his business partner, as well as a justice of the peace in Logan County, Valentine Hatfield. Valentine was known as “Wall” to all who knew him, and though content to let Anse make most of the decisions regarding the extended family he was heavily involved in the feud. As a justice of the peace Wall made legal decisions which fed the feud on the West Virginia side by being ignored on the Kentucky side, including regarding extradition and the issuance of warrants. Anse was also supported by an Uncle, Jim Vance, who was one of the leading perpetrators of the violence during the feud, during which members of both families changed sides, betraying family because of marriage or employment.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Despite the long enmity between some of the McCoys and the Hatfields, there were many instances of marriage between the clans and there supporters. Hatfield-McCoy Trails

4. The pig issue unleashed the feud in 1878

Pigs were valuable commodities among the people of Appalachia, and the theft or killing of a pig were considered serious crimes. In 1878, Floyd Hatfield, a cousin of Anse Hatfield, was accused of stealing a pig by Randolph McCoy. The hog had been marked by notching its ears, and Randolph claimed the notches were those used by the McCoys. Floyd Hatfield denied the theft and claimed that he had cut the notches in the pig’s ears. The issue was brought to the authorities in Kentucky – McCoy territory – but the justice of the peace who considered the case was yet another cousin of the Hatfield’s, also named Anderson Hatfield and differentiated from Devil Anse by the name Preacher Anse. Preacher Anse found, not unsurprisingly, for Floyd Hatfield.

The Hatfields produced a witness named Bill Staton. Staton was a member of the McCoy extended family by blood, but had married into the Hatfield clan. His testimony was such that Preacher Anse found in favor of Floyd, removing the charge of theft and allowing him to retain possession of the hog, The McCoys found the decision to be an infuriating miscarriage of justice, and two years after the dispute over the hog Bill Staton was killed. The culprits were nephews of Randolph McCoy, Sam and Paris McCoy, who claimed that their actions had been in self-defense. The court ruled in their favor and the event was added to those which in the minds of the feuding families demanded retaliation to exact justice.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Randolph “‘Old Ran’l” McCoy (left) and Devil Anse Hatfield superimposed over the territory. WKYT

5. Election Day of 1880 led to another chapter in the expanding feud

Election Day was a time of gathering to socialize as well as to vote on local issues and national, and in 1880 to consume the liquid products made by both families in the hills. Johnson Hatfield was Devil Anse’s son, known as Johnse, and during the 1880 socializing he was smitten by Roseanna McCoy, a daughter of Randolph McCoy. The couple vanished into the woods at some point during the gathering, remaining alone for some time, and when Roseanna feared returning to her father and other members of the McCoy clan, Johnse took her home with him. She remained at the Hatfield home of Devil Anse for some time, despite the protests of Randolph McCoy.

Johnse later abandoned her in favor of her cousin. She eventually returned to her family home in Kentucky. Johnse then reconsidered and went to see her at the McCoy home, where Randolph had him arrested on charges of manufacturing and selling illegal moonshine. Roseanna rode to West Virginia to summon Devil Anse, and the Hatfields raced to Kentucky, rescued Johnse from the custody of the McCoys at gunpoint, and returned him to West Virginia, where the Kentucky warrants had no legal authority or standing. In gratitude, Johnse abandoned the pregnant Roseanna and married her cousin, Nancy McCoy, in 1881. The story of Roseanna McCoy ended with her being heartbroken for the rest of her life in the romantic mountain legends of the feud.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
A roadside marker noting the death of Ellison Hatfield and the subsequent murders of the three McCoy brothers. Distillery Trail

6. The feud turned violent on another election day in 1882

In 1882 during an election day in Kentucky, alcohol and mutual contempt led to a brawl involving another brother of Devil Anse, Ellison Hatfield, and three McCoy brothers, Tolbert, Bud, and Pharmer, sons of Randolph McCoy. The fight may have erupted over the Hatfield’s treatment of their sister, Roseanna McCoy. One of the McCoy brothers used a knife to stab Ellison numerous times, with some sources saying more than two dozen stab wounds were inflicted, several of them in the back, before shooting the helpless and gravely wounded man as he lay on the ground. Local constables, several of them Hatfields, arrested the McCoy brothers and prepared to transport them to Pikeville, the county seat.

Devil Anse organized a posse of his relatives and friends, intercepted the party on the way to Pikeville, and seized the McCoy prisoners. The constables were ordered to disperse. Anse and his party then kept the McCoy brothers in custody. Meanwhile, Ellison Hatfield lay dying. Anse kept the McCoys in bonds until his brother died of his wounds, after which he had the three McCoys taken into the woods and tied to pawpaw bushes, according to the legend. The Hatfields then shot each of the three brothers, with more than fifty shots fired in total by the dispensers of vigilante justice. The murders led to about twenty of the Hatfield clan being indicted, but they continued to elude arrest, leading the McCoys to take vigilante action of their own.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Part of the feud lore is that Anse Hatfield cheated Perry Cline out of land using his influence in the courts and earning Cline’s enmity. Herald-Dispatch

7. The Cline family became heavily involved in the feud after the deaths of the McCoy brothers

Perry Cline was a politically connected cousin to the McCoys, who married Martha McCoy, widow of Asa Harmon McCoy, who was killed at the end of the Civil War. In the 1870s Cline was involved in a dispute over the timber rights of a large tract of land with Devil Anse. The dispute was settled in court in favor of the Hatfields, and Cline nursed a grudge over the loss of 5,000 acres. When the indictments against the Hatfields over the murder of the three McCoy brothers were ineffective in obtaining their arrests, the outraged McCoys turned to Perry Cline, who had reasons to avenge himself against Devil Anse of his own.

Cline had the indictments reinstated and announced rewards for the arrest of Devil Anse, Jim Vance, and others of the Hatfield clan, hoping to attract bounty hunters to the region to apprehend the fugitives in West Virginia and bring them back to Kentucky for trial. The Hatfields decided to take action of their own to bring the feud to an end before the McCoys could receive the help which was coming. The feud was by then becoming known nationally as newspapers reported of the events, depicting the Hatfields as predatory outlaws roaming the woods along the Tug and Big Sandy rivers. The sensationalist newspapers of the day did much to create the legend of the Hatfield – McCoy feud out of what had been a series of brutal murders.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
The Hatfields planned to end the pressure from Kentucky authorities by killing Randolph McCoy and his family. Kentucky History

8. The Hatfields attempted to end the feud by killing Randolph McCoy and his immediate family

By the end of 1887 Randolph McCoy had lost three sons and a brother to the senseless violence between the two families. He attempted through political contacts to extract some justice from the entire situation by having several of the Hatfield clan arrested by the authorities, but the latter managed to avoid arrest and extradition through their own connections in West Virginia. When Devil Anse learned of the presence of bounty hunters seeking rewards for the arrest of Hatfields, he decided to take steps to remove the McCoy influence. The plan was urged by Jim Vance, and Anse’s son Cap Hatfield, both of whom had been present at the murder of the three McCoy brothers.

Whether Devil Anse approved of the plan or not remains a point of contention among historians, but the decision was made to attack Randoph McCoy in his home, killing him and his family. Evidence indicates Anse did not take an active part in the attack, which was led by Jim Vance and Cap Hatfield. The attacking party opened fire too soon on New Year’s Day of 1888, allowing Randolph McCoy to escape into the woods and flee for his life. McCoy’s daughter Alifair was killed in the gunfire, as was yet another son, Calvin. At least one of the Hatfields severely battered McCoy’s wife Sarah, leaving her severely injured with a fractured skull. Most accounts assign responsibility for the beating to Jim Vance.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Kentucky governor and former Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner was a firm ally of the McCoy faction. Kentucky History

9. The attack on the McCoy home led the Governor of Kentucky to enter the feud

What became known as the New Year’s Day massacre led to the arrival on the scene of Frank Phillips and a party of more than three dozen special officers sent by the governor of Kentucky, Simon Buckner, to apprehend the Hatfields. Ignoring the fact that Kentucky warrants had no legal standing in West Virginia, Phillips and his men crossed into the latter state just after New Year’s, pursuing the perpetrators of the attack on McCoy’s home and family. Anse Hatfield and his family and other supporters took to the woods to try to elude the pursuit. In the first week of the year several Hatfields were apprehended and sent back to Kentucky under escort, each time reducing the size of Phillips’ party.

On January 10, Phillips ran down Cap Hatfield and Jim Vance, both of whom had been recognized by Randolph McCoy during the attack on his home ten days earlier. Cap Hatfield surrendered to the hunters, but Uncle Jim Vance attempted to flee, exchanging shots with the men pursuing him. He was killed in the ensuing gunfight, though there are some who believe he was executed after the party, which included some McCoy family, ran him down. Others believe Phillips personally killed Vance. Vance was regarded as the most violent person involved in the feud on either side, personally responsible for several deaths, and likely the first to suggest the attack on Randolph McCoy and his family.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Frank Phillips was buried with his wife, the former Nancy McCoy, former wife of Johnse Hatfield, in Pike County. Pike County Tourism

10. The Battle of Grapevine Creek

On January 19 Devil Anse and a large party of his supporters faced off with Frank Phillips and his men in a large gun battle which entered local lore and the legend of the feud as the Battle of Grapevine Creek. Despite involving a large number of men, and despite being the single biggest engagement of the entire feud only two were killed in the battle, though a deputy who supported the Hatfields was executed by Phillips after the battle. Following the engagement Phillips withdrew to Kentucky, having succeeded in rounding up nine members of the Hatfield clan. Once there he learned that another Governor, E. Willis Wilson of West Virginia, had entered the fray, and at least to all appearances on the side of the Hatfields. Wilson demanded that the illegally taken prisoners be returned to West Virginia.

Wilson expressed outrage to both governor Buckner and to the federal government, sued the government of Kentucky for the illegal arrest of the nine prisoners being held there, and demanded reparations for the raids into his state. He also ordered the West Virginia Guard to mobilize and move units to the border with Kentucky to prevent further incursions into the state. In response, Buckner dispatched units of Kentucky’s guard to the border area as protection against retaliatory raids by either West Virginia troops or supporters of the Hatfields. Only two decades after the end of the Civil War the military assets of two states were facing each other over their shared border, as a result of the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Pike County Court House was the scene of the trials of the accused of the Hatfield clan. Wikimedia

11. The legal battles began after the nine prisoners were taken to Kentucky

Among the nine men taken to Kentucky to stand trial for the murder of Alifair McCoy and others was Valentine Hatfield, known as Wall and a man with some connections in the government of West Virginia. Through his ministrations, Governor Wilson demanded the return of the prisoners by arguing that they had been denied due process and had been illegally extradited by Kentucky. Kentucky argued that the prisoners were in custody, under indictment, and that the state had no obligation to release them to West Virginia or any other entity, regardless of the circumstances of their arrest. In April the case was appealed by Governor Wilson to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Court issued no finding regarding the legality or illegality of the arrest, but agreed with Kentucky in their argument that no federal law existed which would prohibit the prisoners from being tried for the crimes committed in Kentucky, regardless of the nature of events which resulted with them being in custody. The finding was 7-2 in favor of Kentucky. With the nine men in custody pending trial the feud was effectively over, at least as pertains to violence against the other family. But several questions over the feud itself and the many participants arose in the aftermath of the arrests. Devil Anse was not among the prisoners, and neither West Virginia nor Kentucky authorities sought his arrest, despite his physical location being well known. Nor was Cap Hatfield in custody.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Valentine “Wall” Hatfield lived out his days in the Kentucky State Prison, though how long he survived there is debated. WIkimedia

12 The trials helped create the legend of the feud

One of the prisoners taken to Kentucky for trial was Valentine Hatfield, and at his trial he was convicted of involvement in the murders of the McCoy children and sentenced to life in prison. Wall Hatfield may not have been involved in the attack for which he was charged, in 2014 his great-grandson, an Episcopal priest, told the Bluefield (West Virginia) Daily Telegraph that family lore was that Wall surrendered voluntarily and that he hadn’t been guilty of the crime for which he had been charged. He also recounted a story of another relative visiting the Kentucky State Prison to review the records of his great-grandfather and learning of a different cause of death than that recorded by most historians.

According to most accounts of the feud, once he was convicted Wall communicated with his brothers, asking for their assistance in getting him out of jail, but they refused over fears of being arrested. Wall died in prison under circumstances which remain officially unknown. According to his great-grandson, an official of the Kentucky prison system reviewed the records at the request of a relative of the Hatfields, and reported to her that he was placed in a cellblock alongside several convicted members of the McCoy clan, who killed Wall Hatfield in prison. The cause of death and the location of his grave were never released officially to the Hatfield family, who still question the nature of his role in the feud.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Frank Phillips, a special officer appointed by the Kentucky governor, bragged he had once ridden with Jesse James, seen above. Wikimedia

13. Frank Phillips committed at least one and possibly more murders but was never charged

According to the accounts of several historians regarding the feud, Kentucky Special Officer Frank Phillips captured a deputy named Bill Dempsey who had been supporting the Hatfields, and executed him on the spot, an act of outright murder, though he was not held accountable for the crime. Other accounts have Phillips similarly executing Uncle Jim Vance rather than taking him into custody. Phillips referred to himself as “Bad Frank”, and claimed to have ridden at one time with the James-Younger Gang. Whether or not true, he did name one of his sons Jesse James Phillips, and he was indicted at various times in several jurisdictions.

In 1888 Nancy McCoy, who had married Johnse Hatfield, left her husband to live with Phillips, remaining with him for the rest of his life, and marrying him in 1895. Phillips however continued with the behavior he had exhibited all of his adult life; heavy drinking, womanizing, fighting, and gambling. In 1898 he argued with a friend over a woman, and the argument led to the friend shooting him in the hip. The wounded festered, he developed gangrene, and despite an operation to amputate his leg, he died as a result of the wound. Nancy died three years later of tuberculosis and the two are buried side-by-side in Pike County, Kentucky.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Devil Anse Hatfield and some of his large brood circa 1870. Pinterest

14. Perry Cline’s role in the feud is debated by historians as well

Whether Perry Cline instigated the feud, using Randolph McCoy and his family as a red flag to enrage Devil Anse, has been debated by many over the years. The story of Anse using the courts to deprive Cline of a significant section of valuable land has been cited as the motive for Cline to try to damage the Hatfield clan. Some writers and historians have laid the blame for the feud at the feet of Perry Cline, using his many instances of arousing the anger of the McCoy’s against the Hatfields as evidence that he manipulated the feud, and inflamed it during its several periods of near-dormancy. But other aspects of Cline’s character and his achievements in Pike County call this judgment into question in many ways.

There is little doubt that the McCoy family and their supporters suffered more deaths and the destruction of property over the course of the feud, and Randolph McCoy’s frustrations were elevated by his failures to obtain justice in the courts. Cline may have just been using his influence and political connections to help the McCoy family. Cline was well respected in Pike County and its environs; he started the first school for black children in the county and was elected to the state legislature, where he exhibited significant political skills. The theory that Cline incited the feud to get back at Devil Anse also falls flat when it is considered that Anse’s business remained intact and profitable in the feud’s aftermath, and if anything his influence in Logan County was enhanced.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Devil Anse lost several relatives during the course of the feud but was not jailed nor fined despite being regarded the leader of the Hatfield clan. Pinterest

15. Devil Anse was never arrested or convicted for his crimes during the feud

One of the motivating factors for the Hatfield attack on Randolph McCoy’s home was the bounty placed on the heads of several members of the clan, including a $500 bounty on Devil Anse, the recognized leader of the Hatfield’s and their supporters. Anse has gone down in history as the undisputed leader of the West Virginia Hatfield clan, despite the fact that he was not arrested and was never tried for any of the multitude of violent crimes he supposedly directed. While some have ascribed his eluding prosecution to his political connections in West Virginia, it has been noted that his brother Wall held similar connections, which did not preclude him from being tried, convicted, and imprisoned in Kentucky, where he died.

Anse was never, except when attempting to outmaneuver Frank Phillips and his posse of vigilantes, on the run; his whereabouts were well-known to both members of the Hatfield clan and the McCoy faction attempting to bring him to justice. Court records also demonstrate that Anse was prone to using the courts, both in Logan County and in Pike County, to resolve differences, as indicated by the incident with the stolen hog. Nor was he present during the attack on the McCoy home. He was part of the murder of the three McCoy brothers following the murder of his own brother, an incident which much of the Tug Valley found to be justified. If he was in fact the leader of the Hatfield clan, as most accounts claim, he nonetheless escaped legal retribution, and attempts to exact justice upon him ended with the trial of the Hatfield’s in Kentucky.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts was hanged for his participation in the attack on the McCoy home on New Year’s, 1888. West Virginia State Library

16. Ellison Mounts was hanged for the murder of Alifair McCoy

The only member of either the Hatfield or McCoy families to face the death penalty for the crimes committed during the legendary feud was Ellison Mounts, known as “Cotton Top” to members of both families. Mounts entered a guilty plea when charged with being involved in the attack on Randolph McCoy’s home, which led to the death of his son and daughter. Despite accepting the guilty plea, the jury recommended the death penalty, and on February 18, 1890, he was hanged in the Pike County Jail in Kentucky. Officially by that time Kentucky had ceased public executions, but several hundred people, some accounts say thousands, surrounded the jail on that day so to claim they saw the hanging.

Ellison Mounts was of uncertain parentage, though many accounts of the feud claim he was the illegitimate son of Ellison Hatfield, the brother of Devil Anse who was killed in the second of the Election Day confrontations between the families. Ellison’s mother was Harriet Hatfield, a first cousin of Ellison Hatfield, who later married Daniel Mounts. Ellison was described as being mentally handicapped, and following the trial rumors began that he had been bribed to confess to the murder of Alifair McCoy, encouraged by the belief that a confession and his known mental illness would lead to a lenient sentence. It was not to be. Ellison’s final words, according to witnesses, were, “The Hatfields made me do it”, although whether in reference to the killing or the confession was unclear.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
The New York Times announces the death of Cap Hatfield, who many believe was the actual killer of Alifair McCoy. New York Times

17. Testimony in the trial was that Cap Hatfield had been the killer at the McCoy home

Cap Hatfield was the second son of Devil Anse, a man known to have a violent streak and a quarrelsome nature throughout the Tug River region. Cap was the type of man who preferred fighting to discussion and believed that vengeance was a duty of the offended. Cap was one of many of the feud’s participants of which there are conflicting accounts, some say he was arrested by Frank Phillips on the same day that the latter killed Uncle Jim Vance, others recount that he escaped Phillips on that day. At one point he was in the Logan County (later Mingo County) Jail, from which he reportedly escaped and eluded justice, probably with the help of his father. Cap was never brought to justice.

During the trial which led to the sentencing of Ellison Mounts to death, eyewitness testimony from Randolph McCoy was that it was Cap Hatfield who had killed Alifair McCoy, testimony which conflicted with the confession offered by Mounts. As Cap frequently sided with his mentor, Jim Vance, who consistently recommended violent solutions to perceived slights, it seems likely that he was present during the attack, probably leading it along with his uncle. Cap escaped the feud and the pursuit of the vigilantes and vanished. In 1930, he died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, one of the last survivors of the feud. His death was described in the New York Times as being the result of a brain ailment.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Known as both “Crazy Jim” and “Uncle Jim” Vance was one of the most violent participants in the feud. West Virginia State Library

18. James “Crazy Jim” Vance remains one of the most controversial participants of the feud

James Vance was well-known in both Logan and Pike Counties, referred to as Crazy Jim Vance by the McCoy family and as Uncle Jim Vance to the Hatfield clan. The McCoys liked to point out that his father, Abner Vance, had been hanged and had never been married to Jim’s mother. A guerrilla fighter in Logan and Pike Counties during the Civil War, Vance was widely believed to have been the killer of Asa Harmon McCoy in 1865. Vance was accused by the McCoy’s of being the leader of the assault on the McCoy home during the New Year’s attack, and there was testimony that it was he who had severely beaten Sarah McCoy with a rifle butt as she attempted to reach her wounded daughter.

Vance has been portrayed down the years as a psychopathic killer, one of the leading proponents of the violence which marked the feud. Following his death and the disappearance of Cap Hatfield, the violence of the feud subsided, despite Devil Anse, the presumed leader of the Hatfield clan, remaining at large. Some historians believe that Cap Hatfield witnessed the execution of the wounded Jim Vance at the hands of Frank Phillips, which led to Cap’s decision to flee the region. Despite his criminal history, Vance at one point served as a constable, though many of the Hatfield’s did so in Logan County, despite being considered outlaws in Pike County, so Vance’s service with the law cannot be a consideration when evaluating his true character.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
Mark Twain was one of the first to satirize the feud nationally, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Wikimedia

19. The feud became a lynchpin of American culture

Throughout the twentieth century, the Hatfield and McCoy feud grew in legend. It became sensationalized in newspapers and magazines, fictionalized in periodicals and film, satirized in vaudeville, and trivialized in cartoons and comics. Portions of the feud were presented as romantic drama, as in the film Roseanna McCoy, released in 1949, which approached the feud from the perspective of star-crossed lovers of the Romeo and Juliet type. Mark Twain was one of the first to use the feud as a basis for one of his tales, describing the feud between the Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons in his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Even Betty Boop appeared in the cartoon with a feud as a backdrop.

Abbott and Costello used the feud as a backdrop, though a highly fictionalized version, in their film Comin’ Round the Mountain in 1951. The Flintstones presented a version of the feud, featuring the Hatrocks and the Flintstones, in an episode entitled The Flintsones Hillbillies which originally aired in 1964. Some attempts have been made to present the feud accurately as an historical event, all of which have come under criticism from some quarters due to the variations in the records of the actual event, which were skewed by the viewpoints of the source information, with records coming from Kentucky favoring the McCoy family, and those from what is now Mingo County (formerly part of Logan County, West Virginia) tending to support the Hatfields.

All the Dirty Details About the Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the Late Nineteenth Century
The once bloody and violent feud has become a tourist attraction and cash cow in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and elsewhere in Appalachia. Wikimedia

20. The aftermath of the Hatfield and McCoy feud

By the end of the twentieth century the Hatfield and McCoy feud was big business. It was referenced in popular music, featured in role playing games, and video games presented scenarios which were based on extended clans engaging in a similar feud. In the region where the feud took place both West Virginia and Kentucky have established tourist attractions and celebrations which draw thousands of visitors to the area annually. Descendants of the feud’s participants even appeared on the television game show Family Feud, playing against each other in 1979, with part of the prizes going to the winners (the McCoys) being a pig.

The families, with the support of the governors of Kentucky and West Virginia, have declared the feud officially over. June 14 is recognized in both states as Hatfield – McCoy Reconciliation Day. During the annual fun held in the name of the feud the graves of several of its victims can be viewed, including that of Uncle Jim Vance. Hatfields and McCoys remains a reference for enduring enmity in the American lexicon, despite the celebratory nature of much of the modern remembrances over the battle between and within families that led to multiple deaths, and nearly brought two states to armed conflict in the latter part of the 19th century.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Hatfields and McCoys”. Otis K. Rice. 1982

“Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance”. Lisa Alther. 2012

“Pneumonia Ends Career of Devil Anse Hatfield”. Obituary, Bluefield (West Virginia) Daily Telegraph. January 8, 1921

“Hatfield – McCoy Feud 75 Years Old Today”. Shirley Donnelly, Beckley Post Herald. August 7, 1957

“The Hatfield and McCoy Feud after Kevin Costner: Rescuing History”. Tom Dotson. 2013

“Days of Darkness: The Feuds of Eastern Kentucky”. John Ed Pearce. 1994

“1882 One Hundred Years Ago”. James C. Simmons, American Heritage Magazine. August/September, 1982

“Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1899”. Altina L. Waller. 1988

“What Was the Cause of the Hatfields’ and McCoys’ Feud?”, By Nadia Suleman, September 10, 2019. Time.com

“Simon Bolivar Buckner: Borderland Knight”. Arndt M. Stickles. 1940

“Frank and Nancy McCoy Phillips”. The Explore Kentucky History Team, Kentucky History. Online

“Emmanuel Willis Wilson”. Biography, West Virginia State Archives. Online

“Great grandson of Valentine ‘Wall’ Hatfield still searching for answers”. Bill Archer, Bluefield Daily Telegraph. November 2, 2014

“‘Bad Frank’ Phillips of Hatfield – McCoy Fame”. Phillips DNA News. July 2012

“The Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The True Story”. Dean King. 2014

“The True Story of the Hatfield and McCoy Feud”. L.D. Hatfield. Ravenio Books, 2015

“William Anderson ‘Devil Anse’ Hatfield”. Biography, Find a Grave. Online

“February 18, 1890: Ellison ‘Cotton Top’ Mounts Hanged in Kentucky”. West Virginia Encyclopedia. February 18, 2016

“Cap Hatfield led an interesting life”. Dwight Williamson, Gallipolis Daily Tribune. March 25, 2016

“5 Things Hatfields and McCoys still feud over: Was ‘Crazy’ Jim Vance Crazy?” Tour Pike County. December 16, 2013. Online

“America is fascinated with ‘Hatfields and McCoys’ feud”. Associated Press, June 19, 2012

“Hatfield & McCoy – The Reunion They Said Would Never Happen”. Kimberly Powell, about.com. April 30, 2000. Online

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