Many of the feuds
have occurred so recently that it is impossible to sift the conflicting
statements and reach a satisfactory conclusion
concerning them. Some of the principal characters are alive. There is almost no
documentary evidence of any value, and in almost
every case the statements of the opposing parties are flatly contradictory.
Anything like historical exactness, therefore, is impossible when it comes to
motives and details. Nevertheless I make the
attempt to present a fairly accurate account of one of the better-known
There is none more widely known than that between the Hatfield and McCoy families. It extended over a dozen years and perhaps only slumbers at present; twenty people were killed and a score wounded; the governors of two states quarreled over it, made ineffectual efforts to stop it, and finally allowed it to burn itself out. And it all arose over the following trivial incident:
Randall McCoy, the head of that clan, lived far back from the outside world, on one of the branches of the Tug fork of the Big Sandy river, in Pike county, Kentucky. Just opposite him, and across Little Tug, in Logan county, West Virginia, lived Anderson Hatfield, known as "Bad Anse" or "Devil Anse," the leader of the Hatfield clan.
Now, it is customary in the mountains to allow the hogs, known as "razor-backs," to roam in the woods and fatten on the mast. Floyd Hatfield passed McCoy's house one day, saw two of these hogs that had been penned up, and claimed them as his own. McCoy refused to give them up. Hatfield brought suit before the justice of the peace, who happened to be a relative, obtained the hogs, and McCoy had to pay the cost. During the proceedings both sides were armed, rocks were thrown, and it looked as if trouble was inevitable. But it did not come that day. McCoy continued to chafe under his defeat and to talk to his friends about the way he had been treated. Some time later, coming upon a party of the Hatfields seining in Tug river, the conversation very quickly turned upon the trial, and McCoy accused old Bill Stayton of having perjured himself.
Thereupon young Bill Stayton knocked McCoy down with a stone. Some months later Stayton met Sam and Parish McCoy. Both sides at once prepared for battle. Stayton shot first, and Parish McCoy fell with a wound in the hip, but sprang to his feet the next moment and put a bullet into Stayton. The two men then clinched, fighting with their hands and teeth. Sam McCoy rushed up, and as soon as he was able sent a bullet crashing through Stayton's head.
The McCoys were acquitted for lack of direct evidence. But the Hatfields were enraged. They proposed to take justice into their own hands and declared war. As each side was extensively related, "war " was not an inappropriate term to use. Hostilities were, however, suspended during an election contest, in which, strange to say, these two clans, bitterly at war, outdid each other in their support of the same candidate.
It seemed, too, that the breach might be permanently healed by the union of Jonce Hatfield and Rosa Ann McCoy. Jonce was the dare-devil son of old Anse and his chief agent in disposing of his prime " mountain dew." When but eighteen years of age twenty-seven indictments had been found against Jonce for violation of the excise law in Kentucky. Now, this fireeater had quite captured the fancy of pretty Rosa Ann. But her brothers determined upon his arrest. Whether this was due to their zeal as deputy sheriffs in bringing offenders to justice, or whether it was due to the clandestine nature of the courtship, is a question. But one day, when the lovers were in their trysting place in the woods, the McCoy brothers, with some of their friends, surrounded Jonce and took him prisoner. Then came the romance. Rosa Ann was a girl full of metal. She hurried to her father's stable, mounted a horse, and sped away over dangerous roads and in the night, until she reached the house of Anse Hatfield on the West Virginia side. Her story of the arrest was soon told, and the Hatfields hurried by short-cuts to the relief of Jonce, which they effected, killing one of the McCoy party in the fray. Rosa Ann continued to live with Jonce in his father's house for a year, when she had to leave. She carried a boy baby when she returned.
For some time now the factions worried each other by sharpshooting, but did not come close together. The Hatfields seem to have been the aggressors, and the McCoys found it necessary to keep sentinels out constantly. The next encounter was at the election of 1882. Again both sides championed the same candidate. "Applejack " and "corn-juice" were imbibed freely on both sides. In the afternoon, when all had become mellowed, Talbot McCoy remembered that 'Lias Hatfield owed him a dollar and seventy-five cents. As he wanted to buy more whisky, he demanded payment. 'Lias denied owing the debt, and Talbot started in to take it out of his hide. A lively fight promised, when both parties were arrested by officers. But bad blood had been stirred and was now boiling. Deacon Ellison Hatfield called Talbot a coward and challenged him to fight, waiving a big knife back and forth as he talked. The constable turned Talbot loose to give him a chance for his life. He whipped out a big knife, too, and the two men leaped at each other in as desperate a hand-to-hand struggle as ever men engaged in. McCoy struck up and plunged his steel time and time again into his adversary; Hatfield struck overhand, and after the second lunge the knife closed upon his hand. Throwing it away, he clinched. Hatfield was terribly slashed, for a thirteen-year-old boy on the McCoy side was digging a knife into him all the time, but with a mighty exertion he threw his foe to the ground and was about to crush his head with a stone when Farmer McCoy raised his revolver and sent a bullet into his back. When they examined Hatfield that night, one bullet and twenty-seven stabs were found on him. He died the next day. Various other fights took place at the same time, but none of them resulted fatally.
Talbot, Farmer, and the young McCoy lad were arrested and afterward carried by the Hatfields across the river to the West Virginia side. Here they were confined in an old cabin to await the expected death of Deacon Hatfield, which occurred the day after the fight. Their mother and Talbot McCoy's wife visited the cabin and pleaded with their captors to give them a fair trial. Even Deacon Hatfield, in dying, said: "Give them the civil law." But Devil Anse is said to have told the women: "Yo' needn't beg, an' yo' needn't cry. If Ellison dies, yo' boys hez got to die, damn my heart if they don't!" The prisoners were then securely tied together, marched across the river to the Kentucky side, tied to trees, and Talbot and Farmer McCoy riddled with bullets. The former is said to have told them: "When you shoot me, I want you to look me in the face; I don't want you to go behind me." It seems to have been the intention to spare the boy, but as they were going away from the spot, someone became apprehensive lest he might be a dangerous witness against them, and, turning to Bad Anse, said: "Dead men tell no tales." Thereupon, one named Messer loaded his gun with bullets and went back to the spot where the boy was writhing in convulsions and blew his head off.
The bodies were found the next day and carried on a sled drawn by oxen to their father's home. They were buried on the mountain-side opposite. It is said a thousand people attended the funeral, nine-tenths of whom came on horseback. At the grave the mother of the murdered men fell upon her knees and rent the air with her protests and lamentations. Talbot McCoy's wife had been a handsome, hearty woman. After her husband's death she came to live with his folks and at once began to droop. She could not sleep, for "the roar of the guns was always in her ears," and died in a few months of a broken heart.
The McCoys seem to have been unmanned by the terrible disaster that had overtaken them. Instead of making reprisals, it was the Hatfields who were the aggressors. They planned an ambush for the McCoys, but some other men who happened along just at that time were fired upon instead. They beat two womenone a sister of the McCoys for betraying secrets, and finally they planned a raid upon the McCoy home. In the meantime there had been some arrests. Jeff McCoy had killed a man and been killed himself, and Tom Wallace, who had helped beat the two women one of them his own wife had disappeared for good. The governor of Kentucky had issued requisitions upon the governor of West Virginia, which had not been honored, and counter-demands had been made. A long and angry dispute between the two governors ensued which threatened serious trouble.
The McCoys were for appealing to the civil lawas they say and had offered large rewards for the arrest and conviction of their enemies. So the Hatfields determined upon the extermination of their foe. On New Year's night, 1888, a large force, under the lead of Cap Hatfield and Uncle Jim Vance, who had married a sister of Anse Hatfield's, silently surrounded the McCoy house. There were two rooms to the house, not connected internally, but only through the two doors that faced the road. In one room were old Ran'l McCoy, his wife, and his grown son Calvin. In the other were the girls three of them and Rosa Ann's boy, now a lad of seven. Both doors were strongly barred. When no one appeared in answer to the demand to come out and surrender, the door to the girls' room was battered down. Aliafero stepped forward and told them that there was no man inside. "Stir a light!" said old Jim Vance. The girl tried to do so, but the coals were all dead and she had no matches. She stepped to the door again, explained the situation, and again declared that no man was inside. Cap Hatfield swore he would shoot her if she didn't stir a light immediately.
The girl was begging for her life, when Vance said to Hatfield: "What the hell are you parleying with her for? Damn her, make no more account of her than you would of a man! Shoot her, damn her!" Before he had finished speaking, Ellison Mounts had raised his gun and shot the girl dead.
Then the gang turned to the other room. The door was riddled with bullets, and attempts were made to set it, and also the roof, on fire. But Ran'l and Calvin McCoy fought the fire from within with water and, when that gave out, with buttermilk. The former shattered, with a well-directed shot, the hand that held a torch, and the latter sent a rifle ball lengthwise through Ellison Mounts' forearm.
Old Mrs. McCoy now ran out of her door to go to her daughter, who was in her death agonies. Jim Vance knocked her down with the butt of his gun, but she crawled on hands and knees almost to the door, when Jonce Hatfield knocked her senseless with his revolver.
In the meantime, the smoke in the house was becoming unbearable. Calvin McCoy, with only a shirt on his back and his rifle in hand, sprang out of the door and made a dash for a corn crib a hundred yards away. The bullets from a dozen guns whistled around him as he ran, but he seemed to have a charmed life, and had almost reached the place of safety when he sank to the ground dead.
Ran'l came out shortly after his son's exit and started in the opposite direction. He shot two of the enemy as he ran, and managed to escape his pursuers. The rest of that winter night he spent huddled up among a bunch of hogs, for he, too, had run out of the house with only a shirt on.
The McCoys now seemed hopelessly demoralized. But the savage attack that had been made upon them raised them up a champion. Frank Phillips, deputy sheriff of Pike county, was as fearless a man as ever walked. He had been waiting patiently for the governor of West Virginia to honor the requisition papers of the governor of Kentucky. After this midnight attack he waited no longer. With a chosen band of followers he made a raid into the Hatfield territory, and as a result landed ten prisoners in the Pikeville jail, two of whom were executed, and four sent to the penitentiary for life.
Another raid immediately followed this one. This time Phillips and his men came upon Cap Hatfield and old Jim Vance upon the side of a mountain. Cap at once fled, but Vance was too old to run. He dodged behind a small tree and opened fire upon his enemies, wounding several before Phillips got the drop on him and blew his brains out.
Following this were two more raids and fights, in which the Kentuckians succeeded in capturing some more of their enemies. Then the detectives began to get in their work, and the actual fighting ceased. Governor Wilson had Phillips arrested and tried in a federal court for kidnaping citizens in West Virginia without warrant or authority of law. The court finally decided it had no jurisdiction over the case, and Phillips was carried to West Virginia, tried, and cleared. The Hatfields are said to have tried again to decoy Phillips into West Virginia by sending Rosa Ann, the wife of Jonce Hatfield, to be his mistress, but she came to prefer Phillips and finally broke off all connection with the Hatfields.
Cap and some of the other Hatfields went west and remained there for some years, but finally came back and settled down quietly near their old homes. Devil Anse abandoned his home on Tug and moved over to Island creek, where his house was provided with loopholes and garrisoned like a fort liable to siege at any moment.
There was some bad feeling between the clans still; one or two murders took place, but it looked as if the old trouble had gone for good. At the presidential election of 1896, however, Cap once more added a scalp to his belt, making eighteen in all. He and his stepson came to the polling place heavily armed. They quarreled during the day with two Rutherford brothers and shot both of them dead. Hence Chambers rushed forward just as the last Rutherford fell, and the boy, thinking Chambers was taking a hand in the fight, killed him. The two then walked deliberately away into the mountains, but two days later were captured while asleep on the ground. The prisoners were taken to the county jail at Williamson. Cap managed to escape a few days afterward by means of a hatchet smuggled in to him by one of his friends. A posse was immediately organized and started in pursuit. The whole country was aroused. Hatfield was known to be a thoroughly desperate man, and he had collected a small party ready to stand by him to the last. They knew every bridle path in the mountains; they had friends and relatives in abundance. It was no child's play to capture such a gang. Old Randall McCoy came over from Pike county, clad in homespun and armed with a long, muzzle-loading squirrel rifle, to assist in the capture of what he called "six feet of devil, one hundred and eighty pounds of hell."
The fugitives made for what was known as the Hatfield fort, on an elevation, about four miles from the mouth of Beech creek. Seeing the force of the pursuing party, Hatfield abandoned this position and made for a mountain crag higher up, known as the "Devil's Backbone." From this position, eight years before. Devil Anse had defied the whole McCoy crowd and gained his nom de guerre. It was a wild crag, approachable from only one direction. As soon as McCoy saw where Hatfield was heading for, he sprang forward with his men to intercept him. A sharp fight between the two forces ensued, two of the Hatfields being wounded, but their party was not prevented from reaching its destination. In the fighting that followed it meant almost sure death to expose oneself. The Indian method of dodging from tree to tree and rock to rock was used by all. The Hatfields had already severely wounded several of the pursuing party, which now decided to starve out their enemy rather than lose more lives in carrying the position by storm. They also decided to blow up the "Devil's Backbone" by means of dynamite. It took some days to get everything in readiness. Just before the explosion occurred the desperadoes made an attempt to escape, but found it impossible to get away, three of their men being wounded in the attempt. More than half the crag was blown away, but still Hatfield was unharmed. In the excitement he fatally wounded three of the opposing party. A second train of dynamite was now laid. In the confusion that followed Hatfield and his men made their escape. They crossed over into the Kentucky mountains and disappeared completely.
So ended this
famous feud. There have been lawsuits and
individual killings since that time, but no concerted action. Both the
Hatfields and McCoys were formerly possessed of,
considerable property, for mountain people, but most of it has been eaten up by
these long-continued hostilities. The marriage of Aaron Hatfield,
a nephew of Cap's, to Mary McCoy, daughter
of old Randall McCoy, in the latter part of 1896, has done something to
bring the two families together.
But animosities that have rankled in the breast for years cannot be forgotten in a day. On July 3, 1899, another horrible murder occurred, the motive for which comes from the past. Elias Hatfield, Jr.,theyoung eighteen-year-old son of Devil Anse, killed Humphrey Ellis, at Gray, Mingo county, West Virginia. Ellis was standing on the rear platform of the train. When Hatfield saw him, he is said to have remarked: "There is the d son of a b who had my brother arrested, but he can't arrest me." Ellis had been instrumental in arresting Jonce Hatfield, who is now serving a life-sentence in the Kentucky penitentiary. When he saw the threatening attitude of young Hatfield, he stepped into the car and reappeared with his gun. Both men fired at the same instant. Hatfield's aim was true, and his enemy fell dead. Hatfield then reloaded his gun, saying to the crowd, "You see what I have done," went to his saloon over in Pike county, Kentucky, and then came back to Wharncliffe, W. Va. This was the headquarters of the armed Hatfields, and it was supposed that young Elias would resist arrest to the end. Indeed, the local officers made no efforts to arrest him, but he soon surrendered to Governor Atkinson, claiming that he had acted in self-defense.
Ellis was an influential citizen and highly esteemed in the community. His unprovoked murder called down upon the Hatfields the indignation of all good citizens. 1 submit *an anonymous article that appeared shortly after the killing in the Logan (W. Va.) Court House Banner. It throws light, not only on this case, but upon the community where it occurred: LET THE PEOPLE ACT.
To all whom it may concern, and I think it should concern every law-abiding man in Logan and Mingo counties, and in fact every man in West Virginia:
On the moming of July 3 one of the best men of this section H. E. Ellis, known as "Doc" was shot down in cold blood at Gray, a station on the N. & VV. railroad a few miles above Williamson, the county seat of Mingo. I was not a witness to the shooting, but went there as soon as possible after hearing of the shooting, in company with three other men of our town, to assist, if necessary, in the arrest of the party who did the killing; but to our surprise we found no one there in pursuit of the murderer, not even a sheriff or constable with a warrant. All that had been done that we could hear of was that the circuit clerk of Mingo and R. D. Buskirk had taken a coffin and had sent the remains of Ellis to Wharncliffe, where he was taken back home in his own wagon which had brought him over that morning.
The next question to be asked is: Who killed Doc Ellis? Who has been killing men in this country for the last ten or fifteen years? Elias Hatfield, Jr. (son of Devil Anse), was the man who killed Doc Ellis. Some twelve months ago Ellis was instrumental in having Johns Hatfield (a brother of Elias) arrested and taken to Pike county, Kentucky, where he was wanted for murder. It has been generally understood that they have been trying to have him killed ever since Johns was taken to Kentucky.
I for one say this killing should be stopped. How are we going to stop it? The governors of the state have been asked time and again to honor a requisition for a band of men who are wanted in the1 state of Kentucky for murder, but they have refused. The question which comes to my mind is: What shall we do? Let us ask our governor once more for a requisition for the men who are banded together with a lot of outlaws and, as I understand, living in forts with port-holes cut through and defying the laws of the state, thereby demoralizing the young men of the country. I do not mean by this that every man who is indicted in the state of Kentucky should be sent there, for we have men in our country who stand indicted in Kentucky who are as much opposed to such lawlessness as anyone else.
Elias was a Brother Mason, also a Brother Eagle and Odd Fellow, and was in good standing with all, and to them I appeal for us to see that the highwayman who killed him be brought to justice. If the officers of the law are afraid to do their duty, let us as a band of brothers do and act as we think proper in this matter. Most everyone you speak to about this matter will say that this gang ought to be taken out of here, but they will say to you: "Don't say anything about me; I am afraid they will do me some harm in some way." I say that every man who wants to see his country prosper will say publicly that one good man is worth more than all the outlaws in the land.
I want to say why Doc Ellis arrested Johns Hatfield and took him to Kentucky. Doc told me and others that Johns was making threats and telling people that he would kill him and was acting in a way that he thought he would kill him, and rather than take the chance to kill or be killed he would arrest Johns and take him to Kentucky. I think any good man would have done the same thing under the same circumstances.
I also want to say on behalf of Johns that, while I know he has done wrong and had his faults, he always treated me right. That is more than I can say for some of the others. We all have our faults, some worse than others, but when men get too bad they must be stopped, so I say let us put our heads together and stop a few fellows. Good men like Doc Ellis should not be forgotten.
I do not write this just to see my name in print. I am almost heartbroken to think that the life of as good a man as Doc Ellis had to be taken by a man who is protected and sheltered by a band of outlaws; and if anyone who differs from my sympathies and wants to know who wrote this, just write to the publisher of this paper, I have given him permission to tell you.
One Who Is Ready.
S. S. Macclintock.
[The American Journal Of Sociology by The University of Chicago, 1902 - Transcribed by AFOFG]