The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys: The True Story by Dean King

The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys: The True Story by Dean King

I finished reading this non-fiction book today; despite the rather lurid title, I found it to be a very good explanation and chronology of the Hatfield & McCoy feud, which took place along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River (between West Virginia and Kentucky) in the last quarter of the 19th century, and I enjoyed my reading of the book.

Those involved in the feud were descended from Ephraim Hatfield (born c. 1765) and William McCoy (born c. 1750); the area where they settled was quite remote, and by the Civil War there had been many intermarriages between the families; also, many McCoys worked for Hatfields (and vice versa) in making and running moonshine and in the timber logging industry. The origins of the feud date back to the Civil War (most of the McCoys, on the Kentucky side, fought with the Union, while most of the Hatfields, on the West Virginia side, fought for the Confederacy) and the animosities that were stirred up at the time. A dispute about a pig in 1878 which was won by the Hatfields resulted in the shooting of the main witness by two McCoys, and the elopement in 1880 of Randall McCoy’s daughter Roseanna with Johnse, the son of Devil Anse Hatfield, did nothing to ease tensions (even after Johnse abandoned her, after getting her pregnant, for her cousin). But the true escalation of the feud can be dated to an Election Day in Kentucky in 1882, when Ellison Hatfield, brother of Devil Anse, was stabbed and shot by three of Roseanna McCoy’s younger brothers. The three McCoys were duly arrested, but a large group of Hatfields led by Devil Anse removed the three men from the custody of the deputies and took them over the river to West Virginia; when word came that Ellison had died, the Hatfields killed the three McCoys in what they saw as proper retaliation. Naturally, the McCoys saw the situation in a different light, and things got worse from that point. Journalists from New York came to the area, and their reports on the situation in “Murderland” made Jack the Ripper take second billing in headlines.

I found this to be a fascinating, though complicated book, and the footnotes are well worth tracking and reading; not only did the families fight with guns and knives, but the power of the law was called in, resulting in a Supreme Court decision regarding capturing someone wanted in one state and taking him to the other state to stand trial. (It is worth noting that the two families have made peace with each other; there is now an annual festival in the area, and the two families officially signed a peace treaty in 2003 to send a message to the world after 9/11 that when national security is at risk, Americans put their differences aside and stand united.)

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