The most notorious family feud in America dates back to 1863, lasted nearly 30 years, and involved the Hatfields of West Virginia and the McCoys of Kentucky. The story of the Hatfield and McCoy feud has become a modern American symbol of the perils of family honor, pride, justice, and vengeance. Here’s a brief history of the Hatfield and McCoy feud.
The Civil War
During the American Civil War, the two rival families of William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Randolph “Ol’ Ran’l” McCoy were pro-Confederate and Randolph served in the Confederate Army early on. But then Randolph’s younger brother, Asa Harmon McCoy, enlisted in the Union Army and this did not sit right with the Hatfields.
In 1864, Asa Harmon broke his leg, was discharged, and returned home. Jim Vance, uncle of Devil Anse Hatfield, was a member of the Logan Wildcats, a Confederate home guard organized by the Hatfield family. Vance thought the Wildcats ought to pay Asa Harmon a little visit. He tried to escape by hiding out in a cave, but that didn’t stop the Wildcats from tracking him down. Even though there weren’t any charges filed, everyone knew Vance and the Wildcats were responsible for Asa Harmon’s death.
In the late 1870s, Devil Anse Hatfield was involved in a land dispute with Randolph McCoy’s cousin, Perry Cline. Both men held title to a 5000-acre tract of land, so Hatfield brought a civil suit against Cline. Hatfield won in what was seen by the McCoys as a Hatfield friendly court.
Perry Cline was related to the McCoys through marriage. His sister, Martha "Patty" Cline, was married to Asa Harmon McCoy. Years later, in 1886, Cap Hatfield killed their son, Lewis Jefferson.
In 1878, Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield for stealing one of his pigs, which was a very serious offense at the time. Bill Staton was related to both families. Due to his statements, the case was decided in favor of the Hatfields. The McCoys thought this was unfair. Two McCoy brothers were accused, tried, and acquitted of the death of Staton. The judge ruled Staton’s death an act of self-defence.
Randolph McCoy had a daughter named Roseanna who entered a relationship with Devil Anse's son "Johnse" Hatfield and became pregnant with his child. Randolph found out and disowned his daughter. Unwanted by both families, she was forced to move in with her aunt. Johnse wound up marrying Roseanna’s cousin. Sadly, Roseanna’s baby died before her first birthday and Roseanna died when she was 28.
In 1882, three of Randolph’s sons killed Devil Anse’s brother, Ellison Hatfield. The McCoy brothers were arrested and taken for trial, but before they could reach their destination, Devil Anse intercepted and executed them without trial.
New Year's Massacre
On January 1, 1888, the Hatfields burned Randolph McCoy’s house to the ground and attacked his family. His son and daughter were killed in the shootout. His wife was badly injured when she attempted to comfort the daughter, suffering several broken ribs and skull fractures. Randolph and his remaining family members escaped into the woods. Unfortunately, his children suffered frostbite.
McCoy had to move his family to Pikeville, Kentucky. That’s where he lived out the remainder of his life in bitterness and grieving. Because of the Hatfield and McCoy feud, he had lost seven children and his wife.
After the New Year’s raid, Kentucky deputy Frank Phillips and a group of McCoys chased down and killed Jim Vance. Phillips’ posse rounded up nine Hatfields and hauled them off to jail. Ellison Mounts was executed for his part in the McCoy killings, ending the Hatfield and McCoy feud. Devil Anse was never tried nor jailed.